by Kara-Lis Coverdale ………………………………………………..photo: Dave Yan courtesy of amdcollective.com
Almost one month before the release of his sophomore album Runaway Jones, Miles Jones was on stage at The Sound Academy in Toronto, opening for Reflection Eternal. Wearing a Mariners jersey and a black flex fit, Jones traversed the stage, moving, bending and hyping from all four corners, engaging the cheering crowd. Jones’ infectious emcee charisma has probably been shaped by a thing or two he picked up from his Dad, “Deadly” Hedley Jones Jr., an influential DJ in the early Toronto club scene. But more than anything, it is Miles Jones’s own perseverance, hard work, and dedication to his craft that makes Miles Jones a rising Toronto artist to watch.
Since he burst onto the scene at the cusp of the internet-driven DIY music industry, Jones has been fully active as a DJ, producer, emcee, songwriter, and owner of his own label, Mojo Records & Publishing. Along with Aaron A. Alayne and Dave Yan (aka DJ Serious), Jones is also an affiliate of the creative group amd collective, which has produced most of MJ’s unique visuals, including the perception warping music video for “Trust Me.” Musically, Jones has accumulated several notable accolades within the Canadian hip-hop industry, including an Ontario Independent Music Award for Hip-Hop Artist of the Year in 2007. But Runaway Jones is a particularly unique milestone in Jones’ career. Not only does this album feature an attention demanding roster of both well-loved and rising hip-hop icons like Mr. Attic, Percee P, Black Milk and Boi 1-da, but Runaway Jones will be Jones’ first major breakthrough into the U.S. marketplace.
Just a day before his Toronto performance at the Wrap Up celebration party for Student Hunger Week, we sat down with Miles to discuss his upcoming US album debut, the technology and gear behind Runaway Jones, and details on how his collaboration went down with Black Milk, one of the most talked about producers in 2010.
CUS: Congratulations on your US release. I thought we’d see you performing at Manifesto this year.
MJ: Thanks. Yeah, we played Manifesto last year, so we decided to focus States side for this upcoming release.
CUS: Tell me about your US debut.
MJ: Well, Runaway Jones was released on URBNET here in Canada, but the US, it is going to be released on Musebox/EMI, who just collaborated for distribution. We’re going to be focusing on digital releases like we did here. The URBNET physical release of Runaway Jones is going to be a collectors item, by the way, my label spent so much money on that artwork.
CUS: As a Canadian artist, do you feel like there’s something authenticating about having an American audience? Is it still true that to make it in the music industry you have to make it in America?
MJ: For hip-hop, yeah. They started it, but we’re keeping it fresh right now. Maybe even fresher. Urban artists just need more funds and support from Canadians. We’re just as talented as rockstar Canadians without question. Well, some of us anyway.
CUS: Runaway Jones has a handful of impressive artist features, Canadian and otherwise. How was your experience working with Boi-1da?
MJ: He’s a very humble dude. I recorded “Never Wrong” back around the same time I did “Never Too Late” with Black Milk. Those two tracks inspired the whole project for Runaway Jones. Then DJ Serious came into the equation, then Mr. Attic.
CUS: Why don’t you walk me through your Black Milk collaboration?
MJ: We were in touch for a while through e-mail. At the time, I was just a dude from TO helping to spread the word about him and his music in Toronto. We never discussed working together till’ I told him about my project, and that I wanted to possibly collaborate. He had heard my stuff and was feelin’ it. Until that point I was really just a huge fan, but it turned into a working relationship pretty naturally I suppose. I recorded the demo to “Never Too Late” and sent it to him. After he heard it and got back to me, his exact words were “That’s what’s up!” And after that, I was off to the races. Once I knew he liked my stuff, he starting sending me stuff back.
CUS: The things he sent you, were they snips of sound ideas, hooks, and riffs? Or were they more like complete bed tracks?
MJ: They were maybe, like, 1 minute beats. I heard this one beat he sent, then re-arranged it all myself to make it fit with my vocals, then sent him back the idea. I think that’s why the whole project felt like a masterpiece to me in the end. It was the real thing because this album wasn’t just my friends biggin’ me up, it was real producers; producers I was previously just a fan of were becoming more like working partners, and giving me critical feedback.
CUS: So at this point your music was beginning to be recognized for the music itself, not just because it was Miles Jones’ work. Sounds like a breaking point in your career.
MJ: You could say that. I was also bringing together a group of artists and producers that had never collaborated before onto the same album. Like when I sent Classified the Black Milk song with me, he was like “I want on this!” It excited people to be a part of something they wouldn’t otherwise be, and I think the producers respected the time and care I was taking to put together all the pieces of the puzzle. Like when we added live drums to the Boi-1da song. He could tell I had changed a few things in the final recording but it was cool. He was feelin’ it.
CUS: Where do you do your recording?
MJ: I use two different engineers for recording records. One is more “live oriented,” and that is Lorne Hounsell. He recorded “Crabbuckit” for K-oS, for example. I recorded vox for both the Black Milk and Boi-1da tracks with him. The other dude is Derek Brin. Derek is more R&B/hip-hop oriented.
CUS: They’re both in Toronto, right?
MJ: Yeah. Both. But for this record I recorded most of the lead vox in NYC, and everything else with those two. But the engineer fron NYC, Josh Sadlier Brown, is also originally from TO. He went to elementary school with my manager Marshall. All of the actual music, mixing instruments and everything else was done here, along with about half of the vocals.
CUS: Made in Canada, so to speak.
MJ: Yes. Totally made in Canada, but influenced by NYC.
CUS: Is there an aesthetic reason why you seek out and track productions that combine samples and live instrumentation?
MJ: I wanted my tracks to translate live and sound close to the record when we did shows, since I tour with a drummer and a DJ. Some sample-based beats already had that sound, so I didn’t add any live tracks. Black Milk, DJ Serious, Mr. Attic, those guys can make things sound live.
CUS: Well, Attic uses an EPS…
MJ: You know your stuff, huh! He used to, back when I had him on my old radio show I hosted at 93.3 CFMU at McMaster . He just recently switched to the MPC 2000xl, which is what I also learned on before I got an ASR-10 and a computer contribute.
CUS: What’s the advantage there? Being able to use the keys as a triggering device?
MJ: For me, it’s purely a sound thing. It’s 12-bit. It’s the best sound I’ve ever heard. I’m talking the difference between the EPS and ASR. But yeah, the MPC is good for chopping, sequencing, and playing live. I mean it’s all I learned on before I had a computer interface. It taught me a lot about being a producer, just having to learn how it works…
CUS: …And learning to use the technology’s limitations to your advantage…
MJ: Sometimes, yes. I mean it really doesn’t matter what you use, it’s definitely how you do it. I’m pretty sure Rich Kidd and Boi-1da use laptop software to make beats. I like trying new things, new techniques and new sounds. But I still use a DAW too. I sequenced the Black Milk beat both with Cubase at home and together with Lorne using Pro Tools at his studio. But now I use a Mac with Logic to record at my home studio and usually Protools to mix or edit.
CUS: Does being an emcee these days also mean being a producer? Or do you think that is more just the way you work?
MJ: It’s just the way I work, probably because I started as a DJ–a DJ who could rap.
CUS: What kind of records do you most often source for beats?
MJ: Depends how I’m feeling. I really want to make a dance record one day. The amount of cookie-cutter dance I hear makes me want to learn way more about that movement because I know I have most of the records of that era. And reggae never gets old, but I change it up. It doesn’t hurt that my Dad left me like 25 000 vinyl, but I’ve still bought a ton of records on my own. I have so much early house, jazz, funk, soul, and reggae. I’m really not sure if my fans would be into all the music I’m into.
CUS: I think often about people who are stuck on one type of music. It seems unnatural, like eating the same kind of food every day, all day.
MJ: True say. But I always come back to chicken, too.