Wolfgang Gartner reveals new R&B project, Openeyes [Interview]
Wolfgang Gartner is many things — a DJ, record label owner, house head — but is perhaps best known for his iconic electronic production. Well-received records such as “Space Junk” and his deadmau5 collaboration “Animal Rights” have placed the artist — real name Joseph Youngman — in the greater league of studio maestros. However, when it comes to work behind the boards, dance music isn’t the only genre that Wolfgang has been able to master.
This year, a mysterious artist by the name of Openeyes released Feathered Alligator, a two-track R&B EP reminiscent of the soulful urban sounds that dominated the ’90s. Premiered on Beats 1 radio and with support from Ebro Darden, the project’s tracks “Crutch” and “Mesmerized” became both a nostalgic dream and modern gift to fans of the smooth style.
Wolfgang Gartner has now claimed co-ownership of the alias, revealing the true identity of Openeyes — the project produced by the man himself, along with Rush Davis on vocals. In an exclusive interview, the dance-titan-gone-R&B-experimenter speaks out for the first time on the topic of his latest endeavor.
What music inspired you to work in the R&B space, and which specifically did you have in mind when working on this project?
This project was inspired by rich discographies of music that we’ve been listening to since children spanning eras from 60’s soul to 70’s funk to 90’s R&B and all things in between. I think for me this project was about trying to summon the ghosts of those who made this music before us and do them justice by representing it authentically in a new light. We wanted to make music that Earth Wind & Fire would like, or that Jodeci would want to listen to, music that our idols in that space would want to add to their playlist.
So far out from the electronic production, how did you have to prepare to make the transition from producing dance to producing R&B?
I had to find and learn quite a bit of new software and learn some new mixing and sound design techniques. The sound couldn’t be more different from what I usually make. Which was so refreshing. I learned how to recreate a lot of real instrument sounds with samplers and computer programs and a lot of editing and processing, since the only instrument I can play is keyboards. I needed guitars, live bass, vintage pianos, etc to achieve the sound we wanted and I figured out how to replicate a lot of that stuff to a certain extent myself, which took quite a bit of time to really nail the authenticity of the instruments. It was like a science project in that respect. “Mesmerized” for example sounds like a sample but it’s all original sounds. I wanted it to sound like a sample. I’m doing this in some of my new dance tracks as well.
How did working on this project alter your perception of genres, specifically producing different styles?
It’s good to switch things up and do something other than your normal. You always learn something, and you can usually apply it to whatever other genre or style you want to make. I picked up a lot of tricks and built a whole new sound library just to make that project, but I can use it with my dance stuff in a new way and try and turn that into something. Switching genres as a producer is like collaboration, you learn new things and it gets you out of your box for a little while, which is all beneficial no matter what comes out of it.
Who are your dream collaborators that you’d want to work with as Openeyes?
I think we both really want to work with Patrice Rushen and Thundercat to name a couple off the bat, and a lot of people who are still around and playing who were active in earlier eras. The OG’s who are still doing it.
Was this a one-off thing, an experiment? Will you continue, or where would you like to take it next?
Personally I want to take it in the exact direction it’s already going in, and I think Rush would say the same thing. Except more authenticity, using real players in future sessions, and taking it even deeper than we have and true to its roots. Was it a one-off thing? It depends on what the people say. If they like it and they want more? We’ll give them more. I’m pretty sure that’s the way it will go. I’ve been in a lot of short lived production duos before but I’ve never been in a group like this with somebody who brings something completely different to the table than me, who essentially plays a different instrument which is his voice. I guess it’s the first band I’ve been in. And it seems to make the process way more fun.