Coyote Packs & Car Chase Music: The DJDS Sound
The Los Angeles-Based Duo On Working With Kanye, Sonic Tensions, And Sampling Their City’s Weird-Dark Mood
- Interview: Molly Lambert
- Photography: Zhamak Fullad
On the top floor of a 1930s apartment building overlooking the high-rises of L.A.’s Koreatown, producers Sam Griesemer and Jerome Potter of DJDS (formerly known as DJ Dodger Stadium) are working on new music. They’ve been collaborating since 2011 when they founded the record label Body High, and came into mainstream recognition when they worked on Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo, co-producing tracks like “Ultralight Beam” and “Fade,” with a focus on emotionally heavy samples.
Emotion is the defining trait of DJDS’s sound, chasing sonic moments of nostalgia, heartbreak, yearning and optimism. Their new album Big Wave More Fire feels like an ensemble piece with collaborators like The Dream, Kacy Hill, and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew. There’s a feeling of being swept along by the titular big wave throughout. DJDS meet at this apartment, which used to be Griesemer’s but now serves as the duo’s studio space, every day at 11am to work. A Muji aroma diffuser in one corner spurts scented steam. They give me a packet of limited edition incense. They worked with a custom incense blender and the result smells like a cold fresh mountain stream.
Today the small apartment is full of people setting up for a DJDS photoshoot. A rack of designer clothes is wedged in the room next to the studio setup. The stylist shows the easygoing Potter and Griesemer potential looks and they nod in approval. She first shows them some more casual looks, and then an array of flashier gear including some Gucci matching sets with a big, rainbow cat pattern on it called “angry panther” by the brand. I ask DJDS if they’ve ever been styled in high fashion before and they both shake their heads no. An assortment of Gucci tube socks are laid out on a bureau. Taking in all the Gucci gear waiting for them, Griesemer sighs in awe and says “Wow, just like the Migos.”
I sat down with DJDS to talk about the new album, Los Angeles, and making music for long TV car chases.
Sam Griesemer (SG) Jerome Potter (JP)
Why’d you guys name it Big Wave More Fire?
SG: That phrase kind of came to represent the moments in the making of the album when things started to click and go together in the right way, things that were very different and sort of from really different worlds. We were trying for something with this album that I think we’d been going for the entire time that we’ve been making music together, which is to bring together everything we really love about music. We hadn’t figured it out before because we weren’t good enough producers and songwriters. The best way to explain it I think is like, hearing Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene play guitar over just 808s…
JP: And your voice.
SG: More importantly, his guitar and the 808s. That was like a direct example of what became Big Wave More Fire, you know, it just unlocked something else. It was always right there and it seems really simple, but it felt like, “That’s it, that’s exactly what we’ve been trying for.”
Sam was this the first thing that you sang on?
SG: Actually, no. We did a thing that we worked on for Kanye after we worked on Pablo—we did this soundtrack for YEEZY Season 4. He wanted us to do the soundtrack for it and his concept was he wanted this demo of The Dream singing that song “Bed,” which The Dream wrote, and he wanted a twenty minute version of it. So he sent us The Dream’s original acapellas for that and a rough bass idea and said fill it in, make it long. So we made it this kind of long ambient thing and on that I did track some vocals, uncredited.
JP: Cuz that’s how we really started.
Are you guys a jam band?
SG: Only in the studio. We’re the opposite of a jam band live.
JP: We’re not good enough musicians probably to do that kind of vibe.
SG: We’re much more the type of producers where we work really hard to make it feel not worked on, and to make it feel natural. Somebody was asking us who the hardest feature to get on the album was and Jerome was like “definitely Sam.”
JP: It was a learning process for us.
SG: He encouraged me to sing.
When’s the last time you talked to Kanye.
SG: Probably a year ago? We’ve been out of the orbit. But since then we’ve worked with some other GOOD Music artists. Like The Dream and Kacy Hill.
JP: That’s a big part: we ended up working with people we’re fans of.
Do you guys feel like you’re more minimalist these days?
SG: We’ve sort of always been like that.
Do you ever think about going in the opposite direction?
JP: Like putting white noise on everything?
Like getting an orchestra.
JP: It goes back to live recording. If you have a band in a room, you don’t have to randomly add some other sounds. Everything should be in there for a reason. That’s something we aspire to do always. And making music that has tension in it. Complacency is boring.
SG: The week this album came out I was getting so stressed about what the next album should sound like. ‘Cause I was like we need a big move forward.
By the time the thing comes out you’re like, done with it. Are you guys working on new stuff today?
SG: We’ve been working on a lot of stuff. We’ve been doing this project. Do you know Burna Boy? We’re doing an EP with him on vocals and we produced the whole thing.
JP: We’ve been fans of his work for a while. There’s this great app that Sam showed me where you can listen to radio stations all over the world.
SG: Radio dot Garden.
JP: In Mexico we were listening to the Spotify Top 50 and it was all bangers.
Have you been to the Grammys?
SG: Yeah a couple years ago we went and lost to Drake, for “Hotline Bling.”
JP: And they only serve water! There’s all these people in tuxes in a sporting arena and no food. They only serve water.
SG: Rihanna walked by us on her way out.
JP: That was the highlight of the whole thing.
How did you pick the collaborators for Big Wave More Fire?
SG: It’s fun for us to get to work with people we really love and then sort of bring it more into our weird world. Like this Burna Boy thing we’ve been working on. When we first started, we didn’t really know what he would be interested in doing. He just started taking to all the stuff we were showing him that was more like, darker-sounding, more futuristic sounding stuff.
“When you turn on to a residential street and there’s just like a pack of coyotes. For some reason, [our music] sounds like that.”
Are you guys drawn to darker sounds in general?
JP: We like the night more than the day probably.
SG: I like both. I heard something PartyNextDoor said about the song “Work” which he wrote for Rihanna. He was like that’s a sad song, it’s like a blues song. When you listen to it and the lyrics, it’s super sad.
Is that your dream collabo?
SG: Oh definitely.
What were your first big inspirations?
SG: Just like reading The Source cover to cover. I was really into the poppier stuff. “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” when it came out. I was obsessed with Bad Boy. And then when I found out about Cash Money I was like, this is even better.
I remember the first time my brother played a Cash Money track for me, I was like “this sounds like it was made in a truck,” and he was like, “exactly.”
JP: Which is kind of how Playboi Carti feels right now. His last album sounds like a blown out Civic, which is a very distinct quality. It’s so cohesive. There’s different ways to get to that rawness across.
Like those YouTube videos that are all music playing from another room.
SG: It’s probably because they were coming into the studio after being out at the club all night. You get the looseness and the energy and the fun, but then all the backing track stuff is like, “oh yeah some guy was smoking blunts and thinking about this for nine hours to get it perfect.”
You guys are so L.A. to me. Do you feel like you’re representing L.A. musically?
SG: Totally. When you turn on to a residential street and there’s just like a pack of coyotes. For some reason, [our music] sounds like that.
“We all grew up watching car chases on KCAL 9.”
Big Wave More Fire really made me think about that. It’s really like a Joan Didion title. Like yeah those are the things that can happen in Los Angeles that could destroy it.
SG: Shoutout Joan Didion. It’s like there are kind of these pop moments but it still always sounds a little off and a little dark.
It’s car chase music.
JP: We all grew up watching car chases on KCAL 9.
Do you think about how music will sound in a car?
JP: On certain songs we do like a hundred different versions. Every night we’d do the car test.
SG: For us, it’s something we learned from working with Mike Dean, who’s Kanye’s guy as you know I’m sure. We sort of pride ourselves on like adaptability. People are listening in cars with good systems, cars with janky systems, listening on your cell phone.
JP: Sam’s got a Honda FIT with no sub in it. It’s a thing of sound being subjective. If you made a song in the 50s, you weren’t expecting people to listen to it on their iPhone.
So are you guys working on new music to release soon?
SG: That Burna Boy EP. You gotta have something out every year or so or people forget about you, unless you’re like Frank Ocean and it’s okay.
JP: That’s something we’ve learned from other people and developed—just work ethic, being in the studio.
Do you do any mainstream work at all?
Do you get paid to come in and take a pass on a Katy Perry song.
JP: Not Katy Perry but yeah sure, we worked with Khalid on his album. With Khalid we did the two songs on our record and his in three days.
SG: The best thing is that we have our own project, so we’re always doing exactly what we want for the DJDS thing. We’ve kind of been doing exactly what we want when we produce for other people, too. But with DJDS [we’re] not desperate.
JP: We all know there’s a Spotify pop sound, a 2018 sound.
Like a conglomeration of all sounds.
SG: I think it just keeps our thing fresh on both sides.
So did you guys decide to formally become DJDS?
SG: Should we talk about this? I don’t know if we can legally. We got a cease and desist from the Dodgers.
JP: Will you help us write a letter to them?
Molly Lambert is a writer from and in Los Angeles.
- Interview: Molly Lambert
- Photography: Zhamak Fullad
- Styling: Keyla Marquez
- Hair and Makeup: Sydney Costley
- Styling Assistant: Kaira Roos