Jerome LOL is one of those dudes you just let talk. When we caught up way back during the beginning of the pandemic, he was gearing up to release an EP under a new name, Wooly Wally, although the tunes were loosely similar sounding to the style he’s become known for as a solo artist and one half of DJDS. By his own estimation, it had been about eight years since his last solo interview, and the last time I was set to interview him, I had to postpone for a few days, and in the interim, it was revealed that they had done work on The Life of Pablo, which meant the interview wouldn’t be happening any time soon.
In that interim, a lot has changed, but a lot is also the same. Jerome is still one half of DJDS, he’s still an endlessly inquisitive musician, and he’s still got enough opinions to supply an entire college philosophy discussion. Luckily, when Jerome waxes on the state of pop music, SoundCloud, Spotify, playlists, release schedules, and Kanye West, he knows exactly what he’s talking about. At the very least, he has the history to back it up.
In addition to his recent release under the Wooly Wally moniker, he also released an EP with Niles Gunderson, titled The Taste of Aluminum. This, too, came out on his Jerry’s Jams label, but on the record he trades in deconstructed dance tunes for noisy, experimental concoctions that would be hard to trace back to its creator if you weren’t actively looking for it. It’s an exciting time to be Jerome LOL, because he’s one of those dudes that sees a problem as a way to get creative, to change things up, to reinvent. Sure, there’s a global pandemic and his group is best known for making dancefloors pop the fuck off, but this time has given Jerome a chance to recalibrate and re-engage with his true love: Just making things. — Will Schube
Are you actively working on solo stuff? What are you building up to with these new songs?
Jerome LOL: I’m just having fun with it again; I miss the SoundCloud days. In this quarantine time, everyone is reflecting and doing this, that, and the other because the music industry is – it’s not like it’s stopping, I’m hella busy, but everyone is being so much more intentional with their releases, as opposed to the bullshit rappers that Spotify forces us to listen to with New Music Friday. Playlists in general, they’re a fine thing; I have so much gratitude towards anyone putting the tracks I’ve worked on on playlists, but that happened quick. In a blink of an eye, we went from SoundCloud DIY to Spotify playlists in particular. I like to think of Spotify as a physical space; if you walk into a Rite Aid or a CVS or a Walgreens or wherever in America, your local pharmacy, they used to have CDs in the ‘90s and that was like getting on a playlist. Do you remember when Taylor Swift dropped Red? She had a huge campaign with Target, but she lowkey had a huge campaign with Walgreens in Chicago. She had all of these localized campaigns. I remember being in Chicago like, “Yo, what?”
Spotify is fire, I fuck with it, I love being able to search anything from the past, but the emphasis on the present and New Music Friday being this rat race to push your music like, “Oh my god, I’m #18 instead of 35.” Zoom out bro, you have a song that’s being pushed on the biggest playlist. I think I speak for some artists as well after I’ve talked to them, because you just get lost in the sauce of, “Nothing is ever good enough.” At Best Buy you just go alphabetically, you spend five hours there, and you pick up 10 CDs. That’s not the case with playlists because it’s a totally different consumption or vehicle for the consumer and for the creator. There’s not a lot of emphasis or writing right now about what I feel like to be releasing music in a rat race and thank god we have this time to pause and reflect. Basically, what I’m doing is that I have so many things on my hard drive that I’m like, “One day I’ll release this. One day I’ll release this.” I guess my brain told me, at the start of quarantine, to start thinking about it slowly. Due to where my life is at currently, I’m just like fuck it.
I’ve been listening to Future’s “Mask Off” a lot while I’m wearing a mask. I have a bunch of shit that I can make and that I can sing, but I just don’t. Especially with the DJDS project, that project’s intention and its thesis that Sam and I discussed is that we’ve gotten ourselves to a position where we can amplify others’ voices and try to combine different people that maybe have never met in a studio. We interact with Rema from Nigeria that people should know about. Americans specifically should know about Rema because he’s fire, and Tory Lanez who’s from Toronto with a singing background. They’ve never met in a studio, but we got to put them on a track together. With the DJDS project, I know my role – it’s to be a producer and to try to make that shit sound good, but I have all of these other ideas and songs in my hard drive, and I’m not making money off of that because they’re just sitting there.
How are you planning to roll this stuff out?
Jerome LOL: When other artists are like, “I have so much shit on my hard drive,” I’m like, “Send it to me! Let’s figure out something to do with it.” In 2014, I made these records. I even have an album I made in 2009, or even that mix I made in 2007.” I thought it was trash at the time, and now I’m 33 years old and I haven’t really heard anything like them. I’m not saying it’s great or it’s God’s gift, it’s like, “Why am I holding it on for myself?” I was too strict back then with music. I tweeted some shit this morning that I meant: “To publish is to sacrifice.”
You as a writer, when you publish a story or write any sort of thing at all, you are putting your heart and soul into that piece, or not. It comes raw, whether it’s good writing or if it’s not good writing. There’s plenty of writing about music in particular that’s not good writing and I think everyone can agree upon that right now. Clickbait and this, that, the other, influencers, and branded sponsorships sometimes are fire, but they haven’t been for a few years. With what is going on in America, everyone is having to reevaluate their lives, kind of doing a personal audit, similar to something you would do at Alcoholics Anonymous or some shit like that where you really go through your life and think about, “What am I doing with my life?” and try to get your shit on track.
That’s basically what did, and I have a lot of spoken MP3s. I don’t have the WAV files anymore, but I have a lot of MP3s, and a lot of the music we listen to on Spotify – guess what? It’s not even a WAV file. Some producer sent a 320 MP3 to some artist saying, “It never got mixed. It’s just that.” It got mixed by a good engineer, someone like Alex Tumay (and there are hella good engineers out there), but a lot of the beats are MP3s. I have a lot MP3s, I was going to trickle them out as I please, and if someone wants to sign them, they can hit me up direct. That’s basically it.
Are you just interested in dumping it all out there and seeing what people gravitate towards?
Jerome LOL: If you look at the etymology of the word “abracadabra,” a lot of people think that word is associated with magic, but it actually comes from the concept of freestyling in Egyptian culture. The language of origin is unknown, but “abracadabra,” similar to “advocate” (and they have a cool triangle showing it), it was used for people to live intuitively – someone who is speaking off the top, like I’m doing right now and not really thinking about what I’m saying. That’s what people would say back in the day; thousands and thousands before Christ-type era, and they would say, “Abracadabra.” I think how I’m moving right now is that I’m looking at my hard drive, I have these albums, and maybe I’ll release them. If it frustrates me, I’m not going to release them.
On SoundCloud, if anything’s too hard to do or if my brain doesn’t remember how to make a playlist, then I won’t do it. With DistroKid, and all of these other services like that, you can put shit on Spotify and Apple Music without a label, but no one’s going to hear it because you need playlists and you need press and you need that whole vibe.
The music industry is more than just artists; the music industry is so many teams working behind the scenes that get no love, and that’s how it works. I have shit on Spotify that I’m not going to tell you about (or anyone about), legit, published works that were just cut or experiments to see, “Can I do this myself?” The answer is no because you need press, you need management, you need people to connect dots for you, and there are only so many options today. The fact that anyone can do that themselves is dope. But also, the labels are more important than ever, and the fact that you cannot click a label’s link on Spotify to look at and to appreciate the art of curation, which is what a label literally is, is fucking wack man. I grew up loving labels.
I listened to Dre’s label, I’d listen to Aftermath and I’d listen to Saddle Creek, just around the spectrum. Off the top I’m blanking on label names because I’m trying to address labels, but when we started Body High, we started Body High on SoundCloud, and that was it – no Spotify, no Apple Music or streaming. We didn’t make any money on music and we threw parties to press vinyl because kids wanted vinyl, and we have hella vinyl still in the garage somewhere because we didn’t push it after Spotify came out.
We just stopped Body High because it wasn’t really the vibe for that sound, and it’s very competitive to get on these playlists still. We’re still getting our shit on playlists and that’s dope, but Body High was a time and a place and that’s fire and I’m grateful for that shit. It’s still there, but it’s not like Spotify goes back in time too much like, “Hey, the 2010s-era!” It’s too soon for any of that to be vintage, but a lot of that shit is what has led to the current state of dance music. I’m not saying that we did that, but I’m talking about people like DJ Sliink and other people we put on. Those people’s sounds are affiliated with K-Pop to this day. Right now, with K-Pop, you’re going to see a lot of Jersey club, and a lot of people cannot catch the vibe because not a lot of people are connecting those dots.
Has the success and the pressure of being in DJDS made you take a step back and want to do things in a different way? Where is this drive to pursue this new project coming from?
Jerome LOL: I’ll stop you at the word “success” because I think that’s kind of a bullshit word. I’ve met a lot of other people who use the adjective “successful” to describe them, but I have never been a successful person in my life, straight up. Everybody’s grinding, everybody’s putting numbers on the board, and the ultimate maturity is when you die. To me, when we weren’t going to the studio instead of really collaborating, it’s like, “I love those people.” It was the opposite of what someone would think back then of big egos. No, that was work. We have been grinding for the past 4/5 years with that mentality of going to the studio every day, Monday through Friday. When we worked on The Life of Pablo, we weren’t like, “This is the sickest day ever,” it was like, “Shit. Now we have to prove that we’re worthy to have worked with one of the greatest artists of all time, definitely of our generation.” As far as an artist goes, and his art and what he puts out into the world and allows himself to be vulnerable about, that’s real shit and that’s a hard thing to do. There’s a lot of criticism but go try to do it.
Sam and I were like, “Let’s just keep that mentality of what we’ve learned in the studio and apply it to ourselves because we’d be fools to not right now.” We’ve been working in that method of just going to the studio, Monday through Friday, 10am to 8pm, and it’s been awesome. We’ve gotten to meet so many fucking amazing people – heroes of mine from my childhood, from Kevin Drew to new artists like Burna Boy, Kiah Victoria, Empress Of, and all these amazing people. I feel very blessed. When you’re in it and you’re just grinding, and you have sessions coming up and you have to prepare, you can’t really reflect. You’re just presently minded and you’re future-minded. Straight up, I was kind of embarrassed by my past, like my shit was wack.
I used to drink, I used to party, and I was embarrassed by my past. I’ve been sober for six years and shit, and now with quarantine and all of that, and especially with the movement going on, the social movement Black Lives Matter, I’m very lucky. I consider myself lucky, and I have gratitude towards the path that I’ve been on. Some of the solo shit has just been, a) getting my shit out there so I don’t have to think about it anymore, because it’s a waste of my time to think about, “What if one day I release this shit?” Just put it out on SoundCloud, and if somebody emails me and wants to put it on vinyl, they can do that; that’s cool, and if not, that’s also fine too. If it’s on SoundCloud, this is another streaming platform that just doesn’t pay artists because for some reason it’s not considered published, even though it’s on the internet and on everyone’s phones. You’ve got platforms like Audiomack, which is the best place to find good music from around the world. I’m not sure what their payment structure is, but I’m sure they’re working on it. As far as platforms to find new music, Audiomack is the way to go.
You should throw your shit on Bandcamp too.
Jerome LOL: Yeah, Bandcamp, there you go. Bandcamp is doing so much amazing shit for artists. It’s hard when there are monoliths like Spotify running the game, especially when you look and pull up the money and who’s investing in Spotify. That’s some publicly available information for anybody to Google – “Who is investing in Spotify, what profits they turn, and what the payment is compared to CDs?”
For you though, when you’re working with bigger artists, the goal is to get on those Spotify playlists and be at the top of those charts. Are you able to separate your work and your involvement in some of these bigger projects from what their goals are?
Jerome LOL: When we’re working with artists, they never mention a playlist. I let management and the team handle all of that because I feel like when they start talking about radio or money or playlists in the studio, the song’s basically dead; it’s just not going to happen. In the studio, when you’re present, you just vibe with the song and you make sure that your energy is right, your head is right, and you’re not concerned with, “Oh fuck, the artist doesn’t want this guitar part.” A younger me would’ve been crushed by that. If an artist doesn’t like this beat that you literally spent 45 minutes on with Sam, maybe it’d be good for somebody else. Everybody’s different, everyone should have their own opinions, and some art isn’t for everyone. That can be applied to what goes on on Twitter right now.
There used to be a time when people had different opinions and agreed to disagree, and that was dope because then you would learn. I used to not really like funk that much growing up; I didn’t get it. I played trombone and I liked Parliament and I liked Red Hot Chili Peppers, and I didn’t like funk is what I thought. Now I listen to funk all the time. I grew, and it’s not like it defined me. When people say that they like everything but country, they never really listened to Johnny Cash or Blaze Foley or fucking Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift’s first albums are fucking good music. That’s it. I work in music, so my opinions about music are just about music.
How are you balancing getting all of your old music out with the desire to constantly make new stuff too? Has that been difficult for you?
Jerome LOL: I don’t even overthink it right now. I just wake up in the morning and make music, and if I like it, I’ll send it to people I like, like I did with you today. If that goes and snowballs around, then that’s cool because that’s what I used to do. I graduated college in 2008 and I applied for one job: to be an assistant for a music supervisor company that did the music for different HBO shows. They told me I got the job when I met the guy in person, and they never called me again. I called them, and they never called me again.
I took that as a sign to get a normal job, and I worked at a dog wash, a self-service dog wash, for six months and I got fired from that dog wash because there was a Yelp review that said, “The rude kid is on headphones and not helping me with my dog.” I was like, “Yeah, I was, because it’s a self-service dog wash. I told the owner, ‘They come in, they wash their dogs, they pay, and they leave.’” I wasn’t cut out for that job and I fucked up and I should’ve been more respectful, but I was working on music. I needed to pay rent, so I had to make it work. Luckily, Leeor from Friends of Friends signed me, I met my management, I met Sam along the way naturally, and it wasn’t some master plan. It’s taken a long time; I’ve been in this thing since 2007, that’s when I really started taking it seriously. It doesn’t seem like a long time to me, it seems like yesterday.
Are you able to sit back and count your successes and be thrilled with what you’ve been able to do, or are you still motivated by that need to prove yourself as someone that works with Kanye and is worthy of doing so?
Jerome LOL: I don’t want to get that twisted. It’s not that I want to prove to myself that I’m someone that worked with Kanye, because when Kanye said, “Do y’all want to work on this album,” that was enough for me. The Chance line, “I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail,” I cannot relate to that because I’m not Chance the Rapper. I’m not from the South Side of Chicago, I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, but his faith in us to even touch it was enough for me. I didn’t really realize it then, Sam is wiser than me and he was like, “He knows more than us. We’ve just got to trust the process.” We did and I didn’t overthink it. I have a hard time listening to any music that I’ve ever worked on; I hear mistakes in the mix, I hear things I would’ve done better, and it usually takes four years for shit to come out, where I’m down to listen to it again.
I’m trying to get over myself like, “It doesn’t fucking matter. Get over yourself, just make another song. That’s it.” It’s hard though, because you work on these things that are emotional and deeply personal, and even if people don’t know because you don’t talk about it, it’s hard to revisit that emotion that you were in when you were creating it. Especially with something intangible like music, which is just frequencies, which is what light and vision are, it’s all just frequencies anyway. It’s just a specific type of auditory frequency that triggers feelings.
We all know that a sad song will make you feel sad. When you’re in a really depressed mood and you listen to “Happy,” literally called “Happy” by Pharrell (which is a genius song), then you’re not really going to fuck with that song. But if you had a great day and you turn on “Happy,” then you’re going to feel good and it’s going to amplify your feelings. I think Sam and I amplify other people’s voices, but we also try to create a bed of sound for them to feel a feeling that maybe they haven’t tapped into before, or maybe they have tapped into, but they want to redo that again. Just keeping it simple and not overcomplicating shit with the theory and all of that. If a chord sounds good, it sounds good.
Has revisiting old music when you weren’t sober and maybe were struggling with different issues, been strange or difficult for you at all and brought some of those old feelings back? Or are you comfortable with your sobriety right now that you’re able to view it from a distance?
Jerome LOL: I’m comfortable with my sobriety of substances for sure. I would say that there’s a sobriety that we all deal with, every person whether they have substance abuse problems or not, it’s the sobriety of the mind. Instead of opening 90 tabs on my computer these days, I try to do five tabs. Think of your tab on your browser as a tab of acid: you’re trying not to take 90 tabs of acid every day. I’m just trying to move slowly; I think I was trying to move too fast for a long time in every which way, and good music doesn’t happen overnight. You cannot make a song that’s going to connect with people, if that’s your intention, overnight. It’s going to take a long time.
Sam and I, our first album, Friend of Mine, the DJ Dodger Stadium album before we got a cease-and-desist from Dodger Stadium, which is really called Chavez Ravine but anyways, that shit took us 2.5/3 weeks front-to-back because Sam had the story in his head of what he wanted to tell and had all of these fire samples. Once we got going, we just didn’t stop. You can make a song in two or three days if you’re dedicated and the vision is preplanned and you’re not just freestyling on the computer, but you have an intention when you begin the project. With that album, we just needed to get stuff out of our system. We didn’t even know where it was going to go; we didn’t really have plans for it.
We had a label called Body High, we were releasing all our favorite DJs’ music that we were producing at the time. People hate on DJs, but Dr. Dre’s a DJ, DJ Khaled was one of the best radio DJs of all time, and DJ Quik is one of the greatest producers of all time. I even hated on DJs during the EDM scene, but more so I was embarrassed to tell my wife’s aunt that I’m also a DJ, because the word got flipped. But real talk, a DJ is just a “disc jockey;” a horse jockey is just a horse jockey, and you’re just riding the disc. What it taught us, me and Sam since we both came up DJing, is the art of arrangement. You spend enough time DJing, you play enough songs that clear a floor; you play enough shows where there are only 10 people there and you have to keep their attention, and then you are really paying attention to your pacing of DJing. When we made Friend of Mine, that was it – there was a DJ mindset to it because we made it just for the clubs. Sam probably has a different idea because he had a really cool concept, and I agreed with it because I felt the exact same way that he did about LA and the general loneliness of the time. It feels like a lifetime ago, but it’s still fresh. All good music accomplishes that, I think.