Ron Carroll is a Chicago DJ, Singer, Songwriter, Label Owner, remixer and producer who has played all around the world. He is House Music’s “Renaissance Man”. He’s worked with some of the industry’s best producers and Djs. Known for his signature singing style like a preacher earned him the nickname “Minister of Sound”. He has written and performed on some of the biggest hits in House Music and although his music is global, he never forgets his Chicago Roots. I recently had a chance to speak with Ron Carroll about his career, the state of the Chicago Music Scene and his most recent project, Chicago Born.
Black Widow: You’re a DJ, Singer/songwriter, and producer, how did all of that begin? What came first?
Ron Carroll: Within the house world, DJing came first but in my life, singing came first. You know growing up in church. I wasn’t into house music or disco at the time. I was into Rock and metal; AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath. Once my father, who was religious, found this out he banned it from the house. I remember going to a party at my school and there was a guy DJing. In my opinion, the DJ didn’t look so good. He wasn’t a handsome dude, he was kinda bummy but he was the DJ and I noticed people were hanging around him, kicking it with him. I was like, man….he’s not a dope looking dude but people want to be around him. I was an introverted and shy kid. Honestly, I started DJing for acceptance. Growing up I didn’t have many friends or anything like that. I started wanting to DJ to make friends and be liked. I studied that DJ all night and decided then that this was what I wanted to do. Once started learning it and doing it, my brother and I were DJing together. We had a little crew. I noticed people started being cool with me and we were doing parties at our school. From there I started to love it. Once I startedlooking and searching for music and educating myself on the craft, the love grew. From there I wanted to learn more so I started working at Trax Records, starting going to the studios at DJ international, I became obsessed with it. That’s how it all really started.
Black Widow: I’m fairly new to the songwriting genre. I’m used to writing poetry and there are differences between writing song lyrics and poems. As a singer/Songwriter, what is your favorite part of the songwriting process?
Ron Carroll: It’s all about the story. I look at poetry and songwriting in a similar light. I say that because poetry is a free-form and songwriting is a melody locked into a situation. As writers, we all rhyme and tell a story, but as songwriters, you create a melody and lock it into the groove. That’s what I do. I write the story out first. I don’t even listen to the track initially. I write it first then listen to the track. Then I attach the melody to it.
Black Widow: Do you find sometimes, the melody and the groove don’t mesh and you have to go back to the drawing board?
Ron Carroll: Of course, especially when you are working with people, everyone has their own ideas of what they want to be expressed or experienced. It’s not always a final thing. A lot of times, I’ve been sent back to the drawing board 10-12 times. I’ve just learned that it’s part of the industry…the business. It’s totally different if you are working alone. You can express yourself freely. You know…it’s my groove, my track, my song. You can do what you want.
Black Widow: Where you do get your inspiration?
Ron Carroll: I draw inspiration from real life. I can overhear a couple arguing about something and find the subject matter there. I can see something posted online and draw inspiration from that. A lot of it is personal too, things I’ve gone through and experienced.
Black Widow: I completely agree. I have found that when I’m dealing with writer's block, I tend to take a break and get out and “live” more, enjoy new experiences. It keeps me fresh creatively.
Ron Carroll: Of Course…absolutely. You have to take breaks and live to find that inspiration.
Black Widow: As a producer, with technology and all of the new advances, the music making process is different now. How has the music making process changed? Is it better or worse?
Ron Carroll: I’ll say this; the way music is made today creates sort of a laziness in creativity. The mind is not being worked or challenged. Nowadays, people just take loops and from the loops they take, they steal a keyboard line from another song….you know that’s why I respect the way Terry (Hunter) creates. You know he still wants to put in that work, in the bigger studio, adding horns, and different sounds. He still has that authentic way of creating…Same with Louie Vega. That’s why only certain people’s stuff stands out because they are really in the complete creative process.
Black Widow: Taking it to the next level with the instrumentation and utilizing these different sounds instead of relying solely on technology. It’s definitely an art form.
Ron Carroll: Absolutely!
Black Widow: As a DJ, how do you see the balance between giving the crowd what they want and introducing them to something new? Is it a challenge for you to break new music? Especially here in Chicago where we are all opinionated! (Laughter)
Ron Carroll: I learned a long time ago that people really feed off of energy. I’ve always been told I have to sell whatever I’m trying to sell. I HAVE TO SELL IT and when I look and listen to new music or new vibes, people may not dance initially because you know people like a good old familiar record or a sing-along. I get that, but if they are looking at me and I’m working it and I’m vibing off of it, regardless of the initial response, they may walk away and say, “you know there was a track he played around here, but I think I like it” and the next time they hear it they may rock with it. It’s like commercials. You see “drink Coca Cola, drink Coca Cola" every day, eventually someone is going to try Coca Cola and like it. That’s how I approach it. I think what’s killed a lot of new music from being introduced is the lack of “one regular Dj type parties. The scene here is different now. Now it’s a lot of guests DJs and 30-minute slots and such with multiple people and that’s not a lot of time to sell anything. Some of the creativity gets lost because of how the scene is today.
Black Widow: So you feel it doesn’t really allow a patron to go on a true musical journey with the DJ anymore?
Black Widow: Yeah. Think about it. You go to a club to hear “so and so DJ” because you love them and you have a ball but next week, you go to the same club and now it’s someone else and they aren’t doing the same thing. You were attracted to something and now that connection is cut off. You know you used to have those clubs like the powerhouse, music box and warehouse to get those intimate experiences with the DJs that were staples here. Then you also had those huge parties for the masses where you would have multiple DJs on the bill and you would get to hear everybody and those DJs meshed well together. For example, Mike Dunn and Tony T are examples of a true house party. Each week, people pack Reynolds to hear them play. The people who come to Reynolds know Mike and Tony and love what they are giving them so they come week after week, then that same crowd will roll to the north side when they are playing. Now the fan base doesn't mind going to check them out at different venues because they’ve set a tone and provided a weekly experience for the audience. Terry Hunter had the same thing with BANG.
Black Widow: Is that why you tend to play alone? I noticed your sets this week were pretty much just you. Is that how you prefer to play and why?
Ron Carroll: Yes and that’s what I tend to request. I feel like this, I want people to come and say, “Ron fucked up” or “Ron did his thing” and I loved it. I don’t want anyone else energy to throw mine off. I want to set the tone and if the tone is wack then it’s all on me. If I set a good tone, then it’s on me. It keeps me on my toes and makes me stay on top of my game. That’s just what I prefer and as a result, I don’t do a lot of parties.
Black Widow: Ok…so let’s talk about your latest project, Chicago Born. You have 8 completely refurbished tracks of some iconic house classics. Why did you name it Chicago Born and what made you want to take a look at these tracks again?
Ron Carroll: I believe there are younger generations and many others outside of Chicago who don’t understand the Chicago movement. They never experienced some of these songs like I did growing up. I wanted share that and introduce it to those who may not have had the same experience I did. Nowadays, things are mastered and programed better, so I took them and gave them a heavier sound that makes them current so you can play them alongside new tracks. We have various volumes coming out too. Volumes 1-10. We are just going to keep pushing them out and giving people that old vibe. It was all about recapturing my youth and sharing it with those who don’t know what that was about.
Black Widow: That leads to my next question. These songs came out when I was in grade school, so my memories are from grammar school parties and the radio primarily. What are some of your fondest memories from that time?
Ron Carroll: I loved that back then Chicago had its watermark on the world. We had our own style, sound and vision. The music felt like it was us…it was Chicago. Just like hip hop felt like New York in the beginning. Unfortunately over the years, we've allowed other cities to take credit and to a certain degree lost our identity. We started taking other cities vibes and sounds.
Black Widow: Do you think Chicago House Music has lost its signature sound?
Ron Carroll: I do. A lot of people don’t want to talk about the 90s but there was a huge gap with house music during that time because a lot of House DJ’s started playing Hip Hop. They stopped doing house and did R&B and hip hop so now the city became completely influenced by that sound which was coming out of other cities. The 90s was a crucial moment. If you notice when people talk about the older days of house, they always speak about the 80s and omit the 90s. Clubs shut down, the crowds switched…the 90s was a very critical moment. On the urban side, everyone wanted to be hip hop and we stopped creating the sounds that came from “our hoods”. While New York was doing hip hop and creating this sound that came from their hoods, we stopped doing that here. House Music was the music we made...from our experiences and from our hoods... That sound was completely us. We have to get back to that...OUR SOUND instead of the sounds from other cities to influence our music. That's how Chicago stayed innovative back then. We were the trendsetters, not the other way around.
Black Widow: In listening to Chicago Born, I have to say, War Beats is my favorite! That beat is bananas! Do you have a favorite track on the project?
Ron Carroll: Oh Thank you! Yeah War Beats, definitely and I also have to say Poindexters Groove and Born Acid.
Black Widow: This website is all about Chicago House Music and the Chicago House scene. How does being an artist from Chicago and having this rich history influence or impact you as an artist?
Ron Carroll: I love it. I take Chicago with me wherever I go. It’s a huge reason why I did Chicago Born and will continue the series with different volumes. The music and genre we created impacted the world.
Black Widow: Thank you so much Ron for taking some time to speak with me today. Continued success and blessings to you!
Ron Carroll: It was my pleasure. Thank you.
Until next time,
See ya on a Dance Floor!