Love, life and music with the house legend...

It’s 5pm in Belfast and 11am in Memphis and I’ve just sat down with a brew to chat to Larry Heard. Connecting over Skype, he appears in his home studio smiling. There’s a comfortable aura that surrounds Larry. We ask each other about what we’ve been up to and I relax instantly. You must forgive me, I was a little anxious about meeting the creator of deep house, but such is Larry’s humble personality it almost becomes a chat between two friends.

Larry’s a musician above anything else. He’s been being buying records since the age of nine, and listening to them long before he was even conscious of it. “Both my parents played piano and bought records, they were playing records when I was lying in the crib”, he tells me. “The first records that I recall hearing were maybe Aretha Franklin, Burt Bacharach... Those kinds of records.”

His musicianship began at the age of fifteen, when he began to learn guitar, before progressing to bass at sixteen and drums a year later. He famously left the band he was in at the time because of a feeling of creative stifling. “I don’t think it’s all the customary for drummer to have creative ideas”, he explained in a 2005 RBMA lecture. “They just play the beat, so I left the last band I was in and bought a synthesiser and a drum machine.”

After learning of an emerging form of music at Chicago’s iconic Warehouse, Larry sent two of his earliest tracks in for a test drive. “It was all pretty much immediate because the first tracks I did were 'Mystery Love' and 'Washing Machine' and people still love both of those tracks right now”, he says. “I delivered it to Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles and they started playing it pretty much right away.”

It’s not very often that you see a producer create two classics with his first two productions, but Larry did, although he would no doubt play down the classic remark, such is his refreshingly open minded approach with an emphasis on listening to a piece of music without a prematurely formed opinion based on what others have had to say about it.

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In 1985, Larry joined Robert Owens and Ron Wilson to create Fingers Inc, a concept that would later lend itself to Larry’s Mr. Fingers moniker after the group officially dismembered three years later. A local celebrity status was thrust upon him, something that he quickly grew tired of, leading to a re-location to Memphis in 1997.

I’m keen to learn, not how the move influenced his music, but his life. Larry comes across as an astoundingly normal guy, wanting nothing more than a peaceful and healthy life, despite his incredible success.

“It calmed my life down”, he says with an air of nightmarish remembrance in his voice. “In Chicago people were literally coming to my door with their demo tapes. That’s intrusion of privacy; if I didn’t invite you over then don’t come over. It wasn’t happening every day, but one time is one time too many. I think someone even came to my mother’s house before and that was definitely the wrong thing to do. That’s being obsessive.”

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I’m engrossed in life and interacting with other people...

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In 2011, Larry identified a problem with his hearing and had to retire from DJ’ing, just prior to the launch of Snapchat and Instagram, two social network concepts that have been blamed for the developing of a contemporary ‘photo or it didn’t happen’ culture, leading to a detachment from the emotionality of dance music. This, however, isn’t something that interests a man of nearly sixty years old.

“I don’t really have the time to pay attention to that kind of stuff. I’m not on Instagram or Snapchat, I have my own life to take care of, I have a label to run, music to make and things around the house to do. Y’know, doing things normal people do. I still go out and mow the lawn and do laundry and that. I’m almost 60 years old; I think it would be silly if I was so engrossed in that!”

“I’m engrossed in life and interacting with other people; the people that are right around me, not the ones that are millions of miles away. It’s like in this neighbourhood, we visit each other, we talk to each other, we don’t need technology, we use our vocal cords.”

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At this point in the conversation we begin to discuss Larry’s interests outside of music. It’s funny that we think of a musician as, somehow, always being on the clock, believing that they must live music and only music, as this, from the outside, is all that we really know them for.

“Most people in jobs arrive late and clock out early, right? Why should it be any different for a musician? I don’t think a musician has to be on the clock all the time.”

“I’m a documentaries guy. I enjoy normal stuff. Working in the lawn, working with wood... I cut down a couple trees a couple weeks ago, you know, manly stuff!”

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I don’t think a musician has to be on the clock all the time.

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It’s at this point that Larry informs me of his father and uncles former professions as carpenters, something that has developed into an interest of his own. He lifts his laptop and takes me on a brief tour of the room he’s sitting in, showing me the computer desk and cabinet he made with his bare hands, beaming with childlike innocence, excitement and pride as he does. “I’ve just made small things”, he tells me. “Nothing major like a log cabin!”

Our attention turns back towards music as I announce my excitement of seeing him play live at this year’s AVA Festival in Belfast in a week’s time, a Northern Irish debut for a well travelled artist.

“A couple I know from here in Memphis are from Northern Ireland and they’ll actually be there so I’ll get to see them!” he excitingly informs me. “We haven’t actually discussed much about Ireland though. We have present day things that we’re involved with in Memphis so we haven’t had too much time to talk about it.” I inform him of the warmth and ecstasy of its people and we both agree it’s going to be an extremely fun gig.

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You gotta come to it with openness...

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We remain on the topic of music and begin to speak about Larry’s latest record, Cerebral Hemispheres, his first release under the Mr. Fingers alias for twenty four years, landing on his own Alleviated Records imprint. It feels like a real embodiment of the artist’s work, sounds we have become accustomed to hearing from Larry over the years, featuring tracks both old and new. I won’t say too much else about it though, he wants you to make your own decisions about it. I jokingly discuss the reading of YouTube comments before actually listening to a track, just to make sure that everyone else thinks it’s cool before I do.

“That’s peer pressure basically!” he says, laughing as he does. “You gotta come to it with openness and not already have an opinion determined by what others have said. Don’t give them any kind of directive. Let them approach the record freely and determine what kind of flavours are going on. It feels controlling to tell people what to think. Just come to it with an open mind and ready for an adventure.”

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As our conversation draws to a close, I put my serious head on and announce a topic that is very well publicised – the political climate in America. I explain to Larry that, here in the UK, we really only see what we’re shown through the news and an onslaught of Donald Trump memes. I’m interested to hear of the impacts that happen locally, the things that we don’t see at 6pm on the BBC.

His response educates me on not an American problem, but a problem that exists within universal, everyday life. “I don’t know if there’s a simple impact just because of Donald Trump. Travelling global as a person of colour you get looked at a lot more than everybody else, that isn’t just America, that’s everywhere”, he says.

“For me, as a black person, wherever I go I have people looking at me weird if I’m in the business class section of a flight. They think you’ve come into the wrong line, that you’re in first class by accident. That isn’t because of some individual, that’s a corporation. That’s the expectations of people globally.”

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You’re literally held ransom for your health, it's big business here...

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“That’s being conditioned globally. I don’t know how we fix that. I’m not a sociologist, that’s outside of my area of expertise. We think we have leaders in place to handle these kinds of things but they just seem to mishandle them. This is not Trump bashing, this is about leadership all around the globe. I’m sure you have problems with your own leadership. It isn’t exclusive to America.”

“Everyone has things they like and things they don’t about their leadership. Like with us, our healthcare has gone sky high. That’s not fun. You’re literally held ransom for your health, it's big business here; it isn’t about keeping people healthy it’s about making giant profits. Whoever can pay, great, whoever can’t, too bad for you.”

Our time together comes to an end with a final thought on the future. What will Mr. Fingers do now that he’s just released a new record? Are there things that he wishes to pursue outside of music? Such is the never diminishing creative spirit of an artist; he’s already started work on his next record, a follow up to Cerebral Hemispheres.

“I’d picked out so many contenders for the next album that I just said I’d use a spill over for the next release. I started some tracks with Robert [Owens] as well”, he discloses. “With everything else... I’ll just cross that bridge when I come to it.”

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Words: Andrew Moore

Catch Larry Heard at AVA Festival in Belfast, June 1st - 2nd - tickets.

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