They say that you shouldn’t go into business with family members or friends because at the slightest wrong turn, your business dealings could swerve off of the cliff and your friendship with it. Although statistically correct, that’s not the case with my next guest in the At Home – Creative Isolation series who I’ve worked with on a number of projects and have built a strong foundation with not only as friends but as brothers. Maybe it’s because we see eye to eye on so many things or because we’re both workaholics who wear multiple hats so the birds of a feather rule applies. Regardless of what it is, there’s no denying that Philly’s DJ Junior of Record Breakin’ Music and Eaves Drop Radio, husband, father and Professor (oh I’m sorry, Doctor) has a full plate that he has to organize on a daily basis so how does he do it all? Well let’s find out since he took time out of his busy schedule to sit down and chat with us during the world wide pandemic.
Skeme – As a record label owner, you rely on artists to submit projects as well as pressing plants to manufacture those projects, how are you dealing businesses being shut and artists not being able to work with band members to make music?
Junior – For the most part, many of the artist I work with are solo artist. The only bands on the label right now are Record Breakin’ Ensemble, Columbia Nights and Helsinki Headnod Convention. Solo artist and bands on the label have always been able to collaborate through various methods of technology. Everyone is at different points in the creative process. Some have recorded sessions from before the quarantine and are editing and mixing. Others have been individually recording sessions and then sharing amongst other musicians, vocalist, producers and engineers.
When the pandemic initially hit us on the East Coast, pressing plants that I use did bring their production lines to a halt did mess up our release schedule a bit. There were some releases that I’ve been waiting on a test pressing or the final product. Luckily, I was able to grease some palms and a special “vinyl only” release I’m doing is in the process of getting pressed. Nevertheless, since life and the music business can be so unpredictable, being able to pivot is so important. We’ve been focusing on upcoming digital releases, passive income and branding. Nothing new here really, but a refocus of these aspects of the business was warranted in these unprecedented times. All three areas will continue to sustain Record Breakin’ Music in different ways.
Skeme – Do you have a specific place at home where you work or spend most of your day?
Junior – Yeah, my studio office is where I spend the bulk of my time. It’s nothing fancy but I’m able to perform various task within the space and not feel cramped. The room is surrounded by audio and visual inspiration that usually keeps me stimulated and comfortable. I have always appreciated this work space but now, more than ever, I realized how critical these aesthetics have been for my mental health and productivity. I have also been spending more time outside in the backyard. I’d say my hammock is my favorite place for fresh air and reflection.
Skeme – Now that you’re not leaving the house as much, do you find yourself caring less with getting dressed or do you still have a routine that keeps you balanced?
Junior – Nah, I keep the routine pretty close to what I was doing before. I have found that mentally it keeps me in that work state of mind. When I’m going to do yard work I dress accordingly so I try to treat work with the same mindset. Don’t get me wrong, there is no formal dress code but you should try and make the effort, right?
Skeme – Not only are you a label owner but you’re also a DJ, what’s inspiring you at the moment to stay creative and productive so that when this period of isolation is over, you can set right back in and keep it moving?
Junior – Studying music, practicing, upgrading and organizing have been my approach to this new normal. I’ve been discovering and revisiting music across different genres. Either for Eavesdrop Radio (which me and lil’ dave have kept doing each week remotely) or for my own musical education. I’ve also been consuming much more about music via, liner notes, articles, books and documentaries. In terms of practice. It just makes sense. “I mean where talking about practice…not a game…practice…” I usually didn’t make as much time for practice as I should have but making a way feels good…especially with new equipment. Which leads to the next point, upgrading. I’ve been upgrading some of the equipment (analog and digital) to create a more cohesive flow to how I interplay with music. Finally, organizing! I like to switch up the configuration of my space every once in a while. I am currently rearranging and purging. Think of that scene from the movie High Fidelity, when John Cusack’s character is reorganizing this records. I do that every once in a while with equipment, artwork and especially records. This process always helps keep those creative juices flowing?
Skeme – What does that average day for you look like right now?
Junior – Ha ha, well I have a 5-year-old (shout out to Jr. Jr.) so flexibility is a necessary skillset in this household. Yeah, I haven’t ventured too far from my routine of work and play. It just looks a bit different. Morning rituals consisting of yoga, getting dressed, breakfast, meditation and home schooling Jr. Jr. usually sets the tone of the day. It’s the rest of the day that really fluctuates. I mean, have work days seemed to run much longer, or is it just me? I think it is partially due my own work tasks and the ability to collaborate with other’s schedules that has just been all over the place. My work duties haven’t changed much but at times it feels like I’m doing ten times the amount of work than I normally do. I also find myself breaking up the day to get some fresh air. Playing soccer in the backyard with Jr. Jr., riding bikes and neighborhood walks all while practicing physical distancing have been great mental breaks.
I try my best to be present with my family in general but have done much more, especially during this time. It’s important for me to set parameters around my work schedule. If not, my work day turns into a ridiculously long day. From Zoom calls to nonstop emails, having the ability to function at a high level when you are already emotionally and physically exhausted can be challenging. So I try to spend the second part of my day doing a variety of things like, reading and making art with Jr. Jr., family time in the backyard, and watching a movie with my wife for date nights to name a few. We also have themed music for different days of the week. Depending on the day, our home can sound like a deep dive into a jazz archive, a Brazilian soundscape, a loud family sing along or a compilation of children’s theme songs from our son’s favorite cartoons. If you’re lucky you might even witness an epic dance battle.
Skeme – With most DJ’s going live and streaming to fill the void of playing in clubs, do you think this will ultimately affect the club going experience in the future?
Junior – That is with the assumption that these venues will survive and be able to reopen once the dust settles from all of this. It’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? It’s interesting seeing so many friends do the live streaming. Honestly, I’ve popped in here and there but it’s been more to have it on in the background not to stare at the DJ. I do appreciate some of the creativity people have displayed in creating a vibe musically and visually. I’m sure venues are paying attention. I imagine this experience will initially impact how venues, artists and patrons reevaluate how they want to engage in the future.
Nonetheless, what I have enjoyed witnessing is that creatives in all different disciplines have once again shown how they can break norms and create spaces for themselves by thinking out the box. Sometimes the average person and definitely corporations want to devalue the importance of financially supporting art and culture in a reverential way. If anything, this pandemic has provided numerous examples of just how important the two really are and how they need to be respected and compensated accordingly.