DJDS on Their Kanye West Co-Sign, Working With Khalid, and Their Ambitious New Album
If you were to rob a bank with someone you love -- hypothetically speaking -- what would it sound like? DJDS have a guess. That's just one of the offbeat questions the electronic production duo of Sam Griesemer and Jerome Potter asked themselves over the two years they spent making their third, LP Big Wave More Fire, an eclectic project that captures the messy scope of human emotion: joy tinged with sorrow, excitement streaked with anxiety or -- maybe for our Bonnie and Clyde scenario -- terror mixed with thrill.
“It all goes back to feeling human. When we make music, we want to represent life experiences,” explains Potter, known as Jerome LOL in the dance community. “Life isn’t just sad, and life isn’t just happy.”
The album, out now, is the duo’s most inventive project yet, soaring between euphoric harmonies, ghostly Auto-Tune creations, and skittering drums in their signature sample-heavy style. But it’s also their most collaborative, bringing together a raft of vocalists -- including Khalid, Kacy Hill, Vic Mensa and Charlie Wilson -- whose ages range from 20 to 65.
The concept has been a long time coming for Potter, 30, and Greisemer, 32, who were still burrowed deep in L.A.’s underground warehouse scene when they released their debut album, Friend of Mine, under the name DJ Dodger Stadium in 2014. But everything changed when, while working on the 2016 follow-up, Stand Up And Speak, Kanye West invited them to contribute production to five tracks on The Life of Pablo, released the same year.
In an industry where one co-sign can make an entire career, adding West to their resume was a game-changer. “Having worked with Kanye does help get through some of those [label] barriers,” Greisemer, who goes by Samo Sound Boy, admits. But more importantly, shadowing West gave them a first-hand look at how to spearhead such a collaborative project -- a puzzle they often compare to directing a movie. “Our ideas and ambitions for the sound were getting bigger, but we hadn’t really figured out how to pull it all off,” Greisemer continues. “Getting to work on [Pablo showed us] how you can rope in all these different artists and different voices, but in a way that feels really cohesive and direct.”
Feeling “energized” by their two-month Pablo adventure, Greisemer and Potter became perfectionists in the studio, spending hours freestyling new sounds, even if they only kept, say, “seven seconds” of a session. On long drives through L.A., they mulled over roughly 150 versions of “I Get By,” a surging mood-booster featuring Amber Mark and Vory, before finding the one that felt right. And they experimented with samples wildly, recording everything from Potter knocking on the side of a plane in Iceland (now the snare on Khalid-featuring “Why Don’t You Come On”) to coyotes howling in the woods of New Hampshire.
For collaborators, they reached out to a rolodex of artist friends who have since broken out in their own right. At the time they recruited Khalid, for example, the then-teenaged singer had just released his now-monster hit “Location” on SoundCloud, while Amber Mark still had yet to release her well-received debut album, 3:33am. The most difficult collaborator to get on board? “I was,” jokes Greisemer, who contributed his own vocals for the first time with Big Wave More Fire after many pep talks from Potter. Meanwhile, DJDS took breaks to produce parts of Khalid’s own American Teen and Hill’s Like A Woman, allowing for plenty of cross-pollination. It's no wonder why, in an Instagram post announcing the new album a few days before its release, they described the record as "the one we’ve always wanted to make but had to learn how to.”
Beyond emotions, the album also evokes a strong sense of place, and the duo says much of the record was inspired by Los Angeles -- both the good and the bad. “A lot of the feelings [on the album] have come from growing up and coming into your own in L.A. -- how it can use people up and spit them out a bit, and the ways you have to fight against that,” Greisemer explains. And on a literal level, Potter adds, it’s a “great album to drive to -- you can see a lot of Los Angeles in 45 minutes [while] you listen to the songs.”
Still, try to pry too deep into the album’s themes, and the duo grow silent. The most fun part of creating art, they explain, is setting it free, allowing listeners to superimpose their own meaning.
“We’ve been listening to these songs for the last two years, but now that they’re out in the world, they’re no longer ours,” Potter explains. Griesemer finishes the thought: “That’s when the album has its real life.”