Jo-S stops in for a chat and drops an exclusive mix on us that’s sure to have even the neighbours dancing in the streets.
First off, congrats on the huge year - things continue to blow up for you in such a huge way - how does it feel?
I'm blessed to be a part of a creative community of artists! Within the past 17 years I've experienced many waves in the drum & bass industry and to this day it's still very refreshing and exciting.
Now I've known you from the old-school NYC days and back then things were a bit techier in Jo-S land... at what point did you start exploring the melodic side of things both as a DJ and as a producer and when did this start to express itself vocally?
I started DJing around ‘97 and to be fair, I’ve always showcased a variety of styles. Being the first jungle DJ on Long Island, NY, I had the opportunity to blow the lid on the genre.. With that said, I intended on supporting the music that was the most inventive at the time. I started producing almost at the start with my first releases on Rawkuts Records and Higher Education in 2000. I was always known for getting on the mic at parties from time to time as my confidence increased. I never really considered myself an MC. Singing came naturally to me. I'm a pretty vocal person to begin with.
Was 'Emeralds' with Lenzman your first official/professional vocal tune? How did that come about? More importantly, what was your reaction when the tune caught fire and climbed its way to the top of the Beatport charts?
It wasn't until I recorded 'Define' that I started incorporating my vocals into my production. That tune was co-produced by Kubatko from the Czech Republic. My first vocal collaboration that got picked up was 'Vines' produced by Sinistarr which was released on Sonorous. Lenzman heard it and hit me up to do a collaboration which turned into 'Emeralds'. I was quite impressed with the response. The vinyl sold out within a few days and a majority of well-known DJs were playing it. I was able to sing it live for the first time alongside Friction who was in LA to perform at Bassrush. It was completely impromptu as well!
Most people know how tunes get signed but how does one go about linking up with producers as a vocalist?
Digital technology created access. Producing radically changed and the internet created a synergy with producers overseas. When I first started making tunes I remember feeling like most US based producers were gauging the quality of production as to how it stood up against songs coming from the UK. Once a communication portal was set up, primarily through AIM, there was a great opportunity to expose what we were doing here in the states to the rest of the world.
Lenzman contacted me on instant messenger, sent me a clip, I wrote the lyrics and sent him a draft mix. We went back and forth a few times until the delivery and tonality was on point. I sent him the hi-resolution stems which he mixed. Friction did a tad of mastering. I still have yet been able to perform in the Netherlands to link up with Lenzman but I intend to!
That seemed to be a turning point in your career either way and you've gone on to grace the likes of tunes on heavy-duty imprints like Metalheadz, Soul:r, Subtitles and Spearhead. Looking back, did you ever expect to that initial decision to incorporate vocals into your sets to lead to where it has?
It still amazes me how after 17 years in the industry I made the most impact with my vocal work. It really took me by surprise. As of late it seems a majority of people overseas only know of me as a vocalist or MC. I'd like to be able to DJ in other countries so I can give them a little piece of my history behind the decks. I've always been a DJ first and foremost!
For the last 3-5 years I've been incorporating my vocals into my DJ sets here in the states. I have a mic on a stand and at will I fire off lyrics wherever there's a chance. Throughout the process I never intended to create a specific identity out of my voice. It was a natural progression for me and maybe that's why the work was so well received.
Now I know you've got this bit with Eveson that was doing the heavy-duty rounds on the digital dubplate circuit. Talk a bit about that tune and how things have come together on that one.
This came together through internet exchange just as it did with Lenzman, only this time around Eveson and I birthed the soulful 'Time Flows'. These are some of the most poetic lyrics I wrote. Check them out:
Remembering you and your eyes
of feathered hues
From the moment it crossed my mind
I fell amused
In these visions of you by my side
I’m torn in two
Still locked to you in a space in my mind
That I’m bounded to
I'm taken by my pleading cry for you
With no one to answer to
And time flows by withering awry
This weighted thought in my mind
A weighted thought in my mind
With no one to answer to
As time goes by withering awry
A weighted thought in my mind
This weighted thought in my mind
This tune was intended for Eveson's album 'The Last Summer of Love' on V Recordings. Bryan Gee featured it on the V podcast numerous times and Bailey was supporting it on the BBC daily. If it's one thing the UK has that we still don't have in the US is radio play!
You've also just unleashed a huge collaboration with S.P.Y. that is straight killing it ...
Yea man, S.P.Y. is one of my favourite producers at the moment. 'Future Tense' was released as a limited edition white vinyl on Hospital records. There is also a FREE download available if you sign up for the mailing list @ spydnb.com so get your copy! I'm also honoured to have in my possession an exclusive S.P.Y. and Total Science remix of 'Fade Away', a collaboration I did with Lenzman for Soul:r. I've been opening every set with it as of late. The introduction is epic and the drop pulls you in for the ride with a darker, more gritty bass than the original.
What all goes into the production aspect of recording vocals on your end? Do you have a dedicated studio at home or are you using a professional facility?
I record my vocals at home with a Sterling Audio STE55 condensor mic through an MAudio Profire soundcard into Cubase on my Macbook Pro. I do not have an isolation booth so I record in the headphones. I keep processing to a minimum. Still to this day I have yet to ever use a vocal correction plug-in on my vocal tracks. From the start I've adhered to the philosophy that if I can't hit a certain range then I won't attempt to sing it. I also despise the sound of Auto-Tune! I prefer a more natural treatment.
Typically I will record at least three layers of vocals. The main track is based on the root note and is delivered strong. The pronunciation is intended to be on the mark. I'll then add an overdub with a bit more "swagger." Then I pick a low or high harmony depending on the range. I do a minor subtractive EQing on all tracks, group to a bus that has a compressor on it with a light, transparent setting and I export each layer as separate stems to the producer. From there the most they will add are any effects like reverb, chorus and delay.
Any advice for any other aspiring vocalists out there who want to follow in your footsteps?
Sing what is in your heart! Several years ago my lifestyle became a lot more spiritual and my lyrics reflect that. Most of these lyrics came from poems I wrote. Take the time to cultivate provocative concepts. I'm not one who is attempting to create club bangers that only feature a hook before the bass drop. I want to tell a story and create a mood. That all begins with the words. Do a bit of research on writing styles, rhythm and metaphor.
When it comes to your vocal aesthetic, deliver from your diaphragm not your throat unless you are singing in hi-voice. In my practice I do Yoga which helps with building up your air capacity. Be honest with who you are as a person and sing how you feel! Currently I like working with Sanskrit Mantra. Myself and Mixmaster Doc recorded a track entitled 'Mantra Tune' that featured me singing the Chotay Pad Mantra for creative sustenance... Wahe Guru!
What other projects should we be looking out for in the coming year?
At the present time all the vocal projects I was working on have been released. I'm currently co-producing a few tunes and writing new original material. I am open to collaborate with new artists so reach out to me! Like I said earlier, I was surprised when the vocal work began to take off so why judge it now? I'd prefer to keep it open and see what comes my way and if the relationship works, let's move forward and make some great music together!
I hear you've got a fresh, exclusive mix for us as well - any standout tunes we should be looking out for? Have you incorporated your vocals into the mix as well to give us that genuine Jo-S "live" experience?
This time around I did not incorporate any of my vocals as I wanted to focus on the mixing and selection. My newest vocal collaborations 'Future Tense' and 'Time Flows' are featured as well as un-released dubs from myself and Sinistarr. I recorded this set in one shot using Serato and control vinyl on a two-channel mixer with no effects. I've always been known for my chopping and I'm an advocate for recording mixes live, not sequenced in Ableton.
I intend to show my colleagues and fans overseas where my roots are. The Jo-s 'Triple Threat' live experience is something only to be witnessed but of course, I'd like to start a dialogue with any promoters overseas who would be interested in having me perform at their shows so I can finally present the full-package!
Words: Chris Muniz
Photography: William Knight
Download Jo S' Kmag Guest Mix here
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