Interview: Justin Jay
Justin Jay has had a quick rise to underground fame since being discovered by Claude Von Stroke a few years ago and descending the ladder into the world of underground music.
His style incorporates a new, entirely West Coast, sound into the rhythmic beats normally associated with the Dirtybird label. His music allows a connection between the more serious underground tones and funkier feel good tracks which illuminate the dance floor in smiles. I think my favorite moment concerning Justin Jay’s music was actually during a recent Uber ride I had. I took control of the aux chord and said, “So who wants to hear my favorite song?” Everyone just kind of looked at me, slightly concerned as they are not champions of underground music like me, and in the silence as I hooked up my phone to the stereo of the Prius I could hear them thinking, “Here we go again.”
I pressed play on “I Can’t Complain” a track on Justin’s new album Fantastic Voyage and released on his new label by the same name. The silence continued in a new way as the track began and everyone in the car, including the driver, started grooving and had this undeniable smile beaming across his/her face. As the song ended and our Uber pulled up the driver said, “Seriously though, I NEED that song.” It was such a unifying LA moment. Justin Jay’s music is what LA sounds like to me: cruising around late at night down normally clogged freeways while the city whispers to you in the back seat and palm trees whirl by freeway exits. Justin Jay is an artist born and bred of Southern California energy and his music spreads those good vibes to all who hear it. We had the opportunity to chat with him after an amazing weekend at Dirtybird Campout about his life as an artist and his new label Fantastic Voyage. Here is what Justin has to say:
“Dude… we only have an hour and a half! What are gonna have to do?”
At Campout you had to play three times longer during your live set than originally slotted when J-Phlip was unable to perform. How do you improvise in that sort of situation when you are already on stage?
Well it wasn’t a full live performance, rather it was a hybrid where I was dj-ing with moments of live music interspersed. It was actually perfect because we could play for hours since we have so much material. Initially that was really stressful— We thought, “Dude… we only have an hour and a half! What are gonna have to do?” We’d had to compromise and squeeze so much shit in and that was really stressful because I had so many homies out for the campout to perform alongside me. It was a miracle that we got to play longer because everyone got to plays songs and I think all of my friends had really amazing experiences which is super important to me.
That’s so awesome. Your set was actually one of my favorite ones of the entire weekend because it was so unique in structure and so collaborative.Which is what I felt about the entire Fantastic voyages album. How did being a part of the uniquely collaborative community in Dirtybird inspire you to create this new sound on your album?
When I first started putting music up on dirty bird I was Ep-ing and I was a freshman in college. It was a total dream come true: Claude Von Stroke likes my music!? But, it was at the time when EDM was for the first time starting to take hold in America in the 21st century in a big way. At the time, I didn’t really have many homies who listened to underground house and techno music. So, I was kind of lonely when I was making beats, but it forced me to become friends with people who liked music even if it wasn’t the same kind of music as me. At first I was a little snobby, but I really opened up and became super super open minded over time to types of music I thought I would never give a chance. That kind of sums up the album.
What then inspired you to go beyond that to this new hybrid set which exists somewhere between Dj-ing and performing the music live?
One of my closest friends from college is this guy Josh Taylor, he’s a singer songwriter and was always writing songs on his ukulele. We were roommates our sophomore year after having pledged the same fraternity the year before. Here we were: two sensitive music kids in a frat, even though I was into underground house and techno music and he was into John Mayer and Jack Johnson, we still became really good friends. Our last semester of college is when we started the Fantastic Voyages album accidentally. We started a song on a Monday and finished it that weekend just in time for our show. Then did the same thing the weekend after. Then a semester later we had half the album completely done. It’s crazy how quickly it all came together. From creating to performing, it’s all just been in the spirit of tossing unlikely influences together in the blender and enjoying it.
We were both in college in LA at the same time. Personally, I noticed this steady shift towards more electronic sounds as I progressed in school and was introduced to underground music in my friends attic during a house party. How did these same sorts of LA parties influence your music?
I was so lucky to have grown up in LA and to have gone to college in LA because most of my nights out when I was in school I was going to these amazing underground warehouse parties. There were so many great ones. Eduardo Castillo’s Voodoo parties, for example, were some of the best parties I had ever been to. There was this whole warehouse scene which was just insane. A Club Called Rhonda, 5 years ago was just life changing. There we so many good nights on that dance floor with artists like Chez Demier. I was the kid who couldn’t find any friends to go to parties who were my age. So I went to my first two warehouse parties solo. My first one was Ian Pooley at an Incognito warehouse party. This is so surreal now because this summer I got to play an Incognito warehouse party with Jimpster who is one of my all time favorite DJs and artists. We put out two songs from the Fantastic Voyage Album on Free Range, which is his label. It ended up being one of my favorite sets I’ve ever done. We played for 3 hours and then I played b2b with Jimpster. It was the biggest dream come true ever.
How did you carry that with you into playing parties around the world? How do you bring that LA attitude to the parties you have played in places like Ibiza and around Europe?
I haven’t been to Europe for a while; but I think my Dj style is less defined by warehouse parties and actually more defined by LA house parties. When I first played I would play for my high school friends in someone’s living room or in someone’s backyard. I always liked underground dance music and I was initially playing for people who didn’t necessarily “like it”. It became a really fun challenge: how can I trick people into enjoying the type of music that I like. That’s kind of the point of Dj-ing. Whatever kind of music the Dj likes, if he plays it in the right way, he can trick you to dance to almost anything. I think the key to that is in the vibe and the energy of the party, being sensitive to the crowd, and willingness to take risks. It’s a never ending kind of quest to master that sort of art. It’s a really beautiful thing.