Blaze - Kevin Hedge and Josh Milan - are one of those rare artists whose music is truly timeless. Their catalogue totals over one-hundred and sixty published works, making it the largest catalogue produced by any single entity in the house music genre. As artists and businessmen, they have been involved in almost every facet of the music business - from producing and performing to managing, owning and promoting clubs, to distributing music - not many can come close to the artistry and business of Blaze.
It goes without saying that they are fundamentally important house music artists and DJ's from New York. These are the guys who set the scene for everyone else to follow, not just musically but through their legendary club Shelter too. They are known for their soulful, gospel and afro-beat take on house, inspired in part by their faith and spirituality, making sure that the uplifting feeling they get is apparent in all their work. They are well known for releasing their first album "25 Years Later" in 1990 - although not quite 25 years yet, they still share the same passion today as when they first started. Now they are about to release "House Masters - Blaze" through Defected Records, a collection of some of their most memorable classics.
Question: How has the scene and music production changed since you first started?
Answer: When we first started it was the fact that the technology was there for us to be able to create the whole band scenario with just one or two people. Today I see that as the same, something that is different is that it's not as real as it used to be a lot of things are now about marketing and how to get income and a lot of emphasis has left music as being the purist form of expression. We've been around for a long time; I'd like to think that we've contributed something to this business that will inspire others. I believe that we have done it not just to advance ourselves personally but more as a way to allow the creator to use us to bring these messages to earth, these things that need to be said to people. We are like the messengers of the messenger; we have these ideas for melodies and concepts of songs, that really what I believe.
Question: Do you think the fact that a lot of your records are song-based has helped preserve the legacy of Blaze's music over the years?
Answer: We came up at a time when we were being influenced by songwriters, songwriters like the guys who wrote the songs of Boy Jarvis, Colonel Abrams, Winston Jones, Paul Simpson, Patrick Adams and people like that. Those were the songs that really influenced us in the beginning as songwriters. Of course we took a lot of inspiration from the legends; Quincy, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder and even Rod Temperton who was a phenomenal songwriter. However I think my mission as a songwriter has been to add value to the universe and the best way to do that was to write about things that are inspirational and uplifting. We have a responsibility to be citizens of the planet, and this is our little contribution. The gift that the creator has given to us, were sharing it with the universe.
Question: You mention the creator; I know Josh Milan was an organ player in the church I want to talk about how the church has influenced the Blaze sound?
Answer: Josh is definitely the biggest part of that inspiration from the church. Josh is a master talent as he can literally do it all. He was an organist in church, but Josh also has a profound love for jazz and soul music. His chords are where the Blaze sound comes from, and it's the chords that Josh creates that sparks the emotion in Blaze's music. Lyrically and melodically we collaborate to create even more of that sound.
Question: Are there any other specific artists that influenced you? Going back 25 years at the dawn of dance music, who was someone who influenced you at that stage?
Answer: Boyd Jarvis was my first real influence, certainly in terms of music that I believed that I could produce.
Question: Could you tell us about Boyd and how he influenced you?
Answer: Here was the biggest argument, where did house music originally some from? Was it Chicago? Was it New York? I'm going to be the first to agree with my Chicago friends; the form of house music that the world became to know definitely is from Chicago. But its roots and inspiration is definitely from New York and the electronic music of people like Boyd Jarvis, Paul Simpson, D Train and all those producers and songwriters. Boyd and Timmy Regisford were partners and they produced records on artists like Visual and remixed countless records, some of the more famous were done on Colonel Abrams. A lot of people don't realise that Boyd Jarvis is directly responsible for the bass sound and a lot of the bass rhythms that are still used in house music today. People should get to know more about that gentlemen and his contribution, some of the records that he created with his visual as well as the production team of Boyd Jarvis and Timmy Regisford are almost impossible to create now. I like to think of Boyd as a good friend, but he is probably the biggest inspiration to Blaze.
Question: Timmy Regisford invited you to record the album for Motown "25 Years Later"…how important was that for you at that time in your career as Blaze?
Answer: When Timmy first heard us do "What you gonna do for love", he really liked the production and called us to meet him at his office when he was working at MCA at the time. At that initial meeting Timmy and I had a bonding; he was and still is my big brother. He was the guy who gave us our first opportunity to work for a major label, he critiqued us, and he was the guy who made us work. In the end he recognised that we were songwriters. Timmy was like a big brother to us. When I bought my first car Timmy drove it first; he drove the car before even I did! That's the kind of relationship we had, we were a family more than a business. Timmy is still as relevant today just as much as he was 25 - 30 years ago, it's really a testament to his talent.
Question: You've been involved in labels, song writing, producing, DJing. What has been the most satisfying aspect of working in the music business over the years for you?
Answer: I was just talking to my friend Ian Friday and telling him that I think I'm having more fun now than I've ever had during my 25 years of being involved in the industry. I love the studio; I love writing the song, producing them and mixing them. A studio mix, not a DJ mix; that's what I love, I don't even care if the record comes out half the time. Josh and I have probably 200 - 300 songs sitting around that you've never heard and probably never will hear, and not all those are house songs .There are various different types of production. For me, the most satisfying part is seeing the finished product after getting in, sitting at the desk, doing that mix, getting the sound, making sure it sounds great, making sure that all the levels are right.
Question: Obviously you've been involved in many remixes yourself; lots of people have remixed your records, sometimes to commercial success. What would you say are the pros and cons of doing a remix or having your record remixed. What does this mean today compared with 20 to 25 years ago?
Answer: Well, when we were the remixers of choice 15 to 20 years ago, people would hire us to do a version that would be played in clubs so that they could continue to break the artist and spread the artist's fan base wider. So they would hire you to do a remix so that they could get the Blaze sound on there to promote it into this market that was the music business. Nowadays in a similar kind of fashion it's the same way; you can get a Blaze sounding record but then Dennis Ferrer can add a whole different concept to it and that's a different market. Blaze fans love the original "Most precious love" and others go for Dennis' mix.
Question: You guys also wrote songs for other artists. Was there ever a time you wrote a song and gave it to another artist and then thought "aww we should have kept that as a Blaze song"?
Answer: Actually, you know what, never. Any time we would write a song with or for another artist, we wrote it for that purpose and never regretted it. Like when we wrote for Barbara Tucker, we would have conversations with her late at night; don what her beliefs were, and the similarity between our beliefs. "Most precious love" was inspired by the fact that we were friends. We would have conversations about affairs, and romance and bad relationships; those were the inspirations. Amira's "My desire" was the same thing; very much influenced by her and the kind of person she was. So no I never felt I had to take songs back.
Question: Originally Chris Herbert was a third member of Blaze. So he moved on and you guys just carried on?
Answer: Correct, as Blaze. Originally my interest wasn't as much as being an artist but more towards being a producer, like Timmy Regisford and Boyd Jarvis. But because Chris was a vocalist he wanted to sing, and because he was a singer, when we wrote songs he became the lead vocalist. In the end, the three of us just wanted different things from the business so a professional departure was the est way to go.
Question: So if your intention was to be more 'behind the scenes' as a producer, what made you make the transition to DJing as well?
Answer: When I met Josh, I'd been trying to do this DJ thing since I was 12 years old, but when Blaze first started out I initially didn't see the value of trying to promote myself away from the group as a DJ or even promote the group as a DJ team. Once we became artist and producers that was like the Holy Grail and you're really a part of a production situation, and as a result in 17 years I never took one gig , nor did we take one gig in 17 years as a DJ group. It was a combination of Louie Vega and Hisa Ishioka from King Street Records who eventually influenced us to do it. Louie was doing a guest spot at Shelter and I was messing around behind the decks while the club was still closed. He was like "I never knew you do that" and I was like "Well yeah its fun, it's like riding a bike once you know how to do it". So then for a while when I was working at Shelter I would go in on an afternoons and just DJ on the system because it was the perfect system set up the perfect way and this way I had the opportunity to just relax myself, never really thinking of doing it for people.
Then after years of trying to persuade me to play in Japan, Hisa said something to me that was interesting. He said "If you don't come then the people in Japan are going to feel like you don't want to come, that you don't appreciate them enough". And so as a result we went and that was my first gig as a DJ; playing in front of 3'000 screaming Japanese kids, on a huge stage with 2 turntables, a mixer and Josh with a Microphone and a keyboard. And I admit it was a lot of fun. It just took off from there.
Question: Now let's just mention the night you do with Louie, Roots?
Answer: Yeah, it's been going on every Wednesday for seven years now. It's just amazing, and it was Nicolas Matar who reached out to me when I was working with West End, saying he wanted to do a night. I had sold my shares in Shelter and moved on so I wasn't really looking at going back into nightlife so soon. Nicolas Matar, the owner of Cielo was defiantly the catalyst towards pushing the Roots party.
I started thinking that Cielo wasn't really an underground club. It was not like Shelter, so you needed a DJ that has some commercial appeal, but is still underground and still soulful and Louie is the perfect DJ for that. He has the commercial appeal but can still be considered soulful, underground - not as deep and as underground as Timmy, but still underground and can still attract a similar audience. Roots was really an imagination of me trying to figure out a way of how to get people in suits interested in house music, deep house. Having a place where you could take a girl out, have a drink and be sexy and still listen to the music that we love to sweat too. That's how Roots started. It was my way of trying to figure out a how to get the music we loved to an audience that maybe wasn't used to it.
Question: So 7 years and still Roots continue?
Answer: Yeah, well I'm trying to get too 10 years. Originally I said after 5 I was going to be done with it, but in the fifth year the laws of New York cracked down on the clubs and they made Cielo a place where they needed to close at a certain time, and made really strict regulations. I didn't feel I wanted to leave my good friend Nicolas at that point. I didn't feel it would be fair to move on or to do something different when he was going through that so I wanted to be there with him to go through it with him. I love him, he is a really good guy and I wanted the best for him.
Question: Just to finish, tells us about the "House Masters" release…. you must be really proud of the different kind of sounds that are on there?
Answer: Well, like I said the music doesn't come from me or my partners Josh or Chris, I think the music is from the creator. It is the rhythms and the melodies and the ideas and the concepts that the universe wanted the world to know about and we just happened to be the tools that the universe used to get those points across. Hopefully the project is something that will be of value to people and will inspire people and in their lives as well. Many times songwriters, producers, film makers, people who write blogs or books have inspired me musically, so I hope that this can inspire somebody to want to do something, and give their gifts and their talents a hand. That's why we're doing it.
Courtesy of Defected Records