Widely regarded as the Godfather of house music, it is unsurprising that Marshall’s “Move Your Body” is also dubbed as “The House Music Anthem”. Marshall Jefferson is one of the founding fathers of house music as it is known today. Born in Chicago in 1959, Marshall was a central figure in the development of the Chicago house scene and produced seminal house anthems including Move Your Body, 7 Ways To Jack and Open Our Eyes. He has worked with the best in the business, from fellow founding father Frankie Knuckles to Roy Davis Jr., Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, Felix Da Housecat and Lil Louis. Marshall has had a leading hand in the growth of the acid and deep house movements. His impact is so great that he continues to break boundaries and disprove all those predicting the end of house music. Initially inspired by rock music, regular trips to Chicago’s famed Music Box Club in the mid 80s turned Marshall onto the sounds of early house music. Having bought himself a modest synthesiser and sequencer set-up, Marshall began producing his own cuts and passed them on to Ron Hardy of the Music Box Club, who quickly began playing them to the love of the crowd. Marshall’s first release, 1985s Go Wild Rhythm Trax on Virgo Records demonstrated he had the talent vital to succeed in such a fickle industry. Move Your Body was released on Trax Records in 1986 and is today recognised as a genre-defining release, having been subtitled and acclaimed “The House Music Anthem”.
When did you start writing/producing music – and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started making music back in 1984, and am still going more than 30 years later. Back then, my main influences were Jesse Saunders and Vince Lawrence because they were really the first in the house scene to actually make records.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
My phase of learning – which still continues to this day – has been a lifetime of listening to all forms of music, not just dance music, and incorporating it into my songwriting. I’m not entirely sure how this happens, but that’s the way it is.
What were your main compositional – and production – challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Initially my main challenge was playing all the instruments on my songs when I wasn’t a musician. I had no formal training so I was just making it up as I went along. And I was slow! There was no way I was able to play anywhere near fast enough for house music, so I recorded everything at 40bpm and played it back at 120.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
None of these things ever had any effect on my process in the studio because I’d write a complete song away from my equipment in my head. Then I’d have to rush home and record everything before I forgot it. I guess they may have influences my thinking when I wrote the song, but honestly I didn’t really pay attention to anything outside of my head. It was all created in there, the challenge was getting it out again.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you’re using?
My binaural microphone is my most important piece, which I built myself. I also use a binaural encoder called a Klang which I use all the time.
Could you describe your creative process? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
As I said, it all just comes from me. I guess it’s a kinda boring answer, but it’s the truth. There isn’t any great science or influence to it, or at least not one I’m aware of anyway.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality?
It means things are very crowded and an extremely difficult environment to innovate in. I don’t find anyone inspiring because everyone is pretty much sticking to formats. I think the real innovation is going to come in finding ways to expose innovation, or lack of it.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
I’ve never sat down and analyzed what I do, I just jam.
What’s your perspective on the relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema, for example – and for you and your work, how does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
I don’t have a perspective.
What’s your view on the role and function of music as well as the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today – and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I don’t look at music as having any particular role or function other than expressing ones’ creativity. If that takes the form of something of social or political significance fine, but to actively take that route exclusively would feel contrived to me.