Next up in the interview series is DJ Hero. I've always enjoyed the variety in his sounds and was pumped to have him jump in on the remix project. While we have not met in person, we've connected through mutual friends over at XeroTribe and chat in bits and pieces over the last year. I've found his perspective on music refreshing and worldly insights fun to follow.
Interview by Kelly Ross | Agent 137
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Where does the name “DJ Hero” come from?
When I was young, I used to draw comic books. One day, when I was 19, I was sitting at my house with my roommate, doodling. I had just recently started DJ’ing. I wouldn’t even consider myself a DJ that point. I sat there, at the table drawing, while my roommate sat across from me reading. I had set my drawing pad down, and gotten up to go refill our coffee cups. When I returned to the table, my roommate had drawn the Superman “S” on the chest of the little DJ character I had been drawing. Before I could say anything, he said “that’s you, you’re DJ Hero”. I erased the “S” from the shield, and added a DJ. It just sort of stuck. To me a hero is someone that sets an example and is an inspiration for people. If I was the normal guy, then DJ Hero would be my muse to be more than I was; to be a better person. I hope that over time, as DJ Hero, I’ve inspired other people to be and do more with their own lives through my music and hopefully the example I’ve tried to set.
Your label is named Solitude Studios - what’s in a name?
I have been a bit of a loner all my life, and not a fan of big crowds or busy places. My studio is my place to get away from the rigors of the outside world, or packed clubs, venues, and festivals. I tend to think more clearly, and more creatively when I sit in peace. When I finally built my studio it seemed only fitting to call it “Solitude Studios”. Later, a friend of mine pointed out that Superman’s home is called the “Fortress of Solitude”, making me that much more of a nerd.
I listened to a few Solitude Studio podcasts today. Tell me how that started.
Several years ago, the podcast started as a radio show on United Breaks FM. From there, it moved to Party 95 out of Orlando. After several years on Party 95, and shortly after I started Solitude Studios, the record label, I changed the radio show to a Podcast I aired myself, once a month. Originally, the weekly radio show spotlighted the most popular breaks of the time. I tried to make the show put breaks in a good light. As my tastes evolved, I started adding other sounds and styles. Today the podcast is my way of showcasing the latest Solitude Studios release. The podcast’s sound each month, directly reflects the style of the release. As my own sound grows and expands, so will the podcast’s.
Talk to me about Denver. How you arrived, why you stay, what the music landscape is like etc.
In 2007, I was touring with Huda Hudia. The last stop on the tour was Denver, Colorado. I loved it. I loved the climate, the view, the city, and instantly clicked with the group of people we had met at that gig. At the time I was living in Atlanta, Georgia, and had been in the south for upwards of 12 years. I hated it. I was tired of the dirty south. A little over a month later, I had moved to Denver. I thought I wanted to move back to Florida in 2014. After getting there, it took me about 7 months before I was back in Denver, I missed it so much. This is my home now.
Denver is the birth place of Beatport, so the music scene has always been pretty hot. We’ve also got some pretty famous clubs, from Vinyl that over the past 20 years has hosted just about every one of the biggest DJ’s, to The Church, which is a gorgeous converted Catholic church, to Beta, which is now one of the country’s super clubs. We’ve also got some pretty successful promoters that have had their hands in some massive events.
There really isn’t much to complain about out here from a musical stand point.
When you sit down and listen for tunes to play or remix, what do you look for?
I look for originality and production quality. I look for tracks that are unique. As the use of premade and purchased sample packs increases, I’ve decided I would rather steer clear of them. I applaud the companies that have created successful businesses around selling the packs. And, I feel there is a place for good sampling, that’s what so much of my generation’s music is founded on, from hip hop, to pop music, to dance music. But I feel relying on sample packs and construction kits is lazy, and ultimately decreases sound quality. You can’t alter the effects already on the samples, so producers are limited in how much they can manipulate their sounds to specifically fit with the sounds they produce themselves. When I look for tracks for my own virtual record bag, I look for tracks that don’t sound they’ve come from those packs. When I look for tunes to remix, I try to choose tunes that I can’t use my own original production to make the remix sound top notch and unique.
Aside from that, when I’m looking for new music, I try to avoid blatant drug references and sexists or abusive lyrics. I don’t do drugs, I don’t party like that. It’s just not my thing. And, the bad lyrics and vocals are just annoying. I don’t really want to hear some MC demoralizing woman. Again, that goes back to the “DJ Hero” name sake. I just don’t think either is a good look, and doesn’t set a good example.
What’s the Hero/Wes Smith connection?
A while back I was listening to a mixed set online while hiking with my dog. In the mix was a pretty cool track that I couldn’t ID. I reached out to the DJ that posted the mix, and he said it was Wes Smith’s remix of his track. I heard a new/different remix in my head, so I asked if I could have a go at a remix. The DJ agreed, and sent me the remix pack. After going through the remix pack, I noticed it was missing one of the pieces I really liked about Wes’s remix. At that point I reached out to Wes for the part I wanted. Once Wes sent it to me, I completed the remix and sent it to the original producer of the tune, and to Wes (because he had given me a pieces from his remix of it). Wes seemed to enjoy the remix quite a bit, and, later, asked if I would remix one of the tunes on his album “It’s Wes Smith Yo!” The rest is history.
What’s some advice you would like to pass on?
If I could say just one thing to every would-be producer looking to make music, I would say “be you”. Make the music you want to make. Don’t try to make something that sounds like the other guy. Don’t make music to be cool or successful, do it to express yourself. But, I never want to say just one thing, so let me add this; Take your time, make mistakes. Suck for a while, because you’re supposed to. Learn your craft. Prevent yourself from taking short cuts. Learn humility, because not everyone is going to like you, people are going to lie to you, blow smoke up your ass, hate on you, etc. And, that is OK….be you.
Beyond that, don’t send a label an unfinished track. That’s the fastest way to be skipped over when the label goes to listen to the demos in their in box. Label your work properly; Artist Name – Track Title (Mix Title). If the label doesn’t know who and what they are listening to, they won’t follow up and try to find you. Instead they’ll find another track. Take some pride in your work.
After Turntable Sax, what’s next for DJ Hero?
I’m going to keep making new music. After really contemplating who “DJ Hero” is over the past two years or so, I’ve come to the decision that I love far too many sounds, and too many genres to limit myself to just ‘breaks’. That said, I’m going to make whatever inspires me, be it breaks, house, trap, or anything else for that matter. The goal is to create music that can span the genres in one mixed set.