Strong Souls: “Knowing your history” & “The history you know”

Words by: Ralph Turner
Posted: 7/1/14 8:37

Ray Funnye AKA Strong SoulsA lot's been made of the Dance Mania comeback recently. One man who really made an impression on the label back in the mid 90s was Ray Funnye AKA Strong Souls. It was through the Hums EP on the label that he earned the greatest fanfare, with the package's title track proving a seminal moment in the label's vast and eclectic back catalogue. His productions these days might be less prolific, but they still pack serious heat, just as his Remember When EP for the emerging French imprint, Vibes & Pepper, would seem to suggest.

We called up the Chicago native recently to discuss Larry Heard, mentors and the Dance Mania legacy...

Tell me about your musical background. Were you born into a musical family?
I’ve been into music for as long as I can remember; my mother and father were true music connoisseurs.

When did you first encounter electronic music then? Why do you think it made such an impression on you?
I would say I was about 12 or 13 years old at the time. I instantly connected with the music. Why? Some things, you can’t put into words; it just made sense.

Was there one defining moment where you realised you wanted to make the music? I think I’ve always wanted to make music; I think some musical direction or guidance was needed first.

So how did a budding producer go about doing that twenty years ago? Did you have a mentor or did you have to save up for a drum machine etc?
I’ve had and still have mentors. Anyone or anything that is creative, can be considered a mentor, however my first drum machine was given to me by Larry Heard. I think it was a Roland TR-505.

There’s a difference between “knowing your history” and “the history you know”, however it’s not entirely the crowds fault. Some of the blame should be placed on some of the DJ’s as well...What's your thoughts on the era of technology-based music? Do you think the music 'way back when' had more soul and depth? Are there many contemporary producers interesting you?
Technology based music is cool; it can be considered the “baby” of electronic music, and electronic music could be considered the “son” of actual musical instruments, whether it’s from the vintage or technical era, as long as it’s good music, that’s what really counts.

Are you still as involved in the scene at home as much as you used to be or do you have other commitments these days too?
Unfortunately, I’m not as involved in the scene today, but much respect to the hardcore party people that still are (laugh). I have other things that are of high priority as well these days.

I noticed that you had a big part to play in the WKKC Radio story from quite early on. With hindsight, do you realise how many influential the station was back then?
Well I wouldn’t say a “big part”. I was a DJ on that station for 10 years, however WKKC and many other college stations were already established, well known, and were very influential, even before I was on the radio. They were an influence to me, that’s why I wanted to be a part of that movement.

Did it feel like you were in the middle of something very special or was that something you were conscious of at all?
Absolutely, I knew it was special; they (college radio stations) gave us the freedom to be creative and show our creativity to the city of Chicago.

Obviously radio was hugely important back then to people for hearing new music. With the Internet as prominent as it is, do you feel the mysticism surrounding the music has been somewhat diluted then? Somewhat: everyone can get their hands on anything nowadays. Back then, you had to be what I call a “music predator” you’d searched, you’d dig, and you’d hunt for music, especially if you could find music that other people didn’t know about or have.

Ray Funnye AKA Strong SoulsYour recent EP on the newly formed D3 Elements label is called Remember When. Are you a forward-thinking guy or do you yearn for how things used to be? Both, I’m always planning for the future, but how can know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve come from?
I also believed you produced with Larry Heard. Is he someone you still keep in contact with him? What was the biggest lesson you learned from producing alongside him?  I speak with Larry all the time; the biggest lesson? Make the kind of music you want to make, from your soul, even if it’s not the popular stuff that most people are listening to at the moment.

I noticed that a label you were quite closely associated with, Dance Mania, is making something of a comeback recently. Is this something you were aware of? And what do you make of the so-called 'resurgence' of house music?
Yes I’m aware of it. There’s a Strong Souls track that Kamal “Jazzy K” Sharif and myself produced in the early 90’s on the Dance Mania compilation that’s out now. Much respect to Ray Barney for reaching out to me with the opportunity to be a part that project. As far as a “resurgence”? In my Robert Owens voice “We never left, some of you just forgot” (laugh).

Make the kind of music you want to make, from your soul, even if it’s not the popular stuff that most people are listening to at the moment...Do you think guys like yourself have a duty to educate and entertain when you play to younger crowds? Are the crowds in Chicago these days generally receptive to what you do? Do they know their history?
It is my duty, whether it’s a younger, older, or mixed crowd. Sometimes it can be challenging to play for some crowds because of the “history” they (the crowd) know. There’s a difference between “knowing your history” and “the history you know”, however it’s not entirely the crowds fault. Some of the blame should be placed on some of the DJ’s as well.

You seem to value a quality over quantity approach, so will it be a while before we start hearing your name on a production tip? Or what else can we look forward to?
Hopefully not, I intend to produced and release, as much music as possible while maintaining a high level of quality in the process.

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