Any fan of the WEDIDIT crew is familiar with the lush and lonely sounds of D33J. The Los Angeles-based producer has been a prominent member of the trend-setting collective since it was formed back in 2012, but goes way back with the whole crew, having known them since high school.
D33J’s entry into the world of electronic music began during the indie electronic crossover. “I would say Daedelus was definitely a catalyst for me in bridging all these gaps of electronic music,” he says. “Maybe even these early Radiohead albums like Kid A too.”
At the age of 18, he started producing his own music. Over the past two or three years, D33J has collaborated with artists like Baths, Lil Yachty, Tory Lanez, and Pollàri. More recently, the producer played a hand in crafting the soundscape of Corbin’s phenomenal Mourn album.
Last week, D33J released his first full-length record, Death Valley Oasis, via Anticon. He describes the vibe of the album as earthy, explaining that “there are parts that kind of feel like tectonic plates that make shifts of sounds.” “Black Ice,” “Endless Fall,” and “Plateau” fall under the psychedelic spectrum, but the inclusion of more uptempo tunes like the opener “Ascent” and closer “Scattered Ashes” make the whole album feel cyclical and complete.
We recently caught up with D33J to get the details on everything from the producer’s ongoing evolution to working with Corbin, and the rap-focused album that's on the way.
I’m glad that you said your name first because I was going to ask how to pronounce D33J. I asked other people and they had no idea how to say it.
Oh yeah, it’s a little fucked but it’s definitely "deej."
Your name is Djavan and you’re a DJ who goes by "deej." So what should people know about D33J?
It’s all too much shit. [Laughs] I’m originally from Los Angeles, but I lived in San Francisco for some time too. I’ve also lived in Germany for a little bit and now I’m back here in L.A. as of the last few years. The last couple of years we were touring and stuff. In 2016 I was pretty stationary here and working on music, so L.A. is home right now.
You previously described your sound as “emotional dance music.” How do you go about creating emotional music that often doesn’t have words?
That’s always been a thing for me because my music is always quite emotional, but it’s not conveyed in these clear cut narratives. There are not all these lyrics guiding you, and even when I do sing, a lot of the times the vocals are more like guttural, impulsive first take things that get looped and processed. I kind of treat it the same way as music. Sonically I’ve been drawn to more darker, deeper sounds. Since I don’t sing so much, I’ve always been bound to create emotion through sound itself and the melody.
How did you link up with the WEDIDIT crew?
They’ve been homies of mine since high school so we’ve known each other for a long time. I went to school with Groundislava and then he transferred and went to school with Henry [Shlohmo] and Nick [Melons]. There were always mutual connections there and we always saw each other at parties and stuff. There’s some pic of Nick in a sombrero at my parents' house before I even knew him. It’s always some shit like that.
And then in San Francisco I met Henry, and we just clicked and ended up living together for a year up there. It just made sense. Then I moved to Germany, finished some music, and then I was like, “Hey, let me put this on WEDIDIT.” They were like, “Of course.” It just naturally progressed from there. Now these days we’re all more integrated—me, Nick, and Henry work the label as well, so we do the backend all together.
What are the dynamics like internally between you guys?
Nick and Henry kind of run the show and I’m there more to help out. Now I’m kind of taking the directive with finding new artists and helping make sure we stay on top of our music. Henry and Nick have been more of the creative designer aspect of the label and they produce all the merch.
We just cracked down on it and got more serious. We take the merch and the music more seriously. We have a lot of amazing stuff in the pipeline like this Corbin record being one of our first records of the year. We’re kind of gunning for it and everything feels good this year.
Let’s talk about your album, Death Valley Oasis. Where did that title come from?
Honestly, I just thought those words were really beautiful next to each other so I stuck with it. I was mulling between a few names for a long time and the ring of that always stuck with me. I’m a type of dude who forgets stuff all the time so those words just resonated with me. I always liked the polarity of something that wouldn’t exist in reality. A death valley oasis is not a real thing, it’s an oxymoron. I feel like that represents a lot of the push and pull on the record too. It’s like a natural tug of war.
The cover art clearly complements the title, but why did you end up picking that picture specifically?
I’ve always been drawn to all these cemeteries here in L.A. and I think it perfectly embodies that title. I was thinking of the title even before I thought of the cover or what images I'd use for it. There’s a cemetery by my parents’ house and this other one in Boyle Heights which I think ended up being the photo. These cemeteries in L.A. are big plots of headstones and then beautiful palm trees in a breezy 70 degrees on a sunny ass day and I always felt this deathly paradise when I’m there.
How are you feeling about this album being your big debut?
I feel good! It came about over a couple of years so it’s definitely more of an exploratory process. I’ve worked on it in various places—on tour, here in L.A., there’s some songs I made back in Germany. All these different time capsules have come together. It took a while to reach this point, but I think now it sounds cohesive and I like how the story came together melodically. I’m not such a narrative dude. Making music is as fun as the final product for me.
Death Valley Oasis features artists that you have old and new connections with like Shlohmo, Baths, Deradoorian, and Corbin. What do you look for in a collaborator?
Just someone that I feel like can complement the sound as well as bring something new. With Will [Baths], I’ve always been a fan of his sound and friend of his for a long time since high school. He’s also someone who went to the same school so there’s a lot of this friend network before we even approach working on music together. So that goes a long way for my outside production as well. This Corbin track is one of those songs that we made during the time we were working on his record as well.
You said you were going to be working with more rappers, right? I know you’ve collaborated with Lil Yachty...
Yeah, I’ve worked with Lil Yachty and Tory Lanez in the past. Yung Lean, Adamn Killa, Killavesi… I like the whole spectrum of rappers. Bobby Raps, Antwon… Definitely always making fucking beats too at the same time. I'm not talking about it too much, but I’m planning another project at the end of the year or something that’s more rap focused. So yeah, always cooking that stuff up as well.
Why is the album coming out on Anticon and not WEDIDIT?
It’s all kind of family style. Everything we do is WEDIDIT-related, we put our stamp on it regardless. I signed a deal with Anticon a couple years ago and we decided to put this record out. It took us a little while to reach the finished record state. I’ve been a fan of the sound of Anticon for a long time and Shaun [Koplow] is a good friend so it was the same situation—homie first, business later.
The Corbin album is amazing. Can you tell me more about the experience of working on that with him and Shlohmo on Mourn?
Yeah, so Corbin has been staying here in L.A. on and off for the last year. We made this song all together, “Worn,” that was kind of when we met. Him, Bobby [Raps], and Psymun were here and it felt like we were making songs with people we’d made songs with for years. It was a natural process. I know they hadn’t worked with too many other people and neither had we at the time, but it really made sense. A year later, Corbin’s back here and we work on that song “Worn” and after that we were all kind of like, “Yo, we should just make this kind of vibe as a record.”
It felt really nice and we were listening to a bunch of new wave and ‘80s shit and really gathering a bunch of inspiration all over the field. We were even listening to some techno and filling ourselves with a nice palette that felt different. We didn’t want to make a straight up record at all, we wanted to push our sounds in a new way and make something that is our own capsule. I kind of like working that way where sometimes it might not be the most D33J-ey sounding thing at the end, but when I’m producing for someone else I want to accentuate their vision first and foremost.
Corbin is one of the best singers I’ve ever met and such a talent, it’s a pleasure to work with him. It felt very natural, we would start all the songs with Corbin here in the studio and track them out. We did most of the record here in our studio in L.A. Shlohmo is the guy that I collaborate with the most so it’s very easy for us to start beats together, so working on the Corbin record was super fluid.
And then you’re all touring together this fall too.
Yeah, we’re about to go on tour together in September. It’ll be cool. It’s nice to be able to encapsulate all of those sounds together and bring that kind of show because sometimes I don’t think it doesn’t always line up perfectly with records. This is landing at a special time and I think it just makes a lot of sense.
D33J's debut album 'Death Valley Oasis' is out now.