Mr. Eff was not your high school chemistry teacher. Nor was Mr. Eff a friend of Mr. Brown or Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. Mr. Eff is a producer and musician that makes musical odes to terror on subways, burned-out city street lamps, and dark alleyways. His sound is based in hard knocks funk, early New York hip hop, and exploitation horror synth scores. Rapturous and claustrophobic, hard-edged and eerily melodic, Mr. Eff works best in the shadows and late night recording sessions. Imagine a musical cocktail of Rob, Joe Delia, Riz Ortolani, and Afrika Bambaataa served ice cold on a hot New York afternoon in 1981 and you’ll get an idea of what Mr. Eff is serving up.
In 2017 Mr. Eff released his debut with Giallo Disco Records called The Parallel. It was just a taste of what was to come. The main course arrives on Friday, September 27 via the great and powerful Burning Witches Records. Eyes Down is a sweaty, tension-filled sleaze funk masterpiece. Bits of urban grooves intertwine with dread-filled swaths of synth, giving us a bloody ode to one of the scariest times in New York City, pre-Disney Times Square and gentrification. Eyes Down is Mr. Eff’s version of an exploitation crime film soundtrack. It’s dark, melodic, and melancholy in just the right ways.
I sat down with Mr. Eff and we talked about Eyes Down, his influences, growing up in Miami, and how hip hop, freestyle, and 80s horror informed his music.
J. Hubner: You’re based in Minneapolis. Did you grow up in the Midwest?
Mr. Eff: I was born in Baltimore, but I would say I grew up mostly in South Florida. Starting in North Miami Beach.
J. Hubner: Oh, so how does a Miami Beach childhood work into Mr. Eff’s sound?
Mr. Eff: I think growing up in and around Miami and skating has certainly shaped how I approach my music/art. Miami bass and Freestyle had a huge impact on me as a kid. I spent a few summers at camp, which basically meant frequent trips to the local roller rink. The DJ was always playing some sort of electro (obviously Planet Rock), freestyle, or Miami artist: Stevie B, Uncle Al, DJ Magic Mike, Lil Suzy…that plus a laser light show, really made an impact on me at 7.
J. Hubner: There’s also some definite hip hop influences in there.
Mr. Eff: As I got older I got really into 90s hip hop, Wu-Tang, EPMD, Nas, Gravediggaz. The early/mid 90s skate scene was definitely a major influence on me. The soundtracks to Welcome to Hell, The Real Video, Non Fiction, all the 411VM releases introduced me to all sorts of music: jazz, hardcore, punk, reggae, dub. All around that continued to be the soundtrack to South Florida which at that point was 69 Boyz, Uncle Luke, 95 South, and of course Tag Team.
J. Hubner: I grew up in Indiana. There’s definitely a different vibe to the Midwest. The east coast and west coast are their own worlds, so we’re left to our own devices out here in the middle. We’ve got Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Cleveland for the urban experience, but we’re mostly on our own.
Mr. Eff: As far as the midwest, Minneapolis in particular has impacted me by having such an intense winter season. There’s not a lot to do when the temperature is -20. At least for this Florida boy. So a lot of my time is dedicated to finding samples, creating new settings on my synths, trying new percussive sounds, etc.
J. Hubner: You work in the horror synth world. There’s a fine line there, in that when done right you’re put into that world. When it feels forced it just comes off as very pastiche and not effective. Your new album Eyes Down locks in and never relents. I feel like I’m in some exploitation flick from the late 70s or early 80s. You connected to that sound and mood perfectly. What attracts you to that music? Were you a horror hound growing up?
Mr. Eff: Hmmm childhood trauma? I definitely loved horror movies as a kid. I loved sci-fi too. Not that I was aware of it at the time, but looking back I’ve realized how much I loved the soundscapes/soundtracks that were created for a lot of those movies. Music and sound design for those genres in particular have such a major impact on tension, fear, dread…and I think I always enjoyed the idea you can make someone’s hair stand on end if you play the right notes. That’s an immediate physical reaction.
J. Hubner: Speaking of tension, fear, and dread, what compelled you to base your Burning Witches Records’ debut Eyes Down in 1981 New York?
Mr. Eff: Well I’m old as dust and ’81 is the year I was born for starters. I was probably down some Internet rabbit hole when I came across this article in the New York Times about NYC and the subway in 1981. It was an interesting article for many reasons, but one of the bigger things was the “Eyes Down” concept. Police told riders to try and avoid eye contact as to avoid instigating something. I found it fascinating that their advice was to take away your best sense…sight. If no one’s looking around, then how do you know what’s going on?
J. Hubner: What were some influences on the sound of the album, besides 1981 New York City?
Mr. Eff: Musically I was listening to a lot of Unit Black Flight, Afrika Bambaataa, the Precinct 13 soundtrack, Shogun Assassin soundtrack, Wendy Carlos, and A LOT of Residents. Yeah, Duck Stab was played a lot. The Cannibal Holocaust soundtrack was played a lot because of those laser toms. Riz Ortolani has definitely had an impact on me. There was a lot of Cumbia/Bossa Nova being played as well because I love the rhythm/percussion.
J. Hubner: We can’t talk New York sleaze without mentioning Abel Ferrara.
Mr. Eff: Certainly Ms. 45 had an impact. I know it was a different time, and it was provocative, but I’m happy there’s been a push to get away from violence towards women as a plot point. Cruising was another. CHUD, Maniac Cop. A lot of the NY movies I watched during this time frame were from the late 60s/early 70s though.
J. Hubner: Growing up in Florida what were some movies that had an impact on you as a kid.
Mr. Eff: Films (I’m going to keep it to horror/sci-fi), in no particular order: Poltergeist, Rosemary’s Baby, Friday the 13th, The Exorcist, Ghostbusters, American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead.
J. Hubner: What about film composers?
Mr. Eff: For composers I’d say Krzysztof Komeda, I know he’s the 60s, but I still have to mention him. Otherwise Brad Fiedel, The Wonderland Philharmonic, Harry Manfredini, Riz Ortolani, some guy named John Carpenter, a little band called Goblin.
J. Hubner: Your first album, The Parallel, was with Giallo Disco Records back in 2017. It has more of a Suicide vibe, but if they were scoring a Ferrara flick. How does Mr. Eff from 2017 compare to Mr. Eff in 2019? What’s changed and what’s stayed the same?
Mr. Eff: I think my production/mixing has improved significantly. I have a better grasp of what I like and what I don’t like. The Parallel was much more limited in terms of gear. That was my first attempt my at a proper recording of music I had been making. Up until that point I had submitted a few tracks to blogs or posted something on SoundCloud. Having Giallo say yes, and then Burning Witches say yes, certainly lit a spark.
J. Hubner: Is gear an important piece of the Mr. Eff puzzle? Are you a gear hound, or do you take a more utilitarian approach to making music? Meaning, use whatever you can find in order to make the sounds in your head come to life. A $20 Casio will do just as much as a vintage Moog.
Mr. Eff: Fruity Loops is all I use. 😉
So for the gear people out there I have an OB 6, a TR 08, and a Moog Mother32. Beyond that I am a huge sample guy. I can’t afford all the different synths and drum machines I want, so until I can buy them, I’ll just use samples. Plus I have a good time using using ordinary sounds and warping them to make something completely new. I don’t put too much stock into equipment. The thing is, you can have all the expensive equipment in the world and if the melody isn’t good, if that bass isn’t thick…no equipment will fix that.
J. Hubner: When did you start making electronic music? Have you always created music with synths.
Mr. Eff: I played guitar to start. Learning piano changed that. I would say around 2007/2008. I was playing in a post-punk, sometimes no wave band. I heard U.S. Millie by Theoretical Girls and oddly enough that piqued my interest in synths. And of course post-punk/new wave/no wave often utilized synths, so synthesizers had always been present. It just took a while to feel comfortable enough to start putting music out.
J. Hubner: You also produce. What do you get out of production work that maybe you don’t get from working on your own albums?
Mr. Eff: I really enjoy trying to help someone else find a sound they have in their head. I also think it’s a good way to keep that musical muscle active. It exposes me to musical styles/genres I wouldn’t necessarily write in my own time, but I’ve definitely ended up borrowing ideas or concepts later for my own music.
J. Hubner: You’re stuck on an island with a generator, 32 in Zenith tube TV, VCR, and a boom box. What one movie and one cassette tape would you have to have with you? And why?
Mr. Eff: Roadhouse. It might keep me sane long enough to be rescued. Bad Brains – Bad Brains, the red opaque cassette. There isn’t enough room to talk about why I love this record/tape so much.
J. Hubner: Will we be seeing the return of Mr. Eff soon? Do you have any new albums in the works?
Mr. Eff: Yes I’m really looking forward to my next record. It’s all finished. Burning Witches will be putting it out. I have a few other super secret projects in the works. Another soundtrack is on the horizon as well.