Maestro on a mission: Josh Milan on putting the “soul” back in music
If Josh Milan has his way, which he most certainly seems to be, then the rousing soulfulness that permeated yesteryear’s sound will always have a home in the music being produced at present.
As the founder and head of Honeycomb Music, a label that is regarded as an important vanguard of Soulful House Music, Josh has established himself as a singer, songwriter, performer and producer with a golden sound.
Quite remarkably his prolific artistic output has not diluted his abilities as a capable businessman in the cut throat music industry.
It was an honour to talk with Josh about his beginnings in the early eighties with Blaze, the spirituality that seasons his music and his mission to “inject some soul” into the industry.
Enjoy this first part of our interview with this living legend of Soulful House Music.
Most artists are passionate about the music, which they should be, however it’s important to know that this industry is first a BUSINESS!”
When chatting with Stephanie Cooke I realised that New Jersey has birthed so many House Music icons such as Stephanie herself, you, Monique Bingham, Kerri Chandler, Dennis Ferrer, Louie and Anane Vega, Kenny Bobien and soooooo many more! What’s in the Jersey soil that brings forth so many House Music luminaries!?
Josh Milan: I think it has something to do with New York and New Jersey’s nightlife in the early 80’s.
Club Zanzibar (Tony Humphries) and The Garage (Larry Levan) were very influential to a lot of singers and producers that went there.
The artists you mentioned are all Zanzibar kids.
DJ Tony Humphries was the one leading the way for us and he played nothing but soulful music back then.
Back in the early eighties when, together with Kevin Hedge and Chris Herbert (collectively known as Blaze0 , you started writing and producing music were you simply making music for the sheer joy or did you have other grand plans?
Josh Milan: We started off not knowing where we’d end up.
We knew we wanted to do great music like DJ’s Larry Levan and Tony Humphries played, but we didn’t know the way to get to that level.
So everything was trial and error.
After the group disbanded, Kevin and I wanted to be a great songwriting and production team.
We had something very special, but we were too young to realize what we had.
It’s now some decades later. What has changed about these intentions in terms of have you achieved your dreams or have they evolved?
Josh Milan: My focus has changed quite a bit.
Blaze was a very good way for me to start my career as I learned a lot about teamwork and business.
I learned that the industry is certainly a business.
Most artists are passionate about the music, which they should be, however it’s important to know that this industry is first a BUSINESS!
If one is not educated in the business of music they’re bound to be taken advantage of.
To my knowledge the last Blaze production was in 2011. Are we likely to hear another one any time soon?
Josh Milan: As far as I know, Kevin is still doing music under the Blaze name.
I’ve moved on and will be doing music under my own name for the rest of my career.
I believe in the element of human touch in the music.”
Today, lots of producers rely on machines to make the music for them.
So much soul gets lost when that happens.”
Your music straddles and often combines genres such as Soul, Gospel and Jazz. Has this been a deliberate mix or has it grown organically out of your experience creating music?
Josh Milan: Music is an extension of who we are and I’m a product of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Jazz Fusion, traditional Jazz, Gospel, Jazz Rock and Soul were all part of my everyday life.
Whatever I liked was probably very musical and organic.
So my music will also be that.
I believe in the element of human touch in the music.
Today, lots of producers rely on machines to make the music for them.
So much soul gets lost when that happens.
You have stated that Honeycomb is “one of the few labels willing to take a stab at putting the ‘Soul’ back in the industry.” How is the label injecting the Soul back into the current sound?
Josh Milan: The current sound, in my humble opinion, is missing musicianship, or musical conversations between the players.
Some of the music coming out today doesn’t have any players at all.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, however, I’d like to add our brand of soul in the music industry.
We include saxophones, percussionist, guitars, and many other instruments outside of the almighty keyboard.
That’s where the “soul” lies.
In the human touch.
For you to produce what one publication has referred to as “soul stirring” music your soul as an artist has to be stirred. How do you get into that zone when you are writing and producing music?
Josh Milan: I like to think that “soul stirring” is who I am and not who I put on when I’m in the studio.
My life is dedicated to the healing of the world musically.
So in order to add musical healing to anything, one must be able to reach the spirit or “soul” of the people.
Do music that touches the struggles, the ups, and downs of the human experience.
I do that by including music in daily life.
Listening to it, cleaning and cooking to it.
Always absorbing in the beauty of music.
It becomes who I am and not what I do.
Given this undeniable spiritually about the music you create how have your personal beliefs influenced your music?
Josh Milan: My personal beliefs are very simple and they permeate my music.
I believe in Love and Happiness and the pursuit of it. I believe in relating to others. Simple.
God is Love and when God lives in you, there you will find Happiness.
A vocalist should practice, drink tea and practice some more.”
“Sex sells” seems to be the motto of many current producers. How have you managed to communicate about love in your music without necessarily being bluntly sexual?
Josh Milan: That’s very simple.
I made a decision to do music that I want to do.
But what’s important to me is that I be influential to the awareness of Love and Happiness to the world.
I think sex is important.
Everybody enjoys good sex!
But musically that isn’t my calling.
I once did a sexual song and although it did well, I’ll never do a record like that again.
You write, arrange and perform. Which part of the music creation process gives you the most pleasure?
Josh Milan: They all go hand in hand.
Making music for me is all of these things.
It’s all one and the same unless I’m doing it for someone else, which is rare.
If however I had to pick one, it would be writing.
That’s where the message is.
There have been artists who’ve insured their voices, avoid cola drinks and pretty much go to great lengths to protect their greatest asset. How do you manage your voice to ensure that it remains in tiptop sound?
Josh Milan: I do a bad job at taking care of my voice but it’s always good to not talk in clubs, smoke cigarettes or take too much alcohol.
A vocalist should practice, drink tea and practice some more.
Your catalog totals over two-hundred published works, making it possibly one of the largest catalogues produced by a single entity in the genre. This hints at an exhaustive work ethic. Are you spending days locked away in the studio!?
Josh Milan: I love what I do.
Studio days sometimes start at 10am and won’t end till 2am but I’m old fashioned.
I believe in hard work.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you during a recording session?
Josh Milan: The funniest thing?
I’m pretty serious when it comes to recording.
I remember once recording an artist who sang the perfect take and I didn’t have the record button on.
Wasn’t at all funny in a joking way but I can laugh about it now.
Earlier this year at the Grammy’s you literally were over the moon about Little Louie’s nomination for a Grammy. What do you think this means for Soulful and other organic House Music artists?
Josh Milan: I think this means that we all have to work harder at having better music and being more active in the business of music.
It’s not enough to put music out.
We have to join musical societies like the Grammy’s, and attend musical functions like BMI awards.
It felt good being part of a Nominated project but we were the only one from our scene there.
Join us in the second part of this interview as we talk to Josh about his revered Soulful House Music label Honeycomb Music, the music industry and his undying passion to continue performing live.
WITH JOSH MILAN