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Southern Born, California Grown

 

When GRAMMY® recognized music producer Michael Starita broke out from behind the studio glass to make his own music, he already knew about knocking down barriers. Twenty years prior, the Southern boy from Mississippi journeyed to San Francisco with little more than a change of clothes and a crate of vinyl records. Prowling the streets with the torn-out yellow pages listings for recording studios, Starita was offered his first “real” job in the music business by pretty much stalking the staff of the studio where he was hired.

If that sounds apocryphal, you haven’t met Starita. His debut Album, Starita – For the Record, speaks to that can-do (and will-do, damn it) spirit, which dares to defy odds and break the “rules” of music genres. You hear it in the songs…an eclectic mix of electronic music and acoustic instruments that, he will argue, does not belie his Southern roots but springs directly from them. And you see it in the featured artists on the album, including Jarobi White of A Tribe Called Quest, Mamel from Los Amigos Invisibles, among other surprise artists to be announced, creating a signature stylistic blend that’s hard to categorize.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Starita hails from a musical family. As a teen, he learned the fiddle (not the violin, thank you) and guitar. He joined the usual staple of garage bands, dreaming of world tours and stardom. Rock n’ Roll was his thing. A dance club was the last place you would have found him.

“I was vehemently opposed to any kind of electronic music” says Starita, laughing, “cuz I didn’t think that was real music, and I just didn’t get it. Machines making music…that’s just not right.”

 

But it was the 90’s; even Mississippi would embrace the dance club trend. When “The Groove” opened in his hometown, Starita was curious, but too young to get in. He tried anyway…relentlessly. Countless times he was turned away. But eventually he became so familiar to bouncers that they mistook him for a regular, waving him inside. That experience was a revelation. The communal, tribal experience of the music overwhelmed him.

But it was more than the music. It was the man in the booth that fascinated him most. So the guitar went back in its case as an inspired Starita learned to DJ. Not long after that, he was spinning at The Groove, and later doing gigs throughout the South.

After graduating from High School in 1995, Starita attended Full Sail University to learn sound engineering, a move largely inspired by his DJ experience. Shortly thereafter, he followed his role model in music, his Uncle Billy, to San Francisco. Getting off the plane at SFO armed with a pile of resumes and a roll of quarters, Starita contacted every recording studio on his purloined yellow pages list, including the legendary Hyde Street Studios, a notoriously difficult place to land a job.

But they didn’t know Starita yet. “Every day I would just call. I called them. And I called them. And I could tell they were getting annoyed with me…but I didn’t care”, says Starita. Finally realizing that they were not dealing with an average job seeker, they granted him an interview…perhaps as much from sheer exhaustion as from being awestruck by his passion. And they hired him on the spot. Thus began Starita, chapter one: the engineer & producer who would work on successful projects with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Childish Gambino, and Michael Franti, among others.

But throughout those years, there was always the spirit of an aspiring artist tapping on his shoulder. Says Starita: “I got into engineering because I wanted to make my own records…twenty years went by, and I hadn’t done any of that.”

So the record has been a long time coming. Does he regret it? Not a chance. Starita had envisioned electronic style tracks blended with acoustic instruments, featuring rich and diverse vocal styles. This stylistic blend was the artistic soul of the record. And this was precisely where those years of experience, and building relationships, would pay off.

“It was a blessing that I waited 20 years to put this record out, because I had so many more connections, so many more relationships, so I could actually execute what I had in my mind. “

With bonds of trust built in small moments over the years, Starita was able to make some creative asks which could realize his long-held vision. The featured musicians on the album are Starita’s dream team. Their artistry would bring the tracks to life in a way that wouldn’t have been possible previously. This was the album he wanted to make…and finally, he had the tools to make it.

And if you know Starita, you know he’s willing to wait for his moment. And wait. And wait. But when it arrives, you can bet he’ll make the most of it.

Starita launched his debut single, Rules feat. Jarobi of A Tribe Called Quest from the forthcoming For The Record EP.

For the Record  is a collaborative effort featuring a dream team of artists who have known and worked with Starita over the years. Featured artists include Jarobi White of A Tribe Called Quest many others to be announced soon.