[Interview] Miles Jones talks “The Jones Act (Part III),” succeeding in the Canadian industry, and making comic books

Interview by: Martin Bauman

One of the best things about Canada’s hip-hop landscape is the sheer diversity of artists within its broad reaches. In a reflection of our multicultural country, the Canadian hip-hop scene features unique sounds from East to West Coast, and everywhere in between. One such example is Toronto-born Miles Jones. Blending futuristic beats inspired by dance and house, and infused with an ever-present boom bap quality, Jones has crafted a unique sound that reflects his musically diverse upbringing in a household with his father, Hedley Jones Jr., a longtime radio and club deejay. Most recently, Jones’ efforts have culminated in the release of The Jones Act (Part III), a 12-track album released on his own label, Mojo Records and Publishing. On top of that, in an equally unique endeavour, Jones has been collaborating with illustrator Ben Roboly to create comic book issues based on the songs from the album. The Come Up Show caught up with Miles Jones to discuss The Jones Act (Part III), the key to success in the Canadian rap industry, making comic books, and much more. Read the full interview below.

TCUS: Before we get into your latest album, I’d like to build towards it. You were born in Toronto, and graduated from McMaster. What did you study there?

Miles Jones: Multimedia and Communications.

TCUS: How did you get into hosting a radio show at McMaster?

Miles Jones: I basically just volunteered. It was something that I was always interested in – my dad was a broadcaster, and he used to bring me on the air when I was little, like on CFNY and Mix 99.9 – and I just had this idea to host this radio show where I could [showcase] the history of breaks and things that inspired hip-hop and connect it with the current hip-hop culture. I had this idea for the show, and so I pitched it in first year, and I didn’t get it. They gave me a little time slot in my second year, where I had to wake up at like 8:30 in the morning and bust my ass to get there. By the time I was in third and fourth year, I had a really cool time slot at 9:00 in the evenings, and [my co-host and I] were able to turn it into an actual show, where we were able to get guests, and started to get some really good feedback, so it kinda just escalated into that vision that I had in the beginning.

TCUS: In 2004, you started Mojo Records & Publishing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve described the Canadian hip-hop landscape as “prime real estate,” in that it’s vast and unclaimed. Can you elaborate on this?

Miles Jones: Yeah, that wasn’t actually me that described that; it’s in my bio. But I think what they were looking at [in that description] is there are a handful of artists that have made note of themselves in the Canadian hip-hop industry over the past few decades, but it still seems to be this fresh, young, and exciting genre. It’s not completely over-saturated, and there’s room for artists doing new things and creative hip-hop to find a place and establish themselves. I think it’s one of those things, and it’s interesting, because you see the artists that were working five years ago, ten years ago – however long any of these people have been making hip-hop music – and the ones that are still there are the ones that are doing it because they love doing it, or because it’s something that they have to do, as opposed to just trying to make a record to make a quick buck, or because it’s something cool to do. I think there’s room for a lot of Canadian hip-hop still to be heard.

TCUS: So many times, people talk about the lack of infrastructure in the music industry in Canada – at least when it comes to hip-hop. Most recently, D-Sisive and Muneshine were talking about calling it quits and trying something different out of frustration with the industry.

Miles Jones: Yeah, I saw that.

TCUS: What’s the key to success in Canada?

Miles Jones: I don’t know if you can pinpoint the key to success. It’s tough to compare ourselves to the U-S, because hip-hop came from the U-S. It’s something that has a big, huge following in the indie and the college scene, much like we do with our indie-rock scene, or our rock scene or folk scene in general – there’s a huge support system of fans and audiences that build up over time. Hip-hop still has work to do in that regard, so I think it just gets frustrating for some of these really dope, talented artists, who put all this time, and energy, and money into these projects, and then they’re not able to recoup them back. It’s tough to go make another project if [you feel like] the first project should have been heard more, or put on a larger platform to [reach] a larger audience. If that doesn’t happen, then it becomes frustrating. And for artists like D-Sisive, or Muneshine, or myself, you keep putting out projects, and you look to get a reaction, and it’s one of those things where you sort of have to craft out your own niche or your own purpose of why you’re actually doing it – what it means to you, what it means to the audience.

The consensus from me speaking with Mune and artists alike is that it’s one thing [to say] we make hip-hop because we love it, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do other things. A lot of these artists are more than just rappers, or emcees, or beatmakers. A lot of them are producers, or songwriters, or singer-songwriters, or whatever you want to call it. There’s a larger scale of capabilities of what myself and all these artists can do. It’s about crafting out that niche. For instance, tonight, I’m playing a show at the Cameron House, and I just learned three songs off my record last night that I’m going to play acoustic versions of – I had no idea that I had acoustic versions of my songs until last night at like three in the morning. Now I have three songs off The Jones Act that people are gonna hear acoustic versions to. It’s just about mixing it up, and finding that niche where people start to pay attention and you get that recognition.

TCUS: Your debut album in ’06, One Chance, was actually your graduating thesis. Tell me more about this.

Miles Jones: When I was at McMaster, I started deejaying in first and second year at this club called Quarters – I was putting out mixtapes and deejaying for like a thousand people on Thursdays and Saturdays. The deejaying led to me writing songs, and learning how to make beats, and renting an MPC when I was in second year, and starting to really dig deeper than just [deejaying]. Over the four years that I was there, I had a handful of songs and beats, and all these compositions and projects I had worked on, and the criteria for Multimedia as a thesis was that you had to come up with a project that had two different medias or more – mixed media, you could say. That’s what inspired me to put together this album [and] website, and I had to write a 40-page paper about how the album got made, where all the samples came from, where all the songs came from, what the inspirations were, and that’s how One Chance developed. And Mojo Records, which I started after I finished a graphic design class that I got an A+ on the logo, I kinda made it as a concept and then I turned it into something real and connecting all the dots together: if I want to put out a record, what label is it going to be on? Oh, I guess it’s going to be on my own. In 2006, right when I was graduating, it was perfectly timed that I had 13 songs ready and mixed, and I had been spending the last three years working these songs into something that I wanted people to hear.

TCUS: How did you and DJ Serious first meet?

Miles Jones: I used to see DJ Serious at Play De Record when I was record shopping, growing up as a kid and going with my dad, and he was doing his thing, making beats and putting out these projects that I was a huge fan of at the time – he was like my favourite producer growing up. When I first heard his music, I thought he was from New York, so when I found out that he was born and raised in Toronto, it really inspired me to find out who this guy was. We developed a friendship over the course of four years me being at [McMaster]. I’d invite him to guest spot on the radio show, or when he’d come into Hamilton to play a gig, I’d bring tons of people out to go see him, and I’d always be spreading his music around to my networks. It sort of developed into this friendship where [once] I was ready to make my second record, I reached out to him, and I wanted him to be a part of it and produce a few songs. It slowly developed into a closer friendship where he met my drummer Trevor Falls, and we started this band that we toured around with after Runaway Jones came out. He’s my DJ in my band now, and we work very closely together, so it’s funny that I went from being a huge fan of his music to him being someone that I work with and create stuff with.

TCUS: Your latest album, The Jones Act (Part III), came out in the fall. The sound is very different from Runaway Jones and Muneshine Jones. What was the inspiration behind this album?

Miles Jones: For this record, I wanted to do something different than just that head-nod hip-hop. I feel like I’ve sort of fulfilled what I wanted to achieve with Runaway Jones, as far as working with producers that I wanted to work with: Mr. Attic, DJ Serious, Black Milk… And for The Jones Act, it’s more of a personal ride. For two years after me making Runaway Jones, I’m wondering: am I still going to make more records? If I do, what is it going to sound like? I don’t want it to just be a rap record. And if it is a rap record, I want it to sound different, and I want to comment on the music industry, and get people to dig deeper. I had a collection of songs that I wrote within the year after Runaway Jones came out, with this producer Austin Dovercourt – who did “Time Machine”, which was the last song on Runaway Jones. The collection of songs we had turned into a concept, and the whole idea is that the music industry is an act: believe what you want, [or] don’t believe what you want.

In some sense, we’re puppets, and as an artist, you sort of have to fulfill what it is that you want to do, what it is that the fans want to hear, and you have to find this equilibrium. That’s the struggle that artists and bands face their whole careers, trying to figure out what do I change? What do I not change? Can I take a risk? Can I not take a risk? Is it going to hurt what I’m doing or hurt what I did? I think that The Jones Act was me making this commentary on where I was, and like I said, it was an emotional year and a half; I found out my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and there’s all these things happening in my life that were really getting me to think a little differently about what I was making music for, and what I wanted to do. That’s what The Jones Act is about.

TCUS: Last time you were on The Come Up Show, you talked about wanting to make a dance record one day. I definitely get that vibe on The Jones Act (Part III). Is this the dance record you envisioned yourself making, or is that another project in the future?

Miles Jones: That’s cool that you think that. I guess it’s no secret anymore if I’m telling you, but I’m still messing around with a lot of different upbeat versions of songs. I think when I originally started The Jones Act, I wanted it to be way out in left field, and as I dug into it, my hip-hop background – which always seems to come out when I’m making music – mixed with all these ideas and what I wanted to do. So yeah, the dance record is still going to come out. The Jones Act isn’t [the dance record], but it’s kind of me getting it into the mind of my audience that “hey, he’s not just about finding samples and making hip-hop beats.” There’s going to be more music to come.

TCUS: What kind of dance records did you grow up on that made you want to make your own?

Miles Jones: I was lucky enough that my dad was one of the first deejays in Toronto to really introduce the Toronto audience to house and dance while being at CFNY in the ’80s. He was one of the first deejays to play live-to-air from these clubs, and there was a lot of house music going on in Detroit and Chicago and New York, but the difference with Toronto is that we have the European influence. We have records coming in from the UK, from France, from Germany, from all these different places that Detroit and Chicago weren’t quite getting the same influence. Toronto was crafting its own dance/house scene, which eventually kinda turned into the rave scene. I was really young at the time, but these were the records that my dad was playing on the regular. I think that the older I get, and the more mature I get, I’ve started to understand and feel the arrangements and what the creators of these dance records were going for. And funny enough, I’m hearing a lot of the records that my dad used to play in the ’80s and ’90s get remade, or redeveloped, or resampled. Now, there’s definitely a prevalent house scene, and there’s people that enjoy dance and house; it’s almost coming back to the forefront again. It’s definitely a dance and house background, but at the same time, it’s sort of mixing with my own flavours of reggae, and pop, and funk, and soul, and hip-hop.

TCUS: Speaking of your dad, what kind of an influence did he have on you musically?

Miles Jones: I think [he influenced me] just because he was so engulfed in music. I mean, he gave me his 20,000 record collection when he moved to California, and I still have that, and there’s a ton of jazz, a ton of dance, a ton of reggae… so much I haven’t even been able to go through, just because there’s such an abundance of vinyl at my house. I think it was just one of those things; music was always on [growing up] – and it wasn’t just my dad, my mom had a really rich musical background and taste herself. Music was always something that was just there, and it wasn’t like anything was pushed or forced onto me; it was something that crept up, and the older I got, the more I would dig into it and become more curious about what is this? What is that? How can I make it my own? How can I change it? What sample’s behind that? [Music] was just a constant thing that was there for me, and I turned from a fan into a creator of it.

TCUS: Back to The Jones Act, you talked about mixed media earlier. You recently put out a comic book to go along with “Catch Me In The Rye”. What inspired you to do a comic book?

Miles Jones: Traditionally, you put out music, and people want to see music videos – which is great, and fun; I love music videos. [But they] don’t have the same meaning that they once did when you could only find them on MuchMusic or MTV. Now, you can find music videos all over the internet. I reached out to this illustrator, and I wanted to make a digital comic where we were going to get illustrations and turn them into a YouTube music video. I met him at a local coffee shop, close to where I live, and he worked on these pages and wrote a promo version of “Catch Me In The Rye”. I had sent him a couple photos that inspired me to write the song. Before I knew it, we had a full, illustrated comic book that we ended up printing, and we showcased it at Comic Con in Toronto. It kept developing into something more, until we both kind of stepped back and said “look at this! We have a real comic book. How cool would it be if, to go along with a music video, we put out comic books for each song?”

It was a neat idea to connect two different audiences that are very [supportive]: the music audiences are very avid fans of bands that they like, and you see the same thing in comic books [with] how the audience will participate and really engulf themselves into the actual culture of it. [So we have] these two subcultures that we were kind of able to bring together. We pressed the first issue of “Catch Me In The Rye”, and we have about 11 more to come; we’re trying to do one for every song. In the new year, you’re going to see another issue for “Maybe Tomorrow”, and there will be another issue for “Raw”, and “All Lies”… So it was one of those things that just escalated into this whole new idea, and the cool thing is, I think other bands are into it as well. Not only do I want to do it for myself, but it’s something that I thought as a record label owner, how cool would it be if bands were to start putting out comic books with their records?

TCUS: I know Murs did something similar with Yumiko: Curse of the Merch Girl, have you heard about it?

Miles Jones: Yeah, I’ve seen that, and it’s really cool. And yeah, that’s the thing, the hard part is really getting people to understand. I remember I posted some of the images up on Facebook, and people were like “what is that? What’s going on? I don’t get it.” And no one’s going to [understand] it until you have a few issues done, or you go to the shows, and you see the merch table and there’s one CD and like five comic books. You sort of have to hammer it into people’s heads, [because] people are so used to what they’re told is the traditional form of what’s allowed in music. It’s always just been the song, and later on, the music video got introduced. I feel like there’s other ways that musicians can connect their music to fans [aside from] the traditional forms of doing it, whether it’s photography, or some other sort of visual stimulation. It’s exciting to think what you could do, and I think the comic book is sort of the first step to [exploring that]. There’s more to me than just music. I love music; it’s a huge part of me and my soul, but there’s other things I think I can connect with it.

TCUS: As we’re entering the new year and you look ahead, what are your goals for 2013?

Miles Jones: The comic books will be in full force in the new year. I’d really like to go and play some shows down on the West Coast in the U-S, around California. When we put out Runaway Jones in the U-S, we really started to catch an audience all the way down the West Coast, so it would be really cool to play some shows in Cali, and go back and play the venues that we did in New York, and do a Canada tour as well – really just take the show on the road, and [take] all these songs and ideas and [get] them out to the people as much as we can.

TCUS: One final thought; this is a tweet of yours: “Your dreams never turn out like you imagine they would. But if you don’t chase them they will never exist.” Can you elaborate on this?

Miles Jones: I think that it’s something where you picture where you think you’re going to be at a certain age, or what you’re supposed to be doing, and you can use it in a sort of hypothetical, symbolic way of “this is where I am now,” and when I started music, this is not exactly where I expected that I was gonna be. And it wasn’t that I expected more or less, but it’s the fact that if you stop dreaming, then your dream doesn’t exist. If someone tells you that you can’t do something and you believe that, then it becomes your reality. The whole purpose of life is to dream, and it’s not just to dream big or dream small, it’s to open up your brain to all these potential ideas. The human brain is capable of so much; we’re not even certain of what we’re actually capable of. I think I’ve heard an interview where Jay-Z was on CBC talking about this as well, and it wasn’t even about dreaming big, it was that his dream was so wide open that he accepted everything as it came, and his dreams became his reality, but it was never the path that he expected to go.

TCUS: That’s all from me, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Miles Jones: I’m really excited to see people’s reactions to some of the comic books, and we’re gonna come out with some music videos in the new year as well, in January and February. It would be really exciting if we could get down to where you guys are, and maybe do something live in the studio or play a show. I’ve been a huge supporter of the radio show you guys do, and the blog, and everything else, so it’s a pleasure to be here and chat with you.

TCUS: Absolutely! Well, thank you very much for your time today, and best of luck to you in the future!

Miles Jones: Thanks, Martin.