Interview with Rony Seikaly

Interview with Rony Seikaly

by Taryn Haight

Actors get flack for becoming singers, singers get flack for becoming actors and reality stars get flack for anything they do after their five minutes of fame have expired; so when a retired NBA star decides to go headfirst into the world of electronic music, fans of the genre start running their mouths with uncontrollable skepticism. But what happens when the guy actually turns out to be a solid DJ/producer? In this case, Rony Seikaly has gotten many of the haters to shut their mouths... and just as fast as it took the former center to land a slam dunk on an opposing team.

After spending a few minutes on the dancefloor during one of his sets, or giving his first full-length (released on Erick Morillo’s “Subliminal Records”) a spin, it’s easy to see that an industry-crosser is not always a product of abused fame and publicity stunts. Rony Seikaly, who has actually been spinning since he was 14, has a sound that’s undeniably original (dubbed “Rony Style”), a sound that's surprisingly easy to move to and a sound that's getting a lot of the skeptics up and out to some of the world's biggest clubs to watch him work the DJ booth.

Clubplanet: How does it feel to finally put out your first album?

Rony Seikaly: Feels great, actually. It’s like a dream come true for anybody. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but I always did it privately. I had my NBA career and all that stuff so I was always a closet DJ.

Clubplanet: What is your personal favorite track on the new album?

Rony Seikaly: I would say if you’re looking for an underground sound, it’s probably “Session 13” or “Ignition” and if you’re looking for more high-energy or more vocal is “Carry the Light.”

Clubplanet: How would you describe the album as a whole to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

Rony Seikaly: It’s kind of tough when you’re trying to portray your sound to people that don’t know you, so you try to get in as much as you can in that one hour. It’s got a little bit of the underground feel and it’s got a little bit of a higher energy feel. I tried to put a four-hour journey into one hour. When you’re trying to express yourself in one CD you try to cover both bases.

Clubplanet: I read that one of your songs “Let You Go” was a tribute to your daughter. How did that song come about?

Rony Seikaly: I was actually flying to New York to work in the studio and my daughter was telling me “I don’t want you to go. Don’t leave me.” As I was flying up there, it filled up my mind. We started doing the production and I wanted to put some vocals on the track and I said, “Okay, let me just write the vocals to my daughter that I won’t let you go.” Then I did a video for that track and I put her in the video. It was very cute.

Clubplanet: Is that video out yet?

Rony Seikaly: It’s probably going to be out this week at some point.

Clubplanet: What influences have gone into your style of dance music?

Rony Seikaly: I have a wide spectrum when it comes to music; I like all sorts of styles. When I go see a DJ or even a performer play, I may like or love what they’re playing and I’ll be having a good time, but I wouldn’t actually play it myself because it’s not really my style. What DJs and other people have told me is that my style has a distinct sound, which a lot of DJs don’t have; they kind of play what other people are playing. My sound is what Erick Morillo calls the “Rony Style.” You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s a distinct style that people would recognize if they heard me play.

Clubplanet: That’s very important. I agree that a lot of people just play whatever they hear these days.

Rony Seikaly: Yeah, I mean, sometimes I play commercial venues and people want to hear the hits, but I don’t play the hits. What’s interesting is that I don’t play the hits, but I keep people in there. Club owners are expecting the hits because they want people to be familiar with the tracks that are being played and it’s more economical for a club owner to have a party that’s kind of guaranteed by playing the hits, but I’ve done it another way. I keep the people in there and they keep spending the money, but they don’t hear the hits; they hear my style of music.

Clubplanet: I do know that you’ve been in the club business for a while as an owner of some venues. Has that helped you to plan what you play in different nightclubs?

Rony Seikaly: Again, you’ve got to wear two different hats. As a club owner, you’re thinking purely financially. When you’re a DJ you’re thinking, “How am I going to make people dance and have fun at the club?” You can’t really mix and match the two. You want your DJs to play safe, and what I mean by safe is not too far underground and not too commercial—just to keep the vibe steady by playing things that are safe—remixes or vocals that people can recognize. I tend to stray a little bit from the safe side, but I keep it safe in a sense that I call it “happy underground” which is underground music but it’s still happy so people are not scared of being in a place where the sound is too dark.

Clubplanet: How did you and Erick Morillo link up in the first place? How did you two become friends?

Rony Seikaly: I’ve known Erick for five or six years and I have always been a big fan. I think he’s one of the grandfathers of house music. He’s been around for ages and he has the formula for success. Whether you like Erick’s music or you don’t like Erick’s music, the proof is in the pudding. What he’s been doing for the past 20 years, whether or not the sound has changed, is house music. But now there are so many different sub-categories of house music—whether it’s techno, tech-house, trance, whatever it could be—Erick has stayed true to his kind of music and evolved. People who want to hear that music will always come and see Erick.

Clubplanet: Did he convince you to put out an album? How did all of that come about?

Rony Seikaly: No, obviously my friendship with Eric wasn’t based on music; it was based on just the friendship. He used to hear me play all the time and when he would come to my house he’d hear the music playing and he’d be like “Who is this? Who is that?” Sometimes I would play, whether it was at his parties or my parties, and he would always be amazed—and not only Eric, but other DJs as well, like Paul Oakenfold. Everybody loves what I play and they’ve always been very supportive of me playing publicly. When I started doing that I just didn’t want to mix in the basketball. I didn’t want to be a celebrity DJ; I wanted the music to speak for itself. So for the first couple of years I never mentioned basketball because I just wanted people to hear the music and try to figure out, “Who is this DJ?”

Clubplanet: Do you think being a basketball star has helped or hindered your musical career?

Rony Seikaly: People are intrigued by somebody who’s had success in one career and can cross over into another career. You can use the platform as a gimmick but how do you keep that platform and how do you build on that platform, so the music has to do the talking? The first time around it’s like “Oh well he’s a basketball player” and that’s why I never wanted to go in that direction and I never allowed any flyers to mention basketball, NBA or anything. I wanted people to come and experience music and then it took a couple of years for people to put the two together. Now they understand that’s it’s not because of basketball, it’s because of the talent and the music.

Clubplanet: What has been the reaction to your music from those who were haters to begin with?

Rony Seikaly: I would have the same reaction to anybody that crosses over; they would have to persuade me to believe that this is real. That’s what I’ve done for the last two years: I’ve let the music do the talking, so I didn’t really have to do anything. Over the last six or seven months people have kind of picked up on the fact that I’m an ex-basketball player. They came out and said, “Let’s check this guy out” and then they walk out and the next thing you know, they’re coming out to my next show.

Clubplanet: If you could play any other DJ in basketball, 1 on 1, who would you play?

Rony Seikaly: I want to know which DJ plays basketball. I would say probably Tiesto because he’s the tallest of the bunch! That would be the most fair.

Clubplanet: You’ve said that you’ll put out a track every six weeks. Why did you decide to do that?

Rony Seikaly: There’s no mythology behind it. I just figured that the shelf life of house music is not what it is for mainstream music or pop music, so every 6 weeks you come up with a new track and you keep your productions up. I also think that making music kind of solidifies that you’re not just a celebrity DJ, but that you actually produce your own music, and then other DJs play your music. My first track was in the Top 40 on the Beatport charts. It was kind of a “5 a.m. anthem” all over Europe and people would text me and say, “They’re playing your track!” My second track was featured on Roger Sanchez’s Podcast so when you have all these people talking about your tracks and playing them, it helps you gain more of a following. It’s a great feeling.

Clubplanet: What do you have lined up for the coming months now that your album is out?

Rony Seikaly: I’m going to probably do a tour for the album, go play different cities and get people to get familiar with my sound. And I’ll just keep up with the productions and do what I’m doing. Nothing is gonna change.

Clubplanet: Is your tour around the U.S. or Europe?

Rony Seikaly: Everywhere. I played in Ibiza four times this year at the biggest club in the world. There they don’t care if you’re a basketball player, they care whether you play the music they want to hear. I equate it to playing as a basketball player at Madison Square Garden—the Mecca for basketball is Madison Square Garden and the Mecca for music is Ibiza. When you’re playing the biggest club, the biggest Mecca, it kind of solidifies your position.

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