SF Sonic interview with Jef Stott

SF SONIC Interview
World music has deep roots in the multi-cultural history of the Bay Area and Jef Stott has been merging those roots with technology through live shows and over ten albums. Stott is a producer, multi-instrumentalist, host of a music travel channel, and, most recently, a music educator with SF Jazz. Music educator? Sure, and here is what SF Jazz’s Marshall Lamm had to say about Stott – “Jef has been instrumental in growing the successful SFJAZZ Digital Lab education program since the SFJAZZ Center opened in 2013. All of classes sell out and people even fly in from other parts of the country to take the classes and glean Jef’s wisdom.  Jef has a level of hustle that is rare these days as he DJ’s, produces, organizes, travels and is able to balance everything.  He does so much for the Bay Area and global music communities.”

Stott recently release a new album, Aslan Dub System Vol 1, reminding us just how powerful his music is. SF Sonic took the release as an opportunity to ask Stott about the new release and everything else Stott has to offer.

SF Sonic: Tell us about your new label and why you decided to strike out on your own. Will you be putting out music by other artists as well as your own?

Jef Stott: Sure, of course. Thanks for asking.

A couple of years ago, I took a break from writing and performing music full time to develop the World is Sound project, which is a video documentary travel series about music from around the world. For that project, I travel to different locations around the globe to seek out artists to interview and to collaborate with.

The scope of the World is Sound project is multi-platform in that it will hopefully be a TV series, a festival series, a music venue, and a record label.

Launching my own label is part of developing that project. I wanted to have a platform to release my own work, as well as collaborations from people I work with on the show and tracks from other artists I admire.The new label is called Embarka Records.

I also wanted to have freedom to release things on my own schedule and have control of the rights etc…

SF Sonic: Your new label will be distributed by your old label, San Francisco’s Six Degrees, you’ve been associated with the label for years. What makes this relationship so longstanding?

Stott: I am so grateful to Six Degrees for being so supportive of my work over the many years we have worked together! When I was a younger producer, my dream was to be on Six Degrees, and slowly it began to happen with singles and remixes etc., until finally they asked me to join their Emerging Artist series and I was sort of swooped up onto their world.

All of the energy and support from Six Degrees comes from founder Bob Duskis and his never ending courage and vision to support ground-breaking music from all over the world. He really is a hero and a champion of this important music. I think we all share his feeling that music is vitally important in keeping the dialog going between cultures, raising the vibration in the world, especially now that it seems we are sinking back into nationalism and fear-based rhetoric.

With Bob at Six Degrees and all of the artists and fans that he interacts with, it is all about the music, all the beautiful music from everywhere on our sweet little blue planet.

Six Degrees is now working with a select batch of artists and boutique labels as a distributor. So that arrangement was a great fit for me and my plans to launch the label and to still be connected with Six Degrees.  A win/ win situation.

SF Sonic: Staying on the same topic of what’s new with Jef Stott, you recently hooked up with SFJAZZ as an educator. How did that come about?

Stott: I was wrapping up the touring for the Arcana release and I got the eviction notice that my studio in San Francisco was going to be demolished to make way for more luxury condos. This was back in 2013. So I took a job at the newly opened SFJAZZ Center, an amazing performance venue in SF.

At SFJAZZ, I work in the Education Dept. with Rebeca Mauleon and our department has a small digital music classroom there. I have been able to build up the Digital Lab music series at SFJAZZ into a great program. We offer dozens of classes on recording, mixing, production, DJing, music for film, live looping, and many more. I teach many of the classes there and fortunately they are all selling out these days. It is a very popular program. Folks are flying in from other cities to take our classes. It’s great.

I really enjoy teaching quite a bit. I think it is a natural extension for an artist to begin to share their process and their knowledge. I hope to continue teaching for the rest of my life.

SF Sonic: It seems like we will never run out of “new” with Jef Stott. What’s inside Aslan Dub System Vol 1? (We have a track below, check it out.)

Stott: Well, the “new” is just me staying in touch with my creativity and trying to actualize projects I am excited about! 🙂

The ASLAN project is me both maturing as an artist and returning to my roots in some ways. I have been deeply into dub reggae music for most of my life and finally decided to go head-on into that world for this next project. I also feel that dub is the ultimate producer’s genre. In its roots, the mixer/ producer had free Jef Stott Aslan Dubreign as an artist to explore and re-contextualize music and sound as they saw fit, in a grooving bass heavy format. So much of dub is based on texture and space (or Rhythm and Sound!) and it is also sort of the ultimate container. You can “dub” just about anything with great results. And dub is, in my view, the origins of nonlinear music/ live remixing/ DJ as performer/ sound systems etc…all electronic music derives from dub in that way.

And I have been really into electro cumbia for a long time. I am a big fan of the ZZK label and that whole sound. And of course, have had my foot in the Balkan music scene for a while now with my interests in Balkan and Middle East music over the years.

So the combination of all of those things (Balkan/ Dub/ Cumbia) made a lot of sense to me for a new project.

And on a personal level, I am generally happier and less introspective now (worked out the moody artist stuff on the last couple of albums) and felt like I am ready to put out generally positive uplifting powerful global music.

SF Sonic: Stepping back in time…how and when did your interest in non-Western music kick in?

Stott: Good question. My father flew for TWA airlines out of LAX and we traveled a lot when I was growing up in LA. So I had a lot of immersive experiences with different cultures from an early age. I think the most profound and memorable single experience was at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain when I was like 12 years old. I really had a visceral experience imagining what it would be like to be there in the 11th or 12th century ( a particularly glorious period for music in that region).

Also growing up in Los Angeles was its own form of cultural immersion. The enclaves and micro-cities of different ethnic populations there is amazing. And while in LA as a teen ager I started listening to KPFK and KCRW (where I later worked for a bit). Those radio stations were so important for introducing me to so much amazing music, especially Tom Schnabel at KCRW. Through him I heard so much, African music, Cuban music, Gnawa, dub, all of it. He is a legend. We even went to see Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan together!

SF Sonic: And Turkey, that’s a big step. Your wife is Turkish, right? Turkish music isn’t well-known in the US, there isn’t a huge community like the South Asian community that supports the music in the US, but it looks like you’re working to make it more available. Do you see it becoming better-known in the US?

Stott: Right! I sort of actualized a dream and married into my genre! I am very very fortunate to have met my amazing partner at Burning Man while she was playing ney at the Temple there. Dreamy…Yes, she is Turkish and has family in Istanbul, Yalova and the Aegean coast. We spend a lot of time there now.

There is a small sturdy Turkish population in Northern California with lots of folks in Monterey area. Also a good amount of Turks in New York too. I feel Turkish music is sort of lumped into a general “Middle Eastern” category here, which is not inaccurate, but I don’t think the general U.S population would recognize the names of Turkish musical artists, except for maybe Tarkan…but even that is a stretch. The Indian music coming into in the US and UK had the benefit of Ravi Shankar and the Beatles promulgating Indian classical music and Jef Stott with Oudspecifically the sitar. Every time I travel with my oud through an airport someone nicely asks if it is a sitar!

Turkish music hasn’t had that type of cultural impact here yet. Maybe the World is Sound project will get picked up by Netflix and Turkish music will become much better known here. Hello…Netflix?

SF Sonic: Did you bring back a Turkish fretless guitar? The sound from it is just amazing.

Stott: I did not bring back a Turkish fretless guitar, but I am inspired to do some Ebow work with my electric here in the Turkish maqam style.  Did you guys see that episode I did with Sinan Cem Eroğlu? He is such an incredible artist. I met him through Azam Ali.

SF Sonic: Right, that was a terrific show. So let’s take a look at your own music. There’s a very spiritual feel along with dance beats. It’s deliberate, right?

Stott: Yes, it is very deliberate. I have always felt that music is the most direct way to experience an opening into the spiritual realms. And obviously many other people and cultures feel the same way too as music accompanies most religious and spiritual traditions around the world. With my work, I am always looking for ways to transport the listener/ dancer into their own state of bliss or some type of transformation…a shift.

I keep that in mind with the way the tracks are layered and constructed. A combination of mystery on momentum. It is just a feeling that have had many times internally that I want to create, express and share.

I also tend to work with traditional forms of spiritual sacred music that have been used in the same capacity for centuries (trance music from Morocco, Turkish semma music, etc…) I like to think my music is sort of a turbo-charged version of these powerful traditions, re-made for the modern era. But the intention is the same; transformation or inner knowledge through music and dance. I have spent a lot of time learning traditional music from various traditions to gain a deeper insight into the intention and orientation of these amazing musics. I hope it adds a bit of depth to my work.

SF Sonic: What instruments do you play?

Stott: I started out on guitar in middle school. Things got experimental and psychedelic pretty early on as I got really into experimenting with the guitar and effects as well as alternate tunings with the acoustic and electric guitars. I was always looking for that droning sort of mystical sound, even as a kid. That led to a lot of other unusual musical projects with various bands and projects in LA.

I also play electric bass, drum kit and all the rock stuff.

Additionally, I have a pretty large collection of instruments from the Middle East including ouds, saz/baglama/ tamburs, santoor/dulcimers, and lots of percussion instruments. Of these, I would say I am most proficient at oud, saz and Mid East percussion.

I learned a bit of basic conga patterns last year before my recent trip to Cuba.

And of course I think of the studio itself as a musical instrument! I am also now eying a few modular synths for a new live looping project I am developing.

SF Sonic: Are you doing any shows or presentations soon in San Francisco? Our readers would certainly like to know.

Stott: Yes! I am really busy now with a lot of shows in the Bay Area and beyond. Our ASLAN album release party will be on June 8th at 111 Minna Gallery in SF. A free event. A listening party in an art gallery with DJs, music performances. belly dancers, percussionists and will be showing new World is Sound episodes as well. Should be a great night!

SF Sonic: Thanks for taking the time, we are really looking forward to the new album.

Stott: Thank you for asking for the interview! I really appreciate you guys. Cheers~

You can see and hear Jef Stott at the release party at 111 Minna. Click here for more information.

Listen to this mini-mix from Aslan Dub System Vol 1: