Chicago Underground is a new regular feature in 5 Magazine, in which we feature interiews with Chicago producers and give away a free download of one of their tracks so you can check out their sound for yourself! This month we’re featuring dynamic frontman for the Greenskeepers and solo artist J-Dub.
The Freaks ft. Diz’s “Going to a Show” (J-Dub’s Dark and Tastee remix)Free Download
People know you as a vocalist, DJ, producer, frontman – and man, you’re working on so much stuff right now, so let’s go piece by piece. Are you now the permanent frontman for the Greenskeepers? A few people have asked me if it’s just James Curd now or if the full band is still together.
I’m the frontman/lead vocalist/MC for the Greenskeepers shows and have been for the past two years. We’ve played Chicago, LA, NYC, SF, and Istanbul just to name a few places, but I can understand people’s confusion. The Greenskeepers have always had a fluid recording line-up going back to The Ziggy Franklin Show album. I know a lot of people see old press photos of the band and hear Nick’s vocals on recently released material, leading them to think the band hasn’t changed. Polo Club released in 2006, got a huge PR push and established the band as James, Mark Share, Cobain Rudish, and Nick Maurer, but of those four only James is still a part of the band.
Shortly before the release of that album in ’05, I recorded my first single with the band (“On The Line”, GKM 013) strictly as a one-off. James and I continued to work together as a duo with releases under Project Kids (Ministry of Sound) and James Curd Featuring J-Dub (DFA, Drop Music, GKM). The Greenskeepers have always been a blanket project with James as the producer/coordinator of all the releases. Even the latest Greenskeepers album, Live Like You Wanna Live
(Om Records) is a different line-up with James, Nick, and additional production by Tommie Sunshine.
It’s constantly changing but as of today the touring band consists of James, Mike Steve, and myself. We’ve recently signed with Bond Music Group and will be releasing future music as the Greenskeepers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean every Greenskeepers release is the three of us. You gotta read the fine print!
When “Vagabond” was featured in Grand Theft Auto IV – I mean, there are people who kill to get their music in a Rockstar Games production. What did it do for your career?
Having a song become the theme song for a monster franchise like GTA was definitely a huge boost. The first time I saw the commercial, I was watching an NBA playoff game with my girlfriend Chrissy and we were both jumping up and down going crazy! It’s an unbelievable thrill to hear music you’ve had a hand in creating broadcast to the world like that. People of all kinds know what GTA is so whenever you mention that song there is an instant recognition.
Playing the song live is always a highlight of our shows. The crowd never fails to really get into it. It’s clearly not like anything the band had done before. Greenskeepers had licensed music before “Vagabond” to Grey’s Anatomy and other film/TV properties, but nothing close to the blanket media coverage that song had. Maybe “Lotion” is close in terms of tone and impact. At one point, the track was in the top ten on Amazon Music. That’s as mainstream as you can get.
“Vagabond” changed my career completely by validating to a huge extent my songwriting ability. Suddenly, projects started coming together in rapid succession. Plus I never get tired of driving around Liberty City listening to the track while I leave a trail of wreckage in my rearview!
There are like a billion people imitating the rough indie/dance sound you pioneered. Is the field becoming diluted with the billions of people copying the style of what you do without getting to the substance of it?
Artists always follow trends and if James and I had anything to do with indie dance music taking a certain direction, I hope it’s a funky, creative direction. The disco/electro/rap hybrid tracks of the late ’70s and early ’80s coming out of New York constantly inspire me. The time and place brought all different kinds of scenes together which is what’s happening again here in Chicago and everywhere else. You can call it hipster or whatever you want.
I hate the idea of bandwagon producers with no clue copying our style. It drags it down into parody, and parody leaves you open to a lot of criticism and ridicule which I personally think was the root of why Disco died so quickly. This music – specifically the music James and I make – comes from taking chances in order to create something that separates us from the massive herd of artists out there. No one was doing what we did with “We Just Won’t Stop”. We’re following it up with “Through All This Stuff” out on Smash Hit Music this Fall.
There’s real artistry and simulated, manufactured fakery. Let your ears be the judge.
You’ve done two of my favorite tracks of late: Gene Farris’ “Back and Forth” and Justin Long’s Strange EP. Are you going to be collaborating with these cats again?
Gene and I are working on several projects including an album and multiple EPs. Gene Farris is an amazing producer with an ear for a world of sounds and concepts – a really forward-thinking person. A lot of people know him for his disco sample tracks and his work on Force, Inc. and Relief, but in the next year, in my opinion, he’s going to present a whole new twist or two that will expand his reputation as a top tier electronic producer globally.
“Back and Forth” was part of that evolution. We worked diligently to get that project done properly and the result was a massive collaboration with so many amazing producers. It’s just the beginning of what we plan to do as a team.
Strange took me in a direction I’ve always wanted to record and expand on. Justin Long is a one-of-a-kind artist – anybody who knows him, has heard him spin, or read his writing can tell you that. He’s hyper-intelligent, motivated, and focused on exactly what he wants to put out there. The first time I heard the music for Strange, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I think it took me 15 or 20 minutes to write that song. The music has a very hypnotic, other worldly quality as well as a driving, jazzy undercurrent. Not a song that’s easy to categorize which is one of the reasons I love it. Working with Justin and Mazi in the studio reminded me quite of bit of working with Chris Holmes. These are really bright, artistically determined, thought provoking producers so I hope we can make it happen again in the future.
A lot of people know you from your collabs – what about solo projects?
I’m in the process of engineering and mastering quite of a bit of unreleased material that I’ve made over the past few years. During my time living in London, I made quite a bit of music but my little home studio couldn’t produce the quality I wanted so I’ve had to go back to the master recordings and rebuild nearly everything. My collaborations, work with the bands, and DJ schedule have all joined forces to delay work on solo projects.
I’m planning to release an EP on Farris Wheel sometime next year which I’ll be working on with Gene Farris as a consultant/executive producer. This will be my work and my vision at the end of the day, but working in a completely isolated environment for me stifles the work.
One unreleased project I did manage to complete to my satisfaction was “Going To A Show” remixes for The Freaks Featuring Diz. I did a couple of mixes including J-Dub’s Dark and Tastee Mix which is a deep, heavy, minimal groove layering Diz’s vocals all over the mix. It’s really something I made for DJs that love to remix vocal tracks on the fly at the club, which is something I love to do. Plus, Diz’s voice is so cool on the track I didn’t want to clutter it up at all – just let it float over a driving rhythm section. Diz is the person that introduced me to DJ culture way back when and we’re like brothers. We threw loft parties together on Milwaukee Ave., played nights together all over North America, and people link us together for good reason.
Producing my work is the plan for the future. I’ve learned a lot from collaborating with many different artists but I believe in authorship and delivering the most pristine version of your personal vision. I’m still a work in progress.