Sometimes we get so engrossed by our favorite DJs that we forget to even think about the person behind the persona on stage. Where did they come from? Who are they outside of the club? What do they do when they are not performing on weekends? How did they even begin on this strange career path that led them to be where they are now, spinning in front of thousands of revelers until the early hours of the morning?
Andrew Rasse is nothing short of an interesting man. Known to underground dance music aficionados as Butane, Rasse boasts an impressive list of hobbies, passions and experience that far transcends his work in the studio or in front of a weekend crowd. Yet, he maintains as busy as ever as a producer with a heavy schedule of releases planned for the coming months. He begins with a landmark 250th outing on his own Little Helpers imprint, a collaboration between label bosses Rasse and Sean O’Neal aka Someone Else. Scheduled for exclusive Beatport release on October 25th and general release on November 8th, Little Helpers 250 contains two collaborative tracks as well as two individual cuts from each producer, all of which perfectly underscore the label’s penchant for quality thriving techno and house.
We recently had the opportunity of talking with Rasse — who also has work coming out on his other label Alphahouse and on Jamie Jones’ Hottrax imprint — to talk about his beginnings in the world of music, his vast list of “extra-curricular” interests and of course some of his favorite wine bottles!
Your resume includes music producer, chef, wine collector, science enthusiast, philosopher, label owner and international DJ. Is Andrew Rasse really all these things or do some have more focus than others?
Funny, I wrote that sentence probably seven years ago, and it still holds true today. It’s never easy to define yourself, and I’m certainly more than just those things listed there, but that’s a fair representation of my interests. I have plenty of others, but for the rest, I’d like people to have to dig at least a little bit. Maybe listen to my music. Or at least read the rest of this interview.
Which of these came first before you dove into music and which came as a result of your passion in music?
Good question. All of these things are interconnected in my mind, which I think is why I chose to include them as descriptors in that silly little sentence. I got into making music very late in life by most musician’s standards. Not that I wasn’t passionate about music all my life, but I only starting doing music around the age of twenty. DJing was first – I began buying records in the Spring of 2002. I was pursing a Masters in Philosophy at the University of Missouri at the time, and found that I much preferred to experiment with psychoactive substances and party with my crazy friends in dark clubs and basements than go to class. I was a 19-20 year old kid looking for new experiences. We’d travel to New York, Miami for WMC, Chicago, etc. to see famous DJs. I was a regular at Danny Tenaglia’s Vinyl Fridays for the last few years of his residency there. I guess I just wasn’t ready to live the academic life, for the rest of my life, at such a young age. I wanted to explore.
I got into some pretty significant trouble with the law while at University in 2001 and my life kind of took a left turn from there. When I got out of jail, I went back to school for a semester doing my Masters, but I quickly realized I needed a break from school – I was on the fast track, on pace to finish my MA at just 21 years old, so I dropped out of school to start throwing a monthly techno party in St. Louis. A year or two after that, I started producing my own music – I had these ideas in my head I wanted to get out, and once I started I couldn’t stop.
I never intended to “be a DJ”… I was just having fun. I always figured I’d go back to school and get my PhD, then on to law school or teaching, or something — but this music thing kind of worked out. It has afforded me the chance to see the world in a very unique way, and it’s also an incredible creative outlet, so I continue to stick with it despite how fucked up the industry can be at times. So, to answer your question, my love of Science and Philosophy came first, then the obsession with music.
The food thing was always with me from the beginning — thanks Mom and Dad — but my music career has allowed me to travel and experience cuisine, wine, culture at its source, which is a real luxury. This has opened many creative doors for me in the kitchen. My obsession with wine was born in the same way. Food and wine are ultimately nostalgic things… and they should convey a sense of time and place. I’ve always treated travel like research. When I go to a new place I want ALL the experiences but mainly I get excited about trying the local food and wine. It always drives me crazy to touch down in a new city and leave the next day without seeing anything but the club. Order room service for dinner? My ass. I try to get out and walk around as much as possible. I want to get as much of a feeling for a place as 24 hours, or less, will allow. Who knows if I’ll ever be back there?
I remember my first time ever in Barcelona, the promoters were strapped for time and took me to eat dinner at an Irish pub next to the club. I was crushed. The idea of eating a real Paella for the first time was the only thing that got me to Barcelona that day… I had a shitty connection from Germany on no sleep, straight from the gig the night before. I was basically sleep-walking, but the thought of eating some real tapas, some octopus, in Spain, kept me going. I never told the guys how disappointed I was, but maybe they’re reading this and will have a laugh after all these years.
I guess, deep down, I never had any faith that I’d be able to keep this hustle up – of being a professional DJ in such a weird, niche scene. It all seemed like gravy to me, so i figured if it all went to shit I could parlay my worldly knowledge of food and wine into my next career and open a small place of my own. That’s still a bit of a pipe-dream of mine, and might happen one day, but I haven’t been forced to hang up my headphones yet, so the “chefy” wine bar will have to wait.
Would Butane be actually working with butane every day in a science lab if he hadn’t chosen his current career path?
Definitely not. I was never much interested in lab work. I was always more interested in the theory/philosophical side of science. Which is strange now that I think about it, because my music studio is basically a laboratory. Funny.
When I read about you and your career I see a man whose every-day drive is etched by hard work, integrity and uncompromising respect for everything you are involved with. Who or what influenced you at a younger age to adopt this approach to life?
I grew up on a farm — my girlfriend is going to kill me, she loves it when I say that, it’s my answer to everything. But seriously, I’m from the middle of Missouri. Small town about 12,000 people. Real salt-of-the-Earth decent people. Played all sports growing up. Captain of the football team, but still hung out with the potheads and weirdos, etc. My mother was a teacher, my father was a farmer-turned-developer. Both college educated, middle-left politically, reasonable people. Basically, I was raised right.
Can you tell us a little about how you were introduced to the world of DJing and music production?
As I mentioned before, my friends and I were at University where we got into clubs and drugs as young men of that age sometimes do. I became very close with John Millard aka DJ Zip, who was the resident DJ at a few clubs around town (Tonic, George’s, Fieldhouse, etc).. He had a special talent on the turntables for mixing in underground stuff with slightly more commercial music, to make it work in a college town. He was the epitome of a working DJ, but I know his true love was the underground stuff. My friends and I were totally fresh-faced kids and not jaded in the least, but I was always drawn to the weirder, less obvious tracks in his sets, which was mainly West Coast and Progressive House at that point in 1998-1999-2000. Zippy was the closest thing I had to a mentor, and was very supportive of me in the early days. He was giving me gigs when I didn’t even understand the concept of mixing. I just had hot records. Literally slamming them together, no idea what I was doing. But I learned quick.
From there as I got more serious into the music, I started going less to Tonic, the trendy/flashy club in town, and down the street to Pure Lounge, which was the more underground, slightly seedy, but a rocking good time of a place. I befriended the owner of the club, Jason, who was basically the Godfather of all things ‘alternative’ in Columbia. From there I got into the more minimal side of Chicago House and German/Detroit Techno. I was becoming an after-hours DJ. I was firmly down the rabbit hole at that point.
Do you remember your first gig? Where was it and how did it go?
Yeah Zippy invited me to play some records with him on a Monday night on the patio of George’s in Columbia Missouri. I don’t think i knew what the gain knobs on the mixer did! All our friends came out and God bless ‘em for not giving a shit that I couldn’t mix, because we had a blast. I guess John saw something in me, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for taking a chance on me. That night he actually said “watch out for that guy, he’s going to be famous one day”. I couldn’t even beat match records. He put me on at all the local clubs in town. Tragically he passed of Pancreatitis in 2004. RIP buddy.
Did you ever consider giving up on your dream to be an established music artist? What happened?
I’m not so sure I’m comfortable with saying I’ve ever dreamt of being an established music artist. That sounds pretty dreadful to me to be honest! The dream was always simply to be able to express myself creatively. I just wanted to play and make music. I consider myself extremely lucky that I’m able to live from it. The idea of “making it” never really entered my head, that sounds so contrived, like I was looking for fame or something, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Living an authentic life, staying true to who I am, is always foremost for me. If I become something along the way, that’s just a bonus, a product of living life the right way. Means justify the ends for me, and not the other way around, however unfashionable that may be with the get-famous-quick, ghost-produced jokers who seem to control this industry.
Oh wait, you asked if I ever almost gave up on this. Yeah, I was living in Berlin from 2006-2011, and at the end of my time there, I got really sick. Like, mysterious symptoms from a pretty common virus, did some neurological damage, etc.. I was ill for about a year and a half, and was probably technically depressed although I tried to act like I wasn’t. Doctors couldn’t really tell me what was going on, so it was pretty challenging. I was doing gigs around the world with a compromised immune system, feeling like shit. During this time I was surrounded by a lot of miserable people in Berlin, everyone trying to claw their way over each other like a high school popularity contest, and it was just too much for me. I finally got my health back after a lot of hard work and some lifestyle changes, and decided to move back home to the US. I considered giving up and going into the wine industry full-time. But moving back to the US was probably the best thing that happened to me, and I was re-energized creatively. So I kept at it. I’ve always said that as long as I feel like my best work is still ahead of me, I won’t give this up. I feel like my best work is still ahead of me.
Was there a point where you looked at yourself and realized you had “made it” and become a pillar of the music scene you’re so passionate about?
I still don’t feel like I’ve made it. Maybe I’m ambitious.
One of your two imprints, Little Helpers, is about to celebrate its 250th release, courtesy of yourself and Someone Else. Quite the milestone accomplishment, congratulations! Can you go back to the moment you decided to start the label and talk us through your thought process – why did you decide that it was something you wanted to do?
Thank you, we’re very proud of what we do with Little Helpers. The thought process was simple: the bottom had just fallen out of the vinyl market, everyone was switching over to online/mp3 shopping. The problem was, that made it really easy for lazy DJs to just buy the A1 off of every EP, and you’d never end up knowing the joys of the other less obvious tracks on the record. Those are always the ones that take time to get to know, and end up the hidden little gems that differentiate the really good local DJs. We simply wanted to create a label that only released b-sides. After-hours and warmup jams. That’s our modus operandi. If you’re a local DJ, and playing warmup and after-hours sets on the regular, Little Helpers is specifically for you.
What advice would you give to an aspiring producer that looks at your labels as possible vehicles to release their music on?
It sounds obvious, but be the best musician you can be. Understand that it takes time, and make the best music that you possibly can. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Don’t take shortcuts. Get better. If it’s not ready yet, or not good enough in your mind, keep working. Be original. Be yourself. Don’t try to sound like anyone else. When you think your tracks are solid and ready for the world to hear, then start sending out demos — or start your own label, like I did.
If you specifically want to send demos to Little Helpers, this is what we’d prefer: First – does your music fit on the label? You’d be surprised by some of the demos we get. Ok, you think it fits? Put your best work in a private Soundcloud playlist. Maybe your best 4-6 tracks. Don’t send 20 tracks. Send us the private link with a very short personalized introduction of yourself, and why you’re sending us, specifically, your demo. A few sentences and a few links will suffice. Then wait. It can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks sometimes to get an answer, so chill. If we like what we hear, we’ll reply with feedback, or maybe ask you to hear more tracks if you have them. If you don’t hear back from us, don’t get discouraged. Maybe it’s just not the right sound, or we’re not into it. In that case, try some other labels. Keep working. Get better and try again. I’ve been doing this for over 12 years and I learn new things in the studio all the time. Making music is a lifetime learning process, and finding good labels to work with is a never-ending quest.
One final thing, please recommend us your favorite bottle of red and white wine!
Oh that’s impossible. If you’re a real serious wine drinker, you could never have just one white/red favorite. And you left out orange! How about instead, I give you a couple recent bottles that I’ve enjoyed.
As I mentioned before, wine is all about time and place. What are you eating? Where are you? Who are you with? All of this needs to be factored when deciding that to drink. We’ve been drinking a lot more natural wine the last few years. Easy with food, low alcohol content, good weekday wines. Minimal or no sulfur additions, organic farming. Kinda old school, funky, lively wines. Whites fermented on the skins (aka orange wine) are getting really good lately. They’re volatile and unpredictable, which gives them a special kind of charm. On that front, Hatton Daniels (California) makes this skin fermented Rousanne/Marsanne blend called ‘Roumars’ that’s just perfect for a summer day on the beach. It’s like beginner orange wine, not super funky or challenging, just a little cloudy. 10.8% abv. It tastes like a sour beer meets a Salty Dog. Costs about $25/bottle. It’s just great.
On the red end, I really enjoy big special occasion reds, but don’t get to drink them so often because my girlfriend prefers whites and lighter more feminine reds — which is fine with me! My first time ever visiting Napa was around 2006 I think. I bought a bottle of 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Franc from Del Dotto Vineyards for $125. Like I said, special occasion wine. I held onto it for 10 years as it needed some time to round into form. A few months ago I figured it’s time to drink it. Popped it with some friends a Sunday. What an utterly epic, haunting bottle of wine. I can still taste it. There are a few bottles of wine you remember your whole life. That will be one of them.