What is your name?
Jordan Lieb. My artist name is Black Light Smoke.
My other aliases are John Hughes Daydream (Cut Mistake Music) and Ether Vandross (Death Decay Magic).
Where are you currently based?
I recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I lived in Brooklyn, New York for 16 years. I love New York and did everything I could possibly do there. I had a lot of fun playing gigs, parties, after-parties, after-after-parties… it’s a great place to never sleep. Today I am living a different life. I am getting married, continuing to build a career in music, and hopefully a family. These days I love the little things. I have a small garden of plants and flowers on my porch. That’s my new hobby.
Depression Sleeping EP is coming out on Voodoo Down Records, what influenced this EP?
The three tracks on this EP are from my archives, going back as early as 2009. Getting together with Voodoo Down was a great opportunity for me to give some old tunes a new platform. Sleep and insomnia have been a struggle for me since I was a teenager. Only now, in my late 30s, am I facing it and doing something about it in a healthy way. The theme of this record has been transforming the struggles of my past into something creative, something I can share with people. I survived sleeplessness, I survived New York, I survived techno. Now I’m having fun with it.
How do you usually go about producing your tracks?
It often starts with a flash of an idea, a quick snapshot of the vibe of the track in my head. Then I just start building it, usually starting with the drums. The beauty is that many times I don’t arrive at the end product I imagined. I let myself take detours as they arise, or follow the accidents as they happen.
It’s all about the vibe of the first sound. I can’t just lay down some drums and say “I’ll go back and make them sound right later.” They’ve got to sound just right from the beginning. They need to capture the entire mood just by how they feel. The feeling of the song comes from the character of the sounds. These days I aim for simple arrangements. The trick to a simple track is that each element needs character. That can be really challenging. It’s really about writing and mixing at the same time, so each element feels intentional.
What equipment do you use?
I compose in Logic, and I use a mix of software and hardware synths. I start with plugins out of laziness until the soft synths stop exciting me. There’s not enough noise in the signal, not enough imperfection to plugins. The synth I live by is the Juno-106. I have had success with the Nord Lead, the Micro Korg, the Doepfer Dark Energy, but I always come back to the Juno. Of course there are some plugins I totally love as well. Spectrasonics Omnisphere rules. My favorite weapon in the Korg M1 plugin. My brain gets so fired up by certain sounds from the 80s… must be a childhood nostalgia thing. I do own a hardware Korg M1 Rack, but it’s really there for backup. If one day Korg decides to stop releasing software updates I got that beast ready to go.
I often run my synths through an old version of the guitar Pod for hiss and noise. Clean sounds bore me. Bright, clean mixes bore me. I’m a big fan of using the Soundtoys Decapitator and DevilLocDeluxe both for producing and final mixing.
I use Battery for my drum programming, or the EXS24 Logic sampler if I’m making my own drum banks. For dance drums usually I don’t stray too far from the classics: Roland 707, 808, 909, a little distortion and I’m there.
I’m not a gear snob. I’m not an analog purist nor a vinyl purist as a DJ. That attitude in other musicians always bums me out. I use whatever sparks an idea. Some great ideas have come from very unsuspecting places.
What’s the plan following the release of Depression Sleeping?
I have three other dance records coming out. The Perfecto EP on NEIN records, and a double EP on Hafendisko that will be spaced out over two releases. I’m equally excited for all three records. I debuted one of the tracks, “Loving You”, during a live set on Boiler Room last year, and have been getting a ton of inquiries about its release. Honestly it was all the push I got from fans that moved me to get that track out. Look for it in late 2017 on Hafendisko.
You’re also releasing Perfecto EP on NEIN records, where did you produce this EP?
This EP was started while I was still living in New York. I sent the demos to Neil Parnell (Tronik Youth), and he jumped on them. I love how he just doesn’t hesitate. He was like “Yeah we’re doing this! Write a slow, chuggy one for the B side and it’s on”. I need that from record labels. I can no longer deal with people who don’t communicate or who drag their feet. I want to know you are just as excited to get this music out as I am. Releasing music should be a fun project for everyone involved.
How do you find inspiration prior to producing each track?
Imitation. Copy. I emulate the music I love. I know that doesn’t sound glamorous, but truthfully I’m always trying to capture something else that inspires me. Originality is overrated. Individuality is kind of a myth anyways. We all mimic and copy because it makes us feel more interesting. I’ve always tried to copy my heroes. That’s what gets me excited to sit down and write music. The fun part is that I never end up with an exact replica of what I’m copying. I get lost along the way and I end up with something totally unexpected. Maybe that is a kind of individuality… it’s more about embracing the accidents and chaos that happen in the process than it is about creating something that’s never been heard before. Plus that’s what gets me into new territory: by imitating I end up trying new things. So many times it’s been the process of “how the hell did they get that sound?” that gets me learning something new.
Also, it’s not complete mimicry I’m after, it’s the bits and pieces I want. I can go through my music and say “this baseline is totally inspired by The Cure’s ‘Fascination Street’, or that synth pattern is so clearly me worshiping ‘Pump Up The Jam’ by Technotronic, or this piano sound is so disgustingly every 90s house anthem.” I don’t even try to hide how much I admire other music. I just imitate it cause it makes me happy.
Is there anything that your currently working on?
I’m putting together a catalogue of all the unreleased Black Light Smoke material from 2010 to present. When I first started BLS it wasn’t dance music. I was so burned out from house and techno I wanted to do something experimental and wild, something like Throbbing Gristle. The result was pretty emotional and introspective. There are even a few ballads in there. That material is so dear to my heart, it took me a long time to find a home for it. I was being really protective of it. It was also hard to find someone who was really interested in my non-dance music. I love house music but I have found the scene to be surprisingly rigid.
Cut Mistake Music heard those songs and basically said “I want them all!” CMM is my good friend Connor Whiriskey in Brooklyn, the same guy who released my John Hughes Daydream record. His passion for those songs, his vision to make sure they come out with the right spirit, was the push I was looking for to really embrace that music and get it out there. Look for those records starting in early 2018.
I have a few side projects. One is a volume of edits and remixes that I post as free downloads on soundcloud. It’s such a fun exercise for me to work on something I didn’t write, to take tracks that move me and change them around. Faster, slower, weirder, crunchier, it’s all about recontextualizing something your brain may already recognize and presenting it in a fresh way. Again, I don’t shy away from borrowing other peoples ideas. The other project is my Death Decay Magic podcast series, mixes from myself and others with free reign to explore the deeper end of our record crates. I discover a lot of music I’ve never heard before that way. It’s always a surprise to see what DJs will bring to the table, and it encourages me to dig deeper and discover new stuff for my own mixes.
Also, I’m working as a composer and songwriter for Duotone Audio Group in New York City. Those guys have been so good to me, supporting my ideas, bringing us steady and interesting work in the TV and movie industries, supporting my move to Nashville. I am excited about the work we are doing. It’s rare to feel that my personal music and commercial work can complement one another.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I basically suck when it comes to new music. It requires real effort on my part to pay attention to what’s coming out today. My lovely wife-to-be Stephanie is always showing me new pop music and I love that. I cannot deny a good pop song.
I’ve been having a bit of a Nine Inch Nails revival these days. Let’s see… last night I was driving home blasting The Cure’s “Disintegration”… so good. I’m also discovering Elvis Presley. I know I’m late, but it just took me this long to listen with fresh ears and an open mind. Elvis is just assumed by the culture. I can never hear something properly if too many people assume it’s good.
What do you like to do outside of music?
Right now I’m learning about plants. I hope to have a big yard one day and a garden with fruits and vegetables. I’m fascinated with moths. There are some really huge, wild moths down here in the county. Also, I love to box, which I’ve been getting back in to lately. I’m really enjoying the change of pace from New York to Nashville. This really is a cool town. A few weeks ago we went and saw Bob Moses perform one night, and Gillian Welch at the Ryman Auditorium the next night. The Ryman is where the Grand Ole Opry was for many years. This town clearly has a reverence for music and for the song. It’s really wonderful.