The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part LXXIV: The Turntablist Chronicles: Jeff Jupiter
By the time you read this, I will have weathered my first SXSW. Just a few weeks ago I headed down to Corpus Christi and attended the opening of PRODUCE, DJ DUS' new DJ school/art gallery/retail store, and I have the cool "Turntable Academy" T-shirt to prove it. While hanging out in downtown Corpus for the weekend, I stumbled onto the Texas Surf Museum. In addition to its role as "South Texas' Premier Surfing History Hotspot," it's also a record store with actual LP's (I smiled knowingly when the owner told me that "vinyl's coming back in a big way") and a live venue for musical acts. Dick Dale has an upcoming gig later in the spring, so I may return.
The South By Southwest Festival and its host city of Austin had my attention for the next few weeks, however. While I am pleased that both DJ DUS and Jon Ragel from Boy Eats Drum Machine will be featured at SXSW--it'll be fun to see if they remember the humble Vinyl Anachronist- I'm also curious to meet some local turntablists from the ATX. Fortunately, I was able to spend some time with Jeff Walton, aka Jeff Jupiter, a turntablist who has been DJing since he was a kid. In addition to his mixing and scratching skills, he also sings and plays the drums, keyboards, guitar and bass. It's not surprising considering his pedigree--Jeff's father was the original drummer for the 13th Floor Elevators.
When you listen to John's mixes, both as a solo performer and with such groups as Vehicular and One Step Program, you'll notice that his productions are rooted deeply within electronica and a wide variety of dub genres. He also has a penchant for using human voices from all types of sources and placing them into challenging musical contexts, something that has become his signature. He has several independent releases, has contributed to many compilations on other labels and has opened for such acts as Steinskj, The Cool Kids, Pete Rock, Common, Busdriver, DJ Muggs, Brother Ali, Lyrics Born and Sage Francis.
I caught up to Jeff as he was gearing up for SXSW.
PSF: Tell me a little bit about growing up with your dad, John Ike Walton, and how he got you interested in music.
Well, growing up with my dad was actually pretty normal. My mother was also an abstract painter when she was younger. My father taught me how to play guitar, drums and basic music theory. As I got older he had more advice for me, such as how to handle being in a band and his experiences with recording. My father was playing professionally at 15 so he had been around the block a time or two.
To be honest, as a younger child, I had no interest in music and when I got a bit older, eleven or so, I became obsessed with dance and hip hop. My cousins, friends and I would make funny songs using records and two cassette decks to extend and basically create instrumentals. I would also DJ dances and mix with tape decks, an effects pedal and two CD changers. I have always been recording, whether it was songs, prank calls or general weird stuff. Later on, I began to appreciate my father's music with the 13th Floor Elevators, and I began playing drums in rock and punk bands.
PSF: What does he think about what you're doing now? Is he a fan of this type of music?
My father hated rap when I was younger. He is an exceptional musician and is extremely critical, which I see as a good thing. I remember when [Warner Brothers exec] Bill Bentley sent him a demo copy of Faith No More before he signed them and my father could not stand it. But I would suppose his father was not into his style as much as it goes on down the line with teenagers and adults. Now, he is very supportive, and I think he is a bit more open-minded when it comes to hip-hop and electronic music since it is no longer in its infancy and has been around a while.
PSF: You've been collecting records since you were a kid, and you still use those LP's from your childhood. What led you to this style?
I have been collecting records for a long time. The only way I could play them was at my grandmother's, and I had to sneak them in since rap was forbidden in our family. This was around the time when 2 Live Crew, NWA and the like were making headlines for being offensive and vulgar. I still have the As Nasty As They Wanna Be double LP (which I would hide in a Snap! cover), along with various Disney and '70's educational records from my older cousins.
Usually, I'll just start with an odd sound, build a melody from it and continue layering until I am happy. Just the awkwardness of some of those old records inspires me to take possession of the sounds and manipulate them.
PSF: In your solo productions, your work seems to focus on human voices, whether it's Chuck D. and Flavor Flav (in "Bring That Mess") or even Dr. Laura railing about promiscuity (in "Out of That Darkness.") Do you have a method for finding and choosing these sources?
Was that Dr. Laura? I was trying to figure out who that was.
PSF: I'm embarrassed to admit that I recognize her voice.
I just turned on a short wave radio to record weird tuning sounds and that was on. I really do not have a method in locating material, just whatever really. I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to anything that makes a sound. I like doing remixes because I enjoy taking things out of context and repositioning them just for the sake of hearing something new. I guess I channel the odd feelings the sounds give me into new compositions.
PSF: So there's no hidden message from Dr. Laura that you want to convey?
My message is to watch out for people who try to control your way of thought. Or just break stuff. Either one, really.
PSF: You've said that you try to have an off-putting element in all of your mixes. Tell me a little about why you choose to do this, and give me some examples.
That relates to the character of the sounds I try to seek out in production. I take something like a toy or an odd sample and fit it in with fat bass to make that sample become completely undistinguishable. I think for the most part that is my motivation in making music period, experimenting until it sounds cool. In "Fistful of Dollars" with Vehicular, for example, the bass is me humming into a microphone and chopping it up. I do weird stuff in all of my tracks.
PSF: Do you still listen to vinyl for pleasure? What is it about vinyl that attracts you? Of course. I have a DJ booth in my living room with only turntables. I have around 12,000 records and buy ten or so a week. The scary thing is that I really started collecting heavily about nine years ago.
PSF: What is it about vinyl that attracts you?
Vinyl has a depth and grit to it, and the inherent design of a turntable (a tiny mic in a cut piece of plastic) creates a coloration that just sounds its own. I transfer vinyl all of the time to play out with Serato and Ableton and sample old records just for that character. Not to mention there's the artwork and photography that went into album covers back then. Now most albums are photoshopped (a valid art-form in and of itself) and it just looks different.
PSF: What analog equipment do you use at home?
I went from a 4-track cassette to Pro Tools to now Ableton. The analog gear comes into play when I am composing and tracking mainly. I mix everything in Ableton. I compose on analog equipment (Roland Jupiter 6, TR Drum Machines, TB303, Alpha Juno, RE501), vintage samplers (E-mu Emax, MPC 60), digital synths (Yamaha EX5r, RS7000) in the analog realm and I track everything through a Summit Tube Preamp into a Neve 1093. That, I feel, gives enough of the depth of analog sound with the flexibility to edit digitally. Sometimes, I will send all of the tracks out to an Allen and Heath Board and mix out of the box if I feel it needs it. Most of the time, Ableton works fine, though.
PSF: Tell me about your involvement with One Step Program and Vehicular. What do you feel you bring to each group, and do you try to have a different approach when working with others?
Vehicular was a group founded by myself and three other guys (Jon Von Letscher, Jason Fuller and Keith McManus) I met through the Austin Chronicle in 2005. I would make beats, write hooks and scratch records. Live, I would perform the beats from a Yamaha RS 7000 and an MPC 1000 while scratching over the top. We parted ways in 2007 due to creative differences. We were playing big shows at that point. One Step Program is a group with Jason of Vehicular and a drummer by the name of Sean Wakefield. I contributed beats to Jason for some songs and now I scratch and play live beats synced up with the drummer.
Working with others while producing electronic music can be very challenging. You have a large amount of control over the sound when you compose something, and you always have to subtract to allow another element to come into play. It can be hard to find a balance, but when it comes together right it is something that you would have achieved on your own. Sometimes I will just fork over a tracked-out beat and let someone arrange and do whatever they want with it.
PSF: Do the others you work with still mix analog with digital, or do you see a trend one way or another in terms of old-school scratching?
It is a mixture. The people I work with now compose and mix everything with computers for the most part. I personally run sounds through analog gear such as old tube amplifiers.
PSF: I'm a huge fan of tube amplifiers and what they add to the sound. Which amps have you used?
I use mainly old tube reel to reels, Ampeg bass amps, a Summit and a UA 610.
PSF: But most people aren't producing that way anymore.
Without a doubt, the trend is towards digital. It is cheaper, it is easier to get good results and it's much more flexible than analog equipment. But analog will forever remain a part of my production in some respect. I believe that the magic of analog for the most part is the sound it creates, and once you capture that digitally, you have nailed a good portion of why analog is good. I say run stuff through analog gear for the sound and arrange in the computer.
DJing is already there digitally, so embrace it. A vinyl DJ is a rare thing, a cool thing but rare. I can scratch records the same on vinyl and Serato but I can also create my own material to scratch, which is priceless. I believe you are either a good or bad DJ. Digital allows for more flexibility and more capacity along with the control that vinyl offers and beyond. But digital won't make you good.
After all, people forget that the crappy DJ now using Serato was a crappy DJ using records 4 years ago!
You can check out the latest mixes from Jupiter Jeff on his MySpace page
Contact the Vinyl Anachronist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see Marc Philip's blog
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