Newly-launched underground imprint Curated. welcomes its second release with Denver-based Ross Kiser at the wheel for ‘Under The Light‘. Boasting an impressive label catalogue between Denver’s Ross Kiser and UNCANNY label boss Juliche Hernandez, including Bondage Music, MicroHertz and many others, ‘Under The Light’ continues an impressive introduction to the label, filled with rich analogue sounds and deepened grooves throughout. To celebrate the release of his latest record, we caught up with Ross Kiser for an immersive interview with the Colorado native…
Hey Ross, thanks for joining us at DMC World. Let’s start with an introduction to you and your background.
Hey all, thanks so much for having me on for a conversation, it’s a pleasure. So, I am originally from Boston, MA, but have been living in Denver, CO, for over a decade now. I started making music in 2008, and it’s been quite a journey ever since.
My story as a producer began when I started a duo with a friend of mine called Need & Necessity. This music was very influenced by the classic house music that flowed out of Chicago and elsewhere. Then it moulded to even more dancefloor-focused material. Think 2009-2015 deep house, that was the vibe. We had the opportunity to do some national touring and played in a lot of the big US cities as well as helped to curate a party here in Denver.
Around 2016-2017 we split due to some creative differences, and my partner in crime started a new journey in NYC. Towards the end of our amazing run, I started finding my sound a little bit more, diving into more of a minimal, dubby, and groover-type sound. There was something about the more underground sound that really always stuck with me. When my partner and I split, I was able to fully explore this genre and in turn, it allowed me to fully bloom as a producer.
I find my new sound these days to be a perfect culmination of all my loves of music. I have always drawn massive influence from old house records, hip hop, and jazz, and although my sound is more underground these days, I like to think all of those influences come out in the music, especially jazz.
At first, my solo journey started with more dubby/minimal tech-sounding tunes, and I quickly became obsessed with the German label Bondage Music (owned by the Pornbugs). After years of sending them demos, I finally got on with them via a VA compilation. Once I knew my goal was in sight, I kept developing my sound and the quality of the records, and in early 2020 I signed my first official EP with them.
This event solidified for me that my new sound had promise, and the rest is history (and fun). This past October, I signed my third (and favourite) EP with the Bondage crew.
During quarantine, I had the opportunity to make music every day and explore and experiment with tons of different sounds, techniques, etc. I started re-exploring my house roots and tried to integrate more housey tones into these new minimal records. As I mentioned, I always try to incorporate aspects from all of my musical influences and favourite genres, so I had a lot of fun adding new ideas and vibes to my sound. Honestly, that’s one of my favourite things about my sound and in my opinion what makes it unique. Quarantine, for me, was quite an era of experimentation. At the end of the day, there are no rules in music, and I try to always remind myself of that. I wrote almost 60 tracks during that time, and this new EP on Curated is one of the results. In all honesty, it was one of, if not my favourite EP, that came out of my quarantine sessions.
Your latest release, out on newfound underground imprint Curated, marks its second release. Was there any specific influence or messaging behind your ‘Under The Light’ EP?
In all honesty, not a ton of specific influence. I was just having loads of fun in the studio, letting my creative juices flow, and what came out of it I was really pleased with. The previous record I wrote was a little more housey, so with this one, I wanted to re-enter the more minimal vibe.
The EP actually started with the song Timelapse. I wanted to create a groover that was somewhat timeless and had nothing but groovy percussion sounds and chord stabs. Then came Under the Light. This song was written in about three hours, from start to finish. When I developed that sweeping chord riser, I knew I had something fresh. The vocal actually came last, and I thought it fit the vibe perfectly. And finally, No Talking, Just Listening hit. I had a lot of fun with this one, and I spent a lot of time chopping up vocals and messing with more syncopated chord stabs.
The messaging for me comes with the name. I think most people agree when listening to and getting lost in the music, the best thing to do is just listen. When curated reached out for an EP, I decided this group of tracks would be a great fit for the vision, and here we are.
Uncanny label boss Juliche Hernandez also featured on the release with an impressive remix. What did you like most about Juliche’s take on No Talkin, Just Listening’?
Mannnn I can’t say enough about Juliche. One of my favourite producers for sure, and an extremely talented one. I love that Juliche is extremely talented at crossing genres but in a really clean and cohesive way. His minimal tracks are bangers; his house tracks are bangers. He is very versatile, and that is one thing I love about a producer.
I actually had the pleasure of releasing with Uncanny last year, and Juliche delivered an amazing remix for that one as well. He’s an awesome dude and really knows how to make a dance cut. He smashed this remix, and it’s an honour to have him on this record. Simply put, I love his housey take on the record.
He took all of the stems and moulded them into something completely different. The record, plain and simple, is a serious ripper of a tune. I’ve played it out a bunch, and it never fails to get people moving. I was blown away when I heard it and was stoked about how he utilized my sounds to create a new vision. Transforming the vocals and adding in that classic Julich chord work… ooo-weee!
You boast a pretty impressive collection of labels in your release catalogue. Are there any labels you’ve got your sights on for 2023?
Thank you very much for the kind words. I’ve been super excited about some of the musical opportunities that have come my way recently. In terms of labels in my sights, I definitely will be trying to release a new EP with my bondage music fam. The crew is great to work with and when all is said and done, the material I send them is my favourite sound to make. Give me some dubby chord work and some deep groove, and I melt. That being said, and as I’ve mentioned, I take pride in remaining versatile and not putting my sound and/or creativity into a box.
I still have a serious itch for the housier side of things as that’s one of my biggest influences, so I hope to release on some bigger underground house labels as well. I actually have been working up a few records to potentially send to PIV and No Art. I am a big fan of how producers on those rosters bend the rules of house music, and it’s a major inspiration. Prunk (owner of PIV) recently played here in Denver, and I sent him a few records, one of which he ended up playing and giving a test run, what comes of that, we shall see.
One day at a time. When it comes to labels though, I try not to set out to produce for a certain label or sound, I just see where the music takes me, and I go from there. Again, I don’t like rules or restraints when it comes to music.
What piece of music has impacted you most in your life, and why?
That is a hard question – haha. I am going off the cuff here, so a few that come to mind are a lot of John Coltrane and old classic jazz, Dr Dre’s 2001 album, MK’s ’90s remixes, etc. I could name tunes and go deeper into subgenres, but at a high level, that’s what popped into my head first.
Again, my main influences are jazz, hip-hop, and old house records, so I think that answer is a fair first pass – haha. I guess, going deeper, I would also say a lot of Maya Jane Coles’ early work (2009-2012 roughly) – she introduced me to new ways of exploring the genre, and it’s truly gritty, high-energy, yet beautiful music. Kevin Yost’s entire catalogue sticks out. Oh, and Matt Tolfrey and Marshall Jefferson’s ‘The Truth’ also sticks out as a tune that has a lot of impact as well. Minimal, yet housey, yet jazzy.
Talk us through your creative process in the studio. Are there any particular bits of hardware or plugins you love to use in your tracks?
Ahh, yes, yes, let’s get nerdy now. So, I have always been an Ableton producer at the core. I find that program to be amazing and have unlimited possibilities. I guess you could say that about many DAWs, but it really comes down to personal preference. To each their own.
I’d say to any upcoming producers, choose what feels good to you, but stick with it. Once you master these programs, your process will come naturally. I have used many other programs, delving into Reason, Logic and FL, but Ableton is the one for me. Once you get over the learning curve, I found it to have the quickest workflow, and I like to get ideas down fast. One thing I love about Live is that I don’t start in arrangement view. I just jam in live mode. Creating loops, ideas, sketches etc. and playing around with all of the clips live for a long time. Taking elements out, bringing things in, experimenting with drops etc. By the time I am ready to write the actual tune, it rarely takes me more than an hour (outside of mixing and tweaking).
In terms of hardware/plugins, what I use depends on the day and the vibe I’m working on. Some days I make things all on hardware, and some days I work fully in the box. I’d say, on average, I do the hybrid of both.
In terms of favourite machines, I love my TR8 and Maschine, my Roland TB-03 and JP-08, Elektron Syntakt (my new baby), Juno, MicroKorg, and my Yamaha RM1x. Some days I just want to nerd out and twist knobs – haha.
When it comes to in-the-box stuff, I love all of the Native Instruments stuff, Arturia Lab plugins, Roland Boutique, Korg M1, and Maschine. Those are definitely a lot of my go-to’s. I am sure I am forgetting a few.
When it comes to effects and processing, I am a huge fan of FabFilter stuff. Their plugins are magical. I used to want all of the latest and greatest VSTs and would only use third-party stuff, but as I’ve grown more as a producer, I use a lot of what Ableton has to offer. At the end of the day, their built-in plugins are amazing.
Vinyl or digital. What’s your favourite, and why?
Another tough question. For listening and playing, I’d have to say vinyl. I recently have been focusing on more of a vinyl route with DJing, and I love it because that’s how it all started. There’s something magical about just mixing two records.
Although digital is filled with endless creative possibilities, when you are mixing two records (with minimal mixer effects), it’s just you and the music and the audience. I don’t know, call me old fashioned, but there’s something truly magical about that.
As for releasing music, I love both. Over the past two years, I’ve had the honour of releasing a bunch of records on vinyl, and there’s something super special about hearing your creation on wax. It’s pressed in stone (wax) forever, and it’s really cool to have that connection with how music was first distributed. But in a more realistic sense, digital is preferred because you can get your music to more ears and a wider audience, hands down.
If you could work with one artist, past or present, who would it be, and why?
Ooof, this one is tough as well. I’m sure I’ll think of somebody else right after I say this, but off the top of my head, I would have loved to make some housey cuts with some custom John Coltrane sax hooks. I’d love to work with Marshall Jefferson and get some of those timeless house vocals on one of my tunes.
Have any artists stood out for you over others in 2022?
The list is endless; let’s see. Chris Stussy is on a tear. Another example of a producer who has defined a genre-crossing sound in a truly beautiful and seamless way. I love producers that aren’t afraid to experiment with sounds and genres, and he is a pinnacle example of that. I have been following him for a while, and to see where he and his sound is now is truly inspiring. Another producer I am really digging is Daniel Meister. He’s a fellow producer on the Bondage roster, and I love his unique sound. Endless grooves that are relatively minimal yet hit hard in the club. He also experiments with genres, and I love that. Other producers that I have been digging for a while and who never fail to deliver are Mihai Popoviciu, Alex Ranerro, Toman, James Dexter, DJOKO/Kolter, MADVILLA, Vitess, and Callum Edwards, to name a few that came to mind. I seriously could go on all day long about other artists, especially up-and-coming names, but I’ll leave it at that.
Lastly, what can we expect from Ross Kiser in 2023?
Lots of music! I still have records coming out from my quarantine sessions, and I have been making music like a madman. I am currently working on a few EPs and remixes for some awesome producers and labels, as well as a few exciting collaborations.
I guess the big spoiler of what’s in progress (although I have no idea where it will land label-wise or when I will call it done) but I am finally working on my first full-length album. It’s about time, but I didn’t want to rush it. This album will be a story of my path into and through music and will showcase my new sound as well as shed light on all of those influences I have already mentioned. Can’t wait for you all to hear all this new music!
I want to thank you for having me chat! This was awesome, and I hope you all stay tuned. As always, I greatly appreciate all of your love and support. Take care all!