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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 Moby).

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?

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 instruments?

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 ear.

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 general terms.

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 together.

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 product.

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 current administration. 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.




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