Interview with Virgo 4

Posted by Oliver / Matt / Jordan, March 10, 2011 10:29am | Post a Comment
Resurrection is the follow up to the reissue of Virgo 4's S/T album, which was released by Rush Hour in 2010. This album is a collection of unreleased tracks that were produced over a 6 year period between 1984 and 1990 in various home studios around Chicago.

Resurrection really shows the the rich, diverse and unique quality of Virgo 4, which leaves you wondering what impact they would have made on the (Chicago) house scene if their music had been released back in the day.

Merl Sanders took some time out to discuss the Resurrection of the Virgo 4 project. Our conversation follows below.

Purchase Virgo 4 Resurrection here

How did you guys meet?

We met in grammar school, about 4th grade or so. It was known that I played drums and a couple other guys played guitar or bass, and Eric and I along with two other friends started playing together. My parents had moved into an apartment building back then from our house and the building had a large basement laundry area. So we used to go down there to practice and the landlord would always come eventually and kick us out for bein' too loud! At that time I didn't even actually have a drum set; the only time I played a real set was in Church! I think I was probably the first bucket boy (kids who drum on plastic buckets to make money on the streets). At 9 or 10 or somethin' I began coming up with ways to make my mom's tupperware sound like a Tama set I was dreaming to have! You know how stereos back then had those big plastic domes as covers for them? Well, that was my kick drum! Sounded pretty good!

(Photo @ Right -  Katherine Nguyen)

What was it like being part of the birth of Chicago House music?

It's funny to hear it stated in that way, "being part of...." Back then it was just what was happening. Eric and I were very streetwise in a sense, knowing a lot of the guys who would eventually be involved in drug or gang activity. Morgan Park was an interesting area in that it was right next to Beverly Hills Chicago, which at that time was predominately white, so you had this line of black and white on one side AND another line of gangs and drug dealers on the other, and we were crossing both, meaning, we might be on the basketball court playing basketball with some neighborhood gangbangers or having snowball fights with some white guys because we were walkin' down their street. I say this because, one side of our world saw House music as that "preppy" music or "gay" music and another side that was goin' crazy over it, and again we were somewhere in between. I had started DJing early so that was a big appeal about it to me, also. The music just came natural because we were already into Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, to name a couple, so our interest in electronic music had us trying to buy a keyboard and drum machine as soon as we learned about them. So of course we were gonna' do House music! It was a very cool period. And back then it was more of a mixture of the old disco stuff, but more rare, less mainstream stuff, like Candido-Thousand Fingered Man to the Euro dance stuff like Klein & MBO-Dirty Talk and then all the new House stuff that was comin' out! So the music was more of a mixture of things and a lil' more creative back then, to me! The vibe was just different than it is now. That was the beginning!

Were there any socio-economic factors involved in the progress of your music or the Chicago scene as a whole?

Yes. Eric and I couldn't afford a lot of gear at the time. So it was a matter of gettin' a summer job or savin up allowances to get what we wanted to do music. That's the reason Eric got the Roland 505. It was the most affordable one that sounded halfway decent at the time. I think that helped shape how we ended up sounding, of course. You know, it's often said necessity is the mother of invention. We needed better gear, so at least we thought, but that made us make the best of what we had! We could give seminars on what one could do with just and only a Roland Juno 2 and a Roland 505 drum machine now, probably.

What clubs did you frequent in the early days of Chicago house music; Any favourites?

We were always at Mendel High School, but we also liked the Music Box. There was another place called the Playground that was cool at the beginning. You know, there were a few [--] Sauers, COD's, stuff at the Riviera! But mainly our stomping ground was Mendel Catholic High School!

What inspired you to start making music back then?

My dad was a musician, uncles, my mom sang and all her siblings. An uncle co-founded a company called Opera Ebony in New York! Eric had music in his family. A brother who DJed. Church was a big inspiration for me! I went to Christian Tabernacle Church with Pastor Maceo Woods, who is one of the great gospel musicians in this world. My cousin played drums for the church, [and the church] would often appear on a gospel tv show called Jubilee Showcase back then and I would fill in and play drums during church service every now and then! So it came from everywhere with us.

What is the music/club scene like in Chicago now versus when you were making music in the 80's?

Hard to say, really. We don't go to any of the places here anymore or do the club thing at all, but if there was any place that was like how it was back in the day, I'm sure I would have heard somethin' about it by now, and I haven't!

When did Rush Hour approach you about Ressurection project?

They approached me early 2010 through Facebook about doin' the reissue. I think they wanted to see how that would go over and when it seemed like there was some interest or like for the reissue, they inquired about what we might have lyin' around. Told them, yeah, we got stuff! But by this time, Eric and I were very used to where this usually goes -- which is, somebody kinda' tellin' us what they're lookin' for and us tryin' to send what we think they're lookin' for only to realize what we sent is not close, and with boxes and boxes of recorded material, we didn't even feel like that dance anymore. So I just told Christiaan at Rush Hour, look man, there's boxes and boxes, we don't know what to send. So he came here, and for two weeks went thru' the music, selected 50 and then narrowed it to 30.

What equipment was used for the tracks featured on the
Ressurrection release?

The same equipment for the first Trax release, actually. But the drum machines may be a combination of a Linn Drum, the Roland 505, Alesis HR16, a Boss drum machine and a Roland R8. And the keyboard is primarily the Roland Juno 2. They should have us endorse a revived version of that board, you know!!! Same board but add a better power supply to make it international voltage wise, add usb to it to interface with or work better digitally! Call it the Juno V4 or somethin!!! That would be cool!

Is there new material in the works?

Well, we've been doing music since and currently! We look forward to putting some of it out also and soon!!!

There have been a few recent live engagements like the recent show at the Bunker. Are you planning on touring?

We also did a small European Tour back in October 2010 and are in the works to plan more soon!

Future plans?

We want to start doin' charitable things with our music, work with kids, especially regarding education and the arts! i want to do a gospel release at some point! We would love to do dance versions of other known artists' songs! Right now an Australian tour is in the works, possibly April 2011! More music!!!

Listen to "Crayon Box" here:

Listen to "Sex" here:

Purchase Virgo 4  - Resurrection here

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