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The Ascension of Tony Moran
Fire island Pines Beach, New York
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
July 29,2009 Bookmark and Share
If you’ve ever danced on one of Tony Moran’s packed floors—let’s say at one of his after-hours sets at Arabian Nights for Gay Disney, or at Cameo in South Beach during White Party or Winter Party, or at Black Party at Roseland—there most probably comes a point when you look around and feel as if you’re living inside the world evoked in the video of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” (itself a riff on Fritz Lang’s 1927 futuristic film Metropolis)—a world marked by futuristic glamour and high-tech spectacle.  With his propensity for romantic, hook-laden, hands-in-the-air house—take a listen to his hit “Put Your Hands Up”—Moran’s sets are equally haunted by a Blade Runner-esque pursuit of Elysium.  All of which is to say that as the man behind the music, Tony Moran’s personal journey has direct relevance to those of us working it out on his floor.  And if you think you know all there is to know about Tony…

MRNY: Not so long ago, we came across some “long-lost” footage (1988!!!) on YouTube…  You realize, Tony, that some people probably don’t know that you were one half of the Latin Rascals.  Which means they haven’t seen how you work that crowd!  That video of you is dynamic!  Move over, Justin!  Shove aside, Usher!

Tony: [laughing] Thank God, [Justin and Usher] weren’t born yet or else Albert [Cabrera] and I [would have had] to compete with them!  [But that said], I never really notice that time has gone by because I have always looked at what was ahead for me.

MRNY:  Beautiful attitude.

Tony:  I’m honored to have such wonderful sets [as a kind of] retrospective [on YouTube].

MRNY:  You’ve been lucky with the musical partners in your life.  You seem to have forged a working partnership with Warren Rigg, not unlike that which you shared with Albert Cabrera.  What’s the process by which you and Warren create such hits—for example, your reworking of Kaci Battaglia’s “Crazy Possessive”?

Tony: I have always been drawn to creativity, whether it’s raw or experienced. Warren Rigg is a partner who shares the same passion and willingness to apply a standard of doing the best that you can.  We see Kaci Battaglia as a future superstar.

MRNY:  Recently, we came across an online forum where people were debating their favorite Tony Moran mixes.  You know what their favorites were?

Tony:  I haven’t seen that forum, but I’d be happy if you shared those titles with me.

MRNY:  Alright, let’s take a look at some of those crowd favorites: “Easy as Life,” “Unfaithful,” “Take A Bow,” “The Promise,” “The Wings (Theme from Brokeback),” “Freedom,” “Put Your Hands Up,” “Walk Away,” “Surrender Me.”  Would you say there’s any thematic quality—or musical tone—that connects them?  

Tony: Is there a common denominator?  More than likely, but I don’t see that as a formula.

MRNY:  Exactly.  Not at all formulaic, but perhaps they each reveal some aspect of you?

Tony: I make them as I feel them and I live them as I make them. 

MRNY:  That’s a lovely creative mantra: I make them as I feel them and I live them as I make them.  We should put that on a fridge magnet.

Tony:  Each one has been its own journey.

MRNY: One of your biggest—and best-loved—hits is your work with Deborah Cox on “Easy as Life.” We know so many boyz who live—still—for that song.  There’s something of your signature sound in that.  How would you describe that sound?

Tony: HOT!

MRNY:  You’re not getting any argument from us on that!  You’ve worked with Deborah, Rihanna, Mariah, Kristine, Janet, Michael—just to name a few.  Anybody missing, anyone you’re craving?

Tony: I’ve been blessed to collaborate with many on my sacred wish list. That wish list is ever expanding and George Michael has always been on it.

MRNY:  Speaking of beautiful vocalists, one year at a party, you sang “The Promise” live—and everyone was thrilled, even while there were some who had no idea you were a singer.  Do you consider yourself a vocalist still? 

Tony: The vocalist road has not come to an end for me. Had I felt that way, “The Promise” would not have come out fifteen years after “Arabian Nights.” By the time that this interview comes out, I will be approaching the completion of my latest labor of love.

MRNY:  Oh, you have to give us something, Tony.  C’mon, reveal.

Tony:  It’s what I feel is my most artistic album to date, my beats, my vocals, and a unified vision with my partners, team and collaborators. You can be sure to hear some of it at ASCENSION.

MRNY:  You’ll be playing the Fund in the Sun Foundation's ASCENSION party on Fire Island-Pines for the first time this August.  This is the fourth year for this 4,000-person fundraiser for the Task Force and the Fund in the Sun Foundation.  Have you been before?

Tony:  Fire Island has been like a second home to me for much of my adult life. I have been a supporter of ASCENSION since its inception. I have attended this particular event every year and I look forward to performing at the ASCENSION beach party.

MRNY: A couple or three years ago, you played the Task Force’s Winter Party Beach Party.  Why do you enjoy playing a day party?  Is there something a day party gives you that a night party does not? 

Tony:  A day party gives me the opportunity to showcase a different variety of selections that are guided by the environment: the sky and the daylight.  [But] at every party I do my best to put smiles on people’s faces and their hands in the air.

MRNY: Let’s talk a few minutes about how it is that you’ve gotten to this place in your career.  How did you break into the music business as a kid?  Were you one of those child prodigies? 

Tony: I grew up within a melting pot of multiple cultures expressing themselves musically, yet all fitting into the same neighborhood.  My earliest memories as a kid were finding a passion that would evolve into a career.

MRNY:  Wow, even then you were forward thinking.

Tony: [By the time] I had my first summer job and was able to buy music, [I started] deejaying on the streets playing on a sound system that I built from scraps of other people’s junk.

MRNY:  That’s very cool, kind of like a metaphor for your remixing work: taking pieces from various sources and making something that’s entirely your own. 

Tony:  Making people dance on the streets directed my interest toward investigating what properties of music came together to bring so many people such joy.

MRNY: Firsthand empirical research.

Tony:  My deejaying on the streets [led] to a job at the #1 radio station in NYC and the creating of an identity with my Latino colleague Albert Cabrera, hence the birth of the Latin Rascals

MRNY:  You were quite a sensation on WKTU, one of New York’s premier dance stations.  Were you originally a New York club kid?

Tony:  No, I had only gone to a club twice by the time I was sixteen.  But I gravitated towards older kids that you could call club kids or club enthusiasts—and it was those older kids that got me entrance into the historic club, Fun House.

MRNY: Can we say legendary!  Maybe it’s no wonder that your own parties evoke a similar vibe of hot fun.   

Tony: Going to those clubs and witnessing the progression of rap and electronic music touched a chord in my soul.  Along with my Latin perspective, those were the founding chords that fused these elements into what would ultimately be defined as “freestyle.”

MRNY:  There are people all over—and especially New York—who know you as the progenitor of “freestyle.”  You more or less created an industry around such acts as TKA and the Cover Girls.

Tony: Upon hearing one of our radio shows, we were granted the opportunity by world-renowned record producer and remixer, Arthur Baker to apply our deejay skills to the records he was making. Our first chances at bat were the Beat Street movie soundtrack, as well as Cyndi Lauper’s “She-Bop,” and Diana Ross’s “Swept Away.”

MRNY:  Not bad for a start, huh, Tony?

Tony: [Baker] chose to take the time to invest in what he saw as our potential and he allowed us to use the studio in the midnight hours to work on our sounds after we worked on his projects.  TKA and Cover Girls were some of the many results of that time. To Arthur Baker I am eternally grateful.

MRNY:  How do you think “freestyle” influenced your later production work, or what might be termed your signature style?

Tony:  Regarding [freestyle’s] influence, instinctively, I would see a song and the artist as the primary star, and then I would find a way to make people dance to it from what comes naturally. Freestyle came naturally. 

MRNY:  You were fortunate to have such good mentors. 

Tony:  I found confidence and security in the [evolution] of my style via the role models that I had worked for like Arthur Baker, Nile Rogers, Shep Pettibone, and Bob Clearmountain, [pioneers who] had taken the risk and time to develop their own [sound]. 

MRNY:  You did the soundtracks for the 1994 Jim Carrey film The Mask, as well as for Circuit in 2001.  How was film work instrumental in your own work, or in getting your own compilations out there?

Tony: By working on a film it ignited my ongoing desire to fulfill my potential. The accumulation of these experiences led to other opportunities such as compilations, productions, and remixes—and I am [constantly] inspired by the people that I see from my booth on a dance floor.

MRNY: Now that you’ve scaled the circuit and played nearly every major circuit weekend in the US and Europe, is there any particular event that you’re still hoping to play? 

Tony:  I have played on every continent, excluding Antarctica, and I am continually overwhelmed by the connections that are established beyond color, gender, or language through music.

MRNY:  You hit it there: music is the universal religion.

Tony:  It’s [about] the joy I can bring to people at the various destinations.

MRNY: Almost annually, we hear people saying that the circuit is changing, or that it’s toast, or that it’s jumped the shark—and yet, remarkably, we seem to find ourselves in the midst of these parties where the boyz are still having fun.  What do you think, Tony?

Tony:  Historically, the first reaction to change is a feeling of disaster. As a first hand witness I have seen adjustments to the scale and variety [of events] globally.

MRNY: As you know so well, fine-tuning is essential—for all creative endeavors

Tony:  [I feel that] as long as we continue to exist, there will be a place for people to congregate in the midst of music.

MRNY:  You seem to have a reputation for being easy-going and generally happy.  Is there some aspect of the circuit that you find sustains you—lifts you up? 

Tony:  My belief is that positive energy is contagious.  I give it because I have received it.  Music is the perfect conduit for sharing that positive energy with my friends and loved ones.

MRNY:  You’ve said, “Dance is where my heart is.”  Of the many crowns you wear in the dance music world—as remixer, producer, songwriter, singer, deejay—is there one role where your heart is happiest?

Tony:  Deep in my heart I feel like I’m a writer of songs [but] my true happiness is [knowing] that all [of those roles comprise] my world.  I’m grateful that I can be appreciated for [doing] what it is that I love.

MRNY:  Clearly, the Fund in the Sun Foundation has chosen well in asking you to play this year’s ASCENSION.  We look forward to your good work—and the good work this party enables through the mission of the Task Force and the Fund in the Sun Foundation.  Thank you for your time, Tony—and for all the good music—and especially your good energy.
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