20 Questions to Louie Vega – Billboard
You can’t talk about New York house music without talking about Louie Vega.
A key figure on the scene in the city and beyond since the ’80s, Vega’s story reads like a dance music legend: Born in the Bronx into a Puerto Rican musical family that included his uncle, the legend of salsa dancer Héctor Lavoe, Vega entered the club scene as a teenager and was soon touring institutions like Studio 54, where he helped launch the house genre and cross it with disco, funk and Latin influences. In the early ’90s, Vega teamed up with Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez to form the legendary duo Masters At Work; his solo work also garnered six Grammy nominations and a win in 2008 for his remix of Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly.”
Throughout this time, Vega has maintained an ambitious touring schedule and a consistent string of singles and albums, the latest of which is Extensions in New York. Released last Friday (April 29) on Nervous Records, the 22-track, two-and-a-half-hour album plays like a long jam session you’d be lucky enough to see happening after hours at the club.
This is by design, the LP taking inspiration from Vega’s Expansion NYC parties. Launched in February 2019 in Manhattan and Brooklyn, these events were less DJ sets and more musical jam sessions featuring a tight-knit group of musicians, dancers, poets and other creatives churning out freewheeling musical grooves that crossed genres and lasted. usually until 3 am.
With the album, Vega captures the spirit of these events for anyone unable to attend in person, bringing in a team of top collaborators – Robyn, Moodymann, Honey Dijon, Kerri Chandler – and a sprawling lineup of world-class musicians. Even Vega’s wife, DJ and singer Anané, and her son make appearances.
“I reached out to her when she was upstairs and asked if she could come downstairs and drop some lyrics and she just nailed it,” Vega says. Billboard. “Having my wife and son on my album means the world to me, nothing like it!”
1. Where are you in the world right now, and what is the setting?
In Naples, Italy. I’m here with Anané, we’re having our The Ritual With Anané & Louie Vega party at an outdoor beach party for over 2,000 people. The setting is a beautiful modern hotel overlooking the water, and the views are a castle and the great Mount Vesuvius.
2. What was the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
The first album I bought was maybe Saturday night fever in 10 years. I saw the movie with two of my sisters, and it led me straight to this record store where I used to go down the block on Westchester Ave. and Manor Ave. I frequented this store at an early age.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a child, and what do they or did they think of what you do for a living now?
My parents were separated, but lived a block away from each other. When families migrated from Puerto Rico, they tended to live close to each other. There was a lot more unification. I lived with my grandmother when I was seven, and my mother lived a block away with three of my sisters, where she raised them. My mother worked in Paterson, New Jersey, as an accountant for a factory. My father worked for a courier delivering parcels with his van; he also played tenor saxophone in local salsa bands.
Later in life, when they were living with my grandmother, they noticed that I loved DJing. But my grandmother and her daughter—one of her three daughters—didn’t think it was real work, because it had no benefits and wasn’t consistent. It wasn’t until 1986 that… I was working on a remix for a Sleeping Bag Records artist named Nocera, the song was called “Let’s Go”. It was on this project that I invited my grandmother and my aunt to the studio in New York. When they arrived and saw the huge SSL mixer and a fancy studio – with just me and the engineer and heard the music playing while I let them know what I had done to the record – then they realized that it was a promising profession!
4. What was the first non-material thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?
The first thing without equipment that I bought myself was a vehicle, a Pathfinder SUV in 1986.
5. If you had to recommend an album to someone who wants to get into dance music, what would you give them?
An album that I would recommend to someone looking to get into dance music is Nuyorican soul.
6. What’s the last song you listened to?
The last song I listened to yesterday was “From The Beginning” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This song was recommended to me by my son who plays guitar and sent me some tracks to listen to. (He’s been doing this lately.) I couldn’t stop playing this beautiful song. Now it reminds me of it. I played it all day.
7. What is the biggest problem that dance music is currently facing?
There are many, but here’s one and a simple one: dance music is so saturated these days. There are so many in the world, staying on top is timely work. It’s just knowing how to choose the good ones, and there are good ones. I’ve got my system, and it’s been working for years: if it moves me, it goes into my player.
8. What’s the most exciting thing happening in dance music right now?
The most exciting thing in dance music today is how far it has gone. Watching the world find out is fascinating. To be able to travel to those far and sometimes even remote places, see and hear the audience singing songs you’ve worked on in clubs and festivals, it’s just cosmic! What a feeling!
9. As a pioneer of house music, do you think the American public fully understands and appreciates house music?
The United States still has a long way to go and does not compare to what is happening in the world. But succeeding in the United States is where everyone is at. These are mostly the main cities we go to, so we feel the appreciation, and we feel it growing day by day with the festivals, clubs and events. Seeing them well attended is what’s happening now, so that’s a good sign!
Commercially, very few make it, but I think the time is right for house music to cross over, as I see pop interest, Grammy recognition, and hear it subliminally in advertisements, commercials, etc. The DJ profession is a phenomenon.
10. How can the genre continue to expand?
As long as we’re all on tour and spreading the love of music, it will continue. I speak on behalf of the entire dance community. There are so many hybrids of the sound now and many pockets of people who love the different sounds of house music.
11. Are there places where you don’t hear house music that you would like to listen to?
On the radio.
12. Are there places where you To do hear it and you’re like, “Whoa!”?
In commercials and advertisements.
13. Your work and your heritage are so tied to New York. What’s going on there in house music, and electronic music in general, that’s not happening anywhere else?
I am a New York native – born and raised in New York. The nightlife here was unique in my teenage years and has a lot to do with my musical upbringing. We have a long and rich history with electronic music. New York has this “swing”.
14. It looks like a series of really special performances influenced your new album. What is the story of a particularly epic?
I had a party in 2019 called Expansions NYC that I hosted and played for six hours on Wednesday nights. At 3 a.m. I was jamming with my keyboardist, guitarist, horn and flute, percussion, and the occasional vocalist and singers improvising while I DJed. I was recording my sets, and listening I heard cool grooves and rhythms.
I then recorded ideas during my weekly studio sessions, and it quickly became the basis of the album. One of them was particularly epic when I invited the poet Sugah Lyrics, with Axel Tosca on keyboards, Toni C on guitar and percussionists Ritmo y Tumbao and Sting Ray. It was that night that one of the first tracks came out after hearing the recording. I then contacted Sugah Lyrics about some words she dropped that night; after that, “A Place Where We Can All Be Free” came together!
15. What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Composing for Cirque du Soleil, performing it live at the Super Bowl and winning a Grammy were highlights of my career.
16. Are there any causes or charities you are involved with that you would like people to know about?
I’ve performed in various charities over the years, ranging from helping needy children to raising money for lands that have suffered natural disasters.
17. Where is your favorite place to listen to and experience dance music?
From live performance checks to cutting-edge venues with proper sound, there are several favorites. Just had the pleasure of playing Dante’s hi-fi room [in Miami], hosted by Music Director Rich Medina. I had a great time playing and listening to music there. For this album, I had the idea of having album listening evenings in hi-fi rooms. We’ve done it so far in Miami, London, New York, then LA, Oakland, Atlanta and hopefully Paris, Italy, Berlin, Amsterdam and finally Tokyo. These places would be where I listen to music at its best.
18. What is the best business decision you have ever made?
The best business decision I ever made was not to sell my editions or my masters.
19. Who has been your greatest mentor and what was the best advice he gave you?
My greatest mentor was my uncle Héctor Lavoe; he taught me to have variation in everything I do.
20. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Trust your instincts, learn an instrument, play and make music with your heart.