Big Ups With Leon Michels

Name, Location, What You Do:
Leon Michels, Rhinebeck, NY, musician/producer.

Influences:
Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Rouse, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, Charles Mingus, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, Lee Perry, Bob Marley, Sly Stone, Lou Reed, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Quentin Tarantino, Akira Kurowsawa, Paul Thomas Anderson, Egon Shiele, Basquiat, Van Gogh, Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious B.I.G, Madlib, J Dilla, Jay-Z, Richard Swift, my friends, my family, my dog, and on and on and on.

Favorite Records at the Moment:
Francois De Roubaix – Les Livres Rouges
Willie Griffin – I Love You
Live.e – LazyEaterBetsOnHerLikeness
Sault – (Untitled (Black Is)
Ozdemir Erdogan – Gurbet
Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony

Best Digging Story.
When I was 13, my neighbor knew that I was into music so he told my dad his partner was selling a bunch of instruments, and one of them was an electric keyboard. The guy worked at the Jewelry Exchange on Canal Street (which is still there). We walked down there to check it out. His partner brought us downstairs to his storage locker and there was a Fender Rhodes in a travel suitcase that he wanted $200 for. My dad paid him and we took it home. A couple years later I researched it and found out it was a Fender Rhodes Mark V Stage 73 + Midi which was apparently a prototype in which 3 were made for Chick Corea, John Novello, and Steve Woodyard. So I think I bought of one those guy’s Rhodes in the basement of a jewelry store on Canal Street.

Favorite Mix and Why. Any Genre, Any DJ.
Impressions Of impression Pt. 1 & 2 by Danny Akalepse. It is a masterfully mixed and curated selection of music inspired by one of my all-time favorite groups, the Impressions, put together by one of my favorite Dj’s and humans, Danny Akalepse. Life-affirming music. I have a boombox in my studio which this cassette permanently lives in.

LP, 12”, or 7” format?
7” is my favorite format. Collecting and DJing.

Junk Food You Can’t Live Without
I used to be a Haribo junkie. Starmix and twin cherries in particular. My kids are such crack heads when it comes to candy and junk food I’m no longer allowed to have it in my house.

Most Memorable Gig Played:
The most memorable show I’ve ever played was the very first show I played abroad with Sharon Jones & The Soul Providers in Plymouth, England in 1999. I was sixteen and I had convinced my parents to let me miss my finals and go on tour with a bunch of thirty-year-olds. The band was Gabe Roth, Victor Axelrod, Phillip Lehman, Martin Perna, Fernando Velez, Anda Szilagyi, and Sharon of course. There were about 500 people in the room and when we hit the stage they looked totally possessed. There were moments when they were trying to rush the stage to touch us. I just figured we were wildly popular in England but later found out it was essentially a rave and the entire audience was on ecstasy.

Record That Never Leaves Your Record Box or record you just go back to all the time.
There are always multiple James Brown records in my box, in particular, “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” and “Bring It Up”. No matter what record I play, I’m always surprised how good James Brown records sound next to pretty much anything.

Can you tell us how Big Crown Records came about?
Once Jeff Silverman and I decided to dissolve Truth & Soul, me and Danny Akalepse, who worked at T&S for a number of years started Big Crown.

With its diverse roster of bands, where do you see Big Crown Records in today’s music climate, and where would you like to see the label ten years from now?
My favorite labels have always been the ones with really clear identities. The type of labels where your gonna cop a record cause you just trust the label has good taste. Back in the day, that was sort of commonplace with labels like Stax, Atlantic, Motown, Apple, etc… they all had their own style and you knew what you were getting by looking at the label. I think by trusting our taste and loving everything on we release regardless of saleability or not, we are starting to develop an identity that people recognize. Not all the music we put out sounds the same or belongs to the same genre, but I do feel there is a common thread with all of it. In ten years I just hope we’re having as much fun as we are now. Danny and I basically handle all the in and outs of the label so having more people we trust and like, working for us, would be awesome.

I also hope we stumble upon a record that makes enough money to buy us each hot tubs.

How has the relocation from NYC to Upstate New York helped your process creatively making music/ records?
Prior to the Coronavirus and everything that is going on, I feel like I hit a stride up here with work. There is not much to do and very little distractions except for the occasional all-consuming house project, so I was able to work a lot. I still share a studio in the city with Homer Steinweiss, Nick Movshon, and Tom Brenneck, so I would go into the city once or twice a week, work, and then bring it upstate and finish projects. In 3 hours of working in isolation in the country, I get more done than I would’ve in a whole day in the city. I do miss having people around that I can constantly bounce ideas off of though. Now is a different story. I’m basically in survival mode with three kids and no work is getting done.

If you could work with any musician today and make a record with them, who would it be?
For a long time, I always answered that question with Cee Lo because I do think he has one of the illest voices of my generation and he has had some career moments that are near perfect. A lot of times the most satisfying people to work with are artists I become friends with first. No matter how dope someone is if the chemistry isn’t right it’s like pulling teeth.

Shout Outs, Last Remarks, and Gig/ Release info:
I wish I had a gig to promote but looks like its gonna be a while. I promise that there will be more El Michels Affair shows when we’re able to all be in the same room again.

Dig Deeper!

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