With NorCal Junkie having new music out this week on ICONYC we catch up with him for the latest episode of 12 Questions.
1. How old are you, where are you living and how long have you been producing and Djing?
Hi guys, I am 30 years old and I’m currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. I started dabbling in electronic music production in late 2010 towards the end of my senior year in college. But my DJing career began in 2007 at fraternity and house parties in Central California where I went to college.
2. Where do your musical roots lie, what are your first memories of electronic music and when did you know you wanted to pursue it seriously? Are there any particular productions or artists from the past that really made you think to yourself ‘this is what I want to do.”
I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon where I spent my early to mid-teen years recording in the rock genre. I was a lead guitarist in a band dubbed Post Mortem at the time. But the very first time I was introduced to electronic music was in the early 90s. One of my uncles who was living in Toronto brought with him a cassette of MCMXC a.D. which is the first studio album by Enigma. It’s a life changing album that I was exposed to and it derailed me. I recall us blasting this album out in a two door 328i stick shift gem doing 120 at the drops. They were just great moments and memories that I hold onto. Another memory worth mentioning was when I asked my parents for 20$ to buy a used ‘The Fat of the land’ CD from a friend in high school. Most of the tracks on that album are all time classics that defined dance music in its entirety.
When I moved to the Bay Area in 2004 a cousin of mine owned a lounge in San Francisco called BamBuddha. Although underage, I had my ways to sneak in from the back door and party it up with those guys. She was a house head and was constantly booking local and international DJs with the likes of Behrooz, Doc Martin, Louie Vega and Miguel Migs that would come in and rock the house till the AM. At that point in life, I had started transitioning into the deep house, tech house and progressive genre. I bought a used pair of MK1 CDJs and a technics turntable that I still own and taught myself how to mix by listening to live sets and radio shows, figuring out track-lists, burning tracks on CDs and just kept on mixing until the transitions and EQing sounded just as good as the live recording. I think this is a great tip for young DJs who are eager to learn how to mix properly and have a solid grasp of its fundamentals. I have never used a laptop and never will. I recall a couple of years back being booked to play in Rijeka Croatia and when I found out that I was going to be using traktor, all hell broke loose.
3. How difficult was learning to produce for you in the beginning? Did you take any Audio Engineering programs or production courses to help you out or are you pretty much self taught? And did anyone give any advice early on that really helped?
It took me a few good years to get to where I am today. Now, I look back and listen to some of the tracks I have released and go ‘Oh man this sounds horrible!!’ but it’s a part of the journey and most producers I have talked to go through similar experiences. But I have gotten to a point in my production career where I daresay that I have managed to garner some incredibly validating experiences that have shaped my sound along the way.
I have collaborated with several producers over the years (Bob Zopp, Groven, Haroun Omar, Jay flora) and it’s something that I love doing. I am constantly on the reach out to work with new people and that trend will never stop. All the guys I have worked with have become good friends and we keep in touch on a regular basis.
One thing that’s always been in the back of my mind and would like to achieve one day is getting an audio engineering degree at the SAE Institute in San Francisco. I’ve just become a father a few months ago and the juggle between paternity, work and everyday life challenges keep me overly busy and not ready to have a go at it just yet.
4. What parts of the production process do you find the most difficult and what comes easiest for you? When you do hit a creative block what helps you through it?
I sometimes tend to stall on finding the perfect synth sound that would serve the mix. When I hit a road block and frustration starts building up I refer to the sound library packs that I have gathered over the years and just flicker through the loop sounds and melodies as the track plays out until I latch on something that fits in the mix. I chop off a sample or just extract a chord or stab sound or whatever element that might compliment the mix and then I’d just fold back to programming the remaining elements and gear up for the arrangement. Building the drums has always been the easiest part for me but then I stumble on finding a good bass line that would sit well with the kick drum. Lots of iterations come into play until I am satisfied with the drums and bass stems.
5. You previously recorded under the alias Naz for many years, with releases on Clinique Recordings, Soundteller Records, Stellar Fountain and more. What prompted the new artist name and how does it differ from what you’ve done in the past?
I wanted to explore new horizons and dedicate new material to the NorCal Junkie Alias. Its aim is to craft music that fall under that melodic techno and melodic house genre. The Naz alias will be kept alive and will be used in future collaborations and reworks.
6. You have a new single out this week on ICONYC. Tell us how you approached working on the track, the thought process behind the remixer selection and what’s coming later this year from you?
To be honest, I have been hooked on Brendan Gregoriy’s (aka Chymera) storming material. I believe he’s a very talented DJ and Producer and some of the tricks I implemented in Regulus were picked up by watching him program the delayed lead on the Nord Rack for Moot Point which is a beautifully crafted stormer.
This is second time I work with both Marin Roncevic (Aka Verche) and Cristian Ramirez (Aka Cristian R) and It’s been a real pleasure working with the likes of them; I absolutely love what they do. Hernan Cattaneo played both remixes on Resident and they picked up massive support. The Gaya remix by Verche is one of my all-time favorites. But to see guys like Hernan, Nick warren and many more world renowned DJs play and chart originals and remixes for NAZ / Norcal Junkie just brings so much joy and validation for what I do.
By the way, we have got a second release for ‘Regulus’ that’s coming out over the summer on HYDROGEN and none other than Ryan Dennis (Aka MNR) on remixing duties. I think this is the fifth time that Ryan has remixed my tracks. He just never lets me down and I just love his touch. I would like to thank John Johnson for making that second release possible.
7. Apart from electronic music what other genres do you listen to and who are your favourite artists outside of electronic? and do these genres or artists have a direct effect on your own productions?
I am still somewhat a dedicated Rock & Roller. I try to stay au courant with my favorite bands like Metallica, Manowar, Guns & Roses and every now and then I just dust off the Les Paul and start strummin’. Although my fingers have become fairly rusty and a long ways from shredding cleanly, I still get a kick out of playing without minding the slop.
8. What was the first and last physical (CD, Vinyl, Cassette etc) piece of music you bought?
I think the last Vinyl I bought was a record called DIBIZA by Danny Tenaglia. I was strolling down on Haight Street in San Fran and stumbled across a record store that had a pretty nice old school and underground house music vinyl collection.
9. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people?
I fought on the Lebanese Taekwondo national team for three consecutive years between 2001 and 2004. I have participated in a couple of world championships (France 2002, Germany 2003) and I have got a handful of medals and rewards that I am proud of that were obtained in Europe, the middle east and Asia.
10. What’s a normal day like for you? Do you have a job outside of electronic music? And what do you like to do when you’re not working on music?
I work as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley. I work on consumer electronics products. I enjoy what I do and the best thing about it all is that I’ve got a bench in the lab where, when I have time, I get to fiddle with music related projects, build my own synth (on-going) and maintain my studio monitors and rigs.
If not at work or in the studio I’d be with my wife and my son out in the park or hanging out at home watching a movie or somethin’. I love playing Basketball so I try to get out and play every now and then just to talk smack and get on people’s nerve… haha.
11. There are countless producers out there trying to find their way and create their own unique sound, what advice do you have for them?
Don’t Rush at pushing records out, I look back and ask myself why did I even send those demos over to label managers? Take your time, stick to one DAW and master it. No need to buy a ton of libraries and VSTs. As a matter of fact, it will create more confusion and frustration that would most likely lead you nowhere. I have been there and it’s ugly. Some of the best tracks out there were made with built-in Synths and sound libraries.
12. If the final DJ/live set of your career was next week what would your last track be?
I honestly drew a blank at this question. There are a handful of tracks that I could bring up in here but if I had to choose a mix to seal my musical career with, it would have to be Jon Hopkins’ Light Thru The Veins (Ewan Pearson’s Downtown Lights Remix) because it just takes me on an emotional roller coaster ride. One minute I’d be making twisted facial expressions, the next, I’d be misty eyed.
I would like to thank Change Underground and Mitch Alexander in particular for the interview and for all the work he’s done over the years for the underground music community.
‘Regulus’ is out now on ICONYC, you can purchase the release: here