Sunday, September 5, 2010

DJ Zeph - Interview And Exclusive Mixtape For Download!

When DJ Zeph exploded into our consciousness last year with his 'Batidas Latinas' EPs we were blown away with his inventive, smooth edits and ability to select just the right vocals to ride on some of the hottest Latin beats around.

But he’s far from a newcomer to the scene. Starting out as a breakdancer before he moved behind the decks, Zeph has been a true B-Boy since the early 80s.

He took time to out answer a few of our questions and drop an exclusive download for our members.

From what we’ve heard so far, it seems like you have been involved in the hip hop/breakbeat scene from almost day one. How did you get involved and what do you think about how the movement has developed?

I was really blessed to be around and inspired by folks like DJ Imperial, Kutmasta Kurt, and Bubba G Scotch (Zulu Nation) in my hometown Santa Cruz, California. Even though it’s a small town, these guys were world class talents.

I could say I caught the fever from them in the early to mid 1980s. Recording radio shows, going to parties and shows, practicing DJing, sampling and working with vocalists and musicians.

When I moved to the SF bay area in ’92, again I was around world class talent. Qbert, Quest, DJ Apollo, Future Primitive events. I would just feed off being around them and what they were doing. Even more recently, I was on tour with Shadow and Cut Chemist, Lateef and Gift of Gab, just getting inspired by being around them.

It seems like there’s always been cool music and still is. Now it just seems like you have to dig more, and there’s more fluff out there.  A lot more. I find it's always good to think out of the box, because labels and genres can be limiting, but there are always interesting scenes and pockets popping up that freak original breaks, beats, and dope hip hop.

It sometimes seems like the scene today is a bit schizophrenic.  One end is moving towards an auto-tuned pop style, while the other seems to be going back to its roots, revelling in old-school sampling, turntablism and blending. What are your thoughts on the future of breakbeat/hip-hop?

I just don’t like it when people look at it like there’s a line between the two. I like my tech with some organic and my organic with some tech. I love vintage sounds, but old stuff sounds best when it slaps like it's brand new.

How did your relationship with music begin? What music did you listen to growing up?

I remember hearing a lot of mainstream stuff like Stevie Wonder, Donovan, the Eagles, Crosby Stills and Nash being played around the house. To this day, when I hear certain songs on all of those albums - I cant sit still. Love 'em! One of my proudest bassline chop-ups is from a Donovan record. The 60s & 70s were a great time for tones.

And when/how did you start producing your own tracks?
Somehow, I always knew I also wanted to produce my own tracks. I first started at around age 15 with my partner Tosh, working on a cassette 4-track.  We used a guitar FX box with infinite echo as a sampler. One day, I learned that I could chop beats into the loop by accident and that was really the beginning of manipulating and reconstructing samples. Bought an Ensoniq EPS 16+ several years later.

Looking at your discography, you have had a string of releases dating back to the early 90s – how have you managed to stay so prolific?
My first ever release was a number one college record (CMJ), so I feel like I came on strong at a great time in music. The company that did the college promo on it, Spectre,  hadn’t had a debut artist go number one previously.  They brought me to the CMJ conference in NYC where I was a panelist with Guru (R.I.P.)

The Bay was really a Mecca for DJs and turntablists at that time.   I felt like one of the few that was producing, cutting it up and playing in clubs. I won San Francisco Weekly DJ/Turntablist of the Year shortly afterwards.

My second solo album had some songs that were popular at the time in clubs. The last full length I did with lyricist Azeem, 'Rise Up', has gotten lotsa love in the licensing department. The new Karate Kid movie, HBO's Entourage, Adidas, and MTV have all used tracks from it. So my stuff has seemed to stay out there and be in demand.

How do you approach making a new track?

As a DJ first, I would say that I’m usually first inspired by something I hear. Could be a record, something played by a keyboard player, a car skid, anything.  Sometimes I’ll pass by a construction site and the way they’re pounding on some beams makes me think “oh that would be cool in a track”.

After the initial idea, it’s usually about finding the right layers, or changes. Sometimes I feel like simpler is better, some things sound better with more. Then I think about the objective, is it for vocals, baritone sax, scratching or all 3? I try to make my stuff sound interactive.  If I give a track to a vocalist and they send me the vocals, I’ll usually retouch the track to highlight moments in vocals.

Is there a ‘DJ Zeph sound’? If so, how would you describe it?

In a word I'd say 'organic'. I like breaks too. All those years of listening for breaks on records that sound cool, but are ruined by loud or obnoxious solos or string sections, made me never want to release anything that sounds like that. I love solos and strings, but also fat simplistic beats.

Tell us about your latest releases and anything you have coming out soon?

The 'Batidas Latinas' limited edition vinyl is actually inspired by a mixtape of the same name, out now on Breakin' Bread Records. I also have a new project with drummer Max MacVeety (Crown City Rockers), just turntables and drums called Skins & Needles. Although primarily a live project, we have a CD titled 'Back Beat Symphony'. I did a rock/hip hop mixtape with Azeem called 'On The Rocks' a little while ago and just finished a full length with DJ/producer Enki on some uptempo breaks DJ ish!

Which bands/DJs/producers do you enjoy the most?

For DJs - locally DJ D Sharp, my man DJ Platurn in my crew the Oakland Faders. I love anything Kid Koala does and thought his latest rock project - The Slew, was killing. I got some recent DJ Spooky that’s got some good joints on it. DJ Para’s album 'Fallen On Def Ears' on Breakin' Bread got some serious rotation in my car stereo. I've also been listening a lot to the Pretty Things, and saw Budo’s Band recently and they were doin' it.

How do you feel about new developments in production and DJ technology – Ableton, digital vinyl etc?

I’m all for it. We have to adapt otherwise we get left behind and this technology opens some great doors. My only complaint is that it seems like now that we can do a lot more, folks are actually doing a lot less. I almost never see folks using Serato or Ableton to really advance what they were doing previously. It’s usually more for convenience or so that it's easier. That doesn’t benefit music.

And can you reveal a killer production tip to our readers?

I almost never compress scratch/cut tracks. Usually I’ll ride volumes if necessary.  If it's hi pitched I find I usually want to turn the scratching down and up when the cut plays. This isn’t a killer tip, but more than a few times I’ve had other pro engineers over compress my cuts and not get that the subtleties in volume differences are necessary to the track. Especially if I’m doing manual echoes - over compressed will completely kill the effect.

How do you feel about being able to reach out to people through the internet – is it changing the music industry for the better?

Well, I like being able to do it, and it benefits me and my production world. But on the whole, I’d say that music is suffering since the invent of the internet. Not just financially - in every way.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I just had another song from the Rise Up album placed in a commercial for Justin Timberlake’s new liquor company - Cheers.

What’s your favourite sound?

It's a tie between baritone sax and female voice

And your least favourite sound?

Mic feedback.

What’s the last tune/album/podcast you put on your MP3 player?

The Stance Brothers

What is your proudest achievement in life?

I’ve had several, but it was nice to bring my mom and step dad to the San Francisco Weekly Awards, and feel their pride.

And your biggest regret?

Autotune was my idea, I just never thought it would turn into a multimillion dollar industry.

What do you think about the launch of

Love it, wish you big success.

And finally, can you tell us about the exclusive free track/mix that you are offering our readers?

It’s the 'Back Beat Symphony' mix by Skins & Needles, with me on turntables and drummer Max MacVeety from Crown City Rockers. It’s a live duo project designed to move butts!

Once the preview track above has whetted your appetite, head straight over to get your copy of Zeph & MacVeety's incredible 13-track, live drummin', funk breakin' mash-up mix, from our Member's Vault at the forum. You can't access the vault if you're not a member of, in fact the forum is invisible until you sign in.

Once you sign in, the password for the Vault is in the forum description. We've spray-painted it out in the picture below, but you get the idea:
And if you're not a member yet, get on it and join the rapidly growing community HERE

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