By Brian Tucker
This Friday audiences will likely get a double dose of DJ Logic at Ziggy’s – first a solo set and then joining with psychedelic funk band Big Something. DJ Logic, ne’ Jason Kibler, is well versed in such collaboration. For much of his turntablist career Kibler has worked with many musicians – alongside them (Medeski, Martin & Wood, Chris Whitley, O.A.R.) or remixing their music (Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars). In the late 80s Kibler was in alternative rock band Eye and I on Sony Records, when hearing bands with a DJ was rare.
“There was no Limp Bizkit, no Sugar Ray. There were a lot of skeptical musicians,” Kibler said. “They wanted to see how this would work. The same with hip hop DJs who wanted to do something with rockers. How is this going to come off? Is it going to be great or make sense?”
Today its commonplace. But as mid-80s rap and DJs were taking off in New York Kibler was growing up in The Bronx. Hip hop parties happened up the block and his curiosity opened doors to places he says he shouldn’t have been going as well as music, breakdancing and DJs.
“They were doing their thing in the community but I wanted to do the same thing, have my friends and attract new friends to what I was doing, the art of DJ-ing and playing music.”
With turntables something instantly clicked and soon Kibler had his own equipment and was seeking out music (“trying to find the James Brown, Miles Davis, and Sly and the Family Stone records”). In his teens he snuck in the backdoor of jazz clubs in downtown Manhattan where musicians embraced him.
“I went in there, did my thing and then had to leave and be home before the clock rang. Just to see all those things going on around me, and be exposed, it opened my mind up to other things and made me who I am now.”
Kibler also snuck out for shows, even if only part of one before curfew. From his record turntable to Madison Square Garden, Kibler saw performances by those he admired – LL Cool J, Run DMC, Whodini, A Tribe Called Quest, Doug E. Fresh. Run DMC and Tribe illustrated where rock and rap and jazz and hip hop converged with dynamic results. Kibler’s work would mirror this, especially after becoming friends, and later collaborators, with Living Colour’s guitarist Vernon Reid after meeting at CBGB’s.
“Vernon is like my big brother…a very important person in my life. He’s watched me grow into the person I am today. I admire and respect him. He’s a humble, down to earth person and an amazing guitar player.”
Kibker’s albums have an organic, free flowing feel, notably his fantastic The Anomaly (2001) that combines a wealth of styles with live instrumentation and DJ aesthetics. Tracks like “Frequency One” display a wildly energetic acid jazz feel while “Black Buddha” is laid back and smoky.
“That was a special tune. I’m all about Zen and Buddhism and its something that was a down tempo but with hip hop feel, just a good melody.”
But with so much technology today, and vinyl’s comeback as a medium, it begs the question of DJs use of vinyl.
“People still do it, spinning 45s, 33s. They might do a whole set which is vinyl or a set half and half. It’s great to hear vinyl in the club because the thicker quality and sound out of it. I still like two turntables and mixer and being able to move your hands back and forth. The computer stuff, it’s like an extra element to me, like an extra couple of turntables. It a creative thing but I still like the hands-on instead.”
More with DJ Logic
“I still want to represent hip hop music while continuing to experiment with rock and roll” – was that problematic early on, less in 2014?
Logic: I love to work with rock bands. I’m all about it, I have the experience. It would be great to work with rockers, or whoever – jazz, hip hop. I’m an eclectic DJ, that’s open to rocking with anybody. That’s how everyone sees me. I’m very happy about that. I did this thing called Yukon Cornelius with some of the guys from Dave Mathews Band and the Barenaked Ladies guys, whole bunch of rockers in there. It was an all-star band.
The show is with Big Something, will you be performing together?
Logic: I’m doing a solo show and probably sitting in them. I’m looking forward to hearing them play and heard great things. I’ve played in improvisational settings and structured settings. Having a good ear and being musically inclined, I would feel things out and reach out to the band or they reach out to me and share their music and talk about things.
And you’ve worked with others in remixing their music?
Logic: When I was working on this record with Billy Martin (The Master Musicians from Jajouka), Moroccan musicians from Jajouka, Martin was executive producer of that and my task was remixing some of their music. You listen to Jajouka music, its very ethnic, a lot of rhythms and patterns going on. On the remix I actually collaborated with Mickey Hart. There’s a lot of rhythm and technique going, traditional of cultural music. That was a little challenging, creating sounds around that. It was also a pleasure working with Mickey Hart as well. We’re actually going to be performing some of that music at Bonnaroo.
Do bands usually approach you?
Logic: The Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, I was a big fan of their music, following them for years. We happened to be on the same festival and basically started talking about Sierra Leone and their music. I was talking about African music and how much I love Afrobeat music. They said, why don’t you take a crack at doing a remix and I was all for it. It was a good collaboration, to go into the studio and create some great magic with that.
Is it carte blanche when doing this? Cut it up, add to it?
Logic: Yeah, chop it up, add to it. They gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, whatever I was hearing. That’s what so cool. Because when you get with some artists, they always have some input and they’re always curious to see someone manipulate or create out of their work, kind of like sampling. I just approached it organically and played around with all the different elements, create some new elements and then smashed it up. Kind of like if I was DJ-ing, looking at it that way, spinning the tracks.
Remixing songs by Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, did you feel a lot of pressure?
Logic: They’re classic artists. When I did Billie Holiday I didn’t have too many tracks to work with. I just really had to use my head and piece things together. They gave me two tracks and on the audio you could hear background vocals over strings. I had to basically create some different elements and I got into the studio and sampled the actual take of the track and used the same samples but put it in the hip hop feel. I had some help from other artists as well – Adam Deitch and Neal Evans.
I took the vocals and scratched the vocals on top of the samples that came from the actual track. It was a whole another resurrection of that tune, more hipper feel and style. It was a standard, a ballad, and I made it into a hip hop R&B feel. It sounds almost like Erykah Badhu or Jill Scott type of vibe. Billie Holiday is always scatting, to me she sounds like a DJ just with her mouth, she sounds like a DJ and a rapper in a way.
The same thing with Nina Simone, I took an actual vocal and it was another improvised vocal of Nina Simone explaining herself. I just wanted to build a track around that. It was just her vocals and percussion. Nina Simone would definitely talk a lot before (singing), she would definitely express herself a lot, her issues and feelings. That track was called “Obey Woman.”
I just wanted to keep that same tradition of Nina and add a twist, a hip beat and organ and it came out great. Both, I should say. I did the beats and called some good friends to play drums on the Billie Holiday and had Neil Evans who played keyboards on both of them. It was good to collaborate with other musicians, bringing their ideas.
Seeing DJ’s using turntables, did something about click for you instantly, that you could do that?
Logic: Yeah, I can do that, I can make music, be able to mix and match because that’s what it was all about. Mixing and matching and playing the beats, finding the cool beats. Going out digging, looking for those rare records that those guys were playing that I could remember because I was taking it all in. Trying to find the James Brown records, the Miles Davis records, the Sly and the Family Stone records, all the hip records the hip hop guys were using or sampling. I wanted to be up on them like they were doing.
To this day I still collect records, still have my records. I have records at my mother’s house, in storage. I have records in my house. Its awesome, just to see through the years of travelling all over the world and see all I’ve accomplished and collaborations with all genres of music, not just hip hop – blues, rock, jazz, folk, Latin and Italian. I’m into everything. And African. I’m a rocker. My discography is long but when I sit down and talk, …all of its coming to me. One day I’ll have a little autobiography, and try to get it all out the people I’ve worked with and had the pleasure to collaborate with.
It’s really progressed over thirty plus years.
Logic: There were a lot of people that opened my ears, showed me I could do anything I wanted to. Run DMC for one, with Jam Master Jay. When they collaborated with Aerosmith, that was cool. I thought that changed the game, they were reinventing themselves but were still themselves. They were still Run DMC and Jam Master Jay and still knew how to rock a show and rock it with anybody, the rock guys.
Same goes for Herbie Hancock, when he did “Rock It” and collaborated with Grandmaster DXT, a jazz keyboardist with a DJ. At that time, the DJ didn’t continue on doing it but that was a mainstream hit. Then you got the Beastie Boys, talented musicians and rappers. They were inspiring to me.
Then A Tribe Called Quest when they collaborated with the jazz players, I thought that was cool and their outfits, the way they dressed, just being themselves. De la Soul, that whole native tongue scene. And Arrested Development, all eclectic and changing the game. Every new record, they were always evolving. That kept me on my toes and curious.
Has something been lost in the transition from vinyl to digital?
Logic: I say just a little bit of the frequency. Now, the technology has gotten even better and you can’t tell coming through the amps and the speakers. All that stuff is lined up with the frequencies now. They’ve kind of improved all of that now. Starting out it was a little rocky, but things have gotten better.
Do you take a lot of records on tour?
Logic: I take a few records with me. Back in the day I used to take two and three cases of records when they weren’t charging for weight at the airport. Now they’re getting you for everything. Back then I had three cases and records and luggage. Sometimes I didn’t have luggage, just put it with the records.
For shows, did you have a set or was it based on you were feeling that night?
Logic: I have a set and I had stuff I pulled out the hat, stuff I was feeling at that time. Sometimes, I might have a few things in my mind I’d want to play and vibe the situation out where I’m playing out.
How is Vernon Reid a mentor to you?
Logic: Vernon is like my big brother. Its funny you mention him, I just spoke with him the other day for some advice. He’s a very knowledgeable person and he’s a very important person in my life. He’s watched me grown into the person I am today. I admire him and respect him. He’s a genuine, humble, down to earth person and an amazing guitar player. He’s always innovative and thinking of some creative stuff. We go back and forth in debate, and ask each other why this, why that. Just to get the answer.
And you met at CBGB?
Logic: I met Vernon at CBGB at the whole Black Rock Coalition event. I was a kid, just came in. I knew of him, of Living Colour, just watching him play and how fast he is on the guitar and his technique. He said one day we’ll do something. We did when Living Colour took a break. We became good friends, just collaborating musically. One project was called Mistaken Identity and another was My Science Project.
What are memories of CBGB?
Logic: First of all, I was happy to be able to play in CBGB, what you think of a true rock club, just the environment. I thought, this place is cool. The time, the late 80s, that’s when I went there and it was cool. It was what a rock club would be like. Part of it was grimy but it sounded great. The sound in there was awesome and the people that owned the place were great – the love of music, the love of rock.
Whatever was going on there, it had a lot of love and you wanted to be there. The vibe was great, even going to the bathroom. It was a true club, the best club in the city. I also played at The Knitting Factory and Wetlands. It was sad when CBGB closed, it was a truly landmark. If you went down to the Village you had to pass CBGB. Something was always going on at CBGB that you wanted to check out. It had that vibe, that aura. It was great.
Did you sneak out and catch a lot shows when you were younger?
Logic: Yeah, if it was a cool show I would sneak out if it started at the right time and I could get home a few hours in before my curfew. So I could say to myself that I saw it, experienced it, could just take it all in. I could go home feeling good, telling myself when I get older. When that came around, I was old enough to go to Madison Square Garden, see all the hip hop musicians I was admiring, from LL Cool J to Public Enemy and Run DMC and Whodini, you name it. A Tribe Called Quest, Doug E. Fresh. I was a kid in a candy store. I was in awe because these were artists I admired and whose records I had on repeat over and over and over again.
Today there’s such a huge mix of things.
Logic: The generation listening to those guys and the rockers now, they incorporate some of it into their music. When I was in alternative rock band called Eye and I on Sony Records, to this day it still sounds fresh, we opened up for Body Count, The Psychedelic Furs. There were no bands then rocking with a DJ, there was really no DJs doing what I was doing. I saw Ice T doing his ting with Body Count. He was another person inspiring to me, to see him rap and do Body Count. He was a huge rocker.
“Frequency One” is wild.
Logic: I just wanted to do a record you could listen beginning to end and it all has a different element, different colors and different shapes going on and transitions. I wanted to make a vignette, a collage, tell a story or to take you on a journey. Once the record starts its French Quarter, then goes somewhere else and brings you back. I wanted to keep people on their toes.
Logic: I always carried myself professional. I didn’t go in and brag or boast, that’s not me. I’m true to what I do and who I am. People that know me know I’m humble and that you can come up and talk to me. I don’t have an ego or any of that stuff.
You grew up at the beginning, Grandmaster Flash and Jam Master Jay and then on.
Logic: I grew up in The Bronx so I was exposed to the breakdancing, a lot of those hip hop parties were going right up the block. I was going places I shouldn’t have been going, just being curious and wanting to check it out. It was hip, it was cool, seeing people having a good time, dancing to music. I was exposed to all different types of music. That’s what opened my eras to wanting to be a DJ, those peers before me doing their thing.
That exposure made me continue doing what I’m doing and it led to collaborating with musicians, jazz musicians, going downtown into Manhattan, these jazz clubs where I’m not supposed to be in my teens. The age where I had to sneak in the back door and do my thing with these musicians and they embraced me like one of the other musicians. I went in there and did my thing and then I had to leave and go on and be home before the clock rang. That was a special moment for me, just to see all those things going on around me, those happenings, and be exposed because it opened my mind up to other things and made me who I am now.