Having released some remixes of Home barely eight months ago, Dirtybird’s late-afternoon funkster Justin Jay is back with a new album through his sprawling Fantastic Voyage project: everything will come together pt. 1. A song cycle of sorts about a woman who made the congenial and (seemingly) confident Jay choke up a little bit, it’s got some serious psychedelic vibes and a bit of an indie edge. He’s coming to the roof of the Hotel VIA in SoMa this Sunday, June 2 for a six-hour set with his full-band, and shrewd fans may be able to piece together glimpses of this mystery woman’s identity.
Jay spoke with SF Weekly about this potential love interest who was able to make such an extroverted DJ and musician shy, the likelihood of a Part 2 to the record, and the future direction of Fantastic Voyage. This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
I quasi-ran into you less than two weeks ago at the Woogie Stage at Lightning in a Bottle, but you were surrounded by people. How was L.I.B.?
Dude, it was so much fun. I just went for fun. I didn’t DJ, except for a little bit at some afterparty shenanigans.
Yeah, it’s the greatest. I’m loving this newest album of yours, too. The standout track to me is “She’s Afraid to Choose,” the California Honeydrops collaboration, which has me grooving in my cubicle. And this latest effort feels like you’ve consolidated everything into one push forward.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
That sounds accurate to you?
I think so, that sounds good to me. It’s hard to look inward when things are crazy, but sounds good to me.
So who is this mystery woman that is making you shy around her?
You’re the first person to actually ask! It’s funny, because it’s a fellow artist. I think one of the defining songs off of this chapter was “Learn” — and it’s so funny, we were at a festival together that we were both playing and it was couple nights long and the first night I got to hang out with her and I was like, “Wow, she’s so awesome. This was all a very middle-school, summer-camp vibe, and right before I went to bed, we kissed. It was like a peck on the lips, and it was super-scary and it was great. Just like a kiss, not a makeout thing or anything. I went to bed and I was on my back looking at the ceiling going, “Wow, that was the best thing ever!” And then the last night of the festival I ran into her again, and I was super-awkward.
Did you get to first base this time?
I was super-uncomfortable and I couldn’t think of anything to say. Just kind of avoiding her a little bit: “Oh my God, I’m blowing it.” I went home by myself and was so sad ’cause I thought I blew it, and I sang the chorus of “Learn” into my laptop speakers and just made it in my room. The story then actually continued after that moment, but I think that’s what this part of the album is all about: me grappling with my own awkwardness, and then things kind of working out, and then things not working out, and then maybe they’ll work out in the future. All this stuff that I’m just overthinking and over-worrying about and so the name of the album is Everything Will Come Together.
Part of it is in those moments of overthinking and worrying too much about the future. The goal is to relax and trust that everything will come together on the inside. It’s really about like me trying to tell myself to let go and chill out. It’s way easier said than done, obviously. But I think Part 1 of this album ends with a cliffhanger and I’m excited to share Part 2. Not everything has been fully written, but the story definitely continues — and it’s a lot of fun to be writing songs. You have to let yourself into the music in a very visceral way and it’s like a time capsule of where things were. Even if something good happens or something bad happens, you get to feel good and win in your own way by getting the feelings out through songwriting. It’s super-cathartic, and I really love it.
I respect your desire to keep this individual’s identity secret, but does she know that there’s an album — or a possible album cycle — about her?
I have no idea if she knows. I sent her some of the songs right when I wrote them, and she knew that they were about her and she liked that. Yeah, I don’t know. I guess that’s kind of a spoiler, because we’re still friendly. I feel like I’m giving away too much right now! Short answer: No, she doesn’t. [Laughs] I don’t know! It doesn’t really matter, because I feel also in this process, the cool thing about writing some of these songs is they’re not just about her. If you’re feeling something you can get inspiration from that girl in high school or whatever and it’s like, “Oh wow, I’m thinking about both these experiences.” It’s not always so black-and-white, but thematically and in terms of the narrative, she definitely inspired the arc of this album, and it’s awesome. I appreciate it.
Are you still playing with the same band? The composition of the band has not changed?
The composition, I feel like, is always loosely floating around the same group of people based on who’s free. It’s all friends from college or high school, and together, the concept of Fantastic Voyage is it’s a label of artists and DJs and individuals who then just also come together as a full band. I think one of the biggest variables is our drummer, Henry Was. His other band is Thumpasaurus. I’ve released some of their music on Fantastic Voyage, and I’m a humongous fan and they’ve been having a really big sort of moment where they started to tour really heavily and doing some big festivals and stuff. The moments when Thumpasaurus is on the road, Henry isn’t free to be our drummer, but our keyboard player Danny does the switcheroo and hops on the drums.
Toward the end of the summer, we’re trying to set up a show or two with Thumpasaurus, so Henry will be back on the drums. Another big variable is our percussionist, Andy, who is the only one in the band who doesn’t live in L.A. We met him at [cruise-ship festival] Holy Ship, he just came up to me and said, “Can I play bongos with you guys?” He never heard my music or anything. We’d been rehearing for months, we’d been on tour for months — and it was like a festival show and you need to know the music to perform in the band. And I’m like, “Yeah, sure!”
He just came up to you? He was a stranger?
A total stranger.
I’m going to try that with someone whose music I like. I’m just going to be like, “I got this tambourine, can I shake it for you?”
Tambourine is hard, though. Make sure to practice a little bit and you’ll be rocking and rolling. The spirit of how all these musical collaborations started for me was, “Fuck it, let’s give it a shot. I don’t know if it’s going to work or not.” That’s in my DNA, and it always terrifies my bandmates at times, so I apologize to them for throwing then into the fire in different ways but ultimately, my mindset is let’s try stuff ’cause it’s fun. If we’re having fun, then it’s all worth it.
What would you say is the ratio of how you’re spending your time DJing as opposed to songwriting and singing?
I don’t know, man. I guess it depends on boring stuff like band’s availability and scheduling. I think also, with the band, it just takes a lot to make it happen in terms of getting a bunch of people together, rehearsing, dealing with all the equipment. The DJing is the easier: no equipment, no rehearsals, one person. One thing that’s a little scary for the band is I’m singing and that’s not the easiest thing. The more I do the band consistently, the easier it is, but it’s one of those things. It would be super 50-50, but we’re still figuring out a lot of this stuff. We’re not super-experienced and don’t know all the tricks, but we just get to have a lot of fun — and really, we would get to do both on the some night. Our ideal situation would be our crew gets to take over the full programming and everyone in the band gets to DJ for a little bit, and then we also get to do the live show.
In addition, I’ve been spending a lot of my energy focusing on my label, trying to get a bunch of my bandmates original EPs prepared so that we can release them and people can see how dope my homies are. They’re making so much awesome music, we’re also setting up a bunch of Fantastic Voyage residencies that don’t involve me where different DJs within the crew get to do their own performances. We have one set up in Houston and one in San Diego, setting up a couple others. That plus new music almost every two weeks though the end of the year.
How many people are in the overall crew, counting even the auxiliary people?
Dude, so many. The core band, the rhythm section is Danny G, Benny Bridges, Sam von Horn, and Henry Was. That’s four people. We’ve got Josh Taylor who sings and the Thumpasaurus guys, so that’s like five people and then there’s random DJs that we like and who are part of the label, like this guy Houseboy, aka Fritz Carlton. We got a lot of European people who are going to be out on the label. This guy Elliot Adamson, he’s super cool and got an EP under his alias Million Dollar Man. A bunch of European hipster dudes doing remixes on our upcoming releases. We’ve got Fluke, Salary Boy, a guy named Brag Circuit, Kill Frenzy, some Dirtybird people too. There’s a lot of really exciting stuff that we’re working on and hopefully we can do the juggle. It’s definitely intense sometimes, but it’s also really exciting. We got our first couple vinyl releases coming out. The first one being a Tasty Edits EP from a Hong Kong artist called Romain FX, stuff like that. We just get to nerd out about all this music stuff.
Are you still dropping into the choir at your alma mater?
That’s so awesome that you asked about that! We had our last recital for the spring back in April, and dude, it was so much fun. There’s going to be a new choir director in the fall, and I don’t know if he’s going to be chill with me dropping in. The last one was “Come whenever you want, when you’re free. No worries.” It was the dopest situation and if I can, I will keep on doing it. It’s the best way for me to stay consistent with practicing singing and getting better musically. You’ve got to read music. The repertoire is super-outside of what I’m normally exposed to, whether it’s classical, folk, different types of world music. In the past couple years, we did a Serbian song, a Polynesian song, different African songs, songs in Spanish, Italian, German. I would not be exposed to any of this stuff if I was just on Beatport looking for a house or techno track!
Justin Jay’s Fantastic Voyage and live band, Sunday, June 2, 2-8 p.m., at the Hotel VIA rooftop, 138 King St. $15-$200, tickets.