Interview with Jex Opolis

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Good Timin’ boss, Jex Opolis, has a lot of stories to tell. Talented musician. True hero for us. Good vibes are back.

You just released Right Beside You single in a collaboration with Roberto. Tell about the process. Was it the first time for you singing?

Yes finally got this out after a bit of a wait. In music, everything is timing, and I wanted to get this thing out for the summer season. Roberto and I recorded it about two years ago in fact. The song started as a demo I did, but it was just a pretty cheesy house track. It was like, handbag house or whatever. So I sent it to Roberto who added a new arrangement, tougher drums from his MPC60, a beefed up bassline from his M1 and those fancy conga slaps that give the track it’s groove.

As for vocals, I used to sing in bands and stuff, but with the newer stuff, I’m a bit shy about my own voice. In fact, if you’re not shy about your voice, you’re probably a psychopath!

Anyway, I have a nice pre amp (UA 610) and I find that layering my own voice and doing harmonies makes me a little more comfortable with hearing myself on a track. Just don’t expect any soulful screaming house vocals from me… yet haha.

Do you like when someone calling your music «house»? What do you think about classic house music from today’s point of view?

These new tracks are definitely house. I love house! I’ve been a house head since early 2000s, when I found myself in a basement rave in Toronto haha. True, a lot of the stuff on my label is slower, more atmospheric, but I’ve been making house tracks since 2000 when I got my first SU700. I made a ketamine-inspired house cassette on that thing, which I wish I could find today (Actually, the track «Studio E» was on that cassette so it lives on in a way!)

I still buy and play a lot of old house records these days. I go through hundreds of records every month at NYC’s best shops Superior Elevation and A1.

I think it’s funnier when the Good Timin’ stuff automatically gets called «funk» or «balearic» even if it’s a 120 BPM house track! I understand that the shops have to categorize artists, but like, sort it out mate!

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You were born and spent the most of your life in Canada — tell us about your time there, about country in general (cause it’s a very far and special place, not so many info about it floating around)

I was born in a town called Ft. McMurray, but I grew up around Edmonton. It’s a really beautiful place. Built around a deep river valley which is dark green in the summer and blistering white in the winter. Edmonton is famous for hockey but it also has a cultural side to it: There’s a big university, lots of bands, artists and a strong community of creative people. There are a bunch of pretty famous musicians coming out of Edmonton these days: Mac DeMarco, TOPS, Cadence Weapon, Sean Nicholas Savage, Khotin. So much talent in Edmonton in previous years was stunted by it’s geographic isolation, but the internet is changing all that.

Anyway, my dad’s side is Metis, so we did lots super Canadian cultural things in the wilderness as kids: hunting, fishing, camping, picking berries and so on. Meanwhile, my mom’s side is pure WASP British, so we learned table manners, the piano, church verses… So I’m somewhere in the middle: part white boy and part native explorer haha.

But it was a great place as a kid. I moved to Toronto in my 20s and to NYC in my 30s. Sometimes I’ll be sweating in a crowded restaurant in the East Village full of annoying people talking about their startups or their Tinder dates and think «Jesus Fucking Christ get me out of here and into the woods of Canada!!!»

How long you are making music?

I’ve been making music for 22 or 23 years. I started playing piano at 6 and picked up drums and guitar at 13 or so. My brother and me had a band with our cousins from ages 14-24. I started to get more into electronic music in my late teens and early 20s, but it was so hard to make it because the gear was so expensive! I just always loved music and making music. I mostly just listen to my own stuff, even today haha. Having a laptop which sounds amazing is a dream come true for me after years of bad reel-to-reels, 4-tracks, mini-disc recorders and so on.

Who’s responsible for the Good Timin’ design? It’s very good, very clean

Thanks! My wife and I work on it together. We sort of «re-branded» for the new Conga Radio release, just to «freshen it up» a bit. I also changed up the distro to make the records a bit cheaper in the EU and to reach more people, so figured it would be a good time to try out a slightly new look. The look of the label is just about keeping it simple and doing my own thing. But maybe I should start putting, like, Mickey Mouse cartoon hands on the labels and funny little faces, or rip off Sex Tags like everyone else!

Do you like working with Bandcamp? Is it enough clear scheme to sell music?

Having the ability to control everything with Good Timin’ has been amazing! Bandcamp does allow the artists to make money, which is so important. I love getting the little emails saying «This guy bought your WAV». Especially when you are DJing somewhere at 3AM in NYC and people are requesting Drake and the party isn’t going well, it’s reassuring to check your iPhone get one of those little emails saying that someone from Burma bought your MP3.

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I feel minimalism and clearance in your music (in a good way). It really reminds me Todd Terje (also because you both are into melodic stuff). You are adding just basic elements you need. The opposite is raw sound, mix of atmospheres, background noises and whole chaos. Why did you choose this clarity?

As I mentioned before, I grew up in a time when hi-fi just wasn’t really possible: I had four-tracks and digital recorders and reel-to-reels and we even used ghetto blasters to record. So for me, having the ability to make hi-fi cheaply and easily is an amazing gift. Also, playing in bands really forces you to work on arrangements that work in a real, three-dimensional room: The drums have a role, the guitars and bass have to mesh with each other, the vocals have to pop out above it all—so that’s the approach I take when making a track. I don’t like to rely on production tricks or samples to keep the listener’s attention. (As an aside, for a white producer to sample a black voice talking about life in the ghetto or something just seems so disrespectful… sample your own mom, buddy!). Anyway, I try to balance the «in the box» sound with a setup that’s mostly outboard. Pretty much everything is a synth or drum machine that goes through a pre-amp or an outboard compressor (like the DBX 163x). Thanks for the Todd Terje comparison by the way, I think he’s a great musician and producer. I took about five years off club music and just did AOR/rock and it was Terje’s stuff that slowly got me back onto the dance floor.

I do love your EP on Running Back. Can you tell a bit about the process of making it? What is the difference in the process, approach, instruments between Jex and Jex Opolis? Do you have plans for more Jex releases? :)

When my first release came out, Gerd Janson was on the top of the list of people I wanted to send it to. I find that’s a great way to make an introduction: Send someone a record! He said he liked it and I met him in person a few times, so started sending him unreleased tracks. I had one («Studio E») which I thought was a bit too heavy for Good Timin’, so I sent it to him. He messaged me a while later and said he played it at Trouw, where it was «very effective» haha. Anyway, that track was from 2001 and had been dying for a proper release. In fact, Studio E was a loft space in Edmonton where my friends Wijit (John Huck) and Bolide (Chris Waterton) used to throw parties. Some other people like Sneak Thief (now in Berlin) used to play there as well. The other tracks came together later and Gerd just A&R’d the ones he liked! It’s a pretty good balance of styles, with something for (almost) everyone. All the tracks feature Juno 106 and TX7, with «Laxmi Tool» focusing on an Indian Drum my wife’s gramma bought in Pune, India. I am planning another JEX release, which should be out on Good Timin’ soon. JEX is just meant to be a bit more club focused, and initially I was concerned the tracks were too heavy. But I really believe people are open minded these days: People like Japanese boogie, techno, reggae, deep house, breakbeats, etc.

How was your EU tour? Some highlights? Were you DJing or playing live?

The tour was really excellent, if maybe about a week too long ha ha. I was only DJing on this trip. I was in Europe last year as well, but this trip had a more professional vibe to it and the money was a little better, which always helps. I had a really great time in Croatia and played with Apiento and Suzanne Kraft for some sunrise Test Pressing beach sessions. Paris, where my friend Xavier «Le Hustler» puts on a great party, was really excellent. His party is called «Warmup,» and the idea is that the guest gets to open the party. So I got to start at 100 bpm and slowly work it up. Was a great thing, especially since touring DJs generally only have two hours to bang it out at peak time!

What’s interesting for you today in music ocean around as a DJ?

Balancing the old and the new: A lot of DJing now is just playing reissues or old «digs» on a rotary mixer or whatever. That’s all well and good, but I think it’s important for DJs to play new stuff as well! How are we supposed to support new talent if we only play 30-year-old disco reissues? On that note, kids: If it’s reissued, remember that everyone else has it, so your sets won’t stand out if you play the same music as everyone else! But honestly, most of the time, I’m just scrambling in the booth trying to figure out a song to play that won’t clear the room! Usually I just play Matsubara’s «SOS» and hope for the best.

Can you tell how the music is born?

The main thing for me is the find some kind of melodic element in a track. Some people work off grooves or samples, but for me, finding a nice chord structure is always the first step. I think this is why I’ve worked so well with Roberto on our Conga Radio stuff: I just play some chords and he has a great handle on grooves and drums, so it’s a really good combo. For my solo stuff, finding the bass line is always the hardest part: Do we go with a boogie-influenced, sharp sound with hi-end? Or do we do a housier bass, with a round, deep bottom end? Or do we take it into electro/italo territory with a staccato thing? It’s tough to make it work sometimes!

What are you working on right now? And what’s next?

I have a bunch of EPs lined up for Good Timin’ and also a full-length LP in the works. It’s a nine-track affair, with more melodic and atmospheric stuff on it. I hope to get that out in the New Year. Most of it is finished already, and I had access to a pretty famous studio in NYC, so the finished product should sound pretty cool, I hope!!

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Cover illustration Sasha Tessio
Words Sasha Tessio