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Interview: DJ Logic

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DJ Logic, known to his friends as Jason Kibler, has carved an impressive niche for himself amongst many different groups of musicians and their fans. From his origins as one of the original members of the Black Rock Coalition through his collaborations with Medeski Martin & Wood and Blues Traveler's John Popper, Logic has become a recognizable figure on the club scene as well as within the tight knit circle of the jamband community. Even though Logic thrives in the spirit of improvisation, feeding off of the creative energy of generating various new beats and rhythms on the fly, one thing remains constant: like his name suggests, he keeps things logical.

 

 

 

In line with a good portion of the beats he seemingly conjures out of thin air, DJ Logic is extraordinarily mellow, humble, and approachable. Upon first meeting Logic at The Canal Room, where he sat in with Vernon Reid's Masque and Liquid Soul, his ability to make people feel at ease became immediately apparent.

After asking whether it would be appropriate to call him "DJ" or "Logic," the amiable turntablist smiled, extended his hand, and said, "Call me Jason." The peaceful aura that surrounds Logic makes the title of his album, Zen Of Logic – released today – quite apt. In a telephone interview with Earvolution, the native New Yorker discussed his new album, his live performances and the significant inroads he's made into the jamband scene.

Like most DJs, an understanding of the artist begins with an understanding of their name. Like sumo wrestlers, a DJ derives strength and identity through their chosen moniker. "When I started up playing with Eye and I, back in the day, I wanted a name that stood out just like the DJs before me that I admired," explains the soft-spoken yet confident Logic. "They had cool names and their names matched their persona. I wanted to find the right name that fit me: something to match what I was doing; my creativity; my ear and my ideas."

The solution became clear when he opened a glossary book and came across the name that seemed to fit. "I came upon 'Logic' and I kept repeating it to myself: 'DJ Logic . . . DJ Logic . . . DJ Logic.' It represents me: being logical and creative about what I do." Origin stories aside, Logic sums the meaning of his name up nicely, "It's making sense of something that ain't nothing."

On Zen Of Logic, the veteran turntablist makes a lot of sense. "I had some ideas already planned; others just came organically" says Logic about the creative process that resulted in his latest album. "I set myself up on a little stage in a little room with all my production equipment," he explains. "I went to a little hiding place and started programming a lot of different ideas. Once I was comfortable with what I had pre-production, I threw some ideas out and [co-producer] Scotty Hard threw some ideas back." With longtime friends like keyboardist John Medeski, bassist Melvin Gibbs, guitarist Charlie Hunter, and New York rappers Creature and Sub-Conscious lending a hand, Logic lays down a series of tight, intricate beats that range from funky to jazzy to meditative.

"9th Ward Blues" holds special meaning for Logic. "That track came from my experience of playing in New Orleans at Jazz Fest," he explains of his post-Katrina ode to The Big Easy. "I had programmed the track and I didn't know what it would turn out to be. I sat down and spoke to Charlie [Hunter], who wanted to try something different: not playing his main axe but using a different axe." The resulting tune isn't your typical zydeco homage but rather one that celebrates New Orleans' funky soul with Hunter matching Logic's beat with some down and dirty guitar licks.

On the new album, Logic also derives inspiration from world music, centering "Balifon Planet" around a distinctly unique xylophone loop. Like many of his songs, "Balifon Planet" came together as the result of Logic simply messing around in the studio. "Beats come in various ways," he explains. "I hear something and work it into a loop. It could be just about anything, a little guitar lick, a xylophone, a horn thing, anything that sounds cool and colorful that I feel I can work with."

Bringing it all full circle, Logic concludes, "I try to work with it and manipulate it into a whole logical thing." The world music influence is also present on "Afro Beat," a song Logic created with the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra horn section in mind On the track, Logic assembles a wonderfully sinuous beat and the Antibalas horns and John Medeski help create a modern day snake charmer of a song.

Logic also offers his own brand of hip-hop, bringing underground rappers Sub-Conscious and Creature into the studio to lay down lyrics. While "Hypnotic" came together relatively easily, Logic put Creature through his own unique initiation process for "One Time." "Creature always wanted to do something," Logic explains. "I called him up in the middle of the night; I think he was over at his girlfriend's house. I kind of got him out of bed with his girl to come to Brooklyn and record a verse. He did it: I thought that was respectful from him."
When questioned on whether this is some new ritual he'll employ for all future collaborators, Logic laughs. "Yeah; I'm testing their anxiousness. See how much they want it."

As on his 2002 release Anamoly, Scotty Harding a.k.a Scotty Hard assists Logic with the production and arrangements on Zen Of Logic. Their fruitful relationship began when they met on a project they were doing with Vernon Reid. "I liked how he worked and we loved each other's vibes," Logic says. "He's a good guy to have along on the projects." How would the album sound without Harding's contributions? "Probably the same," Logic answers with perfect comic timing. "He knows how to bring the best out of my music."

Although Zen Of Logic is only his second solo album (third if you include 1999s DJ Logic Presents Project Logic), don't underestimate Logic's role in redefining the role of a DJ/turntablist. In 1996, Logic struck up a friendship with the eclectic experimental jamband trio Medeski Martin & Wood, becoming their "5th Beatle." Their genre-busting work on Combustication arose from modest beginnings.

"I was doing a gig with Vernon [Reid] at CBGB and MMW were opening up," recalls Logic. "Billy Martin and I were talking and he dug what I was doing with the drummer and thought it would be cool to incorporate some of that into his group." They invited Logic to spin records between sets and soon Logic was joining the innovative trio on stage, matching the musicians with his creativity on the turntable. "I started spinning; everything just came together and the crowd loved it."

After recording Combustication with Medeski Martin & Wood, Logic faced the daunting task of winning over jamband fans, who are well-renowned for their love of live, unrecorded music. "People dug it," he says proudly. "However, some you had to win over. It reminded me of when I first started doing my thing at the Knitting Factory: you get same sort of people with their noses in the air and those that have smiles on their faces. One thing just led to another, things started growing and people started appreciating it."

Touring with MMW was also a learning experience for Logic. "It was amazing to see how many people came out to see an instrumental band with no vocals. They were grooving with a DJ and there was nothing like it at that time." Logic notes how things change; quickly. "Now today you see lots of bands with DJs as well as musicians DJing. It's good to see everybody trying to incorporate the DJ."

Just as Logic opened people's eyes to the unlimited potential of the DJ, he takes pride in the evolution of the whole DJ culture. "I can walk into Guitar Center now and see a DJ section with all this great equipment: different types of turntables, mixers, effects and they're all dedicated to the DJs." While Logic has not shunned the developing technology, he also hasn't embraced it. "I still love vinyl. There's a difference when you listen to wax analog vinyl and you listen to CDs and the digital stuff. Digital's great but you don't get the warmness that you'd get with the vinyl as well as the snap crackle and pop," he instructs. "I'm not a dinosaur and I try to stay up on all of that. I've messed around with the CD Tray, but it's not like the vinyl, which is hands on." Remaining old school, Logic still incorporates vinyl into all his live performances as well as production.

Logic has appeared on bills with artists as diverse as Blues Traveler, Particle, Maroon 5, and John Mayer. When preparing his material for each show, Logic acknowledges that he takes note of his prospective audience. "I look at it in a smart way," he explains. "Sometimes I might throw a curveball in there; things that happen by accident sometimes turn into something good."

In approaching his live performances, Logic lays out approximately 70% of the show in advance. "It leaves me room to move in different directions and experiment," says Logic. Like every musician, Logic likes his time in the spotlight; he doesn't mind sharing either. "I like doing a little bit of Logic and then I like doing my thing with musicians. I'll set up the groove with the vibe I feel at the moment and everybody will just follow from there or I might just have them set something off and then I'll come in and do my thing."

Since becoming a fixture among the jamband crowd since the mid-90s, Logic has seen the scene evolve. Just recently, he made his 4th appearance at Bonnaroo and has observed the festival's growth firsthand. "It started out independent and grass roots and has now grown to be this thing which everyone knows and wants tickets to," relates Logic. "They've improved on the camping and on catering to the people; making it comfortable for the artists as well as the people," notes Logic of the maturing festival. "It's not your usual festival, I'll tell you that."

He also expresses optimism for Bonnaroo's future. When asked how Bonnaroo has kept its integrity over the years, Logic chuckles before answering matter-of-factly, "Not bringing in too many corporations." Logic attributes Bonnaroo's joie de vive to the fact that they don't tarnish the grass roots feel of the festival. "There's the right amount of vendors and the right amount of cool people who are music lovers." In contrast to Woodstock 99's high-priced water sales to people sweltering on a hot tarmac, Logic tells of Bonnaroo's giant mushroom providing water for people to shower and have fun in 100 degree heat.

For Bonnaroo 2006, Logic greatly enjoyed his set as DJ for the late night Silent Disco. "The late night set was the bomb; off the hook; the crowd was great." In describing the set-up for the Silent Disco, Logic approached animated excitement. This after having remained smoothly and comfortably laid back throughout the entire interview. "I'm playing to people who are wearing wireless headphones, so there are no monitors or speakers blasting loud. Everyone's just listening to me spin a set on headphones. A very cool concept: like a quiet wireless rave." Truly enjoying the oddity factor of the event, Logic notes that his fans showed as well as many new ones. "They were trying to figure out what's going on and why these people were dancing with no music playing. Are they on something or what?"

The jamband scene isn't the only arena that Logic has introduced to the power of the DJ. In 2004, Logic became the first DJ to ever play the legendary Blue Note Jazz Club when he headlined one of the inaugural events of their Late Night Groove Series. "I never thought I'd be on that stage, playing where a lot of legends have played," relates Logic. "I feel privileged to be part of that. The Blue Note people showed me a lot of love,"

While Logic was ready for the Blue Note; the Blue Note may not have been ready for Logic. Once the music started, Logic's fans weren't going to remain seated for long. "They were standing on tables and standing on chairs; some of the waitresses are bugging out because they had never seen anything like that," says Logic proudly and mischievously. "Once Logic came there, that was it: everyone left feeling good."

In the upcoming months, Logic hopes to tour extensively behind Zen Of Logic, stating that traveling the country gives him a chance to rekindle old friendships. In the meantime, he will keep himself busy working on remixes for Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Weather Report as well as starting pre-production work on a new Yohimbe Brothers album with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. While Logic remains busy throughout the coming months, you can rest certain in one thing: his music will make sense; it will all be logical.

By: David Schultz for Earvolution.com

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  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    great stuff here. i for one would love it if more people knew about folks like DJ Logic, QBert, etc.

    turntablism is just too much fun.

  • http://www.300dj.com DJ

    I LOVE THIS DJ