Fatherhood, a near-death experience and the resurrection of his labels: Jay Haze talks to MEOKO + Exclusive podcast

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With over two decades experience in the music industry, Jay Haze has pretty much seen it all and, earlier this year, it appeared as though his career had all but ended when he apparently quit the music scene closing his seminal labels, Contexterrior and Tuning Spork, in the process. However, due to a dramatic series of events that have occurred in his life recently he is now resurrecting the labels and returning to music with a renewed zeal and determination. Brimming with new ideas that combine his charity work with music and visual productions, Jay is a changed man and in the interview that follows, he discusses his new outlook on life, impending fatherhood and why he'd become disillusioned with the electronic music 'scene' in great depth with Marcus Barnes for MEOKO..

So, Jay, you're going to be a father.... are you ready?

Well, like I always say, 'You can never be ready, you can just be accepting'. So... I'm ready to accept! [Laughs]

Has it taken you a while to accept?

Well, it hit me out of the blue so.. I guess I always wanted to have a child, but with this career it always made it seem as if it was something far away, off in the distant future.

And how do you feel now?

It's great, getting through the pregnancy is hard for the man because women, when they're pregnant, have hormones flying everywhere, so you just have to be super patient and... you have to be very docile...

… a bit of a punchbag?

Yeah yeah [Laughs], you can say that. There's not a lot of logic sometimes!

That's women for you. ;)

It's humans for you. We never really make sense to the other person and it will forever be that way, I guess that's the nature of relationships in reality.

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Yeah, very true... and so how about your outlook in terms of your career? Becoming a father is going to impact in some respect..

It's definitely scary to think about my career in electronic dance music.. now, living so far away, being in South America. I actually planned to move back to Europe before I found out that I was gonna be a father. It's been really hard living down in South America – it's been great because I've been able to get a lot of my social projects off the ground and, now that they're working I feel like I had a chapter of my life that I needed to do [and that's complete] so I was planning to move back and find a place to live, I was thinking about moving to Ibiza.

Yeah, there are some really beautiful places on that island.

That's the thing, I like to live in places that are close to nature – with the sea, mountains... so that was the plan. Actually, when I went on my last tour, I found out three days into the tour that we were gonna have a child. And the weird thing is, my girl was told by several different doctors that she couldn't have children.

So it's even more amazing than a 'normal' pregnancy.

I guess you could say that. What was really shocking was the events that happened in my life up to that point. Basically, this last year has been the hardest of my life – absolutely, positively gut-wrenching. And literally three weeks before our child was conceived, my girlfriend and I suffered a very huge tragedy together in the Amazon jungle, where our boat sank and we fought on open waters for our lives for nearly four hours.

 Fuck...

She made it to a tree that had grown out into the river, and I was just floating out in the river for hours in the dark, it was night time. There was nothing for me to hold on to, I was just floating down the river and, yeah... I had a near-death experience, I actually died. I swallowed water and drowned, it was such an intense moment – it changed everything for me. In fact, I haven't been the same since then. So, that was already such an intense moment to have with this girl and so, shortly after, I flew her to Tulum, Mexico... I had to do a tour five days after this near-death experience...

How did you manage to do it and not cancel?

Well, because I'm almost broke! [Laughs] If I didn't do it, then I wouldn't have money to live. The whole thing is interesting because it made me look at life differently, now I'm in my thirties and about to be a father and don't have a High School education – electronic music is really the only thing I have. I mean, I do art, I do sculpture, but it never pays any money. It kicked me in the ass and made me realise what I should be focusing on and... yeah...

If there's anything that's gonna change your perspective it's things like that isn't it. Is that why you're resurrecting Contexterrior and Tuning Spork?

Sure, sure... it started after the near-death experience, then I knew that I had to not give up. I've spent 20 years of my life deeply involved in this industry...

...Did you feel jaded before the experience?

Sure, there's so much going on, it's hard to be somebody that's been around for so long and seen so many changes and see certain aspects of the industry that are just really, really unfair and hard to... because I'm such an emotional person, it's hard to deal with because I see so much real talent out there, people who are really putting their heart into something, and really care and they're not getting any play. And you see a bunch of clowns and jokers who don't even really understand the history and the roots of this thing and the work that people have done before them, the foundation that was laid out to allow them to be doing what they're doing and... I guess I was jaded once I knew you can buy your way in and the most successful people are the ones that already had money, that's the truth. There's not really many rags to riches stories in electronic dance music [laughs]. The people who are running things already had money before.

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They're in the majority at least anyway...

Yeah, so if you have money you can pay your way to the top of this thing and that's what jaded me because I wasn't fortunate enough to have money and I had to rely on my work and my craft and my skills and... when I started to realise that wasn't enough...

...it's heartbreaking.

Yeah, because it should be about your talent. It's like now people are just in that state where they're like, it's a career opportunity, you know, to become an international DJ or producer or something like that.

Yeah man, when did that happen?!

I think it's happened within the last five years. It has a lot to do with many factors – the spread of social communications, digital communications, throughout the world has helped that. Like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter... things where people can constantly promote themselves and some of what they promote might not even be true, I mean who's checking?  Every other DJ right now writes on their Facebook that they're supported by Richie Hawtin and... is anybody even checking that? [Laughs] It doesn't even matter really but..

..yeah, it doesn't matter but it would be funny if someone approached Richie with a list and asked him who he was really supporting.

Well, the truth is he would just say yes to everything because that's the way you get by in this world, say yes to everything. Pretend like you like everything, just kiss ass man.

Yeah, don't have an opinion because who has an opinion these days?

It's dangerous to have an opinion.

Definitely, just nod your head and carry on...

Yeah, [In a sarcastic voice] “It's a great record man, I really loved it...”

So, how important are the labels to you.. I guess they're pretty crucial to your career?

Yeah well, I can only say that I have dedicated so much of my time, energy and my life savings into them that the decision to stop them was a culmination of events that happened and just wore down on my soul. Getting ripped off from so many different angles, from artists, distributors, from GEMA, it's really hard. In life you go through ups and downs and, where you're in a down, which I have been in for a while now, you just see things completely different. And what becomes more apparent to you is what's wrong and I guess all those years I allowed myself to live in this bubble where it's like, 'Oh yeah, this is all great and this is all dandy' – I had an epiphany and I thought, 'What are we doing? We're just running around in this world hopping on aeroplanes... what is the substance of our conversations?' I have friends all over the world but how many of them are really close and, if we didn't have techno, would we be friends at all? I guess I just felt the pressure of, you know.. it's called a mid-life crisis, that's what I had. I had a mid-life crisis and I wanted to start something new and I thought people would be up for it. I had a lot of support for Music 2.0, but in the moment it's just not a viable reality.

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What stage are you at now in terms of coming out of this mid-life crisis and resurrecting the labels?

I think I've found myself again. I guess when you go through things like this you kinda forget yourself and what ended up happening was, I ended up putting myself in a category that I didn't necessarily belong in. I put myself in the same category with people who've really done nothing to have success and just was really down on myself. I was really depressive, even though I was having gig requests, I wasn't having things the way I'd hoped after all I've done- I just kind of felt like 'Who am I? I'm a nobody'. Over the last few months I've had a lot of people reaching out to me and just being like, 'Dude, you've made five killer albums your work has been represented in magazines and press all over the world' and it's still growing. I still have a fanbase, even with my old records people are rediscovering them. I guess I needed to be around people who cared about the work that I've done and recognise the struggle I had in trying to be original and not playing the game the way everyone else was and kissing everybody's ass, not making hits of the moment and trying to be ahead of the game.

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Tuning Spork

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I think it's definitely the right way to go about things. I take it the labels will be affected by this renewed focus?

I've got artists on the label like Arttu aka Lump, who's rocking things right now. He's got a new sound, it's a raw, old school sound. I have artists that depend on Contexterrior and Tuning Spork to release their music and, simply put, there's just not many labels out there that have been around that long and are a brand. I don't know if it's gonna be... I can't predict the future, I've stopped trying. But basically I'm just gonna work with my artists and, if I like what they're making, then I'm gonna release it and I hope that people find an interest in the labels again and take note to the fact that we've been here a long time, we've put a lot of work into this and it's been a long struggle and there's no reason for me to give up. The moment when I said goodbye to everyone in the world, the moment when I was dying, literally when my mouth was above water gasping for breath and fishes were biting my feet, in those moments you have such intense reflecting on your life and one of the things that struck me was how much love I have inside me for electronic music, how much love I have inside me for the culture, the possibilities, the sheer potential to create change in the world through unifying people with music. It was an eye-opening experience for me and I think the thing is to just continue on with that same focus rather than being concerned with being at the cutting edge of a new sound or something like that, you know?

Yeah, rather than trying to be ahead of the pack or the coolest it's better to carry on trying to spread the message and unifying people.

Exactly, exactly. At some point I got side-tracked by the glamour and the glitz of this whole thing.

It's easily done!

Yeah models and after-parties and it got boring really fast.

The superficial stuff gets boring really fast.

Definitely.

Well, if your heart's in the right place anyway.

Yeah, the superficial stuff lasts too long for my comfort but... [laughs] you know, at some point you have to accept things and think, 'That's how it is, what can I do about it?'. I can't change it, I can't change anything that's what I realised, but I can change how I feel about things and the way that I see things. I think that's important for me to get a better outlook on things and to surround myself with people who actually support me, the original work I've done, the struggle that it's been to do things the way I've done things, to do loops without using sample CDs, without taking the easy way out, you know.

Hmm, doing things the harder way.

Yeah, I mean I'm not gonna lie and say at some point I wasn't tempted when I saw some of the clown DJ/producers running around out there just making what everybody else is making and being super successful and making tonnes of money doing it. Of course, I've contemplated making an easy track and sending it to the right label that I could get signed, because I feel like I do have that luxury where I can release where I wanna release, these days... It's not like it was in the early stages of my career where I'd send a demo to somebody and they wouldn't listen to it, now it's like I'm working with labels that I wanna work with.

Yeah, taking the easy route is not always the most rewarding or satisfying in the long run..

Definitely not, but like they say 'The grass is always greener on the other side, until you get there'.

True. So in terms of releases, what have you got pencilled in for release over the next few months?

I've got two new artists; there's a guy called Alexander Skancke, he's from Norway and he's 21. He's doing Contexterrior sound, in the same frame of reference as Villalobos or early Contexterrior. I've got another younger kid called Sergey Trotzkopf from Siberia who's really doing interesting sound design – it's not really music for the masses, it's weird and beaufitul at the same time. Those are the only new artists that I'm signing at the moment. Other than that I've got music coming out from Jay Tripwire, Masomenos... Soul In A Bottle is being re-released on the label Modern Soul with remixes from Wankelmut. I have a record coming out on Leftroom in October/November, a remix for Soul Clap coming out on Wolf+Lamb, I've got remixes coming up for this Italian label Sonora Records.

Actually, I was pretty impressed with this guy Lorenzo Dada. Hes been making deep house or deep techno, I've been listening to a lot of his stuff and I find it to be really musical, he's a very talented artist. He asked me for a remix and then I checked out some of his stuff and I was like, 'Wow, this is really quality stuff'. The vocalists he works with, the songs he writes... it's not just standard stuff.

I'm gonna work on a new Fuckpony album, it took a while but Fuckpony really has a buzz going. I noticed in the last month, I checked one of the song's on YouTube (I'm Burning Inside) and, in one month, the songs had over half a million plays. I uploaded it, it's from an album that's been out for two years so I want to do that. I want to concentrate on the Fuckpony sound, which is gonna be a bit more futuristic house and not so much looking back to the past. I'm gonna try something new with the new Fuckpony album, it's gonna be in relation to the last one. I was really, really happy with the last one. It was a moment for me.

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So, moving on slightly. You've been in South America for a while now has that had much of an effect on the music you're making? I know you've down-scaled your studio...

Of course, I had a dream studio, I had built a studio for eight years – it was my spaceship. I guess, when I had this epiphany.. I made the decision to stop the life I was living in a matter of two months  - I reduced an office, a studio and an apartment to two suitcases and moved to South America, not knowing anyone, not being to speak the language.. moving to Brazil first then on to Peru. It was one of those moments where I gave everything up, I guess I needed to see what it felt like. To give up everything and start from scratch. I'm lucky that I had my big studio, so I know what the sound was like, so I still have my sound – it's just a smaller version. I have an MPC2000, a couple little analogue synths, my microphone and a tube amplifier, so I can always record... that's another thing, I've been recording a lot of music again; writing songs, playing piano and singing – I don't quite know what's gonna happen with those but..

..it's good to have some variety anyway.

Yeah! I let a few people hear it and they were really interested. I let Jonny White from Art Department hear it and he was like, 'Dude, I'll sign this... if you finish an album of this, I'll sign it'. It's just totally non-dance, so it was really nice to get that type of feedback. It's definitely hard to not have my spaceship, it was really nice to have a big studio.

So has being in South America affected the sounds you're creating at all?

Nah, I wish there was more – the problem down here is, the people of South America don't embrace the sound of their culture enough. In Chile they definitely embrace their Latin roots a lot more than the other countries. Living in Brazil and Peru it sometimes can be frustrating to watch these producers look to Europe and try to make European music. They don't really try to have an identity with their music and I think that's sad because there's a very rich and diverse music culture spreading throughout this entire continent, but that also has a lot to do with the fact that the people who are making music in South America are kinda coming from money. So they want to be living a 'European lifestyle' and they don't have much of a connection to these musical roots because the real South American music is coming from the poor, it's coming from the slums, the Favelas. The afro-fusion, how the whole slave trade worked in South America... the people who are making the electronic dance music we hear, they're really not from that. It's one of the things I wish they would embrace more and it's something I always tell them, but they have to learn for themselves. It seems like there's not even much interest in it, I get demos from South American artists all the time, especially Brazil – it's like when are we gonna hear some Brazilian house? Rhythmically, melodically it's such a rich culture and we have people doing the 'European sound'.

It's a shame.

The other thing we have down here is what we spoke about earlier, people buying their way to become a DJ. You have clowns, where being rich isn't enough for them. We need less of that. People who book only the acts that will heighten their own career, they'll pay Sven Vath $40,000 just so they can tag team with him at the end for an hour. This is what's happening in South America, which is really stunting the growth of musical education, I guess that's one of the reasons why I was looking forward to getting out.

Looking to the future, where do your hopes and ambitions lie now because you've been involved in the industry for quite some time and achieved a lot.. ?

Right now I'm doing a lot more videos myself, i'm gonna work on a film, I'm doing a lot of short films. I dunno if you've seen the stuff I've posted on my YouTube channel.. black 'n white stuff.

Wow, so have you taught yourself then?

Yeah, I've been teaching myself and learning as I go. I'm shooting a lot, doing the camerawork, editing so that's another thing with the label – there's gonna be a lot more visuals combined with the music and not necessarily music videos, I'm gonna try to use music as a media, getting stories about people out there and to show people as much of the real world as possible and having the music and the record labels are a launching point. Inviting people to record images and to get them seen and for people to pay attention to them, that's one of my ideas is to use my music as a newspaper. People are gonna search for my music anyway, like I just told you, there's a song that has had 500,000 plays over the last month – that's just got a picture of me on the video.

If you can utilise having that much appeal, it's a quite a potent form of media.

Yeah, that's the point – to try to maximise that and use that to reach a more global audience and reach many more people and help stories get told and put a more human face to what's going on in the world because, right now, medias that exist are desenstising people.

Do you keep up with the current 'scene'?

Not so much because I chose a different route to go with my life, I haven't been keeping up so much because, the more I kept up with it, the more depressed I got actually. I was really finding it hard to keep in touch with it, it's not how I wanna feel. If I keep my distance from it, it's easier to be happy and I'm not thinking too much all the time about all these trivial things that I would think about when I was involved in the house and techno scene you know; who's got the biggest record, is it a rip-off of this.. when I was paying too close attention to that, my thought process itself was not what it should be, I was not reaching my potential – when I took a step back from caring about it so much I was really able to start and initiate some projects that really created change.

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It constricts your brain power almost, you get lost in this tiny world that doesn't really mean anything.

Yeah, you get lost in this tiny world that means nothing and you always have something to write on Twitter about, you always have something to write on Facebook about but it's all really just a show. I think a lot of people are gonna wake up at one point and realise that they're empty and this scene... the scene itself, I love the culture. I love the culture of coming together and having these experiences where you feel like you're one, like you get with live music – I really love that experience and I think it's powerful, I think it's important for people to experience that. But, at the same time, we need to look at the bigger picture and that to fully accept that for the most part this reality is futile. We can't keep running around on aeroplanes, playing in this place and playing in that place because now all these places have their own scenes developing. Is it really necessary for me to run and hop on all these aeroplanes and play music that some DJ who's really into it is playing? I think it needs to go to the residencies. That's why somebody like Craig Richards... Craig is one of my heroes in the scene because he's managed to make a career for himself in London and build that and keep going forward, that's what I want in my career. I want to be able to play somewhere that I'm living in every week, have my people like Larry Levan did back in the day and not have to travel so much because you have to understand what that does to your head man... being in Africa one day, this place the next, this place the next, breathing in all this air, all this travel, it's really hard on the body. And we don't understand yet fully what are the side-effects because it's such a new thing. There's not many careers out there where people are flying as much, as intensely. It would be nice to be able to have a hometown thing.

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Yeah for sure.

When you see what the Wolf+Lamb guys did with the Marcy Hotel, that was the fucking bomb man! That is the way it should be [Laughs]. Zev and Gadi and all them, they did a great job man, wow. If I was ever able to do something like that, that is a dream come true. Recently I played at the Electric Pickle in Miami, and I met the owner and he was like, 'Dude, I've been trying to get you to play here for years man, this place was built for people like you!' I was like, 'This is the shit, man!' All wood, nice sound system, regulars, you get to play what you wanna play, musical education, it was just amazing.

Yeah man, I love the Pickle.

I would love to see that kind of thing happen more, less super clubs more real clubs.

So, what's the plan up until the birth of your baby?

I'm playing random gigs here and there, I'm playing Santiago in Chile and Mendoza in Argentina this week. I'm gonna make myself more available for South American gigs, I haven't been gigging so much in South America. I'm gonna do another tour in Europe in November and hopefully I'll get a good 8 to 10 shows in a month, hopefully! So I'll have money to fall back on when the baby is born, because we need a new apartment... there's a lot of stress right now. Rent is really high in Lima and they require you to [pauses] it's horrible man, it's like jumping through hoops. It's like jumping through hoops. I'm gonna keep struggling, keep working hard, keep doing videos, I'm gonna support my girlfriend and try to make things work out. Hopefully, with this new attitude that I have and this new outlook it will get people interested again and to pay attention.

http://soundcloud.com/jayhaze

http://tuningspork.com/toysandneeds/

Words by Marcus Barnes