There are few names in local dance music as respected as Eugene Ward. Also known as Dro Carey and Tuff Sherm, Eugene’s music has moved from a cult following in both local and international underground scenes, to the mainstream of Australian electronic music. His latest EP ‘Dark Zoo’ was a blend of these mainstream and underground scenes which culminated in one of the most interesting and versatile releases of last year. We sat down with Eugene after his set from our V Movement stage at Sugar Mountain last week, to reflect on just how hard he’s killing it.
While we’ve been seeing plenty of Dro Carey recently, but bar a recent TAXX mix we haven’t seen Tuff Sherm in quite a while. Will we see more of that project in 2017?
There’s a new Tuff Sherm release actually, coming up next month on Canadian label Normals Welcome. It’s a 12” vinyl only release that gathers a few previously unreleased tracks that have been TS set favourites for a little while – such as ‘Method Men’ and ‘Squire’s Skull.’ It’s a really cool label and I’m glad to be able to keep that going alongside the Dro stuff.
This year was a year full of mainstream success for you. Why do you think more people are now getting behind your music?
I put out some tracks that opened me up to different audiences. Queensberry Rules with Kucka, and Elevate with Cadell and Chocolate, I think both exposed the project to people who may not have heard of it otherwise. Triple J’s support of these tracks (and Grow Lithe) has played an important role in that too.
Dark Zoo was the first release on Soothsayer, which is a huge claim to fame on their behalf. What made you want to release it on such a new label?
One of the guys at Soothsayer – Chris – was someone I worked with when he was at Greco-Roman. When he moved on to be part of the team at Soothsayer he was someone who really ‘got’ what my music was about and it made sense to move with him to the new, Australian label.
While other artists tend to stick with one label, you’ve released on Greco-Roman, Butter Sessions, Plastic World, Soothsayer as I previously mentioned and way more. Why keep bouncing around rather than stick with one?
That’s pretty par for the course for vinyl/club labels run by small teams. They don’t have the resources or approach that allow them to keep consistently releasing the same acts too soon within a particular period. They benefit from changing it up, keeping the roster pretty fluid. And on the artist end, if you’re looking to keep the stream of tracks consistent – as I was with 2 projects, Dro and Tuff Sherm – it simply becomes impossible schedule-wise to achieve that with a relationship with a single smaller label. Your fans will generally want to hear from you more than once in a year but for some of the smaller vinyl-only outfits its not always plausible or fair that – for example – 2 out of 4 records of their catalogue for that year be someone appearing twice. So I think it’s fairly normal for a particular kind of producer to move around like that – and that’s generally the labels’ understanding and goal too, to keep their catalogue of 12”s varied throughout the year.
Throughout that whole time you’ve stuck with Astral People as your management. How has that family helped you grow through all your collaborations and projects?
Astral have been a crucial part of the Dro Carey project and my ongoing music-making. Having a team with such a good understanding of putting on shows, of radio, of touring – they’ve been an educational and developmental force like nothing else. To have a group of people that really know what they’re doing and who place their confidence in your music – it’s a powerful thing, and is perhaps underrated when examining musicians’ success. It really encourages you to take things seriously, motivates you to work harder and make better music. I’m very grateful to have worked with them these last 5 years and look forward to many more.
You’ve loved grime for a long time and just recently released Elevate with Cadell & Chocolate. What do you get out of producing grime that you don’t with your other music?
I think grime beats represent my approach to music at its most direct. They directly tap into when I first got a copy of Reason when I was 16. It’s a genre about creating energy out of minimalism and when you work on something like that it kind of clears your head, brings you back to basics. It’s a very different experience from writing a song or making a house track.
Can we expect more Dro Carey grime tracks in the future?
Definitely. Nothing directly lined up just yet but the response to Elevate has really motivated to keep working with MCs.
You’ve been on the lineup for a heap of festivals recently – Subsonic and Let Them Eat Cake and just last weekend played on our stage at Sugar Mountain. How do you feel your music translates from a club to a festival setting?
Typically at a festival you’ll be playing earlier than you might at a club, and the person before you will not have been a DJ playing in a way that leads into you. So I think it’s very important to reset things when you come on. And it can take more than one track to do this. It’s more important than ever to look up who’s on before you. So, playing after Jessy Lanza on the V Movement Stage at Sugar Mountain, I thought about how I could reset things a bit, but also start appropriately, and the thing that felt right was a few 90’s US Garage House tracks – slow but swinging, with quite chill keys. This felt reasonably compatible with what we’d just been listening to and, at the same time, was ready to be mixed into heavier stuff once I felt the crowd was with me.
In the end I think you end up with a kind of a bigger energy arc than you would for a club set. You begin quite relaxed or minimal and you reach your heaviest tunes after just an hour. If you did the same thing in a club it might feel rushed, but at a festival, especially one that includes live acts, you’re in a different context where everything is happening over shorter set times.
You’re no longer the new kid on the block. With a career that’s now spanned a number of years and a name that’s internationally recognised, do you feel there’s an expectation you’re pressured to live up to? How does that impact the way you work?
The only thing I ever worry about is working across (significantly) different genres. That the success of a vocal house/UKG tune may make it seem less logical to then do a grime track.
That is pretty much what I did with Elevate and the reception has been pretty good though. I guess it’s all about release timing and representing how it all functions together when I play a set. These days I do need to think more carefully about how it will all register with people, so in that way it has had an impact on how I work and decide on what to release.
What’s your next step?
I’m hoping to spend this year collaborating with new people and producing for vocalists. Some of that’s already underway though unfortunately I can’t really detail any of it yet. I’m at a bit of a transformative point for how my music will be released – instead of lots of tracks under my own projects coming out in a single year, it will be a more ‘normal’ amount… except I will still maintain the current level of productivity, just with a lot of it emerging via collaboration and production.