Getting Really Serious: An Interview with Jai Wolf
Sajeeb Saha, though more commonly known as Jai Wolf, became a household name for fans of dance music when the DJ had a song of his played at Glastonbury by acclaimed artist Skrillex. The 23-year-old from Bangladesh, who is currently on tour for his Kindred Spirits EP, will make a stop at White Oak Music Hall on December 2. While on the road, Sajeeb spoke to Free Press Houston about his recent release, “making it,” and what it means to be an artist right now.
Free Press Houston: Jai Wolf is an interesting name, but it wasn’t your first choice. Could you explain how heavy metal got in your way?
Sajeeb Saha: Yeah, I wanted to be Dire Wolf, which is an animal from Game of Thrones, but my team said the name sounded too heavy.
FPH: To go even further with that name, you started at the name “No Pets Allowed.”
Saha: Yeah, that was the EDM project that I was doing.
FPH: Lately, I have been very curious with artists and their relationships with subgenres, but you are the first solo musician that I’ve asked about; are there certain exceptions — in this case DJ’s — for using subgenres? Is it more necessary for your kind of music?
Saha: I just really like electronic music, and I love EDM in general. I think that, personally — from a musician’s standpoint — that [EDM] wasn’t my creative needs, and it wasn’t something I was wanting to do for ten years. I didn’t want to do dance music for ten years. I just wanted to get really serious about making music, so I decided to take a step back and evaluate what I enjoyed, musically, and what I felt would be more timeless sounding music.
FPH: What is “making it” in music, and do you believe that you have achieved it?
Saha: I don’t really know. I guess that could be defined in a number of ways. I guess, to me, it’s making sure that people are happy with the songs that I’m making, and it makes them feel something, you know? It makes them feel nostalgic and youthful. It just takes them to a different place and it helps them get through it. That’s how I would define personal success.
FPH: What about having “Jai Wolf Height Weight Body Statistics” as the fifth result on Google images for Jai Wolf? Is that flattering or creepy?
Saha: [laughs] I have no idea what that is. Sure, I guess that’s making it. That’s funny. Did you say body statistics? Yeah, that’s kind of weird. I have never come across that. This is the first time I’ve heard of it, but that’s pretty fun. It’s funny that it’s exists. I got one the other week, because it was my birthday, this famous birthdays account on Twitter. They tweet out stuff like “It’s this person’s birthday.” They tweeted me and I thought “I am not a celebrity, I’m literally just a kid making music.” I thought that was kind of weird. Yeah, stuff like that is pretty weird.
FPH: When you started out, do you remember what went through your head during your first sold out show? What’s changed about that and these upcoming? As in, how have you changed?
Saha: I feel like the surprise of selling out a show is still very fresh, and I still get the same reaction, because — you know, I live in my parents basement, making music. So when I step into the world and play these shows, I am always thrilled to hear if a show sold out. Two years ago, when I was just starting out — actually, it was this year — when we started getting to play much larger venues, it was a really pleasant surprise for me, for sure.
FPH: Bands like Kiss were — by all means — marketing geniuses, especially with merchandise on tour, and I feel like you have a unique approach for merch, too. You have pillows with a wolf on it. Why did you decide to bring something like that on tour, being that you wouldn’t associate a high energy set selling something associated with sleep? Was it ironic at all?
Saha: It was just a simple idea, it was nothing crazy. My manager was just like, “Hey, we should make pillows.” We were just trying to come up with creative ways to make merchandise, we were just trying to think out of the box. I think it’s more so a coincidence that the wolf is sleeping and we made a pillow, but it went really well, hand and hand.
FPH: Recently, your EP, Kindred Spirits, was available to stream. However, this was a day before scheduled. Why did you decide to release it early?
Saha: I think most things get released a day or two early for streaming, so that was a marketing thing, you know? Any album or project that comes out is usually streamed early.
FPH: For the record, I wanted to let the fans know that Billboard has already labeled it as “breathtaking and emotional.”
How important, to you, is leaking albums? Is it as bad at the top record executives say they are?
Saha: You know, it’s funny, because when you’re on the other side, you start to understand how everything works. There’s a method to the madness. I think, before, I would jump on most things that were leaked early. Nowadays, if I’m on something that leaks, I usually wait. Not out of courtesy, I just don’t trust the quality of the leak, usually low quality MP3’s. In terms of leaking stuff myself, I don’t think I’m much of a believer in that, you know? As much as I’d love to have everyone listen to the material ahead of time, I think that there’s a reason things come out on a certain date. I know that sometimes, when an artist is on a major label, their project keeps getting delayed and delayed and they leak it themselves. People do that. However, you need to be at a certain level before someone cares that you leaked it. If I leaked my EP, I don’t think that it would be big news. People wouldn’t be like, “Oh, Jai Wolf leaked his EP, or whatever,” you know? You need to be a star to leak your EP. I feel like that strategy doesn’t work for artists at my level. Basically, there’s a specific reason for the release date, you know?
FPH: Is it fair to say you sound like “Noah ’40’ Shebib dropping some downtempo EDM”?
Saha: Yeah, so you’re quoting the Rolling Stone article from last year, right? I found that to be a compliment. I felt like some of the stuff I was writing in 2014 was definitely similar, but not the EP. The EP definitely isn’t like Noah “40” Shebib. At that time, I guess that was the most similar thing that they could have said about the music they were writing on. There were similarities, for sure. “40” is an incredible producer and has made really cool records with people like Drake.
FPH: How did that Rolling Stone writeup advance your career?
Saha: I doubt that it made any waves. I think that it was just cool that Rolling Stone was like, “check this guy out,” you know? It was more of a benchmark, like I was in Rolling Stone, you know? I don’t feel like the article necessarily propelled my career greatly or anything.
FPH: Was it bigger than the Skrillex drop at Glastonbury?
Saha: No, because with the Skrillex drop, there was a video. It was a bigger deal that lead to something larger: being signed to Skrillex. Because Skrillex has a larger audience, people— no one is reading Rolling Stone and thinking, “Oh, I want to check out this person.” When people are looking at idols like Skrillex, who is cultural influencers, they check out someone he tells them to. It’s a lot bigger than a publication telling people to check out a person, in my opinion.
FPH: I think we’re all tired of talking about these past few weeks, but as a musician, how important are these next four years as someone whose message is through the form of art?
Saha: I think it’s very important. I think art is a lane where you can truly express yourself and how you feel. I think that many people will agree, these next four years are looking to be a very rocky and tumultuous time, and I think that art is a great way to escape from that. I think’s important. Art is here to make people happy, nostalgic, and warm. I think that it’s important to the livelihood of anyone, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It doesn’t have to be America. Music has the power to heal, for sure.
FPH: Do you hold yourself to an even higher standard to that, being that you are not originally from the US?
Saha: I can’t speak from the viewpoint of being from the United States, so my experience could be completely different. I don’t know. I try to looking at things very empathetically and objectively and try to understand why things are the way that they are. But being that I have a different experience, I think I can come in and be like “okay, things are clearly wrong here.” I don’t know, maybe I try harder, for sure. Just to make sure I can better the World however I can. I’m just here to do my part. No matter where I came from, I hope that — if there were alternate universes and I was from the US — I would be the same person inside.
FPH: Do you believe that a resurgence of bands like Black Flag is possible under these circumstances?
Saha: I was thinking about that recently. I wasn’t too into punk rock music, but I can see some anti-establishment stuff rising these next four years. It will definitely be cool to see if there’s a resurgence in that genre, you know?
FPH: I wanted everyone to know that you come to Houston to perform at White Oak Music Hall on December 2. For the ones who don’t have tickets yet, what’s the number one reason to see you perform live?
Saha: The show is very unique. It’s different from any tour that might be coming through Houston, electronic act-wise. The stage we have is very grand and big, and I think that the show is a very dreamlike experience. You can hear the full EP live. I think it’s very special, and the team behind it is really cool.