INTERVIEW: Wolfgang Gartner on Writer's Block, Collaborating with John Oates, and More
    • TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2016

    • Posted by: Kirsten Spruch

    Wolfgang Gartner, aka Joey Youngman, is a creative force to be reckoned with. With a knack for collaborating and producing, he's one of the world's biggest producers, and how? Persistence and work ethic. We talked to him about the making of a substantial music career, and he explained how it can take up to 10 years (it did for him) and a ton of studio time. We talked to him about having writer's block, and he gave tips on how to deal with that. We also asked him about one of his most recent collaborations with John Oates of Hall & Oates, and how that disco-tinged dance hit came to be.

    KIRSTEN SPRUCH: So how did your collaboration with John Oates come about?

    WOLFGANG GARTNER: That actually came about through John's publisher and my management. They were talking and John had this full song written, but they didn't like the music underneath it or it just didn't work. They wanted new music underneath it. This was at a time right after my last album came out. I had a lot of funky, disco kind of throwback vibes on it, which was kind of a nod to my upbringing, really. I think that's what kind of spread the collaboration. They sent me the full song, the music, and the vocal, and all I did was take his a capella and write new music underneath it from scratch.

    KS: How bizarre was it to collaborate with someone you grew up listening to and create their kind of music, but also put your own twist on it?

    WG: It was honestly, and I'm not just saying this, the most rewarding and exciting collaboration that I've ever done. And I've collaborated with some of my all time rap heroes. I've always listed those as my favorite collaborations or the ones that I was most humbled to do, but honestly, this one was by far the most humbling and exciting collaboration that I've done because Hall & Oates is something that I've grew up on since I was a little kid. Even before there was rap or dance or anything, "I Can't Go For That," was one of my favorite songs of all time. I thought "this is a little too good to be true. I have to make this the best thing that I can do." Hall & Oates played at Hollywood Bowl and it sold out. 17,000 people came and watched them there, then we went out to dinner with them afterwards at Ral's. They opened that restaurant up at 11, private for us. We just sat there and had a nice dinner after their show. It was surreal.

    KS: That answered my next question. So you guys actually met in real life.

    WG: Yeah. Me, John, Charles the co-writer, and my wife all just sat at the table and talked about stuff. He's so down to earth and I actually realized that he really loved the song. I'm still kind of in disbelief. It left me buzzing for a long time.

    KS: It's such a random combination. When I read the email that you two were making music together, I had to re-read it 5 times. I was like "are these the two people that I think they are?" But it totally works. It kind of has that 80's inspired thing, which I kind of get from a lot of your music. What do you think about all of the 80's inspired music coming out right now?

    WG: Well, that's the thing. I've read a lot of reviews. I've read exactly what you just said, that it has the 80's inspired influence. I'm actually taking influence from the years I consider The Golden Years, which is between 1978 and 1982. There's 4 years where disco, funk and everything was just in a pocket and the best music from that era came out. That's what I'm really trying to recreate when I'm making disco house. I'm obviously in a place in my career where I can't sample anymore. I can't just take a sample off a disco record because I'll get sued. I'm too well-known now. I don't really take any inspiration from the bulk of the 80's. In my opinion, that wasn't really a decade of music that inspired me a lot. It was more of late 70's, disco, funk type of stuff that I'm still inspired by and the late 90's revival of that sound through house music.

    KS: What made you decide that you wanted to make dance music?

    WG: I started making dance music when I was 11 years old in 1993, immediately after I heard the first dance track that I had ever heard in my life, which was "Good Life" by Inner City. I was on a family trip. My dad did a lot of business in Africa at the time. I was in Africa hanging out with this Welsh kid who was staying with some of my dad's business partners and he was into dance music. He was 16 and I was 11 and he was showing me all this stuff and that was the first time I've ever heard it. I was just a little kid and it blew me away! I got back to the United States, went to the record stores, and started buying all of the dance music that I could find. I had a four-track tape recorder, I had a synthesizer, drum machines, microphones. I was writing pop songs. I wanted to be Ace Of Base, I wanted to be the next teen pop star. I was writing lyrics, vocals, singing them, but my voice just wasn't that good. I went from house to literally every single sub genre of dance music once I fell into it. I did trance songs and jungle, hardcore songs; every single sub genre just because I loved electronic music so much.

    KS: You've said in the past that you feel it's your responsibility to advance the genre you're in - do you feel like you've accomplished that?

    WG: Well, advancing the genre, I don't know. Advancing the genre is more of a goal and something I try and push myself to do when I'm making music. I think I can make a quantifiable effect on dance music where I can say "yes, I have improved dance music overall." It's kind of like a mantra for me when I'm making music, like, I have to do better, but I do know that I have definitely influenced a lot of other producers and younger producers who were learning and growing up when I was putting out a lot of music. All you can do is put out your music and be unique and if people start copying you or imitating you and taking that to another level, then you've made your mark and made an impact.

    KS: What other advice do you have for producers who also have the skills to advance themselves but not the motivation? Clearly you're a bit of a perfectionist and you put out music, but what about the people that are sitting in their bedroom, making great music everyday but not putting it anywhere or finishing it?

    WG: I was there for almost 10 years before I put out my first record. You're an artist because you have good taste. You wanna impart that good taste on the music. You want to contribute to it. But what nobody tells you is that when you start making your art, it's just not that good. Sometimes it takes a year or two years and sometimes it takes 10 years before your music gets to a place where it actually is good enough. I think a lot of people have watched how quickly some of these kids are blowing up and it's a false expectation. These kids are blowing up for other reasons. There's giant management teams in place, there's giant labels and tons of millions of dollars behind these machines. As far as these machines that have become these kids that have blown up, as far as your music and getting it to a place to where its good enough to release and finishing it, it's literally just a matter of two things. 1. You have to have the persistence to keep going, even through hundreds of failures or being rejected demos, and 2. You really have to love it. Otherwise, it's not going to work in the end. If people wanna put a number on it? Give it 10 years! I was 11 when I started producing dance music and I was 21 when I got my first record signed and got a check for it. And now I'm 34 and it's been 13 years since that.

    KS: So you were in that rough spot for 10 years before your career really started, and now you're "successful." Somewhere in between the successful part, did you ever experience writer's block?

    WG: Oh yeah! I experience writer's block constantly. All the time. I think every producer I've worked with or talked to about this stuff does. It's one of the biggest hurdles in producing music, when you never know when you're gonna get a block. Sometimes you just come in, start trying to write and nothing comes out. This is true for writers of books, writers of scripts, or musicians or whatever. There is no cure for writer's block. That is the one thing that I have learned in all of these years. There's no cure for writers block that's permanent. There are temporary solutions like drugs that can help you. But from my experience, generally in the long run, it does more harm than good to use drugs to make music. For me, the biggest creative break I ever went through was up until this summer, my life was getting chaotic, I was getting married, my wife was going crazy trying to organize the wedding, my cat was dying of cancer and had been dying for awhile. My studio was at home and I couldn't work in my house with all the stuff going on, so I took a really drastic measure by moving my entire studio literally an hour away, close to downtown L.A., to a complex as to where I'm in my own space. For me, that was the key and I haven't had a creative block since. I've written more music in this past 5-6 months than I've written in the last 4 years. Getting out of your environment is a big one for creative block. Other than that, just accept it: If you're banging your head against the wall for 10 hours and nothing is coming out, then it's probably time to stop and take a few days off.

    KS: What's next for you in the New Year?

    WG: Way more releases. I'm trying to release something every 4-6 weeks because I'm making enough music to do that now. Like I said, I've made so much more music since I've moved my studio to downtown. I'm more inspired so I'm just trying to get music out constantly, got some gigs coming up in January and February. I'm definitely gonna be spending a lot of time in the studio. I'm experimenting with scoring and T.V. stuff as well, which is really exciting.

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