MING AND FS - BACK ON TOP WITH BACK TO ONE
Aaron "Ming" Albano talks about the new live set, his most important
instrument, the secrets behind the duo's huge success.
written by Carl Noone Jr.
To call Aaron Albano (Ming) and Fred Sargolini (FS) "groundbreaking
trailblazers" would be a true understatement and a long-overdue compliment
at the very least. Since their auspicious start in 1996, these two
classically trained musicians-turned-DJs-turned-producers have delicately
bridged the gap between "commercial" and "underground" by fusing elements of
Hip-Hop and House into a wrecking crew of electronic sounds they have dubbed
the "Junkyard" sound.
Somehow they've managed to impress both the suits in Hollywood's film
studios, as well as the suits in Madison Avenue's ad agencies, and have
strategically taken dance music to the next level by embracing the worlds of
advertising and television like no other act before them (save perhaps
From unique original works, like "Hells Kitchen"
and "The Human Condition" on OM Records,
catchy sing-along remixes, like live favorites "War
Pigs" by Black Sabbath or "Human Nature"
by the "Gloved One", straight through to
their production work for newcomers like Northern
League or Toby Lightman, Ming and FS have written
and released a catalog of music that would make ANYONE
jealous and proud to call their own. With elements
of Drum and Bass, Jungle, Breakbeat, and Jazz, these
two have injected new life into TV commercials from
AT+T, Victoria's Secret, and Nissan Altima, as well
as ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and HBO's
"Sex in the City."
Now, cleverly concocted from deep within the confines
of Madhattan Studios in New York City's "Hell's
Kitchen" neighborhood, Ming and FS have captured
the essence of the city's many tasty flavors and presented
them as a delicious five-star dish called "Back
to One". Over the years, Aaron and Fred have
recorded a load of different styles of music under
many different names - Breakbeat as Leadfoot; Pop
as Beat Tree; Aggro-Rock as Freddy Churchill; and
House as Uncle Bubble - but one thing remains uniquely
the same it's ALL MING AND FS.
We caught up with Aaron (Ming), by phone while he
was on break from the current U.S. tour in support
of their new release, out now on Spun Records.
Carl: First, let me ask, how
has the new tour gone so far?
Ming: It's been great. We started
on the East Coast and did 13 shows in 14 days. We
played a bunch of new cities; places like Nashville,
Tennessee, where we never played before. The kids
have been great. They're coming out to Break Dance,
and have responded really well to the new music. We
are selling a lot of our new mix CDs and merchandise,
which is great for us.
Describe your new mix CD, "Heightened Security".
It has 32 tracks on one CD, and is only available
online through the fan club or at your live shows,
Right. The new mix CD is more like our live show than anything we
have done in the past. We don't ride out any one particular song for too
long just the best parts, then we move on.
In the past, your live set included some standout
remixes, like "War Pigs" by Black Sabbath,
and that killer Michael Jackson thing. How has the
new set changed since then? Do you still play live
The Michael Jackson thing is simply one of his tracks
with a drum and bass record under it, and the Sabbath
thing is all ours. We remixed that live; they are
not true "mashups". Those are both very
special to us, we save those for the live show, and
will probably never release them. During this tour,
we have not played them... yet. We are doing an entirely
new set of all new music and all new remixes. If people
are looking for that sort of thing, then they might
need to stick around for the encore. But we have a
whole new hour's worth of stuff we are doing live.
The set is about 20 minutes of DJ stuff, and that
leads into a 25 minute live section where we pick
up our guitars and MC Napoleon, who is joining us
on the tour, comes out and joins us on stage for a
while. After that, we go back to the turntables, and
bring Napoleon back out again at the very end.
What is the single most important piece of equipment
that you use?
The most important thing is your ears. It's really important to
take care of your ears and to treat your ears as the most important
instrument you own. We always use earplugs when we play live - those new
WesTone musician's earplugs we love ëem.
As far as the core pieces of our audio base, we are MAC-based. And for this
new record we used REASON on about 90% of the stuff.
We used REASON as our sampler, as our sequencer, and
then we exported all the two-track files to Digital
Performer. We did all the mixing and all the live
tracking of the guitar, bass and vocals with Digital
Performer 4. As far as people wanting to know how
to do this, or how to do that, all I can say is, "Hey,
pick up a copy of REASON, learn how to use it and
you can make a "real" record." With
any piece of gear, you have to learn how to tweak
it, which brings us back to being able to use your
A lot of times people will come up to me and ask, "How did you get that
certain drum sound on this Hip-Hop record?", or "How did you get that bass
sound on that Drum and Bass record?", and all I can say in response to
everyone is "Sounds don't magically appear; they don't come out of a box.
You have to work with the gear, and you have to experiment with it to get
that particular sound you are looking for."
Sure, there are certain formulas you can use; certain
parameters you can dial in to start with, but no one
can tell you what THAT sound is your looking for.
Only you know it, and only YOU can hear it. You can
only learn from your mistakes. We've gone so far as
to actually give away upwards of 50 REASON files to
a particular Hip-Hop producer, but that still doesn't
mean he is going to get that same exact sound. It's
all about how you use those sounds, how you stack
them, that really makes it unique. You have to keep
the dynamics of it intact. Sometimes they can sound
stale if they're ALL "hard" sounds.
Is there a secret to the fact that you guys
have been able to work together for so long?
Well, I can't say we haven't wanted to choke each other at some
point. That's part of the (creative) process. Somehow, we've been able to
use and depend on each others strengths. For example, if I'm out working on
a record deal or searching for new talent, I can depend on him to work on
new music that we can use together, and vice versa. If I'm working on a
commercial, I can depend on him to do the mixing we need.
Instead of being competitive against each other,
we have learned to be competitive as a team against
the entire music business. We constantly try to cover
each others weaknesses and feel we compliment each
other well. Fred (Sargolini, FS) is an amazing producer
and a really good mix engineer. Especially with the
(state of) music business today, it's not enough to
just make good music. You have to be involved in all
aspects of it. There is a lot of work involved, in
I first saw you perform in Miami at Goddess
for the OM Records annual showcase. Since then, you
guys have left OM, and moved on. Do you still play
in Miami for Winter Music Conference? And please describe
the split from OM. Was it amicable?
We went down this past year, played a couple pool
parties, and played a show with Perry Farrell. It
was pretty cool. (yawns) I don't wanna' say "We're
past it," but there are better things we could
be doing now. (yawns again)
The split from OM was more like... we had finished
the three album deal, and felt it was time to move
on. They were heading in one direction, creatively,
and we wanted to head in another direction, creatively.
We're still friends with all those guys, and, as a
matter of fact, I am playing a party in San Francisco
with Chris and some of those guys from the OM Records
office on the 11th.
We really wanted to be on a label that was more focused on the type of music
that we were doing. We wanted to be on a label in New York so that we can
be on their backs a little more. It's hard to do business with a label
that's half way across the country from you because you want to be there
making sure things are going right and you can't.
There was basically a change in NEED. There was no bad blood involved. We
wanted to do something a little bigger, something with a higher ceiling.
This also allowed us to start releasing and for Madhattan Records to start
releasing records again, which we hadn't done in a while. Through a deal
with Studio Distribution, we will be able to start releasing a lot more
records on our own label.
I noticed in your press pack that your management
credit is listed as "Rebellion Entertainment
Jay Jay French". Is that THE Jay Jay French
from Twisted Sister?
Yeah, luckily, there's only one guy on the planet
calling himself that. He's a real good guy. We hooked
up with him about a year ago through this project
we were working on together with a pop singer signed
to Hollywood Records named Tina Segund. We did three
tracks with her which will be coming out in the spring,
and ended up meeting her management team. We got along
real well together, so we decided to do some work
How did the Nissan Altima ad all come about?
Was the concept for the ad originally yours?
No. The ad agency approached us first, and asked, "Hey, can you
guys make a song using car sounds?" and we said, "Sure, that's what we do."
The concept for the commercial was the director's originally. They sent us
all the sounds, we came back to them with 3 or 4 tracks, and they really
liked what we did. They said we made the "short list" with 4 or 5 other
producers we like. They asked if we would be willing to star in the
commercial if they picked our music. We said alright, as long as we get to
do what we do and not say the name of the car. So they called back a couple
days later and said we had gotten it.
The director had a very cool vision. It was a very organic thing, and was
directed by the same guy that did the "little blue alien" Sony Walkman ads.
He was a very "forward-thinking" guy which was really cool.
What would you have to say to fans that may
feel alienated by your embracing television advertising?
I don't know. I don't feel that's the case. I didn't
get much feedback that our fans were being alienated
in any way. If that's the case, then I'm unaware of
it. If people feel alienated or it turns their stomach
because it's not so underground, they need to know
that we did not change anything about our music to
make these ads. No one called and said, "Hey,
make a cheesy piece of music for this commercial."
People have been approaching us for years, taking
songs out of our catalog, and attaching it to a cool
We are selective who we license our music to. We
do not license our music to cigarette companies, or
the Army, or military. We don't want to help these
types of campaigns. It (licensing deals, endorsements)
is an important part of being able to be a musician
full time, especially with the industry we are in,
and the state it is in. We aren't huge pop stars,
so doing something like the Nissan ad was able to
finance our Subway Series ad. We were able to go out
and do thirty live dates because that ad basically
paid for that whole tour.
Because we are not getting tons of money from the record label, that
(revenue from advertising and sponsorships) is the only way a band like us
can survive on the road. Look at rock shows. You don't automatically think
because there is Budweiser signage everywhere that these guys are being PAID
by Bud, but they are. That's a direct sponsorship. That's been a part of the
music business for a while now, just not in electronic music that much.
Would it be safe to surmise, then, that as electronic
artists just starting out today, we would HAVE to
embrace advertising and sponsorships as business people
in order to be successful as musicians?
You don't HAVE to, in my opinion, but if you want to do this
full-time, if you don't want to work a day job, if want as much time as
possible to work on your music, then, yes, you would definitely have to
seriously think about it. It has opened so many avenues for us as artists
that weren't there just a few years ago. You HAVE to take advantage of it
while you can, for sure.
Amon Tobin's deal with BMW was a BIG deal. I mean,
without that, he wouldn't have been able to go on
tour that year. I think he got ninety grand for that
Mercedes ad. That's lot of money. And that's with
music he had already made, not with music he had to
specially make for the ad. They chose him and his
song, which was great.
A lot of musicians today are speaking out politically.
Do you have a stance you would wish to voice?
Yeah. We are signed-on with the Rock the Vote campaign, and we
are encouraging young citizens to register to vote. We are asking them to
register and vote Democrat, because we feel, as artists, are rights are
being taken away by the current administration. As New Yorkers we were here
for 9-11, and feel we are not in this war for the right reasons. We've seen
what four years of Bush can do, and we are willing to see what four years of
someone else can do. We aren't saying it's right, just different. And we are
willing to give that a shot.
We've seen the past, and that's not a path we are willing to follow anymore.
Young people should understand that if you are into Hip-Hop or underground
dance music on any kind, these types of music are NOT supported by the
They are only trying to censor us with all these R.A.V.E. laws and all these
other types of community law, and the only reason they exist is because the
government is afraid of the effect that music has on people. It frees their
minds and allows them to think for themselves.
When you have a government that doesn't want you to think for yourself, they
hold the freedom, and that way you don't question what they do (ala invade
other countries, spend money, etc.). This way, the people in power can make
all the money and control all the resources.
What inspires you, outside of music?
I love riding my mountain bike. I live in Brooklyn, so I ride a
lot in the city, but I try riding along the water as much as I can. I love
the beach. I love talking politics, spending time with friends, and pretty
much anything you can do outdoors. But almost anything happening in my life
could be used as inspiration for music.