Interview: Kerri Chandler - XLR8R

Interview: Kerri Chandler

"I don't want people to just say ‘Kerri was great,’ I want everyone to say ‘That night was wonderful.’”
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“Love, Respect and Admiration,” the words with which Kerri Chandler signs his social media posts, are as essential to his character as masterful rhythms, signature basslines and modified kick drums are to his tracks; even over the phone we sense that speaking about his career brings a sincere smile to Chandler’s face. This is especially impressive when you consider the events that have inspired some of his work. For instance, he was moved to write his first track, 1990's “Get It Off,” after his girlfriend was tragically raped and killed outside of Newark, New Jersey's Club Zanzibar, near his hometown of East Orange. “All we had was music, pretty much,” he explains of the rough area where he was raised. “We made a lot of something out of nothing growing up.”

Speaking to his penchant for producing something ex nihilo, Chandler is an innovator in every sense of the word. He was doing live streams long before Boiler Room broke onto the scene, and he incorporated holograms in clubs years ahead of Coachella’s light-reflected resurrection of Tupac. In fact, he possesses such inventive instincts that he is sent prototypes from the likes of Native Instruments and Pioneer in order to offer his expertise in the development of their products. “I'm very technical and we speak the same language,” he says of his relationships with these companies. One platform he was recently involved in developing was Stems, an open multi-track format from Native Instruments that allows songs to be broken down into various parts and modified individually. As he describes it, “You can have just the vocals of that song, or you can have the beat to that song. You can have the bassline and the chords of that song. Or you can have the effects from that song. And the choice is yours as you're mixing live…it's a mash-up on steroids.”

Chandler’s input also enhanced the Novation 61 SL controller before it hit the market. “Initially they only controlled internal synths, like Komplete. But the essential controls didn't really work as far as MIDI out,” he recalls. “It's just kind of streamlining things that seem like they should be very simple… That was the test for the Apple. They sat a kid down in front of an Apple and said 'Use it.' That's my litmus test.”

“I'll go through each speaker in the room and I'll listen. I'll listen to all the crossover points. I'll listen to the range of the room. I'll listen to noise of the ceiling vibrating."

When it comes to his own analog equipment, Chandler is notorious for making modifications so they best suit his needs and produce the sounds he desires. A process he calls “Chandlerizing,” he began altering his gear in the late '80s, after sending his TR-808 to a company called Studio Electronics to have a MIDI put on it. When it came back, there was a problem with one of the drum machine’s keys. “I called them up and told them there was an issue. They said, 'Well, how good are you with a soldering iron?'” he recollects. “I went in and I looked and I saw what [they] did with it. They just changed the resistance and put a MIDI board in. So I changed the thing I had to change and I flipped it back over and I thought, 'I wonder what else I can do this with?' I had a lot of analog gear. I started taking things apart and just doing it [myself]. I did my 909 after that, too. I started extending and changing things. My turntables…I put rotary pitchers on instead of the fader-looking ones. I had fun.”

Paying acute attention to detail in every aspect of his professional life, Chandler is also known for the extensive sound checks he performs before every gig, which he refers to as “a must.” Describing the process, he says, “I'll go through each speaker in the room and I'll listen. I'll listen to all the crossover points. I'll listen to the range of the room. I'll listen to noise of the ceiling vibrating. I like to know the room very intimately—and then I try to get the best sound I can out of that place.” As it’s not unheard of for this to reveal blown-out speakers, messed up mixers and broken turntables, he comes prepared to repair, or rent. “I'll pick apart turntables and change tone arms and all these other things.” he informs. “There's been times when I go into a room and there was a bass night the night before, and most [of] the speakers are blown out, so I have to go and either re-EQ the room, change the drivers in the room if we have extra ones and, if not, that means I have to go rent more equipment to bring in. I try to get there as early as I can so most of these stores or rental places are still open, [otherwise] I'll make some kind of solution. I'll EQ the room differently, or I'll fix one of the amps, or I'll change one of the amps over. I'll have the rest of the system make up for the [aspects] of the system that [are] gone.”

“I've gone to places and there are people that come up to me and they cry. There are tears in their eyes either from release or joy or something, and I love it.”

Never one to be motivated merely by personal gain, he says, “It's not just for me…I might be one of the DJs there, but I want to see everyone do well. I don't want people to just say ‘Kerri was great,’ I want everyone to say ‘That night was wonderful.’” This sentiment speaks volumes to the sort of person Chandler is, and the care he takes to ensure the comfort and enjoyment of all who enter his realm. “I've gone to places and there are people that come up to me and they cry. There are tears in their eyes either from release or joy or something, and I love it,” he expresses. “That's exactly why I do this.”

Asserting that all house music demands a certain level of introspection from its listener, he expresses, “You have to internalize when you listen to it. You have to look inside yourself. A lot of people don't want to do that. It's not a shallow music at all. You can hear right through it what a person is thinking. You can tell who's in it to try to make money [and] who's in it to express themselves. You can just tell.” With this in mind, he goes on, “Every song I've ever done I actually have a meaning behind it. There is a real reason I wrote this song, and it's usually something to get off my mind or something I was going through and I wanted to write about it so I could kind of release [it] out of my inner being.” With such an earnest spirit, oversized soul and positive outlook, it’s no wonder Chandler’s fans and friends alike mirror the highest levels of love, respect and admiration back to him.