Origins Featured Artist: Justin Jay

Photos by Louis Colato

Origins Festival took over Rawhide Western Town this past November 17th, the inaugural festival’s lineup boasting a wonderland with the likes of Duke Dumont, Lane 8, Nora en Pure, Sean Watson, and other heavy-hitters in the realm of House & Techno. Among the showstopper of an itinerary was Justin Jay: LA-based producer, DJ, and as-of-late, Fantastic Voyage band leader! Festival Squad had the chance to catch up with him before his 7pm set on Saturday to chat about the past, present, and future of his journey with music.

So without further adieu- Justin Jay!

Justin Jay @ Origins 2018

Festival Squad: First of all, thank you for taking time during your busy schedule to sit down with us at Festival Squad. Welcome back to Arizona!

We caught your Fantastic Voyage Mini Festival at Shady Park this past Spring and were absolutely blown away by the live band element as well as the energy of the performance. Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea for The Fantastic Voyage came about?

Justin: So it started in college… I had this homie Josh Taylor and we were kind of those two sensitive, music guys in our fraternity. I was into House & Techno, and he was into the singer-songwriter, Jack Johnson and John Mayer kind of stuff, – we were kind of equally out of place at these parties where everyone seemed to want Drake and EDM. Our music was so different from each other’s, but were both equally just not into the frat party bangers, you know.

Our senior year of college, we decided to try to make some music together, and I was really interested in the aspect of singing and songwriting. Josh brought in our guitar-player homie, Ben, who was also in our frat. The last semester of college we spent every day together and made an album. It was such an inspiring moment to get interested in live music and the realm of singing/ songwriting. The vision that came for the Fantastic Voyage was inspired by the fact that Josh had his own project called Josh Taylor and The Cozie boys, and I was doing my Dirtybird House & Techno stuff, all the while Ben was interested in making music too.

I taught them all about house music, and they started making tracks and stuff. The idea for the Fantastic Voyage was a way for me and all of my homies to collaborate, but it was cool because if they wanted to do their own thing, they could still do that as well. So its kind of like Dirtybird- there’s all these DJ’s. It’s the same thing for us- we have the chance to both play as a group together and still work independently too.

It was cool that you mention the Shady Park Mini Festival; that was SUCH a big deal because it was the first time we got to really implement the big vision. It was the first time that Josh did some of the “Josh Taylor and the Cozie Boys” songs as well as an acoustic set with him and Ben, at what is traditionally a house and techno party. Everyone else in the band also had moments to DJ. Josh and I did a live set with our band, playing all the songs from our album. I got to do a set with the songs my album. The coolest thing about it was that we had about six or seven homies there, but with that, there were 3 different live shows and 5 different DJ sets. I got to DJ too and I LOVE DJing!

We were so appreciative that people were down to stay for a while, you know, it was a 12-hour day. We were so tired. That was the first time that we ever did it and I have to say, Shady Park here in Arizona couldn’t possibly be a better place to have done it. The enthusiasm that people who like house music have for it is so dope and I love that venue, it’s come to be one of my favorite places in the country, – so much fun!

Justin Jay @ Origins 2018

Festival Squad: Yeah, Shady Park is a second home for us music-fueled locals out here. It’s tiny and hom-ey, but has just enough space to get your groove on.

Festival Squad: So you’re definitely one of those artists that seems to do it all. We’ve seen your DJ sets, we’ve seen your live band sets, and we simply just can’t get enough. Where do you see yourself in 10 years with it all?

Justin: Dude, I have no idea. Definitely still gonna be wingin’ it. To put it into perspective, its really crazy cause artists like Claude VonStroke are 20 years older than me. Saying that doesn’t even sound real, that’s so many years! So all I can say is I have no idea, it can go so many ways.

In the short term, I just wanna make as much music as I can, get as good at that as I can- keep learning as much as I can! Improving at things like making music, singing, or playing with my band. I also just wanna see all of the guys in the band realize their dreams musically along with that. Hopefully, as a crew, we can just keep growing and growing. So yeah, that’d be dope!

Festival Squad: The future is looking so bright already!

We’ve seen you pop up on some amazing lineups this year, hitting the likes of Electric Forest, Snowglobe, and Holy Ship- just to name a few. Which has been your favorite to perform at so far and why?

Justin: Forest was really dope. Dude, we got to do Bonnaroo this year – that was crazy! I don’t know,- there have been so many good ones!

Festival Squad: *cough cough*  3-hour set at Campout*cough cough*

Justin: Wow, yeah, that one was a really big deal for us too. Now that you mention it, Campout was definitely one of the boldest highlights of the year. Just the whole weekend, it was so much. It was kinda crazy; with that 3-hour thing we brought in a lot of different homies to do different things. So we had about 15 people as far as musicians go, then each person had a guest or two, – that makes for about 30 people squadded up. Homies had their high school crew, college crew, other people, and we were just a FORCE at the festival, having SO much fun.

Electric Forest was also crazy cause we got to perform so many times, whether it be live or DJing and stuff, just so many sets. Have you been before?

Festival Squad: Yeah it’s just incredible how many stages they have out there- so much room for activities!

Justin:  Dude, it was wild cause I’ve never been before and it’s like there’s a festival in the campgrounds, it’s just crazy. The RV sets, they’re like the best part! It’s also cool how at that festival, people are just DOWN! You know, to do like random stuff. For example, Mija asked me if I wanted to play dubstep with her at one of her festival sets. And it was really fun, she came to me and was like “I have two sets”, so you know,  “Justin, come play!”. And I was like “Dude, this is the best!”.

Festival Squad: It’s kinda like, “Wow, I didn’t know that I have these wubbz in me.”

Justin: *laughs* I really didn’t, so sick!

Festival Squad: Are there any festivals or destinations that are big on your wish list to perform at for the future?

Justin:  Dude, let’s see. You know, it’s interesting because I played the Do Lab stage at Coachella and I mean technically, that’s separate from the festival anyways. So I guess Coachella would be a cool one to play again. But I mean honestly, the Do Lab stage seems to be the best one out there so we’ll see.

Honestly, I feel like I’ve been really lucky this year with festivals. Right now, I think it would be fun to DJ a bunch more in Europe. I could play some really weird stuff that would scare people out here, or realistically maybe just bore people. *laughs *

Festival Squad: That would be a fun one. Like what’s happening?! “This isn’t the Justin Jay we know” *laughs*

Justin Jay: It would be really fun. It’s interesting because with the band, for instance, it’s like the most fun shows are the small ones. We did a small run of shows before Forest that my management team was like “Dude, these shows are too small, –  you shouldn’t do them.”. And I was like “Nah, I really wanna”. It was a bunch of places I hadn’t played before, but we did it driving together as a band in a van, which I had never done before! We’re talking almost like dive bars, real small like “sweat dripping from the ceilings”,- you know.  It’s just so much fun to be in those kinds of situations, where it’s like people are sweating on you and you’re just SO IN IT! Really tight, I fuck with that.

Festival Squad:  We’ll be looking out for more of those, the intimate shows always seem to be the most enticing lately!

Let’s rewind a couple years. What were you like growing up in your teenage years? Have you always seen yourself on a career path based on music?

Justin: Yeah, so let’s talk music and what it meant for me when I was in those years. I felt like I was maybe an 8th grader who was lost, -school sucks, parents are lame,- all of that. I wasn’t really doing anything; I was just kind of lost. I don’t know, I guess I was kind of sad, not inspired by anything. Music really got me out that 8th grade funk that I was in, and continued to be something that would make me feel great. If I was ever not feeling great, getting lost and making music was something that would get me out of it- and that’s still true!

I feel like I didn’t know that all of this stuff was going to happen, but I knew that having music as a part of my life was guaranteed in some way. That’s why it’s just so awesome! At the very least, something good could happen to you and you want to make music about it, or something bad could happen; either way, YOU WIN at having a song! It’s just so great, I love music.

Festival Squad:  We feel the music addiction too, for sure! It’s a great outlet both for producers and listeners all the same.

So we just have to say this, you are a sample KING! We love the jazz, funk, and soul elements that you weave into your own unique twist on the genre of house music. What have been some of your biggest influences and inspirations on this journey in finding your sound?

Justin: Dude, yeah. Daft Punk was what really got me into electronic music before I even knew what it was. I was growing up listening to a lot of like soul, funk, and disco sounds, and Daft Punk was like that, -but there were ROBOTS! I didn’t know what it was but it planted a seed, and it’s still a humungous inspiration to me.

So in terms of right now, a little less core defining than from when I was a kid, – I have a new album that I’m finishing up, inspired by a bunch of random stuff. This one I really never understood for the longest time, but Mac Demarco– I’m now obsessed! What really did me in was watching videos of him interacting with people on stage and seeing how big of a goof he is, and how people love him for it. Then, I was like “Oh, I actually also really love this music”.  I’m really into his song- writing too, it’s cool.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been pretty inspired by cool psych rock stuff, starting with Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. When I first heard it, I was like “Woah, this stuffs crazy”. More recently, there’s this one dude that comes to mind that’s really cool. His artist name is Vinyl Williams, it’s funny because I think he’s the grandson of this composer named John Williams, who did Star Wars and stuff. His grandson’s name is Linyl, but he goes by Vinyl Williams. It’s basically just like cool, LA-style, psych rock that my homies put me onto.

Very recently, though it hasn’t manifested itself in terms of me creating something that’s directly inspired by it,- I’ve taken this mini dive back into cheesy 2000s dance music, you know who The Vengaboys are?

Justin Jay @ Origins 2018

Festival Squad:  Hell yeah, that stuffs so groovy!

Justin:  You do?! You know, the “Six Flags Song” that goes like “doo-doo-doo-do-doo-doo”

*cue singa-long sesh*

Festival Squad: *laughs* I can see this killer house track forming in my head already!

Justin: Yeah, stuff like *sings* “Do you think you’re better off alone”, by Alice DJ or something. All that shit sounds the same and it’s so cheesy, but I’m really into it right now, I don’t know why.

Or I do know why, -I’m homies with Mija and at one time within our text banter, she sent me a text of The Vengaboys “Boom Boom, I want you in my room”. And I was basically just like Yep, this is cool again. Thank you, Mija!

Festival Squad: Can’t wait to check out what you make of this blast into the past, it’s gonna be so much fun!

What is your favorite song that you’ve ever made or collaborated on with?

Justin:  I’m super biased because last night I started and kinda finished a song that I’ve listened to so much. Normally, if I make something and I’m really into it, I will listen to it the whole drive home from where I was working on the music. So, let’s say 35 minutes- that’s a long time to listen to a song. The song that I made last night- I went inside the house and kept listening to it. I’m obsessed. A big part of it is because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever made before; it was my first time working with a vocalist other than Josh Taylor. This girl, she just has the most killin’ pop/ R&B sort of voice. This song, I feel, is Neo-soul inspired. My friend Benny Bridges played bass on it and we put on it an envelope filter pedal like Thundercat would do, like “wop-wop-wop”. It’s really sick- I’ve never worked with a vocalist that wasn’t a homie of mine, or someone with these real kind-of pop sensibilities.

It was weird because I was writing the chorus and was like “Damn, some of these lyrics might be kinda cheesy”, and if I was singing it by myself than I would be like “I don’t know about this”. But then she sang them… and I was like “Holy shit!”. It’s crazy. It was super interesting because she wrote a verse and a bridge on it, then I was looking at the lyrics feeling kind of unsure about them. But then she started singing and I was like “Wow!”. It’s cool to see how, as a songwriter, everyone can be kinda different with what feels right for ‘em. You can just feel if something is authentic to someone and that’s all that matters- if it’s true to you, then go for it!

So to answer the question, that’s my favorite song right now.

Festival Squad:  We’ll be on the lookout, can’t wait to hear this new track!

So to close off- what’s coming next? Any upcoming collaborations you are particularly excited about?

Justin: Dude, yeah! Let’s see. Well I mean, I feel like the biggest thing is this album, which this song will probably be on it. It’s weird because I’m already at this point like “No more starting new songs, we’re taking this thing home”, but I mean this one is already pretty much done.  But, yeah, the album is fun. It’s a lot more collaborative with my band-mates. I didn’t have the band together when I made the last album; I had Ben playing guitar and my homie Henry played drums in a couple songs. This album, though, my friend Sam’s playing bass in a couple songs and my friend Danny’s playing keys in a couple songs, such a big deal!

I’ve been really into guitar lately. It always hurt my hands when I was a kid, but lately over the last couple of years I’ve been slowly but surely trying to pick it up. So, on this album, I’m playing guitar in a couple songs. There’s even one where I wrote the whole song on guitar. There are all these awesome parts to it and I’ve even played it live. It’s so crazy to me because I have no idea what I’m doing, – so that’s a ton of fun.

In terms of collabs, I’ve just recently made some songs with Sirus Hood. He’s put out some stuff on Dirtybird, and he’s such a homie. They’re dope! I love collabbing and I’m hoping to do more of it soon.

Festival Squad: Any hints to when the next album will be dropping? We can’t wait to see what you all have been working on!

Justin: Not for the album, but I think we’re gonna put out the first single in the first part of this upcoming year. But yeah, gotta get it done!

Festival Squad: Looking forward to it. Thanks for chatting with us, Justin! Can’t wait to groove at your set tonight! 

Photo by Carlos Lopez

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