Jel In The Studio
- Words: Ken Taylor
When you take a peek into Jel's Oakland, CA studio, you come to realize that it really doesn't take that much space to create some of the most textured, spatial, and exquisite instrumental hip-hop records of the last couple years. With albums like 10 Seconds (a reference to the extended sample time he achieved by speeding up records) and his latest, Soft Money (Anticon.), he's becoming increasingly known for his drum sounds, whether they be lifted or programmed, but never played live. In high school, when the drum position had been filled by a brown-nosing jock, Jel (a.k.a. Jeffrey Logan) took up the coronet; with that (and the early purchase of the E-Mu SP1200 drum machine), he never looked back–at least not in the direction of a Pearl or Tama kit.
That SP1200, still the cornerstone of Jel's arsenal, is now tucked away in a closet, one that serves as the play space for creating euphoric, pounding, hazy, and all-around engaging opuses like Soft Money. In the midst of mixing the new Subtle record, Jel gives XLR8R a quick tour of his killer coat rack.
XLR8R: What's the basic setup of your studio?
Well, first of all, it's a closet (laughs). We found a nice place for cheap, and it's a big enough closet that I can fit all my shit in there and close it up. I just open the door and sit in the hallway and work. It's pretty much my setup live: I have a laptop with Pro Tools [9.2.3], an M-Box, my MPC [2000 XL], my SP1200, my [Boss SP-303] Dr. Sample, a little delay pedal, a [Roland] VS880, and an Alesis Ion keyboard, which has glitches. Since I bought it I haven't really used it for recording–it's just sitting there waiting for me to fix it.
Does broken gear take on a life of its own that excites you, or are you quick to just throw it back onto the shelf?
With the instruments I use, drum machines will just glitch on you and freeze. There's nothing really spectacular about it. If it was something that had some old radio tuner or four-track or something unique on it, then maybe...
How much do you process your drum sounds and other sources?
It depends on the feel of it; if I like how it sounds. I don't really mind if the sound's overused because I'm gonna chop it up and reprogram it anyway. When I chop up breaks, I just sit down with my record player and my MPC and I'll just sample part for part; I'll just find a break and take each individual hit and then just start playing with it live.
Are you against using sampling software on a computer?
I'm not "anti" anything really. I just make do with what I have. I've heard dope shit that kids have done on Fruity Loops, so I'm open to anything; it's just usually what I'm comfortable with....
There's a strong atmospheric rock sensibility to Soft Money. Where does that come from?
I think what you're hearing is a lot of what Odd Nosdam added. He actually helped me mix the majority of the album, and added a bunch of ambient and drone kinda stuff. I can see My Bloody Valentine definitely being an influence on him.
What did the record sound like before you gave it to him to play with?
It was pretty much the same elements. When we sat down to mix it, we were thinking about having songs coming together properly and beginnings and ends of songs being cleaned up. Because a lot of my songs were just kinda... the meat was there but shit would change drastically just from us playing around with stuff.
Then you built in the transitions?
Yeah, we were sitting on different sequences of the album for a while, flipping them around a lot.
With all the collaboration that you and the other Anticon guys do, what's your advice for maintaining Zen in the studio?
I don't think there's been any collaboration (except a couple) where we've been in the studio with the musicians. [Those collaborations] have been by mail, [online], and shit 'cause a lot of it is with people overseas. With Anticon, we're at each other's houses. But the one thing that we all have noticed that amazes us about meeting up with people and working with them is that it's a kindred spirit thing. Like we meet people and become friends.... And if we hit it off as friends, then it's usually like "Fuck it. Let's do some music."
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