Pick Of The Week #32: Dyno Jamz (+ Interview)

Pick Of The Week #32: Dyno Jamz (+ Interview)

Our music taste is pretty eclectic, but there’s no such thing as jazzy hip hop performed with live instruments. Justice System, ArtOfficial, Jazz Poets Society… You name them. That’s why it’s always nice to discover a new band. This week’s Pick Of The Week for Laid Back Radio, broadcasted once every few hours the next seven days, is Dyno Jamz.

Our music taste is pretty eclectic, but there’s no such thing as jazzy hip hop performed with live instruments. Justice SystemArtOfficial, Jazz Poets Society… You name them. That’s why it’s always nice to discover a new band. This week’s Pick Of The Week for Laid Back Radio, broadcasted once every few hours the next seven days, is Dyno Jamz.

They combine jazz with hip hop, but according to Dyno Jamz member Saba it’s hard to put the ‘jazzy hip hop’ stamp on them: “I’m still hesitant to call ourselves a hip hop band, or a jazz band for that matter. We have some horns and drums and a keyboard and a bass guitar and sometimes there’s beatboxing. Also there’s a guy who raps. Call that what you will.”

Some of you guys have a jazz background. Can you be a bit more specific about that?

Clarke: All four of the horn players are or were music majors at the University of Washington and most members of the band have some background playing jazz. While we’re a hip hop group, I think this formal jazz background and training has affected the songs we play in some interesting ways. For example, we’ve got horn section features, instrumental solos, and sections that change keys, tempos, meters, etc.

Ray: Clarke, Colin, Walker, Brennan and I are all alumni of our respective high school jazz programs. I can say that learning about the jazz tradition in high school, and even more in college, has influenced my musical sensibilities enormously, and is totally responsible for the love I have for improvisation. I think that love of improvisation is something shared by all members of Dyno Jamz and is in a sense what brought us together as musicians. Though its a definitive aspect of jazz music, it’s not unique to jazz. Zac freestyles all the time, and in a way it’s the same thing as when one of the horn players takes a solo. It’s all about spontaneous expression of emotions, and many of our songs started out as jams that we improvised as a group at rehearsals.

Saba: I mostly listened to rock and some hip hop growing up. Unlike most of the other musicians in the group I wasn’t involved in a high school jazz band or my university’s music program. Jazz drumming is a totally different animal than rock or hip hop drumming, so it was a huge challenge for me to understand the musical vocabulary and general steez of the other instrumentalists. The difference in articulation, timing and groove is something I still think whenever we rehearse or write new songs, but it’s only gotten easier to find common ground.

Most of the band members are still studying. Isn’t it hard to combine school with being in a band?

Zac: It’s extremely hard at times and especially working in addition. My grades tend to slip from time to time due to big shows in progress. I missed a lot of quiz sections last quarter from having to leave early on friday for a show out of town… kinda reflects what I hold more dear to me.

Ray: YES IT’S SO FRICKIN’ HARD. But we all made a commitment to this group a long time ago and have been setting aside monday nights for the past couple years in order to make this group work. It has taken a lot of long-term dedication and accountability to each other, and we never would have kept it up if we weren’t friends til the end

Were you guys all familiar with jazzy hip hop before starting with Dyno Jamz?

Ray: No, not in the slightest. This sound was very new to me when we started.

Saba: I’m not sure what jazzy hip hop is. I’m still hesitant to call ourselves a hip hop band, or a jazz band for that matter. We have some horns and drums and a keyboard and a bass guitar and sometimes there’s beatboxing and maybe in the future there will be electronics? awno. Also there’s a guy who raps. Call that what you will.

Is it true that your self-titled album was recorded in only two days?

Ray: Not really. We won two days of recording at Orbit in Seattle from the EMP’s Sound Off! competition. That was an enormous help, and it can’t be overstated how much we’ve benefited from EMP and the people who donated to the competition. We also recorded on a third day at London Bridge in Seattle though, which we bought.

On these three studio days we recorded all of the rhythm section tracks, and some of the horn tracks. Our producer and recording engineer, Vincent LaBelle, who is the chillest, most professional, and most enjoyable guy to work with, was in the process of building a home studio when we started working with him, so a lot of hours were spent at his house to record the remaining horn tracks and most of the vocals. Additional vocals were recorded by Andrew Savoie at his home studio.

Saba: We probably had a handful of days actually in the studio, but they were so spread out that the album took a few months. Big ups Vincent LaBelle for repeatedly sending us mix after mix when we wanted tiny (prolly inconsequential things) changed!

Can you tell us a bit more about the recording process?

Zac: Recording was extremely difficult for me and there was a lot of pressure to get my vocal parts done by a certain date (one date being only a few weeks after starting…). The hardest part was being satisfied with the product, because unlike in live performances, I had control over how I wanted each verse to sound. Also, some songs I had not even written to yet and already had a deadline.

‘Footprints’ was the first song I recorded vocals to and I must have recorded it almost eight times because it was one of our oldest songs and the style deviated so much from the original I didn’t know how I wanted it to sound; i.e. high energy like a live performance or laid back and swaggerish. Those are just a few incidences. I could talk all day about the recording process but I won’t.

Ray: In the studio we were focusing on recording all the rhythm section tracks because large space is ideal, especially for drums. In fact, keyboard tracks and bass tracks were recorded DI (without mics) so they could have been done outside the studio too (and in fact some additional tracks were recorded in Vincent’s studio). So we really spent those days in the studio to get great drum tracks.

The whole band (except Zac sometimes) recorded too so that the finished product would sound like us playing the song as a group, and not like us layering tracks on top of a beat. But it’s very very tricky to get a perfect take of an entire horn section at any given time, so we were planning from the beginning to rerecord most of the horn tracks. All four of us were recording together in a little room quarantined from the rhythm section and sometimes shared mics.

As you can imagine, any minor mistakes or intonation problems from any of us easily “bled” into all the mics in the room, so one missed note meant that all horn tracks were garbage. Zac recorded his material completely separately in order to perfect the delivery and record overdubs.

Saba: Recording was super stressful… I’ve done a lot of home recording in the past and I was pushing for us to record everything at home using some microphones and a mixer we won in Sound Off! I’m also kind of a control freak and a snob when it comes to production so I wanted to put my sonic fingerprints all over everything, but we had a dedicated producer and engineer whose job it was to take care of things like that.

Also, the excitement and stress of recording in these legendary studios with this incredibly expensive gear definitely took its toll on my playing. I’m pretty bummed out on most of my performances on the album, but I’ve been trying to make up for it at the shows with 35 minute drum + kabuki solos.

Who writes the lyrics?


Zac: I write all my lyrics and believe it to be crucial for an artist to do so. I respect those naturally talented that have lyrics written for them but as far as writing raps goes, an artist has to write his own ish to gain my full respect.

How did you pick the people you collaborated with?

Zac: I picked all the vocal guest appearances myself. When it comes to working with people I gotta like the person as a person first then respect them as an artist as well. I don’t care if they are a nobody or Jay-Z, if I can’t kick it with them as a person then I can’t work with them. All the guests on the album just fell into place and I envisioned their style and sound on the songs having complete faith in their ability to hold it down.

Ray: They’re all friends of at least someone in the band or our producer, Vincent LaBelle. Many of them have collaborated with Zac before. And they all kick ass, so it wasn’t hard to choose them.

Saba: We liked one of them so much he’s in our band now.

As young people you’ve probably downloaded music, while offering your album for $10 on Bandcamp. How do you think about it now that you’re playing in a band that’s getting some success?

Zac: I have downloaded a lot of music in the past, but these days I usually get it from friends and If I really like the artist I will eventually buy their album. When it comes to local artists and underground artist I for sure will buy their album but when it comes to cats that are making dough and got some to spare I don’t feel bad about downloading their music.

Ray: Downloaded music has cheated some musicians out of money they deserve. It has also helped many musicians achieve a level of notoriety and emergence into the public awareness that they never would have achieved otherwise. Although I hope that people will contribute to our band when they get our album, the internet will only help us reach out to more fans, spread our tunes, and hopefully inspire more people, which is always the real goal.

Saba: We get e-mails whenever our name shows up in a new place on the internet and I have the band’s e-mail account on my phone. I was hanging out with my cousin when I got a new message that had a link to our album on a torrent site. We’re on a bunch of them now.

At first I was pissed because the album had just come out, so the person who put it up online had to have been someone we’d seen recently at our album release show. It was so personal all of a sudden. My robot heart suddenly knew what it was to feel hurt, but I got over it when my cousin told me to think of how many more people could hear the album now that it was all over the internet. That’s cool.

Anyway, someone gave me some band’s record for free and I’ve been bumping it forever and now I’m gonna go see them when they come to Seattle in January. I’m probably gonna buy some CDs at the show and the cash will go straight into their pockets instead of paying for server fees or shipping costs. And that’s nice. So if you can find our music, download it, and if you like it, come to the show.

Which artists influenced you the most?

Clarke: DJ Jazzy Jeff. Period.

Words by: Wim
Related content: Pick Of The Week (Archive)
Buy: Dyno Jamz – Dyno Jamz (2010)

Just an ordinary guy always on the hunt for extraordinary music. Not just as the founder of The Find Magazine & Rucksack Records, but also as a freelance music journalist (bylines at Tracklib, Bandcamp, Wax Poetics, DIG Mag, among others) and—above all—out of love for all kinds of good music.