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Experimental Reasoning: An Interview with DJ Logic

By Brian L. Knight

When talking in his book Hip Hop America, author Nelson George writes about the DJ’s role in the development of Afro-American music culture. George believes that in terms of "creating new notes, new chords and new harmonies ", DJs do not serve the purpose of enhancing the Afro-American musical tradition. This argument is supported by a DJ’s use of "prerecorded" sounds, which to some critics, refutes the concept of originality. This is argument is only one take on the debate as George continues "However, if that tradition (Djing) means embracing new sounds, bending found technology to the creator’s will in search of new forms of rhythm made to inspire and please listeners, well than sampling is as black as the blues."

Although DJ Logic is less of traditional sampler, in terms of borrowing well known riffs and melodies, he is a sampler in the terms described by George. The New York City native has redefined the turntable’s role in creating grooves. Logic started his musical career by playing in Eye in Eye, a participating band in Vernon Reid’s Black Rock Coalition. Through his friendship with Reid and their mutual passion for creating different music, DJ Logic was immersed in the New York City experimental underground music scene. Also known as the "Knitting Factory scene", this music covered all spectrums of music with names like John Zorn, Mark Ribot, Briggan Krause, Elliott Sharp and Medeski, Martin and Wood taking existing musical forms and adding new and bizarre twists.

DJ Logic shared the same musical passion but with a non traditional instrument. How was a DJ with the same vision to fit in this mold? At first, it seemed that turntables were simply regulated to the booths at dance floors and had no real role in a band environment. As hip-hop continued to tentacle like permeation of all music forms – from New Orleans jazz to hard core rap; the role of the DJ as an improviser became more apparent. In mainstream music circles of the 1990s, bands like Sugar Ray and Limp Bizkit employ a full time DJs. In the jazzier circles, England’s US3 combined hip-hop sampling and grooves with the works of the Blue Note Record’s roster. But just as "mainstream jazz" had avant-garde counterparts in Albert Ayler, Sam Rivers and Cecil Taylor, so did "mainstream hip-hop". Enter DJ Logic, who is the rhythm king of the hip-hop turntables. DJ Logic focuses less attention of the content of an individual record for he sees the textured values of a record/sample. Just like Miles Davis during his Bitches Brew era, the emphasis is not any individual sound but rather the groove created by a sound collective.

DJ Logic recently rose to national prominence through his association with the experimental-jazz-funk trio of Medeski, Martin and Wood. After showing up some of the trio’s "Shack parties," DJ Logic became a "fourth member" and has appeared on one EP, a full length album (Combistication) and countless tours. Due to M, M&W's respect in both hard core jazz circles and hippie-havens from Greenwich Village to Haight Ashbury, DJ Logic has sat with every type of band ranging from Deep Banana Blackout’s funk jams to vibist Bill Ware’s far out jazz explorations. Since then, DJ Logic honed his search for the perfect vibe. This quest has reached a first major installment with his recording Project Logic. Joined by Bill Ware, Mark Ribot, Briggan Krause, Vernon Reid, Medeski, Martin and Wood and many others, Project Logic is veritable whos-who of the NYC underground.

The Bronx born DJ Logic is taking his vibe on the road and that is where we caught him before a concert in Washington D.C.

Vermont Review: First question: What is your real name?

DJ Logic: My name is Jason Kibler

VR: How did you get the name DJ Logic?

DJL: The Logic name developed when I was in this band Eye in Eye, an alternative rock band. At the time, I was trying to come up with a DJ name. I couldn’t go as DJ Jason or anything like that. We decided to find something that stood out, me and a singer in the group. We looked through a couple of dictionaries and some magazines. We came upon Logic and thought it sounded great.

VR: Was guitarist Vernon Reid associated with Eye in Eye?

DJL: No. That was with Melvin Gibbs, DK Dyson, Gary Paulson, Ritchie Harrison. Living Color came out before us.

VR: Were Eye and Eye and Living Color both members of the Black Rock Coalition?

DJL: Yeah. The same time that Living Color was blowing up, we were the next band right behind them. We got signed by the same A&R.

VR: Were you playing the same type of music, a hard driving rock?

DJL: It was more funk and alternative. We went with a lot of different routes. Which I liked, because a lot of people were new to the DJ thing. We were kind of developing. We were on tour with the Psychedelic Furs, and Body Count. We were trying to define ourselves in the whole music category. We released one album called Eye in Eye and we released one single from the album called "Venus in Furs". I was with the band since I was fourteen. At the time there were no DJs at the time doing what I was doing.

VR: What was some of the first types of music that you were exposed to?

DJL: I was exposed to jazz, R&B, funk and hip-hop.

VR: Who were some of your first jazz influences?

DJL: I was listening to Miles, Grover Washington, Eddie Harris. Further down, when I was doing jazz instrumental improv gigs, I got into Sun Ra.

VR: How did you first get involved with being a DJ?

DJL: Going to parties, like the Zulu Nation Anniversary Hip-Hop parties. I used to go there and I was amazed by how the DJ was having the crowds dance and move. The DJs were switching up beats and stuff like that and I said I wanted to be a DJ. I was also always listening and taping hip-hop on the radio. One day, my parents gave me a turntable for Christmas. It wasn’t the expensive turntables, it was the cheap one. I worked my way around that until I got some expensive ones.

VR: Who were some of those DJs that you saw?

DJL: African Bambatta, Africa Islam, DJ Flash, Red Alert.

VR: What are those guys doing these days?

DJL: They still doing their thing. Africa Islam is in LA doing his thing with Ice T. African Bambatta is still going. When I was in Japan, I saw that he was coming over to play. Red Alert is still Djing on the radio. Some of them got put in Hall of Fame for spinning and djing for so long. They started hip-hop and all of that.

VR: First na´ve question. Did you use regular turntables for Djing or are they specifically designed?

DJL: Back then. They were just some cheap turntables – JVCs. I had to put a penny on table in order to make them stop jumping and scratching. I was young and just starting out with a new band. I was just trying to find my way around. Today, I have the Technics 1200. All the DJs have that turntable, or all the DJs should have. It has been around a long time.

VR: Can I play my Grateful Dead records on it?

DJL: (laughing) Of course.

VR: What were some of the first records that you bought?

DJL: It was a lot of jazz records. After playing in bands and learning a lot from other musicians, they would give me some advice on some records to go out and listen to. I was going out after rock records, funk records, jazz records. Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Ohio Players, Pink Floyd, Can, Billy Cobham, Gary Bartz, all of the Sun Ra stuff, all the Miles Davis stuff, all of Eddie Harris. The list goes on and on because I have a lot of records.

VR: Do you use those records for Djing?

DJL: Yeah. Some records I just listen to get ideas from or to just spin at a party.

VR: How long is the life expectancy of a record that you DJ with?

DJL: Well, I try to get two records. They could last for a long time as long as I don’t scratch it that much. If I am playing it, it will last time. If I am scratching it, it will wear and tear. It’s just like wearing sneakers.

VR: Some say that a lot of the great Blue Note funky stuff from the 1960s and 1970s like the works of guitarist Grant Green have become rare because the DJs grabbed hold of them and scratched them up.

DJL: Totally. That is why you have to buy two copies. When I go shopping, I always getting something that I already have at home. I always get any extra copy.

VR: Do you listen to any CDs?

DJL: Yeah I listen to CDs but my vinyl collection is much bigger.

VR: Jumping ahead to your new album, Project Logic. It sounds great. It is a cast of many people.

DJL: I am so happy that all those cats came together. It is my first record. With these musicians, we did a little thing here and there on somebody else’s records, and we all stayed in touch. When the time came around, they were all able to come down and do something on my records which was great.

VR: With so many people, did it take a while to record?

DJL: It took about two weeks. It was just trying to match the right musicians with good vibes. We came up with some nice music. It was mostly improv and some of the stuff, we started with some ideas and the musicians played them out for me.

VR: One of the more interesting instruments on the album is Christina Wheeler playing the theremin on the tune "Eyes Open but Dead". What was it like working with that instrument?

DJL: It was great. I knew about the theremin but when I did a record with Vernon Reid, he had Christina do something on his record, which was celled Mistaken Identity. I had an idea that I would want to her to come down and do something for me when I had a record. She also sings. She sang on "Abyss", the song with Teo Macero.

VR: Teo Macero, who is best known for producing Miles Davis’s albums with Columbia Records, plays the horn on your album. How did you meet up with Macero?

DJL: I met him through Vernon Reid and we had a good time talking to each other and became good friends. We kept in touch and I have done stuff for him on other projects. He came through to do this thing for me, which is great.

VR: Growing up listening to Miles Davis, it must have been like working with a hero.

DJL: Totally. I was listening to him tell all his stories about Miles. It was great. It was like a little kid listening to his grandfather. He is like a kid too. He’s got a nice vibe. He is a loving person.

VR: I am going to name some of the people whoop appear on your album. Could you comment on some of them. Bassist Melvin Gibbs?

DJL: I have been with him since Eye in Eye days. We just developed a brother vibe thing. He also produced the record.

VR: Drummer Skoota Warner?

DJL: I have known him since the Eye in Eye days too – for a long time. It’s like a family. (laughter) Everybody knows me since I was little.

VR: I guess that John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood would be your new family?

DJL: Totally. Totally. Totally. I met those guys when I was doing something for Vernon. At the time, I never heard any of their music but they loved what I was doing with Vernon. We exchanged numbers and when the time came around for us to get together at their Shack parties, when the Shack Man album came out, I came down and did a whole performance with them. Things just grew and developed from there.

VR: It seems like Vernon Reid has been a lynchpin throughout your career?

DJL: Over the years, he has seen how interested I was in music. We have a close bond with each other. We love doing things differently. Making different types of music – doing different things, creatively wise.

 

VR: Guitarist Mark Ribot?

DJL: Mark is an interesting cat too. (laughter). I met him at the Knitting Factory doing improv gigs and stuff like that. I asked him to do the record and he was more than happy to.

VR: Vibist Bill Ware?

DJL: I met him at the Knitting Factory too. In fact, everybody I met at the Knitting Factory. We were all doing improv and we all developed a relationship and kept in touch.

VR: Here’s someone you probably did not meet there: How about Fuzz from Deep Banana Blackout?

DJL: I met Fuzz at Wetlands. They heard about me with Medeski, Martin and Wood and they asked me if I wanted to come down and jam with them. I came down, checked them out and worked my way into the mix.

VR: You have a lot of great musicians in the studio. Who are you bringing with you out on the road with you?

DJL: My band consists of Melvin Gibbs, Casey Benjamin, who also played on the record. He is an up and coming young jazz musicians. He plays saxophone and keyboards. The drummer, who is out of St. Louis, is Leon Lamont. A guitarist by the name of Scott Hardy – he also produced on the records and engineered MMW. I would like to have all the guests who played on the record to perform as well. Since we are the opening band, we have to build like that.

VR: It sounds like you have played in lots of different environments.

DJL: I have been exposed to a whole lot of different things – from hip-hop to jungle, jazz, rock, trance, house. Everything that is spun. My resume is very big. I have been all over the world, which is great experience too.

VR: Do you have any free time?

DJL: Yeah, I have some free time, but right now I am promoting my record, staying on top of the business, talking to you. Just moving place to place. I have a busy schedule right now.

VR: Just as US3 combined hip-hop and mainstream jazz, it sound like you combine hip-hop with the avant-garde elements of jazz?

DJL: I want to try something different as we go into the new century. I want to come and stand out with something different – a new type of music. I want show musicians and DJs that they can take it to a new who level.

VR: Anybody out there that you would like to play with that you haven’t with?

DJL: Yeah, a couple of people. I wished I could have played with Miles. I would like to do some stuff with ZZ Top…………Phish. I would like to do anything with somebody who is creatively driven and who wants to do something experimental.

Project Logic is a phenomenal CD with lots of great grooves and an superb supporting cast. As far as debut albums, it is one of the more impressive.  Ckeck out more of DJ Logic at www.djlogic.com/