Nothing But L.I.E.S.: An Interview With Ron Morelli

Run by Ron Morelli out of Brooklyn, NYC, Long Island Electrical Systems puts out records by tried and tested mad men like Legowelt as well as new school spectacles like Svengalisghost, Steve Moore, Delroy Edwards and joint ventures such as Two Dogs In A House. Preserving and caring for vinyl culture, the music and ethos of L.I.E.S. equally embraces the politics of Chicago house, punk’s DIY, noise rock, modular synth dreams, smart art school moves and gut reactions. Below, we picked the tracks for a step-by-step guide to L.I.E.S. discography. You can listen to audio version of this interview over at RBMA Radio.

RBMA: Tell me about this Terekke record?

RON MORELLI: Terekke is the artist. I don’t really remember how this came about, but I think I used to see him at some parties in New York. I might have come upon his Soundcloud somehow – I definitely got in touch with him, through Soundcloud, I think – and I heard some track he had up. I was like, this is some crazy, lo-fi, fucked-up, weird house music, or something. I didn’t even really know what it was. I got in touch with him and we met, and it turned out I had been seeing him at some weirdo gigs in New York, some warehouse party or something like that. But I had seen him around, because he’s actually a pretty interesting-looking dude. He’s a pretty young guy, but he’s got a full head of grey hair. So, I’m like, “It’s the dude with the grey hair who made that record, man! Sick.” [laughs] So, we talked, and he’s a super laid-back, cool dude. He had two tracks, I was like, “I want to put those out.” He’s soft-spoken, he’s like, “Yeah, cool.”

It was summertime – this is actually how these white labels came to be – also, because it was the first white label I did for the label. Not this summer, but the summer before, so somewhat earlier on in the label, where it’s still in the formative stages, and I kind of don’t really know what I’m doing – not that I do now – and the distributor is hesitant in the summer, even with the regular releases, to do a full press run. Hearing his record, to me, was a total summertime record. It sounded humid and sticky, like you’re stuck to a vinyl couch and you can’t get up after smoking a couple joints or whatever. So, I was like, “Listen, I’m going to put this record out regardless of whether the distributor wants to take 500 copies or not.” So, I pressed up 300 of them, it caught on – a lot of people really liked the record. That’s how the whole white label started, and I was like, “Cool, I’m just going to make them to order, as the distributor wants them.”

RBMA: How’d you get in touch with Legowelt?

RON MORELLI: That’s kind of an interesting story. I got in touch with Danny, he had come to New York a lot. Back in like the late 90s, early 2000s, Legowelt would come to New York a lot. Bunker would organise a lot of tours through the States, really DIY, punk tours. They would do it at first through this dead distributor called Safety In Numbers, and then Will Burnett was maybe working with them or associated with Safety In Numbers somehow. Will Burnett is DJ Speculator, Grackle, he runs WT Records. So, he more or less single-handedly was responsible for bringing the Bunker guys over to New York, I-f had been over a couple of years before, I think in like ’98 or something, but Will wasn’t involved with that. But prior to I-f coming, I don’t think the guys came to the States. Consequently, I don’t think I-f has been back, since ’98 or ’99.

I had been going to the gigs every time the Bunker guys had come: him, Orgue Electronique, Guy Tavares, $tinkworx, Sendex, Novamen, all those dudes, TLR, the whole gang. In all those years, I’d never met him, ever. Maybe a hello, but we were never really introduced. And, finally, I guess, I want to say three years ago, me and Will Speculator lived together in the same apartment and Danny Legowelt was coming to town. We were doing a party, $tinkworx, Legowelt, myself, Speculator and DJ Chupacabras. So, that’s when I finally met Danny, was about three years ago after seeing him play for almost like 12 years or so.

RBMA: What about this track, specifically?

RON MORELLI: Yeah, the track “Sark Island Acid”. The way Danny does it is just put a bunch of shit up on his website: “Here’s a new track I did.” It was on his website. I was like, “Dude, this is crazy. Can I put it out?” And he’s like, “Sure, no problem. Yes, you can put this track out on your label LIES.” So, then I put it out, and that was it.

RBMA: Jahilyya Fields

RON MORELLI: That’s a cool one, Jahilyya Fields is this old friend of mine named Matt Morandi. He grew up in Staten Island, New York, which I’ve said before is famous for the Wu-Tang Clan and also for amount of guidos that live there. So, he’s an old friend of mine. We were going out to parties a lot, actually, in like 1999, 2000, 20001. Just whatever techno parties. There used to be this place 59 Canal. One night, we didn’t even know what we were going to, we saw Richie Hawtin there, anytime there were jams, we would be going there. But he comes from the punk scene also, and we had all these mutual friends. And he was always into avant-garde, electronic music and free jazz. Don Cherry, Tony Williams, stuff like that. He was just kind of digging in, at that time, getting into more dance music. Through the years, he was always working on music projects, always recording. Forever. What he was recording, I never really knew. And he was always playing in bands, too. Always these projects that would somehow fall apart. He’s really into the whole band thing and playing with people, which I don’t understand why, because for me, personally, I think that’s like the worst thing in the world. But, hey, whatever.

So, then I had the label, and he’s like, “I’ve got some dance tracks for you,” and I’m like, “Cool. I’m gonna come over and we’re gonna check them out.” So, I go to his place in Brooklyn, and yeah, these are pretty cool tracks. So, then he’s like, “Yo man, I’m working on some music for this guy Steve Cossman, for Steve’s stop-motion animation films. Yeah, check this out.” It’s actually this track called “White Cabbage”. I’m like, “Oh my god, this is just insane, this music. What the hell?” It’s like this crazy, early, pulsing synthesizer music, but really jagged at the same time and totally emotional music. He’s like, “Oh, I’ve got another one, I’ve got another one, I’ve got another one.” And he gave me, like, six tracks. So, I’m like, “Forget the dance tracks, man, I don’t want anything to do with them. We got to put this out.” And, boom, we made the record. And it was super cool because, old friend and lifelong musician and finally you get to put out your friend’s records. Pretty rewarding.

RBMA: Svengalisghost “Mars Out Of Range”

RON MORELLI: He’s an artist from Chicago. I knew him first as Below Underground. The way I found out about Svengali Ghost, aka Below Underground aka Marquis Cooper, is through a really legendary, underground New York figure who goes by the name of ‘Porkchop’. Porkchop grew up in Chicago. He’s about 40 years old, and because he was in Chicago, these guys were also into house music, also super into punk rock and stuff like that.

Anyway, I would DJ with Porkchop in New York a bunch, in 2004, 2005, 2006 – it’s a blur, kind of. Somehow, there were a couple of nights where it’s just me and him all night at some crappy place with terrible sound, but it was fun, and we’re getting drunk. He was the best DJ, he said, “People will bring out their computers, I’m bringing out the four-track to DJ.” And he would DJ tapes and use the pitch control on the four-track to speed up and slow down with the record. He’s just the best dude. And sometimes there’d be CDJs and he’d be playing some tracks, and I’d be like, “Yo, what the fuck is this crazy music?” He’s like, “It’s my boy Marquis, man. He’s just making all these crazy tracks.” And then again, next time we DJ, “It’s Marquis, man. I’m telling you man.” And then at the end of the night, every time, inevitably, he’d just give me the CDs, like, “Have the CDs.” And this music is crazy, so I’m like, “What’s up with him? He doesn’t put out this music? He doesn’t DJ?” “Nah, nah, nah. He just does it, man.” And this was a while ago, so this was ’06 or something. And I had these CDs.

“I put out three tracks by him, but there were no WAV files. So, they were all actually mastered off of 320 mp3s, which is kind of crazy.”

So, fast forward, I’m doing this record label, and I’m like, “I need to get in touch with this guy. I’m gonna put this stuff out, because no one’s gonna hear it, ever.” I think the only people that knew about it was me and Porkchop, basically. So, initially, I got in touch with Marquis because I was going to play on Beats In Space. And then we kind of start talking, I’m like, “Dude, listen, I have all those tracks. I really want to put to put these out.” And he was super into it. But he’s like, “I don’t have the tracks anymore, my computer’s dead. The tracks are gone. There’s no recovering them.” I’m like, “Well, I have the CDs, so that’s a good thing.” Then he said, “Porkchop’s got the WAV files of all this stuff.” So, I went to Porkchop, and I got the files. I got like 20 tracks of Marquis’s. There was even some stuff I didn’t have, there was stuff Marquis didn’t have, and I put out three tracks by him, but there were no WAV files. So, they were all actually mastered off of 320 mp3s, which is kind of crazy. And then me and Marquis were talking further, I’m like, “Dude, we should just put out Svengalisghost presents the Below Underground tapes, and put out all the old stuff, too, because it’s crazy.” So, I started actually, recently, looking at all the files, and somehow we got really lucky with the three tracks I picked, that they were 320, because all the other files are like 128. So, they’re absolutely unusable, so those will never be heard. Ever. Or maybe they’ll be on a tape or something.

RBMA: Bookworms.

RON MORELLI: We did a two-tracker, “African Rhythms” and “Love Triangles”, and people seemed to like it, but what I ended up finding out, after the fact, was that, “African Rhythms”, I believe takes a pretty liberal sample from a famous dub track, and I’m not sure not what track it is, but it’s these children’s voices chanting. “African Rhythms” doesn’t really have a kick drum in the whole track at all, I don’t think. Or if it does, it’s like super-faint and you can’t really hear it. I was recently told by some of these guys in the UK that “African Rhythms” is huge in the UK funky scene, I don’t really know what this scene is, it’s not dubstep, I don’t know. But they told me it’s huge and played by all these really gangster DJs in the UK, and I told Nick that and he was stoked, man. He was pumped. That was cool.

RBMA: Professor Genius “Merciful And Blessed”

RON MORELLI: Initially, there was this record he made, and it’s called Hassan, based on these 16th century assassins, and he made this strange Arabic-themed electronic record to fit this story. Initially, this was supposed to come out on Legowelt’s Strange Life CD label, and then Danny decided not to do the label anymore. And I said, “Well, if Danny’s not going to do it, I would like to put out this record because it’s really interesting and cool music that should get out there to people.” It was going to be the first attempt for the label to venture into somewhat uncharted territories and not just put out a dance music record, but this record has been delayed for exactly a year. It will actually now finally come out, but it was delayed because of all these pressing issues, because we couldn’t get a clean pressing in the United States, so it was pressed overseas. This is an extremely turbulent record, and finally coming out, and it’s just an amazing record.

RBMA: Torn Hawk

RON MORELLI: Torn Hawk’s this really interesting guy named Luke Wyatt. This is a pretty funny story, actually. The first time I ever encountered the Torn Hawk was in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A friend of mine, Andrew who runs the Future Times label, would at one point have a birthday party in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. That’s this really rural part of Pennsylvania in these mountains, I had never been there until, but there’s this whole American history behind Gettysburg, but Andrew grew up on the side of a mountain by an apple orchard in this totally weird house. And every year his father takes off and he’s like, “Alright, we’re gonna just blow it out.” So, we bring the turntables, you camp out on the apple orchard, and you do whatever you want. I wake up the next morning, get out of the tent, and there’s this dude in a leather jacket leaning up against a tree like a scarecrow, he looks freakish, man. And the guy’s crazy looking, too, because he looks like Miami Vice dude or something like that. He’s always got a Hawaiian shirt on or something, but he lifts weights and he’s all jacked up. But he might wear cowboy boots, too. And he goes running all the time, but he’s also on a zillion psychedelics every minute, and he’s like the best dude ever. And he’s like, “What, man? A guy can’t just hang out in a tree, man?” So, I’m like, “Alright, at some point I’m going to meet this dude.”

I think a year or two went by, and he ends up in New York, again we’d see each other at parties. I had a party at my house, he was there, we hang out, drink beers and then he was like, “Yeah, I got some tracks for you.” He’s also a crazy video artist, too. He did all those PPU, People’s Potential Unlimited compilation video tapes. He gave me like 30 tracks, I didn’t know what to expect when he said he had tracks, he gave me this crazy lo-fi, krautrock, messed-up drum machine, everything chewed-up sounding, but it was totally beautiful at the same time. We put out the record and it was cool.

RBMA: Who are Two Dogs In A House?

RON MORELLI: Two Dogs In A House is a group, it’s myself and Jason Letkiewicz/Steve Summers. The track I picked out is “Eliminator”, and that’s a new record that we did that just came out, but we had been trying to work on music for six or eight months in New York, but there was no time. And every time we did it, it was really rushed, two hours here, two hours there. It wasn’t proper studio time or anything, and everything sounded like shit, basically. We didn’t do anything really good. It was somewhat frustrating. We weren’t really stressed, it just sucks when you’re trying to do something that doesn’t work.

So somehow, last March, we had four days off in Stockholm before the gig and our friend’s girlfriend was like, “Hey, I have a studio. You can use my studio and do whatever you want there. You can tear everything apart, take out all the plugs, use whatever. Here are the keys, go there all day, do whatever you want, no one’s going to bother you.” So, we basically locked ourselves in the studio for two or three days and just jammed. It was basically all the frustration of not having anything completed in the last eight or nine months just came out and we were able to come out with some pretty cool stuff, so that was kind of rewarding.

RBMA: Trackman Lafonte and Bonquiqui

RON MORELLI: That’s an alias of Legowelt and XOSAR, and this is a project that they have together under the guise of this new genre of house music that’s really catching on across the world that’s called ‘surfer house’. They made these tracks with all Casio equipment, and when I had their tracks mastered, you can tell the pots on these things. I don’t even know what Casio it is, there’s one Casio that has actually drum pads on it. It’s also a really crappy synthesizer. They definitely used that thing and a bunch of other stuff. Again, Legowelt’s music is so narrative, there’s always a story to it. I think that’s the beauty of it, even if you can’t visualise something, he finds some sort of ridiculous story to make up. He had the story and I embellished on it. Now surfer house has been pioneered for years now, so we’re all happy about it.

RBMA: Vapauteen

RON MORELLI: Vapauteen is this guy Shawn O’Sullivan. Shawn’s like a heavy-duty music dude, DJ. He’s really into Industrial Strength Records [laughs], and old Frankie Bones.

RBMA: Why do you laugh?

RON MORELLI: Because he recently told me, “I’m going to the Industrial Strength 20 year anniversary.” [laughs] and I’m like, “Come on, man!” That’s like going to a juggalo convention, or something like that. I don’t know [laughs], it’s crazy. I went on the website, it’s insane, man. It’s totally cool, but it’s fucking crazy. But Shawn’s the best dude, and he also plays in all of these wave bands, one Led Er Est, one with his girlfriend Katy, which of course I can’t remember the name of it now, which always happens, but they’re both awesome. And you know, he’s all into gear, modular gear, making his own synthesizers and the like. Basically, we put out this record of this crazy, super hard, industrial techno tracks. He was playing live around New York a bunch, but he had no record out, and I was just – this was on GChat, how many things happen – “Hey man, you want to do a record?” “Yeah, okay.” “Can I get this track?” “Sure,” and then the record’s done and it’s out. I think the best part of this story is he went to the Industrial Strength reunion. Forget about the record.

By Red Bull Music Academy on November 21, 2012

On a different note