Jay Haze: Finding Focus

Jay Haze is an ‘artist’ in the truest sense of the word, his exploits in electronic music complimented for many years now by adventures in photography, film, video and sculpture. That’s not even to mention his widely documented work with charitable projects around the world – for example, Toys And Needs, which helps children and families well below the poverty line.

It all feeds back into the music, music that first materialised in 2002 via abstract techno EP ‘Untitled’ on Haze’s own label Contexterrior. Haze had grown up in Philadelphia before moving to Berlin, where he remains based today. Further, forward-thinking releases would arrive on Contexterrior including ‘Dummy Syndrome’ and ‘Socrates Rules’ (vs Robag Wruhme) not to mention imprints Textone (an online platform Haze was formerly involved with) and Musik Krause. And then Haze launched a further label himself, Tuning Spork, which would facilitate further incisive electronic thrusts ‘Berlin Pimping Pt 2’ and ‘Ass To Mouth’, as well as lauded 2008 album Love & Beyond – a follow-up to 2005’s debut Love For A Strange World.

That title is apt, for Haze will tell you that his craft (music et al) is about promoting love and togetherness throughout his audiences. In recent years, another similarly praised album has followed, 2011’s Love = Evolution. And there have been Fabric mixes, tidy remixes, confident EP outings on Leftroom and Sonora, ongoing work as aliases Fuckpony and The Architect – there are others besides) and DJ assignments at the farthest extremes of the compass. In 2011, media interviews given by Haze indicated his distinct disillusionment with the electronic music scene and, after that, he became a father – inevitably, perhaps, fresh studio output slowed. But 2014 has marked Haze’s creative re-acceleration, epitomised brilliantly by this month’s new album (on Leftroom) Finding Oriya and EP (on Soul Clap) ‘The Mulatar House’. Cue our phone interview….

Where are you Jay? That sounds like waves crashing on a beach in the background….

Ha Ha! I wish brother…. I’m actually crashed at my apartment in Berlin with the fan running! I’ve been up for the past 18 hours and I’ve got to fly to Dubai shortly. It’s been a tumultuous week, leaving my other place Peru to tour Europe, promoting the new projects, writing new music and working on videos. It’s been tumultuous but exciting.

Tell us about ‘The Mulatar House’:

I want to take my music in more of this direction, working with real instruments. I grew up playing a few myself and, generally, I’m fascinated when I hear anything new. I heard Jordi [Lockrut, Haze’s regular collaborator] playing this exotic string instrument, the Mulatar, and it was heaven for me. He kicked the EP off really, he showed me how to make my own instrument…how to wet the wood and craft it. It was a beautiful experience. It’s really important for me to develop new sounds – not develop genres but actual new sounds. Right now I’ve also been recording with Swiss hang drums and Cajon box drums; the sounds are amazing and I want to introduce all of this stuff to dance music. I want to utilise the digital, for sure, but combine it with the acoustic…those warmer, new but familiar elements.

How about Finding Oriya?

This is an album I’ve recorded with my friend ESB [Canadian producer Elan Benaroch]. He’s a synth expert and, like me, a multi-instrumentalist, and it felt really great working together in the studio. I went to Canada for a detox really, as well as to record; and it was at the time I first heard I was going to be a father. That’s an intense situation to process, when you’re working out how your life is going to change and what your responsibilities will be – I was experiencing all those emotions and circular thoughts. But the experience [of recording] was great. It’s a fuzzy record, a little bit wonky too but warm…it has real personality. We’re not trying to prove to the world that we’re making the next big thing; we’re just producing something to be culturally accepted as good music….

You’ve spoken to us before about your learning curve – where are you on that curve in 2014?

I feel absolutely blessed to have the ability to keep learning, from a creative perspective, today. I feel no loss of creativity, and that my best projects are still to come. It’d probably help if I had a manager, who could bring a lot of this stuff…this positioning closer together. It’s harder for me right now as I’m directly dealing with agencies who don’t have anyone like me on their books.

It was only three years ago Jay that you talked about turning your back on much of the electronic music scene – stopping your labels, scaling back EPs and gigs, no more albums…. How do you feel today?

I actually feel a lot different now as a father [Haze has been a father for two years]. I’m providing for someone else now so I want to be at the top of my game to ensure they have a good life. And I also want to help other people through what I do. Fatherhood has changed me. I’m still a love warrior but less militant. I’m not looking at the negative sides of the music industry so much now, like the DJ profiteering. I’m trying to find the positives instead…where I can fit in. I need to make a living and I have a fan base that I need to keep connected with. That’s a major responsibility.

So what will your short-term future hold?

Aside from the new projects on Leftroom and Soul Clap, I’ve now re-launched my labels [operating together as ‘Contexterrior Tuning Spork’] and am currently working through the schedule of releases. The first new release, by Alex Celler, came out last month and had a great reaction. We’ll be looking at doing a lot more vinyl too.

Any grander ambitions?

I’ve done shorts [short films] before but, looking ahead, I would like to direct a film. I think only then will people get to understand my mind fully in terms of the connection between music and visual design. There’s no detail on what I’ll do yet, I think I need more stability in my life first to even look at a film. But I can tell you it’ll be black-and-white….

How important is it for dance music makers to have a wider artistic focus beyond, simply, the beats?

From a cultural perspective it’s very important. Art work…art forms and music are connected. People find love in music because their minds are wandering whilst they listen to it, and they’re picking up other experiences. That is pure togetherness. Art, in general, does this; it is a cultural thing bringing us together. Personally, though, I still see challenges. I mean, how many people actually listen to the lyrics of music; how many people even listen to the music? I remember DJing a while back at a great party for, like, seven hours, and this guy comes up requesting Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. I told him ‘brother, now that’s a great request but don’t you realise where you are, and what I’m playing? This is a dance party, why do you want Bill Withers?’ He told me that he’d had that track in his head all night. Fair enough, but it showed he wasn’t actually listening to anything I’d been playing.

How are your ‘social’ projects progressing?

They’re all up-and-running now, so it’s much easier to step back, let them run and manage them. It’s a really great thing…so fun for me. I love working with kids and being able to help make a difference. The work doesn’t even register in terms of my overall work rate, I just do it. And it’s having a positive effect on my music. My music is growing and I’m gaining a new audience. The music is actually a way of telling people that we care about them; that they are the future….

Lots to look forward to then….

I just go with the flow, and try to find an angle of focus. Luckily, I keep finding those angles. Sometimes I’m not really connected to the world – as an artist, it’s like I’m in a bubble…I’m easily caught up in the creative process. For others, I guess, that can be hard sometimes but I do have a life outside of all this and really it’s all good.
Words: Ben Lovett

Jay Haze’s new album “Finding Oriya” is out now on Leftroom.

Jay Haze