Interview: ORIGINALS… Marcus Mixx, part two
Marcus Mixx, aka Marcus Shannon, has experienced the highs and lows of the music scene – having been hailed as one of Chicago’s leading house music producers in the late 80s, he fell on hard times and is only now starting to get his life (and productions) back on track.
In the second part of our ORIGINALS interview (part one can be found here), we chat to Shannon about his love of video, how he fell on hard times, and what he is most looking forward to from working with TRAX.
Q. You’re quite an accomplished video producer these days, and you’re lending your talents to TRAX TV. How did you get into video production?
That was also down to my boy Gitano Camero. He had a production licence, and one day we decided to go down with a few friends to Channel 19 in Chicago and put our music on television.
I had no idea back then what ‘green screen’ was, and we were dancing in front of this green screen, just fooling around. Then when we got back to his place to watch it, we started freaking out. We were like, ‘how did you get that alligator on there?’, or ‘how did you get me dancing beside Marilyn Monroe’? It just triggered this ‘wow’ moment.
In time, I got one of those old school computers and learned how to cut stuff, and fade, and wipe. I just loved it: it was another way of helping to promote our records.
I used to take footage of some of the parties I would be DJing at, and then ten minutes later, broadcast it on the monitors in the club. We would just go into the crowd and film the people – there’s a guy jacking it up, there are some ladies over there – and we’d link it straight up to the screens.
The crowd would already be going nuts because of the great music, and this would take it to another level.
These days, with all the free B-Roll footage you can get, it’s a lot easier to put videos together. You could have firecrackers going off, and ants crawling across the screen, and two girls in bikinis dancing on top of them. Any mellow or psychotic thing that comes into your mind.
Q. So both your music and your videos are quite spontaneous – ideas come to you all the time?
There might be a moment when I’m sitting in traffic on the bus and a phrase would come up in conversation, or I would see something out of the corner of my eye, and I would develop it into a track. I started keeping notepads, if I heard some notes, I would try to write them down.
Thank God for cellphones now, I can hum a bassline to myself and record it, and later try to emulate it on a keyboard.
It’s always been very spontaneous. I haven’t been in an actual recording studio for about ten years now; most of the stuff I do at the moment has been on my MacBook, especially since I’ve been in my homeless situation. It keeps me focused.
Q. I read somewhere that while you made quite a bit of money at TRAX the first time around, you didn’t really save it?
I was making good money. But if a friend needed 500 bucks for something, I would be like, ‘ok, no problem’. I’m not saying they would take advantage of me, but I had a steady flow coming in from promoting parties and co-producing stuff.
There would be some days where I wouldn’t have to go to work because I knew money was coming in, or I was due to do a gig that night, and that would be $350 or $500. But I never saved the money, or invested it, it just went, and then came back, and went again.
Q. How did you get into your current situation?
The main reason I went into what you would call a meltdown was because my dad got sick. He had Alzheimer’s and dementia, and when he separated from my mom, the house I was living in got foreclosed. I had nowhere to keep my stuff, and my family was like ‘you should stay with dad, because he’s sick and you could watch him’.
But he was in such bad shape that I never had the chance to leave his apartment. I had no-one to call upon to sit with him, and I couldn’t leave, even for a couple of hours. It really pounded me.
Eventually when he passed away, I was so down, I didn’t really care about anything any more. It wasn’t that I was suicidal, I just had a negative attitude.
That’s what led to me being homeless. It was a godsend in a way, because it stopped me from drinking. I went to rehab, and there was a time when I was bouncing in and out of different shelters. But things started turning around, and I got inspired to start making music again.
They always say that ‘life’s too short’, but when there are so many good people around you, willing you to succeed, it motivates you. Even when you are down, there are opportunities out there.
I’m going for it now. I know it’s not going to happen at certain levels, but I’m happy that I can pay my rent and enjoy the blessing of house music.
Q. The Let’s Pet Puppies label introduced a lot of people to your music for the first time. How did that come about?
Some of the tracks that ended up getting released on Let’s Pet Puppies, like Psychousic and The Spell, were recorded when I was at TRAX, but Larry Sherman wouldn’t let me put them out on TRAX – he said put them out on Sabre Records, or Streetfire… he was trying to get more labels going.
Thomos [Oakes] from Let’s Pet Puppies was a big fan. He used to come to the clubs with us and became one of our buddies. He was a saving grace in terms of holding on to our music; there are all these tapes and reel to reels from years ago that he is going through and putting out. He’s very fair in terms of compensation as well.
When he started the label, that was sort of an inspiration for me, because the stuff I thought I had lost a long time ago was available again.
Q. What new releases do you have in the pipeline?
Thomos is about to release some stuff on Let’s Pet Puppies that hasn’t been out in a long time as well as some other stuff that has never been published. But Rachael Cain [TRAX label head] and Thomas have a good relationship, and I’m going to be putting some music out on TRAX as well.
I’m working on lots of things at the moment. Sometimes I’m in a deep house mood, and make tracks with that theme, and other days I would be in an acid mood, or a – I don’t know how you would describe it – ‘grunge house’ mood, and throw some guitar riffs in there.
Or, I might take a sample of someone speaking in Swedish or Dutch or something and loop it up over a house track. It would turn out they would be saying ‘don’t stand on my toes’ or something like that, but it would sound really cool.
Q. As well as making music, what other work are you doing for TRAX?
Rachel has been outstanding. When she first came to me she knew my situation and she has been a major part of how I’ve been able to get things back on track. From the start, she had me working on the TRAX TV show, which goes out Tuesdays and Thursdays on Channel 25, and we’ve been able to develop fresh, up to date content.
She wants me to put together music videos for some of the old stuff and also the new music that’s coming out, as well as take some responsibility for signing new artists, A&R and all that. But she understands that I need to take things at a certain pace.
The people she is working with are really committed, and are all playing a part in the rebuilding of TRAX.
I compare it to living in a house that needs a new roof. The structure is strong… but it needs a bit of paint over here, and some plywood over here, to make it a strong building again.
Q. So 2019 is shaping up to be a good year for you?
There’s lots to look forward to. I’m really excited about TRAX TV, it’s attracting a lot of people, and sponsors are coming on board. It’s a real way of getting new and former artists some exposure.
When we approach people, we tell them this is the ‘new’ TRAX – you can touch it, smell it, feel it, and try it on, and if you don’t like it you can bring it back and get a refund. That’s the new attitude.
It’s a lot more positive now, and Rachael has been the driving force behind that. It’s really been a blessing.
[Thanks to Marcus for the interview. Check out the latest releases on Trax Records at www.traxrecords.net]