Few contemporary producers have mastered the art of smooth, jazz-based hip-hop more than Freddie Joachim. The San Diego producer/deejay has mellow to a tee, which is only fitting considering he helps run the independent label Mellow Orange. Joachim has earned respect from all corners — collaborating with the likes of Aloe Blacc, Blu, and Joey Bada$$, and gaining co-signs from everyone from Slum Village to Phonte — including here in Canada, where he’s forged a friendship with fellow producer Muneshine and earned props from Slakah the Beatchild. After releasing Fiberglass Kisses in 2012, Joachim is working on his latest album, set for release sometime next year. We caught up with him to talk about crate digging, keys to happiness, advice for new artists, and much more. Listen to the podcast above and read the interview below.
TCUS: Tell me about growing up in San Diego. What’s the music scene like there?
Freddie Joachim: Well, I grew up in the late eighties/early nineties of hip-hop, so a lot of the stuff that I grew up on was stuff that was played on MTV and on the radio – A Tribe Called Quest and whatnot. In San Diego, the scene is pretty small – and it continues to be really small. In high school, I really gravitated towards this group called The Sound Providers. They were out of San Diego, and they were a hip-hop trio at the time. Their style [incorporated] a lot of jazz-based samples, and that’s kind of the music that I wanted to make out of high school, because at the time – especially in San Diego – there was no one making that type of music. So basically, The Sound Providers were a big influence of me getting into production.
TCUS: Why was it that they stuck out to you amongst all the other music that was going on?
Freddie Joachim: The mid-nineties was when I got into deejaying, and this was kind of at the same time that Rawkus was really big. This was when Mos Def and Kweli, Common, and The Roots were really blowing up. That’s the type of music that I gravitated towards, and myself, along with a handful of other deejays in San Diego, were spinning. But I don’t know. I think it was their sample choice. I don’t want to say it was campy, but they took samples from a lot of jazz records: Ahmad Jamal records, Herbie Hancock… a lot of pianists. Growing up as a kid, before I even got into music, that’s the kind of music that I gravitated towards – you know, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul had a lot of jazz samples. When The Sound Providers came by later on in my teens, [they had] the same type of sound that I gravitated towards.
TCUS: How did you first come across their music? Through shows? On the radio?
Freddie Joachim: They didn’t really play that type of music on the radio in San Diego. I think it was mainly when I got into deejaying. A lot of the local record shops carried their music, so just out of a whim, I picked up a few of their singles and then later on ended up following them. I was too young to check out hip-hop shows at the time, so I kinda just collected the records until I would later hook up with their emcees once I was in my mid-twenties. Me just kinda being a bedroom deejay at the time, I mainly just collected music rather than going to shows [laughs].
Photo credit: Garvin Ha
TCUS: As you mentioned, you started deejaying as a teenager in the mid-nineties. How much convincing did it take your dad to get you that first pair of turntables?
Freddie Joachim: It wasn’t too much convincing, honestly. My dad has been incredibly supportive of the music stuff that I’m doing. I remember the day that I begged him to get me some turntables, we went to this local music store not too far from our house, and he bought me my first deejay setup. It was these really basic Gemini turntables and a Gemini 626 mixer. You couldn’t really do complicated scratching on it, but it helped me learn how to mix music.
TCUS: When you first started, did you ever give yourself a deejay name?
Freddie Joachim: Yeah! When I first started deejaying, I went by DJ Tilapia. It was a joke at first. I was just with my friends – or maybe my sister – at the time, and we were thinking of deejay names, and then Tilapia came up. It was kind of this ongoing joke that [ended up sticking] for a few years. I got into the deejay battle scene for a little bit, and that’s what I went by when I would enter battles.
TCUS: Speaking of another influence, what significance do The Invisibl Skratch Picklz have to you?
Freddie Joachim: Oh, a big influence. For a few years – my early deejay years – I just wanted to be a house party deejay. I was in my late teens, and I just wanted to rock parties and then get that money to invest in buying lights and fog machines [laughs]. One of my friends’ older brothers who was into scratching introduced me to The Skratch Picklz, and once I saw a video of them, that’s basically what I wanted to do [laughs]. That was a huge influence on me getting into turntablism. After digging for records for awhile and watching The Skratch Picklz videos, I would eventually steer into another direction of deejaying – that’s how I got into being a battle deejay and stuff like that.
TCUS: What were the first records that you picked up when you were getting into deejaying and digging?
Freddie Joachim: When I first started deejaying, I would basically just pick up party records, but then I would also pick up break compilations – that would educate me a little bit on breaks and famous samples and stuff like that. I would pick up some of my favourite hip-hop records, and on the back at the time, it would include sample credits. I remember reading the liner notes and it saying something like [this song] contains a sample from this record, so in turn, I would buy those hip-hop records and then [also] buy the original compositions from the samples too.
TCUS: On that note, I read this in another interview. This is a quote of yours: “It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I would find that some of my favourite hip-hop songs came from jazz records.” What are some of the earlier records you remember when you made this discovery?
Freddie Joachim: I think it was some classic hip-hop records. I was a big Pharcyde listener growing up as a kid. I remember Labcabincalifornia, Dilla produced a few songs of that. But I remember a few of the joints off there, I got into the original stuff. And then of course, I was a big Tribe Called Quest fan growing up, so a lot of the samples that they used, I would eventually learn and educate myself on the originals. I think when you do that – when you learn about the original samples, especially at a young age like that – you start following jazz artists. For instance, I would pick up some classic hip-hop joint, and it would contain a sample off a George Benson record, so I would do research on [him] and find out what other hip-hop songs [sampled his music]. I would do the same with other hip-hop artists and jazz artists.
TCUS: What’s the most significant record in your collection?
Freddie Joachim: I’m not too sure. Growing up, my dad didn’t have too many jazz records. He’s a trumpet player, so he had a few Mayor Ferguson records that I acquired that I kinda like. He actually had this Dave Brubeck record – I think it was the Time In record; it was the record that came after Time Out – and I still have that one. I remember listening to that record all the time, before I even got into deejaying. It had a few drum breaks on it, too. I remember playing that record while watching skate videos [laughs]. I would play these jazz records on top of skate videos. Other than that, I always wanted to collect the Bob James series and a few Herbie Hancock records.
TCUS: Were you a skateboarder growing up?
Freddie Joachim: Yeah, I got into skateboarding when I was thirteen. I skated from middle school through a little bit of high school. I still kinda follow skating here and there, but I can’t really skate anymore [laughs]. I was super into it. I was getting into tricks and going to demos to watch my favourite skaters, and even begging my parents to buy me skateboard parts. But yeah, at the time, skateboarding wasn’t huge. A lot of people were doing it, but not how it is now. But yeah, I remember being a thirteen year old, coming home from school, and just skating all day and all summer.
TCUS: You mentioned a little bit of your dad’s musical influences already. What other music was in the household as you were growing up?
Freddie Joachim: My dad has this real eclectic taste in music. I think the only things he doesn’t listen to are country and hip-hop. He listens to a lot of Celtic music, and as kids, my sister and I were kind of forced to listen to classical music in the car. My mom was a disco queen in her heyday, so she liked a lot of disco hits. She listened to ABBA and a few other cheesy random disco things [laughs].
TCUS: I want to ask you about another piece of San Diego trivia. Tell me about the time you met Tony Gwynn.
Freddie Joachim: I’ve met him a couple times. I remember meeting him when I was a really little kid – maybe five or six years old – and him autographing a hat for me, which was super cool. I met him a couple times [after that]. I remember meeting him when I was like eleven or twelve. The cool thing about sporting events – Padres and stuff like that – they would have fan days where you could come out to the field and meet all the players. My family household were big Padres fans, so my dad had season tickets for a really long time. But yeah, Tony Gwynn did a lot – not just for baseball, but for the City of San Diego.
TCUS: You’ve told the story of your first deejay battle before, where you showed up a day late at UCSD and missed the whole contest. What about the story of your first real deejay battle?
Freddie Joachim: The first real deejay battle was a Guitar Center battle. I was living in Long Beach in LA at the time. Basically, I couldn’t battle in San Diego because I knew all the deejays in San Diego, and I already knew they were all too good [laughs]. I couldn’t battle within LA [either], because all the deejays in LA were really good at the time, so what I did was I entered a Guitar Center battle in Orange County. I remember practising my routines [leading] up to the battle and everything, and then going up to battle and just being blown away by the other deejays [laughs]. My routines weren’t as constructed as theirs. I kinda went up there, did a beat juggle, and did some scratching, but everybody else’s routines… you could tell that they didn’t sleep [laughs]. They basically practised their routines day and night. I think that first battle left a bad taste in my mouth because of the politics involved – or maybe it was just the judging. Even though I didn’t really place in that battle – I think I placed fourth or fifth – I feel like other deejays should have won it, but it was like the other judges didn’t understand what was going on, so they picked somebody else.
TCUS: What do you see yourself as: a producer first and deejay second, or vice versa?
Freddie Joachim: I think it kinda flip-flops now and then. Right now, I’m really into deejaying and producing is kind of a second thing. But overall, I think I’m a producer. I think that’s where I shine a little bit more, and I think that’s where my strong points are at. [Deejaying] is something I still really love doing, and I’ll continue to always deejay, but I kind of see myself more as a producer.
TCUS: Since we’re a Canadian blog, I want to ask about two Canadian connections – both producers in their own right. How did you first connect with Muneshine and Slakah the Beatchild?
Freddie Joachim: I’ll [start with] Slakah. I actually don’t know Slakah; we just kind of tweet each other here and there. I did a remix of one of his songs that I heard off SoundCloud and it got some play, and that’s when I think he hit me up and said, “I’ll send you stems,” but it never happened [laughs]. Muneshine… I actually met him a long time ago – maybe 2005 or something like that – and he was working on one of his albums at the time. I think I produced one or two tracks or a remix off that one. [After that], I had him featured on my first album, which was In With Time, and since then we’ve been working on stuff here and there.
TCUS: Tell me about the origin of Mellow Orange.
Freddie Joachim: Mellow Orange was actually started by my partner Yusai, and he’s based out of San Francisco. He was actually just using the name Mellow Orange as a kind of crew name at the time, and he was using it to put out his own mixtapes. It wasn’t until maybe late 2008, early 2009 when I was helping him put together a compilation for another buddy of ours out of Japan – I think I produced one or two tracks off of it – and then shortly after that, he asked me to help put together another compilation for Mellow Orange’s first release. I produced half of the compilation featuring different artists, and then after that, I basically told him that we should start this label and see what happens. We released the compilation in late 2009, and then we released my album Midway, which was the first kind of official artist release, in 2010. Since then, we’ve been releasing my stuff along with a handful of other artists.
TCUS: How do you feel about the breakdown of a label structure like Mellow Orange versus a major label situation? What are the pros and cons to the way you’re releasing music?
Freddie Joachim: I guess one thing I enjoy about it is we’re able to release the music that we generally like, and we’re able to connect with other indie artists that we’re fans of and who actually want to release with us as well. Major labels and indie labels are kind of night and day in a sense. Of course, we don’t impact the masses as far as major labels go. But the cool thing about running a label nowadays, or even just being a producer or musician, is that with the big social boom and Internet, we’re able to connect with everybody across the globe – which was unheard of 20 years ago.
But like I said, we’re able to just pump out music that we want to pump out. We’re definitely not trying to compete with other labels – even other indie labels – we’re still trying to [create our own sound]. We really like the new stuff coming out, but we still kind of uphold our old styles. The majority of us on Mellow Orange grew up in the early nineties hip-hop, so that’s one of our main influences, but we’re definitely not purists or anything like that. We don’t shy away from new music being produced.
TCUS: I want to ask about a couple tweets of yours. This first one relates to what you were talking about. You say, “I’m trying to make intelligent music.” How would you describe that?
Freddie Joachim: [Laughs] I think for me, personally, I just want to make music that will have the listener sit down and reflect on whatever it is that they want to reflect on. I don’t make party music, you know? I don’t make music that most people dance to. I want to make music that makes you think about things. I guess that’s what I meant by intelligent music. A lot of my stuff is jazz sample-based, so I think part of that is learning the history of the samples I’m using and the conveying it into my own music.
TCUS: Here’s another one: “Don’t rap over other people’s beats, then try and put it up on iTunes for sale. Producers, keep an eye on your stuff.” What was the scenario here?
Freddie Joachim: I’m not going to get into the specifics of it, only because I don’t want to call out these artists. But some people have [done that]. I don’t have a problem with people rapping over my stuff or whatever they want to do over it and then releasing it for people to listen to for free. It’s fine. I release music for free all the time. You know, It’s gonna happen. But when you take a handful of my beats and then put it on a mixtape or an album, and then you put it up for sale without even consulting me about it or having my permission to do it, you have to regulate that stuff.
only about 1% of those rap songs out there that say "prod. by Freddie Joachim" are songs I actually had something to do with.
TCUS: Here’s another series of tweets sort of in the same vein: “Here it is kids. You gotta invest in your own projects. Stop buying shoes and other BS. Use that money for your album. I take artists more seriously if they use the money for their projects. Don’t got the dough? Find some work to get it done. Don’t expect handouts. Work on your craft, work on putting it out, and be professional when stepping to other artists or a label. Character goes a long way. If you’re all smoke and mirrors, seasoned artists and labels will see right through it. All I’m really saying is, respect the game. Sure, it’s easier now, but some artists helped build it, and they still go above and beyond and still continue to contribute and blow my mind.” Tell me more about what you’re trying to get at here.
Freddie Joachim: I see certain artists bigging themselves up and saying that they’re doing all this stuff – which is fine, especially for young artists – but for rappers especially, they make countless mixtapes when I feel they should be focusing on creating a full legit album – and that entails actually contacting producers or working with producers [and creating] something very specific to who they are as an artist. [Laughs] I see some people trying to start Kickstarter [campaigns] to fund their album, and the next thing you know, they’re posting something on Instagram that they bought some new Jordans. It’s kind of like, what are you doing? If you want people to take you seriously as an artist, you have to respect the process of making an album.
TCUS: If you could offer one piece of advice to up-and-coming artists – whether they’re rappers or producers – what would it be?
Freddie Joachim: I think one thing that’s important to me – say, if I was a young up-and-coming producer – is learning the history of music [and] learning about everything you want to get into. It’s so easy to pick up a mic and rap over something, but I feel like if the content isn’t good or worth thinking about, then it’s just noise. You have to set yourself apart from a lot of artists. There are a million producers and rappers out there. You have to find a way to convey who you are that’s different from the next person. I’m not saying you should try to upstage or be crazier than the next person, but just show who you really are.
I feel like a lot of people put up this front [that’s different from] who they really are, and I think it’s important to stay true to yourself and be humble. I understand being a young artist and being easily influenced by mainstream media. It’s so quick to make it big in music right now. But things take time. Some people make it overnight, and for other people it takes years. You have to hone your craft.
TCUS: Let’s broaden that question beyond the scope of just music. What’s the greatest life lesson you’ve learned?
Freddie Joachim: [Laughs] It sounds really cliche, but do what you love. You only really have one life to live, and you might as well try and make the effort to do something you absolutely love doing. That leads to you being happy throughout your whole life. You can’t be miserable behind a desk the rest of your life. I understand people have their 9-to-5’s to help them get through the day and [support their families], but always make time for something that you love.
TCUS: What’s next for you? What do you still want to do that you haven’t done yet?
Freddie Joachim: Right now, I’m slowly working on a new album – that’s probably going to be released sometime next year. Other than that, I’m mainly focused on the label. We’re gearing up to release this producer out of Detroit named Hero, and he’s kind of a good balance between the future type of music that’s pretty popular right now and the classic hip-hop stuff. I think he fits really well on the label. [As far as] the things I want to do, I definitely want to perform more. That’s why I’ve been practising my deejay and live performance game a little bit more. I want to perform in other cities around the world.