Painting Pictures With Turntables; A Conversation With DJ Logic
DJ Logic grew up as Jason Kibler in the Bronx, New York during the revolution of urban music that spawned the beats and free verse known as hip-hop. At age 14 Santa dropped a set of turntables under the tree, and within months Logic was the resident DJ, playing parties, dances, and graduations. As Logic has come of age he has changed the perceptions of what a DJ is, and what turntables can do.
Instead of rehashing others’ music, Logic creates entirely new, heavily jam-influenced compositions flowing out of live performances. In Project Logic he is joined by four accomplished musicians of eclectic tastes to create a sound reminiscent of a modern day fusion insurrection. Casey Benjamin who began playing sax at age 8, and performing professionally by the time he was 12, plays sax, flute, Rhodes and guitar. Stephen Roberson lays down the furious fast break beat drumming segments that serve as the foundation for the rest of Logic’s crew to travel outbound. Kyle Spark fills the thump that all house music needs with his dexterous bass work. Rounding off the Project is Money Mike Weitman, whose keys complement Logic’s spacey soundscapes.
With Project Logic, Logic digests the lessons of Miles Davis, acting more as a conductor than a lead musician. Logic subtly helps push the sounds in various directions that touch on jazz, hip-hop, funk, world, drum and bass while constantly orchestrating the sound as a whole. He refuses to be the focus, and instead blends his colors into the big picture.
The efforts of DJ Logic’s band are manifested on Logic’s latest release The Anomaly. The album was recorded over three sessions broken up by long touring spans. The mix of special guests, ranges from Mino Cinelu (Miles Davis, Sting) on percussions, Suphala on tablas, John Medeski on keys, Eric Krasno (Soulive) on guitar, and underground east coast MC Subconscious on the mic. Take all these amazing musicians, put them in the studio with production assistance by Scotty Hard of Wu-Tang Clan, and old friend Melvin Gibbs, and you get The Anomaly.
AK: I want to jump into your history a little bit. I was curious what it was like for you when you were in high school and you hooked up with Richie Harrison, (who formed the band Eye and I with Melvin Gibbs, Gary Pulson, DK Dyson, and eventually Logic) and you played with a band for the first time?
L: It was a little shocking, you know because I was young, and it was an experience-type of thing for me. Hip-hop was just happening, and I was really into that, and just DJ’ing and stuff. I saw it as another stepping-stone. It was like a little bell went off in my head and said, just check it out.’ And at first I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out with guitars and this and that.*You know I basically just found myself listening to what was going on around me, and I tried to find colors to interact with what they were doing, because we also had a vocalist, guitarist, bass, and I was learning things musically like the verse, the chorus and the bridge because I never went to music school, so I was trying to find different things to blend into those different sections. And things just worked out well, and at that time there was really nobody doing that, so I just looked at it as something fun to do, just a hobby, and it turned out to be more than that. The band got signed to Sony, Epic, and we were touring with the Psychedelic Furs, and Ice-T, Living Color, so I was like Damn from a hobby into something serious’. So I started to take it really serious, and just performing in front of people and just hearing the response from the people, because at first people didn’t really understand what I was doing. From that I hooked up with Vernon Reid from Living Color and started doing stuff with him. And he was influencing me because he was always doing the next thing. He came out of the whole rock thing, but he wanted to do something totally different, and he started up his own thing called Mask, that album was totally different from the ordinary, and it received great response. So from just being around him, and working with him was an amazing thing. I learned a lot from Vernon. And then from Vernon, that’s how I met Medeski, Martin, and Wood.*
AK: At CBGB’s
*L: Yeah, I met Billy Martin, and he was checking me out on the stage while I was working with the drummer, and he thought it would be a cool idea to get together and do something. So I gave him my number, and he called me when the time was right, and that was when they were doing the Shackman release at the Knitting Factory. I did the last 3 weeks out of that month, and when I came there they just welcomed me with arms wide open, it was sweet. I came with a lot of different records, ones I thought would be comfortable to blend into what they were doing, and I brought the right records and things just worked out. The audience was just digging it and vibing it, and to this day I’m still trying to get a CD of that show, because it was so amazing, I just got so into it.
From that it was the Combustication record. And things worked out real cool. They had stuff already recorded that I just played on top of, and then there was stuff we just did improv and things turned out great. We really vibe well together, even on stage there is such a good vibe, interacting with everybody from me and Billy, to myself and John, to me and Chris everybody had a great connection. It’s always awesome playing with them and seeing them when I have the opportunity to. When I’m on the road we’ll always connect and just kick it.*
AK: When you were at the Knitting Factory with them you had never really heard them before?
L: I heard them when they opened up for Vernon, but when I heard the Shackman record I was like damn this is funky’ (little chuckle), they were playing grooves that I was collecting on records, they were hitting the jazz and the hip-hop oriented into it. That really got me into it, and with the improv, being so creative. And Billy was so funky on the drums, a whole lot of ideas came out of me from there. They were like the picture on the canvas, and I was just coming in with the colors like, green, red, orange,’ that type of thing it was real good.
AK: I think Billy Martin grew up in hip-hop as well.
L: Oh yeah, Billy’s a head, he’s actually got a badass break beat album that just came out.
AK- Now I’d like to talk a bit about your gear. What do you bring on the road?
L: Well I use Technics 1200’s or 1210’s, I have a Gemini Mixer right now, but the mixer thing varies from Vestax to a Rane mixer, on the road it gets damaged, so I’m going through the mixer thing right now. My effects I use the Kaoss, by Korg that is a great little device. You know it loops and has like 50 different effects, and I use it to its capacity basically, I try to enjoy it, and put it up into the mix with everything else. That’s one of my key little elements right there. I also use an Akai MPC 2000. That’s my little workstation with my loops, triggers, like the 808’s, and the 909 kick for the house, and stuff like that.
AK: What about your records, are those pressed for you?
L: Some of my records are pressed, like the show records, then I have my mix records, and some records are just records I’ve found on the road, through thrift stores, or mom and pop stores- sound records, and environmental records, or spoken word records, ethnic records from different cultural backgrounds and stuff like that.
AK: How many different records do you generally use in one show?
L: Probably about 20-30 records.
AK: And do you kind of have that mapped out before you get out there?
L: Yeah because I put the records that I use for the show to one side, but then I also have a miscellaneous section for stuff because we might go somewhere that we wouldn’t expect, and some new colors might come up and then I just reach into the miscellaneous records that might have something interesting on them. I might take a jazz record, like a Rahsaan Roland Kirk record with him free styling on the flute and do a little beat-back spin thing and throw that up in there, with a drum and bass groove or something, just being creative in a way.
AK: That brings me to another question. How do you come up with your compositions, how are they written?
L: Just by vibing with the crowd and just being a DJ. Picking the right records when you go into the store. Just being a producer, finding the right track that you feel people can nod their head to.
AK: So you kind of build off the vibe at the live show and turn that into a song?
L: Yeah, just like in the studio. When we went in to record The Anomaly, I went in with the band, we recorded a couple of different grooves, and then I also created some tracks at home. Some pre-production stuff. Then I called in some special guests, people that I thought would be comfortable on certain tracks and we did a couple of takes of that. Then phase three was where I went in and took things to the computer, put in some overdubs, and just arranged them into a song, a groove, and a whole track.
AK: So most of what you’re doing on stage is based on improv?
L: I might write down a set list here and there but then sometimes things don’t always go according to the way I write them down. I’ll be so much in the mode that I’ll be like let’s take it there, or let’s keep it there, stay on that vibe. Like a conductor with a stick, OK no drums’ (laughing) or stop the sax’ or stop the keys’ you just want to keep things moving.
AK: It must be nice to play with such talented musicians too.
L: Totally, and them wanting to play with a turntable as the leader, and just getting the respect from them on that is really special. There’s not a lot of DJ’s or musicians that can be in that situation, and especially to have these guys around me, they’re wonderful cats and talented and everything. So it’s just been real good.
AK: I wanted to ask you in general if you think this “organic jam band world” is fairly open minded to the turntables, or do you find yourself being rubbed the wrong way at all?
L: They’ve been REALLY open minded, I’ve been playing with a lot of different people. I’ve played with String Cheese, moe., I did some stuff with John Fishman, and Warren Haynes, Oteil, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. I did some stuff with the New Deal, Soulive, and the reception has been really good. People have been accepting it very well, and I appreciate it. And just seeing how the musicians view the turntables as an instrument that’s a big thing too.
AK: How about going the other way, have you been to any more traditional hip-hop venues, with more of a hip-hop crowd coming to see you and catch you with a band?
L: Yeah, I have hip-hop heads come out and check the whole scene out because sometimes they don’t understand what’s happening, so they come to the show, which is cool, and sometimes I answer those questions. But you know for me, I’m not approaching this as one little thing, it’s gotta be everything. You listen to the music, you see the show, you see where I’m going, and I’m not just into one little thing, I’m catering to everybody audience-wise.
AK: Definitely crossing boundaries.
L: Yeah, you know I love hip-hop, I love drum and bass, I love house, I love music in general.
AK: On that note, what about some of the other people I’ve seen you playing with, like Skerik how was that?
L: (Laughing) Skerik is crazy. It’s always fun jamming with him. The first time we hooked up was in Seattle with Mike Clark (Chuckling again), and I was like damn’ with his effects and just vibing with him, he’s just a wonderful cat. We talked about doing stuff together, we have some ideas we’d like to take to the studio, and I’m looking forward to that, when we both have time in our schedules and just go into a zone and have a good time.
AK: I can really see you guys doing some mind-blowing shit.
L: You know what I’m saying, that’s what we’re talking about, some MIND-BLOWING SHIT.
AK: Who else do you really dig playing with that’s on the scene right now?
L: Soulive, New Deal, Sector 9 is tight too. I jammed with them (STS9) in Boulder, and they were just off the hook. Those guys are amazing, and they are all wonderful cats. Before we got on stage it was like a huddle, one big family group thing, and I really enjoyed that. The connection right there was just like wow.’ And on stage everyone was just super nice, and super talented, it was a wonderful thing, I was glad we had a chance to connect. So I’m looking forward to doing some more stuff with those guys.
AK: Following you from your days with MMW, it’s hard not to compare Money Mike Weitman (keys for Project Logic) with Medeski.
L: Yeah, Mike is ridiculous, you know. When Medeski played on the first album, I was looking for someone in that area, and he’s a huge Medeski fan. So Mike’s vibe was super, so he was perfect, he was the cat. And he’s been with project for two years, we met in Boston, started kicking it, and from then on things have been good. He’s a really creative cat with wonderful ideas.
AK: You guys fit perfectly.
L: Every individual in the band has his own little thing. I mean you go back and look at Miles, he had Herbie (Hancock), Coltrane, McLaughlin, all these all-star cats, and everybody had their own little element, and that’s how I look at it, (Project Logic). Sometimes I have to just sit back and listen to them, because they are so funky, and find such nice grooves.
AK: I wanted to ask you how you developed your style of using the turntables as an instrument?
L: Just from my past, playing with musicians all my life. And just from growing up listening to other DJ’s, and putting it all together. Learning the mix part from influences like Grand Master Flash to Pete Rock, listening to those hip-hop cats, and then joining an alternative rock band at the time. Just finding my way around to different musicians, and tweaking my turntables like you would tweak a guitar, tuning wise, and just finding the right colors to blend in, not so much scratching, but just the right colors to add here and there.
AK: You mentioned a lot of hip-hop influences, who else in more traditional bands, like jazz and rock, what else has really laid heavy on you?
L: Man, I mean I’m into a lot of different bands out there. Miles, Bad Brains, Radiohead, this band called Can, I listen to Led Zeppelin, Sun Ra, Hendrix, Marley, I could go on and on, hip-hop, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, world music.AK: Do you have any big plans for where you visualize the Project going?
L: Just getting bigger, I’d like to have like an orchestra. Being a conductor with a stick, but with vinyl. Some string sections, just a whole new level musically, electronically, something amazing, just something out of the ordinary that people wouldn’t expect.