Photo by Tania Castellví
Releasing thickly-packaged, retro-leaning tunes since 2007, John “Jay” Shepheard’s back catalogue exposes a penchant for recalling eras past.
After initial Acid Housesitting and Nü Disco releases on the Compost Black label, two career milestones await the 33-year-old North Londoner and Retrofit label boss in 2013’s opening quarter: his freshman album, Home & Garden (Retrofit) on February 28 and, fresh from three weeks of downtime in Thailand, his debut outing at Berlin’s perennial palace for partying, Panorama Bar, on March 8.
After six years of EPs and remixes, your first ever album is out.
Yeah, I finished the album a few months ago. I wanted to make a bunch of stuff that’s more suited to listen to at home or in your garden – hence the name. The whole process was pretty much ongoing for about two years in the background. So when I had free time here and there, or a certain idea started turning in a different way, I’d work on it between doing more club records and remixes, which are essential to keep your bookings going and everything else.
What would you say you’re trying to achieve with the record?
Well, the album’s not single-led which is quite a controversial thing to do. People usually have one track which is mega strong and that’ll turn people onto the rest of the album, but I’m just trying to make it work as 11 tracks together with no one stand out track or other fillers. And I tried to avoid traps like putting together a bunch of records that could have been released on 12” but are put out as an album, ‘cos it does happen. And I also didn’t wanna just release a bunch of instrumentals that I’d done and sent to a bunch of vocalists and said, “Okay, sing something on this” and then make it sound like an album. It was all those kind of traps that I wanted to avoid falling into.
You must be thinking of some particular reprehensible characters here. Dare to name names?
[Laughs] I don’t think so. Basically, with all of the albums I used to be into growing up, like Orbital’s Brown Album – the ordering of them are just perfect. Ideally, I wanted the listening experience with this record to be that the longer you listen to it, the more that it fits together. So ideally at the end of it, you’re the most into it that you have been through the whole thing. This has meant putting a lot of my favourite tracks towards the end, which is also quite risky because you know what people are like when they flick through tracks and only listen to the first ones but may not be hearing what I consider as some of the best material.
The way the industry currently is, it’s more gigs than royalties that help you pay your way.
Yeah, definitely, that’s the majority of it. I mean, I get some royalties for remixes and through the label and everything as well but mostly, yes. As in, you know, that even if you earn a reasonable amount off a decent release, it ultimately boils down to how much it’s played and charted or if it’s a high seller on Beatport or Juno or whatever, which will get you many more gigs – and that’s ultimately a lot more money.
Has becoming financially dependent upon the success of your output affected the kind of records you make?
Urm, I try not to let it to. But, yeah, it is weird when your hobby for, like, 10 years suddenly becomes your only source of income. Then it’s difficult not to start thinking about with each release, “Is it gonna get played? Is it gonna appeal to certain audiences? Is it gonna get charted a lot?” When I was first making records, it was literally just for the enjoyment of doing it. And I try to maintain that as much as possible and not get too carried away with trying to pander to a certain market or anything.
Like turning more commercial to rake the big bucks in?
Well, yeah, it’s quite a tough one that because there are certain really underground artists that are massive but certain people who make commercial stuff that aren’t, so it seems to be quite blurred in that sense. I think you’ve basically just got to stick to what sounds right to you and then just hope that other people like it, basically.
You worked at Juno Records for five years before becoming “Jay”.
One of my jobs there was recording the sound crypts for the website and, as you may know, the site sells all kinds of music. There was a policy set up to just take the one at the front of the stack when the box got checked in, so we’d listen to literally everything all day: drum ‘n’ bass, gabba, trance, hip hop. But it was good because it helped me learn that there’s good and bad in every genre.
Did this realisation ever push you into exploring genres beyond the 4/4 realm?
[Laughs] Well, I started when I was 17 and let’s say it was a long time before I started making anything decent. I had actually released a couple of stuff under my name “John Julian”, but it wasn’t very good. Well, it was alright, but that’s why I changed the name. Back then, I was really into US house and, I don’t wanna say funky house ‘cos it was, like, pre-funky house. Sort of more soulful US garage and early electrohouse before it got cheesy. And that’s what the early stuff I made was like so I kind of wanted to distance myself from the whole thing.
You lived here before, in 2009, and recently moved back last year. Notice any changes?
To be honest, in the time that I’ve been around, no. I don’t feel it at all. Maybe with my friendship group here, in general, ‘cos that was nearly four years ago now since I last lived here, and everyone’s slightly older and a bit less crazy. So it’s slightly more dinner parties and less after-parties these days, I guess. But with the city as a whole? No, I don’t feel a difference. And some people do say it’s changing, but I think that’s just them getting older. I remember people saying that about London, like, “Oh, there’s nothing going on” in whichever area anymore. But there is: it’s just that there’s loads of young people going there instead now.
Any new projects for us to look forward to?
Well, definitely: my first Panorama Bar on March 8 with Move D, Nick Höppner, Dolan and Endian. I’m really excited about that. And I’m also doing a collaboration now actually with a guy from St. Petersburg. He’s called Saint Petersburg Disco Spin Club and there’s a singer involved as well, who’s amazing. I think she sings in a band with him as well – Yana Blinder, she’s called. Think we’ll come up with a new name, though, as, er, “Saint Petersburg Disco Spin Club & Jay Shepheard featuring Yana Blinder” is a bit of a mouthful, don’t you think? [laughs]
JAY SHEPHEARD Fri, Mar 8 | Panorama Bar, Am Wriezener Bahnhof 1, U-Bhf Weberwiese