"Both of us just love his work so much," Samo says over the phone from their studio. "We were huge fans, so we were like, at the very least we're gonna just get to meet one of our idols for a couple minutes."
They got much more than a couple of minutes; Kanye sent them home with a handful of songs to play with, and they returned to Kanye's studio the next morning—and everyday thereafter for the next four weeks or so. In the end, they contributed to five songs on The Life of Pablo: "Ultralight Beam," "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1," "Freestyle 4," "Low Lights," and "Fade." "We were like, 'This is so, so surreal, it just keeps going and we keep getting more involved," Samo added.
Below, DJDS speak on getting the call, the notebook, and the first time they heard "Ultralight Beam."
How are you feeling now that your secret is out?
SAMO SOUND BOY: It's been really cool. We worked on [The Life Of Pablo] for three and a half weeks, leading up to when it was released. We definitely got lost working on it, we were there like all day and night. So right now, it feels like we're coming back to reality.
When did you first hear from Kanye and his camp?
SAMO SOUND BOY: Almost exactly four weeks ago. People from his camp reached out to us and then it all kind of happened in one day—seemed really urgent. We drove out and met up with him at his house. He had heard an earlier track we did called "One Who Lost" and he really liked it. We thought that he was gonna ask if he could sample that or something, but he was like, "Can I just block you guys off for the next three or four weeks and you can just like help me get this done?" And we said, "Yeah, absolutely."
Can you say no to Kanye?
JEROME LOL: Definitely not. I don't think anyone can.
What happened after that initial meeting?
SAMO SOUND BOY: He told the engineers to give us the parts for four or five things and was just like, “Do your thing to them.” We later came to learn that he does everything off of instincts, so he doesn't really question much and he doesn't take a long time. Within the first hour of meeting him, he's like, “You guys know what to do, just do your thing.” And we were like, ”How does he know that?”
JEROME LOL: We were like, “We need to validate that.”
SAMO SOUND BOY: That night we drove back to our studio and started working. The next day we brought everything we had worked on all night, and from then on out we worked out of his studio with him and his whole team. Literally, every single day. We went deep into Kanye's world. It was really, really cool. He's awesome.
What did the songs you heard that first day in the studio sound like?
JEROME LOL: It was the core ideas of a lot of the songs, the way you hear them now. But a lot were unstructured and some didn't have lyrics yet.
SAMO SOUND BOY: But we definitely understood, the foundation for the album was there.
JEROME LOL: That's the thing, if something at that stage was just one loop of a sample with some kind of sketch drums under it, even then it was the coolest thing you've ever heard. There wasn't any fluff, even at that unpolished stage.
So, how do you take the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard and make it even better?
SAMO SOUND BOY: That first day, he was just curious to hear his music in a different context. Regardless of whether something is in its final form, he's constantly curious. He has an open mind and he wants to hear things in a different perspective.
JEROME LOL: He spends most of his day listening and asking for the opinions of other people. Whether it’s a song or another idea, he's taking in information and letting that influence what he's putting out.
JEROME LOL: When somebody would play something that was definitely wasn't what he wanted, he'd be like, “Well, we heard it that way so now we know.”
Did Kanye give you any direction?
JEROME LOL: In classic Kanye fashion, he explained things in a very epic way. What he told us—literally—he said: "Think about everything you've ever wanted from music and this album could be that all in one."
A modest request.
SAMO SOUND BOY: That's really the language that he speaks and thinks in.
JEROME LOL: Everything is rooted in such passion. He's so passionate about the music; it matters so deeply to him, and you can see that. It's grand, it's really large ideas, and it's reaching for things that people have never done before sonically.
What was the vibe in the studio like?
JEROME LOL: It's like a theme park. There is so much creative talent, and the energy was really, really high.
SAMO SOUND BOY: There were so many people coming and going—you've seen the notebook, all those people were there, coming to help or visiting or there to listen and give feedback. It was trippy, so many interesting people were stopping by.
And what are all those people doing?
JEROME LOL: [Everybody is working] towards the end goal of the vision being completed. There might be a bunch of people in one room, and we're working in the next room. You have Mike Dean working in another room at the same time. It's this flow of energy that's going on in the studio.
SAMO SOUND BOY: Everything is kind of being worked at all at once all the time.
What is Kanye doing in the midst of all this?
SAMO SOUND BOY: Kanye's running the whole thing. It's pretty amazing, because no matter how many other really serious big time people are there, it's just his thing, he's the boss. It's all going off of what he's putting out there.
What were your days and nights like?
JEROME LOL: Sometimes there were specific tasks that need to be done, and that was one case. But sometimes it was more like experimenting with stuff and seeing what happens. There was a lot of creative freedom and space to work.
SAMO SOUND BOY: For us, it would be like, “Take this and do your thing to it.” Sometimes he would love half of what we did or one tiny thing, and that stays in. Then it keeps going, other people try. Stuff gets worked on over and over.
JEROME LOL: This is cliche, but I had this vision of it being like a snowball. You add something here and it keeps rolling and it keeps building and building. Sometimes things get removed and the snowball gets smaller. It's this ever-changing form and the final form is what sticks in the end. Every sound is scrutinized to the fine detail. He keeps on whittling it down and honing in on what's going to be the very best thing in the end.
Why do you think he picked you two out of all the producers in the world?
JEROME LOL: I think it was the way that we were sampling stuff and the soulful nature of a lot of our stuff, and that it was gonna be in line with what he was trying to do with this album. If he had been working on Yeezus, we probably wouldn't have been the people that he would have reached out to.
What did you take away from your time working on TLOP?
SAMO SOUND BOY: We learned so many techniques, but I also feel like it trained our ear to listen to certain details in music. I listen to music differently after this month. Being so immersed in music and trying to create a vision, it's powerful and it really expanded out minds about music.