KEEPING UP WITH “MR. SOPHISTICADO”
This past June, I sat down with the multi-talented Vick Lavender– a Chicago-based producer/musician/remixer/DJ and label owner of Sophisticado Recordings.
Vick traveled “From Chicago To New York” [a nod to his 2013 hit] to celebrate his latest Sophisticado vinyl release, the G.I.R.L EP.
Known for his deep, rhythmic, jazz-influenced House music as well as a founding member of the groundbreaking band Mr. A.L.I., Vick Lavender discussed his new vinyl release, his independent label, his passionate and prolific work ethic, and his love and open mind for all genres of music.
Interview by Amanda Frontany
Vick Lavender!! Welcome back to Brooklyn! Tell us why you’re here today at Joaquin “Joe” Claussell’s beautiful space, Sacred Rhythm and Cosmic Arts.
Thank you! I’m here to promote and launch the new G.I.R.L EP. It’s a highly anticipated EP. We’ve had big time support from Louie [Vega], Joe [Claussell], Ron [Trent], Kai Alce, and Alan King from Chicago. So we’ve had a lot of support for this particular record. And the record is doing well. It’s crazy what it’s doing right now!
And it’s coming out on vinyl.
Right, vinyl only. It’s coming out on Sophisticado Recordings and Joe Claussell/Atypical Dopeness/Cosmic Arts is doing the distribution for it.
So why only vinyl?
Simple, it’s economics; it’s also the hard work and there is the shelf-life. Number one, digital doesn’t have a real shelf-life. And number two, for all the hard work that producers like myself put in who pay attention to a lot of detail…I’m going to sell this for $1.99? Nah! And then somebody turns around and file-shares it? And so all your hard work pretty much goes out the window. Where if you do vinyl, if you pay $15 for a record, you’re going to be hard-pressed to give it to anybody else. And then I make long records, so you have to really sit there and put the needle on the record for a long time.
Vick Lavender’s G.I.R.L EP — “18.104.22.168” b/w “G.I.R.L” distributed by Atypical Dopeness
Tell us about “22.214.171.124,” which is the A side of the EP.
“126.96.36.199” was the first record for this EP. Actually I played it at Cielo [a former New York City nightclub], the last time I was there.
Last summer, right?
Yeah last summer. Louie [Vega] saw a video clip from that night and he asked me what that was. I told him what it was and I sent it to him. And he’s been running it non-stop ever since and Joe [Claussell] runs it. So with the help of those two guys the record has gotten big-time response.
What is the meaning behind the title “188.8.131.52?”
“184.108.40.206” is the actual address where I grew up in Chicago. And that’s where you see in parentheses “(where it started)” as part of the title. It’s where I lived during my teenage years buying synthesizers and beat machines.
And how did “G.I.R.L” come about?
“G.I.R.L” was almost…I don’t want to say an after-thought, but it was something that I didn’t expect to turn out the way it did because when I did it, my friend Dell– D. Millz– who plays keyboards for the record was in the studio and he said, “Yo! Let me work with this a little bit.” So we came up with the change, which really drives the record. Then I sort of took the change and made it to a vamp. And so I put a video clip up of me playing “G.I.R.L” at a gig and Louie was asking about that. I sent it to him and he started playing that also. And so hence, the A and B sides were now being played by one of the biggest cats in the business.
And any particular meaning behind the title, “G.I.R.L?”
No, not really. People ask me all the time. It was an artist moment. I was being difficult. So that’s really what it is. [laughter]
And tell me about your label, Sophisticado Recordings.
Sophisticado Recordings started in 2006. I don’t know if you remember a band called Mr. A.L.I.?
Yes I do.
Mr. A.L.I. was Jere McAllister and myself. In 2006 we disbanded. And so I started Sophisticado Recordings. The record label officially launched in 2008 on Traxsource with a record called “Better Baby” with the artist Peter Jericho. And so from there it just went on. I was doing digital and then I met Joe [Claussell]. I knew his work. I had been buying his records since the 90’s. And I met him in 2010 at the Winter Music Conference [in Miami]. I was trying to figure out how to sneak into the Shelter Party because it was a lot of money.
You weren’t on the guest list? [laughter]
[laughter] No! I was nobody in 2010. I mean, I’m nobody now. But in 2010 I was really a nobody. [laughter] So I saw Joe coming down the street and there was a gentleman sitting next to me who knew him and he introduced me to him. And Joe said immediately, “Yo man, you made ‘From Chicago To New York.’ Have you ever thought about putting it on vinyl?” I told him I couldn’t afford it. He told me, “Man, I got you!” And from there he started doing distribution of my vinyl. He’s even gotten me to the point where Sophisticado Recordings will start its own distribution company this coming September.
Vick Lavender’s label “officially launched in 2008 on Traxsource….” and will launch a vinyl distribution leg in September.
Thanks! So he’s been doing my vinyl since 2011. He’s sort of showed me the ropes– what to do and what not to do, and how not to over-press. He’s shown me all the nuances of how to really run the vinyl leg of a record label.
How do you decide which releases will be digital vs. vinyl? What makes the cut to be pressed to vinyl?
That’s a very good question because your own personal preference can sometimes trick you. You understand? A record you think is really dope to you might not be as dope to everybody else. With “G.I.R.L” and “220.127.116.11” I was fortunate– those records hit right off. I did a record called “1929,” that record hit right off. When those records hit heavy, and you’re making them– you know that it’s about to be crazy. But to answer your question, well first of all, vocals usually always make the vinyl cut. Instrumentals are a little more tricky. I guess it’s about feeling. You never know if you’re right or wrong. In this case, I was right; I guessed right.
The Nature EP by Vick Lavender, released July 2019 on ANMA Records out of the U.K.
And speaking of vocals, both “G.I.R.L” and “18.104.22.168” are not vocal pieces.
Well not now…
Not now? Oh so they may have vocals?
Well “G.I.R.L” will have vocals. It is being recorded as a vocal now. That will be released probably in the next year.
Ok and you have someone in mind to do the vocals for that?
Yeah…but I’m not going to say. [laughter]
You’re not going to tell us!! [laughter] Ok leave us in suspense!
I’ll let you guys find out later who that’s going to be.
A male singer?
Ok. A male vocalist singing about a “G.I.R.L.” And as far as your work ethic, I notice you share a lot of that on social media — video clips of you working in the studio on your music. How much time each day do you spend working on the artist side, the creative side of your label vs. the business side of the label?
Oh an easy eight hours. I wake up, I walk around to Mariano’s which is about two blocks from my house, grab a cup of coffee. I’ll take my laptop, and I’ll sit and do some paperwork. And then I’ll go back home and I’ll start working in the studio. To be honest with you, eight is modest because I could do eight hours in a day, break for two hours, and then go back to it at 10 o’clock and be done at 4 a.m.
“…I could do eight hours in a day, break for two hours, and then go back to it at 10 o’clock and be done at 4 a.m.”
So you do these long stretches.
I do them for months like that. And finally your body tells you– hey man, you have to slow down. [laughter]
It’s time to go to sleep. [laughter]
It’s time to step back. And so I’ll usually take about two weeks at the most and sort of get away from it and go into the listening mode of all the stuff I worked on for the last two or three months– all the stuff I’ve spent all those hours on. I take a step back and listen to them. And then I’ll get right back at it. I don’t have a set time for when I go back to the creative aspect. It’s just when I feel like it. And then I’m at the point where I’ve made so much music over the past six months that I don’t have to make music. I can sit back and I can listen to it. But if I want to go back to it I can.
So how many projects are you working on at one time?
I work on multiple projects. I’m working on Angel-A’s EP. She’s an artist who’s going to be on Sophisticado. The title of the EP is Secret Sessions. Angel wrote the entire EP. There are going to be four tracks. She’s a multi-talented singer and musician. She will perform everything with her own band. So I didn’t write anything on this EP. I’m just producing it, engineering it. I’m also doing some remixes on it. And we have two other dope remixers and I’m not going to tell you guys who they are yet, but they are definitely on Angel’s EP. And then I’m doing Spike Rebel’s EP. Spike’s EP is going to be a lot of Neo-Soul and Soul. It will have a few remix projects on it, but that will be the gist of it. Spike plays multiple instruments; I know for a fact he plays five and he sings as well. So he’s somebody that I work more closely with as far as production. Spike and I collaborate often on a lot of stuff.
So when do you have time to handle the business side of Sophisticado?
The business side just sort of falls into place because you have to do it. You cannot not do it. So I take out time for the business aspect of it. And it’s funny that you ask me that because I have a partner named Giovanni Taverna. He’s from Italy, an Italian brother. And Gio helps me out quite a bit. You’ll see his name pop up as executive producer on a lot of records. Being an artist-producer-DJ, you need somebody who’s going to be able to help you on the other end. So we work well together and he’s on board now. I’ve been working with him for maybe a year and a half now. He’s taken a lot of pressure off me.
And how did you meet him? Through the industry?
I met him through a friend, a woman named Angie Tee. You may know her, she’s a promoter in Chicago. Angie introduced me to Giovanni, and Gio knew a lot of my music. He’s real astute when it comes to American House music. And he knew of me, he knew of a lot of people. We wound up talking. I did a gig in Italy and he went with me. And on the way back, we started talking business and it was something he wanted to get into. So that’s how we met and connected.
So as far as your relationship with Giovanni, do you talk together about your future goals for Sophisticado Recordings or are these coming just from you?
I think I’ve always been great at driving ideas. I’ve always been somebody that has a lot of ideas. And fortunately for me, most of them make sense. Some of them don’t make sense, but most of them make sense. [laughter] And so Gio and I always talk about one of my goals for the label, which is to be not just a House music label, but to be a label that puts out different genres of music. Eventually in the future, I’ll do a concept album– a real Jazz-Funk-Fusion album. With Spike Rebel, we’re sort of heading that way because his album is more Neo-Soul/Soul with a lot of Jazz influences in there. So we’re already starting to go that way because I think that a label should focus on the quality of the music and not about the kind of music. I cross into all genres. I’m a huge Smiths fan…
I know that. I’ve seen that.
…Till I just read Morrissey’s comments, which were very disappointing.
Oh really? Comments about what?
He’s a very right-wing guy. He says people should stay with their own.
Oh! That’s wrong. That’s very ignorant!
After that I was done.
Because you can’t separate the man from his art.
Not when it comes to humanity. Music is something we create. We’re human beings first. Humanity in you and me and everyone in this room and the billions of people out there– is bigger than ignorance. So for him to say that and for him to feel that way, I was very turned off and so I’m done with him. …So getting back to all the different forms of music that I listen to and that I love, for me, it’s about making music that you love and not just that you can tolerate. It’s not about the music that you can sell for this amount or that amount. I don’t really care about that. At the end of the day, am I happy with what’s on the label? If I’m not happy with what’s on the label then it doesn’t make any sense to me. Granted, I could probably make more money by following trends and fads and whatever this guy is playing, whatever that guy is playing. I could probably make more money. At the end of the day, I got into it because I want to make music that I love and not like. I have to love the music that I’m making. And the same goes for DJing. I have to love the joints that I’m playing, and not just like them. There’s a price you pay for that and that’s ok. I’m good with that price.
“I have to love the joints that I’m playing, and not just like them. There’s a price you pay for that and that’s ok. I’m good with that price.”
And when you’re not working on your own music, what music are you listening to outside of the Sophisticado label?
Everything. A lot of Robert Glasper. I’m a huge Erykah Badu fan. I have a 24-year old daughter who turns me on to a lot of younger artists. She turned me on to this band called The Internet. And I’ve been listening to them. I listen to everything but House music when I’m not making music. [laughter]
That makes sense.
I’m a huge Jazz fan– a lot of Jeff Lorber, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Earl Klugh. I get into a lot of that stuff.
Yeah I’m a huge Jazz Fusion fan.
Me too. I love Jazz Fusion. So I notice many House music producers who also wear the “DJ hat.” Tell us about your role as a DJ.
I was a DJ first before I ever picked up a keyboard or a drum machine. I think the productions, the records I’m doing have actually helped in getting a lot of gigs. But mainly for me, I love them both equally. I love producing and DJing equally. If I had to pick, it would be producing because I can create the records that you would love or that someone else would love. But I love them equally. I do an annual event each year called Day To Night. It’s the same weekend as the Chosen Few Picnic. Our event is on that Sunday and it’s from 3 p.m. till midnight. So we literally go from day to night and it’s at the 59th Street Boat Harbor– beautiful backdrop, the water, the boats. And it’s actually held in a clubhouse. Terry James and myself started this six years ago because we wanted to be able to go to a party where we loved the music. I’m not saying that we didn’t like the music at Chosen Few, but our music is different. The vibe is different. And so we wanted to have some place where we could present that music. And it’s also a place where people who appreciate the music can come for that weekend. I’m happy we’ve been able to do it.
Are you saying that your Day To Night event is more eclectic in terms of the kinds of music that you offer?
For Chicago, it’s definitely more underground. In Chicago, we usually equate eclectic and underground together. So yeah, I guess you could say it’s eclectic, but people from Chicago may call it more “underground.”
Ok. So Chosen Few is just House music.
Well it is in my opinion and I could be wrong; it’s based on a genre– Classics/Disco. That’s why they also call it the “Old School Picnic.” And so it’s based on that. We don’t really base our party on that. We might play some Classics; we might play some Rock. You might hear “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” [by Frankie Goes To Hollywood]. You might hear “Welcome to the Club” [by Blue Magic]. You might hear a Joe [Claussell] jam or a Louie [Vega] jam. So it’s all different music.
Vick at his annual Day To Night event at the 59th Street Harbor, Chicago.
Just good quality music.
Right. And then it’s only two DJ’s: Terry James and myself. So we both get a chance to really stretch out.
And how often do you play overseas?
I don’t play overseas as much because I’ve been concentrating on the production side, but I’ve been to South Africa six times now. And that’s where I go the most outside the U.S.
Have you been to South Africa the most because they are more drawn to your music there?
It’s a feeling. And there are certain artists and music that they really love over there. They listen to a lot of my stuff, a lot of Glenn’s [Underground] stuff. They listen to a lot of Spinna, a lot of Louie [Vega], and Josh [Milan]– obviously. They like a certain kind of House music that they’re not making. So I’ve been fortunate enough to be included into that group of artists/producers that they like.
And you’ve played in Europe.
Yes, aside from Italy, I’ve played in London. I played with Dr. Bob Jones at Music Without Labels last summer. And that was fun! Thanks David [Lyn]. We had a good time!
And I know the Music Without Labels event is similar to your Day To Night event– where they have this open forum of different genres of music.
Yes. And with Day To Night, we’re fortunate enough thanks to Terry James and the 59th Street Harbor; we have an open bar and food, and the music is crazy. People enjoy it and have a good time. And it’s getting bigger and bigger every year. We’re going to have to figure out another space.
I was just going to ask, are you going to outgrow that space?
Yes, but the thing that I love about that space is that not everybody can do that in terms of how we present it. At a lot of places, the event has to be done by 10 p.m. or even 8. We go to midnight because it’s a private event. And it’s about a vibe; it’s about dancing; it’s about enjoying the music. It’s not about a genre because the genres are all over the place. Terry and I play from all over the place.
So do you foresee expanding Day To Night to two days– a Saturday and Sunday?
What I want to do is eventually move it to different cities. Anybody who’s ever worked with me can tell you that I’m never just looking at what’s right here. I’m looking at what’s right here and what’s over there too, and what things could be. And so Terry James and I have always talked about doing a Day To Night event in New York or Atlanta. Those are goals that we’re looking forward to pushing for.
As far as Sophisticado, where do you see the label in the next five or ten years?
The music– just continue to push the boundaries of what it can be and what it should be. I want to do some alternative records, Alternative Rock records. Like I said, I want to do some Jazz-Funk-Fusion records. I want to take the label in the direction of different music, and not necessarily a particular kind of music.
Are there musicians who you already have in mind for projects?
In Chicago, I work with some of the best musicians in the world– Vijay Tellis-Nayak, Mike Logan Sr., Spike Rebel, Angel-A, D. Millz [Dee Miller]. I work with some of the best on the scene. So I don’t feel the need to have to go outside to look for other musicians. The guys I work with can do exactly what I need done as you can hear on the records. And I’m not about a brand; I’m about the quality of the music and not about wanting so and so to play on it. It’s not about the brand names of who’s playing. It’s about the project. You know somebody said something to me a long time ago. I was told that once the ego exceeds the art, the art is no good because it’s no longer about the art. It has to be about the art. And so going back to your question, I don’t feel the need to find different musicians. I work with some of the best in the world.
There’s a lot of talent on your team. Ok. Let’s revisit the vinyl discussion. How do you determine when to release a vinyl project like the G.I.R.L EP, which you’re releasing tonight?
So as far as the G.I.R.L EP, “22.214.171.124” was made first and I had sent it to Joe [Claussell] and he said we need a B side. And I hadn’t thought about the B side…well I had a few things in mind for the B side. So once I made “G.I.R.L,” I knew it would be the B side. I sent it to Joe and he said, let’s release it. The record was originally supposed to come out this past March, but the bottleneck of vinyl pushed it back to April and the bottleneck of April pushed it back to June. Delays. [laughter] And it actually worked out for me because the record will still be fresh for my Day To Night party. And I can sell copies there as well. The people are really wanting this particular record. And the record for me is really probably my biggest release to date in terms of the people who are pushing it. I think I’ve made better records, but this record is being pushed. But that’s why I say, you could never determine what somebody else will push. I thought “After Da Rain,” and “1929” were dope records. I thought “From Chicago To New York” was a dope record. But for some reason, they weren’t pushed like this particular release. And that’s why you have to keep making records because you don’t know what’s going to catch on, what’s going to be hot and what’s going to make people gravitate toward them.
Do you feel like having other DJ’s play those releases ahead of time has given it that boost?
Absolutely. One of the things about the music industry is when something is coveted that no one can get their hands on, and it’s only being played by two of the biggest cats in the game. I’ve had DJ’s call me– “Yo Vick, when is the record coming out?” I tell them the record won’t be out till June– “Man, I need it Vick. Can I get a wav [digital file]?” [laughter] I tell them, “Nah, because it’s only coming out on vinyl.” And I don’t mean it in a disrespectful manner. I mean that the record needs to have a shelf-life, going back to what we talked about before.
So you’ve only given it to a couple of people to play. Is that something that you consciously do with all of your releases or are you willing to give an unreleased project out to a DJ that calls you up? Or is this just a special situation with this particular EP?
It all depends on the gravity of the music. I knew this record was a heavy record. And I knew that if the right people got their hands on it, it could be a heavier record. So Joe and I had talked about it and it was sort of planned. I’ve done other releases where I’ve given it out to certain people. I never give it out to everybody.
Right, but to a wider pool of people.
So this pool I think needed to be very small, especially when I heard the way it was being received and played by Louie. Louie was playing it a lot on his Worldwide FM shows, and then he played it live out a lot. It seemed like every time he played out, he was playing it. So that gave the record more validity, it gave it more weight. And then Joe was running them both as well. So when you’ve got Louie and Joe running your records and nobody else has them, that’s a win.
“…You have to keep making records because you don’t know what’s going to catch on, what’s going to be hot and what’s going to make people gravitate toward them.”
You don’t need anyone else to run them. [laughter]
[laughter] Right, until the record comes out. And so I was informed by Joe that Juno Records [in the U.K.] had ordered it and just re-ordered it. And the record has only been available over there for three days!
Yes. I know some people in the U.K. who already grabbed it from Juno.
Yeah, Juno sold out and they had to reorder and that’s in two days!
Thank you. And so I appreciate Louie and Joe running the record before it was released; they gave it legs. They legitimized it.
When I was in Greece at Josh Milan’s birthday party and Louie played the EP, people were trying to Shazam it.
You can’t Shazam it. [laughter]
[laughter] And that was the case for a lot of things that Louie played that night. I saw a lot of people taking their phones out to Shazam things. [laughter] So I think that was a really smart move on your part– to initially give both “126.96.36.199” and “G.I.R.L” to only to Louie and Joe– and make the project more exclusive than it already is.
Yeah, I had to. And like I said before, it all starts with them liking the record. You can try to make an exclusive all day, but if they don’t like the record, they’re not going to play it. In this case, they loved the record enough that they have played it multiple times. And I have even seen a video of Joe stopping it and starting it over– right in the middle of the record. [laughter]
[laughter] That sounds like something Joe would do.
And you informed me that Louie played them back to back.
Yes, both records back to back in Greece.
That was unexpected from him.
And what are you thinking about when you’re making a record like “188.8.131.52?” What is influencing that sound in particular?
Jazz-Fusion, that’s the influence, that sound. I’m a huge Moog person– Moog 6, Rhodes, synth bass lines, lead fifth synths, all that. And then I have that percussion background. My father was born in Santiago, Cuba.
So that explains the cigar love; you’re a cigar aficionado.
Yeah! Thank you Pops. [laughter] So yeah, the cool thing about House music is that it’s always a blank canvas. You can add anything on it. If you want to put together jams, you can add anything to that canvas and you can come out with something dope. And that’s what I try to do on all my records.
Do you hear the melody in your head before you create it? Does it come to you?
Sometimes the bass line and chords come first. It all depends on what kind of record I’m trying to make. Sometimes the drum patterns dictate where I’m going to take the record. So with both “184.108.40.206” and “G.I.R.L,” the drums dictated where I was going to take those records.
Do you ever ask people to listen to your demos and give you feedback? Or do you just keep everything to yourself?
I never ask anybody anything. I don’t really care. [laughter] Seriously though– because I did not make that record in that moment to please anybody but myself, which is why I got into DJing. I got into DJing– not because of the girls or the money or the fame or fortune– I got into DJing because I felt like there wasn’t anybody who was going to play what I wanted to hear all night except for me. So I take that same approach to making music. Nobody’s going to make the exact record that I want to hear except for myself.
So no one needs to hear anything that you’re working on…
Until they hear it.
Right, until you release it or it’s played out somewhere.
I mean obviously there are people who I send it to. I’ll send it to Joe. And he’ll tell me, “Vick, that’s dope.” Or he’ll say, “I’m not really feeling that.” He’ll tell me what’s going on. Now does it make a difference what he says? I love him, but no. [laughter]
[laughter] That’s good to know.
Yeah. He knows that. He knows because we’re artists. We’re making the music because we love it.
“…The cool thing about House music is that it’s always a blank canvas…you can add anything to that canvas and you can come out with something dope.”
When you’re DJing do you throw on any of your unreleased music and see how the crowd responds?
Yes. Tonight will be that. I will be playing a lot of unreleased stuff.
How many projects will you play tonight that no one has heard?
[laughter] Probably about 13 jams.
[laughter] That’s a lot! Are they named or unnamed?
I would say most of them are named. And one of the jams will be the first release from my distribution company. And the name of that EP is called Shifting Gears. That will be my first venture into vinyl distribution.
I’m excited to hear some of this unreleased music.
And I’m excited to play them. Joe and Louie have already heard a lot of these jams, and brother Ron [Trent] and Kai Alce have heard a lot of them as well.
Are these unreleased jams vocals or instrumentals?
Vocals of people that you usually work with on projects?
Angel-A and Spike. You’ll be hearing stuff from them tonight.
Sounds wonderful. And I am definitely picking up your vinyl release tonight– the G.I.R.L EP!! And I look forward to everything that you’re coming out with.
Any final thoughts you want to share from the world of Vick Lavender a.k.a. Mr. Sophisticado?
I’m just constantly working because it’s what I love to do– putting out music and just trying to direct and guide the label and continue to morph it into something I feel good about. I’m never comfortable with the label staying in one place. But I have to be careful because I don’t want it to morph into something that’s so out there that people don’t get it. There’s a fine line between being relatable and being an artist. And I think I’ve been blessed in that I haven’t had to try to be who I am. It just comes naturally.
Yes it does, Vick. Thank you for sitting down to chat with me. Have fun tonight at your Release Party!
Thank you! I really appreciate it.