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Published: 2006/12/22
by Randy Ray

Home Cookin with the Logical ManThe John Popper Project featuring DJ Logic Part I

The career of DJ Logic extends back to the early 1990s with Living Colour’s Vernon Reid. Over the intervening years, following his breakout collaboration with Medeski, Martin and Wood, he worked with jamband giants Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, Phish and RatDog. One of his latest endeavors is John Popper Project (full disclosure: the Project is on the Relix Records label). In the first of a two-part series on the JPP, we sat down with the turntablist mastermind as Logic discussed his remix work, the Popper Project, Project Logic and a crafty chess move in jamband music.

RR: I wanted to begin with the status of your Ray Charles remix album.

DJ: I worked on it and I just have to finish up some edits. It’s not a full-length album; it’s an EP that I was working on after his death. I went out and bought a whole bunch of Ray Charles records and was listening to his life. He was one of those interesting people and after looking at the movie Ray, which garnered an Oscar for Jamie Foxx in the title role], I saw that he was one of those artists that crossed all genres, someone that everyone looked up to in musicblues, rock, everybody got a little bit of Ray.

RR: Even country music.

DJ: Yeah, even country and hip-hop, you name it all down the line. He was very eclectic, funky, soulfulan amazing, amazing artist. I wanted to go back and listen to all of his stuff. One of the tunes that caught me was “What’d I Say?” I kind of messed around with that and wanted to do what Paul Oakenfold did with the Elvis remix [“A Little Less Conversation”]my version of DJ Logic/Ray Charles/“What’d I Say?” remix. Basically, it’s like a dance slow groove type of thing. Yeah, it came out nice. I got John Medeski to play keyboards on it.

RR: Fantastic. When is the EP coming out?

DJ: Hopefully, soon. I’d like to have it available after the New Year for people to check out down the road.

RR: Let’s talk about your recent work with the John Popper Project.

DJ: It’s a wonderful project to be a part of and, you know, John is an awesome guy. Tad [Kinchla, bass] is a great guy. Marcus Bleeker is a great drummer. It just came together beautifully and organically. John and I didn’t know what to expect; we just started trusting each other after doing a gig with [bassist] Rob Wasserman in San Francisco. We
said, “Hey let’s try something. I don’t know what it’s going to sound liketurntable and
harmonicabut let’s just take a chance. And we did that. We reconnected in New York and did some shows at the Knitting Factory and in Jersey and around the city. They were all improvised shows with no music at the time, no lyrics. It was just all jamming and once we got the vibe and feel of each other, it all just came together naturally. John started coming out with some lyrics and melodiesTad and Marcus and everybody was contributing all down the line. People were loving it, coming out because it was something that they had never seenturntable, harmonica and it was something special.

Relix magazinewho eventually started a record labelcame out to some of our shows and said, “We’d like to do something with you.” We said, “What?” We were surprised, you know? Then we said, “Sure!” It was actually John’s deal so they just took the whole project on and wanted to sign us to a record deal. We got some money and went up into Allaire Studios and got a great producer, Craig Street and started putting together songs and tunes. Things just started coming, blowing and I started programming some sounds and textures that would be cool to add to the project. It was like a whole cohesive thing.

RR: What intrigues me is that you bring in sounds that are somewhat familiar but have a unique twist and the song will definitely change direction. For example, on the new record, you’re switching up things and altering soundscapes to influence the overall mood. Would you say that your main contribution is to get the band on a path that is away from traditional sounds?

DJ: Yeah, away from the traditional but still has a little bit of the traditional. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a little bit of the essence but add a little bit extra flavor to it. That’s how I look at it. If I’m remixing or something, I’m trying to be logical, creative and having a good time.

RR: You’ve got some more live dates with the John Popper Project coming up.

DJ: I’m looking forward to making another record and finishing up touring. We’ll be playing at the Christmas Jam [Warren Haynes’s annual Asheville, North Carolina event], opening up for Gov’t Mule and we’ve got some shows lined up for next year so it’ll be a continuing thing.

RR: What new areas would you like to see the John Popper Project explore?

DJ: I’d like to get it out there to other marketsthe college crowd and people that love John Popper, DJ Logic and the group. I could see it hitting some of the MTV crowd. Right now with musicanything can happen. (laughter) If you go into MySpace on Popper’s site, you can see that people have their favoritesfrom “Lapdance” to “Trigger”which is greator “Louisiana Sky,” a tribute to New Orleans. There are a lot of favorites that people like so that shows you right there that there is a lot of singles, a lot of potential.

RR: It had been five years since your last studio album with Project Logic. Do you feel that the new directions of your recent release, Zen of Logic have been accepted?

DJ: Yeah, so far, so good. Everybody has been digging “9th Ward Blues,” “Afro Beat” and “Hypnotic.” It’s been good and I’m still happy to have Logic fans that are open-minded, they know what to expect from me and they’re always curious to know what the new things are going to sound like. I like to keep them wondering. I’m happy because the third record Zen of Logic is all of me. I also had some guests, Charlie Hunter who played on “Nightforce Blues” and John Medeski who played on “Afro Beat” as well as the Antibalas Horn and Rhythm Section and an MC by the name of Subconscious. You expect Project Logic to bring some different stuff that people enjoy.

RR: Exactly. I liked what you said earlier about music that is “away from the traditional but still has a little bit of the traditional.” How important is it to you to play music that has one foot in the past and one in the future?

DJ: Right. Right. I think it’s very important. There’s always something from tradition that inspires into the future. It’s that little seasoning. (laughter) It’s like cooking. You open up a new restaurant but you’re going to take a little bit of flavor and spicinesssomething that you got from somewhere that you got from creation. I always look at that with the people that I work with or hang aroundthe older musicians that I admire and look up to and I get a lot of information from them. It’s like a book; it stays with you and you want to keep that and add a little bit of your own, as well. Do it the right way where it’s understandable for the older and newer traditions to understand. Once againbeing logical. (laughter)

RR: Speaking of some of the older traditions, you had mentioned Rob Wasserman and I saw you play with RatDog at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre in August 2001. At the time, Weir had mentioned more collaborations with you in the future, effectively adding a new area for RatDog to explore. What are your feelings about that work?

DJ: I thought it was great. Bob Weir is a great musician and he’s always been an open-minded person and always trying new things. Listening back to some of his music before I even hooked up with himI’m talking about his solo work right after the Deadyou could hear he was doing new things, trying new material, proving his craft and taking it to a whole other level.

If you listen to some of the Dead stuff with Jerry and the others, they were doing some amazing thingsevery tune was different, had a different mood and swing and “WOWthese guys are amazing musicians.” The same thing [is true] with Phil Lesh. He has a wonderful mood with his music, as well. It’s just a pleasure to be working with [Weir] and having his respect for what I dohaving more come in and add and contribute with him. He also gave me the opportunity to feel free to come in and out on certain tunes like “Franklin’s Tower” and “Estimated Prophet.” Those are tunes that I was vibing to and I
saw myself contributing and adding colors here and there in places.

It goes back to traditionwhat you were sayingthe old and the new keeping it in between. You have the devoted Deadheads and the younger, new generation of the Dead who are Deadheads or whoever you want to say. You want to be able to understand and not take away too much for everyone to understand what’s goin’ onand show them that the turntable is an instrument and how you use it.

RR: I always enjoyed guests sitting in with the Dead or their solo projects because it forced them to communicate their ideas differentlythey appeared more alive.

DJ: It was different. It was definitely a memorable experience. Bob always has fun and every time I see him play here at the Beacon and in San Fran, it’s always a beautiful vibe, musically. All the rest of the guys in the bandJay Lane [drums], Kenny [Brooks, sax], Jeff [Chimenti, keyboards] and Mark [Karan, guitarist] are amazing musicians and they share good vibes and energy with each other. Everybody respects everyone’s playing which is a beautiful thing. They know that I have a good ear so it’s great.

RR: I’m glad you brought up “a good ear.” I was going to ask you about that. When you collaborate with a group, are you going in with a pre-planned structure of what to add or are you listening to a specific musician to give you audio signals?

DJ: I’m listening to everybody. You have to listen to each individual musician when everyone is playing because there are all kinds of different sounds, textures and colors going on and you want to kind of blend in like a collage or a vignette but in the right way, at the right time. It’s not like you want to play all over everything. You want to come in at the right momentssubtle things that are just right that happen at the right time. Some stuff that happens for me is spontaneous or some stuff I have the right idea, right there for that moment. It’s kind of like chess. You want to make your first move before your opponent even thinks that you’re going to move that piece: “CHECKMATE!” (laughter)
Bob or one of the guys will turn around and wink as if to say: “Yeah, that was nice. That was in the right place. That was very cool.” I like catching them at that moment and seeing a smile or just a wink. It feels good; we’re all in the same space, one of those mental telepathy moments. (laughs)

RR: Are you able to get those “playing in the moment” looks from John Popper?

DJ: Yeah, he’ll give me the baby smile with those baby eyes. (laughter)

RR: You recently played with RAQ at Brooklyn’s Club Exit. How did that go?

DJ: That went great. Those guys are so much fun. Their fan base is awesome. They are rockin’ and very cool.

RR: How do you prepare for a show with a band like that?

DJ: Well, they had a tune that they thought it would be cool for me to play on. I look at it like how I would play with RatDog, Widespread [Panic] or Jack Johnsonyou name it. I listen and vibe with what each individual musician is doing and take it from there. Like I said, everybody respects my ear and creativity and I respect their playing and it all comes together beautifully, classically, logically. (laughs)

RR: Any future plans with Medeski, Martin and Wood?

DJ: I hope so. Right now they’re touring with John Scofield and the new album sounds great. We’ve been trying to link up. I know that Medeski wanted me to do a gig with him but there are some scheduling issues. I would love to get back together and go back out with those guys. I miss and love those guys, a lot. Every time we get together, it’s a beautiful thing. We all vibe with each other wonderfullythey’re my pride and joy.

RR: How about any collaborations with Living Colour guitarist, Vernon Reid?

DJ: Vernon Reid! That’s my brother from another mother. (laughter) Heavy brother, No. 1! He’ll call me No.1 but I say he’s No. 1. Yeah, we’ve got another Yohimbe Brothers record getting ready to come out so I’m looking forward to thatsome time next year. Stay tuned. Check out the Logic web site, Vernon Reid on MySpace or DJ Logic’s MySpace as well as Jambands.com. You’ll hear it first. You always show a lot of love at Jambands and I appreciate it.

RR: I also enjoy your remix music with artists like Soulive, Gov’t Mule, Phish and, bringing this interview back full circle, your anticipated new Ray Charles work. Can we look forward to any other remix collaborations in the future?

DJ: Yeah, I just did a remix on the Weather Report box set“125th St. Congress.” I also finished a Nina Simone remix. I worked on a Billie Holiday remix. I got together with some of the musicians from Soulive like Neal Evans and Eric Krasno. Maybe, doing some stuff with some of the guys from String Cheese [Incident] so I’m excited.

RR: The future appears wide open for you.

DJ: I’m trying to stay busy and productive with the stuff that I love doingmaking music and collaborating with all types of wonderful musicians. I’d like to do some world music, too; maybe, with some people from Africa, Brazil, Moroccothat would be nice to incorporate a little bit of that. Right now, I’m looking forward to the Christmas Jam and the Jam Cruise [in January 2007], which will be raging. I’m just trying to make everyone happy and loving.

- Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com.

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