When dance music fans around the world hear the name Larry Heard, they think of Chicago. As in "Chicago house," the pulsating electronic style that Heard helped develop in the 1980s, and of which he is one of the best-known and most influential practitioners. What they might not realize is that, since 1997, Heard has made his home and created his music in Memphis.
"I needed to get out of Chicago," says Heard, 56. "It was too busy, too nonstop. I didn't have room to breathe and think and just really focus, because everything was moving so fast. People think you have some magic attached to you — like it was nothing to do with just working hard and being consistent about being in front of the public with your creative work."
Heard has continued a steady output of recordings since the move to Memphis, while maintaining a relatively low profile for an artist hailed as a "godfather" and "legend" by fans, journalists, and fellow producers. He has released dozens of 12-inch singles by himself and others on his own Memphis-based Alleviated Records label, as well as contributing scores of remixes for various artists.
But his new album, Cerebral Hemispheres, released on April 13th, is his first full-length project since 2005's Soundtrack from the Duality Double-Play, released under the moniker Loose Fingers (one of several aliases he uses for recordings, in addition to his given name).
Cerebral Hemispheres collects 18 tracks sprawling over two CDs (or three LPs). Ambitious in scope and sound, the collection comprises jazzy instrumental jams, intimate digital soul, and acid-flavored dance-floor workouts.
"For nine years, I had been doing at least one album per year, prior to that. So, in a way, I missed nine albums. And the people who are following me noticed the absence," says Heard. "The true hardcore fans, they were the ones right after the 2005 album who were asking, 'When is the next album coming out?'"
Heard brought in some local instrumental collaborators to flesh out his keyboard arrangements and beat programming, including guitarists Ed Finney and Christopher Jones and tenor saxophonist Zach McElwain. Their contributions add warmth and immediacy that could boost Cerebral Hemispheres' appeal to jazz lovers and other audiences beyond Heard's core fans.
"I did want to get some human help and human interaction in there," he says. "That's where I come from: a band with all humans and no computer. It's tricky to do that these days, but anything you can get, it makes a world of difference."
Work on Cerebral Hemispheres began in 2016. Other commitments intervened, however, including a series of live performances at big festivals from Mexico to Ireland, Finland to Australia. For those gigs, Heard was joined on stage by Memphis vocalist/producer Chad White (aka Mr. White), with whom he recorded the 2006 single "You Rock Me"/"The Sun Can't Compare," rated one of the Top 100 releases of the '00s by leading dance-music site Resident Advisor.
"It took a long time because it was a stop-and-go process," Heard says of the new album. "We were going in and out for the outings. Coming back and trying to get your motivation to where it was before you left can be tricky.
"The public and the fans have been asking when something's coming out for years, and I couldn't really tell them anything, so I had to duck and dodge and hide from folks. I think I got engrossed in doing DJ gigs and doing remixes and all these things that are kind of temporary. I needed to invest time in things that have a longer-lasting effect. You kind of see the pattern where you're traveling back and forth and you can't switch yourself on and off like an appliance and get an honest, sincere feel. You don't want to get in [the studio] and just be going through the motions."