Mike Weiss is Nervous Records and in many ways Nervous Records is Mike Weiss.
Mike Weiss is co-founder of the label along with his father, Sam Weiss, who himself was a founder of noted 1970s–1980s disco record label, SAM Records. Mike Weiss graduated from Stanford University in 1983 with a degree in economics, and from Syracuse University School of Law with a JD in 1986, and from Syracuse University Newhouse School of Communications with an MFA in 1986.
As one of the longest standing independent record labels in the US, Nervous Records has built its reputation through a willingness to take chances on new sounds and new producers. The label is noted for early productions by notable artists including Armand Van Helden, Mood II Swing, Masters At Work and Josh Wink.
The label was famous almost immediately when it started back in 1991 because of its eye-catching, very distinctive cartoon character logo. Nervous’ first major dance release came in 1992, with “Feel Like Singing” by Sandy B. It was not until 1994 that the label decided it was time to move into the electronic genre, and signed Josh Wink, who went by the artist name Winx. While Winx’s debut release was a critical success although not a major seller, Winx’s follow-up release “Don’t Laugh” became the American dance community’s most talked about single, and ended up selling several hundred thousand units worlwide.
As the hits grew in number in the coming years, so did the value of the catalogue for sampling purposes. Nervous songs have been sampled in major hits by Mariah Carey, New Edition, Coolio, Flip Squad, Basement Jax, George Michael, Soulsearcher and more.
In the past few years Nervous has linked forces with Miami’s premier House Music Brand Murk Records. Acting as distributor of Murk and releasing 6 outstanding albums from Oscar G, along with his anthemic singles “Back To You,” “What You Need,” and “Your Love.” Nervous has also collaborated with Oscar in producing one of Miami Music Week’s most important annual events The Made In Miami Pool Party.
With an almost 30 year history on his shoulders as head of Nervous Records, and with the landscape of New York City’s nightlife constantly changing, 6AM took the chance to sit down with Mike to discuss all of this and more.
Hello Mike, Happy New Year! What did you do for NYE?
Thanks! Happy New Year to you! New Year’s Eve this year in New York was especially memorable as it was the closing weekend for two of the city’s best-loved clubs – Output and Cielo. Benny Soto and I produce events in New York and on Saturday, Dec 29 we did the final Saturday event at Cielo under the Dance.Here.Now brand with Oscar G headlining.
Then Sunday, Dec 30 we had the final Sunday event at Output with DJ Boris. And then Monday Night Dec 31 I was with both Oscar G and Boris as they played at Barcode – a house and techno club in New Jersey!
So it was a pretty busy weekend.
Looking back at 2018, how would you say the year went for you?
Very positive. Given the number of years I’ve been running Nervous, I would have to say that after all this time I’m just happy that the label is still very active and healthy. But it was an especially good year for us with music and events, so I’m feeling great about 2018 and about what 2019 has in store.
Any highlights from 2018 that you can look back fondly on?
I was very proud of the Louie Vega / NYC Disco project. Not only because it included so many massive productions from Louie, but also because my roots in music along with so many others in the house industry are based in the disco genre. My father Sam had a great Disco label – Sam Records. So to have someone of Louie’s stature and standing in the industry release an album on Nervous celebrating the disco genre meant a lot.
Also, I was very happy about the single release from Jasper Street Co. called My Soul Is A Witness. It went to Number 1 on Traxsource, and the energy between Nervous and Jasper Street was so positive we decided to expand the project to a full album. As mentioned above, I also am very active in promoting events in New York. Benny Soto and I had some of our biggest events this year, and 2019 is looking just as good. Also every year Nervous has a big label branded event in Miami during Miami Music Week / Winter Music Conference and the 2018 edition was very memorable with sets by Oscar G, Chus & Ceballos, Kenny Dope, Kerri Chandler, Cassy, Hector Romero, Gina Turner and Danny Serano. We will be announced the 2019 edition very soon.
As we begin 2019 are there any projects in the works for the year that you can disclose to us?
We have a long and very positive relationship with Oscar G and Ralph Falcon of Murk. This year we have a new album from Oscar G entitled “For The Culture.” As a solo artist, Oscar embodies the spirit of independence and non-compromise that we have always supported with the artists we work with. House Music has always been about music that makes you feel good and makes you want to dance, regardless of whether it falls within any easily definable genre or follows any standard song structure. Through the years the releases that have always resonated most are the ways that are released in their rawest form, just as the artist envisioned them.
Also as mentioned we have the Jasper Street Co album. I do feel there is a renewed interest and appreciation for well produced and well written soulful house, and this new album, which was produced by Teddy Douglas and DJ Spen will set the bar for the genre of music. Among many highlights on the album, it includes a cover version of the classic Ultra Nate song called Rejoicing, which was also produced by Teddy Douglass. This time around the vocals are taken care of by Dawn Tallman. She killed it! This is the title track of the album as well.
Plus we have a new compilation from Hector Romero. It’s called Weaving Genres 2 and is the follow-up to the first Weaving Genres compilation we did a couple years ago. Hector also is somebody that is a great fit for what our label is about. His roots are firmly embedded in New York, and he has been an active member of the New York house music community since the time we started. As a DJ he brings the party wherever he goes. He plays with a great amount of passion and energy, and he fills his sets and his productions with quality, inspired tracks. He mixes it up between vocal songs and instrumental tracks, and the album has that same kind of variety and energy.
Those are our main album projects to start the year. We are still getting great feedback on Louie Vega’s NYC Disco project. In early February we are releasing a triple pack 7-inch set with tracks from the album, all edited by Louie. And we have big plans for single releases from the album with some spectacular remix packages in the works.
What was your original goal with Nervous when you first started out?
My first goals were pretty simple. Back then I was going out to clubs like The World, Mars, Limelight, The Tunnel, Sound Factory. And I wanted to be able to stand in the DJ booth and watch a record I was releasing blow up the dancefloor. Once that happened then I wanted to get a record on the radio. And then I wanted to get something on MTV. After that, I wanted to have something go number 1 on the charts. And it continued on from there. I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve been able to accomplish these goals many times over. And I savor each one. The thrill never gets old.
It’s been almost 30 years now, congratulations! What are some of the best memories you have from these past three decades?
Actually 28 years. We hit the big 30 in 2021!
Moments that stand out…
Louie Vega calling me from Basshit Studios on 23rd street in NYC at 4 am in the morning telling me I had to come to the studio right away to hear a track he and Kenny Dope had come up with! I said “Lou can you play it over the phone. It’s 4 am buddy I’m sleeping.” He said, “No this is something you gotta hear in the studio.” I came down and heard something that did not sound like anything that anybody else was playing or had released. It had these long drums, lots of live music bumping in and out, and those unique and smooth MAW synths. I knew right away I had to have it for Nervous. I came back the next morning to pick up the DAT tapes (this is back in 94!) and there was a post-it note on the tape that said “Nervous Track.” The name just worked! That became Nuyorican Soul / The Nervous Track. Another memory – when we made the first Black Moon single “Who Got The Props” in a small studio that was situated on the top floor of a Brooklyn townhouse. The owner of the studio was a former Israeli soldier who took no prisoners when it came to who could work his mixing board. It was his board and as far as he was concerned he was the only one who could use it. But the producer of the group’s first single, DJ Evil Dee, knew the kind of rawness of flavor he wanted. So he insisted on mixing it himself. The final mix session had the studio dude and some of his peeps literally leaning over E as he did the mix – waiting for the chance to push him off the board. And then you had the two other members of the group Buckshot and Five Ft ready to literally go to war if the engineer did not let E do his thing. The tension in that room was crazy. But the end result “Who Got The Props” is known as one of the greatest hip hop debut singles of all time. Many more backstories of some of our biggest records – but for the rest you’ll have to wait for the book! Lol….
Also always great memories when traveling with the DJs and artists whom I’ve worked with on the label side and all of whom eventually became lifelong friends…like doing a New Years Eve Tour with David Morales while he headlined Hacienda, Ministry of Sound and Renaissance in the space of 36 hours – and in the process blowing up the mix of Sandy B / Feeling Like Singing that he did for Nervous; also a “24 hour – no sleep” trip from Amsterdam to Leeds UK with Oscar G and Ralph Falcon for a Murk gig; an Angels of Love show with Kenny and Louie in Naples; a 5 shows in 2 day UK tour with Byron Stingily when Get Up Everybody was blowing up; a Denver / San Fran / LA Nervous tour that was sponsored by Playboy Magazine with Byron Stingily, Kim English, Razor N Guido, DJ Escape and Jackie Christie; and the list also goes on.
I mentioned before that Benny Soto and I now produce many big events in New York. We’ve also started DJing. I gotta say one of my greatest memories was the first time we played at Output. Truly an incredible experience. Like being in the pilot seat of the ultimate supersonic audio jet. Amazing sound system. Amazing club. Sad to see it go.
How has Nervous changed musically over this almost 30 year period?
We’ve stayed consistent in that we’ve always respected the musical vision of the producers we work with. At the same time, we’ve always been very willing to embrace new sounds that emerge from the underground nightlife and music culture. That’s probably why our catalogue is so diverse, including tracks from House to Hip Hop to Techno to Indie Dance to Nu Disco. If a scene is emerging that is impacting New York, we are most likely going to be in a club at some point to see its impact and we will actively look to work with producers who are at the forefront of that sound.
What are 3-5 releases you feel best represent the label?
Well I don’t want to play favorites. 3 to 5 won’t quite do. I will have to make a list of 10. I appreciate all the music we have released and all the producers who have been willing to work with us. But there are definitely some releases that have maintained their status over time as classic tunes that continue to work dancefloors in their genres worldwide.
Nuyorican Soul – The Nervous Track
Winx – Don’t Laugh
Black Moon – Who Got Da Props
Byron Stingily – Get Up (Everybody)
Kim English – Nite Life
Kerri Chandler – Rain
Mad Lion – Take It Easy
Smif-n-Wessun – Bucktown
Sandy B – Feel Like Singing
Loni Clark – Rushing
The New York City scene has changed so much in this period of time. Even in today’s industry, we are seeing changes such as Output and other major clubs like Cielo closing. What’s your take on what is happening in your city?
Yes, there is a lot of change with respect to venues, but the interest in nightlife and club music is as strong as ever. I do think we are going to see more interest in booking local talent. Remember 5 years it was rare to see international talent in New York. And then all of sudden we had DJ’s from around the world playing here often, which was great. But the local talent was getting lost a bit. I think it would healthy for the New York community if there a bit more focus on developing local talent.
Who are some of the hottest talents in the city right now?
Razor N Tape are doing some interesting production and remixes. They recently did a remix of Get Up (Everybody) which is fresh. Fatherhood is out of the Brooklyn and also coming up with new sounds. Espinal & Nova are doing some excellent tech house tracks. We also did an album with Pinto that got a great response.
What advice would you give to any producers, DJs or label owners in today’s climate?
No 1 – handle your business. And by that I mean if you are starting out and playing an opening set – show up on time and do your job of setting up the room for the headliner. If you’re a new label, then show the people whose music you are releasing that you have a proper promotion/marketing set up and that you send out payments and royalties on a timely basis. If you are a producer looking to get tracks signed, do your research about the label you are submitting tracks to. Find out the correct person, and find out what format that person prefers to receive demos – downloads, links?
No 2 – This is an industry of partying, but party professionally. Don’t ever overdo it and get messy – at least not in public!
No 3 – Remember the big picture. It’s a cliché but it works – Life is a marathon, not a sprint. All of us who work in this industry are extremely fortunate that what other people consider entertainment is our work. But it’s not all great gigs, and hit records. There are gonna be low points, just like in any other industry. But if you hang in long enough, you eventually get the good gigs and you get the hits. So you gotta stay healthy and keep a positive outlook, and eventually, good things do happen.
Cover photo by Keith Major