As a part of Baltimore’s Deep Sugar party crew, Lisa Moody has been rocking dance floors with her energetic selections for the past 16 years. From her early days of curating mixes on cassette tapes to travelling around the world, the selector’s sound shows no signs of slowing down. We had the opportunity to sit down with her and chat about mix tapes, Baltimore hotspots of yesteryear, and the future of Deep Sugar.
Lisa, thank you for taking the time to meet with us! It is a pleasure to be able to chat with you!
This is the reason why I wanted to do this in person. It’s because even though I’ve been doing [Deep Sugar] for 16 years, my friends who are also in the industry have been doing it for much longer. I consider myself the baby of the bunch; Ultra [Naté] has been in the business for 30 years, Wayne [Davis] has been a DJ in Baltimore for 40+ years, Teddy Douglas, DJ Spen, The Basement Boys, Thommy Davis, those guys have been in the business for a very long time so that’s why I consider myself the baby of the bunch with 16 years.
Nonetheless, it’s still quite a milestone! Not many parties can say that they’ve been going for 16 years. It’s quite a feat.
This last event we had was on the rooftop of the historic Lord Baltimore Hotel. Beautiful scene, beautiful views…the hotel asked if we wanted to do it. The guy that curates the music, his name is Vince Christopher, he was like “You guys should do this.” We did, brought in additional sound – Shawn Q Audio – and it has just blown up. And from what people have told me, it’s the best party in Baltimore right now. So Deep Sugar does that! We’ve done the last four months on the rooftop one Saturday a month. The hotel has asked us to do another one, so we’re doing a Tea Dance on Sunday the 29th. We just started selling tickets yesterday and there’s only under 40 tickets left now.
We’ll touch base with the Deep Sugar series later, but the very first question I wanted to ask you is where does your story begin? Where does the story of Lisa Moody start?
I like to tell people that I’ve always been a selector of music. In my early days of elementary school, I used to play on sports teams. I played on a travelling basketball team in fourth grade. The gym teacher at my elementary school picked a select few of us to travel around the county before AAU was big, and we would play against other travel teams in the area. When we had practices, I would bring my little boom box and I would play cassette tapes. At home I had a record player and a cassette player – the kind that were one unit, so I would pick records that my parents had and my uncle had – who was a huge jazz collector – and would select the records that I liked, play them, recordthem, and then take that music to the practices.
So almost like a mix tape that you would just make?
(Laughs) It was before mix tapes were a thing! So that’s when that started. It just progressed from elementary school to high school. Then in college I would do the same things but this time I would go to the record stores, listen to bunch of music, pick the records that I liked, not realizing that in those days I was buying records from Teddy [Douglas] and Thommy [Davis] and Jerome Hicks, and some others. My friend that I graduated high school with, his dad owned a record store. I would buy records, go home, press play, and record those records- still not mixed! When I got to college, Oji [Morris] and [Brian] Pope had a show on Morgan [University’s] station, WEAA. At that time, I would listen to those shows, record some of them, make my own tapes with what I heard on their shows, and then I would sell those tapes in college. It’s crazy!
That’s a good business right there!
Right! From there, I graduated college and started working part time at a restaurant. At that time, I was just a hostess/manager. The owners of the restaurant had… I want to say satellite or something. It was back in the day when they had the big multiple units where you could throw 20-30 CDs in the player, so I would buy the music that I liked to hear and would put that in when I was working, and it got to a point where the owners were like “What’s this? What song is that? When you go buy your music, buy the restaurant music!” Then the restaurant patrons were asking, “Hey what artist is this? What song is that?” I was going and buying multiple copies of Jill Scott and all kinds of crazy music. I would sell them to the people at the restaurant. I would buy let’s say four or five copies – one for the restaurant, one for me, and then whoever. I knew people would like the music, so I’d be like “Oh, I got one here!”
Were you DJing when the restaurant was around, or did that come later on?
No. That’s why I say I like to consider myself a selector of music because I wasn’t beat blending; I was picking records that people loved and would sell it to them. In my high school and college days, I went to the clubs Wayne [Davis] was affiliated with whether he was DJing, managing or owner of Club Fantasy, Cignel, & Paradox. Fast forward to a little before the restaurant was closing. There’s a DJ by the name of Donny Burlin in Baltimore. He played at this awesome lounge called Good Love Bar, and that’s where everybody that was into House went. One of the few places that was still thriving and played the music that we knew and loved. There was another club two doors down from that called The Spot, so we would go there [Good Love Bar] or go to The Spot. It was just a cool like…in that time frame, there was no place like Good Love. It was like something that you would see in New York. It was very dark, very loungey, very cool vibe, very laid back. They had a bar, they had a dancefloor up on the third floor…that was the destination hot spot for people to go. All the cool kids went there! My good friend Henry did security there, and Ultra [Naté] and I used to travel in the same places, but we weren’t good friends. That’s where I met Ultra. Her husband, boyfriend at the time, was Henry. I was good friends with him. I like to say I discovered Good Love Bar because it was just like this new happening, hip place, and everybody started going there. Lo and behold, Henry and Ultra got married a few years later, and that’s when we became real tight. Then, the scene started dwindling because…I don’t know if it was the dawn of gentrification, but it was happening. Venues around town were getting away from the vibe of Good Love and they were going towards more mainstream music or the beer and wings kind of crowd, so they nixed Donny from there. One day Ultra said “We need to start learning how to DJ. We need to start doing our own thing,” so our friend had some [Technics] 1200s. We went to her house and were like “We’re going to learn how to DJ.” They all invited some friends over, Ultra brought some records, I brought some records, and as they say, the rest is history. 16 years later!
Deep Sugar originally started in Baltimore and then made it to New York and down here to DC; the sound of the party spread!
Well thanks to Ultra [Naté] and her awesome career! That’s when I started travelling with her and doing road management. Over the years she’s formed these friendships and relationships with people around the globe, and I guess me trottin’ around the globe with her like “Hey!!!”
What sort of places have you had the opportunity to visit since then?
I’ve been a lot of places! I think a lot of people always ask me that question. Its more so which places haven’t I been. I haven’t been to India, I haven’t been to Antarctica, I haven’t been to Iceland. But I’ve been [to] Russia, Australia, Asia, a lot of places in Europe, the UK, South America…
Maybe we can organize a Deep Sugar trip to Antarctica?
(Laughs) You know what, I’m working on Iceland right now! There’s a guy who used to play at Good Love Bar, his name is Leon Kemp. He lives in Iceland now. He’s originally from there and lived in Baltimore, then he moved back to Iceland and started a family. I’m hoping that, you know, eventually somewhere down the road…I like to put things into the universe and make it happen!
Obviously, Deep Sugar is focused on dance music. When the party first started, was the selection something that you said “Okay we’re only going to play house, disco, techno, etc.” or did you add other influences (jazz, funk, boogie)?
Well I think that’s what house is. It’s a combination of funk, jazz, soul, R&B…all those things mixed together. I’m not that person that’s going to say, “Oh this is this kind of house.” I mean yeah, there’s tech house. I think these days there’s so many different sub genres of house as we know it. Frankie [Knuckles] didn’t say at the Warehouse “Oh I’m gonna play afro house now.” He just played music that he loved, and that’s what we do. It just has that four-to-the-floor…
That rhythm that captivates you.
Yeah! Some people say its Latin House, and Louie [Vega] is Latin so if you follow Louie then yeah, he’s going to play a lot of Latin influenced house. Soul, Latin, Afro….it’s all house at the end of the day.
So House is one of the flavors that you serve up at Deep Sugar.
It’s the main flavor! (Laughs) It’s THE flavor.
With the upcoming Blisspop Disco Fest, disco must have been a part of those mix tapes that you made in the early years.
I like to say that disco is the mother of house. You know when that whole “Disco is dying” was going on? Out of that came house! So, I feel like it’s the grandfather/grandmother. Disco was there first. Then from the whole thing at the stadium when they were burning records, you know, from that came House.
It’s like an evolution of disco.
There you go. See this is why I say I like to do them in person!
To many different people, Disco can mean different things. It can remind them of an earlier time in their lives or certain events. What do you think of when you hear the word “Disco”?
I think of my parents having parties at our house and how I wanted to go to those parties downstairs in the basement. I would sit on the steps and listen to the songs that they played…the Diana Rosses, the Donna Summers, the Tavares, the Martha Washes, Two Tons O’ Fun, The Weather Girls. Those are what I know as disco. I know that I’ve always been like that party girl, and I know I have a good ear for music, but I don’t know….it’s weird, because I feel like some days I’m really old, and on days like this past weekend I’m like “Oh my gosh, I’m really old”…I still feel like I’m the baby of the bunch because I’m growing up in it, but I know I’ve been around for a long time. You know when I think disco, I think glitter ball, I think Elton John and Rod Stewart, Sister Sledge, Studio 54, Nile Rodgers & Chic, which I also had the pleasure of travelling with Ultra [Naté]. She did some gigs for Nile Rodgers when he curated a dance party at Montreux Jazz Festival which was amazing. Grace Jones was on the bill! Every time I mention that, I still get chills. It was Terry Dane, Martha Wash, The Tavares, Shania Twain, Quincy Jones…totally stacked.
Fast forward to present day, it seems disco has made a resurgence within the younger generation.
Just like vinyl records.
Just like it. But with some people, disco never left.
And I’m one of those people!
Exactly. It’s always remained the same flavor for you.
Listen, at the end of the day…good music is good music. (Laughs) You could call it techno or progressive or trance. At the end of the day, good music will always find its way back. I don’t care how long its been around, it will always find its way back. People know and love it. I’m doing a high school reunion this weekend, and of course guess who they put in charge to talk to the DJ? So, I asked people “Tell me one of your favorite songs” and all the girls are like “I Will Survive!” What’s that? A disco song.
Gloria Gaynor! Goes to show that it indeed finds its way back.
Right, and for some people it never left anywhere. It’s always been there in the pocket.
It’s been 16 years of Deep Sugar, but you’ve been selecting longer than that. What is it that makes you continue selecting and playing music? What is that drive?
I love to see people on the dance floor dancing, and I love to see the smile on their faces when I put that next record on. I don’t like to play records in my house by myself. I don’t like to make CDs or mix tapes because I don’t get that feeling from the people on the floor. I’m that DJ that needs an interaction.
You feed off that energy.
I totally feed off it! I’m that girl that has got to have that interaction, and if I see somebody and they’re not dancing, I make a point to make them dance! I’m like “You’re gonna start dancing buddy, watch this!”
Nowadays endless amounts of music are available. Are there any up-and-coming DJs or producers that have caught your attention?
I’m a creature of comfort, and I like to stick with who I know. If I know this guy has produced a good track in the past, I’m going to go and see what they’ve been doing lately. I’m not the person that’s going to go online and click on a bunch of songs, see how this sounds and that sounds because then I get bored. I think there is a lot of bad music online right now, and my time is precious, so I need to hear a name, sit and let it ride. On the Internet you only get what, 30 seconds of each track? I don’t think that’s fair for the consumer, because you don’t get enough time. They may only give you a snippet of that track, which is what people used to do at record shops years ago. They used to play one snippet over and over, and you would get home and be like “Wait, this isn’t the record I bought!” I’m sorry, but I’m not that girl that’s going to go and listen to new producers unless they’re doing something amazing. I’m very particular about vocals and musical arrangement. If I don’t like the vocal, nine times out of ten I won’t buy the track. I need to like the vocal with the music. It sounds weird…
Not at all! I understand how It needs to come together and you need feel it.
Totally, you need feel it. I’m a DJ. I need to feel and really like it. If I don’t, well…
I don’t know if I should be saying this, but there’s a Black Coffee record called “Superman”… I’ve never been a fan of it. (Laughs) I like a lot of other Black Coffee stuff, but “Superman” has never been my record. It got a lot of playtime when they redid it with Drake.
It skyrocketed at that point.
But guess what? I never played it. I played it maybe once or twice just because people wanted to hear it. Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, DJ Spen, Black Coffee, DJ Spinna…I love those guys, they do great productions. Some of the UK guys, lots of stuff coming out on Defected. Joey Negro does a lot of disco, so I think I’ll be playing a lot of his stuff. (Laughs) Shout out to Joey Negro!
Later this month is the Deep Sugar rooftop party at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. What lies in the future for the party?
We have the rooftop tea dance coming up on Sunday the 29th, October 5th we’ll be in New York for our residency at Le Bain which we do a couple times a year, then we’re doing ADE in Amsterdam. We had a party there last year that went very well so we’re doing a second one. We’ll be coming back from Amsterdam then heading to Los Angeles in November to play at Resident DTLA, followed by San Francisco where we’ll be playing with David Harness for his birthday. In October we’ll also be playing at Art Basel in Miami.
In other words, a lot of frequent flyer miles will be earned. (Laughs)
I wish it was so easy, but they’re not as frequent as they used to be! The fall [season] is when we do our anniversary tour, and because I have a day job, we spread it out, you know? I can’t be gone for four weeks at a time, and with Ultra’s tour schedule we’ve got to jump around.
All those places that you’ll be playing shows that house music is universal. There is a crowd out there that will enjoy it almost anywhere.
Unfortunately, house here in the States isn’t as prevalent as it is overseas, but I think it’s making a comeback. It doesn’t have that radio play here in the States because radio play is driven by the major labels and pop artists. The artists that are from here – the Ultras, the CeCe Penistons, the Crystal Waters, the Robin S’s, the Inaya Days – they get a lot more play time in Europe and that’s where they have their careers. For them going to work is getting on a plane and travelling to a different country, and I just wish or hope that one day there will come a time where the same will happen here.
Apart from radio not providing an outlet for house music, do you think there is something else that might be contributing to it not getting its footing here in the United States?
I think it’s the record labels and the people that are in the executive positions; they only go by what sells. I think the internet has really messed up everything as far as record shopping, even books. The small business owner that used to have a bookshop or record shop, they’re gone now because of the Internet.
Even shops that used to be around here in DC. DJ Hut, Yoshitoshi……
Yeah, Sam Burns!
But you have crews like Deep Sugar that are keeping the sound alive.
Yeah, we’re trying! I think it’s all up to the younger generation. If we can get them hooked on house music like they’re hooked on trap….
The only way is up!
That’s a struggle though.
It is. Like you said, the internet just seems to contribute to –
They’re brainwashing these kids. I wish somebody would brainwash them with other kinds of music. For me trap music is…it’s just so negative. “Percocet”….come on now. “Bitch” this and “Ho” that…come on! Just need it to be a little more positive.
Which is why need more house, those different types of music.
(Trap music begins playing in the background)
And look what happens!
I’ll have them change it. A little bit of Mood II Swing maybe?
Mood II Swing, hey! My man!
You know it! Finally, next Friday is the start of the Blisspop Disco Fest with yourself, Wayne Davis, Josey Rebelle, Amy Douglas, and The Black Madonna at the 9:30 Club. What can we expect from the power duo?
(Laughs) A lot of good disco! I can’t come in there playing some trap! I mean I could do it, but then people would be like “What in the….whoa, she dropped THAT??” No, it’s going to be a good time. We’re just going to go in there and do what we do – play good music and have a good time.
One last thing: after years of being in the music industry, what advice would you have for anyone who is looking to either DJ or start their own party?
(Laughs) Whoo! I would say perseverance. You’ve got to love what you do, really enjoy people, and not take it so seriously. I am a person that takes many things very seriously, and I’ve learned over the 16 years to just relax! But you need to be passionate about what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing, because if you don’t the people won’t believe in it. Believe in it, have a passion for it, love it, and do it well.
Catch Lisa Moody playing alongside Wayne Davis Friday night at the 9:30 Club for Blisspop Disco Fest with The Black Madonna, Josey Rebelle, and Amy Douglas. Tickets can be purchased here.