Behind The Beat: Jai Wolf
I got to chat briefly with Jai Wolf on Holy Ship in January, but it was nice to actually sit down with him and pick his brain about his creative process. The guy is a true artist, with high standards for himself and a lot of diversity in his music background.
Check out his newest single “Drive,” and be sure to catch him on his “Somewhere in a Forest” tour. If you can’t see him this time around, don’t you worry – he’s being killing the festival circuit, so you’ll be sure to get your chance soon.
Only The Beat: So first off man, thanks for doing this interview with Only The Beat. Glad to have you in Seattle.
Jai Wolf: No problem.
OTB: To start things off, what’s the first festival you remember going to as an attendee?
JW: I went to Bamboozle in 2009, which doesn’t exist anymore actually because they went bankrupt. They did a lot of pop punk acts, like blink-182 and stuff like that. People who were headlining that year, it was Fall Out Boy. It could have been No Doubt. No Doubt might have been the next year, I’m not sure. I saw Kid Cudi that day. And he was like nobody, this was before the album came out. So he was just on a small stage. He played a lot of mixtape stuff. Asher Roth. I saw a bit of him. LMFAO, Cobra Starship. I was into hip hop, but I was also into pop punk bands. so like Fall Out Boy, blink-182, All Time Low, Green Day, Cobra Starship. I was super young and I went completely sober, but it was a really fun experience to see five or six of my favorite acts in one day.
OTB: Going off of that, it definitely sounds there’s a lot musical influence from a lot of different places in what you play and what you produce. What did you listen to growing up?
JW: I come from a classical back ground. I grew up playing violin. So listened to lot of classical music growing up, pretty much for like the first fifteen years of my life. I got into pop music really late. So I got into blink-182 and those guys in high school. I missed the Britney/NSYNC era. When my friends were listening to that, I was listening to classical music. I was getting into a lot hip hop too. And what I was drawn towards in pop punk was the melodies. They’re really catchy and simple. You play a blink-182 song at a party and everyone is singing along. Because I come from a classical background, I can destruct why a song is catchy. So I took those elements that I thought were really catchy in pop punk music and I transmit that into electronic music. When I wrote “Indian Summer” I was weirdly thinking about blink-182 and a lot of the melodies that they use.
And then in terms of drums, I love a lot of hip hop music. Kayne West is huge figurehead in my life and I really look up to him. Even the beat for “Indian Summer” is a hip hop beat. That just comes from listening to a lot of Kanye West and Kid Cudi and stuff like that. It’s stuff that people might necessarily think, “oh, Indian Summer…that sounds like Kanye.” It doesn’t. It’s more sort of the DNA of the song. And that’s what I try to focus in on when I pull influences from other genres.
OTB: Now I feel like I see your name on every festival lineup. Any bucket list ones that you haven’t hit yet?
JW: Yeah, I did Do Lab at Coachella last year which was really cool, but I haven’t done actual Coachella yet. Hopefully one day. Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo. I did Bonnaroo last year, but again it was like an art car stage. Kalliope stage. It was awesome. Literally life-changing. But to be on the actual lineup is one of my goals. That’s the big three right there. I definitely doing a lot of similar sized festivals, but in different places.
OTB: Burning Man maybe someday?
JW: I would be down! Kalliope is a Burning Man art car. They bring that stage from Burning Man to Bonnaroo. I had a lot of fun on the Kalliope stage, so I would love to do Kalliope at Burning Man.
OTB: Would you do Holy Ship again?
JW: I would love to. I hoping that they ask me back next year. I had such a fun time. It’s funny, because I’ve known about it for years obviously. Even before I was doing Jai Wolf, I’d watch Holy Ship recap videos. It’s an iconic thing in the electronic community. To be a part of that this year was one, an honor; and two, really life-changing. You can see why it’s so culty and fun, people getting into the spirit of it. It’s really people that are hardcore music fans, and they’re there for the music. They’re not just there to party. I mean, it’s expensive. They’re dedicating a lot of money and time to give up work basically, and just go on a vacation in January. Even meeting fans on the ship, I could tell they were really there for the music, which I thought was really cool. Hopefully again.
OTB: So that ridiculous b2b2b2b2b2b set in the theater…did that come from everyone just being in the theater and you guys going, “okay! Who wants a turn?”
JW: On previous Holy Ships, I think a lot of that stuff happens spontaneously and I think that was something that was pretty spontaneous. There was some shuffling going around. My first set got cut a little short, and they said “we’ll make it up and that’s your spot.” As the days went on, they said let’s see what happens. And I didn’t mind, I thought that was really cool. To be a part of that mega b2b. I might have played three songs, everyone’s taking a turn so once you get down around fifteen minutes have passed before you’re playing again. It was so manic and crazy. And there were just legends. Floss and Peking Duk.
OTB: Tommy Trash!
JW: My buddy Slumberjack was there. Snails and Valentino Khan. People that I looked up to and people I have been a fan of. Fun fact. I’ve been a fan of Valentino Khan before he was picked up by OWSLA, before he did Bubble Butt with Major Lazer. I found him randomly on Soundcloud. So just to get to be on the stage with them and just throw down dubstep bangers was a good time.
OTB: Kind of get back to your roots a bit, right?
JW: For sure!
OTB: “Indian Summer” is a really good representation of why people are so drawn to your music. It really sounds unlike anything else that’s out there. What goes into you staying so original?
JW: That’s really tough, because I struggle with that too. For me it’s mostly just making sure I take a step back and evaluate what I’m writing and make sure it’s not too similar to whatever is popular and trendy right now. When you’re starting out, it’s easy to do that. Someone you look up to puts out a track and you want to make a track that sounds like that. I’ve been there. And a lot of up and coming producers start like that. But then at some point you have to diverge and find your own sound.
I can’t even put into words how I do that process. I think it stems from awareness and being sure that you’re not completely ripping another popular artist’s sound. For me that comes from listening to different types of music. It’s an exercise I’ve been trying to do since September. Last year, especially after “Indian Summer,” I was going through a lot of writer’s block. It’s easy to get sucked into “hey, I could just make something similar to whatever is popular right now.” I was listening to a lot of music outside of the electronic sphere and trying to find inspiration there. Basically less listen to the stuff on my Soundcloud feed and more from Spotify playlists.
OTB: What are you listening to right now?
JW: This morning when I jumped on my flight I was listening to a lot of Tycho. I’m a big Tycho fan. Halsey, she’s an alt pop artist in that Lana del Ray kind of space. Troy Sivan, he’s this alt pop guy from Australia who’s really talent. Different stuff like that. New Kanye is super dope.
OTB: And then “Drive” just came out. It’s supposed to come out tomorrow, but Fader realized it today. I think I saw it was already thirty thousand plays on Soundcloud.
JW: I haven’t really looked at that because I was on the plane when it came out. I just kind of looked at my twitter feed, so I haven’t go on Soundcloud or anything. That’s exciting that people have really responded to the song.
OTB: What’s the story behind “Drive?”
JW: As I said, I had some writer’s block after “Indian Summer.” I was actually listening to a lot of Tycho and what I liked about Tycho is these dizzying hypnotic guitar melodies and you listen to and just get lost in. That concept is really cool. I want to write something where it’s kind of hypnotic and repeating, which is at the root a pop thing. Like “work work work work work…” you’re repeating something and it’s catchy. So I wanted to write a melody that was catchy and you’d just get lost in it. The song originally was supposed to be six minutes long. We had to cut it down to like four minutes, fifty seconds.
It’s an instrumental I made in December, and we thought “you should get someone to sing on this.” My management hit up a bunch of different artists and Chain Gang liked the song. And when I got that email that was crazy because I like Chain Gang a lot.
OTB: You’ve used him in mixes you’ve done before, right?
JW: I did! “Sleepwalking.” Which also is a big song in Grand Theft Auto V. All the commercials they use have that song. And also in the game, you steal a car and it’s playing on the radio. I’ve known about the band for three years. It’s one guy, but he has a live band that performs a lot.
So saying that he liked the demo was big for me. I can’t believe that I look up to liked something I wrote. So he wrote something on top of it. It was very, very demo. The drums were not as strong; the synths were not as built out; but he liked something about it. And that kind of goes back to how I approach music. A lot of that stuff comes in the DNA, what I’m drawn too. It’s cool to see that another creative was drawn to the melody. It wasn’t necessarily big and epic just yet, but he knew something was there. He sent the vocals back, I took them, worked with it, made the track a little stronger and bigger and heavier. There was a lot of back and forth. Odesza did a lot of their input, because it’s on their record label. They’re amazing with that; they did the same with “Indian Summer” too.
It was really organic. We did a bunch of phone calls. I haven’t met Chain Gang yet. I’m meeting him next week in LA. But we clicked really easily. He seemed to understand my artistic vision, which I think is important when it comes to collaboration. It was just very exciting, man. I was so stoked that he was stoked. That synergy right there is really key. Finally made it, man! Today’s the day. Been waiting for four months and it’s really exciting to finally get here.
OTB: I love it, man. I was very excited to see it come up.
JW: Thank you, man!
OTB: What can we expect from you in the future? More releases coming out, more collaborations?
JW: I can’t say anything about that, sadly. A lot of that is under wraps. We have “Drive” for now, which is exciting. I haven’t put out anything original since “Indian Summer.”
OTB: Right on. Just to wrap things up here, a Cinco de Mayo related question. Tacos or burritos?
JW: Oh, that’s so tough, man. Can I choose the Quesarito at Taco Bell?
OTB: Is that…a quesadilla wrapped into a burrito?
JW: Basically. It’s really good. You’ve never had one? Do you go to Taco Bell often?
OTB: (ashamed) I don’t go to Taco Bell ever…
JW: Okay, this weekend you need to eat a Quesarito! I used to always get the Crunch wrap supreme! Which is basically like a big quesadilla type thing. But now it’s the Quesarito that is the best item on the menu.
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