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Recipe for House Grooves

[whitespace] Tyler Stone Old School Style: A classically trained jazz vocalist, Tyler Stone is not just a techie; she's a diva, too.

Marcus Hanschen

Tyler Stone cooks up house tracks that are shaping the future of the West Coast house music community

By Amanda Nowinski

Pour in a quart of uncooked funk, two cups melted percussion, three tablespoons honey-infused disco lamé and five teaspoons crushed No-Doz, mix it through a Soundtracs Topaz 24-track console at 125 BPM, and there you have a fabulous house track by Tyler Stone. Known for her trademark "shake your thing" sound, Tyler began shaping the future of the West Coast house community five years ago when she joined forces with 12-inch heavyweight DJs EFX and Digit to form Third Floor Productions, San Francisco's first house music collective for producers, singers and DJs. Under the tutelage of DJ EFX, Stone landed her first house gig in 1994 when she remixed the Killa Green Buds' track "Keep Slippin" on Strictly Rhythm--an amazingly fortuitous break for a recent initiate.

When EFX and Digit relocated to London in 1995, Tyler opened her own studio and began expanding her discography to envious proportions, adding to her credits Sting, Crystal Waters, Armand Van Helden, Judy Cheeks and Robin S. A classically trained jazz vocalist, Stone is not just a techie; she's a diva, too. In 1996, she got up from behind the EQ buttons and released "I'm So High," a deep, dubby house track looped around the Stones' molasses vocals. Produced by pals DJ EFX and Big Ed, the dance-floor anthem propelled Stone into writing, singing and producing her own projects, including the recent "Dance! Shout!" for Soda Records in L.A. and "Sista," a jazzy, work-it-girl ode to Sister, the club run by local superstar turntablists Charlotte the Baroness and Polywog.

Metropolitan: West Coast electronica tends to be trippy or harder drum and bass. Your sound, however, is more aligned with the old-school, deep house style of the East Coast, like Louie Vega and Roger Sanchez. Are you somewhat of a house traditionalist?

Tyler: I don't consider myself a traditionalist, and I think like a lot of people on the West Coast, I'm still in the process of getting introduced to house. I've only been listening to it for the past five years. My sound truly comes from all the stuff I like best, which is, in fact, the East Coast sound. But I'm also influenced by disco, funk and rap--anything rhythm-based. The East Coast sound definitely has more of a groove influence, and dancing to that is what gets me off.

I started making house music because I love to dance to it. I'd be out at a club, and I'd say, "Man, if they'd just let that break down half a beat longer, it would sound so much cooler." And I thought, "I can do this better." A million artists have said that before, I know. So when I create, I think, Does this really make you groove? You want every head bopping, even if everyone's sitting down.

Metropolitan: Although a few Bay Area DJs like Polywog, Dani and Charlotte the Baroness have crossed over to producing, the percentage of female versus male house producers is disappointing.

Tyler: I think it's like anything in society--if you don't have any role models, it doesn't cross your mind to do it. When I started out, all I saw were guys producing. And that's basically because of that stupid theory that men are more technically inclined than women. But as you see more women getting into the production side, like Terry Bristol and The Angel, two really fabulous musicians, other women will follow. My first musical role model was Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders. She was not only strong, but she played the guitar, wrote all the lyrics and even sang. She wasn't just a girl singer in the band, she was the leader of the band. The Pretenders are all about Chrissy. She took on the role that normally you'd see a guy doing. She was definitely a big inspiration when I was coming out of high school. I remember watching her and thinking, Man, I want to do that.

Metropolitan: With only a handful of record labels, and most of them being alternative rock, is San Francisco a viable place for a thriving dance-music industry?

Tyler: San Francisco is a very viable place to be an artist, but you're right, we don't have the music industry here. But that makes me think back to when I lived in Seattle, where there were all these dirty little Seattle grunge bands, hanging around in grungy bars. It was disgusting. I hated it.

But there was one cool part about it--whenever you'd go hear a band, the place would always be packed. Half the audience would be musicians from other small bands, and the other half would be friends and random supporters. It was all about being supportive and interested in one thing--music. Within five years, the grunge scene grew from something very simple--people playing music and going out supporting their friends--to having every record company in the country wanting to sign a band from Seattle.

So I think that it's more important as an artist to not worry so much about your geographical location, but ask, What is your artists community like? What is the support base like? San Francisco is and always has been an amazing place to be an artist, other than the fact that none of us can afford to live here anymore.

Metropolitan: Do you prefer singing to producing?

Tyler: I wouldn't say I prefer to sing, but every time I get up on stage and perform live, I feel closest to myself, more than with anything else I could do. Performing live is my biggest rush--not in a studio, but live. Singing was my first love. I initially got into singing because when you're 2 years old, you have free access to that instrument.

I love the arranging aspect of producing probably more than I like writing the original piece; that's why I love remixing. You begin with material that's already inspiring, and you're asked to play with it. Cool! You change it, make some things better, different, whatever.

Metropolitan: It seems that house music is suddenly everywhere--in commercials, on the radio, in movie soundtracks, etc. Yet most Americans haven't made the crossover from listening (or tolerating) house in clubs to buying it for their own enjoyment.

Tyler: This was actually a topic at the Winter Music Conference a couple of years ago. Record companies were saying, "You guys need to get your song-writing skills together, because this track is great, but we can't sell it. If you want to get our attention, write some songs." Musicians listened.

And as that's been happening, the music has become a lot more listener-oriented. The background of house is very raw, untrained. But those DJs understood the grooves and the rhythms--you didn't need to be a trained musician to make house. All house music has a really deep bass line; it's all about the rhythm. But now, music is becoming something you can sit back and listen to. Some of it is instrumental, like my sax mix on my "Dance! Shout!" track, where jazz plays over house grooves. It's musical and it's not just beats.

House music is very spiritual to me. It makes me feel something deep and true, and it isn't necessarily cerebral. To get lost in the sounds on the dance floor is a beautiful feeling; you start to feel the elements of sound, and your body follows. I go out dancing for my soul.

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From the June 1-14, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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