Miguel Migs

Miguel Migs
California DJ and producer Miguel Migs is an artist known for things funky and deep. He organically built his career as a DJ, receiving admiration throughout the world for his soulful sounds. Some months following the release of his second artist album, Those Things, I caught Miguel on the phone just back from Europe. If house music were a tree, down to earth Miguel Migs would support the roots.

What do you feel is the relationship between the older music you’ve been inspired by and the stuff you’re doing today?
I’ve always listened to all kinds of music so for me, I love everything, I get inspired by everything. So whether I’m listening to a little Prince, or a little Steely Dan, or a little Patrice Rushen, or whatever, you can hear influences from all those elements in, for instance, my new album. You hear influence from some of the guitar work to some of the melodies and even some of the chord progressions. I definitely am very inspired by a lot of old school sort of funk and soul music so that’s probably why you hear a lot of that influence in there. But I incorporate it with some sort of current type of electronic sounds as well, to get the best of both worlds. Being inspired by everything from reggae to rock to hip-hop to dub to funk and soul… there are a lot of these elements on the album.

In general, what directions do you see house music going? Are we driven more now by the thick and dirty electro-grooves than we are by the soulful and the funky?
I think it is personal taste, and opinion, and preference. But in general people are like sheep. They follow whatever the herd is doing and a lot of people make up their minds based on what’s hip and what the hottest fashion trend is, whether that be clothing or whether that be whatever the hottest colour is. I don’t know. I don’t really get that. To me there’s good music and then there’s music that maybe isn’t so good. So I listen to a little bit of everything but my preference is my own personal taste which is more musicality, and more soulful emotional type orientation when it comes to dance music. But I think overall the masses tend to go with the fashion trends of music. For instance, when electro is hot for a while, and then whatever is hot for a while, and then whatever, people will gravitate toward that. And you know DJs even completely switch their style to fit the latest trendy sound. To me, I think people should stay true to what they believe in, and what they feel, and what they do — no matter what that is — and that to me is what it’s all about. I think there’s room for a little bit of everything.

There seem to be a ton of live elements on Those Things. As your background is rooted more in live styles was it a natural progression for the album to take off with so many natural vocal and instrumental elements?
Yeah, it’s definitely a natural thing for me to do. When I write music, I write from how I’m feeling. I don’t really know how to do it otherwise. So I really just go with a spontaneous sort of vibe and I just write and create without thinking or planning too much. I let it take its course as I’m spontaneously creating it.

Have you brought any live vocals or instrumentation to your Those Things tour?
Yeah. With my gigs, for years now, I’ll incorporate a vocalist or something to give a live performance and perform some of the songs in the club atmosphere because I think it really contributes a nice quality to the evening rather than just the DJ thing. It’s not really anything super new to me but a lot of these gigs I’m doing with a couple different vocalists, which is cool because then I am able to do a few songs from the new album. People are able to see them semi-live performed by the vocalist. You know that’s always a pleasure for me to do. It creates a nice live element and people seem to enjoy being able to see a performance as well.

What was your first exposure to the San Francisco house music scene?
I was actually living down in Santa Cruz playing in one of my bands at the time, this reggae band called Zion Sounds, and we were pretty much touring and playing every weekend around the California area. I started really getting into electronic music and that was around 1990, I guess. I was really just attracted to and captivated by the sounds of real deep soulful house, a lot of what was coming out of New York at the time. I would come up to San Francisco on weekends, maybe after a gig or something, and cruise to these sort of underground warehouse parties that were just off the hook. Like great music and great vibe and kind of a real communal atmosphere with the crowd, and you know, all walks of life, which was really cool. It was something that I became really quickly interested in as far as the whole way that the music was created. Being that I like to write and create music it was just something that naturally caught my interest and then I started messing around DJing on friends equipment, around that time. And then started going out more and more, and getting more into the music, and then started to experiment with producing it as well, soon after.

Any memorable experiences playing gigs in Canada?
Yeah, I actually really enjoy coming up there. I really like the people, and it’s got a great laidback atmosphere comparable to a Northern California sort of vibe where people are just friendlier and warmer. I find that they really respond to and enjoy the music, and that’s always nice for me obviously. I have great times almost every single time that I go to Vancouver, which is a couple times a year. I always have great gigs in Calgary and every once in a while I’ll play in Edmonton or Montreal or Toronto and they are usually really positive experiences.

I read about your gig in Turkey back in 2003. Promoters without the proper permit, army showing up in the middle of your set… You mentioned the awkwardness of having machine guns pointed at you in a country where you don’t speak the language.
Oh! That was just based on a question these guys asked me. They go "What’s one of the weirdest experiences or craziest things that happened to you while DJing?” and I was trying to think of something off the top of my head… and that just kind of came to mind. That was an interesting and memorable experience but it wasn’t really that big of a deal. Yeah it was a little awkward and uncomfortable but it wasn’t like I was fearing for my life. It was probably described a little out of context.

Do you feel you learned anything from that experience?
I never really get deterred or fearful of going anywhere. Even after 9/11 I was travelling when a lot of people were afraid to fly. I’ve been to all sorts of places that some people might consider dangerous or whatever but for the most part I’m usually pretty positive in the way that I am about life and about travelling in general. I enjoy it and it’d be pretty hard to get me to stop doing that, besides it getting to be exhausting if you do it too much. As far as learning experiences and safety of travelling, I’m really comfortable travelling. I love experiencing new cultures and going places where I don’t know the language. Trying new local food in different countries is always a great time, and meeting new people and all that. So it’s great. I love the cultural experience of travelling.

I commend the depth and power of the vocals on your album. In your opinion, what do lyrics voice in the musical language?
For me lyrics are spontaneous as well. You come up with a thought or an idea, or maybe you’re feeling something specifically at the time that you’re writing about. It’s always different. You write about personal experiences but I like to sort of come at it, to some sort of degree, at an abstract level. So sometimes there might not be an exact story in a song that I’m writing but it always comes from some type of emotion. So some of the songs I write are more specific about life experiences, and some are more abstract about random thoughts and whatnot. Really, the cool thing about songwriting is there’s no rule to it. You can sort of just play with whatever comes into your mind.

I really like your song "Side to Side” (from Those Things).
Oh cool. Actually, you know, Lisa mostly wrote that one. I came up with the chorus and I remember we were in the kitchen actually just hanging out, a few of us, and I was playing the instrumental to her and seeing if she was feeling the song enough to want to collaborate on it. She was really digging it and then I was thinking I wanted something sort of funky and fun and upbeat, rather than overly serious. I wanted to keep it fun but kind of quirky in a way. I had come up with the "Side to Side” kind of vibe, and she actually took it and wrote verses to it. Then we tweaked the verses and went in and recorded the song. So that was a collaboration between me and Lisa Shaw.

You can definitely make the lyrical connection between a woman and her partner but listening to that I couldn’t help thinking of politics, which by the sounds of it wasn’t your intention at all. It just made me think about some aspects of political leaders and the choices they make. Would you think our political and societal situations reflect our personal ones?
I guess that’s all kind of personal. But for me — like so many people I know — I’m beyond frustrated and furious with the political situation that we have in America, and it’s like, this Bush guy’s got to go. From the beginning it’s been a mind shocker that people would even re-elect this guy. So politics is just a pure frustrating fact for us right now. I hear from everywhere I go in the world people are so bummed out and sort of bitter at the United States political scenario… for years now. I tend to try to not watch the news so much or trip on it all ’cause it’s just so negative. You know it’s like everything that dude does is just negative and ridiculous, to where it’s hard for me to even think about it. I just kind of am in my own sort of planet I guess. I try to not let all the negative bullshit affect me.

If Those Things is your best album so far, what would you attribute that to?
Well, I’ve really only done two artist’s albums. The first one I kind of had to rush, like super fast, because I didn’t have my own studio at that time. I was paying for studio time to rent to be able to record, and I really had no money at that time. But the difference was, with Those Things, I was able to leisurely record and sit on things since I have my own studio now, for a while now. I just decided through last year that I wanted to write and create a new album, and do it at my own pace. I definitely had the time to tweak things and sort of get it to a point where I felt really good and happy about the outcome of the material. Although it’s really hard to fit everything into one album… I would have loved to have done two albums’ worth of material. It’s really difficult because an album is such a personal thing: it’s never really finished. There are always things you want to change, and new material you want to swap songs for, but at the end of the day it’s a piece of art and you need to let it go and start on the next project, rather than getting too wrapped up in it. For what it is, I’m pretty happy with the outcome of it. I would say that my best work is definitely yet to come, but for now I am pretty stoked on the way Those Things came out. I think it’s a pretty good representation of where I was at musically, for now.

Do you get airplay on daytime radio?
I’m not really sure. There are a lot of stations that do play the stuff, yes, but with all the XM and satellite radio, I walk into stores all the time and I hear it playing. I’m actually not really sure; I’ve never asked. Of course it’s played on a lot of college stations or stations that have more underground music shows, rather than the major stations that are only playing the major label pop stuff that’s on the Billboard charts or whatever. It’s definitely supported by a lot of the stations that are more obscure. It would be nice to get into rotation at some of these bigger stations, of course, but it’s just such a political thing, you know.

Do you foresee a day when house music would get more mainstream radio play?
People don’t even really listen to radio much anymore, I don’t think. It’s really getting into the internet radio, and satellite radio, and like I said XM radio has quite a few electronic music shows. I know the stuff is played on all those. It’s hard for me to say what the radio of the future is, because I don’t really know anyone who listens to the radio anymore.

One last question: If you were an animal which one would you be?
I don’t know. It would be kind of cool to be like an eagle or something. That would be pretty wild to be able to just cruise where you want, when you want, without dealing with any obstacles. But then again, I’m a water person. I love the beach so I might have to go with something obvious. Well, an amazing creature obviously would be a dolphin, so maybe I’ll be an eagle/dolphin.