It’s not often that a DJ/remixer/producer/songwriter achieves household-name status, but two-time Grammy Award winner Tony Moran doesn’t believe in boundaries. His name is often associated with divas any DJ would die to remix, and his longevity on the club scene is legendary.
He started spinning in his teens, and came up as a DJ during the “freestyle” 90s, after selling literally millions of records during the 80s as a vocalist. Throughout, he has continued developing a high-energy signature sound that is densely packed with hard but happy beats.
With a prolific producing career that includes remixing everyone from Celine Dion to Cher, Janet Jackson to Whitney Houston, and Beyonce to Britney, Moran was all but ready to retire on top after spending some 14 years focused solely on studio work. Instead, he began accepting invitations to return to the dancefloor as a DJ, and found himself re-inspired by the instant gratification of spontaneous spinning.
Moran says he measures his success on the dancefloor with the number of hands in the air as people are dancing and singing along. DJing, he says, provides him with a spectacular way of communicating and sharing all the love and passion inside of him.
“When I see people enjoying themselves on the dance floor, it is a huge payoff,” he says, “and the energy I feel gets poured back into what I create in the studio.”
Dance music fans will be able to experience that synergy firsthand this Sunday night, as Tony Moran takes over the decks at HOM and shares his labors of love, soon to be featured on a collaborative sequel to his 2007 compilation “The Event.”
What’s your connection to San Francisco?
I’ve always felt very connected to the energy here, and this city has always been so welcoming to me, particularly at a time when my resume and experience as a DJ didn’t quite match. I’ve been given some great opportunities in San Francisco , to work with other promoters, like Luke Johnstone and Gus Bean, and also to play some big rooms on big nights, like Halloween.
What can fans of your studio work expect when they get to hear you play live?
My approach as a DJ is that I feel that I’m trying to add something that makes me special among all the talent out there.
A lot of the music I do is hook-driven and available to the public on a commercial level, but a lot of my music is also just about me. The intent and purpose behind it is about the satisfaction and gratification that comes from knowing you’ll hear the music directly from me, and that you’ll know it’s from me when you hear it.
When I play a vocal track, or even if I play a few vocal tracks in a row, the songs are always meant to be like timestamps. I like to provide people with some kind of immediate and tangible reference to some event, something personal that has happened to them and that they can relate to.
How is your approach to being a DJ different from the remixing and production work you do in the studio?
Getting back in the DJ booth completely changed the way I remix. As a record producer, I’ve spent the bulk of my time in a controlled environment. Even though I listen to music all the time and go out dancing, it’s not the same as going to a club and playing the music you know you love.
Being in the DJ role, there’s freedom and risk that has allowed me to hear my music completely differently. I’ve become more aware of frequencies and structure, and how my songs transition from one sound into another. I’ve learned that sometimes more is less. I can put just as much glitter as I want on a song, but it doesn’t mean I have to.
How does that awareness change what happens when you’re back in the studio?
I’ve done enough music now where I’m confident that I’m approaching the remix in the way that works best with the song. Being older now (44), I realize that I’m not as bad as my last record, or how it charted. I’m more comfortable with my body of work and the fact that I’m not a failure, so I can focus on what’s primary to me, which is the song and the artist.
These days, I’ll turn down Shakira or Britney or Madonna if I don’t feel like I can do justice to the song. I want to still be able to approach a song like I did when I was 22, when there was just something about it that caught my attention.
Like when I remixed Rihanna’s “Unfaithful,” or the theme song from “ Brokeback Mountain .” I heard the song for the first time and just thought to myself, “I’m going to build a temple around this.” That doesn’t happen with every song.
And how does being a lyricist figure into your remixing?
That’s what allows me to make a song exactly what I want it to be!
Even when the lyrics I write are painful and heart-wrenching, they are drawn from true experiences. Even when they have storylines that are repeated over and over, I try to impose my optimistic attitude on the song, to make it so there’s a good side of everything.
Even if I’m saying “Get the fuck out. Give me the keys back, you asshole!” like with Deborah Cox’s “Easy as Life,” or with Kristine W’s “Walk Away,” it’s spun in a way that moves your spirit beyond just wanting to go and slit your wrists.
Are there any DJs or remix artists that inspire you?
A couple of years ago I happened to DJ with Offer Nissim, and he really made an impression on me. We had produced records together for Mya, before “First Time” came out, and even then I could hear that his sound was special. It wasn’t just another tribal beat. He just keeps on adding another kick drum that’s bigger than the one before it!
I’m into The Scumfrog, and I really like Moto Blanco. Quentin Harris has a really different take on music.
I’m really into the Freemasons (scheduled to make their U.S. debut at HOM in May). They’ve taken an old science and rewrapped it into something that works in the midst of all the serious tribalness that goes on around us.
Do you think the dancefloor has lost some of its heart in the midst of all that “serious tribalness”?
I think too much of anything leads to change. People talk about how the economy has changed the club scene lately, but truly, the circuit has turned into a spectacular financial burden for promoters, so they’ve started scaling down. Local clubs are choosing to invest in their local talent, and people are picking and choosing more when it comes to buying tickets.
I don’t think people have less of a desire to go out. Things just don’t get supersized as much, and that doesn’t disappoint me. There doesn’t have to be 5,000 people in a room to make it a party!