Record Store Day 2021 with Earl Jeffers & Ral Duke

With Drop 2 of International Record Store Day 2021 soon approaching on July 17th we meet Earl Jeffers and Ral Duke.

Following on from our meet up & guest mix last year with DJ Chris Read, we’d like to introduce our followers, listeners and readers of Footpatrol Frequent Players channel to producer/DJ Earl Jeffers and multi disciplined artist Ral Duke.

We recently sat down with the pair to see what they have been up to lately and find out a bit more about how their journey to date.

You can read out interview with both Earl Jeffers and Ral Duke below and look out for more information on a special limited apparel collection featuring artwork by Ral Duke on Saturday 17th July to celebrate the launch of the “HIGHER” EP by Earl Jeffers.

Footpatrol: Gents, how are we?

Earl J: Very good thank you. New music, and a merch drop is on the way so always a good time.

Ral D: Whats popping! all is good here thank you for having us!

FP: It’s a real pleasure to be able to talk to you both finally! Why don’t we take it back to the start of both your journeys, how did it all begin for you guys?

Earl J: I had the fortune of growing up around good taste In music from my parents. No musicians as such but, the likes of Weather Report, Stanley Clarke, Santana, Luther, Miles, Prince etc…Then around 1995 my brother got some turntables and started playing jungle. Just in the bedroom, after a year or so the buzz wasn’t there anymore, but I took a bit more of a liking to it I guess and carried on. I continued to buy records from Jungle to House and Garage, hip hop. Then around 2001 I to the plunge in to production mostly making beats for my mates who were MC’s and trying to MC myself but wasn’t that good so kept to the music side of it. After a few years of that I got back to the roots of making club music in various forms, and still do so to this day. 

Ral D: For me it started with a love of hip hop growing up. I was a massive wu tang fan in my teens, not only wu tang but also all the affiliates like killarmy, gravediggaz etc. RZA being a massive influence to me, I decided to grab an MPC1000 (managed to cop one of my mate for £180, mental price!). Still, to this day 8 bar scruffy wu tang loops is my first love haha but I decided to transfer these skills over to the collage work that I’m involved in now. It’s really the same process for me, cutting and sticking bits together that shouldn’t really go together, but do. 

FP: And how did you guys get to know each other?

Earl J: Me and Ral have been friends for well over a decade now (more like 2 decades) from him being friends with some of the MC’s I used to make beats for. We also grew up in the same neighbourhood and have been tight ever since. 

Ral D: Yeah man! We would link up down our mutual friend Hekla’s (big love to Hekla!) back in the day. Man, they were the golden days for me. 

FP: Besides this project. What about collaborative opportunities, have you both been able to come together and work on quite a few projects?

Earl J: Yes indeed. Since Ral has started going down the Art/design route, we’ve worked on various things for MELANGE including previous releases, merch campaigns and tour posters. Always loved the style he’s been doing as it reflects his love for hip hop/sampling. It’s like a visual form of that I think. 

Ral D: Always enjoy working with Earl, I feel like we have a very similar taste to things so it makes my job super easy. Plus the music is some of the best out there, no matter what he is producing its going to be great. A true master of the culture. 

FP: Earl, we wanted to talk to you a bit about your record label Melange records, can you share with us the beginnings of the label? We also wanted to talk about house music, and in particular your love for it. We read that you have a broad taste of influences when it comes to your musical archive, what was it about the genre that drew you to it?

Earl J: It was always a bit of a dream to have my own label. In the infancy of me making music, this seemed like a lofty goal, but now thanks to the internet and accessibility to certain things, made the set up much more manageable. And as with the name Melange, meaning variety/cocktail/mixture. I t also comes from my love of collecting/digging for records. I like to incorporate various styles in to the production. The majority has been house music but I don’t want the label to solely be that. I want it to be a label that has various styles coming through, wether it’s my own productions or artists I sign. The other reason was after releasing on a few great labels and seeing the reception, it made sense to start my own one up knowing I had a following there to get it off the ground quick. House and garage was a big influence starting off. I always loved the more NY/NJ stuff when I was younger. It’s something about the grooves/chord choices/big vocals just hits the spot for me. There’s so many strains of house too that I kind of dislike giving names. A lot of it is just good house music and like digging, that I still do a lot of, you come across many killer artists and producers and all the many branches off the tree for lack of a better term. So after all these years of making music and collecting/releasing it, the label was a natural progression. 

FP: A couple of things we wanted to ask you about as well, one of which is your record label Melange records, and secondly the Darkhouse Family, could you tell us a bit about the beginning of both of those?

Earl J: As I mentioned above it only seemed like the natural thing to do at that point of my career. It’s also satisfying to make the final decisions on what I put out. Not any label pressure or influence on what to release/ or what not to release. I just do what feels right, and that alone brings me great joy haha. As for the Darkhouse Fam stuff, that’s me and my man Don Leisure’s project. He also has a wide taste in music and shares the same love for digging trips. Before we came together on the DHF stuff DL had released some Drum and bass under his real name Jamal for Ruffige crew and Trouble on Vinyl. He moved down to Cardiff around 08/09 and through mutual friends he caught wind of what I was doing and reached out. We just clicked and started making music together. Initially working in the box then over time bringing in musicians and using live instrumentation in the productions, infusing some of our influences from the many digging excursions we’ve been on. 

FP: Some of your previous releases have been accompanied with a merch drop – does this stem from a love for streetwear or is this a key part of Melange Records ethos?

Earl J: Most definitely. I’ve always been in to gear since a kid, and still am. I feel they also go hand in hand with each other. They both push one another forward. I’m a sucker for a good cap too so love to drop them around release time. And now I have the other project Alternative Souls, that incorporates working with artists and designers on merch for the label so keep a look out for some of that too. 

FP: Ral, you have designed album cover art for some highly coveted artists like, Ghostface Killah, Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine & Alchemist to name a few. What’s it like to see your work used by some of these artists?

Ral D: It’s crazy really, especially when they are the ones seeking me out. Because I work a lot with American artists, we are on different times. So many of mornings I’ve woke up to messages from my favourite artists out the blue, before I’ve even had a coffee. 

FP: How did you manage to get your work out to these artists, was it a long arduous process or did it all happen by chance?

Ral D: Its quite mad when I think about it. Westside Gunn was the first artist I designed for, he hit me up in the earlier days. I keep my ear to the ground pretty good and I was into Griselda early on, so I guess it spiralled from there. I got to give Griselda the props, they are real ones. Its an honour to go on this journey with them and they still hit me up to work now. I may or may not have spent last night putting together something for Conway, who knows.  

FP: So of course we brought you guys here for this collaborative project to celebrate this year’s Record Store Day. Could you tell us a bit more what it was like piecing together this project and Earl, can you walk us through your process in working on the EP?

Ral D: Its been a real pleasure to work with Foot Patrol on this! You guys have given us so much freedom with our artistic approach. For me from an art design perspective I wanted to make the album look like something that would catch your eye digging in the crates! I think like a good pair of trainers, over years this record will look amazing! Influences for the design are definitely groups like funkadelic/parliment and we brought in with Melanges ethos for family. I love the aesthetic of 80’s/90’s technology. I also love how films like total recall thought they nailed how technology would look in the future (big ups to Arnie! they almost nailed it in some aspects). Earl was very hands on with the design also, we basically pieced this one up together. 

Earl J: Yes and thank you once again for linking up with us on this and seeing the vision of what we’re doing. With Lockdown it’s been an obviously messed up time but a great one to lock away and create, and that’s what this release is a product of in some way. It’s a honour to also have Kaidi Tatham on the ep. He’s one of my Favourite musicians/producers around. So I’m blessed to have him touch the record with some Flutes and Guitar in only the way he can do so. The flip track ‘Higher’ definitely has some inspiration from the NY sound of the 90’s as that’s played a significant roll in what styles I play and make, so only right to pay some more homage to it. Also I want to shout out my man Lloyd Everitt who blessed the track with some vocals along with myself. Lloyd is a very talented actor from around the way and has just landed a role in a new DC comic series coming on Netflix called Sandman, so keep an eye out for that too. 

FP: Earl, Ral it’s been a real pleasure to sit down with you guys properly and find out more about your careers. Before we like you go, is there anything you would like to share with the Footpatrol community out there?

Earl J: Big up to the crew at FP, Sheebs, Sam and everyone else involved. 

Ral D : Pleasure has been ours. Massive thank you to FP and Frequent Players!

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