Barclay Crenshaw Talks ‘Stay Together’ And Leaving Behind His House Music Moniker, Claude VonStroke, To Pursue Bass Music

Arts & Celebrities

When it comes to pushing the underground dance music scene forward, Barclay Crenshaw is among the heavy-weight champions working to do so.

The tastemaker, best known by his Claude VonStroke house music moniker, is renowned for captivating audiences worldwide with his signature quirky rhythmic dish. The sound designer boasts a career spanning over two decades, five studio albums and his own independent imprint, Dirtybird Records. The label itself is quite the feat, as it has A&R’d famed house music artists and thrown premier parties, such as Dirtybird Campout and Dirtybird CampINN. Although Crenshaw has seen notable success as Claude VonStroke, he has chosen to enter a new musical realm.

He has stepped away from house music and immersed himself in the world of bass. Drawing inspiration from classic ‘90s hip-hop, futuristic funk and low tones, Crenshaw’s new style impressively weaves a diverse tapestry of sonic styles with ease. With this fresh sound comes his latest project where he simply goes by his legal name, Barclay Crenshaw, an appropriate choice as this new style marks a return to his roots.

“It’s kind of weird because everyone called me Claude for so long that I started to get used to that,” Crenshaw says. “I turned my head and responded to that naturally now. But I did it under my real name on purpose because it’s kind of unlimited what we’re doing. I’m not putting any caps on what sound I can do and what I can play at a show anymore.”

The career shift started when the sound creator sold Dirtybird Records to Empire Distribution in late 2022, following his decision to stop making house music. The new iteration of this sonic venture began with him traveling to London for a 10-day studio session in Shoreditch. Then, Crenshaw kicked off dropping new music when he provided direct support for Of The Trees’ sold-out Red Rocks Amphitheater show, where Crenshaw most notably played their official collaboration, “Blue Mile,” featuring Manchester grime emcee Strategy.

His latest release, “Stay Together,” dropped on Friday, January 9th. The single brings the ‘90s vibes and sounds that ravers crave, proving Chrenshaw’s production prowess. Certainly, this new project was a step in the right direction for the artist.

The track is created in collaboration with TeeZandos, also known as The Princess of Drill. On it, audiophiles can enjoy mellow tunes, TeeZandos’ crisp and raw toplines, angelic chiming beats, upbeat tinkering synths, echoing sounds and lighthearted bass—all heard while staying true to Crenshaw’s style that’s driven by bass, breaks and funk.

According to the song selector, he traveled to England in an effort to set up as many meetings with fellow artists as he could, but he was initially not successful. Later, the trip proved to be prosperous as he created four tracks while there.

He had started working on “Stay Together,” and he was “specifically trying to find the hardest female grime emcee” possible to complete the track, he says. The producer eventually came across TeeZandos, who is renowned for her work in grime. When she came into the studio to work on the song, Crenshaw says she didn’t connect with the “harder edge beats” that he had curated. TeeZandos then asked him to play the rest of his folders for her. She ended up picking a tune that was completely different from what they were initially working on, and she started singing.

“I didn’t even know she could sing,” Crenshaw says, “It became a totally different thing, which was pretty awesome because you go into something and you expect one thing, and you come out with something completely different.”

“Stay Together” is the latest track from his highly-anticipated second studio album, Open Channel, marking his first LP as Barclay Crenshaw since 2017. The 10-track body of work showcases wonky and erratic synths, powerful rap vocals, wobbly and hard-hitting bass, ominous sounds, downtempo tunes, electric beats and more. The long play, slated for release on March 8th, features collaborations with Flowdan, Stush, TeeZandos, Snowy and Manga Saint Hilare. Indeed, Open Channel takes listeners through a kaleidoscopic adventure that’s full of a diverse array of tones, tempos, styles and vocalists. Despite the divergence of sounds, the LP remains a cohesive body of work, one that is a masterclass in unbound creativity.

Crenshaw says Open Channel was inspired by wanting to go in a new direction musically.

“I was really trying to do something that broke away entirely from what I was doing before. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy that. I really did,” he says. “I wasn’t even really doing that much music towards the end. I was becoming the manager of a company, and I wanted to go back to the original feeling of being the artist—not running a label, not running a giant festival company and just doing music. So I tried to make all kinds of music and not really be limited. And some of it was scary. I’m singing on it and it’s like, ‘Aye, it’s terrifying.’ I don’t know. I did it anyway.”

This isn’t the first time Crenshaw has flexed his vocals. For his Claude VonStroke moniker, he created a character named Barry Drift who would sing on all of his house songs. While the maestro was the one singing on those tracks, his new project is the first time he is “admitting” that it is him doing the toplines.

Regarding stories behind how some of the tracks were created, the Vanguard says “The Quiet Storm” was made because he wanted to take deep house samples and combine them with a dubstep filter track, noting that this sound fusion is something he has never heard before. For “Do My Ting (feat. Flowdan & Stush),” Crenshaw says he had made a loop with Stush for his first album, which dropped in 2017, but the track was never completed. He recently stumbled upon it, thinking, “This hook was so awesome.” He then redid the entire record from scratch, turning a lost file into a “fun track on the album,” Crenshaw says.

However, one song wasn’t created without challenges.

“The track that I didn’t think I could make was ‘The Rebel (feat. Snowy)’ because I didn’t think I was going to be able to learn what’s required to make one of these high sound design crazy sounding bass tracks,” the sonic stylist says. “But I actually just sat down and watched hours of Twitch feeds from Eprom and Alex Perez. They did lessons when they were in covid, and they’re still up online. I learned all these special bass routings and things, and I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I can make one of these.’ So that one is more of a technical achievement.”

The Cleveland-born and Detroit-raised artist wrote the album during an 80-day creative and wellness journey. This idea began with him doing a fitness challenge named 75 Hard, which is a 75-day program where people avoid cheat meals or alcohol, exercise twice a day for 45 minutes each time—with at least one session happening outside—and read 10 pages of a non-fiction or self-improvement book every day. Crenshaw says that the program was “very difficult,” but it made him realize how much one can achieve in a short period of time.

“All my other records, my albums, I had taken like 10 months [to] a year and a half to make—really slow,” he says. “But then I thought about how long you actually work on those. Then I was like, ‘Okay, what would be the most impossible goal that would be very difficult for you to hit?’ And I said, ‘Okay, let’s see if you can make an album in 80 days.’”

His 80-day challenge, which is a reference to Jules Verne’s 1873 adventure novel “Around the World In Eighty Days,” seemed impossible to him at first, but he persevered. The sonic explorer says this time limit “really made everything come into focus.” He also participated in wellness exercises, such as daily cold showers and meditation.

With his 80-day challenge, Crenshaw reshaped the way he approaches life and art.

“I think a lot of producers are in the state that I was in previously, which is we’re working on this piece of music and we have to beat it to death until it’s done,” he says. “This is a more open way of working where I work on a hundred pieces of music and then only some of them get finished. And just because I’m working on so much more music, I get so many more good accidents and good results. So it’s more of making tons of stuff instead of just focusing on two or three things that you think you have to finish. It sounds way harder, but it actually becomes easier.”

Part of his 80-day plan was his trip to London, where he was looking for a grime emcee. He says he spent about 10 days there, “networking out of my comfort zone” and trying to make something come to fruition because he was on a finite schedule. He also pushed himself when creating the tracks, adding that he even rapped on one of them, noting that it was so “terrible” that he took it out.

Crenshaw says he had a difficult time picking the name Open Channel for the album. Before choosing the name, he remembered that his brand has imagery about looking for aliens. This ties into his childhood as he and his siblings tried to connect with aliens on his father’s two-way CB radio when his family would take road trips to places like South Carolina from Michigan. The artist would use his father’s radio, which was intended to find speed traps, to try to communicate with extraterrestrials whenever they had a chance when the parents weren’t around. The producer, who moved to Detroit after completing seventh grade, and his siblings had just seen the movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” piquing their interest in aliens. While the six-year-olds were unable to contact aliens, they would end up connecting with people like a truck driver in Missouri.

Later, Crenshaw worked on movie sets where there was a radio channel named open channel for people to have private conversations. This, and his adventures trying to connect with aliens via a two-way radio as a kid, inspired the name of the album.

“It’s just like a communication term,” he says, “because I’m trying to start a new community as well. I have a Discord and I do a weekly newsletter now, which I never was doing any of that stuff before, to try to create some sense of community where everyone can talk to each other and hang out.”

The Dirtybird label boss, best associated with the imprint as Claude VonStroke, had a close-knit collective, and he’s striving to do the same for his Barclay Crenshaw project.

“It’s almost like what the vibe that we had at Dirtybird Camp Out,” Crenshaw says of the community he wants to create for his new project. “[If] you lose something and someone finds it, they give it back to you. People are friendly. People show up to an event and don’t have any friends there, and they end up making friends at the event. The overall level of kindness and looking out for your fellow human on the dance floor…I’ve always believed in that kind of stuff.”

The bass music powerhouse says he discovered dance music through rap, specifically during the Run-DMC era. “It’s all chopping, drum kicks, samples and sequencing—all the same properties, but they have a vocalist,” he says of rap music. He then discovered jungle and breakbeat, listening to artists such as Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest.

Despite the massive success that Crenshaw has seen, most notably as Claude VonStroke, the dance music sensation says he “failed” at music around four times. This, he says, is the biggest hurdle he has faced, but he kept coming back to creating music, although sometimes he would be off for two years because he “ate it so badly.” He attributes this to a lack of information regarding production. Now, aspiring artists can easily learn how to produce by watching videos online.

Accompanying the album is a tour, which starts on March 8th in New York City and currently runs through August 11th when the bass music maven spins at Elements Festival. More dates will be announced. The tour features support from Eprom, Tiedye KY, LYNY, Sicaria, Shiny Things, Super Future and Great Dane. Crenshaw says he picked the supporting acts because he enjoys their music. He points out Tiedye KY as an example, saying, “Not only do I like his music, but he’s taking the same kind of risks that I’m trying to take where he’ll play some bass tracks, then he’ll sing and then he’ll bust out a guitar. He’s going for it and he’s pushing it.”

“I try to do a really eclectic set with this project,” Crenshaw says. “I played my brand of house music for almost 20 years. This time, I’ll jump around BPMs a lot and try to change it up quite a bit. I want it to be a more broad experience.”

Tickets for Barclay Crenshaw’s tour can be found here.


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