By Gilbert Garcia
Eric Ross rarely stops to take a breath.
The 35-year-old producer/engineer, who settled in San Antonio three months ago by way of Miami, Chicago, Orlando, and New York, is an inveterate hustler. Nearly all of his stories involve him approaching some stranger who either went on to collaborate with him on a recording project or offered him a gig.
In a way, Ross' self-promotional aggressiveness feels out-of-sync with this laid-back city, but he can't help himself. Every greeting, every exchanged handshake is a networking possibility for him. He came to San Antonio in May to stay at his mom's house and do production work on his next album (he's not sure if the move is temporary or permanent), and he's already hooked up with a motley assortment of local talent, including rapper CSK, Gimme the Mike! competitor Caprice, and rock band the Teliskas.
People in bars occasionally stop Ross and ask if he plays in a band, and it's easy to see why. He's whip-thin, with long brown hair that gives him the look of a mid-'70s rock star. On this day, he sports an aqua-blue tank-top with orange trim, with a Star of David necklace dangling over his chest.
"I think I'm meant to be here, 'cause I've met certain people," Ross says. "I'll tell people, 'Do your research. Go to BMI, go to my website, to see if I'm legit.' And here they're hungry, man. They just want to do something. In Miami, it's like if you're not Paul Oakenfold, they don't want to do anything with you.
"Miami is a little bit more 'the pretty people,' and a lot of people are full of shit, so if you approach someone - especially female - and say, 'I'm a producer, would you like to work with me?,' they'll say, 'Get away from me, creep.'"
Ross is a fast-talking jumble of contradictions. A rising presence on the electronic music scene, he views himself as an underground artist who steers away from commercial considerations. But, as the head of his own record label, SonIQuarium, he's always angling to get a foothold in the business, and he'll compromise to do it. Last year, he played a high-profile bash at the Playboy Mansion, getting the gig by agreeing to alter his usual UK-house set and play '80s remixes.
In the late '90s, while playing house music at clubs in Chicago by night, he also worked the stock market as a day trader. "That's how I got all my money to finance my label," he says. "I was trading equities as a day trader, and after 9/11, that really killed the market. So I went to options."
Ross began trading out of his house, soon opting for the sunnier climate of Miami. Before long, he says, "the options market started to get a little fickle," and he pulled out. He sold his car, lowered his overhead, and began focusing on music as a full-time business concern. While the combination of electronic music and day trading might seem like an awkward fit, it made perfect sense to Ross.
"Think about it: Mathematics is part of beats and music. Trading is the same way," he says. "If I was off on my trading, I'm losing money. If I'm off on my producing or mixing, I'm trainwrecking, producing crap. But when I'm on, the rhythm's flowing. It's all relative. Trading the markets is like a science based on mathematical computation, but it's also an art form."
As a kid growing up in New York, Ross got heavily involved in hip-hop's breakdance culture, but he didn't think about creating music until he completed three years in the Navy in Florida.
"In the last year of my stint in Orlando, I started running into a lot of DJs and seeing the scene develop," he says. "I was there for the explosion of the original rave movement on the East Coast. It was clean pills, good people, people taking care of each other, not letting people die. It was like a family thing. They were bringing in music from London that nobody heard."
At Loyola, he became chairman of the campus Republicans, espousing a fiscally conservative, socially liberal philosophy. He says after coming into close contact with members of the Illinois GOP, he grew disillusioned with organized politics, and came to see himself as a libertarian.
In Chicago, he gradually established himself on the club scene, but he wasn't making much money and, as he concedes, "I'm impatient, I'm ADD, so I need everything fast. So it was a tug of war between working a real job and producing and DJing. Whenever I was having a bad month trading, I'd have a great month DJing."
The same fervor and impatience he's brought to politics, investments, and electronic music, he's now bringing to musical entrepreneurship. He's marketing his SonIQuarium catalog through the San Francisco company Ingrooves, which takes his music to iTunes, and shops it to TV and film producers. "I'm getting ready to kind of come out," he says with characteristic assurance. "And because I find San Antonio so fascinating, I want to take a couple of local people with me." •