To those unfamiliar with Detroit’s underground music scene, it may come as a surprise that Jason Hogans is a musician who has been releasing records for nearly two decades. Yet Hogans is an artist and producer who has consistently paved his own unique trajectory, creating diverse and forward-thinking sounds which transcend the confines of many mainstream musical genres. Emerging in 1998 with his groundbreaking debut EP Peter and the Rooster on Carl Craig’s Planet E, Hogans fused elements of jazz, drum and bass and techno in a brilliant display of creativity and experimentalism. His following releases have further exhibited this innovative approach, mainly utilising his :brownstudy alias to explore a multitude of sonic textures and tones on labels such as Third Ear, Exchange Bureau Music and his own Really Nice Recordings. In light of the release of his newest LP The Age of Scrap, we caught up with Jason to speak about the influences which carve out his identity as a Detroit artist.
As an incredibly versatile artist who has always experimented with different sounds and styles, are there any music genres or artists that you could single out as being particularly influential to your music?
A lot of funk, soul and classic R&B. Gospel & black church music. 90's hip hop. Early house and techno. 90's drum & bass. Broken beat. Jazz and fusion stuff from 60's & 70's. Roots reggae, ska, dub and dancehall. Classic and contemporary ambient electronic music. Early dubstep & Southern American rap. Folk music. Indie rock.
Kashif, Earth, Wind & Fire, Clark Sisters, Native Tongues, Juan Atkins, Metalheadz, 4hero, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, A Guy Called Gerald, Photek, U-Roy, King Tubby, Vangelis, Susumu Yokota, Herbie Hancock, Eddie Harris, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Radiohead, Stereolab, Pink Floyd, Slave, Heiroglyphics, Organized Konfusion.
Tell us about how you first developed an interest in making music.
My mom got me into instruments in elementary school starting with violin, then I got into trumpet and other things. My dad used to zone out on the piano and improvise some slow melodic stuff and chords whenever he felt like it. I picked up playing piano by ear from him and my parents got me a little Casio keyboard that was very fun. During middle school years there was lots of good underground hip hop and I would watch tons of music videos and do the dances. I was absorbing lots of the golden era sound. Got into some electronic music in addition to the rap & top 40 & whatever else. Later there was good radio on WDET and with Brave New Waves on CBC. When I graduated high school in 1993 I bought a Boss DR-660 drum machine and from there I just went crazy with beatmaking. I just kept making beats and soon after that I started writing and recording lyrics. I knew before I graduated high school what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, though. Somehow music had already woven itself into my life's fabric.
Your first record, Peter and the Rooster emerged in the late 90s within the electronic music scene of your home town, Detroit. What was it like producing electronic music in Detroit at this time?
I was in my zone, very adventurous. I had few responsibilities and was full of creativity, always in my studio or soaking up vibes at parties and clubs. Networking and having fun. It was a good time for electronic music in Detroit. I had a lot of inspiration from what was happening locally. Lots of active producers, DJs, clubs and record labels & a great underground scene.
How influential are Detroit sounds in your music today? How has the city impacted you as an artist and producer?
Detroit has impacted my art in more ways than I can count. The 80's radio DJs, the slang, all of my friends that I freestyled with in rap ciphers and made early beats with, the Coney Island chili dogs, the pioneering producers, the custom cars with the booming systems, the fistfights, the attitudes and fashions. It all works it's way in there.
As your :brownstudy alias, you have displayed your lyrical prowess with releases such as Tell Me More About Bubbles and Life Well Lived. Aside from your vocals, what would you say are the main differences between the music you make under this moniker and under your own name? Do you define :brownstudy and Jason Hogans as different artists?
The vocals are probably the main difference. With the Jason Hogans stuff I'm thinking about my history in electronic dance music and building on that. I think it's probably more focused in that way. :brownstudy just does whatever :brownstudy wants to do. There's no limits there, really. As soon as I try to put limits, expectations or boundaries on the :brownstudy stuff it just stops working. The colon or those two dots at the front of the name :brownstudy symbolizes the freedom to use whatever styles I want to express myself and communicate. :brownstudy has a fear of being expected to do the same things over and over. He can't work that way for very long at all. :brownstudy is like my artistic pressure valve, especially with vocals. Jason Hogans makes the kind of music you might recognise or identify with if you enjoyed my work in the late 90's, especially the uptempo songs. The Jason Hogans stuff might be more predictable in some ways.
Tell us a little bit about The Age of Scrap. It’s a record which blends an impressive array of musical genres. Could you tell us a little bit about the creative process in which these fusions took place?
I start different songs in different ways. It may have been some classical guitar fingerpicking or piano chords or a drum beat or a sample from a rare jazz tune on YouTube. A couple of tracks I did completely on my iPod Touch with some apps after getting hella depressed and selling too much studio equipment. iOS gave me some creative sparks. I've upgraded my studio since then. I still like my studio small to avoid distraction or overwhelming myself. On this record you're hearing a transition from my old studio setup to what I have now. Older material was done mostly on hardware and newer material was done more in digital audio workstations like Ableton with some additional hardware and acoustic instruments. I like steel string and classical guitar as a contrast to the electronic tones. I did some looped hand percussion with broken ceramic chunks, giant water bottles and strange junk like that. I enjoy listening to lots of different genres and when I work on a song things come through me that I'm not always conscious of. I may finish a song and later think about how the bassline was influenced by how much roots reggae I had been listening to lately. Really I wanted this to be a record that had layers and substance but also makes you wanna dance.
What music influenced you in the making of this record?
Funk, afrobeat, house, techno, soul, disco, future beats, boom bap, broken beat, even some of the trap stuff. Freaky & psychedelic folk music, classic dubstep, free jazz & more. My life has a soundtrack so I'm probably either making music or listening to it. I can isolate particular things I like about a musical style or artist and apply that to my own work if I want, or it may happen accidentally. A rhythmic motif, a synth tone, a tempo, whatever catches my attention and gives me ideas at some point.
The Age of Scrap is being released eighteen years after your debut record. Has your approach to making music changed over this time? How is The Age of Scrap different to your previous releases?
I feel more confident and focused. I feel less affected by worthless pressure from other people and outside forces. I think I know what works for me and why. I've improved my studio workflow while leaving plenty of room for spontaneity. I don't romanticize one type of gear or instrument or process over another. It's about the quality of the idea and the feeling it gives the listener. I wanted people to be able to move to this record and for DJs to play it. My first Jason Hogans record was more of a listening record but I wanted The Age of Scrap to be a body record as well. Bounce to it.
Looking ahead, are there any artists that you would like to collaborate with if you had the chance?
Dego, Theo Parrish, Recloose, Tadd Mullinix, Robert Glasper, Bjork, Kendrick Lamar, Locksmith, Moka Only, Mr. Dibia$e, Kate Tempest, Thundercat, Karriem Riggins and Diane Cluck. That's just a few. Some of those opportunities are closer than others.
Do you have any projects lined up in the near future that you could tell us about?
I linked with a really great Detroit label. Sick, sick beats and possible collaborations. I can't say more than that about it. I am talking with multiple labels but I like working with Third Ear and am crafting new :brownstudy material right now. Free, poetic, melodic stuff. I'm writing lyrics and made some new beats since getting back from my European tour a couple of weeks ago. I plan on returning to Europe & UK in 2017 for shows. Things are definitely moving. Expect another beat tape on reallynicerecordings.com next year.
The Age Of Scrap was released 11 November on Third Ear.
Words: Georgia Tobin