We catch up for a chat with the big man Claude VonStroke in the lead up to his Australian tour, where he is set to headline the Dirty Bird Garden Party at the Ivy on Australia Day alongside Justin Martin & heaps more!
Hey, Barclay. How’s it going?
Good, man. How are you?
Good. I’ve just been informed that we have 795 minutes left on the calling card. Hopefully that’s enough to get through these questions…
[Laughs] I hope so.
How’ve you been?
I’ve been good. Actually, I’m a little sick. I’ve got a cold…its winter…blah, blah, blah. I probably got it on the plane.
It’d be an occupational hazard of flying around all the time, right?
Yeah, you’ve gotta remember to take your vitamins and wash your hands. All the things you forget when you’re on a plane trip.
Also, never eat the seafood.
Right! Oh my God, I ate the seafood on a Russian airline, and I was sick for, like, 3 days [laughs].
What’s been keeping you busy?
A lot of things – this is a funny question: I have two kids, two record labels and a full touring schedule and a production schedule. I don’t even have a hobby.
Aside from journos trying to out-funny you or general ignorance or complacency, is there anything you particularly loathe in interviews?
If it’s gonna be, ‘what’s your favourite gig?’ ‘What’s your favourite place to play?’ all that – it’s not my favourite, but I don’t care.
All good! I’ll just tear up the questions sheet. We’ll adlib this thing…
[Laughs] Oh, no. Did I just axe all the questions off the list?
All is a strong word – I’d say more like 90-95%.
[Laughs] Very good.
I’m actually just flicking through a National Geographic. I don’t even have a questions sheet.
You’re running two labels with different sounds in mind. Mothership has produced Catz ‘N’ Dogz, who are spearheading tech-house into 2013; on the other hand, Dirty Bird has bolstered the career of Justin Martin, who’s on the bass-heavy end of the spectrum. What makes you want to put out such a wide variety of dance music?
Because I DJ that variety. I don’t like to release anything that I wouldn’t play, so I just put out everything that I like and I try to space it out between the two places. I mean, [the] Mothership schedule’s really gotten a lot less. But that’s mainly because it’s almost impossible for me to put my full energy into both projects. But really, I just sign records that I like. It’s all over the map – I mean, it’s not all over the map; I’m not signing any country songs. But it goes all the way from deep, deep stuff, to hard techno, to bass music, to hip-hop-sounding house.
Would you say you’re a bit of a control freak?
Totally! I actually have a problem where I just can’t let go of the details and even though I’m supposed to have management taking care of all my problems and label management and all these people doing all this stuff – I just can’t stay out of their business. I have to question everybody. I’m one of these people. It’s like a curse [laughs].
Did growing up in a place like Detroit give you a leg-up of sorts?
I don’t know. No. I didn’t actually discover anything or make any house music until I got to San Francisco. So I don’t know. Maybe “credit-wise”…yes.
You mean like, ‘riding the coat-tails’?
[Laughs] Right. But it did not give me any advantage except for the fact that on the regular Detroit radio you could hear a very wide range of music – from booty bass, to Prince, to techno, to Beastie Boys – on certain radio shows. Because in America when I was a kid, there was no way you heard dance music. Period! Unless you lived in Manhattan or Detroit or Chicago.
Guys like Derrick May, Jeff Mills and Carl Craig came out of Detroit and influenced the sound. Is that daunting for you in any way? Do you feel like you have a reputation to uphold?
In some ways, yes. But not really at all [laughs]. I don’t worry about it, you know what I mean? I’m more worried about crossing my own mind in my head. Like – is this too cheesy for me? I’m always questioning myself. But I actually think that’s bad as well. I should be like, “Fuck this! I’m gonna make whatever I want.” But it’s really hard to get to that point.
Whose sound influenced you the most in your hometown?
It was hip-hop, 100%.
Not Detroit rap, no. It was all from New York. It was basically – I played the cello and piano. I was kind of a nerd. Then I heard hip-hop and I was just thinking, “What in the world is this sound and where is it coming from, and how can I find out everything about it?” I was like the only person who I knew that thought that way. So I thought I was maybe a little bit odd. But it wasn’t – it was totally normal if you lived in New York!
Did you try your hand at hip-hop, then?
I did, I made a rap album when I was in high school. That was the first time I actually, properly learned gear. I borrowed a drum machine from someone and I had, I got like a four-track cassette recorder. This was like top technology. It shows you how old I am. How I’d make songs and do overdubs and just make rap music. It was crazy.
What was your rap alias?
True Sight [laughs]. You like that?
[Laughs] Please explain!
Its cause I wore glasses and I was – oh, this is so corny – I wore glasses and I was trying to say that the vision came from my soul [laughs]. It didn’t matter that my vision wasn’t perfect.
The makings of a true rapper…
Yeah, let’s just be clear about this album: I released it in my own High School only [laughs].
And much like a true rapper, you haven’t whored out your rap skills. You just kept it underground. Like, within the confines of a single high school.
I did go to, like, every kid’s house and sell it to them for ten dollars. Literally. I made something like 800 dollars.
Amazing! A friend put me onto Underground Resistance when I was in High School. Ever since then, Amazon is one of the first tracks I’ll chuck on a new phone or a mix CD. What’s your Amazon?
I always say the same one – it gets old but it’s the one: Percolator. The Cajmere record. Because it was the first time I felt like I could relate because it was a silly idea in a super-cool package. Like, here’s a ridiculous idea but that we made sound amazing and cool. Like, a coffee maker. I think its genius.
A Detroit News poll revealed that because of the high crime rate, 50.9% of locals would leave the city today if they had the means to do so. Crime organically spawns in any big city – but Detroit seems to be one city that can’t shake the stigma. What was it like growing up there? Did you ever see some pretty heavy shit go down?
Literally never had a single problem. It’s why I made that song. The whole point of that song is that there’s 8 million people in the suburbs, and 700,000 people downtown. And everyone in the suburbs is absolutely petrified of going downtown. Why? I’ve never had any problems. Ever. It does look a little dodgy, though [laughs].
The fact that half the city looks like the set of I am Legend probably doesn’t help shake the stigma…
Yeah. That they never tear down. There’s no budget for them so they just leave them up.
I read in an interview you said you’re into the whole post-dub step movement that’s been happening over the past couple of years. What artists in particular pique your interests? Aside from your labels…
When I said that, I was, like, super into Ramadanman and I’m still into anything that’s good. It’s not like I’m just into that. I don’t know. I’m into anything that’s cool. This year the track for me, the one that blew my mind, was Eprom, Regis Chillbin track. I mean – everybody would maybe say that’s a trap beat, but when trap first came out, it was the only thing that sounded like it, and it was insane!
That’s kind of bass music as well.
And you were in the film industry. Can you tell us a bit about that?
It totally sucked for me but it should be fun for someone else [laughs]. I drove to LA on graduation of College, I didn’t even stop at home. I got a job, like, for one of those ‘scam’ things, selling perfume out of the back of your car. I left after two days at that job. I just said, “this is unbearable.” So then I got an internship and then out of that I got a job as a ‘Page’ at Paramount Pictures – which is the guy that stands in the back of the TV shows with the blue blazer and escorts people out when the show is over and stuff. And the co-job of being a Page is being a tour guide of the studio, so I was a tour guide as well as a Page. Because I was a tour guide I went to all the trailers and started bringing my resumes with me, started dropping ‘em off at every single movie trailer. And then I got a PA job on a movie and then I worked on that movie for, like, a year. And then I became the Director’s personal driver, and he was the biggest dick ever. I worked for all the Ari Gold’s [laughs]. Like, I’m driving the car, he’s doing nothing, and he’d yell at me, “Get me this person on the phone!” So I’d have to scramble through my things and get – this is before all the cell phones were like, you press one button and you get the person – I’m dialling the number, talking to the person, trying to navigate the traffic and then I’d be like, “I have so and so for you,” and then I’d hand the phone to him [laughs]
With a name like Claude Vonstroke, and with your previous experience in the field of filmmaking, have you ever considered a transition into porn?
[Laughs] I don’t think my wife would let that happen.
Just saying…if money gets tight, you know.
Right! It was always the joke. At least you get it. Half the people in Europe think that it’s just my name. They think I’m from Holland or something.
You were also a PA on Beautician & The Beast.
Oh yeah, I worked on tons of movies. That was just one example.
Did you ever have a crack at Miss Nanny Fine?
Are you talking about Fran Drescher?
[Laughs] You know what? The funniest thing is, is that Fran Drescher was one of the only super nice people that I met. She was freakin’ great. She was totally cool. But I never had a crack at her [laughs]. Sorry.
Do you still tinker around with film production at all?
I don’t, I try to stay really far away from it. It’s not that I hate it – it’s that I have so little time and any kind of film job, no matter how small it is, is really time-consuming. And it takes a lot of people to make it happen. And it’s just, I would really just rather someone else do it. Music is just a little bit more my thing. I don’t have to listen to anybody – I just make it. It’s over [laughs].
No directors with a Napoleonic complex…
It’s not even that, it’s that you need, like, a hundred people to make a movie. That’s just not my personality, as we were talking about before. I’m just like a control freak, megalomaniac.
You’ve played a fair amount of gigs in Australia – it seems you’re well acquainted with the culture by now. Have you picked up the Aussie sense of humour yet?
I think so. I don’t know [laughs]. What’s the aussie sense of humour?
We love to take the piss out of ourselves.
Oh, yeah. Totally! Yeah.
For 2013- what are 3 predictions for the next big thing – break through acts?
I don’t know [laughs]. This is one thing that I’m not good at. I can pick the music that I like, but I can’t tell you which one is gonna be a hit. It’s just, like, sometimes they’re just hits. But hopefully I’m picking good enough stuff so one or two things are gonna catch.
Is there anything you're looking forward to on this trip to Australia?
I’m just looking forward to having a good time. And hopefully I won’t be in too many places with, like $38 hamburgers [laughs]. They’re everywhere! I really have fun there.
This time is one of the only times that we’re bringing a full Dirty Bird unit out. It’s not just me and some guy from Australia before me – it’s me, Justin and Jessica bringing our sound the whole night. I think it’s gonna be cool.
Thanks for the chat mate, See you in Australia!
You can catch Claude VonStroke at the Ivy alongside Justin Martin for the Dirty Bird Garden Party on Australia Day: Buy Tickets Here