When it comes to house music folks who’ve got a story to tell, few of those still involved in the contemporary scene can match up to Rachael Cain. Better known amongst house aficionados as Screamin Rachael, Rachael is the head honcho at Trax Records, which – alongside the likes of Strictly Rhythm and Ny Groove – can viably claim to be the most influential ‘house’ label of all time. With Rachael’s classic track, ‘U Used to Hold Me’ getting the remix treatment courtesy of luminaries such as Marcus Mixx, Joe Smooth and Todd Terry, we thought it a good time to check in with Rachael to see what she’s been up to the past while…
Deep House Amsterdam
How are you, what’s good and bad in your world right now?
I think the very best thing in my world right now is the fact that it is opening up again! Chicago is completely open now without limitations or masks. I feel grateful and liberated! Im very excited about my new release and the fact that TRAX Records is growing by leaps and bounds! I took the time when we sheltered to write and produce lots of music and to DJ virtually every Saturday since we first shut down. I’m a very positive person so I’m grateful to God that everything is good…
How have you survived the last year? What got you through it? Was music therapeutic in a way? Were there certain releases you found yourself turning to?
I must admit it wasn’t an easy year, however from the very beginning I made the decision to let my creativity flow. There were no daily routines so there was a great amount of time to think about what was really important to me. I’m an all around artist, kind of a renaissance woman so creating music, visual art, creative writing, acting and film production got me through it! It was also a time that I got to learn more about and communicate with collaborators around the world, as I did when creating U Used to Hold Me.
I’ve been involved with a lot of people in NYC and because I could not travel there monthly to perform and work on movies with Eric Rivas the director who I’ve done 4 films and soundtracks with, our little ensemble group got even closer virtually by communicating almost daily. I even did my acting scenes in Chicago, so we kept right on working on film 5 “The Duke of New York”. One of my good friends Jason Chaos who is part of that crew, encouraged me and helped to produce the weekly Trax Party. He’s also an incredibly talented musician! Everything was virtual but somehow there was a closeness with the Zoom’s and even hearing each other’s sets that I can’t explain…
Music and friends got me through the pandemic!! There are many releases that I turned to. Some of my own really classic tracks, like, Story of House, Get Wild, Bad Boys, House Goes Boom and others, because they were the story of my life. Listening to them got me to realize that I could get through anything.Though it’s been a struggle to get here, my life has been incredibly rewarding!
What did you learn about yourself, the world, the industry?
I learned that creating is what makes me most happy, that my friends and our small Chicago Trax crew, Marcus Mixx, Big Mark, Matt Donavon and Oliver Fade mean more to me than words can express…
I certainly learned that everything in the world could change in an instant and Covid reminded us that we are all in the same boat everywhere on the planet. We all need to uplift each other! As for the industry, not being able to perform live had a tremendous impact on the lives of artists. Streaming earns very little, so I hope we can change that standard. We also have to think outside of the box, as to new ways to survive as an artist, such as virtual shows, merch, selling vinyl, and other avenues to monetize like gaming, licensing etc. Most importantly I’ve learned to appreciate all the things we missed, big and small. I guess it was easy to take life for granted before the stark reality hit…
And what would you say the biggest lesson you’ve learned about the industry since you started in it has been?
The biggest lesson I learned about the industry is it’s BUSINESS. I love the artistic, creative part but I’ve learned that to survive you must be about your business. You have to have paperwork for everything. Every collaboration must be clear as to who is entitled to what. Every contract has to be understood and easily accessed. Whatever you decide on or sign today will be FINAL. Being the President of a label taught me a lot about what I wanted to change since I took over, and that I could not change the past. People used to sell copyrights and intellectual property, sometimes they still do, then years later they would regret it and sometimes I’d be blamed for things I had no part in.
Let’s go back to the beginning a bit — how did you first get involved in house music? Why was it so appealing?
I’m quite a bit different from a lot of my contemporaries in house music, because I was a ‘Disco Sucks’ kid. The music I loved was punk rock because it’s raw and stripped down. I alway felt that punk and house had a lot in common. To this day I do not like overproduced music. In Chicago there were a lot of underground all ages parties, like the precursor to raves. Places like Space Place and Medusa’s played those types of music together. Vince Lawrence and Jesse Saunders met me when I was fronting my punk band Screamin’ Rachael and Remote. They asked me to sing ‘Fantasy’ which was a collaboration between us. Thanks to Farley Jackmaster Funk It got played on the radio by The Hot Mix 5. When you’re a kid that kind of attention makes you feel like a star! Going to Frankie Knuckles’ Warehouse’ and Ron Hardy’s ‘Music Box’ for the first time just put the icing on the cake. Seeing those crowds JACK hooked me!
Where do you stand on the playing plague raves?
PLEASE JUST SAY NO!
How did you decide on the remixes for the new U Used To Hold Me release?
I had quite a bit of time to work on that project and really think about what I was looking for and experiment. It was a lot of fun putting it together, and after all, that’s what it’s all about for me. I was also in the mood for something different. These days I personally like the influence of rap in house, or as we used to call it hip house. Then there are the underground dub sounds and of course acid. No doubt I am an acid freak! I played a lot of the mixes on my virtual shows so I got a chance to get crowd reactions. We went back to the drawing board a few times until all of us, especially the wonderful producers who pitched in, felt incredibly proud of the music.
There are lots of classic names on there – are they still unbeatable when it comes to house music? Do you rate any newer artist at all?
There are a lot of classic names but also some relatively new producers as well involved in the compilation. Todd Terry without a doubt is one of my very favorite producers of all time. He’s an incredible talent and wonderful to work with. When It comes to NYC, Todd is tops for me and New York is my second home, so it must be REPRESENTED by him! Joe Smooth is my FAVORITE Chicago House producer! He is one of my best and most trusted friends in the industry and in my life, period! Marcus Mixx is truly a house hero, he’s an underground LEGEND, so not everybody knows about him but they should! Daniel Late Nite Dub Addict is relatively new on TRAX, and also a relative NEW JACK, and when it comes to making a name and burning up the charts with his trademark dub sound he’s it. Brand NEW to many will be the talent of DJ Elmo and Calambre, their mix is unique and fresh sounding. I also included a BREAKBEAT mix, to take the project someplace else, by Matt Donavan, he’s recent in house, but was involved in the Miami sound and I’ve known him since my punk days. I’m just as excited about newer artists and I’m always open and looking forward to working with them… A few of the newer artists who have caught my ear include Saytek, Yuri Susuki, Luca Gurlin, Molly and Taco, Scccn and Luca Prato, to name a few.
How do you feel about the tune now that you look back? What memories does it hold?
That tune is all about GOOD TIMES!
Do you think vocals in house music are as strong, relevant and powerful as they used to be back in the day?
That’s an interesting question depending on how you look at things. Some early house music had very little vocals such as ‘No Way Back’ and were all simple phrases or cool spoken word like the Harry Dennis sound on Jungle Wonz ‘The Jungle’. Then there were amazing vocalists like Darryl Pandy, Loleatta Holloway, and Colonel Abrams. One of my favorite vocalists is Curtis McClain, the voice of ‘Move Your Body’. He is not a great vocalist in the traditional sense but I would say he’s like the Mick Jagger of the genre, all raw guts and pure emotion! Of course I am a vocalist and started there before I began writing, producing and DJing, so vocals will always be critically important to me! There are are many great relevant vocalists out there today, including Byron Stingley, Barbara Tucker, Arnold Jarvis and Eric B.Turner. I’d say YES all the great styles of vocals, spoken word, rap and instrumentals have continued on.
What else have you got coming up/are you working on?
I’m always incredibly busy creating. I’ve been collaborating with a great female producer on TRAX Barbra Crowft. We are finishing our fifth movie and soundtrack “The Duke Of New York ”. I’ve been writing with a great music producer, Tyler Stone out of LA for a musical called ‘Club Kid a Cautionary Tale’, based on the Michael Alig story. We have preliminary demo’s and the songs are AMAZING! I’ve hired Joe Smooth to produce iconic Chicago personality Irene Michaels. Legendary fashion couturier Michael Wesley White who has worked with the likes of Chaka Khan, Bob Marley and Diana Ross is designing especially for her and I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about this classy lady. God willing, I’m working on the idea of putting together a TRAX TOUR for 2022, so that I can perform for fans worldwide, with other label DJ’s and set the world on fire with all of our great sounds, both new and classic! Our label has a division called Rap Trax and we are working with classic artists like Busy Bee, Doug E Fresh, and well known newbie’s including Yvung Sibo, and Mikey Dollaz. And lastly I’m very excited to say that we have begun work with Pentagram to preserve the character of our logo design and image, so that when you see the upcoming vinyl and TRAX merchandise it will be true to character, historically preserved and launched into the finest quality for the 21st century.
Do you think dance music will be much different when it gets back to normal – will parties be more local and small scale or anything?
It’s difficult to say what the future will bring because things are still quite up in the air. Certain places in the world are still suffering quite a bit, so I’m not sure when or what normal will be. I do think that smaller, more intimate shows might be a lot more prominent but whatever they are like, I hope to be a part of them! The one thing people can count on is music and no matter what, it will be here to comfort us and give us the glow that dancing brings.
The Trax sound of now is quite different to the sound of previously; were you conscious that you needed to change it up when you took over?
I don’t believe that there was ever a specific Trax sound. When you think about it, how can you compare Move Your Body to Acid Trax? I think our sound has always been cutting edge and fresh. When I took over I never intentionally set out to change it. My intention has always been to be open to great new innovation, and sounds that might be unique and not necessarily to everyone’s taste. I consider myself the keeper of the flame. I just want to perform and keep the legacy of what Trax does alive by continuing to produce, distribute and find the future legends.
Music aside, what’s really exciting you about life right now?
Right now I’m excited about experiencing and seeing new things. I’m going to take time to smell the roses so to speak. Though travel is limited, I plan to be doing what I can. I love museums and special exhibitions. I recently saw the Immersive van Gogh Exhibit and I’m going to see a virtual Marvel Comics showing. You don’t realize how important things are to you until you miss them! It’s time to visit friends, and now even taking a walk is joyous. I’m trying to help www.youthcommunicationchicago.org get back on its feet, and develop programs. I want to give back a lot of the love I’ve experienced in life by mentoring teens. Now that the dark clouds seem to be lifting, the future seems very bright indeed!
Keep up with Screamin’ Rachael on Facebook here. Screamin’ Rachael’s U Used to Hold Me (Remixes) is out 30th July via Trax Records
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