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Mike E. Clark:
Vinyl-loving Funketeer


Since the late 1980s, producer Mike E. Clark has recorded in basements and studios, basement studios and studio basements. Known for his work with rappers of all colors and stripes - Clark has worked with Motor City legends looking for a new funk and kids rocking for the first time. He's sold white label dance records in Germany and worked on major label albums U.S.

The multi-genred producer has put sound to tape for everyone from Mothership pilot George Clinton to rap's homicidal harlequins ICP to current folk femme Audra Kubat. No matter what the music, Clark's enthusiasm can barely be contained - a trait evident in his work and his words. Indeed, the ebullient sample artist/beat master can make you love a song you hate just by talking about it - nonstop - until you get it. What he often refers to as the vibe on records he's produced, is in large part an aural translation of Clark's passion for the music. Below he puts some of that passion into words:



 

LISTEN TO EVERYTHING: I actually used to collect 45s when I was like four - which explains my obsession with vinyl. There'd be these cutouts, you could get a pack of 10 records for like 99 cents: My sister would buy them for me whenever we went to Kresge's - so I had this huge 45 collection. I'd just pick 'em by the picture on the label or whatever. But I got turned on to a lot of music that way. All the Atlantic soul records, and a lot of folk and pop.


KEEP LISTENING: I used to listen to the old CKLW religiously. I used to get their little list of the top 40 songs for the week - I lived by that, watching the songs go up and down - like "that's my favorite," or "I hate that song" - you know?


LISTEN SOME MORE: When I got older, I would take my paycheck, and like empty the quarter bin at the old Sam's Jam's on Nine Mile on a regular basis. If it had just one scratch on it, it went into the quarter bin, so I would buy everything, from Frank Zappa to Aretha Franklin. And once I got into sampling, I'd buy any fucking record - a sound effect record, spoken word - I'd get a disco record just to get a clap.


LOSE YOUR DAY JOB: (After High School) I had a drafting job working on tool designs: I hated it. I moved down to the Cass Corridor, and plotted a way to get out. I had a PA board and a four track and a piano in my apartment then, and I just wanted to make records so bad. I got laid off and I was looking for CAD/CAM courses - and then I saw there were recording classes at the Disc and I thought "that's what I want to do."


BE A PEST, NEVER LEAVE: Once I got in the studio I had to find a way to stay there. After I was through with the classes, I was like - "Let me be an assistant instructor, let me do this, let me do anything." So I was running Xeroxes - booking sessions. And if you were working there, you were allowed to go into the studio at like three in the morning and you could bring in a band and try to record them. So I remember not getting any sleep at all, then having to go to work in the morning - it was hell, but it's what you had to do.


WHEN OPPORTUNITY RAPS ON THE DOOR: I was trying to record these alternative bands, … Gangster Fun, Vivacauldron … But the Disk had a basement studio called the Sidestick, and this guy Marvin Lewis was doing rap (sessions). He could program the Linndrum machine, and tune the tom down to sound like a fake 808 (bass drum), so he was getting all these rappers to come into the studio. And eventually I had to take over some of these sessions (as an engineer) and these kids would be ruthless 'cause I was white. They'd be like 'No way no fucking honkey's gonna be doing my session." So then I just got hot. I started learning how to program, like "I'll show you!" (laughs).


CUT AND PASTE: Then I realized that what was hip was sampling. The studio didn't have a sampler then, but I had a credit card. So I just went out and bought one of the first Akai samplers - I'm probably still paying on it. But that was cool because I started using my vinyl collection…, if I was making beats on my own it would be with some shit like Spirit, or Free or maybe Pink Floyd, so if I threw something into the mix it was pretty tripped out.


THE KID IS ALRIGHT: Clark first worked with Kid Rock in 1990, recording the demos that led to Rock's first deal with Jive Records: He was like the first white kid I ever saw rap - and who actually did everything himself. He rapped, he fucking programmed his beats, he scratched - and he was amazing. I was like "This kid's going to be huge" and sure enough, like three months later, he had a deal on Jive.


A DELICIOUS BREAK FROM POTATOES: He was the first artist I worked with that actually got a deal, and it was exciting. Of course, he had to go out to New York and do the shit… but then he came back to record what was supposed to be a B-side for the first single in my basement. At that point I ended up buying an MPC-60 (sampler and sequencer) and we did "Yodelin' in the Valley" … which the label made the 12" and the first song on the album, and I was like "See motherfucker, you should have done your whole record with me." (Laughs)


NEVER SAY DIE: Despite the killer "Yodellin'," Rock was dropped by a record industry suddenly wary of white rappers in the wake of Vanilla Ice. ): His current success is really exciting to me. It just goes to show, you just never give up. I mean, if anyone had reason to give up it was him - as many times as people fell out on him - but he never did. And look what happened.


HE CAN DUNK THE BALL TOO: Clark eventually moved his gear to a room at Dave Feeney's Tempermill studios, and continued to earn a reputation as a producer - especially of hip hop and dance music: "Yeah, the Funky honky, go to him man, he's a white guy but he's dope." It was pretty funny. I'd be the only white guy in these sessions, and they'd be giving me a hard time.


ARE YOU LISTENING? I will not get in the way of the artist. I'll stand back and see exactly what they want to do. Even if it's a kid, I'm not going to say, "The beat starts here or whatever" … I let the innocence come out in them and … would just let them find what they were looking for. These kids would just take records that were like totally out of key, and it would totally bend my ear, but I'd just let it happen, If they wanted to take a song that was in C or something and put a B flat right on top of it, I'm like Down - and at the end of the day, once they had their rap on it, it had a vibe, and it was cool. And then I'd be putting out of tune shit on stuff on purpose, I put something on that's out of tune, and I'm like "That's so wrong," but if you do it right, it sounds wack.


LOVE THE MUSIC:
I'm working with, Paradime which is rap; the Demolition Dollrods, which used to be the Gories, so that's like right out of the garage; I did an Audra Kubat record, which is folk, I'm doing an R.L. Burnside remix, that's blues. I really feed off artists' enthusiasm for their projects. You can come in and be playing the spoons, and if you're all enthused about your shit with the spoons, I'm all up in it, like "Yeah, yeah, let's do this."


EXCEPT THE WHINY KIND: Have you noticed there's like this whining thing going on. It's like this whining, like Limp Biskit, or I just picked up this CD, I don't want to say who it's by, but there's like this whining through the whole thing. There's this No Doubt song, you know, the CD looks really cool, and it starts out really cool and then (Gwen Stefani) starts just straight out whining. I'm like Aaah! Do you know you're whining?


DO IT LIKE FRANK: :I'm writing songs like crazy, and I wanna try to do a solo venture with a band. I've got a lot of songs together but I want to figure out how to present them. I've been doing a lot of vocal stuff - like pop, like soul music, like rock, soul pop, and of course the hip hop, cause that's what I do. Like Moby, maybe, but less techno.

- Interviewed by John Sousanis

Check out the sounds of Mike E. Clark on thedetroiter.com's Hip Pop Phunk, radio station. For more info visit mikeclark.com

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