INTERVIEW & ART:CAST #110 Jex Opolis

Jexy is around the corner. Jexy or rather It’s Me, Jexy – the third album and successor of Jex Opolis’ ‘midlife crisis’ album Net Worth that came out on his Good Timin’ label in 2020. And it surely is a good timing for a new LP from the core artist, who choses various musical approaches for It’s Me, Jexy without becoming arbitrary but making the ten-tracker sound like a smooth ride through his preferences. However, when producing the album Jex Opolis had just undergone several changes: he left New York City to move back to Edmonton and basically had to break with digging routines and being surrounded by music 24/7. But in every ending is a new beginning and Jex wouldn’t be the artist he is if he didn’t find a way to cope with the new situation and produce an album that hits close to being home – at least musically. Shorty before the release of the ten gems Jex, whose life seemingly circles around music to 99%, speaks about Tik Tok, Wayne Gretzky, bad timin’, contracts with Sven, shitty movies and crucial topics like the won back freedom of producing music, the wish to be artistically heard and seen, the blessing and the curse of social media and phones on the dancefloor, what he wishes the scene to do once clubs open properly again, and of course how the album came about. Also Jex delivers the latest art:cast giving us a sneak peak of the album and its Gem(s).

Torture the Artist: Tell us something about your day.

Jex Opolis: After a long winter, we’re getting some lovely weather here in Northern Canada. I moved up to Edmonton to be closer to family when the pandemic hit last year, and needless to say it’s nice to have some sun! We had -37° Celsius this year so by contrast 10° Celsius feels pretty damn nice!

Torture the Artist: How come you did not become the next Wayne Gretzky but instead Jex Opolis, also meaning where and when did you first experience elecronic music?

Jex Opolis: Honestly I was a good skater as a kid but my shot always lacked zing! However, I did meet Wayne once though in about ‘98, he was super loaded at my neighbor’s house in Edmonton (he used to date my neighbor’s sister) and the next day he got his ass handed to him on the ice… Must’ve been hung over! What a legend!

In terms of getting into electronic music, it was around since my earliest memories of hearing synths in Van Halen or Depeche Mode. I was forced to play piano from a young age and my mom even told me that I’d be allowed to play a Yamaha synth at my lesson. But it wasn’t a synth, just a regular Yamaha piano. <laughs> So I had a keen interest in the synths from an early age. In my teens I got into industrial music and IDM stuff which was huge at the time, stuff like AFX and Autechre and everything was quite big in my group of friends. I got my first sampler (the Yamaha SU700) in the late 90s and then also a copy of Pro Tools LE and started getting serious about electronic music production. Around then I also tried E at a great club in Toronto called System Soundbar and was immediately hooked on the clubbing lifestyle after that. I was working at Starbucks at the time and I would work to party! I had a lot of late nights and early mornings where I didn’t sleep, because I was young and knew I could drink as much coffee as I wanted to at work the next day. <laughs>

It’s almost been a blessing because I could shrug off some of that history and make something that feels totally new for me.

Torture the Artist: You are about to release a new album It’s Me, Jexy on your own label Good Timin in May. What approach did you choose for it, as you mentioned in a previous chat that it is a departure for you in terms of the initially mentioned approach?

Jex Opolis: Moving so hastily from New York City last year really changed how I approached this one. In NYC, I was surrounded by disco history and dance music culture. I used to go digging almost every day and was constantly hearing older music in the bins at the record shops like at A1. But since the pandemic, I’ve been forced out of that habit because there aren’t any stores to dig at! And that has had a huge effect on how I made this album. In a way it’s almost been a blessing because I could shrug off some of that history and make something that feels totally new for me. So now I don’t have to be a cool New York City guy anymore and can just be a regular loser in Edmonton that likes to drive around and listen to IDM and Sander Kleinenberg mixed CDs or whatever in the car.

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Torture the Artist: What were your three favorite findings over the past months though and what online stores do you visit for your dose of digging music?

Jex Opolis: I liked Richard Sen Night Train to Cairo via Bandcamp; Goiz Word Problem on Open Space via email promo (it’s coming out soon!) and Gee Dee Key of Sea on Planet Trip, via Bandcamp.

So maybe on one level it’s like me reaching out to the dance music world and saying “Hey, I’m still here, and I have music! Please follow me on Instagram, lol.”

Torture the Artist: It’s Me, Jexy could stand for several things, e.g. like making yourself visible/ hearable or a philosophical approach like you found yourself. What was your intention to express with the album title?

Jex Opolis: To be honest, I thought it was just a funny title, like a self-titled album, but more clever. But now that you ask, I think maybe subconsciously it’s an expression of being forgotten amid the pandemic. I left my home in New York City and have felt pretty isolated up here in Edmonton. So maybe on one level it’s like me reaching out to the dance music world and saying “Hey, I’m still here, and I have music! Please follow me on Instagram, lol.”

Torture the Artist: Why not Tik Tok?

Jex Opolis: I started a Tik Tok but I honestly didn’t take to it at all to be honest. Sort of hate the format! I’m dreading to see what Tik Tok does to clubbing to be honest, ugh.

A lot of DJs might say they hate phones in the clubs but we are all pretty quick to upload and share phone videos as long as the videos are of us killing it during our sets!

Torture the Artist: What do you think it’ll do that maybe has a negative effect?

Jex Opolis: I mean, maybe not a negative effect but… phones in clubs have already had a huge impact! Some people think it’s a negative thing but most people love phones in the club! I think a lot of DJs might say they hate phones in the clubs but we are all pretty quick to upload and share phone videos as long as the videos are of us killing it during our sets! I’d wager to say that a lot of the big DJs these days owe their careers to mobile phones in clubs to be honest. For me, getting to play Dekmantel and have it videotaped and put on YouTube has been a major booster! So on second thought, the more phones the better! Send me ur vids people!

Torture the Artist: The album consists out of nine tracks. To what extent do the tracks portray you and your musical being as well as influences during the pandemic or were some tracks produced before the world and our lives started to change?

Jex Opolis: The whole LP was produced from September 2020 to January of 2021, so it’s all new stuff! I think it’s still very much “my sound” in terms of doing melody and having interesting chord changes and modulations, but with a different approach sonically. Most of it was composed after a guy sold me his EMU Planet Phatt and Orbit 9090 romplers for super cheap! Those things are all over the album and present a huge range of sounds I’d never used before.

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Torture the Artist: Interestingly there seems to be a change in preferences in the electronic music scene. While before the pandemic artists seemed to release singles and EPs mostly, there’s a rise in putting out albums now. Why did you want to put out an album and not several EPs or singles instead?

Jex Opolis: Maybe the simple fact that DJs aren’t playing out in clubs means making albums seems more attractive. I thought about doing a series of EPs, but I just liked the idea of having it all come out and letting people pick the songs they like via Bandcamp or whatever. It’ll be interesting to see if EPs pick up again when (or if!?) this pandemic ends and we go back to partying again.

Can we ease back into this a bit with maybe some like, local “pub trivia nites” or whatever before we go full hog into y’know, flying to a far-away land for a two-week drug binge with dry ice and Trance and 5,000 people we have never met!?

Torture the Artist: Speaking of the latter, what’s the first thing you’d want to do once clubs are open again? What track would you like to start your set with or are you eager to play over a club soundsystem?

Jex Opolis: I’d like to have a draft beer! I’d probably open my set with something off the new Benedek album Mr. Goods and I’d like to hear Infinity by Priori played at peak time! But I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves! The virus is still spreading and yet I’m seeing all the festivals announce their lineups and seeing DJs post their upcoming gigs. It’s like, wow, can we ease back into this a bit with maybe some like, local “pub trivia nites” or whatever before we go full hog into y’know, flying to a far-away land for a two-week drug binge with dry ice and Trance and 5,000 people we have never met!?

Torture the Artist: It’s Me, Jexy is your third album, all of them released on your own label Good Timin’. Why isn’t it bad timin’ to release another album just one year after Net Worth?

Jex Opolis: Funny you mention that haha! I was going to release this on my Bad Timin’ imprint but decided it should be on the main label. My previous LP Net Worth had been such a long process, it took about two years to do all the lyrics and vocals and live instrumentation, and so when that was done I was like “f*ck I’m never singing or playing guitar ever again” and I wanted to make an album of just all beats and synths. Also, Net Worth was my “midlife crisis” album because it had a bunch of ideas from my 20s and 30s, and I was frantically trying to finish it before I turned 40! So this album feels like a fresh start while the last one felt like ending the chapter that was my youth. Now I’m just able to revel in the fact that I’m an old freak living near his parents in the town he grew up in and making beats for Spotify or whatever, lol.

Torture the Artist: Resident Advisor’s headline for last year’s album was: ‘a midlife crisis with drum machines’, what would you like to read about It’s Me, Jexy?

Jex Opolis: “A midlife crisis with breakbeats!” <laughs>

I’m old enough that I’ve seen Breaks come in and out of style in various forms for years and years.

Torture the Artist: The album captures, as most of your works, various musical influences and unites several electronic music (sub) genres. Noticeable is the obvious Break-Beat-note in tracks like Gem or Drive Safe, where does this come from?

Jex Opolis: I mean I’m old enough that I’ve seen Breaks come in and out of style in various forms for years and years. Like hearing them in Maestro Fresh Wes as a kid or Fools Gold by the Stone Roses or getting into Squarepusher in high school etc., and while I’d used such drum samples on a few tracks (like on Zone Phased or the Breaks sample on Fifth Wind) I hadn’t really dove headfirst into “beat making” like on this record. So I was just really having fun playing around with them. And before I knew it I had about 10 tracks!

Most marriages don’t last 15 years and yet I have some guy named Sven or whatever that I’ve never met and will likely never meet drafting up a contract for me to sign away one of my last and final best musical ideas […]

Torture the Artist: Why is your music better preserved on Good Timin’ rather than another label, maybe one you’ve already put out some music like Running Back or Dekmantel?

Jex Opolis: I just like having control! I’m quite grateful to the labels I’ve worked with and will probably work with more labels in the future given the opportunity. But when you release things yourself, you learn a lot and you can also make a bit more money just on selling it yourself because you aren’t splitting the income. That said, on a big European label it’s also a great thing because more people will hear it and it gets your name out there, and you will probably get more DJ gigs! But for Net Worth it was such a personal album that I decided it should be on my label. Also I’ve noticed that the licensing agreements for some of these dance label deals have gotten quite onerous! They used to be handshake deals for three years and these days you’re committed for 15 years or whatever and there’s a 10-page contract. I mean, most marriages don’t last 15 years and yet I have some guy named Sven or whatever that I’ve never met and will likely never meet drafting up a contract for me to sign away one of my last and final best musical ideas that I’ll ever have in my life!? I mean, contracts make me nervous, so for It’s Me, Jexy I just said f*ck it I’m doing this myself!

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Torture the Artist: What’s your ‘gem’ on the album or with other words the track that hits closest to your heart, and why?

Jex Opolis: Yeah I’d say Gem is my favorite one. I included it on the mix here too. Last track! It was the one where I was like “ok, maybe this is an album!” I liked the melody and I think it’s a fairly original sound for me. It was fun to slice and dice the breaks as a little Aphex Twin tribute, who was a huge early influence for me in my teens.

Torture the Artist: We know you play a lot of instruments, however what’s one that you wish you could play but don’t?

Jex Opolis: This might be a cop-out but I wish I could sight-read and play piano better. I’ve recently retired from drums and I’m thinking about scaling back the vocals, too. I’m trying to focus a bit more on what I do well, and I’ve been devoting more time to my mixdowns and mastering here at the home studio. I sorta listen back to my earlier releases and think “Mate, the only club where this would sound good is the Cavern Club in Liverpool or whatever! Turn the bass up!”

Torture the Artist: Multi-instrumentalist, composer, vocalist and DJ, your life seems to circle around music to… nearly 99%. How do you spend the rest of your days and what keeps you balanced so you remain creatively fresh?

Jex Opolis: To be honest I’ve been trying to write some club music for a European label the last month and have been completely hitting the wall! The album came together so easily but now I’m in a bit of a lull. Honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit down lately about the state of things, and being pretty broke and bored over the pandemic, so I’m hoping the spring weather will bring me a boost of creativity because to be honest, I’m bored and feeling pretty blah. I’ve been running again to stay focused and I like driving around and listening to music in my 2003 Toyota which I bought off my father in law for $500 CAD.

I like watching shitty movies from the 90s.

Torture the Artist: Where do you usually draw inspiration from or what’s one of your interests that is not connected to music?

Jex Opolis: I like watching shitty movies from the 90s like “US Marshals” and also enjoy long distance running, because I don’t listen to music and it gives me a chance to reflect on all the ways I’m deficient as a human LOL. I call them “empathy runs” because I usually come home with a realisation about my behavior. But honestly I get most of my inspiration by listening to other musicians and DJs, and I’m really missing that connection in the club where you hear a tune and think “f*ck I wanna make something LIKE THAT!”

These days I always check out online mixes by Lauren Hansom, Bill Spencer, Paula Tape, Gee Dee, Jamie Tiller, Bianca Lexis, Alex Ho, DJ Lloyd, Ivan Berko and also DJ Ray in Miami to name but a few!

Torture the Artist: So you normally do attend a lot of clubs to listen to your colleagues or do you come early to your own gigs and stay after a while after your performence to listen to other music?

Jex Opolis: Both! Some of the best DJ sets I’ve seen have been because I played first. Last year I saw CC Disco for the first time and she blew me away completely! We played together in Belgium and I was planning to go back to the hotel after my set but man I’m glad I stayed. Also, I mean living in New York City for five years and also twelve years in Toronto, I was out almost every night hearing music, listening to friends, checking out new DJs, drinking, partying and generally having an awesome time! I’m getting a bit older now and I have a baby so I need at least 5 hours of sleep to function, so I certainly plan on slowing down a little if/when clubs re-open.

Torture the Artist: From all the beforementioned musical fields you are active in, do you prefer one over another or do you feel they complement each other?

Jex Opolis: Honestly, everything I’ve learned over the years has dovetailed into my current project. Whether it be running my own label after having some bad experiences in my 20s with labels, or my attitude that I won’t do any remixes for free (after trying to do that shit for years and never getting anywhere!) or learning how to arrange music from being in a band and having to layer two guitars on top of each other, or writing music on a sampler back in the late 90s. It’s all been a lifelong journey but I’m still learning every day! I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered the art of sub bass and compression, but I’m always working at it.

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Torture the Artist: Does the beforementioned impede you from sharing the studio space with another artist since you can simply do everyhing on your own?

Jex Opolis: I’d actually love to do more collaborations in the future. Maybe with a vocalist or a younger person who could teach me a few things on the computer. I’ve honestly been humbled the past few years hearing the way other people put music together. The drums and arrangements on the Jan Schulte LP and the engineering and production on the latest Laura Groves EP absolutely blew me away recently.

Torture the Artist: What’s an artist though you definitely would not say no to work with in the studio, and why?

Jex Opolis: Benedek for his vibe, the aforementioned Laura Groves for her amazing writing and Eden Burns for his fresh take on classic sounds.

I’m hoping that audiences and 80s-focused dinosaurs like me can drag our tastes into the new millenium.

Torture the Artist: What are you nostalgic about?

Jex Opolis: I’m trying to kill my nostalgia! Post-pandemic, one of my goals is to focus on making modern, new music and seeking out other artists that do the same. The digging/edit scene to me is getting really stale, and I’m hoping that audiences and 80s-focused dinosaurs like me can drag our tastes into the new millenium and support artists instead of Discogs. I think this Axel F. Goa Track ID thing might be the last straw for me. People are freaking out about this record and I hear it and it sounds like a fucking $2 record from A1. Get a grip people!

Torture the Artist: What’s a modern track you’d want to produce but have not?

Jex Opolis: The Soulwax remix for Marie Davidson’s Work.

Torture the Artist: Why is your art:cast the departure?

Jex Opolis: There’s still lots of 80s music on here but there’s also some fresh vibes too! Everything is a work in progress! Also if you have a rip of that Axel F. song send me a rip LOL.

Torture the Artist: What’s a hope you still have and which one(s) have you given up on?

Jex Opolis: I hope to make enough money in music that I won’t need a second job.

Torture the Artist: What would that be and what did you actually do before deciding to go all-in with music?

Jex Opolis: I worked in journalism for years and still do some writing on the side. Lately I’ve been also doing some consultancy research into the emerging carbon market around carbon credits! Pretty cool!

Torture the Artist: What would be the author/ writer of your choice to write your biography?

Jex Opolis: Man, is this webzine called Torture the Artist because there are so many questions?! <laughs> Anyway, my pick is Gabriel Szatan.

Torture the Artist: What’s a super power you wish you had and what would you if you had it?

Jex Opolis: I wish I could turn every track I make into a peak time club hit.

Words by Holger Breuer