Skip to content

Alex Connors and Hardy Heller: “At the end of the day, it’s still all about music”

EG had the opportunity to speak with artists Alex Connors and Hardy Heller, co-founders of ‘Ohral’ and their new release ‘Little Fluffy Clouds.’

Photo credit: Alex Connors / Hardy Heller – Official

In this exclusive interview, we delve into their creative journey, the inspiration behind their latest track, and their vision for the future.

We explore the transformation of ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ from an instrumental piece to a captivating track featuring an interview with Ricky Lee Jones. We also discuss the success of their previous release ‘Remembrance’ and their plans to support up-and-coming artists within their label.

Join us as we uncover the stories behind their music and their unwavering commitment to their craft.

EG: Alex Connors and Hardy Heller, welcome to Electronic Groove! We’re thrilled to be interviewing you about your new release, ‘Little Fluffy Clouds,’ and the exciting things happening at your label, ‘Ohral.’ To get started, where are you guys right now?

Alex: Thank you for the invitation. Unfortunately, I’m currently lying on the couch with a heavy flu.

Hardy: Thanks for giving us the opportunity to do the interview – and yeah… I just recovered from a heavy flu.

EG: Congrats on the new release! What can you tell us about the inspiration behind ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’? How does it connect with the themes explored in ‘Remembrance,’ and what was your creative process like for this track? How did you achieve its unique sound?

Alex: Thanks. ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ was originally an instrumental track. I wanted to produce a similar but much deeper follow-up track to ‘Remembrance’ with lots of chords. While we were working on the title, we felt something special was missing. Hardy then had the idea of using this interview by Ricky Lee Jones. After a few further amendments, we thought that the voice perfectly fits with the mood of the song and gives the track this very special touch of lightness.

Hardy: Yeah, thanks – glad you like our new release. We have been part of the electronic music scene for a long time, and this fantastic interview with the legendary Ricky Lee Jones that we used in the track was already taken in another musical context by some other legends, The Orb. Their song of the same name influenced us a lot back in the days. It’s a song for eternity, like the interview with Ricky herself. Her voice sounds so subtle, so fragile on one hand, and on the other so real, honest, and present. Even nowadays, it felt like she was sitting next to us when we were working on it.

As it often happens on our side, we stumbled upon the original interview by mistake or call it destiny. More or less right after we finished ‘Remembrance.’ We were searching for something special as we worked on an instrumental track, as Alex said, and yeah, the idea came up and we were blown away again, after all those years, by this soulful voice, so we thought “yeah, let’s give it a try.” Of course, we used the vocal in a different musical context than The Orb, so we thought it is more than okay to bring that vocal back, as we tried to do something original in our own musical context.

Alex: The connection between ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ and ‘Remembrance’ may also be that in that interview Ricky is speaking about memories of her childhood. But to be honest, we were not thinking about that connection at all, at least not consciously. But, funnily enough, both tracks were produced sequentially. Like most producers, we usually start working on new ideas and eventually go back and forth between several ideas just to keep our ears fresh. But in this case, both tracks were produced within a few days – and both one after the other.

EG: ‘Remembrance’ has been a huge success for Ohral, spending over three months at the top of the Beatport deep house charts. What does this mean for the label, and how do you plan to build on this momentum?

Hardy: Remembrance is the most successful record of our label in terms of chart performance on Beatport. When we decided to restart our label 3 years ago, we were delighted to experience success from the very beginning. Thinking back, it was definitely a very good decision to restart, even at such a difficult time for all of us. We relaunched around 6-8 months before the pandemic took over the world. I discussed it with a lot of friends and colleagues in the music industry like Gorge, Marc DePulse, Martin Eyerer, Bennie Grauer, among others, at that time. Deciding to relaunch in the middle of the pandemic may have given us more visibility, as a lot of labels, especially some of the bigger ones, were not releasing anything. More or less straight away, our releases gained chart positions, recognition, and plays by exciting artists. The idea to ask artists and friends who regularly play at our events for support, like Mihai Popoviciu, for sure helped a lot as well. So his remix for our track Paris, the second release, was also in high-ranking positions at Beatport, both the original and the remix. Since then, more or less every release on Ohral has achieved some success, one way or another. Working with artists we personally know and appreciate generates a very personal, supportive family feeling, which is also very important to us.

Alex: Not only us as artists but the whole label family benefits from this momentum. Just like us, music lovers tend to discover a new record, a new label, a new artist, and explore further to find out what else they have to offer. Our hope is that the success of ‘Remembrance’ helps to shine a light on some of the really great artists in our roster; Steve Kelly, Gareth Cole, Dilby, Weikum, Danjo, Marc Lenz, and also our local Ohral crew like Maxie König, Tdk, Dominik Heid, Sven Moritz, and all the others that I now forgot to mention. Every single artist on our label is passionate and dedicated to underground electronic dance music, nice guys as well, and all are absolutely fantastic in what they do and deserve everything they get.

Hardy: We are aware that this momentum creates a good opportunity for new releases, and it is also important to keep up the momentum. This is why we reshuffled the release schedule to put out ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’. Actually, we planned to release another production of ours, but ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ happened so quickly that we decided to go down a more underground-related road. As ‘Remembrance’ has this kind of commercial breakthrough potential, we thought it was a good idea to dig deeper again with the next track we release. Maybe this also says something about our ethos to not make music to be the next superstar. But if it happens, we are ready to go, just joking, lol.

But personally, I already kind of had my five minutes of fame, Alex too. So we want to stay true to our souls and deliver more underground content, the music we love and feel related to. That does not mean that we don’t appreciate the recognition. It is also kind of important as artists to know that other people are into what you’ve done, and we are thankful to every single person who supports us. Despite the success, we don’t have plans to take over the world or the electronic music business. We learn every day that it is very important to focus on marketing things, plans, social media… but at the end of the day, it’s still all about music, about having a good time in the studio together, and creating our own soulful music. We try not to put too much pressure on ourselves for every release to perform the same way. We trust our ears and are confident in what we’re doing… somehow.

“At the end of the day, it’s still all about music, about having a good time in the studio together, and creating our own soulful music”

EG: ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ takes listeners on a journey through the skies of Arizona. What led to the choice of this theme, and how does the track capture the essence of that mystic discussion about the clouds?

Alex: As mentioned above, we worked on it as an instrumental track with that certain feel. Hardy had the idea to try those vocals, and of course, this spoken part has a certain feel. You mentioned “mystic”, and that’s exactly what we felt while listening to the instrumental. That feeling got even stronger when we added the vocals and other fine details. We tweaked scraps of vocals, as well as some diverse subtle layering of synths and sounds in the background. On the other side, those constantly filtered house chords show that it is not a static picture you are dancing through, together with the drums keeping the pace in the moment. Of course, we tested the production on the dancefloor, and we love that on one hand, the track keeps you moving, and on the other, it allows you to inhale and drift away.

EG: As the owner of Ohral, how do you balance the creative and business aspects of running a successful label?

Hardy: In the end, I am the owner, but I don’t see my role that way. I believe that we are stronger together and that it can’t be done alone. Nowadays, with all the different aspects of the music business, it is not possible to handle everything successfully as just one person. So, for me, it is important to have great people close to me who support our goal and are involved in the processes. For example, when we receive a new demo, Maxie König, Alex, and I listen to it and make decisions together. On the business side, we work together to distribute the workload and responsibilities.

EG: Alex, what influences your songwriting process, and how do you approach creating a sound that resonates with a global audience?

Alex: I don’t pay too much attention to what might please a global audience; it has to please me, or us, first and foremost. Of course, we hope that the audience will also like it. I don’t have a standardized production process; it always turns out differently. I have had the idea of using the ‘Remembrance’ vocal in a deep house track for a long time. At some point, I started working on it, beginning with the vocals. For our track ‘Paris,’ I played around with an Arturia synth until I programmed a cool sound. That became the main element. I then gradually built the rest around it. With ‘Colourblind,’ I had a clear idea of how the track should be structured and sound, and I started with the bass line. It took days for it to finally come together, and then I added the appropriate drums and melodic parts. But all of this was created beforehand in my head. However, a lot of it also comes from coincidences, mistakes, simple jamming, testing new plugins, sampling on my own, or collaborating with Hardy. Ideas also come from a wide range of music and genres. And of course, I’m not alone; Hardy brings in his ideas and wishes as well, and for some tracks, he is more of the initiator. His experience in all genres of music alone enriches our everyday studio life.

EG: Hardy, you’ve had a long career as a DJ and producer. Do you have standout moments in your journey that you can share with us, and how has your approach to music evolved over the years?

Hardy: Of course, I have had standout moments, and I still do. But speaking more generally, I have been to many places, with diverse and different cultural regions, and I have always experienced a great sense of peaceful cohesion. I am deeply thankful for the experiences, the incredible places, the different vibes, and the people I have been able to meet through my passion. Especially, to quote Ron Carroll, it didn’t matter “if I was black or white, Jew or Gentile… it doesn’t matter in our house.”

Regarding my approach to music, I’m not sure if it has changed a lot, but it has definitely evolved. Being the youngest of five kids who all listened to a lot of different music, and playing classical piano from the age of five, I would say that my ears were exposed to various types of music from the beginning. And as I continued to listen to and search for music, I discovered more and more. Even today, the ways I search for new exciting music have not changed that much; it is all guided by my personal enthusiasm. When I find something outstanding, it brings tears to my eyes or makes me throw my hands in the air. It all depends on the mood that the specific record conveys, just like when I was a kid listening to the radio late at night, waiting for my next favorite song. Or when I would put on headphones, hiding under the covers of my bed so that my parents wouldn’t know I was still awake.

“Every single artist on our label is passionate and dedicated to underground electronic dance music”

EG: Alex, your roots trace back to Worms, Germany. How has your background influenced your music, and what elements of your hometown’s vibe do you incorporate into your tracks?

Alex: I originally come from the Worms area, more precisely from Osthofen, a very small village southwest of Germany, 30 km from Mannheim. That’s basically where it all started. After several years in Osthofen/Worms, I discovered Ohral and Neustadt, so I have my roots in two places. I really like both places; both are wine-growing regions and both places provide different things for my electronic music journey. Osthofen is a fairly quiet town, which encourages me to find balance in my productions. Neustadt is bigger, but surely not big, but it’s the hometown of Ohral and its events. So in turn, that gives our tracks the necessary energy.

EG: Hardy, how has your experience as an A&R manager and label owner shaped your approach to organizing events and managing artists?

Hardy: Of course, it all influences each other, and in my opinion, it makes sense to cross-feature artists that way. You get a very personal touch to the business, which is also important to me. And of course, it helped me a lot working for ZYX as an A&R Manager in the early days. The very first event I organized had Paul van Dyk as a guest. I got in touch with him because I worked for ZYX Music at the time. We met at a party and became really close friends at a certain point. While in Berlin, the floors of the E-Werk & Tresor were already burning, you know, the early pioneering days. So as I’m from a small town in the southwest of Germany, I was inspired to do an electronic event there, with the help of some friends. As an A&R Manager, Label Manager, of course, I get in touch with countless great upcoming artists, and of course, it’s so kind of natural that one or the other got invited to my parties. And for sure, the events and label help to feed one another and grow together.

EG: Can you share some insights into the cultural area you’ve been running in your hometown for a year now? How has it contributed to the local music scene, and what can we expect in the coming months?

Hardy: My hometown is quite small with around 55,000 people, and there are a lot of smaller villages in the surrounding area. There are also some bigger cities like Mannheim close by. The contribution to the local music scene is, in my opinion, immense. Especially when it comes to youth culture, as there was no regular place here for many years. That’s also the reason why the city council decided to develop a cultural area in this specific location (I’m also part of the city council). A group of seven of us applied to be the custodians of the area, and in the end, our concept was awarded the contract. It is a lot of work, as we have to reconstruct and rebuild almost everything to slowly evolve it into a place that we all dream of. It will take another 3-5 years of work, as we do most of the work ourselves, but with a lot of effort and thankfully many helping hands, we’ve already organized some great events at SOKU. We mainly focus on electronic music, but we also have live concerts with blues, indie, punk, and rock bands. We try to stay open-minded. In terms of electronic music, we have used our connections to bring in some great artists, especially for a new club of this size, right from the beginning. It’s not every week or every month, but we’ve had acts like Extrawelt, Marco Resmann, Dilby, Anna Reusch, Marc DePulse, and Gorge, among others.

On the other hand, our goal is also to provide a platform for new, young talent from our community. So far, we are very happy as our club is often packed. The hospitality business isn’t easy these days, so we are working hard to improve every day, refine our profile, and establish ourselves in the market for the long term. In the next few months, we have booked guests like Karotte, Umek, Anna Reusch, among others. Our Concert Hall and the entire area, in general, need some more attention. We hope that event organizers, artists, the public, and our city itself recognize the opportunities this area offers and provide their support in return.

EG: In the evolving landscape of electronic music, how do you see the role of labels like ‘Ohral’ shaping the industry’s future, and what contributions do you hope to make to the electronic music community in the years to come?

Alex: We hope that we will continue to have the opportunity to deliver beautiful music, support cool and fresh artists, and of course, be supported by the audience ourselves. Our task is also to show that it is not necessary to give in to current trends but rather to find your own style.

Hardy: One of our YouTube playlists is called ‘Ohral _ our roots’. The subtext is that we do not attempt to know all the answers about the future of music but to understand the origins. Regarding the future, I hope that small labels like ours are able to present the sounds of promising artists to the market and accompany them on their way to international breakthroughs. Although there are tendencies for bigger companies to try to capitalize on fake artists, which is nothing new. But honestly, we do believe in the power of music and creativity of our artists, so our first focus will always be on that.

EG: Thank you for your time, Alex and Hardy. We wish you all the best with your new release and future endeavors.

Alex: Thank you for the great interview, see you soon and Cin Cin.

Hardy: Yeah, thanks for giving us the opportunity, thanks for asking us some really cool questions. So speak soon & take care

Alex Connors and Hardy Heller’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ is out now via Ohran. Stream and download here.

Follow Hardy Heller: SpotifySoundcloud | Instagram I Facebook
Follow Alex Connors: Spotify | Instagram I Facebook

Back To Top