I’d come armed with research into his productions and his label, the things that matter, right? I’d been listening all the way through from his early releases in the Contextterrior family [Tuning Spork, Textone, Future Dub] to recent big, souled out Fuckpony tracks on Get Physical, not to mention newly classic excursions such as ‘Soul in a Bottle’. But over a wide-ranging hour and a half, Jay Haze didn’t just talk music. The interview went something like this:
How was last night?
It was amazing. I played at Club Transmediale in Berlin. Three thousand people. Then a few of my friends went to Troy Pierce’s birthday. He turned 38.
Did you get some sleep?
Yeah, of course I got some sleep. I’m not into the M_nus parties. Especially in Berlin, M_nus parties are extremely overhyped. I mean they’re very boring parties. It’s very boring for me to go and listen to these guys now. Back three years ago it was nice, we would all play together, and now it’s just that I like a little bit more soul and funk. They have none. Zero soul and zero funk.
Where did the name Jay Haze come from?
Jay Haze has been my name since I was about fourteen. It came from graffiti. At first my tag was just ‘Haze’, you know, when I would be writing on the walls. And my first name has always been Jay. So it just kind of stuck since I started DJing and doing art.
Are you still creating art? Or are you strictly about music these days?
Not strictly music. I have other ways to express myself. You know, that morphed into me becoming a glass sculptor. I’m a glass blower. I was quite successful in that for years. But the past few years have been very demanding with the attention towards music, if I want to try to make a career out of it. But I will go back to it actually. I’ve really been thinking about it a lot. It’s a very thought invoking art. Believe me. Because it’s so raw. You’re taking raw materials and metals and fire… I was never doing it out of the kiln. I did it in front of a torch. You know, when I first got into sculpting glass, I didn’t even touch a woman for four years. Really.
In your bio it says you had a few years of relaxing – well, bumming around with no money. Is this true?
Yes, but it was anything but relaxing. I promise. I was homeless for a long time. I was sleeping in the street, in the car. This was in San Francisco in ‘96 and ’98. Also in San Diego, in Florida. It was a very low period of my life, but I had to make the best of whatever I could. I was selling drugs, never any heroin or anything like that, but LSD and ganja. Lots of LSD. That was how I made my money. I was in San Francisco and I had a direct connection to big amounts. On the West Coast it was so much easier to find LSD. I would just send it back to the East Coast in ten packs, which is a thousand hits. I would get them for twenty-five cents a hit and sell them for seventy-five cents. I’d been doing LSD since I was fourteen years old. I did a lot. Tons of LSD. It had a little bit of an effect on me, helping me to see things a little more deep, not so depressive anymore.
What was your lowest point?
The lowest point in my life was when I was homeless. But maybe that’s low more from what an outsider might say. But yeah, I promised myself I’ll never go back. It’s my dream to own a house someday so I never have to worry about being homeless. I never want to have one of my children, when I have children, be doing what I was doing. Because it was very dangerous. There were times when I was sleeping in Golden Gate Park where there was murders happening. I was at that time exactly the kind of guy who could have been murdered and nobody would have known. But it shaped me to be the person that I am, both the strengths and the weaknesses. That’s why I don’t really give a shit so much what people say about me, because I have that experience. It’s the kind of experience that really teaches you to be strong and not care. When you only have to fend for yourself, and you don’t really have anybody else to express yourself to, you find yourself expressing yourself to yourself.
How do you see the hip hop scene as opposed to the techno scene?
It’s a lot more serious and a lot less guarded. Everybody tries to pretend that the techno and house scene is so holy and everybody celebrates each other. It’s really fake. Everybody’s just about the hype. One hyped person is afraid to say that they don’t like another hyped person. But I’m the first person to say I think James Holden sucks. Really. I think he’s a horrible DJ. I don’t think he knows how to work records. I think he’s a good producer but it’s not my style. That’s what I’m talking about. For me it’s okay to state your opinion because that’s how things change. You don’t have to be friends with everybody. You don’t have to talk with somebody. It’s a big difference if you’re going to be an asshole. I wouldn’t be like “Hey, fuck you” or whatever.
I’ll give you an example. When I’m sitting on a airplane right next to Paul Van Dyk, which has happened before, going to Ibiza, just because I make music and he makes music does not mean that I should talk to him. And I didn’t talk to him because I don’t give a fuck about him! I don’t care about this dude. Why would I? At least with urban music, they’re real, and if they get some beef, they talk about it. They say, “You know what? I don’t like what you’re doing and I think what I am doing is better.” People might think that’s a bad attitude, but I think that being fake is a bad attitude as well. In fact I think being fake is an even worse attitude because the repercussions for fake behavior have aftereffects for a long time. Whereas if you get in somebody’s face and say, “Hey, man. Fuck you. I don’t like you. You don’t like me, cool, peace, end of story,” the effect is that that two people know where they stand, and that’s cool.
Do you think the era of ‘superstar DJs’ such as PVD and Carl Cox is over?
Well, I understand that with Paul Van Dyk, for instance, he ‘does it’ for a lot of people and he makes a lot of people happy. A lot of people connect with him and that is something that I really respect. I really respect Carl Cox. But that is something different from the music. I respect people’s accomplishments in life. What they’ve accomplished is that they bring a lot of people together and they do it in a positive way. They get people smiling when they show up and that’s cool, man. For me, what Paul Van Dyk or Carl Cox or Derrick Carter have accomplished is everything that I would like to accomplish in my own career. They’re good models for that. They probably deserve what they have. So there’s always two sides.
How did you get from the hip hop related stuff to the stuff you’re into now?
The picture that desperately needs to be painted of me is I’m not a one-minded kind of guy. In fact my hip hop career is really starting to take even more promising shape than my house career at the moment. My new album is hip hop and soul. It’s a new direction for me. But my answer to your question is very simple: I never had hip hop roots. I love hip hop music but grew up listening to everything. I can sit here and tell you the lyrics for five entire Guns N Roses albums, five entire Rolling Stones, Talking Heads albums, Nine Inch Nails. I still know every single verse, every single chord on ‘Pretty Hate Machine’. It’s never been about one thing with me ever. I’ve never just been totally immersed in hip hop. The main difference is I found a better connection with hip hop culture. Maybe not only the music, because I never immersed myself. I mean I love bluegrass music, Johnny Cash. I’m a huge reggae fan. I would honestly take reggae over techno any day. If somebody said to me, “Hey, you’re going to a desert island, what one disc would you take?” it would be something like Bob Marley. I would literally cut off one of my fingers to see Bob Marley play live. That’s how much his music means to me.
House and techno, it’s just the icing on the cake, and it’s just what I enjoy doing right now. But it’s by no means something that defines me. These kind of people who pigeonhole me like this, they’re in for a big surprise with what’s about to happen this year. Right now I got a killer dubstep record I’m about to drop. It’s a very serious dubstep record that’s going to turn some heads.
What alias is it going to get released under?
No clue. I don’t even care. At this point I could put it out on a blank record.
What are the good things and bad things about running your own labels?
It’s great for me because I get to introduce a lot of music I love to people that really appreciate it. For me, it’s pretty much only positives. Contextterrior is a label with a very fucked up ideal from the beginning, which was totally stripped down, minimal, fucked up music that was most of the time was sitting on the back shelves of record shops. The influence that it had really motivated me in a big way. After Contexterrior 01 came out, one day I came home and there was an email from Richie Hawtin immediately inviting me to M_nus. Immediately. It said, “Hey, man. I love your productions. I would love for you to be on M_nus. Please come to my thirtieth birthday party.” This is six years ago. That’s how this whole Jay Haze/M_nus connection came about. When Troy moved to Berlin, every time I played I would have Troy playing with me. Every single time. This is when nobody knew who Troy was. He was just my boy, and I would bring him to gigs. He wasn’t getting gigs. I would bring him to mine and I would tell the promoter, “Hey, this dude’s playing with me.” We would play together – he would have one turntable, I would have the other. Sometimes we would do this for eight hours together.
Have you ever got in the studio together?
We have been in the studio together but we’ve never made beats together. I’m a bit too funky for Troy. That’s what he says. Like my fucked up stuff, my really weird fucked up stuff which these guys really, really love me for – that’s a phase that I went through.
The only thing I do view negative is the minimal hype. I do view the M_nus hype as negative in a way.
You’re not in that phase anymore? Was it a good phase or bad phase?
Great. Only positive. I don’t view any of this stuff as negative. The only thing I do view negative is the minimal hype. I do view the M_nus hype as negative in a way.
Do you think it will come to an end?
Sure. No doubt about it. It’s going to come to an end soon.
Will Contextterrior be the next big thing?
No. No way. Contextterrior is going down with M_nus. A huge, huge part of that minimal hype had to do with M_nus because Richie is a genius. I have to say that I respect Rich so much. He really has this kind of sensibility that makes the people follow him. M_nus was a huge, huge factor in the whole minimal hype. They are the top label of the whole minimal hype and Contextterrior and Textone are labels very closely associated with the real people. The real people, not just the hypsters. People who really dig M_nus love Contextterrior and understandably so. I can tell you, people like Troy or Heartthrob, they had their releases with me before M_nus. I can never ever turn my back on M_nus. I do really like the music on M_nus.
Do you prefer the early stuff or what they’re putting out now?
Oh, I love some of the stuff they put out now. I mean M_nus is a good label. You can’t take that away from them. But they have a few things, like the new Marc Houle album was horrible. Horrible. ‘Bay of Figs’ was a joke to me. That whole album. I swear to god, in my office, it went through four hands. It came as a promo and it went through four hands. And we were all like, “Here you go.” “No, I don’t want it.” “Here you go.” “No.” Straight up, no joke. Ended up taking the record and throwing it against the wall. One of the most hyped records of 2006 – poorly produced, it was simple, electro, poppy – what the hell was M_nus thinking? I mean they got some really cool shit. The new Tractile is the bomb, Jon Gaiser…
JPLS stuff is not so strong. He seems like a very nice guy but his stuff is not very danceable or…playable even. I would definitely say Troy’s stuff is wicked. I really play lots of Troy. Well, I used to play a lot of Troy. I don’t really get into playing stuff that everybody is playing. Obviously that’s what makes me different than anybody else. I really love some of Marc Houle’s old stuff, but that new Marc Houle album, come on, it was a joke, man. To this day I haven’t met one person who told me that they loved that album. Not one person. I swear to god. In record shops or anything. But just because M_nus released that Marc Houle album, doesn’t mean that it’s a bad label. This is what I tell people. Man, so many people talk shit about M_nus. If they continued with that Marc Houle thing, if that was the new direction was or something, then you could say, well okay…but that’s just Marc Houle’s direction. It’s not M_nus’ direction. I only heard Richie play the track ‘Bay of Figs’. That’s the only track I ever heard him play from that album.
To get back to your question, This big hype has happened, and I see that that hype… Man, I’m not even going to front. I’m not even going to sit here and try and hide it. I was one of the first guys really pushing this shit. That sound that is right now, the hyped minimal with all these reverbs and all this shit, go and listen to my first productions. Go talk to people who know. I was one of the first guys putting these big phat ass reverbs into minimal techno. I’ve even had the guys from Hardwax come to me and be like, “Dude, what you were doing with the reverbs on the snares…” These big reverbs are a defining aspect of minimal music. It’s such a staple in all these records right know. It’s in every Guido Schneider record, in every Robag Wruhme record. Robag Wruhme himself came up to me and was like, “Dude, you have no clue what your first records did for me. Putting these big reverbs…” I can’t hate on it because a lot of what these guys are doing is what I was doing eight years ago. It can be a bit of pain in my ass that now eight years later it’s the boom thing. Eight years ago nobody fucking paid a shit.
So you’re saying stuff like ‘Soul in a Bottle’ is your new direction now?
No. I would never say something like that. Let me just put it this way. Music for me is and always has been an expression. That is one thing any of my fans have to understand. It was never about a direction, it’s about a feeling. I finished ‘Soul in a Bottle’ right after I finished the Fuckpony album. I still had something in me and I was just sitting in the studio one day going to myself [sings] “Your love come down on me like fire”. I was like “shit!” There you go. Made these chords, it was like boom, you know? For me it’s one of the most classic records I ever made. In my heart I mean. I’m not talking about sales, I’m not talking about any of that, In my heart, for me, it was a classic record that I made. I love it. It’s got a very nice place, it’s got a very nice feeling. But a new direction? I wouldn’t say that. I’d say that I am continuing to grow. It’s going up and down. Sometimes I’ll have a more experimental period. Right know my stuff has even been a bit more techy. Some of the tracks that I’m making have an old Chicago house feeling. Actually, a lot of Chicago house is always really techy anyway. But let’s just say it like this: everything I do right now is funky. It’s got to be. Now that I’m getting older.
Guys like Richie and Troy are still evolving sound-wise as they’ve gotten a little older. Do you think age can change your style?
In the end I think guys like Richie and Troy are doing what they love to do, and that right there is the most important thing. Guys like Ricardo are still doing what they love to do. It doesn’t matter if I like it or not. As long as they’re happy, hey man, wicked, rock on with it. That’s what I want in life. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I don’t give a fuck about anybody. I care about people, but what I’m saying is I don’t give a fuck what about anybody has to say about my direction, or about me, because I know what I’m doing keeps me happy. As long as I’m happy and as long as I make the people around me happy, which I know I do, then all the other people who are talking, they’re just hating on the fact that I’m happy. All haters are is unhappy. It’s that simple. In my experiences in life, I can tell you that. Haters are not happy. You show me somebody who is a hater and happy, I will kiss your ass. Straight up. That is why people say negative things.
I will give you an example. I did a Groove interview in Germany. A lot of people thought it was controversial. There is nothing controversial in it. Nothing. Every single bit of it was the truth. Every single bit was confirmed by every person in the story. A lot of people, when they saw that, they were hoping that I’d fail miserably. They were hoping that this would put some kind of dent in my career. People wanted to see me fall. You realize quite quickly who these people are. But you know what? All eyes were on me in Germany. It was the most talked about issue in Groove Magazine history. I stayed strong, I stayed happy and gave everybody a big royal fuck you and I became ten times more wealthy and successful from the point that that interview came out to were I am right now. No joke.
Also, do you know the ‘Slices’ DVD? Mine was the most talked about interview in ‘Slices’. Why? Because I said a few simple things that nobody else on six issues of Slices would dare to say. There was nothing even borderline controversial. It’s not like I was a Mike Tyson kind of guy who went out and punched a dude in the face and told him fuck off. Of course not. How controversial can telling the truth be?
Well the truth hurts, right?
To people who have something to hide. But there’s a bunch of other people who relate like in a huge way. Those are the people that move me. When I go out to the club tonight at Fabric, I will put a hundred euro down on the table that I’ll have ten people minimum come up to me and tell me how much they liked the ‘Slices’ interview and how much they appreciated that I had an opinion and a personality. Guaranteed. Every gig I play, it happens. From Italy to Spain to Japan. Because it’s no bullshit with me. You’re not going to get sugarcoated candy from me. What you’re going to get is the truth. I’ll tell you what I like, I’ll tell you what I don’t, but I’m not going to talk shit either. I will always try to tell both sides of it. For instance, I could say that the Marc Houle album on M_nus is shit, but there is a lot of other Marc Houle music that I love. M_nus too. You can focus on whatever comment you want to come up with whatever conclusion...
Read the second half of interview: The dark side of Jay Haze pt. 2