Justin Jay & Friends Stop Making Sense on Collaborative Album 'Fantastic Voyage'
Have you seen The Muppet Movie? In the unfortunate case you haven't, it begins when Kermit the Frog is picked off his lily pad and invited to be a star in Hollywood. As he starts his journey, he finds Fozzy Bear telling jokes in a dive bar. He asks the waka-waka machine to join him, and so it goes with Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Rowlf the Dog, and so on until his brown Studebaker is overflowing with a wild and varied cast of characters.
Although they come from different backgrounds and take different approaches, each one is a dreamer pursuing a passion. They are stronger and better together than they ever were apart, and that's something Justin Jay has learned during the course of his own Fantastic Voyage.
“I know that I'm not your type, and you're not mine, but that's alright,” his college buddy Josh Taylor sings on “What Do you Want.” It's track three of 12 on Fantastic Voyage, the debut collaborative album from the producer's new four-to-seven-piece band (depending on the lineup that day), Justin Jay & Friends, and it captures the spirit of the project.
This is a band that in many ways shouldn't make sense. It's a tech-house producer teamed with a singing ukulele enthusiast, a drummer, a guitarist, and sometimes a trumpeter, saxophonist, and bassist. It's a process so involved, Jay actually went back to college after graduation to take a “school of rock” style class that taught him how to perform in a band. It's been totally weird, but that's what's made it exciting. As Taylor sings on track seven “Let Go,” “holding on will hold you back.”
“We didn't even realize it (was happening), because we were really just getting lost in the process of making music, songwriting, and just hanging out,” Jay says of the album writing and recording process. “I've just learned so much from that experience, and I'm really excited to just keep learning about new things and to experiment with my homies.”
He and Taylor have been friends ever since they rushed the same frat freshman year at the University of Southern California. They roomed together, showed each other musical ideas, but never thought collaboration was possible. Jay was releasing on Dirtybird and Taylor was doing a folk jam thing. It didn't make sense – until making sense didn't matter.
“I didn't have the opportunity to collaborate wth people interested in making instrumental house and techno,” Jay says. “Our last semester of college we were like 'dude, we hang out all the time anyway, let's jam.'”
It started on a Monday, and Friday, they performed a song with Taylor's band's guitarist, Benny Bridges, at a frat party. The response was great, and the friends decided to premiere it live at Jay's DJ set in San Francisco the next day. The track was called “Weathermen,” and it's the opening track on Fantastic Voyage.
The songs continued to flow, Jay and his pals kept traveling together to rock them out for crowds, and before they knew it, they had enough for an LP. But traditional release wasn't going to cut it. The tracks were cool, audiences approved, but it was still so stylistically different from anything Jay'd put out before, even from one another.
The fix? Jay sent the songs out in various groups for release on different labels. “Turn Around” and “Let Go” are funky disco jams that found a home on Soul Clap. Techno-tinged “Make You Mine” and “Climbing Trees” landed on Repopulate Mars. A few saw release on Jimpster's Free Range, a few on Black Butter, and of course, on his home-base label Dirtybird. The whole album came out that way, to “give people a chance to gradually get into it.”
As a final product, the cohesiveness speaks for itself. Fantastic Voyage is a wild ride of sounds for anyone used to a dance-centric groove. It's a dance record, to be sure, but it plays with rock band themes. Hey, disco was created with funk bands. It's not all that crazy.
“The more deeply I learn about it, the more I can bring a more substantive live performance to my world or dance music,” Jay says. “It's been scary at times, but so rewarding ... we really do have this scrappy DIY, we'll figure it out, just throw ourselves into the fire (approach). It's very college cramming right before the midterm but we've been figuring it out, and we've been having lots of fun.”
The final exam swiftly approaches in the form of a full-on live tour later this year. The experience also spurred the launch of Jay's new label, also called Fantastic Voyage, a place Jay sees as a cool way to show off his band member's fledgling electronic works and give young, local DJs a way to get cool new sounds at little to no cost.
“There's a level of seriousness it takes to peak Claude VonStroke's interest, and a lot of my homies are just starting to make music for the first time and making really cool stuff,” he says. “It's not necessarily the best songs for the big festivals or the coolest artsy warehouse parties. They're songs for playing a little house party in your living room.”
Because if Justin Jay & Friends aren't afraid to experiment, neither should you.