(I was really lucky to be given this opportunity. The DJs are getting younger and younger, with the talent continuing to skyrocket. A friend hooked me up with this shooting star coming out of PA. A progressive gem, this kid has tunes that are going to find ways into your ears at festivals soon enough. Just like Seven Lions, you heard it here first. Check out my conversation with Steve James below.)
1. What are your friends listening to these days? What is it like being a DJ in high school?
Haha, starting off strong! It’s definitely an interesting dynamic, that’s for sure. My area is fairly dominated by top 40 music, plus some country and hip hop. My friends are well aware of what I do, and a lot of them have grown to appreciate EDM – and have been super supportive – but in the end I don’t think too many are listening to much dance music outside of Steve James, truthfully. Being a DJ in high school has certainly been interesting though. I actually DJ’d my high school’s homecoming dance before I was old enough to attend. I did last year’s as well (with my homemade booth!), and the seniors loved it, but most of the underclassman didn’t appreciate all the EDM. I actually was unanimously voted out of this coming years, haha! No requests + no country + no hip hop will do that for you around here, I suppose.
2. What kind of music theory & piano training have you had? Are you planning on studying music/production after you graduate High School?
My musical background is primarily in piano. I’ve taken lessons for as long as I can remember from a close family friend. I still see him often, and even though he’s 100% classically trained, he’s grown to enjoy a lot of the stuff I show him – especially music by artists like Zedd, who use such complex writing. He’s even helped me several times by rounding out a chord progression or livening up something with some more suspensions or accidentals. I dabbled in viola for 4 years as well, but I feel like almost everything I draw from was part of my classical piano training. As for my plans with school, that’s something I’m not really concerned with yet. I started school late, so I’m a 16-year-old going into sophomore year of high school – the oldest of 120-some kids in my class. I’ll be 18 before I finish junior year. With the résumé I’m building and keeping my grades up, I know there will be options, but in a perfect world I won’t need further education if I keep working hard the next 2-3 years.
3. How did you find your signature euphoric & progressive sound? Was there an “aha” moment or has it been a gradual process since you started producing?
I think I was just talking about this with my manager the other day. Progressive (and by that I mean not big room drops) has always been present in my music. I struggled in the beginning to write music that didn’t sound “cheesy,” but one day when I asked about it on a forum, someone replied something to the tune of, “Dude, if you’re inspired by Avicii and Alesso and Syn Cole, that stuff IS cheesy!” and that always sort of stuck with me. You could say I embraced the cheese, haha.
Even when I was trying to write big room drops, I always enjoyed the chord writing and melodies in the break way more than the drop. That said, getting the right balance of bass/chords/leads in progressive music was one of the hardest things I’ve ever committed to figuring out. It was hard, but I personally saw big room as the easy way out. On top of that, it’s such a saturated genre. I felt like there was so much more room in the uplifting yet hard-hitting progressive genre. I know I’ve bordered progressive trance, and indie dance, and done some more interesting twists and twirls, but I think I’m still trying to flex my versatility and see where things go while I keep learning and progressing.
4. Lots of people have remixed All Of Me by John Legend and yours is a killer anthem. Why did you pick that song, and have you gotten any support/feedback on it?
Haha, it’s not as exciting as you may think. At the time, I was following Jay Cao, chief editor of EDMTunes, on Twitter, and he had mentioned to me he was interested in taking his contacts into the management game (He did, and he now manages some tool named Steve James). He tweeted something like, “I wish more people would remix All of Me.” I read it, listened to about 30 seconds of the track (since I had never heard it), and downloaded it to start working on it that night. As, for feedback, I remember him really digging the concept while I was working on it, and I know the finished product is still his favorite. I know a lot of my friends really liked it since it was a top 40 track that they already knew. A lot of them actually were instrumental in getting it to #1 on Hype Machine; hearting and tweeting it at lunch for me, haha. There was one girl, though, who must have seen all my friends retweet it, and I don’t think she ever realized who I actually was during our exchange (lolworthy tweet here)
Overall though, I only give internet feedback so much weight. I know personally that most positive feedback gets posted, and not as much negative feedback makes it out of peoples’ heads. I’m sure plenty of people hated it; I know plenty of people loved it. At the end of the day, it was statistically my most successful track and I learned a ton from it. And I hope when I revisit that progressive trance stage (Just did! – Never Alone) I can make it even more explosive.
5. Who are the artists that inspired you to get into producing? Are there any artists or acts right now that you’re really into?
The general reason I got into producing was because I hate digging for music. There wasn’t enough of what I liked. So I figured, “Why not make it myself?” I really got started just trying to make things like Avicii, Afrojack, Sander Van Doorn – guys like that who were doing big stuff in 2010-2011, or at least in the circles I was getting into. Of all of my influences, Avicii was definitely the artist-catalyst of my production. His Ultra set from 2010 is both a set model and musical model for how I still am trying to do things today. I was lucky enough to see him twice in 2012, and those were really the moments that were a big enough kick in the ass to commit to this and take it beyond a hobby.The exciting thing is that one of my upcoming tracks is very Avicii-sounding, but with a clear Steve James twist. I never would have thought I could compare my own stuff to him, so it’s been amazing to play it for people and hear them make the unsolicited comparison.
As for what I’m into right now, it’s really varied. I have a pretty eclectic taste—or at least I think so. I don’t think anyone is creatively killing it like Elephante is right now, I could listen to his stuff all day. I’m hitting the studio with him in July, and I am dying to see how his mind churns this stuff out. It’s hard for me to get into a single artist since I have such a picky taste, especially in the progressive game. Outside of that though, things really open up.
I’ve been listening to a ton of Kygo by the pool, and Gryffin or ZHU for an even deeper spin on things. I’m definitely embracing the rise of future house, there’s no doubt about that. I’m a big believer of the old school album format, and I think Deadmau5’s new one is an absolute masterpiece: It’s a journey, just like it should be. Other favorites are Random Access Memories and Pretty Lights’ A Color Map of the Sun – I have both on vinyl and enjoy them regularly. One thing I’ve admired are the artists who I feel like I can connect with. People hate deadmau5 for the stuff he pulls, but at the end of the day, I feel like I know that guy, and his music is some of the most intricate-sounding stuff I’ve ever heard. An even better example for me is Kasakde. As someone who can shed a tear just writing my music, I love how raw, real, and emotional that guy is. I hope that one day, people can feel my music and my excitement the way I feel that from him.
6. What are your plans for the summer? Upcoming releases?
I have sooo much planned. Jay has been a boss getting together a lot of great opportunities for me. That’s why I haven’t hesitated to call this the “Summer of Steve James.” Each release is bigger than the last, and I’m hoping to end the summer with as big of a bang as possible. The only name I’ve thrown around so far is my upcoming tyDi remix. My good friend Sauniks dropped it in his June mix, and you may hear it in any upcoming mixes or performances I do as well.
I’m still focused on the writing right now, but live shows are definitely in the works as well. I am so proud of the library I’ve been building, and I’m dying to get out there and share all this stuff. Something you’ll always be able to expect from me is constant ID’s and lots of suspense. I love when tracks market themselves, and I’m definitely going to continue to tease unreleased stuff throughout my career. That said, I’m hoping to be dropping a mix in July just to get some stuff out there, so you’re not going to want to miss that.
7. What does EDM sound like outside of the big cities? Is dance music accepted where you are? Are DJs able to find work? What do they spin?
Truthfully, I think it’s still on the fringe. I think it’s accepted, sure, but my friends aren’t necessarily digging for it, or delving any deeper than what I’m showing them, or what makes the radio. I feel like a lot of kids love the ideas of the festivals and the live shows, but I still feel like that’s just because the EDM community knows how to throw a good party. At the end of the day, though, EDM probably doesn’t even crack the top 5 genres of most people in my area, which I think is kind of a shame.
With the DJ’s, I have to say I don’t even know that many. I mean, my town doesn’t have a single club in it, or hardly even a concert venue at that. I’m 2 hours away from the nearest CDJ’s in Pittsburgh. High school parties are basically the nightlife for me, and they’re definitely not hiring a DJ. Kids are putting on top 40 Pandora, or country by the fire, or hip-hop for dancing. Our biggest DJ is Dancin’ Dan the wedding DJ — that’s where I’m coming from.
8. What was it like making the mix for the radio station out of Alabama? Any plans for another longer form set?
That was super enjoyable. As I mention in it, I don’t get to play out at all yet, so sharing what I’m jamming too is always enjoyable, and mixes are a great way to do it. I’m hoping to drop a 1 hour mix in July. It’s already done, we’re just trying to figure out what context it will be released in. I really am excited for it though, because the full hour is going to give you the perfect idea for what a live Steve James set would actually sound like. It also has some unreleased stuff in it, which is always exciting as well.
9. Who would you open for if you had your choice? And, what stage, festival, club or event would you like to perform at, if you could wave a magic wand and be on the bill?
Sheesh, there are so many guys I’d love to see perform, or get the crowd ready for them, it’s hard to just pick a few. It’s so ironic that you ask this, because I just got news today I’ll be opening for someone I’ve been dying to share the booth with for months. There’s still some things left to finalize since the club in Pittsburgh may no longer have the lease on their building – oops – so I’m not going to name drop, but if this all pans out, it will be a night to remember, that’s for sure.
Venue wise, I got into EDM through listening to Ultra sets. My brother traveled to Miami and came home listening to them, and that was really the first step for me into this community. Fittingly, my dream is to play Ultra, but my goal is to headline it. Other festivals are great, but for me, Ultra has such a comfortable feeling for me, and if you check out who currently headlines the festival, it’s clear what needs to be done. And until then, it’s a grind—though a magic wand I could wave would be sick, haha!
10. If you couldn’t spin Progressive or House, are there any other genres of dance music you like that you’d explore if you had the chance?
That would actually be a ton of fun. Don’t be surprised if something like that ever pops up from me. We already have ideas on the table for down the road. But genre wise, I’m so into the current future/melodic/deep house scene, whatever genre it is. If I could drop a set of all Gryffin, ZHU, the Magician, etc. I would enjoy the hell out of it. I hope I get to experiment more with that genre down the road—and play some of it live. I was lucky enough to meet Gryffin in NYC, and I can already see myself using some more house techniques in my productions. Hopefully you get to hear some of that soon!