Interview: Stephan Jacobs and Pockitz – Holdin It Down feat. Talia Bentson and NEAKSProducer Dojo Team
Stephan Jacobs and Pockitz ( Matt Madonna of Love and Light ) teamed up earlier this Fall to bring us “Holdin It Down”, a three-track EP consisting of future bass atmospheres filled with smashing rhythms entirely dosed in lush and hypnotic melodies, released on Street Ritual. Solid drops do justice as a touch of improvisational vocal influence by two talented artists, Talia Bentson and NEAKS, provides great clarity through a come back made possible through a finding as they hold it down. Bass master and inspirational mentor to many, Stephan Jacobs, is back and is focused more than ever.
Having found both Producer’s Social, a rapidly growing community of electronic music producers of varying styles who meet and share knowledge and Sesh, a platform established through over 1,000 recording studios, it’s a rapidly growing peer-to-peer marketplace for musicians on the planet, focusing on recording studio, rehearsal space, gear rental and talent for hire, Stephan Jacobs is a man of many talents. Intrigued by all artists, I reached out to discover more about their stories. Everybody has something to say and share, so be sure to dive into an inspiring conversation I had with them! Holdin It Down, is a refreshing auditory experience.
A Chat with Stephan, Matt, Neaks and Talia
Tell us about Holdin It Down EP. What inspired this collaborative project?
Matt: Simply being together. I find a constant flow when I’m with Stephan in the studio. It was the middle of winter. I drove down to LA from Napa to spend 3-5 days together just to make music. And eat humus
Stephan: Spending time with Matt is always a pleasure, it’s always nice being in the studio together primarily because we just flow and trust the other is gonna do something dope to keep the tune moving forward closer to a playable tune.
When collaborating, do you guys sit in a room together and produce or do you individually work on portions then share afterwards, or a combination of both? What is the creative process like?
Matt: In all the years we’ve collabed, it’s always been in person. We both take part in all processes of the creation. Sometimes we start with a chord progression, sometimes we start with drum work. Loads of the sound design happens in the early stages as well. A cool thing I’ve noticed when working with Stephan is how eager we are to “drive”(be at the computer). Whoever isn’t driving isn’t far from the speakers, giving feedback and getting new ideas when watching. “You should filter it the other way” “what if it was reversed” “DONT DELETE THAT PATCH i got an idea with it”
Stephan: What Matt said ^
Tell us about you got connected w/ vocalists for Holdin It Down featuring Talia Bentson and NEAKS.
Stephan: I was introduced to both artists through the LA burning man community in some way or another. I met Neaks when he became my roommate through Sunev (the other half of Bósa) when we were living in Atwater Village right before I moved out and left for warped tour. Neaks has so much charisma I just want to help him get further on his path, he is a star ready to ignite. Talia and I were introduced through a good friend of mine Teddy Saunders, he kept saying she just moved to LA from India how much I needed to work with her, so I did.
Although Matt has never met either Talia or Neaks, he was very involved in making the vocals sound dope. I don’t think Talia and Neaks have actually met either, I just intersected it all together how I do. I have made previous tunes with both artists separately.
Dreamstate (feat Neaks): https://soundcloud.com/stephan-jacobs/dreamstate
All Day All Play (feat Neaks): https://soundcloud.com/stephan-jacobs/all-day-all-play
Catch Fire (feat Talia Bentson): https://soundcloud.com/simplifyrecs/stephan-jacobs-catch-fire-feat-talia-bentson
Souleye – Ready Now (feat Talia Bentson): Produced by Stephan Jacobs: https://soundcloud.com/souleye/ready-now
What tools are you currently focusing on for both your production and live DJ sessions?
Pockitz: I’ve played out very little, but still use ableton to play live. I would LOVE to start using CDJs. On the production end I couldn’t say enough about FabFilter EQs and Multiband, Vahalla Reverbs, FM8 is a BEAST and a really cool sound design tool i love using is the SugarBytes Bundle. The Max for Live Randomizer is great too. Cable Guys Volume Shaper 4 has been a really great alternative to sidechain compression and overall volume control. I <3 it! Lots of iZotope stuff too.
Stephan Jacobs: I have reverted back to CDJ’s after playing on ableton the last few years. I started out by playing vinyl, then CD’s, then Serato, and Ableton and am now just down to the thumb drives that I load up with Rekordbox, it provides the flexibility that I missed to just freeform impromptu DJ sets. For production I have been getting a lot more into analog processing digital sounds through the SSL Matrix 2, Neve channel strips, UA 1176. Often I make the sounds using Form, reactor, Rob Papen plugins are great, serum, massive etc.. I like the xfer LFO tool, omnisphere, fabfilter, Waves CLA plugins and many more.
Outside of music production, what tools/rituals/practices do you guys tap into regularly that helps you to focus and expand your creativity further?
Stephan Jacobs: Spending time with my daughter makes me very happy. I have recently been teaching music production and have been hired to help people “Dial in” their music. I get really stoked when the artists I am helping become stoked as well.
Pockitz: I’ve learned that all forms of creativity have something to teach and learn every other. I do various forms of visual art and writing as well as music and am able to apply things I’ve learned making music to those other crafts. Similarly I’ve been able to apply things I’ve learned from painting/writing to music creation. I try to keep my studio as clean as possible (sometimes it gets carried away with coffee cups, empty mason jars and the like). Small and spaced out micro doses have not only helped my creativity, they’ve solidified in my brain creative ways to make sounds and organize my process
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Pockitz: With art there is no success or failure ~ Cai Guo-Qiang
Stephan Jacobs: Keep it simple.
Talia, you’re an all around artist and amazing vocalist. Share with us a little bit about your artistry and history within it.
Thank you Sofia. Yes please.
I am passionately inspired by the desire and compulsion to share creatively. Connection and communication are keys to unlocking levels of experience, and what I experience is what I must share. Equally as strong as my need to share, is my need to care through listening and learning from others.
I grew up with Dad playing Pink Floyd, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Sade, Enya, Chris Isaac, the Beach Boys, and ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) while Mum listened to Depeche Mode, Sinead O’Connor, Cindy Lauper, Annie Lenox, Everything But the Girl, Fleetwood Mac, Massive Attack, Republica, Radiohead, Hooverphonic, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, and Crash Test Dummies..to name more than a few.
The faces and flowers I drew as a kid grew into piercing eyes and flames in high school, springing to tribally (treye-ballish) intricate abstractions in adulthood. When I was a little bean I remember being a poet before anything else, fascinated with the simple concepts of birth and death and the workings of nature’s colours and wonder…the death of the day, and the dew of the dawn. I was the shy one in the choir for a couple years and then trained vocally for a decade in western classical music, often performing solo at recitals as a second soprano. I stood at elementary school assemblies often just with my sister while we recited daunting poems by the likes of T.S.Elliot and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.. but apart from all that, I was quiet. An inner fire was ignited during adolescence and with that sprung my Voice. It must have been the baritone boom of my reptilian subconscious leading me out of a particularly awkward hell breaking through a spongy plywood type of outer shell. Since then I have felt an affinity to inner exposure; perhaps for the sake of artistry studies in the school of life I chose to dose myself with immeasurable amounts of external exploration. I didn’t realise I would end up choosing to marry poetry with music during USC college time, seeking formation of the original song and bond with rhymes.
I love psychology and philosophy (apparently with a dash of forensics and criminality), but studying was overwhelming and frustrating, as it had felt so consistently while growing up—music was not, writing was not. Music sought me out when I had no ideas elsewhere. It made sense, the type I had never thought of. Out from the ‘heavy and heavier’ it found a way and has continued to evolve with me. I wasn’t planning on being a singer professionally at any point, and I certainly never wanted to be a lyricist; the thought of constructing my own lines to be sang and listened to in songs, which had crossed my mind during early teen years, was simply unwanted and nerve wracking, and almost lingered in my head long enough to become ‘horrifying’. Through a producer I met outside of university who put me through the audition process, I began working on my first creative music project ever under the name of PhoenixX. It later adapted to (PhoenixX of) Bullet Sage and became the most powerful and meaningful gateway to my realisation and transformation as a singer, lyricist, creative composer, and performer. I remember that pinnacle moment when Syn-g (of Syngram Productions), told me to write lyrics to the first song we worked on. It felt beyond incredible. ..finally feeling like I understood what I was put here to do. ..finally finding an outlet to communicate with from a place in my brain and higher consciousness where nothing had to adapt first. I let it slide as it rolled and I let it roll as it flew. It was suddenly bafflingly me that I used to think it damn intimidating to write one’s own lyrics. In that moment it became something I absolutely had to do.
In the following years I moved to India and worked with quite a number of various experimental producers some who were more into an alternative or electronic scene and others that mainly focused on Bollywood. I featured on songs of all types of genres, mostly within an acousto-letric or electro-coustic combination, basically in exploration mode with a whole wide musical world open before me. Simultaneously, I experimented with music in Indian entertainment and sang on one of the most massive neo-Bollywood film hit songs called “Slowly Slowly” which played throughout the East on the radio and in clubs everywhere from India to Dubai. I worked within India’s electronic scene featuring as a writer and a vocalist with the Midival Punditz and with Gaurav Raina on his solo project, Grain, and performed at several music festivals in the budding Indian alternative music scene alongside them and various other incredible artists.
As for the most recent music news I am involved in a few specific projects of my own.. I am one half of a bass and experimental electronic music project based in Bombay called Cheetah Loco with brilliant guitarist / producer Randolph Correia aka Func and alos half of a fresh music project titled Planetary Cocoon with excellent pianist / producer Jonathan Hakakian aka JemNii / Jonny Joon in Los Angeles where I am focusing most of my time and energy into music at the moment.
What helps to keep you focused?
Focus has been an interesting area and a (predictably yet paradoxically) focal point for me all of my life. I have dealt with intense ADHD for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, I have not felt this to be a negative and have respected the chemical makeup of my unique brain. I have found immense positivity and fascinating pathways with which to channel and source creativity, connection, synchronicity, unexpected inspiration, and the simple joys and enchantment of life. In times of struggle I recognise an old story I have had of needing to show up in a certain way, wondering why I couldn’t process information quite the same as others around me, which always left the feeling of a particular lacking…but through awareness I recognise that it is within my processing abilities and my internal vision that lies my strength and the key to the real type focus that fuels my purpose and desire to live. When I fall in love with the basic skeletal structure / internal emotion of a track or the mere spirit and authenticity of a human through a passionately connected dialogue, focus is all that I become. Like rapid fire I am absorbed into presence of all that I am awakened by through the magick of the vibrational sound waves, and people I am presented with. This reminder will be extremely important for me throughout my life.
Please run the creative process with us.
When I began creating and composing lyrical and melodic parts to songs back in the day, I flew into a particular rhythm of writing and the process remained the same for those initial, impressionable five years, most likely because I worked within one singer-producer dynamic constantly for that duration. We had always chosen the bare minimum of a track, listened and created a melody, locked that in, and then I would hear the word formations within the un-lyricised segments I had recorded of the scratch vox. Building harmonies and doubles and creating accents has often been a favourite part, sonically.
Over the course of several years beginning in India, I discovered different ways in which the writing and recording process could occur. I enjoyed riffing typical melodic jibberish on the mic that was already set up to record a final vocal and then comping it into something concrete before implementing the words. Most commonly, as it has happened from day one, the melody still proceeds the lyrics when I am working. Rarely to sometimes, ignited through a direct channel of source inspiration, they show up together born hand in hand straight out of my mouth. Since then I have often left it up to the natural guidance of my intuition and dynamic with each particular collaborator.. The method is to listen for, and then to, the method.
What are some of your goals you seek to accomplish? In what ways do you see your art evolving?
I would like to incorporate various forms of media into live shows I want to do in the future as well as collaborate intentionally with artist’s who’s music and talents I am inspired by. I want to apply a conscious direction to everything I create. I imagine my art evolving with me as I evolve as a person. My goal is in turn, to inspire others who look towards art to ignite a passion or a spark of creativity in their lives. People are as important to me as music. I love people and I cherish what the deeper connections I have had with other human beings have taught me as an individual..they have taught me the power of collaboration and working as a team. I want to release everything I learn from the little yet powerfully moving lessons in life through music and other forms of love..music is my expression of love to myself and to humanity as one collective whole. I want to continue to grow and expand in any and every positive way I can and to produce, create, and give back equally. I also…hope to be one of the first singers to create, perform, or record something musical in space.. Perhaps on the moon.
Tell us about the lyrics and structure for your vocal input for ‘Holdin It Down’ song.
‘Holdin It Down’ was a uniquely created song, especially for me in terms of the melody and lyrics. Everything was very simple and naturally channeled with no previous thought; most of the few simple vocal parts were freestyled long before before the actual song came into existence. I recorded my vocals independently of Neaks. We were at first aware of an entirely different song that they were to be a part of–Steph, Neaks, and I had planned to create a song together but we never knew at that point it was going to be ‘Holdin it Down’ and had no idea it would show up just as incredibly as it did. Everything came together beautifully and seamlessly like a surprise gift-wrapped package in the end due to this powerful collaboration between Steph and Matt.
NEAKS, love your artistry. Share with us your story as well.
My story…well I am an artist and have a passion to grow exponentially. I suppose I was born like this. I started drawing when I was 4 and sold my first piece by the time I was 11. I was the nerdy kid in school who did Math Olympiads, but still played ball and had friends in many circles. I wasn’t the most popular kid by any means, but I had a lot of friends in different clicks i guess. The skaters, the hoopers, the nerds… I always wanted to bring people together. Maybe because I am African and German. Sometimes being multiple races can give you multiple perspectives.
Anyways, my passion for music started in 9th grade when I started my first b-boy crew, The Non-Stop Breakers. I came home that day and told my dad and my dad told me for the first time that he was a breakdancer and DJ in the 80s. Here I am as a kid, looking at my white German dad like..Yeah, right. So he takes me to the U District in Seattle and buys me a bunch of 80s breakdance tracks. Like Grandmaster Melle Mel and The Furious Five and Soulsonic Force. After we got all this b-boy music, we head home and my dad does what every kid wishes there dad would do lol. He starts to do the windmill in our fucking living room on the carpet. I think by that time, I was so surprised that my jaw was touching the ground. Here is my dad, who only listens to Metallica and Led Zeppelin, busting a headspin and windmill on the floor in the living room, while listening to old school Hip-Hop. Needless to say, 4 years later I was teaching my own hip-hop classes as a senior in high school. I had also been writing a lot of poetry on the insides of my sketchbooks. I started this when I was 11 or 12, but by the time I was in late high school, I was studying the lyrics of all my favorite tracks. Like Nas “One Mic” and Ludacris “Saturday” to name a couple.
Fast forward about four years later after I was in my Senior year at University of Arizona I would meet a few guys that would change the course of my artistic life. Chris Young and Ryan Winston. Ryan was a year under me, was from VA and we were in the same fraternity. I remember the first time we met, I said he looked like Chris Brown. He hated that. Still does lol. Ryan was very driven and had a huge affinity for hip-hop, as I did. It was a breathe of fresh air meeting so many people from different cultures and ethnicities with similar mindsets. Anyways, one day Ryan said, “Neaks, you gotta come see this phenomenal rapper. He’s a pledge, but got some crazy flows.” At the time, I’m thinkin…”I’ve heard so many kids saying their rappers” and never really being impressed. I went into that room that day and Chris Young’s raps literwwwally changed my fucking life. I saw the most phenomenal freestyler I had ever seen and knew I probably would ever see.
We all put a lot of buzz behind him and each other and decided Tucson, Arizona was much to small for our plans. We had our garage sales and bid Tucson farewell. When we got to LA, we had to learn the ropes fast. I had become quite the dancer at the time and would open up for many of Chris Young’s shows around 2008. From 2008 to 2009, we did shows with Tyga, Shwayze, The Far East Movement, LMFAO, etc. Although I was having so much fun opening up for them as this solo dance act, I wanted more. I wanted to learn how to recite my poetry. I started telling Chris Young about my dream of being a rapper as well and he encouraged me to keep practicing my deliveries. He would even read some of my rhymes at the time and tell me I was a really good writer and could be a ghost writer one day. I nodded and said, “that’d be dope.” But inside, I knew that that wasn’t enough and that I would eventually learn how to recite my own lyrics, read music and become a musician and not just a dancer.
Fast forward to my daughter being born almost a year later (almost 8 years ago). I officially decided it was time to work on lyrics on my off days while I was at home taking care of my pregnant girlfriend. I promised my daughter when she was born that I would never give up on my passions and show her that you can really do anything in this world if you work hard enough and believe in it as much as you feel it.
Three years later, I was flying out to vegas being chosen as the judge’s favorites on America’s Got Talent. Making it through a few episodes on that made me understand the industry a bit more and how I could fit in such a world. My music became more experimental, yet more refined. Fast forward another couple years and I get a small advance to release my debut music video, Wit My Team (2015). It gets featured on several large blogs, gets nearly 25k views, 600+ likes and the story of Neaks begins. Last year, I released my first mixtape, 2 AM Daydreams on Soundcloud and sold my first song. Now I’m working on a half a dozen projects with some very talented producers and musicians in the game. I’m excited to release my EP Winter 2018 and continue to make inspiring music. I always want to be a voice for the voiceless. I want to inspire the kid who maybe doesn’t think his dreams are attainable or the single parent with a kid thinking that their dreams have to come to an end. I will be here for you.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
Neaks: I’m inspired by most things actually. I feel like I almost sought out inspiration throughout the day to fuel myself and my music. I literally eat, sleep and bleed music. I probably spend at least two to three hours every day just exploring different genres of music finding inspiration. However, my daughter is definitely my biggest inspiration. When she was born, so was the purpose in everything I do. I practice being a good person. It brings me a piece of mind, so no matter what I express…it will be a release and not a limiting factor. Bettering myself for my daughter, my family and my phenomenal team makes me more complete each day. They better they do, the better I do. I’m that guy who has random convos with anyone in all walks of life just to be inspired and give inspiration. I am consistently inspired by many things throughout the day. I almost feel like I see or feel art in everything and can find some obscure way to relate them to one another. The trials and tribulations of my journey becoming a better father, brother, son, lover and just person in this world can be heard bleeding through my music.
What other forms of expression do you regularly tap into?
Neaks: I’m big on dancing and painting.
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
Neaks: 2018 is exciting. Aside from some very exciting music collaborations, I’ll be in Tokyo promoting my online meda platform & clothing line, Tastemaker Collective (tastemakercollectivemedia.com & tastemakercollective.com).
Matt, what are some of your goals and visions with Pockitz project? Goals in general.
#1 would be to avoid getting pigeon holed into 1 specific genre. Constantly growing and maturing as a producer. Sharing my creations with my friends and others. Hearing my music on LOUD SOUND SYSTEMS. I would love to find myself playing a more psychedelic timeslot. 2-4 am sidestages where people get weird and move their bodies like never before
Stephan, Producer’s Social is a community founded in collaborative roots and knowledge share in music production focus. How has the experience been thus far and how do you see it evolving?
The Producers social is my true passion project, It is beautiful to see how much music has come from it by other artists meeting and collaborating. I recently just heard from Santa Cruz that a duo met through the PS and are now on the come up. I would like to see a social in a different city every night somewhere in the world, there is enough music for that to happen.
Share with us the importance of collaboration and building community. How do you see it as potential to enhance and further everything?
Stephan Jacobs: For me a huge part of collaborating is a chance to spend quality time with my friends who just do what I do and also a way to bring them up with me. When I am on tour I want my homies to be there with me playing the shows.
Everything is always in flux. In what ways do you see our music industry shifting?
Matt: To be honest, I’ve tuned out from “what’s happening”. What I hope for is for artists to continue feeling free expressing ourselves.
Stephan Jacobs: Authenticity, it’s taken me a long time to figure it out but chasing trends is not what it’s cracked out to be.
Who are some of your musical inspirations at the moment? Why?
Pockitz: Drum and Bass is constantly blowing my mind. Its not much to dance to (for most) and even those that do kinda just bounce around all weird, but oh my goodnesssssss!!!! The sound design alone is more intricate that just about any other genre I’ve heard let alone the rhythms and grooves.
Stephan Jacobs: My friends and students are my musical inspiration, I like lots of other music but being surrounded by such talented individuals really pushes me to work harder and be myself musically.
Are you guys working on more music at the moment?
Stephan Jacobs: I am, just wrapped up a handful of releases and remixes and am now focusing more on my next solo ep and my new project with Sunev “Bósa”. I am proud to say all of my new music comes from a place of not giving a fuck. Matt and I are not working on any collabs at the moment but I know we will again, we said that every year we should try to make a small EP of some sort.
Pockitz: I find myself constantly working on music in one way or another. Right now Im spending a couple months sound designing for a POCKiTZ EP “NOWSTALGIA” coming in the winter. I have a feeling I’ll be back in the studio with Stephan sometime shortly after that. Feb/March
Stephan, congratulations on fatherhood! How do you balance passion work, music, and having a family? What have you learned in the process of becoming a dad?
Thanks, Luna is the love of my life. It can be challenging balancing everything on my plate at times, I use a 2-hour focus routine on days that are not only music production. I give 100% focus on either Producers Social, Sesh, Music Admin, emails, Rekordbox, computer organization, etc. My previous personal assistant Amanda taught me this and it has helped me a lot with my productivity. Also, I do not get much sleep. I quit drinking alcohol and doing any drugs a few months ago because I cannot spare any hangover or recovery days to achieve the high level of expectations and goals that I set for myself.
Anything else you would like to share?
Stephan Jacobs: That one time on facebook a few years ago when I had a post saying I was gay was Matt when he hijacked my computer and made the FB post. We were on tour and I didn’t realize it for a few hours. I forgive him.
Pockitz: I would like to give props to Stephan for being able to juggle everything that he does. I would also like to thank everyone over at Street Ritual for releasing this music!