So I Googled “Ballin’ Oates”—and found this amazing, dazzling, mind-blowing creation of five Hall & Oates-mixed-with-hip hop jams.
The genius—Scott Melker.
Wait. You probably know him as The Melker Project. Whatever the case, the Penn-educated, New York City-based DJ is a superstar in a medium that’s finally being fully appreciated. He’s remixed some of the most unlikely song pairings in modern music history, and has played gigs alongside a wide-ranging list of artists that includes Kanye West, Sheryl Crow, Gloria Estefan and Q-Tip. One can visit Scott’s site here and follow him on Twitter here. Oh, and his SoundCloud page is a must visit.
Scott Melker, welcome to the Qua-Qua-Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: I’m a huge hip-hop guy, and an even huger Hall and Oates guy—and Ballin’ Oates truly, truly, truly rocked my world. So I have to ask: How did this idea pop into your head? What was the process? Why Hall and Oates? And did you ever hear from Daryl or John afterward?
SCOTT MELKER: Ballin’ Oates was my third EP in a series of similar projects (Skeetwood Mac, The Skeetles). H&O are arguably my favorite duo of all time, and the name (which I came up with while baking in the Turkish Sauna in New York City) was just too brilliant not to build around. The process was tedious, to say the least. I narrowed down their catalogue to around 10 songs, and began replaying all of the individual instruments on my keyboard. I used different sounds than in the originals for each part, and created entirely new drum tracks to modernize the songs. When that was finished, I went to work figuring out vocal tracks that would sound great on each song, which helped narrow it down to the five tracks that I released.
Oates and I were actually interviewed together in Billboard in advance of their induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He had positive things to say about Ballin’ Oates, which was absolutely mind blowing and humbling.
J.P.: It seems like, for most of modern music history, the DJ was the dude in the background, sort of like the drummer. We knew he existed, and appreciated his contributions. But, well, he was also sort of invisible. That, clearly, has changed. My question, Scott, is how and why? And am I even right on this theory?
S.M.: This theory is only partially correct. I think it is true to the average person, but DJs have been celebrities in club and hip hop culture since the 1980s. Now it is mainstream, and much bigger than ever before.
There are a few reasons. First, technology has made “DJing” far more accessible to the masses. I put “DJing” in quotes, because basically any jackass with a laptop can now be a “DJ.” The simplicity of the technology, paired with the rise of EDM in the United States, has created the “perfect storm” for DJ culture. Almost every pop record is now basically an innocuous EDM song—and the DJs are the ones who are creating that type of music. The result is a lot of producers making a ton of money “DJing” by pushing play and watching the pretty lasers. There are, however, a ton of incredibly talented DJs who are finally getting their due.
J.P.: I know you’re from Torrance, California, know you were raised in Gainesville, Florida, know you attended Penn and know you DJed a lot in Philly while in college. But, musically speaking, what’s your life path, from womb to here? Put differently: How did this happen?
S.M.: Music has always been the centerpiece of my life. It started on the piano at 5, progressed into singing, than the saxophone, followed by the harmonica and guitar. By the time I hit college, DJing was a cooler way to play music, and subsequently flirt with girls. I fell in love with the craft, started producing, and ended up where I am today.
J.P.: I’m fascinated by your remixes and, specifically, the thought process. I mean, how does a guy think to himself, “You know what’ll be great? Nas and Phil Collins!”? or “Let’s mash up Twista and Hall and Oates!”? Where do the ideas come from? What makes two songs compatible for one another? If I say, randomly, Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and “Exhibit C” by Jay Electronica, could you make it work? Or are there certain timing, style, lyrical elements that have to mesh?
S.M.: I have ADD, which pretty much sums up my musical approach. My bank of ideas is endless, but only a small percentage of them make it to market. At the most basic level, the two songs have to be in the same key, at roughly the same tempo. More importantly, they just have to “feel right,” which is something that is up to the individual producer to determine. Sometimes this is a result of trial and error, but most often I search my mental music library for songs that I believe will fit—and they usually do.
I have done “commissioned” mashups for people before and made them work. Recently a client asked me to put Happy together with Mr. Blue Sky and it worked out quite well … as for Gloria, well, I would have to try. I heard she has voices in her head, calling Gloriaaaaaa.
J.P.: Along those lines, how do you do it? I’ve listened to your stuff over and over, and the technical process itself seems really … daunting. I’m naïve, admittedly, but how do you extract old verses from a song that wasn’t recorded digitally? Does everything start clunkily, and you smooth it out?
S.M.: I generally replay the instrumentals from scratch, unless I am lucky enough to dig up the stems from the original recording. If I have the stems, I usually use them as the base, and build from there with the live instrumentation. For vocals, you really have to have the separated a cappella track to be able to use a song. You can make DIY versions, but they usually sound awful—and to do it you need the instrumental track, which is usually unavailable as well.
For example, on Ballin’ Oates, I completely replayed Out Of Touch in midi, and then toyed with new sounds for each instrument. I created a fresh drum track. I was able to isolate the vocal of one line—”You’re Out Of Touch, I’m Out Of Time,” which is the only “sample” from the original H&O song on the entire track.
J.P.: I remember, years ago, Coolio wanting to Kill Weird Al when he turned “Gangsta’s Paradise” into a parody. Have you run into any problems with artists? Do you ever get people saying, “Don’t touch my shit”?
S.M.: Coolio is buggin’. I would kill to have Weird Al parody one of my songs. I have run into problems, but never with the actual artists. More often it is the label that complains and sends a cease and desist. I have had a lot of my work removed from the internet, which is a death sentence for a project. I post everything to Legitmix, which is an innovative platform that allows producer to legally share and sell derivative and sampled content. So even if things get taken down elsewhere, they generally stay live there.
J.P.: Is there a such thing, factually, as great music and shit music? For example, my daughter is pretty big into Z100 lately—and it melts my brain. If I have to hear one more Ke$sha song, I literally think I’ll vomit into my eyeballs. But then I play, say, old Sam Cooke or even A Tribe Called Quest, and she wants to run away. Do you have standards in this regard? Are there any?
S.M.: This is completely subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That said, A Tribe Called Quest and Sam Cooke are pretty much better than everything else. I do hold certain standards, but I believe that I can pretty much take anything and turn into something I like. I’m not a Carly Rae Jepsen fan, but I had fun chopping and screwing her vocals to make her sound like Cher had a baby with the lead singer of Nickelback.
Side note: I would pay to see someone vomit into their eyeballs.
J.P.: As a DJ, what does it feel like when you’re doing an event and e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is clicking? The crowd’s going crazy, the acoustics are perfect, the music is flowing. Explain the high …
S.M.: You know sex? Drugs? Skydiving? All of the other rushes that people think are the “best?” Those are half as amazing as what you are describing. There is nothing better, period. Well, maybe playing the perfect gig while skydiving and having sex.
J.P.: You started playing piano at age 5—just like my daughter. Sometimes I have to drag her, she hates practicing, etc … etc. Is it worthwhile? What did playing an instrument do for you?
S.M.: You can’t force feed a child music, unfortunately. They will just end up quitting, getting a tattoo and resenting you forever. No big deal. I loved playing the piano from day one, so it was never a “chore.” It was something I wanted to do every day. I owe my career to two things—my childhood piano teacher, and my parents, who played amazing music every day in our house. I have their entire record collection, and still dip into it every day.
J.P.: Throughout your career you’ve worked as a DJ with some genuinely high-profile and disparate acts—Public Enemy and Wu Tang to Sheryl Crow and Crosby Stills and Nash. Explain to me the philosophy and approach that comes from doing, say, a hip-hop gig vs. a country-rock or folk one?
S.M.: You have to play to the crowd, but still maintain your integrity as an artist. I like to push the limits and see what I can get away with. I mean, playing Van Morrison at a hip hop concert, or Three Six Mafia at a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert are risky propositions. But it works when mixed with something that makes sense to the audience. Or you crash and burn—so there’s that possibility.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SCOTT MELKER:
• Your name is Scott Melker, which isn’t particlarly sexy. Have you ever considered, a la Chad Ochocinco, a name change to DJ Motherfucker or DJ Bring the House Down? Something like that?: Technically, I now go by The Melker Project, which is equally unsexy. I never really considered a name change, because I have never been confident enough in a nickname that I would want it to stick. Kind of like a tattoo … I mean, my first DJ moniker was “Pookie,” which was my fraternity pledge name, after Chris Rock’s crackhead character in New Jack City (one of the best movies ever). I’m glad that didn’t stick.
• Top five 90s hip-hop songs that would still work magic in a club filled with 18-year olds today: Juicy (or Hypnotize), Hip Hop Hooray (they can wave their hands back and forth), Poison (not really hip hop, but still kills em’), Money Ain’t A Thang and Slam by Onyx, just because I love Slam by Onyx.
• Rank in order (favorite to least)—Jeb Bush, House of Pain, male-pattern baldness, Peabo Bryson, Pete Rock, “Remains of the Day,” Cherry Coca-Cola, Converse All-Stars, Slam Magazine, U.S. Postal Service, beauty marks, Drake, Rubik’s Cube, salmon: Pete Rock, Rubik’s Cube, House Of Pain, Salmon, Peabo Bryson, Converse All Stars, Slam Magazine, Cherry Coca-Cola, Remains Of The Day, U.S. Postal Service, Beauty Marks, Male-Pattern Baldness, Drake, Jeb Bush
• Do you think Tupac would have approved of the Ghetto Gospel remaking with Elton John that was put out on a posthumous CD?: Yes, because he would have gotten paid.
• In 20 words or less, can you make an argument for Young MC?: I can do it in seven words. Don’t Just Stand There, Bust A Move.
• Why is pot such a huge part of the entertainment world?: Because it’s awesome (apparently).
• Five genuinely nicest, most decent celebrities you’ve worked with: Justin Timberlake (we sang karaoke together in Japan), Snoop Dogg, CeeLo, Lupe Fiasco, Questlove
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I have experienced three, count em’ THREE, emergency landings in my life. I never really felt like I was going to die. The old lady next to me on one of the flights though … She really thought she was going to die.
• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to produce her upcoming 50-track CD, “Celine Sings Only About Strawberry Cupcakes.” Good news: She’ll pay $15 million for a year’s work. Bad news: You work 365-straight days, sleep in her broom closet and have to only wear pink T-shirts that read, I’M CELINE’S BITCH BOY. You in?: Absolutely. I would do it for a dollar and some envelopes. And a pack of Skittles.