A-Trak on His Record Label’s First Proper Album
At 15 he won the World DJ competition. At 22, he was Kanye West’s tour DJ. And now, at 28, Montreal native A-Trak is the head of his own record label, Fool’s Gold. With a bevy of talented artists signed to the label—including Kid Sister, The Suzan, and his side project, Duck Sauce—he and partner Nick Catchdubs decided it was time to release a compilation album with new tracks from the entire Fool’s Gold roster, called Fools Gold Volume 1. We caught up with A-Track to see just what gave him the itch to scratch, what makes this compilation unique, and what’s next for the ever-evolving artist.
You’re 28 and you already have two record labels under your belt. How does it feel to have so much success at such a young age? I rarely think of it in terms of accomplishments or things that I’m just sitting on. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and starting young is something I’m proud of, too. I hope it opens doors and changes peoples preconceptions of what you can do at a younger age.
What drew you to DJing in the first place? I was just trying to find my own thing to do in music. I grew up very close to my older brother who, even before Chromeo, was already in other bands with friends in high school. I played the piano for a couple of years and gave up on that. I just wanted to find my outlet musically. I tried scratching, literally on my dad’s record player, to see what would happen if I put a record on there and moved it back and forth. That’s what started everything, getting the itch. I just messed with records everyday after school and started taking it pretty seriously right away. It became a passion.
Were there any DJs that you were inspired by when you first started? This was around ’95, and my brother and I were both getting into hip-hop for the first time. We used to listen to more classic rock like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but the Beastie Boys were probably the transition for me. I just started studying scratches on albums. I remember P-Thug, the other guy in Chromeo, used to come over to the house and Dave would be like, “Hey, look at my little brother, he can scratch!” And he was more into old school hip-hop, so he said, “Oh, you like scratching? You should listen to DJ Jazzy Jeff.” So he gave me a cassette that I really studied a lot, too.
Was there something about the Canadian music scene that was different? Basically, it was just being on the sidelines, compared to America. First of all, I was too young to get into clubs, so all I knew was what I heard on records, or what I saw on video tapes of DJ battles. Or my brother would go to clubs and try and recollect what he heard, and I’d try to understand how to DJ that myself. In the mid ‘90s, it was a time when there were coastal styles for DJing: There was a distinct NY style and a West Coast style, especially when it came to the technical stuff. So me being on the periphery, I was able to take everything in equal doses and make my own little concoction.
So with Fool’s Gold, how do you go about finding the right artists to represent? One of the reasons Nick and I started Fool’s Gold was because we were just surrounded by good music. A lot of it just kind of comes to us, some of it might be friends of ours or just us looking through the internet finding stuff.
We interviewed Kid Sister last year before her album dropped. How did you two hook up? Her brother is a DJ and was starting to make some noise, and he was friends with some of my friends. My publisher was in Chicago and was already starting to look at her, so through a couple of connections I knew who she was. I didn’t even really know that she made music, I was just on tour in the summer of 2006 and started talking to her as I was about to go to Chicago to do a show, and was like, “Wait, you make music?” And then we wrote some songs together a little bit, and started dating at the same time too, so it just all came together.
What kind of sound were you going for in terms of the Fool’s Gold compilation album? The compilation was pretty straightforward for us, because all we did was ask our existing roster to make new songs. At this point, we have a bunch of artists on the label who have put out a record with us, so it wasn’t a question of scouting new artists. We thought for this album, it was a chance to show what these guys are doing. It was with the idea that a lot of these producers and artists have more club or DJ-oriented records and on this CD, the idea was for it to reach more of a general audience. To me, a compilation can play in a shop or a boutique or something that someone can put on at home when they’re getting ready to go out.
Is there a reason you chose to sell the album at Open Ceremony? The concept of putting a record out with a clothing shop is something I’ve seen a bit of in the last couple years—somewhere where the clientele intersects with our fan base. It’s just sort of a reality that nowadays there isn’t that much of a marketplace in traditional record shops for a compilation.
What else do you have coming up for yourself and for the record label? For the label, this is our first official full-length release, so we want to just continue putting out music. We’re also going to be opening a storefront in New York. As far as me, on the music side, now Duck Sauce is doing well. It started as my side project, but now it’s bigger and I do it myself, so just more music for Duck Sauce. And also, working on some sort of 8-track record. I think for myself, just focusing on more production as I continue to do all my various projects.
Do you have any favorite places to go out in New York? In terms of bars, somewhere to just get a drink, I like to go to Barcaro. My last show in New York was at Brooklyn Bowl, and that was great. It kind of feels like one of the more dynamic, inviting, and respectful-to-artists venues in New York, and the food is really good.