The Zen of Logic
DJ Logic’s resume reads like the ultimate jamband mix tape. He’s toured with everyone from RatDog to MMW, recorded with everyone from John Popper to Vernon Reid, sat-in with everyone from Widespread Panic to Jack Johnson and remixed music by everyone from Phish to Weather Report. And those are just a few of his best pickup lines.
But since January, Jason Kibler, better known as DJ Logic, has toned down his collaborations (at least somewhat), focusing on his own music and crafting his third disc for Ropeadope Records, The Zen of Logic.
Along with producer Scott Harding, DJ Logic has created a seamless blend of hip-hop, rock, jazz, funk and jam, which also references the turntablist’s emerging interests in African and eastern music. While The Zen of Logic features a number of Logic’s most famous friends—-including John Medeski, Charlie Hunter and Antibalas—-it’s Logic’s signature scratches and emerging production skills which give the disc its texture. Sometime in between all this, the prolific DJ also found time to record his first album with John Popper, Blues Traveler bassist Tad Kinchla and Mosaic drummer Marcus Bleeke (collectively known as the John Popper Project) and hit a number of the county’s most prominent festivals. Here, DJ Logic discusses his latest studio sessions with Jambands.com and hints at his plans to articulate The Zen of Logic on the road later this year.
MG- It’s been two years since your last album, The Anomaly, hit stores. How long have you been working on your current project?
I did some pre-production in late-2005. But, we really started recording in early-2006. At first, I just got together with Scott Harding (Wu-Tang, Prince Paul) and we listened to some tracks and started sketching out where we wanted to go with our various guests and collaborations. Scotty is my partner when it comes to producing this album. He has worked with me on our last two albums, so we just throw ideas out. People were coming in and out of the recording sessions, while Scott and I put it all together.
MG- A number of different guests appear on The Zen of Logic. Who was the first performer you brought into the studio?
After the New Year, we started tracking the album. The first person who we hooked up with was John Medeski. At first, we kind of just played together and went over the sound I was looking for. The first idea I had was to have him play on this “Afro Beat” track, which features Medeski and Antibalas. I recently went through a phase listening to a lot of afro beat music from Nigeria and Senegal. I kept listening to the beats and, on this album, really tried to recreate that African sound through my programmed beats. I think it came out pretty cool and I had the Antibalas horn section and their percussionists come in and lace it.
MG- In general, did you build this set of songs around your guests or use their contributions as additional coloring?
Both. I hooked up with Charlie Hunter at Scotty’s studio. We kind of put a track together more organically called “9th Ward Blues.” Charlie and I would sit down and he’d play guitar while I programmed a beat. He didn’t play his normal axe [the eight-sting guitar]he tried some new instruments. It has a real laid-back, bluesy feel. It gave me the chills, ya know? I started having these visions of Katrina in my head—-it was right after the hurricane, so I called it “9th Ward Blues.”
MG- Now three albums into your career, how did you approach this recording session differently than your past projects?
I was really focused on my production skills. I’ve learned a lot from other musicians by playing on their albums and from just being around a lot of producers. People like Melvin Gibbs and Vernon Reed and the MMW guys. Also, from Scott Harding. I have been messing around with all this software. So, I really wanted to showcase my abilities in other ways, besides the scratching. People know me as a musician, but I wanted to turn out a track which focuses more on turntablism——to give something for the hip-hop heads. I wanted to come back to my roots when I was mixing live instrumentation with hip-hop beats and vice versa. I think this album has a lot more color than my last one. It was more about me getting into my Zen moment and kind of dissecting and creating.
MG- With that in mind, while writing The Zen of Logic, did you consider each song’s ability to translate into a live setting?
Oh, of course. I always keep all my traveling and touring in mind when I am in the studio. I think about how a song will work when done-up for a performance. I’d love to have some visuals to go up while I am performing some tracks live as well. I am always thinking about art and color—-a collage—-and I’d love to work some of that into my live show.
MG- What musicians are you hoping to tap for your new road band?
Right now, I am in the process of putting it together. It will probably be some of the guys from Project Logic, like [saxophonist] Casey Benjamin. As for a drummer, it’s a tossup. I’d love to grab Umphrey’s McGee’s drummer, Kris Myers, and have him come out for some shows or have my old drummer Stephen Roberson out with me. Kris is slamming. We played together at All Good with some of the guys from Galactic on the Ropeadope stage. I’d also like to get Scooter Warner out there again. As for bass, it would be cool to get Ron Johnson from Karl D’s band. I am still trying to get it together.
MG- In addition to the Zen of Logic, you also recently recorded an album with the John Popper Project for our own Relix Records. Can you talk a bit about that band’s genesis?
That is a crazy project! I really enjoying working with John and watching it develop. I have also noticed a lot of musicians doing DJ stuff. It’s good to see people working it both ways. It started when I did this all-star improv session with Rob Wasserman and Popper sat-in. Then, Project Logic opened for Blues Traveler down in Alabama. We really reconnected when we started playing together onstage. He was like, “we should really do something.” So, when we got back to the New York, we started doing these improvisation shows at clubs like Suite 16 and it developed from there. One thing led to another and we ended up in the studio.
MG- Are most of the songs on the album Popper originals or did the four of you sit down and write together?
We all sat down and wrote together. First, we went to my studio and laid down ideas. Then, John came down and started writing lyrics. We went to a studio in upstate New York and stayed in this compound, letting it all out. It’s really something different: turntables, harmonica, bass and drums. We didn’t have any songs at first, but John starts humming melodies and, all of the sudden, those parts turned into songs. We’d start working on some arrangements and those would turn into tracks. The album has a lot of different flavors: hip-hop, blues and rock.
MG- A few months into festival season, do you have a favorite performance so far?
I’d say Bonnaroo. It’s crazy to see how it has expanded since I did the first Bonnaroo. I also enjoyed All Good and the Harmony Festival out in California. But, Bonnaroo was
a trip. I got to connect with old friends and play with Medeski. I also DJed in the Silent Disco tent. It was crazy. You look out from the DJ booth and you can hear music from all these other tents, but people are dancing to something completely different. They look like aliens out there with their headphones on. It was a whole level higher for me. For the first time, people got to feel like I do onstage, hearing sounds mixed live through their earphones.
MG- At the Harmony Festival, you also sat in with RatDog. Can you talk a bit about how your relationship with Bob Weir has evolved over the years?
Bob is great, such a sweetheart. We just sit down and talk about music. It’s like sitting down with my grandpa [laughs]. Anytime they are in town, I try to sit-in or say hi. He always talks about exploring and having an open mind. I first hooked up with those guys through Rob Wasserman and went out on the So Many Roads tour. Rob and I would do these improv jams between sets. Real open stuff. When I started playing with those guys, I went back and listened to all these old Dead CDs. They had so many crazy instruments going on—- it is just really cool to be able to scratch and rearrange those songs. It leaves so much room for exploration.
MG- Do you have any remix projects in the bag?
I recently began remixing some songs by Weather Report. I am working directly with
Joe Zawinul on the project—-we talked a lot about his songs, textures and coloring.
It’s actually the only remixed song on the group’s new box set. It’s pretty amazing how many people have used Weather Report for samples and taken their beats. Right now, I am looking at the songs’ structures, trying to open up certain sections and pull out certain themes. Vernon Reid and I are also working on the next The Yohimbe Brothers album. We are beginning pre-production, sketching out song ideas together.
MG- Over the years you’ve played the Jammys on several occasions. What’s been your favorite collaboration?
Definitely this year with Blues Traveler and Betty LaVette. Betty is the original soul singer and the original diva. She just has so much style and to be able to scratch over her was great. In the future, I’d say I’d love to collaborate with either Herbie Hancock or Santana. I’ve never performed with either, but would love to collaborate with both. I’d also like to work with some Indian musicians. I’ve been listening to a lot of eastern music recently and would love to play around with that more onstage.