Long a part of some of the heaviest Detroit music collectives, Marcellus Pittman has waited longer than many of his peers to be paid his dues. Appearing as early as 1999 with Theo Parrish on the first of two Essential Selections EPs, he has charted a slow but steady stream of singles and remixes, labels like FXHE, Sound Signature and Track Mode all benefiting from his stripped back take on house and techno. He is also a part of the revered 3 Chairs and the Rotating Assembly, both Detroit supergroups filled with some of the most talented producers on the planet. Launching his Unirhythm label in 2006, Pittman has used it to release some of his most crucial work, recently collating it, along with some new material on his debut album, Pieces. Little White Earbuds got in touch with Mr. Pittman ahead of his date at Fabric’s 13th birthday celebrations to find out more about his beginnings, what his position in 3 Chairs and Rotating Assembly means to him, and how he approaches his DJ sets. He also gave us our 140th exclusive podcast, a typically inspired and far reaching journey through funk, soul, house and techno that just gets better with each successive track.
LWE Podcast 140: Marcellus Pittman (47:27)
01. Tase, “Security” [Atelier Records]
02. Miller/Scott Project, “It’s Gonna Be Alright” (Mix 1) [KMS]
03. Moodymann, “Third Track” [KDJ]
04. Club Ice, “Manhasset” (Larry Heard’s Space Mix) [Black Market International]
05. Los Hermanos, “Birth Of 3000″ [Los Hermanos]
06. Delroy Edwards, “4 Club Use Only” [Long Island Electrical Systems]
07. Jon Cutler, “Pride” [Distant Music]
08. Rick Wilhite, “In the Rain” [Still Music]
09. Joe Lewis, “Midnight Dancing” [Target Records]
10. James Brown, “I’m Satisfied” [Polydor]
11. Junie Morrison, “Tease Me” [Island Records]
I guess the biggest thing for you recently has been your debut album, Pieces, coming out. There’s a collection of some of your previously released tracks on here, and there some new ones too. What was the reason for collecting together previously released tracks rather than putting something out of all new material?
Marcellus Pittman: This album is just a way for me to let people hear what they’ve missed from me in the past and get a glimpse of what’s to come in the future. Some people only have what I released on other labels and really don’t have any music I did on my label.
Is there likely to be a vinyl release of the album?
As far as it being released on wax, most definitely.
You first came to the wider attention of the record-buying public with the release of those two excellent collaborations with Theo Parrish. How long had you been working on producing before you started releasing?
I produced my very first track in 1992. It was the worst track you would have ever heard, everything about the track was sloppy. It was off beat and the whole nine yards. I was basically getting myself familiar with the studio and how to arrange and all that. About 90 percent of the stuff I know from working in the studio, I taught myself how to work with no manual. That’s how you educate yourself where I come from. When my cousin got killed, he left behind a cheap Casio keyboard and then I taught myself how to play the keys with his keyboard. Everything else is history in the making.
And how did you and Theo first meet?
I first met Theo at this place here in the D called The Billiard Gallery back 1993 or ’94. We were introduced by a mutual friend of ours — Howard Thomas. Back then he was working at a record shop called Melodies & Memories. He used to tell us to come through to the shop to hip us to some new music. Howard and I used to be all over the store in every section and that’s when we really hit it off ’cause he was like, “Y’all not stuck in one style of music.” And ever since then we’ve been good friends.
I understand you were playing parties in the early 90s, college parties and that sort of thing. But what was it that initially got you into DJing, and also, was there a point at which you decided to take it more seriously than just having it as a hobby?
It was a combination of things. I’ve always been around music and DJ culture because of my family. My cousins would practice in the basement and listen to The Wizard and try to blend the records in with what he was playing on the radio. I thought it was weird but fresh at the same time. So basically while the radio was on they were mixing with what records they had just bought from Buy-Rite at the time.
What made me want to take it seriously is when I heard Mr. Mixx of 2 Live Crew. I thought what he was doing was some serious stuff. I use to imitate him with my imaginary turntables when the videos used to come on “Video Jukebox.” Then I got my first pair of turntables, the Gemini Xl-BD10′s, the cheapest plastic, belt-driven turntables. You wouldn’t believe how I was determined to get my turntables. I walked from my mom’s house, on the east side, all the way downtown to this place called Colonial Merchandise in 1992 to get them. Before I got them I would buy records from the record shops. When I made my mind up to become a disc jockey I thought it wouldn’t make sense to have two turntables and a mixer with no music to play. 20 years later I’m doing an interview with you about the start of my career.
Can you tell us about your time with the Home Grown collective and what were some of the tracks that made you want to make house music as opposed to hip-hop?
Home Grown was a good and bad situation. Everybody that was in the group is cool with each other still. It was a four-man group with me mostly producing and DJing. I did rap on two songs on the EP. I really wanted to just play the background, sort of like DJ Premier, who is my favorite hip-hop producer. I’ve always been into EDM because it was all around me. My EDM heroes that made me get into it were Juan Atkins and Farley “Jackmaster” Funk. As far as making music, I still make hip-hop tracks. Nothing’s really changed with me making music. It’s just that my catalogue consists mostly of EDM. I’ll definitely put some of my hip-hop productions out later on in the future.
What was it like being asked to be a part of 3 Chairs and the Rotating Assembly, joining the ranks of producers that are held in such high esteem?
It was a blessing. With 3 Chairs, to me, it was like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Prince asking me to be a part of their band. What am I gonna say, “No”? Of course I’m gonna join in on the fun. Plus it helped that we’re like-minded musically in a sense. I think it was only natural for me to be a part of 3 Chairs because before I became an official member, I use to DJ parties with them before Rick [Wilhite], Theo, and Kenny [Dixon Jr.] became 3 Chairs. I was even with them when they were putting the first 3 Chairs EP out. Rotating Assembly is more like a combination of bands and a few producers with a vision. It’s a melting pot of greatness.
You play keys in The Rotating Assembly. Can you tell us a bit about the recording of that album and whether we are likely to see any further material from the group?
There will definitely be more to come from RA. It was real simple recording with RA. Just grass-roots, raw-dog, chittlin-circuit style of approach was the concept for RA. No special tracks, just pure energy and fun is what it is. Making music is supposed to be fun and that’s what it is.
And is 3 Chairs still an active project or one that is likely to be revisited too?
3 Chairs is definitely still in full effect. We’re just basically riding our own wave right now, considering that we each own our own individual labels aside from the group thing. Everything is about timing and when the time is right, we’ll do our thing and get back into the groove.
You’re known for your soul-laden sets, which are as much about the classics as the current tracks of the moment. When you’re playing, is it the basic enjoyment of playing these classics for you or is there a sense of feeling the need to educate crowds on the fact that there is a real history to be discovered?
It’s a little bit of both worlds. I don’t care how long you’ve been a disc jock, you’ll never have everything. There’s too much music in this world. We’re being educated each time we go to parties to hear these jocks play and it is a blessing because you learn different things about music. You may hear something in a song that you never thought was in it each time you play out at these clubs or when other jocks play. So basically I educate myself and the crowd at the same time. There was a time when I used to play the clubs here in Detroit to impress the other DJs. Then I got fed up with trying to impress the wrong people. The people I really should be impressing is the party people. That’s where the real education starts.
Compared to other Detroit producers, you’ve not been very prolific since you started releasing music. That said, your hit-to-miss ratio is quite good. Do you spend a lot of time working on things before releasing them into the world or is making music something that only happens occasionally for you?
This is what I do so my time is spent on listening and creating music. The time spent on making music is education for me.
It seems that in more recent years you’ve stepped out of the shadows and become a bit more prolific. Is this just a result of people cottoning on to what you do or have you been pushing to get out there and DJ more?
It’s probably because of the Internet and websites such as SoundCloud and different podcast shows.
Can you tell us about your label, Unirhythm? Was it a way to release your own tracks? And will it continue to be solely be your tracks on the label or will you open it up to release other artists too?
Unirhythm is all about me for right now. You will definitely see new artists with the label in a few years from now, God willing. There’s room for other artists to be on the label with all types of music. That’s what the label is for; hence the “Uni” in “Unirhythm” is for “Universal Rhythm.”
So you’re playing at Fabric’s 13th birthday. Have you played much at the club before? And what does it mean to you to be a part of their birthday celebrations?
This my first time at Fabric so it’s an honor to be a part of this special occasion. I’m really looking forward to it.
What can you tell us about the mix that you’ve put together for us?
The mix is a part of my series that I call the “Do You Like Music” series. This one is number 5. Hope y’all enjoy it.
And what can we expect from Marcellus Pittman over the next year?
Expect the unexpected. Seasons and life change, and I like to change with it. Peace and blessings.