Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

Ramon Norwood aka Radius, Electronic Artist

Posted in Chicago, interview by Jason Gray on May 27, 2013

Ramon Norwood, aka Radius, is not an enigma; you meet him once, and you understand him for life. This is not to say that Norwood is simple, just consistent about his passions. After all, how could someone who sites their influences as “everything and nothing” be simple, or inconsistent?

It’s somehow true that Radius’ music embodies both the present and the absent, and that is truly a difficult thing to phrase with words. His creations fill even as they hollow.

Ramon and I have known each other for over ten years, and in that time, we have had a knack for drifting away and then crossing paths again at improbable intervals. This too, is a possible comparison to his music; the evanescence followed by the unexpected resurgence. Maybe not.

Nevertheless, one thing about this music is for certain true, whether you are after the everything or the nothing, Radius has something for you.

Radius: Hyde Park (I Miss You) from Jovan J on Vimeo.

HOI- Your music seems to draw from a lot of [musical and non-musical] sources, from Afro-Beat to Chicago’s largely African-American South Side, how do you distill this broad range, and why is this approach intrinsic to what you are trying to express?

RM- Well, to be honest, I never really thought of it all that deep; I agree it is true that what I express is a reflection of various sources, but I believe that Chicago, as a whole, helped me arrive to that point. Chicago is diverse in so many ways from hood to hood, that I couldn’t help to be influenced and express a variety within my art. I have lived all over Chicago and amongst many types of people, so it is only natural that my art reflects that. Also, being that I come from a hiphop-rooted background, I was exposed to a variety of ideas coming up, including various types of music and culture. My main goal is to stay true to my self, and always pay respects to where I come from, within doing that, everything else tends to fall in place on its own.

HOI- Who/what would you site as your biggest three musical influences?

RM- I used to always say a list of names, but I look at things a little different now. My family indeed is a big source, from cousins exposing me to groups like De La Soul, [A] Tribe Called Quest and Wu Tang Clan, to my Grandfather always playing Jazz on the family driving excursions, to my friends in elementary school hipping me to Nirvana, NIN, Green Day, Radiohead, etc.; I’m just fortunate to come up within diversity, [and] in addition to that, being able to travel when I can and seeing the world from outside/in or inside/out, depending on how you look at it. Now and days tho, I really do owe a lot to discovering more and more Jazz and also house music. I am grateful to have really great friends within my circle.

HOI- Growing up where you did, and given the South Side’s longstanding musical heritage and its impact on you, do you feel that it is something of a birthright for you to produce music?

RN- Hmmmm, great question; never thought of that either, but I will have to say, yes, of course. I met a great deal of cats on the southside [who were] heavy into music, especially going to Kenwood Highschool and digging for records in Dr. Wax (R.I.P.) and Second Hand Tunes (which is now Hyde Park Records). Looking back, I can say it was only natural that I would gravitate toward creating music. It was always around me, [and] I respected hiphop culture so much because it opened the door to so much artistic expression for me, and it was right there within reach on the southside. I used to go to The Promontory Point in high school, and would breakdance, and try to freestyle, etc. All of it’s embedded within me, all of this made me who I am today; it’s only right that I embrace it and expand it.

HOI- So what led you to your current residence in Los Angeles?

RN- Change of scenery, fresh air; tho, Los Angeles is the most polluted city in the U.S., it is a true statement [about why I moved here], hahaha. I wanted to try something different. I grew up in Chicago; I had been there my whole life. I also wanted to get away from the torturous winters. I feel that coming from Chicago, which is a super, major city, you can really only go to L.A. or N.Y.C., if you are trying to pursue this type of career, at least within the U.S. I had a couple connections and good friends out here in L.A., plus, from looking in from the outside, I was always curious to see how cats out here were making it work. NYC is def on my list, I’m going to try and make it out there for some time next year. We shall see where life takes me.

HOI- How do you see the broad culture and social mix of that city as playing into your art? Or, does it not affect what you do?

RN- I don’t think it has [had] a super effect on my artistic expression. I am still moving with the same goals and ideas that I had in Chicago. I wear Chicago more on my sleeve than ever before, now that I am out here. I won’t be here much longer either, tho. I never planned to become a part of this “scene”; I acknowledge and respect what people are trying to do within music and art out here, but it’s really not for me. If anything, it makes me want to go harder at my art, makes me want to combine/connect more with more artists each and everyday, and not just for myself, but for those back home pushing toward their goals.

Radius @Black Gate Sessions 7/25/09 with Gilead 7 from 400 + on Vimeo.

HOI- A long time ago, you told me that you saw the focus of most urban music on vocalization as somewhat unfortunate; that there was a strength and a history to the instrumentals of this type of music, which was at current being surreptitiously downplayed and/or left out of the cultural dialogue. Do you still feel that it is your focus to make music that does not cater specifically to the human voice?

RN- I embrace it all. I respect and appreciate it all. I will admit I do listen to and collect more music that is instrumental, whether it be Jazz or electronic, but I am definitely open minded to it all. In the beginning of my career, I had my share of emcees I was trying to work with that would take forever to get a song done, which detoured me and forced me to go a more instrumental route. I also personally have some ideas of things I would like to do vocally, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. In addition to that, I have some people I am working with back home that are good at expressing themselves in that manner, so keep in tune for that in the near future.

11 Degrees is No Joke Promo from Jackson Arcade on Vimeo.

HOI- Will you explain a bit about how you make your music? What tools do you use, what is your process, etc.?

RN- My process is never complex, I don’t even have a specific way. Most of the time, it starts with playing a record and finding parts that stand out to me to sample, so then, I will start with a loop. Other times, its messing around with the keyboard, or tapping a drum beat on the table, my leg, or just in my head. I watch movies and hear a sound or some dialog, and I will grab it and save it for the right time, too.

My setup has been the same for at least 6-7 years. Most of it has to do with not having the money to get some new toys I want. Trust me, there are a few toys I would love to have, and I know for sure it would enhance my output even more, but I’m grateful for what I do have because I make it work. I still mainly use the Akai Mpc 1000 for everything. She is my number one baby for my in-house production and stage performance. My main goal is to make it sound bigger than what it is, I love to fool the listener, hahaha! I recently did a show out here in L.A., and some cats had a ridiculous amount of gear on stage, but they barely touched any of it; I just don’t get it when people do that, other then, I guess, to show off.

HOI- Where can readers find your music to either purchase or download?

RN- Various places; [although,] everything is real limited. I have projects with smaller labels, with small pressings. I am shopping tracks to various labels everyday, looking for a stronger output. I should have a 45/7inch coming out, hopefully by or before Fall [2011], from The Secret Life of Sound (TSLOS), which is also the label responsible for my 2008 debut, Neighborhood Suicide. You can also find some copies of that online via the TSLOS website, or Amazon, or Discogs, I believe. I have a project coming out pretty much around the same time as the record [that] I mentioned earlier, with electronic producer Leo 123, who is known for his work alongside Eliot Lipp as Dark Party. Our group together is LAGOS. Our Ep, of the same name, will be out soon.

I update my SoundCloud regularly; the new one is [here], and the other is [here]. I also have a bandcamp, which I will be updating more, soon, [here]. My Radiushead EP, of Kid A/Amnesiac Radiohead tracks from 2009, is still up for grabs here.

HOI- When we met, you were working as a barista at a café in Chicago. If your music were an espresso beverage, which one would it be and why?

RN- Real funny that you ask that. I actually never liked coffee and I still don’t; I have always been a tea connoisseur. I am also a huge Chai Tea Latte fan. I would say that would be the drink because its rich, semi dark, smooth, sweet yet spicy, too. I feel that defines me and my sound in a nutshell.

All image and video content provided by, and used with the permission of, Ramon Norwood.

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