Slow Hands on the "Constant Journey to Find Something New in Ourselves Musically"
Pitch down dance music's tempo from the manic 140 beats per minute favored by candy ravers -- pitch it way down -- and you begin to approximate the languid, sensual, baby-making rhythms of Slow Hands, AKA Ryan Cavanagh.
Of course these days, tempo is less a concern for Slow Hands than the musician's craft itself. And as a classically trained multi-instrumentalist and singer, weaned on jazz, blues, and soul, he's bringing a lush, baroquely melodic quality to his production sound.
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Crossfade: How did you get into making music? Was it dance stuff from the start or did you initially explore other musical avenues?
Ryan Cavanagh: I saw Jonny Lang play with B.B. King about a month before my 15th birthday. As sort of a joke, I said to my mom, who took me to the show, "Pshhh, I could do that." A month later, she got me a guitar for my birthday and said, "Prove it." Good thing she did, otherwise I would probably never have gone to college!
I worked as a dishwasher and busboy all through middle school and high school. The kitchen that I worked in at a restaurant called Mistral's, just outside of Manchester, Vermont, was and is owned by a gentleman by the name of Dana Markey. Music was played in the kitchen constantly, and the playlists leaned heavily on Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Steely Dan, a bit of Grateful Dead (unavoidable when you grow up in Vermont), and just general blues, blues, blues, and rock.
At home, my Mom raised me on a pretty healthy diet of similar music: The Band, Bonnie Raitt, Delaney & Bonnie, Dr. John. But she was also really into jazz fusion a lot: Chick Corea, Return to Forever, Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius, fusion Keith Jarrett, John McLaughlin -- pretty much anyone that played on Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.
Aside from similar taste, Dana and my Mom were record collectors, which was a trait they both handed down to me. So every Friday, I would run to the restaurant, get my check, and run to the record store and buy anything I could get my hands on, to the point that I would hide the CDs and lie about how much I made to my parents to avoid getting in trouble. Then I would run back to the restaurant for my shift and just sit in the dish pit and listen to everything I could.
I bought Paul Oakenfold's NYC Global Underground because I loved the cover and was obsessed with NYC. That was the first time I heard dance music. I think that was around '97. So to a certain extent, dance music has been in my life almost as long as jazz and blues. But it never really hit me till I heard "Heaven Scent" by Bedrock.
My jumping into making dance music and DJing came out of my frustration with the formalities of studying traditional forms of music in university. Now, as I get older, it's going very much the other way.
You're hailed as one of the house scene's great "slo-mo" exponents. What is the appeal of keeping a slower dance music tempo for you?
It used to be a big deal to me six or seven years ago. Now, that affiliation leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, tempo has a lot to do with the feel of music, absolutely. But it has so little to do with how the electronic dance community perceives it. Dance music is really the only music that stays at one tempo, or pretty consistently within 10 to 20 beats per minute. If you drop below 120 or go above 130, sure, you'll anger everyone in Room 2 at Fabric, or the main room at DC10, but that stuff doesn't matter anywhere else in the musical world.
Rock music floats freely between 65 and 180 BPMs, and that's totally acceptable. Hip-hop, pop, all of it. Some people may argue with me on hip-hop -- it does tend to roll slow -- but Outkast and Kanye are two of my favorite hip-hop acts, and those guys go all over the place with tempo. I guess what I am saying is I just want to make music now. Be it fast, slow, upbeat, sad, fun, country, blues, pop, whatever -- I don't care. Depends on the day. I don't want to be pegged so much for tempo, or "slow house," "waltz tech," "happy gabber goth-core" -- whatever genre is cool in Ibiza right now.
So why the name Slow Hands? Was it a reference to your music's tempo? Or is there another meaning for you?
It's a nod to the Eric Clapton album Slow Hand. It was probably my favorite album growing up. Still is.
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