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Keyboard Magazine's GREG RULE! - Part 1

NAJM Dance Culture
From the remixer / producer chair, to the fast paced life at the top of America's premiere musician's magazine; Keyboard, Greg Rule is in the trenches and completely in touch with today's remixers and dance music producers. Greg took a few moments from behind the editor's desk to chat with NAJM in this first of two part interview.
NAJM:  Congratulations on your promotion at Keyboard Magazine. What's your new title, and what are you doing?  

 

GR:  I'm the editor of Keyboard now. I started out as an assistant editor back in 1990 and just kind of clawed my way up to this position. It's been a great decade because all of us (here at Keyboard) are, first and foremost, musicians. The journalism part is almost secondary to our love for music. It's a great situation because you're standing at the end of a pipeline that's just constantly spewing new products and new music at you everyday.
dot_clear.gif (43 bytes) NAJM:   Sounds exciting!
GR:  It's a great place to work. Every month the latest keyboard and software packages are coming in. Record companies are sending their latest releases to us. I feel fortunate to be in this position. The other cool factor is that our company realizes the value of having journalists who can really get in the trenches with the artists and talk shop with them. It's more than just being a journalist. We can see eye to eye with the people who we are interviewing. We also have a recording studio that the company built for us. They encourage us to get in there and make music.
NAJM:   Really. That sounds really great. How did you become involved in dance music?
GR:  I started to review electronic and techno oriented products. What better way to test a product than to use it in real world situations? Little by little I started doing that and managed to build up a body of work.
NAJM:  Do you have any sort of a background in Journalism, or was it just sort of an on-the-job-training thing over the years?
GR:  In high school I worked on the school paper. In college I worked at a radio station. At the time I wasn't really focused on that as a career path. I don't want to de-emphasize the importance of being a good writer, but I think my career at Keyboard is driven by my passion for music.
NAJM:  Prior to your working in the Keyboard studio, were you a fan of dance music?
GR:  Absolutely. I grew up in a musical family. My parents were singers, and some of my relatives were in bands. So I was surrounded by music as a kid. I grew up listening to Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, disco, funk, and so on. My cousin and I built a modular synthesizer while I was in Junior High School. We would stay up all night with our soldering iron.
NAJM:  Pretty inventive. You're not only a good writer, but also an engineer?
GR:  We ordered this synth kit from a company named Paia, a company out of Oklahoma. We ordered the kit soldered it together ourselves.
NAJM:  And it worked?
GR:  It made interesting noises. From a musical aspect, I don't know that it performed all that well, but as a noise production unit it was great.

The Future of Keyboard Magazine's Dance Coverage...

NAJM:  Now that you are the editor of Keyboard Magazine and knowing your involvement with dance music, is the magazine's treatment of dance music going to expand?
GR:  It's already changed quite a bit over the last five years. My mission and passion has been to bring Keyboard into that world. In the '70s, Keyboard was known as sort of a rock and jazz magazine. In the '80s we became focused more on gear. Then in the '90s we started getting into digital recording, and that really drove our magazine. Throughout our 25 years of existence we've covered the whole spectrum of music, and we still do. Clearly in the early '90s, there was no one here who was firmly connected to the dance music world. I started to get interested in it by listening to the music that was going on at the time. I started reviewing the products and tried to recreate the sounds that I was hearing on records. Ultimately I started exploring the club scene, and little by little started bringing that scene into Keyboard. We introduced a column a few years ago called "Dance Mix" -- a page where we have various remixers write about dance music production. So that happens every month. Then if you scroll back through three years of issues, you'll see we've covered some of the most important remixers on the scene from Armand Van Helden to DJ/musicians like Josh Wink to producers like William Orbit. Keyboard has been incredibly interested in that world and we're doing our best to cover as much of it as possible.
NAJM:  Good answer. Is that your final answer?
GR:  Yes. (Laughs).
NAJM:  You're based out of San Francisco?
GR:  Actually we're in San Mateo, (down South just a few miles).
NAJM:  What's your dance music scene like out there?
GR:  I'm kind of proud of what's been happening out here, and I think the world is starting to notice it a little bit. When I was at the Billboard Dance Music Summit in Atlanta this past summer the keynote speech by the guy from UK's Ministry of Sound talked about how the States were starting to show signs of life. He named a couple of cities and it was nice to hear him talk about San Francisco. With clubs like 1015 Folsom and the popularity of Spundae, I'm enthused about the scene here.

How to Hook Up with a Remix?

NAJM:  Cool. I know that you have done some remixing work, more recently Michelle Crispin's "Superstar". We interviewed Michelle a few months back; she was a lot of fun. How did you connect with that project?
GR:  It's interesting I'm one of the contributors to the "Dance Mix" column and my February 2000 column is devoted to the story of that remix. The overview of what happened will hopefully be an inspiration to people about the value of going to these conferences. When I was at the Billboard DMS in Atlanta last year, I was standing in line to register, and I struck up a conversation with the people in front of me, who turned out to be Michelle Crispin. She was there with her songwriting partner Heather Holley.
NAJM:  Oh my God!
GR:  It was a cool coincidence because I had just done a remix of Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" and Heather co-wrote a song on Christina's album. So we had that in common. One thing led to another and later that day I bumped into Michelle and Heather again, but this time they had Rob Hoffman (Lovegroove) with them. I had a phone interview with Rob a couple of years earlier when he was working on the Michael Jackson History album; but I'd never met Rob in person. It was just sort of an interesting encounter there, and Rob said, "We need a couple of remixes for this single, would I be interested in taking a stab at one?" So as soon as I got back from the conference he FedEx'd me a DAT and I had 2 days to get it done.
NAJM:  Wow, that's fantastic!
GR:  I had to turn it around quickly. Michelle's got it going on. It's makes it so much smoother when you get a vocal in like hers that is so good. I can't tell you how many times I've spent hours taking apart words, retuning and fixing little things to get the vocal to sound better.
NAJM:  It's very refreshing to get a good vocal track that you don't have to spend a lot of time chopping it up and putting it through a food processor to make it work.
GR:  If you listen to my mix compared to the other five on there, mine was the driest in terms of effects put on Michelle's vocals. And usually I tend to dunk on various effects, not necessarily to mask imperfections. But Michelle's vocals were so good, I didn't feel that they needed much done to them.
NAJM:  She was great at Billboard. When I spoke with her, she was like; "I didn't even have a finished version of the song when I performed it!  I'm sharing the stage with Amber, and I was a nervous wreck", but she totally pulled it off. Besides remixing, are you going to get into producing?
GR:  It's an interesting situation that I'm in right now. The day that I was named Editor of Keyboard magazine my phone was ringing. I had a couple of offers that day to produce an album and a remix project. It's become a balancing act for me now, though; being in the editor's chair at Keyboard is pretty intense.
NAJM:  I imagine it's a lot of pressure.
GR:  I wanted to back off for about three or four months to give myself some time to learn this editor's thing, get in the groove. I wasn't going to take the editor's gig at the expense of not making music, though. I want to keep remixing, keep producing because I feel that the greatest thing I can do for this magazine is to remain tapped into the musicmaking world, and let that spill over into what I write and edit. I don't want to become this suit and tie kind of guy. So I'm happy to say that I've been able to do both so far. I just finished a remix with another staff member here at Keyboard. His name is John Krogh. This is our second remix, and we call ourselves The Bonehead Brothers. We did a remix for The Fixx; the song, "Stand or Fall". I'd done two solo Fixx remixes prior to that one; "One Thing Leads to Another" and "Red Skies" through Doug Beck who is also a dance mix columnist for Keyboard. He was the one who arranged that deal. The last I heard, the "One Thing Leads to Another" mixes were due out on Jellybean.
NAJM:  We've been getting some great promo vinyl from them, so hopefully it will come across our desks soon.
GR:  Hope so. The first Bonehead Brothers release is be for a band called, Brujeria. They're #1 in Mexico right now. I don't even know how to describe these guys. They're a very bizarre metal meets techno hybrid. They put out a song in Mexico called "Don Quixote" and it was a big hit, but then the government banned it. I guess it had some raunchy lyrics in it.
NAJM:  Imagine that.
GR:  So immediately, the label (Kool Arrow) Records, [a new label started by Billy Gould, former bass player for Faith No More, another rock band that Greg remixed] got right on it, and had the Bonehead Brothers do a house mix of Don Quixote. That's being pumped into Mexico right now and it's going to be available at MP3.com. I've also been doing some music for TV. I did a house theme song for an Asian TV channel out here. Now I'm getting into dance type clips for commercials and TV shows, that sort of thing.

The Best Keyboards for Dance Music?

NAJM:  This question is probably very near and dear to you. What single keyboard has contributed the most to today's dance music?
GR:  Oh man! It's hard for me to single one out, but I can say a few things I feel strongly about. I hear Clavia's Nord Lead on so many songs these days, it's in almost every remixer's studio. On the software side ReBirth has changed the world. So many of us have lusted after 303s, 808s and 909s. They're hard to find, and when you do find them, they're expensive. Rebirth is about $199, and you get all three machines. We've had blindfold tests here at Keyboard and while there is a slight difference (from the real thing) it's not much.
NAJM:  Sort of like the Pepsi - Coke challenge?
GR:  Yes, the real deal. Those two instruments are very important to today's dance scene.
NAJM:  Do you have any access to new keyboard or studio goodies that are coming out on the market soon that we should know about?
GR:  In 2 weeks we're going to be at the NAMM show in LA, and I have been watching the development of a couple of products. Unfortunately, I had to sign non-disclosure agreements until they are announced. But there are some interesting products that will be of interest to the dance music industry that will be unveiled very soon and you'll read about them in Keyboard.

The Future of BarnHouse?

NAJM:  You introduced some break beat qualities into your Michelle Crispin Remix, what do you think the next sub-genre that's going to emerge in dance music? In South Florida the Hi-NRG/Euro sound is exploding with Eiffel 65, and Alice DJ. Is that going to be around a while or is something else going to come in?
GR:  I'm waiting for the ultimate takeover of "barn house", which is a combination of chicken pickin' backwoods country music and house [laughs].
NAJM:  Okay! Can't wait to list that on the site, that's a new one to us!
GR:  I'm ripping that off from someone else, I read it somewhere. Pretty funny. But seriously, there are country remixers out there. But seriously, about the next big sub-genre, I'm not sure if I'm qualified to comment on that. I go to the DJ's to speak out on this sort of stuff. It's funny for me I've enjoyed the variations of the trip-hop world and taking music like that and giving it a little bit more of a high-energy injection, it's very appealing. I still like vocals!
NAJM:  We're vocal people ourselves, we not really into dubs very much.
GR:  As much as I prefer vocal tracks, I tend to get a lot of dub assignments. I'm happy to do a dub, but vocal tracks are what hit me the hardest.
NAJM:  What's next for Keyboard magazine?
GR:  Keyboard just celebrated its 25th anniversary, so our January 2000 issue was the kick-off. It's an exciting time here. We have a more youthful, energetic staff - no disrespect Jim Aikin who's been here for 23 years. He's the Spock of the Keyboard staff. The guy can program modular synthesizers like it's nobody's business. But we have some people here on staff who are incredible musicians -- John Krogh the other Bonehead Brother, for one.
NAJM:  What's next for Greg Rule?
GR:  I'm doing some more music for TV. I'm looking at a couple of offers to produce a couple of artists. I just signed on to do an album project for lady who was an MTV VJ in India, her name Anu and she's making her first solo pop record They signed me on to do some programming to give it a dance injection although it's not going to be a dance record.
NAJM:  Your going to give it dance undertones?
GR:  Exactly. Maybe what William Orbit did for Madonna? I'm signed on for 10 songs for her project.
NAJM:  That's a pretty big project.
GR:  Yes. I'm also looking forward to the release of the Fixx remixes.
NAJM:  We'll be on the lookout for that. Will you be making it to Winter Music Conference in SOBE in March?
GR:  Absolutely. John Krogh will be there was well. I'll also be on a remix panel at South by Southwest in Austin, TX.
NAJM:  We want to thank you for your time. We will definitely hook up with you in Miami. We wish you the best of luck with all your new projects and once again, congratulations on your recent promotion at Keyboard.
GR:  Thanks. Hope to see you in Miami.

Check out Part 2 - Greg Rule Remixing Shop Talk

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