With the last minute addition of Vanilla Ace to the Splash House lineup in Palm Springs, we realized the hype surrounding him would finally be tangible. An artist devoid of genre-pigeonholing, Ace has released tracks that draw influences from disco, deep house, G-house and more. Seamlessly blending samples and sounds to create sophisticated, funky beats, his music is even more personable than his down-to-earth nature. With a litany of tunes ready for release, talking with him was a must. As such, we met up with Ace after his set to discuss his past, present, and future sound, as well as the origins of G-house and who holds the true title as originator of the style. (Interview by Airee Kim)
EARMILK: Your Bring It Back release last year got me hooked on your sound. At that time, I was only about 6 months into the underground house scene. How was the overall reaction to that EP?
VANILLA ACE: It was on the Beatport deep house chart for 7 weeks. That was good, I didn’t expect it. When that came out on Off Recordings, Andre Crom’s label, Both Andre and I thought "Musicology" would be the big tune. "Musicology" was the cool, vocal A-side and ‘Bring It Back’ was the B-side banger. I didn’t play it today – a 45 minute set is just too hard to squeeze in. You've got to change your mindset for a short set. Normally I use Mixed in Key; I like to make shit flow, but with a short set like today's I just couldn’t.
EM: What is your go-to method for starting a new tune? Do you already have a melody or bassline in mind before you dive in?
VA: I use a capella samples, or loops from old records. So, a lot of the time, I’ll build a track around a sample or vocal. I either leave the sample in or take it out and what’s left is the track. It’s the same with remixing - when I did the Zhu remix, I liked the original but wanted to make it a heavier, more banging version of the original. That’s my aim for remixes—to go an opposite route or create a better version than the original, if I can. "Musicology" is based on a Marvin Gaye sample (‘Turn On Some Music’)... I’ve got an obsession with Marvin Gaye. I’ve got this track coming out on Kolombo’s label (LouLou Records) end of August, which has a Marvin Gaye sample in it as well.
EM: Did you have a moniker before Vanilla Ace?
VA: I’ve been making tracks under my real name for a while, Sam Young, but I was making house tracks. I’ve done remixes for Timo Maas, Prok & Fitch, Mark Knight, and Tiesto but it wasn’t really going anywhere. I was just doing it because the big room house sound was kind of cool. Then I started making the Vanilla Ace stuff after I heard disco and deep house in 2010 and the samples they used. Then I thought, "I should be doing this, really." This is more me because I can utilize my passion more for this disco and deep house stuff than the main room house I was making.
I grew up as a vinyl junkie, buying obscure records and samples. I’m an R&B/hip-hop fan at heart. A lot of the early house music I got into was the UK garage scene in ’96 and ’97. Then I got into stuff like The Chemical Brothers and Prodigy. The first four Vanilla Ace releases were picked up by good labels, like Moda (now Moda Black), Toolroom, Southern Fried, and Blockhead. Some of them knew me personally from my Sam Young days so it kind of helped to get their response. But it took me AGES to get on Off Recordings...I sent loads of e-mails to Andre Crom. I made "Bring It Back" first, he loved it but wanted me to make an A-side vocal to it. It’s a bit surreal.
EM: Do you feel a significant difference between crowds in the US compared to other parts of the world?
VA: I’ve found people in the US are really enthusiastic and they seem to like G-house more. The #1 records in Europe have been more house-y house, like Disclosure, Duke Dumont, and Route 94.
EM: Do you have a talent that remains unbeknownst to your fans? Something you've kept relatively secret?
VA: It would probably be A&R, like talent scouting and helping up-and-coming producers. Before I started making music, I used to work for various record labels that did A&R and talent scouting. Whenever I get people emailing me with their stuff, I give them feedback. That aspect definitely helps me with what I do. I took media studies in college, so it helps with the whole aspect of marketing. I have a good ear and I like to help out new talent by giving them feedback and pointing them in the right direction.
EM: I know you produce some of that G-house sound – who inspired you to go that route? Do you know who pioneered the sound? How do you think the scene is evolving today?
VA: I know Amine Edge & Dance take the credit, and I mean no disrespect to them, but it has more to do with PR on their side. They take some credit for it and certainly coined the phrase. But the first people, really, to sample an R&B vocal in a house record was Soul Clap. Kolombo and Sharam Jey as well. A lot of the G-house out there these days isn’t up to par; they’re just taking any rap vocal sample and throwing it over a loop.
EM: It definitely shows when a producer is passionate about what he’s creating, taking the time to make each track stand out.
VA: Yeah, you hear a lot of G-house records that use the N-word too much, for example. On a Nurvous EP I put out this year, I sampled Lordof the Underground’s "Chief Rocka", a classic ‘90s hip-hop record. If you’re using the right samples, you are introducing new classics or something kids these days have never heard in their life. After that, they’re gonna go dig on their own. That’s how I look at sampling. In my mind, I am educating them as well. So, if the audience opens up their ears and they get into that sort of music, I’ve done my job.