Tom Trago chats about new releases and his new live show...

Tom Trago has long been regarded as a multifaceted artist whose musical journey transcends boundaries. From his early days spinning tunes in the vibrant cafes and bars of Amsterdam to his recent ventures in Alkmaar's SR-3 studio, Trago's sonic explorations have traversed genres with finesse. His debut solo release, "Live With The BBQ," marked the inception of a remarkable career, followed by a string of albums including "Voyage Direct," "Iris," and "The Light Fantastic." 

Trago's recent relocation to the serene coastal village of Bergen aan Zee reflects a shift towards tranquillity and nature's embrace, providing him with the space to nurture creativity amidst the lush surroundings. His enduring partnership with Rush Hour Records, characterised by mutual support and a shared passion for musical exploration, underscores his commitment to the craft. With ventures like Jong Nederland, his musical sanctuary, and ongoing collaborations with fellow artists like Charles Levine, Trago continues to push boundaries and shape the landscape of electronic music, guided by an unwavering dedication to artistic expression and community. We caught up with him recently to chat new (or should that be old?) releases, his new DECO live show and more…

Hi Tom! Your recent DECO live show sounds incredible. Can you share a bit more about the experience and what inspired you to perform tracks from your last album in such a unique setting?

DECO was made in a time when dance floors were in absence, but also when I tried to DECOmpress from 20 years of DJ life. I always wanted to do a less dance orientated album, and I guess the time was right during the pandemic. 

The live shows of DECO at Rushhour and at Willem 2 were very intimate and personal, I took time to talk about the music in between songs and that gave the show a very personal and warm touch I think. Also, I curated all kinds of loose-leaf tea to go along with the show and had a decor design by Sacha Zwiers. These elements all contributed to making the DECO live shows special. Another challenge for me was to really use the original songs as a canvas to layer all kinds of synth patterns on top.

Can you also tell us more about the inspiration behind your 'Pearls for Pleasure' series and the concept of dipping into your vast archive of previously unreleased tracks?

After playing these ‘pearls’ for such a long time and with so many DJ friends asking for them, the time has come to share these with the world. I had the idea already before but now I’m really back on the road again, it seemed a right move to open up the vault. I’m happy that people really seem to pick it up and use the pearls for what they are made for:PLEASURE!

How do you decide which tracks from your archive make it into the 'Pearls for Pleasure' series? What criteria do you use?

Basically, I let my close friends decide, haha. I have so many of them so it really helps to get some feedback from my close ones / tour managers / DJ friends. Also, I test them for years and some got a greater response than others, so I guess this also decides which ones go first and which I maybe need to shape up a bit more. 

'Hotballs FM' sets a stunningly summery tone for 'Pearls for Pleasure Vol. 1'. Can you walk us through the creative process behind this track?

It all started with listening to Roy Ayers a lot in summer time. The samples really popped out and the first thing I did was to put it on 45 instead of 33 RPM.  I was really into making a song that has this low pitched voice on top like you are listening to LA radio. I remember that this one Is really one of the first pearls I made so it might be already over 10 years ago, when I first worked with these samples, but the final shaping was done last summer. 

How do you approach blending different musical elements, such as disco, house, and colorful synths, to create a cohesive sound in your tracks? Do you generally know what kind of music you’ll make before you enter the studio? Or is everything spontaneous? 

I really just hit it off and follow my bliss. I starts with being inspired by other music and loading parts of the music that hits me into my MPC2000xl or SP1200. Then I kinda mess around with what I have and from there I layer whatever synth that sounds good with it on top. I never plan what kind of music the (studio) day will bring. I always keep that open so I can be surprised and motivated. 

How do you stay creatively inspired and motivated throughout your career, especially when revisiting older tracks for projects like 'Pearls for Pleasure'? And why was now the right time to revisit these sounds? 

I guess I stay motivated because I work on so many different projects with all different (end) goals. Also, my musical inspirations span so wide that my musical outputs cover a lot of different sounds. I also have so many projects still undeveloped and in mind. I guess my life won’t be long enough to realise all my musical dreams. I really grew up on disco and now the ‘disco/house’ sound I kinda passed away by the fast rave I thought I was a great imperfect time to start dropping these pearls to give a bit of a counter sound to the darker rave movement.

How do you approach crafting a track that has the potential to become a summer anthem, like 'Hotballs FM' or 'Take a Chance’?

It really just comes to me, but of course I’ve done this a lot so my ear is also trained to recognise good samples or looking for a fitting synth. Also, my engineer & go-to-mix-master Tom Ruijg aka Tracey plays a big role in mixing the final version and making sure that we really nail all the potential that some unpolished pearls have.

On a similar tip, what constitutes success for you? 

Success for me is staying motivated. Staying motivated is not always easy, that’s why I switch projects a lot. And seek out inspiration amongst my peers.

As a big hip-hop fan, can you tell us more about your hip hop idols and how artists like J Dilla have influenced your approach to production and sampling? Are there any contemporary guys you’re feeling? 

Dilla & Madlib have played a big role in my upbringing as an artist and also cultivated my love for sampling. When I go digging and sample it always turns out to be fun, and also triggers me to be creative. I also just love record shops and the atmosphere of digging into the past and discovering unknown or overlooked artists.

Do you appreciate hip-hop more from a musical or vocal perspective? 

I always loved both sides, I love the rhymes but I’m also really into the beat making. 

One of your biggest records of the past few years was undoubtedly Use Me Again, which samples Millie Jackson’s We’ve Got to Hit it Off. Tell us a bit about your processes when it comes to finding and using samples.

It was actually a happy accident. I was playing around with the intro of that song on my song Use me, and during a live show, the sample accidentally rolled out. My manager walked up and said- if you won’t release what just happened I’m quitting my job. Haha, the rest is history.

Your recent album, DECO, has a really dreamy and electronic vibe. How does it feel to explore this softer side of your sound, and how has the response been, particularly from your daughter?

I guess now I have more electronic equipment and got a bit older, I also tend to make a bit more introspective music with. My daughter loves DECO but also I really into the album I did for Patta entitled ’18’. 

Can you share the story behind your first solo release, "Live With The BBQ," and how it felt to have your music recognised and supported by the Rush Hour crew? 

It was amazing to be picked up in those days, also because I was trying to make hip hop but it turned out I couldn't pitch the sample any further down. So it turned out to be a house jam.

Although I was familiar with Theo Parrish and Moodymann, I didn’t grow up on house & techno so it was amazing to get support from RH. They have always been very much eclectic anyway. They really schooled me and took me under their wing, I really discovered so much music through them.

I wanted to ask about Amsterdam. You were a resident at the likes of Trouw and De School during the heyday of both. How do you look back at that time? How has the local scene changed over the past 10 years? 

It was an amazing time, which perfectly matched with my extravagant years fuelled with never ending party energy. It was a blissful ride full of good music, great new DJ’s, loads of fun and a very healthy scene that nurtured iconic venues and institutes. I feel blessed that I have been part of those days/nights and special moments.

What's the setup for your live performance of DECO, and how does it differ from your DJ sets?

I consists of a MPC2000xl, a Nordlead 2, a Polysix, an analog delay and a reverb, a laptop running Ableton. A mic and a beautiful decor designed by Sacha Zwiers.

I read elsewhere that you’ve a great appreciation for horticulture. So… if you hadn't pursued a career in music, what other path do you think you might have taken?

I indeed might have been designing landscapes or gardens. I’m really into that. Also, I’m really into loose leaf tea. I just graduated as an official tea sommelier.

Finally, if you were to pick three of your own tracks to introduce your music to someone who’s not heard it before, what would it be and why? 

I guess these three :

This one embodies creative sample use:

This one represents peace and calm Trago vibes

And this one as it is on my latest release:

Buy/listen to Pearls for Pleasure Volume 1 here