June 3, 2010
Jay Sonic is a founding member of LA hip hop group Time Machine, as well as tiny label Glow in the Dark Records. Today, he speaks with Converse.com about growing up in Miami, moving to LA, making music, and running an independent label.
Where did you grow up? How did you come to live in LA? What do you like about it?
JS: I was born in Providence, RI and my mother and I moved to Miami when I was 5. I moved to LA with the other guys in Time Machine in 2003, because we were previously living in separate cities and all agreed that we needed to be in the same place to give our music the attention it needed. We had been to California to do a few shows, and we liked the way LA felt.
I like that LA, more than maybe any other place I’ve ever been, is truly what you make it. You can live a very private secluded life, or you can be out and around people all the time. It’s still the Wild West in the sense that anything goes. People complain about LA being full of phony people, but I think those who say that are just surrounding themselves with the wrong folks. There are good and bad people anywhere you go.
How did you first get into hip hop? What about it grabbed you?
JS: Just being around older kids in the apartments where I grew up in Miami. Miami is basically New York south – a lot of Caribbean people, West Indians, Jews – and the music reflected it. In the late 80s and early 90s it was old school hip hop and all of that. And of course there was more local music. It was all just really exciting to me from a young age.
I was an only child and creatively inclined, so around 6th grade I started writing my own songs. My mom took me to some big pop and rock tours in Miami when I was real young, and then the first hip hop show I went to was in December 1991 when I was 13. I still have the ticket stub.
How’d you come up with the name Time Machine? Is it a conscious nod to being retro?
JS: Um, I think at first it was a combo of being a nod to older music that influenced us, and also a reference to a pattern that we noticed that a lot of our songs were about the concept of “time” itself.
What are some of Time Machine’s influences? Non-musical influences?
JS: I guess it would be Hip Hop of the 80s and early 90s. All kinds of Soul, Jazz and electronic music are in there too. And drums are foremost. DRUMS all day. Non-musically… girls, travel, attitude, physics, loss, honesty, discovery, and so much more; just the parts of life that make us stop, take notice, and comment.
How do you feel about all the lo-fi hip hop groups that are making music right now? Where did that trend come from?
JS: I assume you mean groups with real simple 808 drum beats, real rhythmic, not much melody? I think there’s room for all that and everything else. I like a lot of it. The beauty of music, and all art forms for that matter is, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to pay attention to it. I’m not sure exactly where the movement you’re asking about comes from, but it’s definitely a retro thing that comes from the same place as a lot of the fashion trends we’ve seen in the past few years.
Is it tricky to switch back-and-forth between making music and the practicalities of running a label? What do you look for in potential groups to work with?
JS: We figured out running a record label as we went along. For a while it really felt like my calling. I have entrepreneurial tendencies, and most importantly, it allowed us to make, release and market our music however we wanted. There were times when the business and the music conflicted, but more often than that, I think it created opportunities for us. After a while, the label stopped feeling like my calling and started feeling like a pain. Now that the label is alive but less active, it feels pretty good again, and we’re doing pretty well with having our songs used in TV shows and commercials.
When we were signing new artists it wasn’t about anything at all but loving their music. Panacea and The Project were completely unknown outside of their local scenes, and it was important to me to get as much attention as possible for music that I thought was so good. Going forward, we’ll probably only put out music by Time Machine.
As a record label, how do you feel about the prevalence of online downloads? I noticed you put some free downloads on your blog.
JS: It seemed really problematic for us at first. You have to keep in mind that for a label of our size, anything that sells 5 figures of units is considered a big success. So when the whole world woke up one morning and decided to stop buying CDs and records, the forecast was grim. The plant where we had our vinyl pressed went out of business. Now we do a decent amount of business every month with paid downloads online. Not having to manufacture, store or ship anything is a beautiful thing. We like putting up free music now and then on our site www.glowlikethis.com… old and new mixes by DJ Mekalek, lost songs that never saw the light of day, promo tracks, etc.
You’ve done some fun music videos. Are there any stories you’d like to tell me about the making of a video?
JS: We were really resourceful (and lucky) when it came to music videos. For a group with basically no financial backing, we have some really creative and compelling videos. A few times we were hit up by people out of the blue, like, “Hey, I make videos and I like your music. Wanna work together?” That’s how “The Unfortunate Twist” video came about… it’s like a top-notch animated video by a guy from England named David Whittle. He just hooked it up. All we could do in return was promote the video as best we could and take him out to dinner when we were on tour in the UK.
The video “Night Lights” from our first album Slow Your Roll was directed by my ex-girlfriend, and we still had to work together on the post-production immediately after we broke up. The video for “The Groove That Just Won’t Stop” was the only one that I directed myself. The whole thing was made of thousands of still photos animated in a rapid-fire slide show, and brought together with cartoon-y segues by our friend Evan Guidera (who saved our ass a number of times). Making videos was a lot of fun, although really stressful at times, and we were really lucky to have some good people in our corner.
What’s next for Time Machine? What’s coming up that you’re excited about?
JS: Time Machine is working on new songs now. I’m not sure what shape it’s going to take… if we’ll put together a whole album, a series of singles, or what. Whatever it is, it’ll be on several paid download sites.
We are also releasing some old music for the first time digitally. The album Hot Air that I was talking about earlier from 1999 will be in wide release for the first time this year, and so will a 2-song 7″ vinyl-only release I did around 2001 or 2002 called “Apple Pie”. Both are under the artist name Jaysonic.
I’m also doing a photo site called calledleisurecult. It’s all from my phone, and it’s about the things that I see that make me stop and take notice; not about me being a photographer.