Boston’s House music scene has been steadily gaining momentum throughout 2015 as evidenced by the host of big name artists that have played shows in the city. Just to name a few… Justin Martin, Shiba San, Gorgon City, Anjunadeep (label tour), Amine Edge & DANCE, and Thomas Jack have all played killer sets in this Eastern metropolis.
Building off that momentum, the folks over at NV Concepts have already announced killer shows for their Deeper Nights series in 2016 (which is hosted nearly every Saturday at Ascend) including Will Clarke & Billy Kenny, Green Velvet, Treasure Fingers & Landis LaPace, Claude VonStroke, Mija, and Le Youth… and that’s just through March 6th!
I’ve had the pleasure of catching three Justin Jay shows in 2015 and this guy has really got it going on. Despite being a recent college graduate, Justin has already released a plethora of tracks and EPs on major labels like Dirtybird, Catz ‘N Dogz label Pets Recordings, and Black Butter Records. His most recent EP, “Mom, I Graduated!” was released on Dirtybird in September and features two absolute bangers, “Hit It” and “Rain Dance”.
I’d heard through some mutual friends that Justin is a fantastic guy, so I jumped at the opportunity to sit down and chat with him before his show. During that conversation I concluded that while he may be young, you shouldn’t be fooled by Justin’s boyish-smile and curly-mop. It’s clear to me that underneath his often goofy exterior, there’s a humble soul with a mind that’s brimming with intriguing thoughts and a profound understanding of the importance of educating himself about his craft… all while ensuring that he is having fun doing it.
So, how you doing man?
Dude, I’m doing really well. Really well. These past couple months have been the most intense, crazy-fun, roller coaster I’ve ever experienced in terms of doing the most shows I’ve ever done and also juggling that with making the most music that I possibly can. Just pushing myself to make music and play music that forces me outside of my comfort zone. It’s been really, really fun.
You mentioned in an interview with Insomniac that there was a rough 10 month period with your production where you were too focused on making music that was catered towards the Dirtybird sound — but in doing that you ended up trapping yourself in a creative box. Could you tell me a little about how you got out of that funk and found yourself, and your style, again?
That moment was very specific. I released my first song on Dirtybird the first week of my freshman year, and it was so insane. The next week after I got that first email back I had a new demo ready and sent it to Barclay (Claude VonStroke) and he was like “yeah it’s cool but not for me.” The next week, new demo, same response… it took me 10 months cranking out music to ultimately get a second song out on Dirtybird. In that time, I put myself in a box creatively — just overly focused on creating Dirtybird music (or the Dirtybird sound), and that took away a little bit of the fun. It’s weird how being put in a box, even a box that I really liked, still made it weird and it was way more fun to just goof off and to not even really think about the music… but to just do it, and operate more off intuition.
Also, another part of that 10 month grind was just putting in more time making music. I feel like what’s crazy about making music is that there is no direct correlation between the time you put into something and what you get out of it. There are times where you can work on something for weeks and it’s okay… and then you work on something for hours, and it’s amazing. I think for me, especially early on, it’s easy for a magical moment to happen once every now and then but by getting my production skills up a little higher by putting in more time, I think consistency became more possible.
Because of familiarity with the software and things like that, or…?
I think also, a bigger part is having more skills production-wise. Like, I’m really not fancy when it comes to that stuff but being able to make different types of songs and different types of sounds work. For me, that first song I got signed to Dirtybird, it was really simple, but it was the only thing that I knew how to do because I had never made anything else that was worthy enough of getting signed. I think the versatility comes with a bit more experience. Making a mellow track is super different from making a very intense track, but if you just put the time in, you can become much better at making both. The whole range to me is interesting so getting that time in was a big part of it and will continue to be a part of the never ending journey going forward.
With that being said, you’re coming near the end of the ‘Mom, I Graduated!’ world tour. You’ve played all over the United States, made some stops in Canada, the UK, Brazil, and squeezed in Electric Zoo, Nocturnal Wonderland, Tomorroworld, Dirtybird Campout, and CRSSD Festival – I’m sure you’ve amassed a mountain of incredible memories along the way but are there any shows, venues, or countries that standout?
So, (Dirtybird) Campout as an experience was the most mind-blowing, absurd thing. It was so good and I could ramble on about it’s magic forever. Campout was something insanely special but honestly I haven’t had one bad gig. I’ve loved every single show that I’ve done these past couple months. A lot of them were very different from each other but I really believe that there are people who really care about the music… it’s cheesy, but that shit goes such a long way! It doesn’t matter if it’s 200 people or 2,000 people, if there’s love for the music, it’s going to be a great party and you’re going to have fun.
Definitely, it’s all about the good vibes. Speaking of the Campout, I was not seeing particularly straight at the Campout, but I know that there was a guitar on stage… was that you shredding up there?
*laughs* No, no, no. It was hard to tell because the DJ booth obscures the view. I’ve been making a bunch of music with two of my friends from college. We started doing this back in January. One of my homies sings, one of them plays guitar, and we’ve been making a ton of music together and our first song (“Karma”) as a little group actually just came out on Black Butter – it’s cool because the song that we put out we actually made back in March.
It’s a lengthy process and I’d never worked with vocals and songwriting and guitars and stuff – dude, it definitely epitomized the moment of, “holy shit, this is terrifying! I have no idea what I’m doing!” But by grinding through it and getting as much help and advice from my friends as I can, it’s really coming together. Also it’s been really fun performing a lot of these songs live – getting to do that stuff is great because you can feel them out and fine tune it. Some of the stuff is really soft and kind of listening music whereas other stuff is heavier. I put out this remix for Alison Wonderland (“Take It To Reality”) and my guitarist homie is in it and it’s really intense blues rock and roll in the middle, but the rest of the track is more heavy techno, it’s really heavy and dark. Mainly, I love having that range and versatility with my friends. I feel like we can make lots of different stuff simply goofing off and having a fun time together.
What inspires you?
The process. I think the process is so important. I have fun just making beats. I have fun sitting there in front of my computer clicking on knobs and things. It’s not always easy to focus on having fun. Sometimes you focus too much on making something great, but greatness can be very elusive. Like we talked about before, there’s not always a relationship between the energy and time that you put in and the product you get out of it. But if you’re having fun with the process, then you’re always going to win. The outcome doesn’t matter. It’s easier said than done to be in that mind-space, but I think I’m getting better at staying in that zone… and that’s the best.
In an interview with The Music Ninja you mentioned that car rides with your Dad were, “pretty foundational for (your) music taste.” What type of stuff did your Dad play in the car?
He would put on 94.7 The Wave, which was the smooth jazz station that played like Kenny Loggins and stuff. Really cool soul music, a little bit of funk and disco as well. Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, some proper jazz on that station too. It was formative for my music taste. Then, by the time I heard Daft Punk, which was my first exposure to electronic music, it all sounded so familiar in a way because of the disco samples. Daft Punk is still the penultimate for me. I would do anything to see them live man… time machine, give up limbs…you name it.
Speaking of oldies, it’s amazing how many James Brown samples there are in the Tech House genre. Especially drum samples.
Yeah man, his music is crazy. He would do things when he preformed that were wild. Like the band would follow his lead and just add extra beats to the song. For example if the beat was 1…2…3…4… – James Brown would throw in a 5!…6!…1 – just once right in the middle to throw people off. He was the biggest badass of all time. Even the sound of him yelling, that visceral yell, forever is the coolest sounding thing. I wish I could yell like that, oh my God, it’d be game over.
What was your favorite track (not your own) that came out in 2015?
There have been a lot of good ones this year. It hasn’t come out yet but it was made in 2015 – my friend Jake, who makes music under Small Talk. He made this song called “Retro Flex” and I’ve been playing it in almost every set over the past couple weeks. That’s definitely a contender.
What are you listening to right now?
Very interesting for me. I’ve started listening to a bunch of music that I’ve never listened to before. Started diving into the Rolling Stones, listening to their first album right now. It’s really interesting. I know they’re big songs, but I’m really fascinated by blues and their first album is basically a collection of blues covers. I recently started listening to blues because my guitar homie turned me onto it. Blues preceded soul music so there’s a lineage with the music that’s close to my heart. Now all of a sudden there’s new music for me to listen to and that’s like… whoa!
The first Rolling Stones album is really intriguing because it’s helping me get into the roots of blues music. Since they’re all covers I’m learning more about who wrote the songs and through them I’ve started listening to classic guys like Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley I’m still learning about this music and that’s really neat for me.
Favorite 90s jam?
“Too Close” by Next came on in the car over the past 10 hours. That song’s so good, so I’ll go with that.
Would you consider yourself more of a classic rock person, or a hip-hop person?
I’d say more so than either of those I’m a disco and soul person. That’s my real “home zone”. Hip-hop is kind of like a weird son/nephew of those two genres … especially early hip-hop, which is what I’m into. Even rock is almost a cousin or a second cousin –- because it all came from the blues. I had a brief rock phase when I was 13 or 14 but I kind of got out of it when I started getting more into electronic. There’s so much stuff that I neglected, I hadn’t even listened to The Beatles before.
It’s been really fun getting into this whole other world. One of the coolest things about being in college for four years was being forced to kick it with so many people who didn’t listen to the type of music that I like, at all, and didn’t know anything about it. In college I had homies who made my Dirtybird stuff look cheesy and commercial, while I had other homies who had just found out about Skrillex. At the same time I was subjected to everything from the most ignorant, dumb hip-hop party music to country music -– so I really had the full range.
I’m trying to get to that place of absurd open-mindedness. It’s not always easy. It’s easy to be judgmental and say, “oh, I don’t listen to that type of stuff.” But in reality, there’s good stuff everywhere. Especially making music, there’s inspiration to be had everywhere. It’s cool hearing how many different types of music and styles there are. The range is unbelievable.
Dude, we came up with that track idea and made that song so fast! It’s funny ‘cause I had never kicked it with him before and we hit it off immediately. He’s the nicest guy, the man. I was trying to get to know him a little better and asked him what type of music he liked growing up, and the first thing he said was drum and bass. When I was in 10th grade I was at a record store and wanted something dark and intense and the guy handed me this drum and bass compilation that was the most ghetto, poorly scrapped together record… but it was the best thing ever. I still have all those tracks and still think they’re dope, it was the most dark, post-apocalyptic, early-2000s drum and bass.
However, that record was basically my only exposure to it, so I asked him to play me some. I was really curious about liquid drum and bass because I’d heard a little of that stuff and I think it’s really interesting. So, he played me some of that and I played him some jazz samples. After that we just started throwing shit down in really quick succession, just goofing around and having a good time. Eventually we had the parts and the idea, but it wasn’t called “Storm”. It was basically everything except the name. I think he put some dolphin sounds in which was inspiration for the name.
About 6 months after we met I finished up the track but there was still one or two things that weren’t right with it… and then 6 months after that I had friends who were reminding me about it, and I eventually finished it.
It’s funny ‘cause I rarely play that track during my sets but I remember in Philly there was this kid at the front of the dance floor freaking out. Every 20 minutes for two hours he would hand me his phone with a message typed in that said, “Please play ‘Storm’?” So in the last 15 minutes of my set there was the perfect opportunity to play it and he basically cried in front of me. So yeah, I guess I just needed that little push to play it.
Last question, do you condition?
Dude, I have no idea what I’m doing with it. I need to learn. There’s a learning curve with curly hair, it has a mind of it’s own.
Thanks for reading!