DJ Shadow, Interview
DJ Shadow - Interview
Actually, more like mid afternoon in a nearly perfect telephone interview, but whatever. Setting the scene…So, I’m sitting on my ass, watching some god-awful program that you can usually find any night of the week on Channel 4. I get up, walk over to my computer, and a message pops up; ‘Do you fancy interviewing DJ Shadow?’ Well, of course I pondered it for awhile…do I really have time for this guy? I definitely did not immediately reach for my writing pad and start drafting questions…or say ‘I’d freakin’ love to…’ and continue to sing his praises and declare my love of him in a somewhat fanatical manner…no way. Okay, maybe a li’l bit, but hell, this guy is responsible for some truly great music, at least one of the most seminal albums of my life.
Anyway, wary of what to expect I began to think up questions that not only did I want to ask him, but that he hadn’t heard time and time again. Sh*t like, ‘Where’s your name come from?’ and ‘What inspires you’, etc, etc, all the usual piddling crap that an amoeba with ambition could think up. If you wanna know the answers to such questions, check out the ‘FAQs’ section of his website. If, however, you’d like to know the answers to some (slightly) more imaginative questions, then read on good sir, and/or madam, and ye shall not be disappointed…
Contactmusic.com: Alright Mate, How’s it going?
DJ Shadow: Alright, how are you?
CM: Yeah, good man. (Rare that they ever ask.)
CM: How’s this tour been treating you?
DJ S: Yeah good. I’ve been on the road now for almost 6 months. So, it’s been a long one, but it’s been good.
CM: Cool…how’s it feel to be in the UK? Do you enjoy coming over here?
DJ S: Yeah I do, It’s kinda where I got started, and where I first became well known. It’s rewarding to play here.
CM: What do you think of the music scene over here?
DJ S: Erm, in what sense?
CM: In the sense of how does it differ from the US?
DJ S: Erm, It’s very fast moving. You may, or may not be aware that people in the UK buy music at a much higher rate than they do, pretty much anywhere else in the world. So it’s so fast moving, and people are constantly trying out new things, and people in the US often look to the UK for a sense of coming around the corner.
CM: You’ve recently toured with Leeds band Stateless. What made you decide on them as a support, and how was it working with Chris James on the new record?
DJ S: Well basically…the way we met was that, there’s a guy called Jim Avis who is a producer, he produced Arctic Monkeys and alotta other people. He was working on their (Stateless’) EP a couple of years ago, and Jim Avis also used to be my engineer, he engineered the U.N.K.L.E record and the Private Press…So basically we were speaking one day and he said ‘Yo, I’m producing this project that’s really exciting, and I think you’d really like it…’ So he sent me a CD, and I did really like it, and it was at a time when I was starting to think who I might use on my upcoming record. So, that’s how it all got started, and I met Chris June 2005, we were in the studio. We did a couple of songs…so it was only natural that I asked them to tour with me. It just seemed to make sense.
CM: You’ve worked with some really great names over the years…Are there any other people that you’re aching to collaborate with? And how do you choose who you work with?
DJ S: The way it works for me is I never really have a wish list. It’s just that I’ll sit down and I’ll make a track, and when I’ve made a track, I sit down and I kinda think ‘Who do I think would sound good on it, who would bring something unique, and special to the track that I’ve made. It’s only at that point that I start thinking of names, and they’re not always famous names either. Sometimes they’re just people that I know, or people that nobody’s ever heard of, other times they’re people like Q-Tip. But in the case of the U.N.K.L.E record, where that was Thom Yorke, and Richard Ashcroft and people like that…a lot of those choices were made by James Lavelle.
CM: Alright, Who are your idols? And have they changed since you started making music?
DJ S: Erm…no…it’s not so much that they’ve changed; it’s just the list gets bigger. I really…I admire so many people. There are so many songs and albums that I admire…that I have borrowed ideas from, or learned a lot from. The list is endless, but if I had one person that, erm, I would say is responsible for most of what I like in music, or represents…the ideal long-term career it would be James Brown.
CM: What do you think of the current state of Hip-Hop?
DJ S: Erm…I think that, y’know…any given year since 1979, there’s (been) good hip-hop and bad hip-hop. I think there’s the same amount of good as there was 15 years ago. It’s just that there’s so much more of it now, so its just abit harder now to find the good stuff, but it is definitely there.
CM: Are there any particular artists, groups or labels that you follow avidly?
DJ S: I wouldn’t say that there’s any…I mean there are labels that I think do a good Job in general, and there are artists that I think do a good job too, but…there’s so much music out there, I try not to really…limit myself to any one label or anything like that, or any one…even genre. I like to just, sort of, let music come to me, and that seems to be plenty for me to get a grip on.
CM: You’ve been a big name on the underground scene for years…how has that changed your life? And do you think it’s affected the way you approach making music?
DJ S: Erm…No, not really…When I close the door to the studio, I try to just shut everything else out. Anything anybody’s ever said, or they’re opinions or anything like that. I just try and make something that will inspire me, and I feel I contribute to something, y’know, overall. To give back to music, is really what I try and do whenever I sit down in the studio, is just give back, and keep things rolling.
CM: Okay, Do you ever have any musical ideas that don’t fit within the ‘DJ Shadow’ moniker?
DJ S: Erm…Sometimes, sure, I guess…that’s an interesting question actually, I’ve never really been asked that. I think most of them, usually, have to do with some sort of reissue, or some sort of project, like if I wanna reissue the music of a band that I think people really need to know about. In that case I try not to use my name (DJ Shadow) because I don’t waCM my name to become an excuse for people to listen to it. I’ll probably more often use my real name for stuff like that. Or if I wanna DJ, but not have it turn iCMo some big DJ Shadow event, then sometimes I’ll use my real name.
CM: What do you think of where (James) Lavelle has taken the U.N.K.L.E sound?
DJ S: I heard the record that came out a couple of years ago (‘Never, Neverland’), but has anything come out since then?
CM: No, he’s just been releasing mixes since then…he seems to have taken it into a heavier breakbeat direction…
DJ S: Sure…y’know, U.N.K.L.E existed before me, and it will exist after me. So I was there at a certain period of time where I think we both had a particular idea about what we wanted to hear, and what we wanted to say musically. So…I mean, more power to him, whatever he wants to do.
CM: Have you ever turned down a request to produce for anyone else?
DJ S: Yeah, sure…
CM: Anyone we know?
DJ S: Erm…usually its just some big name, or like some huge pop act, or someone will ask for a remix or something, and…stuff like that doesn’t really tend to work for me. I mean, I’ll accept something if its really unexpected, or if there’s something about the project or the offer that I feel will challenge me in some way and allow me to learn something then I’ll usually say ‘yes’, but the other problem is that I usually don’t have alotta time.
CM: Do you have any records in your no doubt epic collection that you love so much that you don’t wanna touch in a production sense?
DJ S: Yeah, there’s probably quite a few. There’s…y’know…back in the 90’s when break beats were still really, really important, there were a couple of breaks that I thought were so incredible in their own right that I thought to sample them would be sort of blasphemous.
CM: In 2005 ‘Endtroducing’ was adapted into the ‘Shadow Percussion Project’, has there been any plans, that you know of, to take that any further? And did it help you see your work in a new light?
DJ S: I don’t really know much about that because it was all done without my involvement, or anything. I don’t really know what the plans are for the future of that, but I just took it for what I think it was, which was a nice compliment.
CM: How did you feel about getting into the Guinness Book of Records with ‘Endtroducing’ as being the first completely sample based record?
DJ S: I don’t know, because I’ve never seen it. I dunno if it was just in one volume, or if it’s been in subsequent volumes…I’m not sure…
CM: I think it’s in all of them now, cause it was the first record of its kind.
DJ S: I dunno…I never really thought of it in those terms, so…it’s cool I guess, but at the same time it’s kinda arbitrary.
CM: How do you feel when you hear your tracks used on T.V or adverts?
DJ S: Well, when things are used in T.V and things like that, especially in the UK, like on the BBC they just have a blanket agreement with all the record labels so that they can kinda use what they want and just pay a minimal fee. So I don’t really have any say when I’m watching T.V in the UK and you hear my stuff, which happens quite often. When it comes down to something like an advert, I usually decline. I mean I’ve probably declined something like 50 requests, and agreed to probably 3, and there are different reasons why I decline or agree, but just generally I’m really that comfortable with my music being used in adverts.
CM: What was the last record you got that totally blew you away?
DJ S: I dunno if it would be an album, per say. Also the way my listening is very non-linear, at any given time. For example at this very second my 2 favourite albums are…one is a really hardcore rap record from the bay area, the other one is ‘Crown of Creation’ by Jefferson Airplane. I listen to music in kind of a weird way, I appreciate things out of any sort of time-line…Like there are probably a couple of records that are out right now that I just haven’t had any time to get around to, and maybe I’ll get around to 9 months from now, and start raving about them, just as everyone else is kinda set up with it…but that doesn’t really bother me, that’s just kinda the way it works for me, it’s how I listen to music.
CM: When approaching your new record, ‘The Outsider’, was it a conscious decision to take your sound to a new kinda area? And has it changed the way you produce your music?
DJ S: Well the only conscious decision I made after my last record was that I wanted to make a record that wasn’t all samples, and that had vocals, and wasn’t made on the (Akai) MPC sampler…Because on ‘Endtroducing’ and the ‘Private Press’, I had very rigid technical requirements for what I was doing, and I didn’t allow myself to utilise instruments or anything like that. So when it came to this record I wanted to go completely the other way and just be really free about what I wanted to pursue, and what it was that I wanted to say. Also I wanted to make an album that really reflected what I value in music at the moment, rather than some kind of ‘be all and end all’ statement. I just wanted to make a record that sounds like what I listen to when I’m at home.
CM: In response to the criticism of the new album you said; ‘What, remake ‘Endtroducing’ over and over again!? That was never the game plan…’ What was the game plan? And where do you see it taking you next?
DJ S: Erm…The game plan can be summed up in a phrase that I came up with in ’89 when I settled on the name ‘Shadow’, after having a lot of other DJ names (Including DJ 24-Karat), and it was sorta my mission statement or manifesto which was just; ‘Hip-Hop reconstruction from the ground up.’ And what that meant is just taking my own understanding of music and hip-hop in general and applying that to whatever sonic sound-scape I’m interested in at that time, and trying to push the art form forward. So in ’96 it was relevant for me to make that kind of record, in 2006 I feel it was relevant for me to make this kind of record…and I stand completely behind all of the decisions that I’ve made on everything I’ve ever put out. I’ve never put anything out that I wasn’t 100% happy with.
CM: Yeah, you don’t wanna regret any of your own art.
DJ S: Yeah, and would I have loved for this record to be universally acclaimed? Yeah, sure, but at the same time I know I did what I had to do, and I’m also quite confident that it’s just got a bad rap. It basically just started from the fact that some people didn’t understand what ‘hyphy’ (Bay Area hip-hop scene) is, and they used that as an excuse to write off the whole record.
CM: Yeah. I guess if you stick to your guns, you’re gonna sleep better at night, but if you did something just for the fans…
DJ S: That’s another things I discovered with this records, is that there are no fans. There’re fans of records, but I don’t really tend to have fans as an artist. And that’s okay, I think that’s a much more realistic opinion to have. I mean, I mentioned Jefferson Airplane, but I’m not a fan of what Jefferson Starship did in the mid 80’s. So in that sense I can say that I’m a fan of a pocket of their work. I think that what you have to do as an artist is continually strive to make music that accurately reflects who you are, and what you value in music. You simply cannot worry about, or fret about the way things are marketed or the general mood swings of the public because you will just drive yourself mad.
CM: Finally, What is the best and worst thing about being DJ Shadow?
DJ S: I’m very happy to have a viable career 15 years on, and I’m really thankful of that. Probably the worst thing is being away from my family, my wife and kids when I tour.