Storm9000 parts the clouds on hope-filled debut EP
Storm9000 has long been content to exist outside of the spotlight.
Over more than two decades in the music industry, Storm has worked with a laundry list of musicians, including locals such as Vada Azeem, , , and more. But, up until the early May release of his Cerebro EP, the producer, engineer and musician hadn’t put out any material under his own name – an off-the-grid approach reflected in everything from his press photo (in which his back is turned to the camera) to , which simply reads, “I don’t wanna talk about myself.”
So, why now to finally step out and release music of his own?
“I think simply because I could,” Storm said by phone in mid-May. “When you’re doing stuff for other people, sometimes you just have to wait and find time when something opens up in your schedule. … And the timing was right. No more, no less.”
Of course, there were myriad other factors in play, ranging from the state of creative readiness Storm has embraced as a vital part of his practice to the advancement of technology, which allowed the musician to compile and release them digitally outside of the label system he came up working in. “The equipment’s affordable and the distribution is there, where there’s no more worry about sending out a demo, which was over for me,” he said. “The technology allowed me to put out the record I wanted to make in the way I wanted to release it.”
While modern tech might have helped fuel its creation, the music on Cerebro nods to the past, with Storm citing trip-hop pioneers Portishead among those who inspired the EP’s sound. Three of the four tracks pair Storm’s evocative, hip-hop-influenced beats with female singers: Ahji Love, Alesha “Lesha” Lawson and Sarafina, whom Storm met while the trio toured as backing vocalists for Fantasia Barrino. The album’s final track, “We Are Ubuntu,” reunites the producer with rapper Malik Willoughby, his bandmate in the pioneering Columbus hip-hop group S.P.I.R.I.T.
“I met Malik in 1990, and within two years [S.P.I.R.I.T.] started to get really popular,” said Storm, who typically remained to the side of the stage when the crew performed, a position from which he could more easily monitor the sound mix while remaining comfortably out of the limelight.
But one time, during an early ’90s concert at East High School, Storm seated himself among the crowd, triggering the music from the audience via remote control.
“It was pure chaos. It was Cirque du Soleil. They were just killing,” Storm continued. “And I was sitting in the center of the auditorium, one one of those hard, old-school chairs, and I had this realization where it was like, ‘This is not enough.’ And that’s when I started to get curious about the industry of music. I wanted to get better. I wanted to see more.”
Immediately following that show, Storm said he and DJ BHB packed into a car and drove to New York City, with no itinerary and no plan of action. “We just stood in the middle of Times Square,” said the Columbus-born Storm, who grew up crisscrossing the continent on family vacations, his father driving the family as far as Manitoba, Canada. “And from there, I started going to other cities.”
Eventually, the producer ended up on the West Coast, first landing at a resort in Rancho Santa Fe and then moving on to Los Angeles, where he worked in studios with those creators who existed “behind the curtain … like Richard Pryor in ‘The Wiz,’” he explained. In California, Storm met and worked with producers and engineers who approached the creation of music with a comparatively 9-to-5 mindset, which left a marked impression.
“I never, until that point, saw a person wake up at 7 or 8 a.m. to get a cup of coffee,” he said. “Up until then it’d had been ripping and running and fun, hanging out with your friends and making hip-hop. I’d never seen someone organized and driven to get money for it. And I didn’t get that until I went to California, and I saw that gentleman get a cup of coffee and sit down at an MPC and start making beats.”
Storm described his career in music as a product of circumstance. If he’d connected with filmmakers upon moving to California, he said, it’s just as likely he would have ended up in the movie industry. The only thing certain from childhood is that he would be propelled forward by his creativity and the instinctive draw he feels toward other masters of their craft. “If I see a guy making Amish cheese, and he has a passion for it, I admire that he can make this cheese and that people will drive to Plain City to go get it,” he said.
From his parents, Storm inherited an eye for detail, which presented itself in the precision his mom exhibited while baking and in the careful way his father dressed him, making sure the youngster lined up the buttons on his shirt to the zipper on his pants. Both also allowed their children the freedom and tools to explore a range of creative pursuits, from reading books and taking piano lessons to dabbling in photography, infusing Storm’s childhood with a sense of joy and possibility that carries into Cerebro, the EP’s four songs favoring sunlight over storm clouds.
“I just don’t want to talk about misery all the time. I understand it, and I’m compassionate to it. But when we put that into our art, it stays up forever,” said Storm – a concept reiterated in conversations he had with Leon Ware, who co-produced Marvin Gaye’s I Want You, from 1976. “One thing [Ware] said was that if you want to make a song that resonates with the most people, you always at the end of the song need to have some type of resolve. … If you’re talking about police brutality or the ills of the world, you have to end the song with, ‘But tomorrow’s gonna be a better day.’ You can talk about your struggles, but then you talk about the beauty of life. You always want to leave people with hope.”