The Knocks' B-Roc Talks the Evolution of His HeavyRoc Imprint & New Signee SOFI TUKKER
The Knocks’ DJ B-Roc (real name Ben Ruttner) has been building up his own label, HeavyRoc Music, since 2007. Yet, following the recent buzz of The Knocks’ EP So Classic (Big Beat/Neon Gold) and powerhouse singles like “Classic” feat. Powers and Fetty Wap and the just-released “I Wish (My Taylor Swift)" feat. Matthew Koma, the producer and label head looks to leverage the momentum in breaking his newest signee -- acoustic house act SOFI TUKKER.
The buzzy duo, comprised of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, have already courted the fashion crowd (they played the Simon Miller presentation at this years’ New York Fashion Week) and are prepping their debut EP, following the success of stunning debut single "Drinkee."
“HeavyRoc took us in like a family. They've never tried to change us or control us. We definitely got lucky, straight out of college, to find a group of people as open, inviting and non-judgmental as the HeavyRoc crew -- just real homies,” Hawley-Weld tells Billboard. “ I had to spend four months in a wheelchair this past year because I broke my toes from dancing too much. Even then, I would get all these videos of the HeavyRoc crew playing 'Drinkee' at clubs around the world.” Joked Halpern, “Through them, we've learned the extreme importance of a tight DJ bob.”
Ahead of the group's dates at this year's CMJ Festival, which include the Kitsuné showcase at Elvis Guesthouse (Oct. 14) and the AM Only showcase at Baby's All Right (Oct. 15), Billboard caught up with Ruttner to talk about the evolution of the HeavyRoc label, his work with early artists Alex Winston and St. Lucia, and why he decided to take on SOFI TUKKER.
When and why did you found HeavyRoc Music?
HeavyRoc started around 2007, and was originally just a fake label/name to use when I was doing hip-hop mix tapes in college. After that it morphed into a small singles label with our first artist Alex Winston. We had just built our studio in Chinatown, Manhattan and wanted to get into producing/developing new artists. Our goal was to get artists started so they could go on to sign a major label deal and do whatever they want. It was never to lock anyone down for long term, we just wanted to be involved in good music and getting credible artists the recognition they deserve.
What was your initial impetus to want to oversee and help lead other artists?
I originally did it just because it was a way to help release/promote the music we were producing, but slowly as The Knocks stuff started taking off it became less about artists we were producing and more about artists we were close with and really believed in. I would still always chime in on creative decisions and help people with songs, but overall was not producing the records.
Who were some of your early releases/artists and how did you connect with them?
Our first release was Alex Winston, who I met through a mutual friend. She was living in Detroit at the time, making amazing demos on Garageband, and I basically kept bugging her to move to NYC until she finally did. The rest is history. The release after that was St Lucia, who I met because my cousin Nick was his drummer at the time. The second I heard those demos I knew he was going to be massive. We put out his first 2 singles before he went on to sign to Columbia and a couple years later is playing 2 sold out nights at Terminal 5 in NYC.
Since you founded the label, what have you learned about the challenges of trying to launch unknown artists in this business?
I’ve learned that our popularity and credibility as artists really helps. We’ve built our fan base and established credibility over time, so now more people will listen to what we are backing. New artists are also now aware of how much they have to do in today’s climate. They know that a record label isn’t going to make or break their career, and that a lot of the work has to be done independently. Labels are a great tool, but at the end of the day they are really there to magnify your brand and what you have created for yourself, not to do that work for you.
How do you separate the artist Ben from the label head Ben – or are the two interwoven at this point?
I think they benefit each other. Having been signed to 2 different major labels at this point I know how that side of things goes, so I can see it from the artist's point of view as well as the label's. I’ve always been very hands on with the administrative side of The Knocks' career, so it’s really nothing new to me.
Does your debut album with the Knocks, 55, have a release date yet?
It will be coming out the top of next year. It’s way overdue. We can’t wait for people to hear it and to really solidify ourselves as artists, with a body of work versus just singles/remixes. I can’t share too much about it just yet, but there are some really incredible features and collaborations that we think will really blow minds.
You first connected with SOFI TUKKER when Tucker opened for you in Providence, while still at Brown University. What was your first impression?
We instantly hit it off. When he moved to NYC, he started his project with Sophie. They both come from very different musical backgrounds, which is why I think it works so well. I’ve been helping them out since day one and sitting in on sessions. They really put in a lot of hard hours in the studio this past summer as well as a lot of rehearsal for their live show. They are aware of how much work it’s going to take, and it’s really great to work with people that driven and talented.
What stuck out to you about their sound?
I love that they are a dance music act, but so much more. It’s not your average house music. There are amazing influences of Brazillian and world music but also great pop sensibilities. That’s what we strive to make as artists ourselves so it’s great to work with someone else that’s trying to keep it fresh and different, especially in the world of dance music which tends to get flooded with a lot of stuff that sounds very similar.
What can you tell us about their upcoming EP?
Their EP will be coming out most likely early next year and is really great. It’s a perfect way of showcasing what they are capable of and who they really are as artists, and what sound they want to be known for. We have a great remix package coming for the single 'Drinkee' (including a Knocks remix) as well as a video on the way. They will be at CMJ this year and their live show is really incredible. Sophie is hypnotizing on stage and really knows how to keep an audience’s attention.
As you look to future, how do you see HeavyRoc evolving and what are your goals long term for the label and brand?
We are like a big family down here in Chinatown and we never want that to change. This label has always been a passion project and we just want to keep promoting good and credible music and to not take ourselves too seriously. It's been a really great ride so far and I can’t wait to see where it all goes in the next couple years as everyone in the family grows as artists.