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Hefty isn't just the name of the record label John Hughes III owns. It's also a perfect description for the amount of responsibility he is currently taking on. In addition to promoting other artists for his Chicago-based label, he's just dropped his own challenging new album into stores. Recording under the Slicker alias, Hughes is ready to take listeners in a new direction with We All Have A Plan, an album which combines the electronic and the acoustic, the ambient and the structured, the soulful vocals of Lindsay Anderson and the hip hop influence of Phat Kat. Here, he discusses his plan in creating this unique effort.

How would you say that We All Have A Plan has evolved from your previous releases with Slicker?

I guess on a lot of levels I think the sound of the record is pretty similar to my past stuff, but I think the overall concept was a little bit larger for this record. And I've always been a pretty big collaborator, but I think the nature of collaboration on the record was a little bit different. I think people played more of a role in telling a story and filling out the imagery of the record. I think the scope of the record was a lot bigger.

How would you describe the overall concept?

Initially, I was trying to make something that was kind of fun -- some sort of dark elements creeped in later. I was trying to make a record that was just really alive, sort of breathing, and that's why I was interjecting a lot of animal noises and strange combinations of solo performances with some of the instruments. I just wanted a record that was kind of getting back to my roots too, and I was trying to make a record that was as honest of a record as I could make at that time.

You mentioned working with a lot of different artists. What do you look for in a collaborator?

Just energy. I wanted to find people who brought a totally unique spirit to the recording, something that maybe people wouldn't expect to hear on my record. Like working with Dan Boadi, who is from Ghana, and he introduced me to James Cromwell. They were just super excited and energetic and just willing to try anything. Unless someone comes to the studio fully stripped down and ready to embarrass themselves or really put themselves out on the line, I'm not really interested. That's the most important thing -- I can work with any kind of musicians as long as they're willing to sort of undress themselves and try something new.

Your songs certainly don't follow the traditional verse-chorus-verse format, but they're not truly ambient either. Tell me about your approach to songwriting.

You know, I think it's really easy to write a sort of undisciplined, meandering, long songs sort of record, and I just didn't want to do that. I wanted to, right from the beginning, institute some structure on what I was gonna do. So, when I was sketching out the songs and sort of making the shells, I was following somewhat of a traditional format where I did have a verse and I did have a chorus but maybe not doing it in the right order. It just helps give me a map to get the record done; it made it really easy to sort of sketch the record out.

What types of music were you first drawn to, given that there's so many genres incorporated into your work?

The first music that I got really excited about when I was a kid was early electronic music. Like Kraftwork and Herbie Hancock, Sugar Hill and Grandmaster Flash, all that kind of stuff. Then I got really into the sample-based hip-hop, like when Run DMC started doing stuff and Boogie Down Productions. Hip-hop definitely was the first music that sort of shook me, and that's the first music I was making. I was sampling records, and from sampling records I started to get into other stuff, realizing that it wasn't about just finding that drum break, it was about coming across these great records. But then later I got into a lot of jazz and funk and soul music and was definitely listening to a lot of that kind of stuff coming into making this record.

There's also a lot of tribal African beats on this record. How did you get interested in that sound?

I met Dan through a reissue project we did. He was a successful traditional Ghanaian player and had released some records there, and he wanted to do this crossover record, which sort of went under the radar for a long time. And we found it through a label that we work with and they reissued it. So, we met Dan, and I really liked his energy. And getting into African percussion and anything that's sort of "world" wouldn't be something that I would feel right going into on my own, but bringing that influence in from someone who's truly from that background felt really right.

Having released this album on your own label, do you find it difficult to juggle promoting your own stuff as well as other people's?

Yeah, definitely. I have to be really careful with my record and giving myself too much attention. And sometimes, I think too much like that and don't give myself enough in the end. I mean, we're coming off doing the Telefon Tel Aviv record, which is a record we put a lot of heart and soul and time into. The thing that's good, though, is we really don't do two projects at the same time ever. We sort of space them out, and the way Hefty's moving toward is actually less artists but more in-depth campaigns. It's not just a crank it out kind of label. I really don't like to take anything unless I'm building it from the ground up and really helping someone get new stuff out there. So, there isn't that much interference, but I do have to sometimes remind myself that I have to give myself an equal push.

Would you say this emphasis on building artists is what makes Hefty stand out? Cause there are certainly a lot of independent labels in Chicago.

I think so, because I think there's probably a lot of labels that think we're nuts the way we're structuring our roster. But we were sort of forced into it. We went through a period of time where we were cranking records out, and we had a distributor go bankrupt on us and had some other problems with distributors overseas. And it was sort of like, okay, we're gonna scale back our release schedule and really work with artists we believe in. I think we're gonna keep it scaled back because it's so much work to take someone who hasn't been heard to a point where you're selling a ton of records. It's a big investment.

What would you say is the biggest lesson you've learned in the course of running a record label?

Just to not put too much faith in anyone on the business end. Really try to always give yourself an out with any distribution deals. It's hard when you're just getting into this and you're really hungry and you just want to get going; you just sort of lunge at deals that look good on the surface. But you really have to do some digging to make sure you're doing the right thing.

When it comes to live performance, you seem to do more DJing than performing your own music. Do you prefer the DJ format?

I keep on flip-flopping on that performing thing. I do like DJing a lot. I'm not a great technical DJ; I've just got a good collection of music. I love DJing for the fact that it's so hard to get people to listen to your music when you're at home. Saying, "here, listen to this," I usually bore people, but when I've got them locked in a club they have no choice (laughs). But performing, I usually don't have time to do it, and I'm sort of a homebody too. But when I actually get on stage and I have a setlist prepared, I like doing it. It's just, I don't feel as comfortable in the performer role. I like being tucked away in the studio.

So, you're more into the creation aspect of it?

Yeah, definitely. I'm not into the performance as much. But, having said that, I would love to see this new record performed. I think it would be great, but it's gonna be tough to make it happen.

Finally, do you have a grand plan for Slicker or Hefty Records in general?

Yeah. I wouldn't say the grand plan now is what I've had from the beginning. I think as long as you have a grand plan at any given point that's what matters, even if it changes. But I want to get more involved with production of other artists. I'd like to extend my boundaries and do some larger work and work with some bigger artists and spread my sound that way. I think that's the best way to get a shot at the masses.