With a renewed spirit and a record for a new home, John Hughes is stepping out from the familiar surroundings of Hefty Records, the label he founded in 1996, to strengthen his creative partnership with 1320 Records. Though Hughes has collaborated with label-founders STS9 for years, this marks his first official release on 1320—an alliance long in the making, given both parties’ shared mission of creating and supporting new music under artist-run labels.
Hughes has recorded and released over a dozen albums under various aliases and groups like Slicker, Brood, Some Water and Sun, and Bill Ding, as well as under his own name. His latest creation, Reset the Warehouse, represents the prime selections from a productive period of meticulous tracking and experimentation at his HFT Studio, located outside of Chicago.
Working with a team of veteran musicians and trusted collaborators, Hughes has assembled a cohesive union of styles and recording techniques, resulting in a record that explores uncharted directions while remaining rooted in sounds and beats that a listener may only describe as “classic.”
While finishing the construction of his HFT Studio, Hughes was temporarily unable to access much of his gear. In that time he decided to focus on his custom-built modular synth so he could synthesize many of the sounds that would appear on future recordings from scratch. He brushed up on synth techniques and tracked hours of experimental sounds and patches to stash for later use. Hughes wanted his synth to be a living, breathing part of his record, much like the impact the famous T.O.N.T.O. modular synth had on the work of artists like Stevie Wonder and Gil Scott Herron in the 1970's. So it was fortuitous that, while working on original music for the Los Angeles Film Festival, Hughes learned that Robert Margouleff's studio would be used for the mix. Margouleff was one half of T.O.N.T.O., the duo who shared the same name as the synth they built and popularized. Hughes’ session with Margouleff further inspired the sounds and spirit that would become Reset the Warehouse.
While HFT Studio was in transition, Hughes also started thumbing through and revisiting his vinyl collection, seeking inspiration and piecing together palatable combinations of disparate genres: dub, Middle Eastern psych, 60's West Coast jazz, soul, Musique Concrete, Italian horror film soundtracks, hip-hop and early 80's electronic music—all styles that appear on Reset the Warehouse in some form.
Once Hughes had composed the framework for the Reset sessions, he invited a cast of accomplished players into the studio to help complete his vision:
Vibraphonist Rick Embach, a long-time collaborator on Hughes’ records (going as far back as 1996, when he was a regular contributor to Bill Ding), is featured on nearly every track on the album.
Nicole Mitchell, the acclaimed composer and current president of the historic Chicago-based ACCM jazz musician collection, as well as the founder of Black Earth Ensemble, played flute.
Maurizo Guarini, keyboardist for the Italian horror group Goblin, teamed up with Hughes for "Done Everything," a rich, brooding vignette featuring subtle layers of tape-echoed vibraphone, detuned synths and a haunting, unintelligible vocoder hook.
On saxophone and clarinet is Wendell Harrison, a founding member of Detroit's Tribe Records, a Motown session player and member of jazz legend Hank Crawford's band. Although Hughes had worked with Wendell in the past, this time he took the opportunity to interview him about his early years in music, a portion of which appears on "A Reflection of the Times".
For vocals Hughes turned to Shin Tasaki, his partner on the Some Water and Sun project, and Lindsay Anderson, who Hughes first worked with as part of the group L'Altra on Hefty Records. Tasaki lends his soulful, harmonic vocals on the album's title track, and both Anderson and Tasaki are featured on “Little Dot Sky in the Sky", which plays out like a Philadelphia Soul soundtrack set to Japanese Anime.
When it came time to edit and mix the tracks, Hughes looked to the help of two old friends. One was Embach, who was involved in the sessions from the earliest stages. Since he was familiar with Hughes' musical vision, Embach had unique insights for how Hughes could make sense of the large stockpile of material he had accumulated. Also contributing to the mix was another old friend, Joshua Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv. Hughes first worked with Eustis in 2001 when he released Telefon Tel Aviv's debut album Fahrenheit Fair Enough on Hefty. Hughes brought his recording sessions to Eustis' studio in Chicago, and together they mixed the tracks thorough an analog mixing board and then to two-track tape, giving the album the finishing touches and appropriate analog "glue" it required.
It's only fitting that Hughes is teaming up with 1320 Records for this project. Like Hefty, 1320 is an independent, musician-run collective that stresses cooperation between the artist and label. Having overseen the release of over 60 albums on Hefty, working with 1320 is a familiar setting with a new set of opportunities. Hughes has been interacting with members of STS9 for several years, having completed remixes and musical collaborations, as well as seeing Hefty artists such as Telefon Tel Aviv, Eliot Lipp, Scott Herren (Savath+Savalas, Prefuse 73) and L'Altra play tour dates with STS9.