When Kanye Westâ€™s dubiously club-ready Love Lockdown leaked a couple of months back, producers of all variety hit the ground running, in an attempt to translate his sound for their respective audiences. Some clearly tried to curry flavor, while others injected genuine heart into the production. The latter resulted in a ringing on-air endorsement for Ottawa ex-pat Tom Wrecks, during a recent Kanye / BBC interview.
Having already won the Canadian DMC championships with The Stylusts, shared the stage with Wu-affiliates and garnered critical acclaim from the ever-hungry DJ Benzi, it is no mere act of fate that Tom has been turning heads. Where other DJ/producer combos have sought to build their image on flash and proxy, he chose the route of strong rapport, inherent talent, and hard work. Format caught up with Tom at his weekly residency in Toronto, to chat rap music, new jacks, and club-burning remixes. Remember this name.
â€œIâ€™m not a B-more DJ!â€
Format: First off, tell us about your roots.
Tom Wrecks: Iâ€™ve always been fascinated with the scratch sound; growing up I always wanted to scratch. I got into the whole DJ battling thing, and while I was doing that, I got really intrigued by production. I was pretty much a hip-hop DJ and turntablist, but that whole thing ended for me when my crew The Stylusts and I went to the world championships in London, England, to represent Canada. We ended up placing fifth or sixth, which is a huge accomplishment for me, but we kinda went out on that [note]. I started focusing on my production and mixing songs; now that weâ€™re living in this crazy digital world, it is so much easier to create.
Format: How did you get lined up with The Stylusts, in the first place?
Tom Wrecks: It started off as a turntablism thing; it was a just a group of guys I practiced scratching with. [At first] It was me and my boy Drastik, who ended up winning the Canadian DMC awards individually, then we added Illo into the crew as he was a dude we always used to look up to. We used to listen to his radio show and all that. [As for the name] Stylusts, we needed a name for the competition and pretty much came up with that on the spot. We are just three individuals with similar goals and interests.
Format: So youâ€™ve got a track on the new â€˜Ye mixtape. Tell us a little about how that came to be.
Tom Wrecks: I got a leak of Love Lockdown, and I listened to it, and there were no drums, nothing that really hit. I was like, â€˜if I wanna play this out, I gotta make it bang.â€™ I came up with the remix one night, and the crew helped me push it on a few blogs. Within 48 hours, I got a whole bunch of Myspace messages and a call from some of Kanyeâ€™s people saying that heâ€™s going crazy over the track, while heâ€™s in the studio recording the new album. The Internet is crazy; it went right to the source, know what I mean? DJ Benzi was working on a new mixtape — I actually played a show with him in Toronto a few weeks ago — and he told me that Kanye reached out to him and made sure that he put [my] Love Lockdown remix on there. It wasnâ€™t originally supposed to be on there, because itâ€™s a new track, and there werenâ€™t supposed to be any featured on the mixtape. It has me in this mode right now where Iâ€™m just trying to flip songs that people love, trying to add my own flavor to them.
Format: Do you have an EP or full-length planned?
The Stylusts are actually working on a record. We have a whole bunch of stuff finished, but we havenâ€™t put anything out. One of the tracks weâ€™re working on, Drastik played it in Ottawa when he was opening for Crookers and when they heard it, they made him put it on their memory key. So Crookers are playing an unreleased Stylusts track that I donâ€™t even have. Other than that, weâ€™re trying to work out some things; shop the record around. We have a few people in mind, but it should be dropping sometime in 2009.
Format: What drives you to make music?
Tom Wrecks: I would say itâ€™s different every time. I get inspiration from everything, man, from a walk in the park to watching a movie. I can get up and be like, â€˜Wow, Iâ€™ve got an idea.â€™ Songs obviously influence me too, hearing different songs from different eras. Like a Prince track for instance; I could hear myself updating that.
Format: As a sort of follow-up question to that: what are your top five influences right now, music or otherwise?
Tom Wrecks: Iâ€™d say the people around me. The crew and other DJs: The A-Traks, the Diplos, DJ Premier; I still listen to a lot of that stuff. Mark Ronson and Switch, dudes that are doing pop records differently. Obama, why not! I like open-minded people, change, diversity, and that kind of thing. I utilize that in my music too; I donâ€™t just stick to one thing. [Then there are] groups like Outkast, that constantly switch up their style in order to stay relevant.
Format: Quick, whatâ€™s your favorite Outkast album?
Tom Wrecks: Can I say â€œGreatest Hits?â€ [Laughs]
Format: Thatâ€™s acceptable. You mentioned prior to the interview that youâ€™re working on a â€œnew sound.â€ Can you tell us a bit about that?
Tom Wrecks: With all these generic B-more remixes- people donâ€™t put their own flavor to it, you know? I always like to feel some soul and funkiness to a song, even if itâ€™s like a big rave hit.
Format: Tell us about your favorite show experience.
Tom Wrecks: Recently, The Stylusts and I opened up for Redman and Method Man in Ottawa at the Civic Centre, and there were like 2000-3000 people there. After we performed, we stayed on-stage behind [them] and got engulfed in the music. I wanna see that for my future; playing out for 2000 or 3000 people, and having them know what Iâ€™m about to play or do. It was a really cool feeling, feeling that energy.
Format: How do you feel about rap-producers-turned-club?
Tom Wrecks: Thatâ€™s a really good question. I think itâ€™s like the era of the DJ again; I think it has come full-circle. At one point, DJs got replaced by DAT machines, then it came back and DJs became the focal point again in hip-hop. Now they have this opportunity to go [from] beyond being caught in the corner of the stage; they can be centre-stage. I find that club music gets you there. Iâ€™m a hip-hop DJ at heart, but Iâ€™d rather be that focal point; making people move. DJs have become artists in their own right, and thatâ€™s why I think a lot of people turn to club music.
Also, music isnâ€™t selling as much as it used to, and thatâ€™s cut all the way down to the producer. And unless youâ€™re making that Just Blaze, Pharrell, Kanye West money; well, the average producer has to pay rent, too.
Format: Can you speak on the concept of the â€˜five-minute remix?â€™
Tom Wrecks: It makes it harder to find the good music. Like any new thing, itâ€™s oversaturated. The terms â€˜mash-upâ€™ and â€˜remixâ€™ have been tainted over the last few years. Itâ€™s tough to say though, because Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ve made my version of a five-minute remix at some point. DJs go through so many musical genres these days, like â€˜this music was cool yesterday; now itâ€™s not cool,â€™ â€˜cause everyone has made a B-more remix of every single song that exists. I have people calling me, asking to make a B-more remix of a particular track, or being like â€˜Hey Tom, guess what? I play B-more now, too.â€™ Iâ€™m not a B-more DJ!
Format: [Laughs] thereâ€™s our pull-quote, right there. Moving on, how do you feel about the accessibility of digital mediums like Traktor, Serato, and Ableton Live?
Tom Wrecks: Ah shit, I could rant about this for days. It totally changed DJing; I feel that a lot of people get into it for the wrong reasons. Iâ€™ve even seen people close to me say, â€˜Iâ€™m just doing this for girls,â€™ or â€˜Iâ€™m just doing this to be the centre of the party.â€™ When we were living in the analog world, people would have to invest time and money into buying their records. Nowadays, weâ€™ve devalued music; itâ€™s not tangible. Even I step all over my CDs and vinyl.
Format: Well thatâ€™s about all we have for you today. Is there anything youâ€™d like to add?
Tom Wrecks: Yeah Iâ€™d like to shout out Liâ€™l Ray Ray [laughs], nah, I donâ€™t know no Liâ€™l Ray Ray. Look out for that Stylusts record.
For downloads and touring info, check out the Tom Wrecks Myspace page