Interview: Jeremy ‘Zodiac’ Rose
Posted in Interviews
"I Just Like to Make Beats"
You've heard the story by now. Jeremy 'Zodiac' Rose is the producer behind the first three tunes we heard from The Weeknd last year. The tunes that put the mysterious RnB project on the map and made its meteoric rise possible in the first place. At some point, Rose wasn't credited for his production anymore and things got a little ugly. In a now infamous interview with Vice, Rose shares his side of the story, which doesn't make Abel Tesfaye seem like the gentleman he portrays to be in his music (har har). Meanwhile the other side still refuses to comment on the matter.
Be it as it may, Rose has now left this chapter behind and moved on to exciting new ventures. His self-titled debut EP drops today on fellow Canadian Jacques Greene's Vase label and it shows the remarkable skill-set of the young perfectionist. 5 delicately crafted songs, equal parts soulful and futuristic, taking cues from pretty much everything that's going on in the music world right now, from trap to bass to forlorn RnB. The only vocal guest on the EP is the magnificent Jesse Boykins III, who serves up one of 2012's loveliest compositions on "Come."
On top of his first solo project, Rose has just signed a writing deal with Paul Epworth's brand new Wolf Tone imprint. THAT Paul Epworth --the man who won 4 Grammy Awards last year with his production for Adele, who has also produced for Cee-Lo, Babyshambles, Bloc Party, The Rapture and Florence + the Machine in the past (just to throw a few names out there), and who is currently working on Azealia Banks' debut LP. Rose is the first artist to have signed with Wolf Tone. You get the drift, right? Zodiac is doing big things.
We were able to get a hold of Jeremy Rose and talk about his past, his present and most importantly his future, which at this very moment is starting to look brighter than any other star sign.
Where are you at right now? What are you doing?
I'm currently in Toronto, working on tracks for the upcoming Paul Epworth project. I got some other things I can't really talk about, but I'm also working on that. I'm going to London in October to work with Epworth, I'm really excited about that. Just keeping busy.
The contract you signed with Epworth on his Wolf Tone imprint sounds like a pretty huge deal. How did that come about and what was your initial reaction when he approached you?
Epworth just contacted my manager one day and told him what he wanted to do and I heard about it and freaked out a little bit. It's definitely a big step for me. I'm really excited about doing it and I think I'm gonna learn a lot and hopefully make some really good music and try to enjoy it.
Are there any concrete plans on what shape the collaboration will take on?
We got some people writing and I'm gonna be on beats and stuff. I think Epworth's just gonna be helping out, too. He also has me working on other things that he's been working on as well. So it's just kind of like a loose collaboration. I have a contract for 16 tracks. I think that's gonna be split between one piece of music and maybe other tracks elsewhere.
And are those all pop projects? Cause he's been working with some major players in that field.
Yeah, some of it is pop, and the main project we're talking about here is going for integrating my style and having a female vocalist on it. It's all still up in the air a lot. We're still in the beginning stages of seeing what we're gonna do. I'm just trying to make as much music as possible right now and we're gonna see what they like and what we want to go with. It's gonna be a big year for me though, for sure.
I don't want to go into the whole Weeknd thing too much, but in that Vice interview you're quoted saying that you initially had the idea for this dark RnB project. That sound has really taken off over the past year. Does it bother you in any sort of way that you're not really in the middle of that whole thing right now?
Yeah, I mean maybe at some point it might have bothered me early on, but I quickly got over it. I'm happy to be where I am and doing what I do. I don't really care what other people are up to. All the best luck and all that kind of thing. I became a producer to kind of sit in the background a little bit. As long as I get proper credit where it's due, that's all I'm really concerned about. Other than that it's whatever. I just like to make beats. It's not a big deal.
How did your connection to Jacques Greene and Vase come about?
Jacques was actually one of the first people to ever remix one of my songs. And I thought that was really cool but we never actually talked. And then he talked to my manager about wanting to do something with me. So I went to a dinner party in Montreal and met him and we hung out and talked about what we were gonna do and I showed him the beats I had going on at the time. It just kind of came to happen over time.
So let's get into the EP. Even though it does share certain elements with your earlier productions, there's definitely a lot more experimentation going on. Is that also a way for you to distance yourself from a particular sound or is that just a natural progression?
Yeah, it's just a natural progression. I feel like over the last year I've started doing a lot of different things. It's just expanding and incorporating new techniques and doing something different. It can't just be throwing out the same thing over and over, right? Especially with computer production. You can always learn something new and incorporate it. It's kind of hard not to. It wasn't really a deliberate attempt at distancing myself. Obviously I wanna do something, let people know what I'm up to now and not try to recreate something from before. You need a constant evolution or else it gets boring.
I read somewhere that you only work with a relatively cheap laptop. Do you use any other hardware?
Yeah, I tried to make it through the summer without installing an air conditioner. So I had a spray bottle and a fan set up in my room with all the windows open and I just did all the work in there on my laptop. I do have a pair of monitors and I just picked up a full-sized keyboard that I can play with two hands on. But I don't really use a lot of hardware. I might at some point, but right now I don't really see the need for it because I'm working with a lot of samples and am using a digital sampler to create different tabs and textures. It all comes from me being an editor. One of my first jobs as a teenager was in video editing, so sound editing came naturally and that's just what I'm used to doing, being hunched over a computer, clicking a mouse. It doesn't sound very romantic and it certainly doesn't look like it, but that's how I work.
What I'm also interested in is your musical background, because as far as genres go, it's hard to put a label on what you're doing.
I don't really listen to too much music right now, but my main sources of inspiration came from a lot of Warp stuff during the 90s. I was really into Aphex Twin. Boards of Canada is a really big one for me, too. More recent stuff would be Flying Lotus and Burial. They've been big inspirations for what I want to do with my sound. Usually it's pretty obvious but I'm trying to get away from the obvious influences. It all came from me trying to mimic those guys early on and now I'm just still building on my own sound.
I could imagine a track like "GirlGirlGirl" with someone like ASAP Rocky rapping over it and you've also worked with rap artists like The Jealous Guys in the past. Do you have further aspirations as a hip-hop producer?
Yeah, I mean it's kind of my default mode of beatmaking. I just naturally make hip-hop beats without really meaning to. 60 to 80 BPM is my range. I do have a couple of hip-hop projects I'm working on right now, tentatively, so I don't think that's ever gonna end. But I definitely like branching out into other things as well. A lot of the beats on the EP were actually designed to have vocals on them. But at the same time I thought I should release something solo before I start doing anymore work with other people, just because I might be too busy to be doing that later on. So I took a lot of beats that I had that might've had backing on them and just released them as they were, just to get something out.
What was it like working with Jesse Boykins III?
That was an online thing. We were supposed to meet in September when he was in Toronto but I think I was sick or something. But yeah, he's a cool guy and he works really fast. My manager got in contact with him and sent him a beat. He sent it back within a couple of days with vocals on top of it and it was pretty much done. I just added a couple more textures and layering. It was really good to work with him and I'm looking forward to do more stuff with him in the future.
Will you be going on tour with the EP?
No. I think there was some talk about that, but I'm going to be busy the next couple of months. And at the same time I also decided for myself that I want to work on my live set before performing again. I've only performed twice so far and I feel like I could've done better. I really want to put time into developing a good, interesting, dynamic set. So I'm gonna wait until I get some studio stuff out of the way. I'm not used to it, I find it very stressful, so I want to be ready for that and make sure I do my best.
You seem to be quite a perfectionist, also when it comes to releasing music. Can that be a curse sometimes?
Yeah, a lot of the time I'm doubting and being overly critical with what I do. So you don't really see a lot of material coming from me because I don't really like a lot of it. They practically had to take the EP away from me and release it, and I was like "oh, it's not done yet!" But at some point you have to cut the umbilical chord. I have a problem with doing that but luckily I have people around me that are willing to not listen to me and ignore what I complain about and do it anyway. I'm trying to get over that and get a little more material out there but of course you gotta have quality control, too.