Not many artists can get away with wearing their influences as strongly as Sudi Wachpress aka Space Ghost does and still create something undeniably their own. Whether it's ambient, R&B, boogie or the many shades of house music the Oakland artist has produced in the last few years, they all remain rooted in a gorgeous sonic palette of slightly lo-fi FM keys, analog pads and a nod to the heroes that laid the foundations before him.
From a young age, Wachpress learned to love music through learning to play a variety of instruments and a keenness to discover, learn and create music coupled with a ferocious work ethic remains with him to this day. His new album 'Dance Planet' is his fourth in three years.
Since taking on the Space Ghost moniker, which he got from sampling the theme tune from the cartoon of the same name during his FlyLo-inspired beginnings, Waschpress has released a huge body of work that includes multiple self-released ambient cassettes and loopy mixtapes. But he really began carving out the Space Ghost sound as we know it with his first album for Danish imprint Tartelet, home to artists like Max Graef and Wayne Snow. His LA Beats roots were fuelled through a house-tinted prism on that 'Endless Light' record before his follow-up showcased a more floaty house sound in the style of the 'Vancouver Riviera' sound. His third LP with Apron Records was a match made in heaven, Wachpress' lo-fi, R&B and machine-driven boogie matched up perfectly with the aesthetic of the east London label and defined the lush, textured characteristics that make up the Space Ghost sound.
Now he gears up for his third album with Tartelet, an album that meets at the intersection of Chicago classics and Italian house with a smattering of UK Streetsoul and positive spiritual affirmations aplenty. Taking its cue from legends like Soichi Terada, Larry Heard and Toyin Agbetu it's the perfect sound to welcome everyone back to the dancefloor after the last year and a bit. Ecstatic piano riffs, enveloping synths and whispers of how to enjoy the dance are high on the album's agenda and feel exactly right for where the musical evolution of Space Ghost has been heading.
Read on below for a Space Ghost mix and an interview with the artist.
How did the Space Ghost project start?
I've been playing music my whole life. From a young age, I played all kinds of instruments. I took piano lessons on and off until I was a senior in high school, but I took all kinds of shit like the trumpet. I played the drums for a long time. I played in jazz band and steel pans, and just played a lot of stuff. I love music. But at the end of high school, my friend showed me how to download Ableton, but not, like, get the program. It was like "get the free trial version for 30 days", but they had a glitch. You could change it after 30 days, you just literally didn't have to have to use a real email, you just type in any email and you can use it again. So that was probably the start of space ghost.
In hindsight, I wish I had maybe chosen a different name, but I was like 17 and then I think the reason I chose Space Ghost was just because I was trying to make like an MF DOOM style, hip hop beat, and I was sampling the Space Ghost theme song or something. Flying Lotus kind of inspired things [for me]. The LA beat scene was kind of popping off at the same time as the UK like Rustie and Hudson Mohawke and wonky kind of shit.
You have such a warm analog sound to your productions, do you prioritise analog equipment?
Not necessarily but up until 2018 I was still sampling on my computer and barely knew anything about a lot of synthesisers. So when I heard the [Juno-60] I was realising Onehotrix Point Never used it and that was my inspiration for getting one. But then you start to realise "oh, a lot of people use this all the time and I really like it." Same with the DX7, like, "wow, I'm so unique. I just found this synth" and then you realise, "Oh, it's on, like, every record." So I'm just making my way through the synths and being like, wow, why have I never heard of this?
I'm glad you mentioned the DX7 because you've varied your genres through different releases but there's been a really consistent thread of sounds from the same synths. How would you describe that sonic world you've built?
I just listen to all kinds of music and get hyped on different styles. I think I'm realising that I've created a sound palette that I choose from and I have a style that, if people hear it they think 'that sounds like a Space Ghost melody. That's cool. I like that. And then I like exploring different genres within that. An early inspiration, obviously, was Lone, and how every song [he makes] is like "it's Lone." He goes through the different genres he's enjoying and just explores that and it never gets old. You look up to artists who do that. So I hope I'm kind of creating that kind of world for people.
You're really prolific with releases, 'Dance Planet' is your fourth album in just over three years. What's your workflow like in terms of getting out that much music?
I just love music so much and I'm tired of working shitty-ass jobs. So I just want to work as hard as I can and speed up the process to where I'm getting a lot of cool things happening with my music. I mean, honestly, I do have a lot of cool shit going on with my music right now. It's exactly where I would have wanted to be when I was 18. But I'm still working shitty jobs. It's just kind of how it is. But I think in general I'm obsessive about trying to write a lot of music and at least try to put something out every year. If a project idea is coming to mind then I'll try to grind it out for a while until I can actually get it done. But thankfully now, I think because of the pandemic, I'm ahead of myself a little bit. I have a couple more things lined up, so I don't have to feel like I'm constantly making things.
What's the allure of releasing full albums over singles?
Honestly, sometimes it's just an accident. I just kind of overdo it, like with the upcoming album 'Dance Planet'. When Tartelet asked me if I wanted to put out another EP, and I started putting some tracks together I realised I had seven songs or something. And was like 'fuck, well, do you want it? I could probably just make a couple more ambient things and like a couple more mixes, and we have a full-length album.' But I think I want to get more into EPs and singles and getting good at making a couple of really good tracks that stand alone and people are like, "Damn, I'm stoked to buy that single and DJ that." But also I like listening through a whole record and catching a vibe for 40 or 50 minutes. It's pretty cool.
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Your track titles and lyrics are really positive, where does that come from?
I mean, I'm not like a negative person or anything. But I like to listen to a lot of music from the 80s and 90s and so whenever I make funky kind of slow, R&B track I initially just go to try to make a love song and I'm like: "I don't know why I'm making a love song right now." So [the lyrics] another way I can make something positive for the dancer is just for them to listen to. It's not always about like, "I love you, girl" (laughs). It's hard to come up with lyrical content in general. I'm not, I'm not good with words or writing. So that's one thing I'll have to figure out more ideas about.
How did the relationship with Tartlet come about?
I just emailed them back in 2017. I started discovering their label at the time like Nu Guinea and Max Graef and Glenn Astro were all popping off. I was just like "dude, this label is sick". I'd never really heard anything like this. I had been creating this album in the meantime and I wanted to stop sampling things and I started buying synths and took a couple of years of not putting out anything and was writing a lot of music. I just wrote tons of stuff that never really went anywhere and then I ended up writing 'Endless Light', my album that came out with them in 2018, and it felt different. I was like, "okay, this is finally what I've been searching for." I even paid to get it mastered. I don't know how good it sounded but I then emailed that to, like, three labels and Tartelet emailed me right away and were like, "dude, let's put this out." I'm like, "Yeah. My first vinyl release. I'm down. Let's do it." So they kind of had my back for the last few years and we keep working together.
'Endless Light' seemed to be a bit more hazy house/lo-fi whereas 'Dance Planet' is rooted in classic Chicago house and street soul. Was there a turning point in this musical evolution?
I think 'Endless Light' was the album I wish I could have made when I was younger, but I didn't really have the skills yet. It was my transition out of wanting to make trippy beats that are half hip-hop, half dance-y house stuff. But then [the turning point was when] I was learning more about drum machine sounds. Because back in the day I would make a beat and it'd be really popular to just bang a trash bag on the counter or something and record it. Now I'm like, "that doesn't sound like a good hi-hat. A 909 sounds like a good hi-hat to me." I just keep learning and understanding how different genres of music I like are made.
Who are your influences for the new album?
Definitely, it was inspired by Soichi Terada and Toyin Agbetu. Toyin I didn't really realise I knew their productions in different ways until this year, it dawned on me, obviously, it's, like, 50 million aliases from the 80s and 90s. I love UK street soul from the 90s. That kind of stuff's getting popular again, right now everyone's looking for it.
It's certainly having a moment and I noticed that influence on the new album.
Yeah, that's kind of the vibe, because I mean I like underground sounding stuff. I like stuff that sounds like it was a demo recorded on some crappy tape or something and that's why I like Toyin's music because it's really raw and also hits really hard. You're like, "dude, how the hell do you do that? You sound like you don't know how to make music but you're also a musical genius." I think that's kind of what I like about all those underground tracks that people are finding [in the UK]. But also [in the US] with R&B, everyone's on this hype but I like it - just finding old school shit that doesn't sound like they really knew what they were doing in that genre, and it sounds like human and like a real person made it.
I was also kind of obsessed with drum 'n' bass intros, the ambient intros. I love that shit and so I was inspired by that on a few tracks where it's like the most beautiful intro. I love drum & bass too but I kind of just want the intro to last 10 minutes.
You've done quite a few cassette releases in the past, why do you like the medium?
Me and my friends started making cassette tapes just for mixes. It's like making a print but with music, you know? And it's something people can collect. It's pretty cheap to make and to sell and just kind of fun.
Speaking of mixes, you run your own night Open Soul. What was the dance music scene like in Oakland before COVID?
Friday is the night where everyone goes out in Oakland and that was the night we were DJing at one of the more popular bars in town. We played a lot of disco and boogie but we really wanted to play house. It just felt harder to introduce that to people. But I feel like people came out and they were dancing hard and every month.
We kind of decided to lay Open Soul to rest and we're gonna just move forward and see what comes up now, and maybe do something different. But I'm tired of pretending that I don't really want to play house when I really just want to mostly play house music, and I can't tell if they're ready or not. But I don't really care anymore, at least around here. I just want to play that shit. It's good.
What have you got planned for the future?
Music-wise I got a few different things going on. I have like an LP coming out at some point with Pacific Rhythm that was recorded last year. But these things are so delayed and we're trying to figure it out.
Tayla - Stargazing
Big Bud - Stone Groove
Toka Project - Falling
Alton Miller - Tulum
Space Ghost - Dream Weaver
Shinichiro Yokota - Lens
Arnold Jarvis - Inspiration
Jovonn - Back in the Dark
Javonntte - Organic J Mix 2
Simple Simon Featuring Reggie Burrell - That Flute (Part I)
Wax Fruit - Whispers
Vincent Floyd - Authentic Self
Key of Soul feat Itoko - Shine (Sunrise Dub)
M.C.J - Sexitivity (Deep Remix)
Space Ghost - Back To The Source
Louis Anderson-Rich is Mixmag's Digital Producer, follow him on Twitter