That album still stands as his most ambitious Andrés project. More than a decade after Moodymann (his coworker at BuyRite Records in Detroit) started releasing his music on KDJ and Mohagani Music, Andres II presented a sprawling, interconnected, 30track vision. Dusty, sample-driven house connected with the music of his formative years—he was involved with the Latin hip-hop collective Ozomatli and his father, who's Cuban, is a musician and percussionist. Andres II also marked the beginning of a beautiful union between Andrés and Hernández's hip-hop alter ego, DJ Dez. That the album felt like a house equivalent of J Dilla's classic hip-hop instrumental LP Donuts was especially fitting: as members of the highly acclaimed group Slum Village, Hernández and the late visionary had shared a stage and studio for many years.
In May 2012, still months before it was voted as RA's track of the year, Andrés's "New For U" was steadily gathering steam towards summertime ubiquity. Hernández and I were introduced by chance at Detroit's Movement Festival, and he reluctantly agreed to an impromptu interview. Our chat lasted just a few minutes, and he mostly gave one-word answers. In the wake of those two critical spikes in his production career, quite a bit has changed for Hernández, which, judging from our conversation, appears to have opened him up a little. With the imminent release of Andres IV, Hernández reflected on the past with the clear-eyed perspective of a scene veteran.
Before you released the Believin' EP this year, Andrés had a quiet spell for a couple of years. What were you up to in that period?
I don't really think I've been that quiet. I put out a DJ Dez hip-hop album with DJ Butter called A Piece Of The Action, and the call for Andrés remixes just keeps coming in.
Are you enjoying taking on this volume of remixes?
Um, some can be fun. Remixes give me an opportunity to work with different people, and I try to choose things where I can do something totally different to what's already going on. It's something I always enjoyed as a DJ, doing blends that people call mashups. It's almost a deeper process of DJing, like you get to make the beat yourself or make the music yourself and elevate it.
I imagine that doing a remix would be naturally compatible to a person with hip-hop roots, as there is that established tradition of beat-switching remixes.
Yeah I look at it the same way, but I don't get asked to do a lot of hip-hop remixes [laughs].
In the reverse direction, you're known for bringing hip-hop DJ techniques to your house sets, like the quick cutting and juggling of a scratch DJ.
I'm aware that there's not many people playing dance music in the manner that I do. I'm still playing the music, I'm not disrupting the fun like some hip-hop DJs may do, by a non-hip-hop lover's standards. The only person who influenced me to continue spinning the way I spin was Terrence Parker. I remember I was at a friend's house and she played a Terrence Parker mix, and I was like, "Who the heck is that?" I actually thought it might have been taboo to scratch while playing house music.
Do you wish more house DJs were more adventurous in their style?
I wish DJs would be more adventurous, period. When I play I feel like I have a duty to educate because I have a wide palette of music that I'm exposed to, because a lot of the music I'm aware of is because people shared it with me. That's one thing I learned, to not be selfish with music. I'm not saying that I'm playing records that nobody is playing, but I'm saying that I play them in a manner that no one else is playing. I keep it danceable but I go for shock value. I want people holding their brain, like, "What the hell?" When it goes well I'm just as excited as they are.
I remember reading about A Piece Of The Action on your MySpace page in 2010, and back then it sounded like the album was about to drop, but it came out about a year ago. What was that delay due to?
It was a work in progress. We talked about it for two or three years. When what we wanted to do finally became clear, it actually didn't take too long to complete.
What's the reception been like so far?
There hasn't been a whole lot of radio support on it. There's been some but it's been mostly internet and word of mouth. Kind of the things that we used to have before social media. It's still something that more people need to know about, but that's how it is nowadays. All the people who have been able to get their hands on it in their neighbourhood, hold it up and take pictures of it, a lot of that is what we've been using online to promote it.
You had one of the biggest dance floor house tracks of the last couple of years with "New For U," but it seems like that's not a currency to help promote A Piece Of The Action.
Well, here's the reality. La Vida is my label, but prior to putting out records on my label I had put out many records with KDJ and Mahogani and none of those records did as good as "New For U." I don't think my music got any better when I started my own label. People gravitate to what they want to gravitate to, and you never know what that's gonna be. So I don't mind having a slow burner on my hands because I've been putting out music for many years, barely even wondering if people were listening. So to have that big record, was like, "Oh, OK." I accept that what I do is not necessarily the most popular out there, and I'm fine with that. Also I know how finicky the hip-hop scene can be. That's why Andrés is such a blessing, because hip-hop is a part of it.
Kenny has always been very vocal about me including my hip-hop side. I didn't want to come in and establish myself as making dance music, the idea was to put out a series of 12-inches and see how they do. I was clearly influenced by Detroit techno but I never thought I'd be making anything remotely close to house music, not because I didn't like it, but because it wasn't in my lane. But Kenny said, "Why don't you give it a try?" I gave it a try, and another try, and I kind of liked it. There were boogie funk records that I was influenced by in my life, and those were the records that I chose to chop up and try to recreate with the first Andrés album. On the second album, with Kenny's influence, I started incorporating more DJ Dez, creating a "Dez Andrés" project, if you will. So that's what the new album, Andres IV, is going to be.
How deep are you into the process of making Andres IV?
It's pretty much done. I have some vocal work to do, some last finishing touches. I'm looking forward to it. Amp Fiddler is a big part of my album again. I never think that any album can totally explain what I'm about, but it will give you a piece.
Andrés I, II and the EP Andres III were all quite unique in character. Would you say there's one dominating sound or mood on Andres IV?
I don't think there was a different mood, but I will say there was a lot more happening in my life during the making of Andres IV. This album was the hardest to complete because my life had changed. I wasn't as busy when I was recording the last two albums. I wasn't as... popular? So it's a little harder to buckle down and get down to recording.
I'm curious to know if all the time you've been spending away from Detroit for gigs in the last few years has changed your perspective of the city at all. You must be interacting with more people who have very specific ideas or preconceptions about the city based on an outsider's view.
It doesn't change my perspective on the city, because I know what it is. From the outside you can only really have perspective. You don't really know, truthfully. But I wish more people here were aware of the perception of the city, good and bad. Maybe it would change what they do, maybe they would appreciate the city more, maybe they would appreciate themselves more. I don't think people here really realise what Detroit means to a lot of people in the scene.
We're nearing the tenth anniversary of the death of J Dilla. How are you feeling about that milestone?
To be honest, the J Dilla situation brings up a lot of mixed emotions, there are a lot of unfortunate things. You have certain sad situations where people aren't acknowledging him like they should, people that he worked with, people that have tried to make money off this man. People who are known for championing him but then disrespect his mother on the internet. Then you have on the good side the fact that he's still a large topic of conversation today, people are still showing interest in him. He was a great talent, if not the greatest talent we have seen.
Andrés plays Percolate's 3rd birthday at Corsica Studios in London on November 20th.