Halfway through Stand Up and Speak, the just-announced sophomore full-length by dance music duo DJDS (fka DJ Dodger Stadium) , there’s a short track called “No Guarantees.” It’s a mostly abstract interlude, constructed around a muffled recording of a church choir played in reverse. At 30 seconds, a pretty piano melody comes in, cushioning the warped chants as if they were the the vocals of a stripped-down, sentimental ballad. The whole album is about the weird magnetism of Los Angeles, and a song like “No Guarantees”—unsettling, but beautiful—is meant to convey a sense of unease; you move to L.A. to start over, but maybe it’s not exactly the paradise you imagined.
“We spent a lot of time talking about things like false hope and false promises,” Samo Sound Boy says over Skype from the studio he shares with one-time web artist Jerome LOL, his DJDS bandmate. Both fixtures in L.A.'s eclectic electronic community, the pair are co-founders of Body High, the Los Angeles-based label and merch godsends. “You move to California expecting West Coast promises,” Jerome adds. “But there are no guarantees.”
Like their debut, this new album does its storytelling via numbing repetition, yearning vocal samples, and slow-growing arrangements that seem simple, until they don't. But while Friend of Mine was steeped in sunny loneliness—recorded entirely in one room using countless bargain-bin samples—Stand Up and Speak, out January 29th via Body High and Loma Vista, is about stepping out of your cloistered comfort zone, actively looking for a connection instead of waiting around for something to happen. Below, listen to the album's title track and read an interview with the duo about making the album, Richard Linklater, and more.
Where am I speaking to you from?
SAMO SOUND BOY: Los Angeles. It’s so hot outside, it’s surreal; it feels like there’s gonna be an earthquake or something. This is our main studio room where we make music in. But there’s two other smaller rooms, and this whole thing is our Body High headquarters.
Did you make Stand up and Speak in that room?
SAMO SOUND BOY: No. The first album was made entirely sitting right here, ‘cause it was very sample-based. But with the new one, we wrote it all here, but then we ran all over the place, all over the city, recording different people playing, and different vocalists. A lot of field recordings from all over the place snuck in here and there, too. This one started here but then—
JEROME LOL: —it expanded.
When was this all happening?
SAMO SOUND BOY: Basically, we got started at the start of the year; we got back [from tour] January 1st. It was, like: new year, new us, new album. We were ready to go for something very new for ourselves, and that start-date must’ve somehow played into that. On the first one, we sampled the hell out of everything we could find. When I worked on my solo album, I sampled even more 50-cent records—not like 50 Cent, the artist, but like 50-cent records at Amoeba and stuff. We love that stuff. After we got through both of those things we were still feeling like we had a lot to say, but we had to figure out how to do it in a different way. Instead of focusing on these old records, we wanted to look all over—at friends, and friends of friends—and figure out how we could, in a way, sample our whole life in the city.
JEROME LOL: We kind of jumped into it, but we also really thought about what we wanted to accomplish with it; we didn’t want to tell the exact same story. How could we go beyond this studio? We wrote all of the demos pretty quickly, but in February, we were out meeting with other session players, in other studios. We met a lot of different people around the city—a drummer from the Valley singers from South L.A.—and things got moving pretty quickly from there. By summer, we were in mixing mode. We had a pretty strong work ethic—we were meeting at the studio every single day, which was pretty atypical. In the ten years that I’ve been making music, I’ve been on my couch, in my bedroom. It was always a little here, a little there.
Other than just wanting to be around each other, why do you think your work ethic was so much stronger this time around?
SAMO SOUND BOY: When we get into this mode—instead of this insular, narrow thing like a solo record—it feels like we’re directing a big movie together. We’re this directing team and everything gets really expanded. And it took making the first one to figure it out and find it but that’s why when we started on this one, we just had a much bigger scope of what was possible.
JEROME LOL: It’s a cliche to say that “the music is bigger than just us,” but I think with this project, it really did become that. These songs grew because we thought about them in different ways. In January, Sam would be like, ‘let’s go on a walk around the neighborhood,’ and we would think about the record and talk it almost to death. When we actually started recording, we didn’t have to talk to each other about it.
Do you remember what you talked about on those long walks?
SAMO SOUND BOY: We really looked a lot at the first album, from the way it sounded to what it was about; it was about things that cycle over and over and over, and being trapped in dark situations. We wanted to write the new one about how you break free from that. This one, for us, still really takes place in Los Angeles. And that’s the thing about LA and California: as much as it can be a hypnotic, one-noted melancholy, lonely place, it can also be about breaking free and trying to find more of their own space. It’s the oldest thing in the book about the West Coast: that’s where people go when they’re looking for something.
“Standing up and speaking reflects what we’ve been doing: spending all this time carving out a place within music that isn’t beholden to an energy drink sponsorship.” — Samo Sound Boy
How are your guys studio behaviors different from each other?
SAMO SOUND BOY: It’s funny, I think we don’t even really dive into that out of the fear that we’re gonna jinx something; like if we try to describe it too much, that we’ll lose the touch. I think one thing that goes a long way is how we’re able to look at things and think of things. I think Jerome is way more able to process details than I am. He’s able to look at something from the inside out.
JEROME LOL: And Sam does big picture really well. I would’ve never thought to make an album about something. I would say, ‘Let’s make some music that sounds cool,’ but thinking about music from the outside is something that Sam brings to the table. Thinking about the hypnotic loneliness of Los Angeles for the first records was not something I had even thought of. With film you have a camera, actors, a script. With music, there’s just sound—this intangible thing that you can use it in a song. There’s no script, it’s completely abstract. When you have some sort of guideline, or story that you’re trying to tell, things click and become more powerful.
You mentioned that Stand Up and Speak felt like a movie you were co-directing. Did you draw inspiration from actual films?
SAMO SOUND BOY: Our environment is our number-one reference, then movies. I dunno if there’re specific titles, but there are different directors that we admire. In some ways, we’ll try to produce in a Terrence Malick-like way, but then other time we’re trying produce like Richard Linklater. We’re pretty focused on being able to tell human stories and have the music sound human. I think that’s something we always talked about with [Linklater’s] stuff; it’s never big Hallmark moments—Boyhood is a good example, because it’s not the prom night or the wedding day, it’s the in-between moments; little tiny details where the most pivotal things happen in a life and in a story.
JEROME LOL: His usage of time —thinking of a story over the course of multiple projects—is fascinating. Seeing Ethan Hawke grow through the Before Sunrise movies. The first DJDS album—that’s one chapter. What’s the next album gonna be? And what’s the next album after that? They’re not concept albums, per se, but there’s something in the album format still that allows you to tell a story. You can’t tell a story with an EP.
I feel like the title of the record, without context, has an almost activist bent to it. Was that intentional?
JEROME LOL: It’s an action. It’s telling you to stand up and speak. You can’t change anything without action, and that concept was interesting to me. This process of making an album is a process of standing up and speaking, also. I read that and feel a feeling of inclusion. If you’re told to “stand up and speak” by someone, it usually means that you belong. There’s not necessarily one way to read it.
SAMO SOUND BOY: Hopefully it’ll mean something to the listeners. But to us, standing up and speaking reflects what we’ve been doing: spending all this time carving out this place within music that isn’t beholden to an energy drink sponsorship. It’s our own place, but it took, and takes, a lot of action. Instead of looking for a cosign or someone to put us on, just being like, ‘we’re just gonna do that for each other and for our friends,’—and that’s it.
How do you think the general music climate of L.A. has shaped the record, in good or bad ways?
SAMO SOUND BOY: There’s a huge warehouse scene in L.A. but it’s not only for techno or house or Body High; there are kids having punk shows in warehouses, using the spaces as art galleries and theaters. For our scene, in general, it all happens in those warehouses because the clubs here are so terrible, built around this Vegas, bottle-service mentality. There isn’t a lot of room for experimentation in that sphere. People had to find their own space. In a weird way that seems like a Stand Up And Speak moment.
LOL: The beautiful thing about that is that there’s no one telling you what to do when you go to a warehouse party; you have control over the lights, the amount of fog, what kind of drinks are being sold, the prices. It was cool. We were deciding those things and creating our own universe for the night, and people come as themselves. We’re able to actually make a statement.
So are you ever concerned—in those settings or elsewhere—that people will experience the songs at more of a face value, like it's just party music, without appreciating the emotional nuances that you guys worked so hard on?
SAMO SOUND BOY: People can hear it and do whatever they wanna do with it. We make it from a certain place, but at the end of the day, it’s for everybody. That’s been our stance with our music. We want more people to hear it and react however they want. It’s cool to think that it all comes from a tiny room and then is maybe played in a warehouse in LA and then goes somewhere further than that. Once you let it go, it’s for everybody.
Where do you see all this going?
JEROME LOL: We’ve both seen dance music change a lot. We got into the scene when mash-ups were a big thing, and seeing it how it grew and peaked and valleyed in that time; we’d seen it from afar without being tied to a scene. We have created our own path and lane, and we created Body High. We wanna be able to tell stories with people, because that's what we’ve found challenging, rewarding, and exciting about all of this.
SAMO SOUND BOY: Body High feels like an independent film company, or something. We’re looking for people directing their own movies through their albums. As DJDS, that’s what we’re gonna keep doing. We’re already working on the third album. Hopefully the earthquake doesn’t come, and we get to put that out.