Cajmere Talks Drug-Induced Religious Conversion: "Somebody Spiked My Drink, I Prayed to God to Spare My Life"
Whether it's perky vocal house as Cajmere or acidic hard-hitting techno as Green Velvet, Curtis has kept the authentic no-frills virtues of underground electronic dance music intact. It makes his Cajual label's new 20th anniversary compilation album, Only 4 U, essential listening for EDM fans and scholars everywhere.
Ahead of a gig at the Electric Pickle on Saturday in support of the new compilation release, Crossfade caught up with the legend himself to discuss everything, from his funk roots to his drug-induced religious conversion and the new Cajual compilation.
Crossfade: Your father was a DJ and musician. What kind of music did he play? And how did growing up around him shape your musical tastes and sensibilities? Were you into dance music from an early age?
Cajmere: My father was a mobile DJ in the '70s, and he mainly played blues, funk, and soul. He is solely responsible for me always wanting my music to sound "funky." When I would play my productions for him, he would always say, "That's nice, but where's the funk?" The first electronic dance songs I remember hearing from him were Parliament's "Flashlight" and Donna Summer's "I Feel Love."
You were a chemical engineering student before leaving school to focus on music. Are you generally drawn towards science? And if so, how do you think this mentality applies to your music-making?
I still love science and even more so sci-fi stuff. The things that my chemical engineering background taught me were to be a good problem solver, think outside the box, and to be organized in creating music.
What made you decide to launch the Green Velvet moniker? What differentiates the project from your work as Cajmere?
I decided to do projects as Green Velvet in 1993. I did this because at that time, I was solely know as Cajmere and my more popular songs were house. The DJs and my fans wanted me to only do house. I came up with Green Velvet so I could do techno. As an artist, you never want your creativity to be limited.
Green Velvet tracks like "Preacher Man," "Answering Machine," and "Abuction" feature first-person spoken-word narratives of sorts. Is it your intention to tell personal tales? What inspires the material?
Well, I'm one person like all of us with a lot of different names. Thank God, I don't have different personalities, because then I might need a little help. I get my inspiration from younger artists, as well as the '70s and '80s.
What can you tell us about your alleged born-again Christian conversion after a drug experience in the late 2000s? How did this experience change your lifestyle, outlook, and approach to music-making?
Well, I was brought up in a Christian family, mainly my grandmothers and mom, and have been a Christian all my life. I was a lost sheep for a while and during that time I was around some wolves. Somebody spiked my drink at a party and I started having a hard time breathing. I later discovered that GHB, the "date rape drug," can cause symptoms I experienced. It's a drug that was common with some kids in the dance scene. At that time, I prayed to God to spare my life and vowed that I would live right. From that time on, I've learned that it's important for me to do what I can while I can, and to give God the glory. I'm not perfect, but I'm more loving.