He has been active in Reggae and Dub for over 20 years performing, recording and producing albums. Known for working with a wide variety of acclaimed world musicians, he uses his knowledge from a long study of Indian Classical music to influence the sonic landscape. We are happy to introduce you to the talented musician – JOSS JAFFE !
[Blaster] Thank you for your time Joss! What music did you grow up listening to?
JOSS JAFFE: When I was in elementary school I loved 80’s Pop (born 1980!) Michael Jackson, Madonna, Paula Abdul, INXS. Then U2, The Cure, Talking Heads. From there I started getting into Classic Rock: The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and 60’s folk music like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel. My dad had a lot of this classic hippie stuff on vinyl. Then right about high school I started listening to Reggae music nonstop. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Sly & Robbie, and lots and lots of Dub. About this same time I also became really interested in World music and music of India. Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, GS Sachdev and music of Africa and the Middle East like Fela Kuti, Ali Farke Tour, Toumani Diabate and Hamza El Din. In college, in addition to all this great music, I also developed a love of electronic music, but I gravitated towards the stuff that had elements of these other musical styles, World music and Dub such as Thievery Corporation and lots of music coming out of the Bay Area like DJ Cheb I Sabbah (I want to college at UC Berkeley). About 10 years ago I kind of came full circle and started listening to Pop music again and enjoying a wide variety of stuff on the radio as Pop music brought in more and more of these Dance and EDM elements.
[Blaster] How did you become involved in music production?
JOSS JAFFE: I have almost been recording my own music since as long as I’ve been playing it! I would record on a tape recorder and make songs with my friends. I remember when I was in high school and a family friend had a professional studio he made music for TV programs. He recorded my first demo when I was about 14! Then in high school my high school band made a record. It’s so bad that it’s actually kind of good and I’ll just put this link right here (https://soundcloud.com/the-deep-2). I remember being in the studio, we had all cobbled our money together and negotiated with the guys who owned it. We recorded the entire thing in one long day and actually I think that’s where I first realized I could do this thing. I loved being in the studio. Learning how to mic the drums, overlaying track, playing to a click, figuring stuff out on the spot, making decisions and finding the equilibrium with the band. Formative moments. The next major leap came in college where I met a life long friend and collaborator who I am still making music (https://open.spotify.com/track/1vWIkiveguXwtVHspPNMnv) with 20 years later, Tim Donlou, a master studio musician, keyboardist and audio technician. He also produced my prior single “Promises” featuring Mykal Rose (https://open.spotify.com/album/09Nn3fwcsa38TvSWb1co7d?highlight=spotify:track:7ECyq1VV8Lml9HJ9lEyhNn). Back then we actually recorded everything on 4 track recorder, making incredible live mixdowns and squeezing an amazing amount of music just 4 tracks! Some highlights from that era (2000) can be heard here (https://echosystem.bandcamp.com/album/lovetracks) and here (https://echosystem.bandcamp.com/album/seed-dispersal). From there it just continued to evolve making my own records, finding more and more people to collaborate with until it became a full time job.
[Blaster] How would you describe your musical style?
JOSS JAFFE: I love teaching music. I tell my students all music is rhythm and tune. Play in rhythm and sing in tune. It sounds simple but just that is incredibly complex and can take a lifetime to learn to do correctly. In that way I think I am fundamentally influenced by my teachers of Classical Indian Music: Ali Akbar Khan, Swapan Chaudhuri, Zakir Hussain, GS Sachdev and other maestros I’ve been blessed to work with. The study of Raga (melody) and Tala (rhythm) deeply inform my music even if my music does not sound like Classical music. I’m not trying to evade the question but honestly to me “genres” of music appear like colors that a painter will paint with. Of course many genres are more then just a collection of tones and beats. Music has cultural meaning and without that it doesn’t make sense. A good example of that is Reggae. In making 2 songs with legendary Reggae artist Mykal Rose, lead singer of Black Uhuru, I found myself trying to match elements of his cadence, vocal style, energy and delivery, but I had to find a way to do it in my own unique way so as to feel true and authentic. In that way my music is always coming from me, the deepest part of my being, some message I feel I need to express, even if it’s only a feeling or an energy such as “mellow out, calm down” or “pick up the energy, uplift”. Many of my songs and music feature elements of Minimalism which has a huge repertoire of master artists such as Brian Eno and Terry Riley. I am also a tabla player (North Indian drums) so even if I’m not playing tabla on the track the conceptualization of rhythm from tabla is always there. At the moment I am working heavily with vocal music and releasing a series of songs exploring Indie Pop in a variety of genres. The same way I described music as simply rhythm and tone, songs are fundamentally based on songwriting. It doesn’t really matter what genre it is, the question is how good is the song? What is it saying? It’s a little bit like a screenplay in movies. Without it the movie will struggle to be good.
[Blaster] Who writes your songs?
JOSS JAFFE: At the moment I am almost exclusively writing my material. The exception is when there is a featured guest artist on the track who fully or partially writes their part. When I work with engineers and producers such as DJ Taz, he is getting some writers credit because it’s not possible for a creative studio artist to not add their own special touch. But I’m primarily writing and composing the material. I am actually getting excited to do more pure collaborations where I write together with someone else. One constraint is time and location, and of course now during Covid, it hasn’t been possible to get in the same studio as a lot of the people I’d like to work with. Fingers crossed we move past this time soon!
[Blaster] Is there a hidden meaning in your music?
JOSS JAFFE: That’s a great question! I have 3 albums of Mantra music. Mantra is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “Instrument of Thought” or “Tool of the Mind.” In the process of making these albums and performing at large scale yoga events around the world I realized viscerally that the concept of Mantra is present all over the world. Even in English we have powerful Mantras such as “I love you,” “To your health,” “Good Thoughts.” These are powerful words that have a latent meaning in them to create change and equilibrium in the body and the consciousness. As I move more and more into doing all my music in English (I’m still planning some new projects in other languages in the future) I am bringing this concept of Mantra into my lyricism. You can see that in “Sun To Shine,” which I initially wrote during a 4 month trip to India learning vocal music in 2008. The imagery in the song is literal, but it’s also metaphorical, speaking to the highest ideals of life and being a human.
[Blaster] Do you collaborate with other musicians? What is that process?
JOSS JAFFE: I love collaborations. There are a number of irons in the fire at the moment. In general my philosophy is very strongly that I want the other person to have as much freedom as possible. I love when another person is self directed and not afraid to take big chances, as that is the way I am with my music. I have a pretty open mind in the creative process, sometimes I have a very clear vision of what I am going for but it’s never so fixed that if someone has a better idea I won’t listen to that. One thing that’s also important is to have clear communication with the other person. Also getting the business side very clear right from the start and immediately working anything out that comes up. I’m not sure I could make good music if there was a clash of personalities or any sort of bad vibes. It’s all about keeping things positive.
[Blaster] What skills have you learned that will help you in your music career?
JOSS JAFFE: At the end of the day it boils down to a ton of hard work. There are so many opportunities in the modern music scene. Digital platforms, social media and online networks allow for a wealth of opportunities to promote your music as an independent artist that I don’t believe have ever existed before in the world. However with that also comes a ton of noise and it can extremely hard to break through it all. Even with a great piece of music you have to find a way to get people to listen to it. So many of us artists have to wear so many different hats and we are constantly marketing and working on all the things around the music that at one point in time large record labels would do all that! And we are doing it all ourselves. So it’s about focusing the time and energy and not getting too distracted by the endless stuff to do that there isn’t any time to make music. The game also changes so fast. It seems like sometimes a new platform, way to use video, or social media comes out almost every day! I try to stay open and am constantly learning about new techniques.
[Blaster] Do you have a record label? Are you a member of any music organization?
JOSS JAFFE: In 2019 I began releasing music on the Be Why Music label out of Los Angeles. They are primarily a New Age label that has won the Grammy in the New Age Category 2 times recently with White Sun (2017) and Opium Moon (2019). I am a member of NARAS and am a voting member at The Recording Academy Grammy’s. There are a number of smaller collectives and groups that I am connected with such as the Beat Collective based in Melbourne, Australia.
[Blaster] Where do you find your artistic inspiration?
JOSS JAFFE: Great question. I view inspiration as a spring that bubbles up. If you’ve ever sat next to a spring where water is actually rising up out of the ground, the “headwaters” of some body of water, it feels so new. At times it feels unlimited and at times the flow is less or not there at all. I had my first extreme bout of writer’s block in 2019 and I had to do a wide variety of things and practices to get out of that place. Some of which actually made other projects that ended up being super successful! The album ‘Meditation Music,’ which charted on Billboard, was one of those side projects to get the juices flowing that took on a life of its own. The inspiration can come at any time, and it’s like a dream, if you don’t write it down immediately you will forget it. Don’t do that! Write that stuff down. When it hits you have to hit it hard or it’s gone. I often get my best ideas when I’m in nature, hiking, surfing, swimming and places that are quiet or just have ambient sounds of nature.
[Blaster] What are the main topics for most of your songs? Do you think topics will change overtime?
JOSS JAFFE: My last song (“Promises”) had a strong political theme and spoke to this moment in time. However I tried to write it in such a way that it wasn’t a period piece but could stay relevant into the future. Then starting from “Sun To Shine” I have 9 more songs coming out that have a variety of related themes in a Dream Pop style. Some themes I explore in these new songs are love, loss, spirituality, redemption, renewal, innocence, peace and happiness. I hope my topics do change! Life is complex and there are lots of ways to express that. There are so many layers. I feel like I’m barely just getting started.
[Blaster] What are you working on right now? Did you release something in the past?
JOSS JAFFE: 2020 has seen a flurry of releases. I’ve been taking advantage of this time off the road! In the spring I released a 3 track EP produced by Justin Bjur. They had a Reggae, World, Electronica feel to it called ‘Traveller’ that I really enjoyed. From there I did two songs with producer Tim Donlou, “Morning Star” and “Promises” featuring Mykal Rose. This 6th single “Sun To Shine” is the beginning of a 10 track album called “Sun, Mountain, Sea” that will be released in early 2021. I have song that is in the mixing phase that focuses exclusively on Tabla, something I haven’t done yet and have always been waiting for the right time to do that. There are a number of collaborations with different artists that are in the very preliminary phases. Stay tuned!
[Blaster] What do you feel is the best song you ever released and why?
JOSS JAFFE: Wow! Tough question. My music flashes into my head at certain times and I remember why I wrote it, what I was feeling and sometimes I gain new insight into why I made that song and it makes me like it in a new way. In that way I think the ones that are the most recent have a freshness to them in my mind that feels really good. I’m really digging “Sun To Shine” and I’m super excited to start releasing the subsequent singles. Can’t wait to share it with you!
[Blaster] Who are you inspired by?
JOSS JAFFE: Wow there are so many. I absolutely love Toumani Diabate and have been learning my newest instrument lately, Kora! I’m very inspired by songwriters and producers such as Rick Ruben, Quincy Jones, Walter Afanasieff and Jimmy Jam. As I get deeper and deeper in production I realize how many layers there are to a great song. It really has to fire on all cylinders for a song to come out right. Yes, it’s getting a great vocal take! But it’s also a lot more then that too.
[Blaster] What would be your dream collaboration, with any musician or producer?
JOSS JAFFE: Great question. I’ve always fantasized about working with someone like Quincy Jones or Rick Ruben. Someone who could look at me, listen to my demos, hear the songs and then bring the diamonds out of the rock with me. While I’ve never worked with a rock star producer like that, I have been extremely blessed to work with the producers I have. Every album really needs a producer in my opinion. Having another person to bounce ideas off of and help those ideas take shape is truly invaluable. I have some dream collaborations but you never know, dreams sometimes become reality! So I’ll keep them in my dreams for now. One fun dream I had was to collaborate with a KPOP artist as I lived in South Korea for the last 2 years before Covid hit. I love the different styles and genres in KPOP such as BTS and Black Pink. That would be super fun.
[Blaster] How do you balance your music with other obligations – school, hobby, job?
JOSS JAFFE: At the moment music is my full time job and has been for over 4 years! I sincerely hope I can continue to do this work as it’s been the most fulfilling in my life. Balancing workloads is all about scheduling. Making time for the things that are priorities and working down from there. Ultimately the drive is what makes it all happen. I have a burning desire to create more art. I can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that’s always there. If I’m not doing it I feel like I’m doing something wrong.
[Blaster] At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
JOSS JAFFE: I hope people listen to it and get swept away into their own other reality for a moment. Life is beautiful but it can also be a struggle. Music is incredibly powerful at transforming moments into something greater then the mundane. My wish is that my music can facilitate that for people.
[Blaster] Would you like to give any message to your fans?
JOSS JAFFE: Thank you so much for showing up! I couldn’t do this without you and I never take it for granted. I have a lot of gratitude that I can do music as a living.
[Blaster] Feel free to share your contact information for possible collaborations with musicians and social networks links, so fans can follow your work and access your music.