Exclusive Interview: Natan H
If you’re not familiar with Natan H you definitely should be. His back story couldn’t be any more fascinating, with a lifetime spent appreciating music, making it and studying it – and he now even teaches other people about music. Besides that, he also makes sublime deep house, the kind of music that stirs your soul and gets your feet and hips moving in ways you’d probably never thought possible. His new EP on ManMakeMusic has been on repeat in the Deep House London office and so, we thought it was about time we hit him up for a chat to get the lowdown on his history and the new EP, among other things…
Firstly can you tell us a little bit about yourself…?
I’m 28 and was born and raised in Chicago though I’ve been based in LA for a while now. In terms of house music specifically, it’s hard to remember when/where I was when I first heard my first house tune. I probably didn’t even realize at the time that it was “house” or not. My introduction to electronic music in general happened around ’93-94’ I believe. I was young but was lucky to have a brother 10 years older who exposed me to a lot of great music, from early punk rock to the gamut of electronic music.
Did you start DJing before making music or did you get into both at the same time?
I started writing music before I started DJing. I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember and from the very beginning that process was intertwined with playing live. DJing really came as an extension from playing live, and as a way to just vibe off music I didn’t write (and often wish I did write!) with others.
What’s your background with regard to making music? How did you learn and get access to the equipment/software needed to get into it?
Well my mother is a pianist and I have a lot of memories of sitting next to her and stumbling over a few notes besides her. My brother bought me my first guitar when I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, and in my teens, I played in bands and whatnot. Early on my brother showed me ModPlug tracker and I started fiddling around with producing electronic music, before moving onto other software and gear (you name it). When I went to college I thought I wanted to be a recording engineer and a musician, and I worked briefly in studios. However at CalArts I was able to design my own curriculum and I ended up studying a lot of instrumental music, including North Indian classical (sitar), Indonesian gamelan, and West African drumming. I was also able to combine that with my interests in creative technology (software programming, engineering/digital signal processing), which set me on this crazy path.
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What kind of house/electronic music were you making when you first started to produce?
When I first got “serious” about making electronic music, I think I was making a lot of what I guess you would call IDM, though in terms of timbre I think I’ve always been drawn to really deep, swelling, organic elements.
How would you say your sound ethic has evolved since those early days?
In the early days the process seemed easier I think. Though like anything in life, I think that with more time and age comes more refinement. Sometimes that makes the process more difficult, but I know what I like now. My ethic has stayed primarily the same I think, the desire to go with what feels intuitive and not care so much about what’s hot and what’s not.
Tell us a bit about your hometown and how that’s influenced your approach to making and your personal tastes?
There are perhaps obvious cards to draw being from Chicago and of course I owe a lot to Chicago’s house music history. If I take a step back I think my biggest influences from Chicago have to do with just being true to who you are, and taking the time to notice subtleties. That has really influenced the way I approach music, and the music I really get into. It has to have individuality and nuance.
Where did you get your first taste of this music? Which clubs were hot when you were first getting started and which DJs (local and international) were most influential during that period?
My first tastes of electronic music happened via my brother and maybe WNUR Evanston, though it was in high school when I really started exploring this music on my own. The scene is the US had really died down quite a bit around the time I was in college, but my friends and I were throwing our own parties, though they were small, I was influenced a lot by what everyone was doing.
Working towards becoming a successful DJ/producer can be tough…when did you start to feel as though the music was truly worth pursuing?
I always thought I’d pursue music to some capacity. At one point I thought I’d only be doing music, though currently, I find it important to balance music with creative work in other contexts. I teach twice at CalArts twice a week, I do installations and exhibitions a few times a year, and I co-founded a startup about a year and a half ago, which is in currently in stealth mode. Pursuing music demands a lot of work but it is also super rewarding, so I’ve always been prepared to give it as much time as it demands.
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How did it feel when you had your first release out there?
I was already a huge fan of Anton Zap and Ethereal Sound when he messaged me on Soundcloud about doing a VA, and so getting to put out my first record with him was a bit surreal. Every record has a story though, my first EP was on ManMakeMusic and so it feels especially nice to work with them again right now. It’s good to have family.
Who or what is inspiring to create music right now? Any tracks/musicians/life experiences that have been particularly influential for you this year?
I’ve moved around town quite a few times in the last two years but finally settled more permanently at the end of the summer when I returned from the UK/EU and so that’s had a big impact. Finally getting myself set-up properly has been good for general productivity and being creative. In terms of other artists, seeing good friends like Jordan come into their own this year has been a big driving factor, and doing my first tour in the EU has really made me hungry to play out more.
Tell us a bit about your new EP on ManMakeMusic: How long did it take to make? Was there a theme or a particular source of inspiration behind it? How does it differ (if at all) from your older productions?
The record and A-side get their name (Glen Park) from a small neighbourhood in San Francisco I was living in at the time that I wrote the tracks. In fact, so does B1 (Civic Center) which gets it’s name from the train station I’d get off at every morning for work (I was doing statistical modelling and machine learning at Twitter). I think as far as the sound of the record goes, I tried to go for something in-between my previous EP with MMM and my more recent records which have been a bit dubbier and techno-learning. As well, around the same time, Owen Jay and I started working on Gauss, which is a bit rougher around the edges, so I wanted to do something different than that. Being at Twitter and doing pattern analysis on data, I didn’t want to succumb to what was trending, so-to-speak; really, I just wanted to make a well-crafted house record. Something that had elements of classic tracks and elements of my previous efforts but that would age well. The last track ‘Never Been to Detroit’ was actually the first track I wrote on the EP and definitely influenced the other two. Every once in a while I see some other friends or producers from Detroit post online about so-and-so claiming or making a name off the city, even though they’re not from there, or might not even be from the US at all and are concealing their identity. I don’t have any interest in starting drama, rather, this was me having fun and being a little cheeky – I can’t claim Detroit, but I’ll wear my influences on my sleeve. I still have never been though, one of my sisters moved there last year to help teach kids, so hopefully between that and music I’ll finally get to see Detroit, and at that point, I think I’ll write “Finally been to Detroit”.
What’s the scene like in your hometown, it seems to be pretty strong?
LA is amazing right now for electronic music. There’s been a huge resurgence in the last couple years, and it feels very underground. There’s a huge club scene emerging with “EDM” or whatever, but that’s only caused the underground scene to become even more impactful. There are great parties every weekend, and though the police can show up and shut things down, people are agile and make it happen. When I first moved to LA in ‘06/’07, like much of the US at the time the scene was rather quiet. I’m glad to say it couldn’t be any different right now.
Can you tell us about a local spot that’s worth checking, which may not be so well known outside of your locality?
For music it’s hard to say a “spot” per se as the parties really move from warehouse to warehouse here. I’ll give a shout out though to the States of Being guys and the Feels music crew for throwing good parties with serious vibe. States of Being recently brought Joey Anderson and Tin Man and the last Feels party was with Kai Alce and Rick Wilhite to give you an idea. People here are hungry!
And how about some local tips for the everyday tourist? Away from all the usual spots, where else would you recommend hitting up?
I always go to Masa of Echo Park whenever I miss Chicago (they do serious deep-dish pizza), and down the street is Taco Zone which is one of my favourite late-night taco trucks. LA can be difficult when you’re visiting because it’s not an easy city. It’s spread out, but spend time with her. She’s got a lot of neighbourhoods; spend time exploring their corners and she’ll take care of you.
What do you have planned up until the end of the year?
At the moment I’m working on and full-length record, and also some EPs that will surface in the coming year. I’m also super excited about some new Gauss stuff that we’re currently prepping. There’s some traveling on the agenda, I’ll be in NY for the holidays which is long overdue!
Do you have any grand plans as far as your music career goes or are you taking it as it comes?
Just taking it as it comes – right now I’m super focused on making/putting out new music and playing out as much as possible.
Complete the sentence, ‘without house music I would…’
What is music without house?!
Natan H’s ‘Glen Park’ EP is due for release on the 27th October.