When Tony Moran isn’t producing songs for some of the biggest names in the business or running his own record label, he performs as a DJ at clubs and parties around the world. When we spoke to him over the phone he was just about to leave his New York home to fly to Sydney for a gig this Saturday night at Arq.
I first came to Sydney three years ago and went to Mardi Gras, so my first Sydney experience was a major one. I fell in love with the place while I was there, he said. I got to be very good friends with Paul Goodyear and some of the other DJs who were playing at Mardi Gras, so I’m eager to come back. I really liked the music there.
And Moran knows music. In the 80s he had his own band, The Latin Rascals, which was hugely successful in America. He then worked as an editor on songs for artists like Madonna, Diana Ross, U2, The Rolling Stones and Run-DMC. He hosted his own hit music show on MTV and became a national celebrity. Today, while running his record company Emerge, he produces tracks for people like Janet Jackson, Celine Dion, Cher, Gloria Estefan and Donna Summer.
You’ve said Donna Summer is one of the artists who inspired you to get into the music business. What was it like to finally work with her?
Donna Summer did one the earliest dance records I ever heard, and it inspired me not only because of her voice but also the level of the production. This was at the dawn of the synthesiser age and it really struck a chord in me. So it made me very interested in all the elements that make a song up. I was really happy to work with her but I didn’t want to tell her how she inspired me. Any time I’ve worked with big stars, Cher or Celine Dion or Donna Summer, if you appear star-struck it affects the interaction you have with them. So I really try to be friendly but stick to business. I mean, I don’t know if Donna Summer wanted to hear that when I was 12 years old I was listening to her on the radio.
Is it true Cher arrived two days late for a studio session with you?
Yeah, I was over it. I was about to leave and her manager called and asked me to please stay. He gave me a bunch of reasons, but while I love Cher I didn’t want to become an old man waiting for her. So he actually went and picked her up himself and brought her over. Once she got there she was totally cool. The first day we recorded she was a little bit reserved in expressing herself to me, but afterwards she grew comfortable with me and she was totally cool and we were joking around.
Out of all the people you’ve worked with, who has been the most memorable?
I think Luther Vandross was very interesting, because he was just so cool, so smooth. He really surprised me with how cool was. Working with Celine Dion I was very nervous. It wasn’t because she was such a big star, but because everything around her was really big. There were so many record executives and video cameras everywhere, it was really hard for me to get comfortable with so many people watching. When I had to sing to her to show her how I wanted the song to sound, I was so nervous I told Celine she had to turn around because I couldn’t sing to her face. She did it -“ she thought it was cute. It was really funny and at the end it was a really great experience.
You once said the two artists you’d love to work with are Madonna and George Michael. Are they still on your list?
I’ve worked on some Madonna songs as an editor, but never as a remixer or producer. I worked on some of her earlier works like True Blue and Into The Groove, but I’ve never remixed one of her songs specifically. George Michael was the only person I’ve ever done a remix for who turned me down. I’d done a remix of Fast Love and it was never released. I was actually pretty devastated because I’m such a big fan of his. I wasn’t as devastated when I found out he also turned down Dr Dre, Puffy -“ he turned down everybody.
So you were in good company.
I was in good company, and I still got paid, but I was still upset. Because I was so excited about doing this, and I felt I’d made the song really special, and the record company was so into it, and I was so into it, and I just could not believe it.
Who would you like to produce for next?
I live for artists like Beyonc?When I work with an artist I love to do something different from what they did in the beginning. She does a lot of R&B music, so maybe we could do a fusion of R&B and house. I think she just sounds awesome, and she has a lot of spirit.
You’ve had a couple of Grammy nominations, including one for your work on Gloria Estefan’s album Gloria.
How important is it for you to be recognised by your peers like this?
When I did get nominated I was really, really excited about it. It seemed like such a big thing. But after it happened twice and I didn’t win, it didn’t really affect me. In America, dance music doesn’t really cross over into the commercial world. So regardless of whether I get national kudos for it, it’s okay, I can live without it.
Do you think being openly gay has affected your career?
Because I didn’t expose myself in that way until I’d been in the business for 10 years, I don’t know how deeply it did affect me because I had already gained a lot of respect from my peers. I didn’t make it a big deal, and people didn’t make a big deal of it either. There are a lot of gay people in the music business. I came out just after I’d finished doing a TV show with MTV for a couple of years and I was really frustrated at being so exposed and so popular, but feeling like they don’t really know me at all because what they see isn’t who I really am. So it became really hard to live my life and enjoy the fruits of success, when the ultimate success is finding a place where you are comfortable with yourself.
What can Sydney audiences expect from your set?
When I play it’s about the energy for me, so I really love to make people sweat. It’s not a set that’s just vocal, it has a little bit of everything, but it’s very energetic. I try to take you on a journey, and make it so that you go through these waves of energy. But everybody sweats when I play. Sweating is good.