JONWAYNE: TRY NOT TO ASK FOR TOO MUCH
andy j. scott
JonWayne initially came up as a rapper but now he makes blunted beats on earth when he should be making them somewhere on Neptune or at least in a castle underwater. In a little over a year, the twenty-one year old La Habra-based producer put out Wayniac, Doodles, Remixes Are Things, Bowser, Thanks Bro, I Don’t Care and now, he releases The Death of Andrew on Alpha Pup. He speaks here about his high school days as a football-playing poetry-writing theater geek, recording beats in his bathroom with an 8-track set up on a trash can, and the first time he played Low End Theory. This interview by Lainna Fader.
You’ve said you’re a theater nerd. What’s the first production you were part of?
When I was 17 we did this thing called the Young Artists Workshop. It was pretty much like taking fifteen kids and putting them into a warehouse for two weeks and we had to create and direct a play, produce this entire thing in a Broadway-style theater in front of people. It was ridiculous. I’d never actually done anything like it before. It was summer, and I had just quit football. My parents wanted me to do something, so they said to either get a job, or do something theater-style.
You went from football to theater to rapping and making beats?
Yeah, those changes were pretty drastic. I definitely had people that had a problem with it, but essentially, you just gotta do what you gotta do. You really can’t give a shit at the end. Do what you gotta do.
How did playing football prepare you for making your music?
It’s totally different. It has nothing to do with sports. When I was a freshman, I started writing poetry—because I liked a girl who liked poetry. I used to write a lot. I started getting into theater and poetry at the same time, and I was falling out of love with sports because I was getting the energy and expression I needed from those in a way that was much more effective for me. So by the end of my sophomore year, I decided I didn’t want to do sports anymore, and it was weird because two older brothers were varsity football players and that was the thing. All the coaches knew me since I was a seventh or eighth grader. So quitting that was pretty difficult. When I quit that, I got more into theater, and I did that all four years of high school, and then I did that Young Artists Workshop, which got me into doing spoken word. Through that workshop, I met this dude Avi and some of his people from West Covina. He was in charge of music production, and he’d bring his workstation every day and make beats and these dudes would rap. I was experiencing that nonstop for two weeks in a concentrated area and I’d always thought about doing it before, but they encouraged me, because they liked what I was doing with the poetry. That was the breaking point, that’s what got me into rapping.
What was the poem you wrote for that girl like? Did it get you a date?
It wasn’t a single poem. I was doing it in secret because I didn’t really understand. The poems that they make you read in eighth grade—none of it’s applicable to your life. So I didn’t really get it until I started writing it myself. Then I actually started getting really into it and I never really got a date with the girl but I kind of fell out of lust with her and fell in love with words and it was kind of a weird turn because I didn’t expect it at all. It started out being some kind of con but I actually started getting into it.
What was the first beat you ever made and the first rap you ever wrote like?
I remember I was actually in Hawaii, and I wrote a really long one—like a five-page-long one. I had ‘Pet Monster Shotglass’ by Lotus, and that was the first thing I wrote to. The first time ever I think was in Canada. I had my iPod with me, which was kind of my saving grace because it was a twenty-hour drive. We finally get there, and I go on my dad’s laptop to charge my iPod and I hit the wrong button and all of it deletes. It was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m up here for a whole month and I have no music.’ It was an emergency situation to go to the mall and get music. I bought Beat Konducta 1-2 because I recognized Madlib’s name from MadVillain. I didn’t know what to expect. That was the first instrumental album I got it and it just blew my mind. I would listen to that straight for a month. I also had a book—Saul William’s Dead Emcee Scrolls, and I realized, ‘Oh, this is rap.’ I basically spent my free time up there in seclusion with this book reciting some shit over these beats. So that was the inspiration to put this stuff into action.
What’d your parents think about all this, from dropping out of college to doing theater to the music you make now?
When I dropped out of college, it probably worried them a lot. But by the time I had dropped out it was kind of like, ‘Who are we kidding?’ It wasn’t on some, ‘You’re quitting college? But I thought you were going to be a professor!’ kind of shit. It was like, ‘Jon, you should probably quit.’ I had a job for a while, working for my dad for about nine months, doing sandblasting every day. That was ridiculous. I stopped doing that for school, and then I worked at E.B. Games when I dropped out. I was really worried about my future, cuz nothing was really popping off. I was actually working at E.B. Games the first time I ever played Low End Theory.
And now Gaslamp Killer plays your latest beats at every opportunity all over the world.
Yeah! Will’s become a really good friend over the last couple years. Kutmah was the first guy to put me on. Cuz the first time I went to a Low End Theory was for a Dibiase show, and I was working with him in a rap group—we were making music together in 2008, and he had a show there. I went, and I had a bunch of CDs and I passed them all out. I gave one to Kutmah before knowing who he was. Dibiase was like, ‘You need to give him something.’ So I did, and he was like, ‘Well, let me give you something too,’ and he gave me the ‘Sacred Geometry’ mix. He told me to listen to it only when I was on acid.
So did you?
No, no way, I didn’t.
Psychedelics aren’t for me.
How’d you learn that?
I smoked weed for a little bit but it went from being a fun thing to this overwrought anxiety trip so it was like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I feel like me—as well as a lot of other artists—don’t really need psychedelics. We’re already here, so why push ourselves past that point? I know people who’ve taken psychedelics and really haven’t come back. I don’t wanna do that to myself. So back to Kutmah—eight months later I ran into him, and he was like, ‘Dude, I’ve been playing all your shit from that CD you gave me.’ Whoa, never happened before, someone was playing my stuff! ‘Wow, who did the instrumentals on here?’ So I was like, ‘Oh, they’re mine,’ and he said, ‘Can you give me some more?!’ He was working at Poo-Bah at the time, and so was Elvin—DJ Nobody—and he started playing the CD there. Elvin heard my stuff there, and asked me for some. I gave him a CD of stuff I was working on, and he started playing that. You know he curates—well, he’s pretty much the talent scout for Low End Theory, so he hit up Kev and they put me on, which was really weird, since back then they didn’t really do that. They didn’t really put on people who haven’t proven themselves yet. They do that now—they put kids out there—and that’s really great. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always great to hear new people doing new things and experimenting.
Do you think the world gives you what you need, when you need it?
If you don’t bullshit. I think there are a lot of people who end up in positions like that and they want to take advantage of it but they don’t really know what they’re doing when the time comes. They don’t know what they want. People don’t know what they want til they have it. And I try not to ask for too much. I just try to ask for what I need to keep moving. Like shows and stuff. Good opportunities to put myself out there continuously. I do think if you’re in tune with everything, the world listens to you. I’ll tell you this: Kutmah got deported, and he was with the INS at this point, and maybe two months in, we were doing the ‘Free Kutmah’ benefit. He told Brandy to put me on. I’d never done a Hit+Run event before, they didn’t really know about me, and they asked me to host it and do a set. So I did that, and it originally was gonna be some other people, and it wasn’t gonna be a very big event. But they got some big special guests. Mayer Hawthorne was gonna be there doing a DJ set, and Dam-Funk did a show. Wolf did a DJ set. Exile played, and Thavius Beck came on. It became this big crazy thing, and I was hosting it. So I was doing a rap, and Wolf saw it in the audience. A couple hours later, during Dam’s set, I was in the audience and started talking to Wolf and he gave me his card, said to send him some stuff. So here’s where the world comes in: I was sitting there with this card in my hand, and it was one of my big goals to work with Stones Throw before I turned 21. I was 20 at that point, and I was sitting there with that card, and I was like, ‘Man, what do I send him? I really only have one chance.’
Was that exciting or terrifying to you?
It was terrifying! It was like, the ball was in my court, and I could only decide what was gonna happen at that point. I feel like it was a chess game or something. At the end of the day, I went to Zero’s house, recorded three quick raps on his couch, one take, mistakes and all, and I sent it to him. I was thinking, ‘Hey man, if you like this shit, then you’ll like anything I do.’ It was real raw shit, nothing too polished. Cuz I feel like he must get that shit all the time, real polished stuff, so I sent him some real shit. So we went to San Diego, I turned 20, did a show down there, read my email, and he said, ‘Hey, you should come down to the office.’
That’s the best 20th birthday present!
Yeah, it was cool! I’m saying the world works like that. Why didn’t I give him something more polished? Why did I give him real raw stuff? The mic sounded like shit—it was this real 60s shit. I don’t know what compelled me. I’m not gonna say I’m not smart cuz I’m not—or that I read people that well, cuz I don’t. I’m actually pretty dull. I don’t know. I just thought if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’m usually not that … I worry about a lot of things. But at that point, I’d worry so much, I’d worry myself out of my job of living. So I just kinda have to take it that way. It’s not a choice—I have to do it that way.
I have a lot of anxiety too.
I think that’s what happens with people who are in their own heads. I feel like people who are in their own little world, who don’t have as good a grip on the grid of reality as some people with steady jobs—I think people that have their heads in the clouds are more susceptible to anxiety.
How much of a grip on reality do you think you have right now?
Ha ha! That’s a hell of a question. You know, my mom always tells me to think about what’s going on cuz I’m always in my own head. … I like to make music at twilight, mostly, when I’m able to feel solitary—even though I live in a house with six people, it feels like nobody’s there. I get to be by myself, let myself drift off and work. I like being in nighttime more than daytime cuz it lets things quiet down, lets me hear myself.
In a little over a year, you put out Wayniac; Doodles; Remixes Are Things; Bowser; Thanks, Bro; I Don’t Care and soon, The Death of Andrew. How do you stay so productive?
I’d rather feel productive than feel like a piece of crap. It’s easy to do that when you don’t have a job. If you’re hungry about being successful and doing these things, you just keep working. That’s why I make so much music—I’m so impatient. I just wanna get there already, so I work. I just don’t stop. I eat, I sleep, and I work. I’ve been learning to slow down recently though.
Why did you decide to try to slow down?
Well, my work started to suffer a bit. I just had one mode. I’d start with something and keep going until I was ready to do something else completely. I was just kind of beating it to death. This way, I can work, go back and forth, and so I’m not really forcing myself to work. I have this thing about being a perfectionist. I feel like people have cornered me—or people don’t care to learn more—calling me just an 8-bit artist. Even though over the past few months I’ve been straight-up saying there really isn’t anything 8-bit on the album.
Yeah, all the Bowser reviews call it an 8-bit album, when it really isn’t.
Yeah, there’s only like five or six elements of it in the entire album, but the rest is different. There’s a lot of piano in there. I just think people don’t know their shit. My stuff sounds a lot like 70s or 80s synth explorations. I’m really influenced by the Moog albums that came out in the 60s, and Yellow Magic Orchestra. They killed it. I’m super into them. A lot of early synth forays, with the jazz and funk stuff. So this next thing—The Death of Andrew is only twenty minutes long, but I like to think of it as more of an album—it has a lot of the same elements as Bowser, the same melodic sensibilities.
You’ve said people criticize you for making simple beats, but said it’s all about restraint—‘something Dilla had.’ How did you learn restraint?
I’ll tell you this: I do fully fleshed-out songs. Say it’s six minutes long. I say, ‘OK, how do I take it down to five?’ Then four minutes. Then three. Then I usually stop. Then I also strip things down. ‘How’s it sound if I take this piece away? What about that?’ It’s cool—it’s an ego-building thing to have all these things that sort of work together. But most of my music is mostly post-production. I’ll have everything done and I’ll tinker with it. I don’t really know what I’m doing—it’s all experimentation. I almost never have finished songs that have all the elements I wrote for it. There’s always alternate progressions and stems. It’s just stronger that way. I like to keep things simple, but at the same time saying something interesting. I just don’t think people get it sometimes. And it’s not their fault. They have a different ear for something, and I can respect that too. There are a lot of beats I don’t like cuz there’s just too much going on. I just can’t listen to it. I can’t find the core. I think the peak of that was like 2009 and 2010. All these beats with all this shit going down. I’m all for atmospherics, and I’m all for added effects, but it kind of turns into this big effects sandwich and I don’t like that. Imagine going into the song and looking around and not being able to find anything, there’s all this shit—the eye of the storm. You got couches flying around and shit. I can’t really settle into it.
You’ve said that ‘the human soul doesn’t like being talked at.’ How’d you learn that?
I learned that in high school. That’s something I’ve always thought. That has to do with the whole conscious movement—conscious hip-hop. I always found that to be mad boring. I never liked it. It was kinda like, ‘Hey, you’re saying something, but what’re you saying?’ Conscious hip-hop is diplomatic. That can apply to anyone and therefore is weak. When I was in high school, a lot of that was coming out: Common, Mos Def, they’re all talented people, but a lot of their content never really reached to me cuz it just reminded me that they don’t know what they’re talking about. ‘Those corporations, dude!’ and ‘Legalize cocaine!’ There’s more to it than that. If you’re gonna say something, pick something and say it. Tell people what you think. Not why they should think that way, but give them something to think about.
JONWAYNE’S THE DEATH OF ANDREW IS OUT NOW ON ALPHA PUP. VISIT JONWAYNE AT TWITTER.COM/JWAYNIAC.