The day I go to meet Sam Vogel “Jauz” at his alma mater, Icon Collective music production school, is significant for a couple reasons. One because it’s Jack Ü-day and the 24 hour live-streamed marathon has just begun – Sam’s headed over later to spin but is in no hurry to show up. His manager Moe Shalizi calls at the beginning of our interview to find out what time they’re going and he says, “Bruh, relax – it’s 24 fucking hours, we’ll get there when we get there.”
I came to sit in on his favorite class, Art of Flow, taught by Icon founder Christopher Wight. Sam attributes his success as a DJ and producer entirely to this particular course, so naturally I have to see what the deal is. This brings me to the second reason this is such a special day – the topic of discussion in Art of Flow is the hero’s journey, which is exactly the story I came here to write about young Jauz.
He says, “When I started at Icon the only vision I had in my head was to become the next Protohype or Must Die or Excision. I came to school to learn to become the sickest dubstep producer ever, but then I was so frustrated my first two quarters. I was working my ass off doing 15 hour days, then I’d listen to the new Must Die and get so depressed cause I knew I’d never make shit as good as his.”
I literally don’t have to ask Sam a single question because he’s so excited to talk about his experience with this class he can barely stay in his seat. “Then I got to level 3 at Icon and it took maybe one or two Art of Flow classes and suddenly all my frustrations just evaporated. I realized I’m not happy with what I’m making because I’m not making what’s going to make me happy. I was like, ‘I have to stop giving a fuck and do whatever feels right.’ So I started experimenting with everything.”
The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell is an analysis of major myths from across the world, and Campbell boils the plotlines of every great story to one basic trajectory (see diagram below). It begins with the call to adventure, which Chris Wight contends requires those with a burning desire to make a living as a creative to abandon the notion of financial security and venture into the great unknown. He further contends that in order to succeed as a creative, one must tap into their true creator self rather than trying to emulate the work of others. This class dispels the notion that any artist should ever try to be “the next” anyone else. It was exactly what Sam needed to escape the rigid idea he had of himself as a producer.
That same quarter, he began a business and marketing course where he developed the Jauz brand as a class project. “I wanted my brand to be genre-less, that was built in. Kids come up to me all the time and ask what kind of music I make and I just throw my hands up, I don’t call it anything. I let the Internet classify my stuff.”
Once Sam started releasing his so-called “future-house” tracks and getting them into the right hands, Jauz took off. Kennedy Jones was the first artist to support and play one of his remixes of Zed’s Dead’s ‘Ratchet’. It took persistence, probably more than most people would be comfortable with, but it paid off as KJ ultimately introduced Sam to his manager Moe and got him releasing on Buygore. “Kennedy Jones makes himself really accessible to his fans. I sent a track to him a couple times and didn’t hear back, finally the third time I reached out to him he finally listened and started playing it in his sets. He still plays it to this day.”
He crossed the first threshold beginning his adventure as an artist after hastily making the decision to drop out of film school at Loyola Marymount and enrolling at Icon (apparently there was too much “theory and paperwork involved in film school, not enough movie-making”). From there he descended into the belly of the whale working countless hours in the studio, overcame the frustrating road of trials moving through his first 6 months in the program, and thwarted temptation to make his music and brand fit the preconceived bass-mold. I asked Sam when he knew he was rapidly approaching the ultimate boon, commercial success as Jauz.
“That’s a very clear moment for me – it was HARD Summer this year, I was with my girlfriend and a couple buddies. One of them said ‘So what DJ’s are gonna play your stuff?’ like, jokingly. The third person we saw that day was Tchami and we were standing outside the tent, then all of a sudden I hear the lead from ‘Feel The Volume’ and I look at my girlfriend, she looks back at me and says ‘We need to run.’ So I turn on the camera on my phone and I’m running through the crowd, I wish I still had that video, I get to the front of the stage right before it drops and turn around. The whole crowd has their hands in the air, no one had heard that track before. It was on the Internet, but people weren’t stoked because they knew the track, they just really liked it that much. From that moment on, shit just went nuts.”
But Sam says that the most satisfying thing that’s happened so far is several of his dubstep idols have reached out to validate his work. “One of the first times I met Datsik he said he loved my stuff and we should work on something together. So I said oh yea, I’m getting back into making dubstep and he said no – I’m talking about the shit you’re doing right now. And now we’re working on a song together that’s complete different than anything I’ve ever heard Datsik make. There’s been so many instances of that, I won’t sit here and get carried away, but it’s so crazy to think if I would have kept making the kind of bass music I thought would make those idols happy, they probably never would have noticed me. Because I did exactly what I wanted and I got exactly to where I want to be.”
His advice to aspiring producers is simple – “Lock yourself in your room, don’t do anything but make music, and don’t release it until you’re absolutely sure. No matter how good you think it is, hold off and be patient. Unless you do exactly what you want to do and it makes you happy, it’ll never make anyone else happy. Everyone I’ve seen be successful adheres to those principles I took from Art of Flow.”
Chris Wight says other production schools he’s worked with were only teaching technical skills without any guidelines on creativity. “It’s not enough to know your scales and know the programs, where do the ideas come from? I thought this was basic – I did not think it was revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination. So when we opened Icon I wanted to make that a thing, talking about the creative process and overcoming writer’s block. Doubting yourself is a part of learning.”
Icon has been described in many ways, according to James Roh of Far East Movement, “It’s like X-Men school for producers.” Their Industry Director Nik Cherwink says it’s a family of creatives disguised as a production school. Whatever it is, Icon’s track record is getting pretty serious – MAKJ, Kayzo, half of Slander, Sullivan King and Protohype are all graduates, and that’s just to name a few. Wight says, “Icon is an art school, it’s a music school – we don’t like to think in terms of specific styles, that’s just a limitation of creativity.” Sam, with good reason, seems beyond stoked to be a walking spokesman for the program. I don’t think I could get him to shut up about it if I tried.
Since he’s on his way to the Jack Ü-athon, I obviously have to ask what it’s like working Skrillex and Diplo, who he’s now individually collaborating with. He’s all smiley about it, but this is the most shy I’ve seen him get our whole interview. “It feels a lot less crazy than it should maybe. When Tchami played my track, that was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me up until that moment. But the second it was over, it was like ok cool – Tchami played my music, what’s next? There’s something in my brain that says I have to keep pushing myself.
“But it’s also cool cause I hate being the fucking fan-boy. Number one rule of music is never stop being a fan, and I haven’t, but at the same time I’m really glad I can talk to these guys on a friendly level. It’s so hard to connect with someone when all they can talk about it how cool they think you are. We’re all weirdos, we’re all nerds. If a year ago if you’d told me I’d be working with these dudes I’d tell you to shut the fuck up, it’s literally anyone’s dream. But now it’s like yea, I’m working with them – it’s awesome, what’s next? One of my buddies is working with Dillon Francis and I’m like DUDE, are you kidding?! Anything I haven’t achieved yet is still the coolest thing in the world to me.”