Stimulator Jones Talks about His Debut LP on Stones Throw, New Single "Tempt Me With Your Love" and More
Stimulator Jones has only recently come to our attention, thanks to a successful appearance at the most recent installment of SXSW and a helpful nod in his direction from Stones Throw Records. Over the years, Stones Throw has been responsible for spreading the word and music of several artists dear to our hearts here at WMF, including Gary Wilson, Nite Jewel, Mild High Club, Folerio, and Prophet. And while Stimulator Jones is one of the label's newest signings, we already had plenty to talk about, and eagerly welcomed to opportunity to discuss his debut album Exotic Worlds and Masterful Treasures, the latest single, "Tempt Me With Your Love", some of his past work, and more.
Bobby Weirdo: You recently played SXSW. How was it?
Stimulator Jones: It was great to be there, see all the other Stones Throw family, hang out with people I had met before, and also meet new people and see them perform. The Stones Throw showcase was a great show; I enjoyed myself for sure.
BW: You bring up Stones Throw. Are you the newest signing to the label?
SJ: I’m one of the new ones; I think there are some other people who have been signed after me.
BW: How aware of Stones Throw were you before getting signed to the label, and what’s the background to you getting signed?
SJ: I’ve been a fan of Stone Throw since around 1999, when I was in 8th grade. I was super into DJing and turntablism, and trying to get my hands on any of that kind of stuff that I could, [like] the Beat Junkies and The X-Ecutioners. I remember going into a local record store, The Record Exchange, and seeing Peanut Butter Wolf’s first album, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton. I bought it, because I had heard about it through an e-mail list I was a part of related to DJing and crate-digging. Not having heard it, it seemed promising, and I loved it. Then I heard the first Rasco album, Time Waits for No Man. He was one of the early rappers on the label. I also heard some of the early Lootpack stuff as well. Obviously, a few years later, Madlib started releasing all his different projects, and the Madvillain album came out, which was crazy.
I liked all of that, and I continued to keep up with Stones Throw. So I’ve been a big fan since the 8th grade, listening to these albums in my bedroom. It’s pretty crazy be a part of the roster.
[As to] how it happened, I had a song on a compilation prior to this [upcoming] album. Sofie [Fatouretchi], who previously worked for Boiler Room and Stones Throw contacted me out of nowhere. She had found my music online, hit me up, and asked if I wanted to contribute music to a compilation she was putting together for Stones Throw. I sent her a folder of music, and she ended up picking a track or two that she liked, and then she put me in touch with Peanut Butter Wolf. He said he liked my music, was looking forward to working with me on the compilation, and maybe some other stuff in the future.
We exchanged phone numbers, and eventually he called me. We talked on the phone for twenty minutes and hit it off quickly. Stones Throw had me come out to L.A. to meet them at the office, check out the studio and all that, and we decided we wanted to work together.
BW: On the outside at least, it seems like there's something special about Stones Throw, the way Peanut Butter Wolf really gets behind the artists with whom he works. Even visually, he’s seen with the artists on his label, and clearly introduces Stones Throw artists to a wider audience.
SJ: I think that comes from his DJ background. He’s such a good DJ that he’s a good curator and selector of interesting art and music. It’s part of that tradition - presenting things that he likes to the masses. That’s the same thing that he does as a DJ.
BW: In one sense, Exotic Worlds & Masterful Treasures is your debut album, but you’ve done a lot of music in the past not as Stimulator Jones, right?
BW: So is Stimulator Jones an alter ego, or just a project? How did you come up with the name?
SJ: Prior to Stimulator Jones, I was doing more straight-forward hip hop and rap music. I was DJing, rapping, and doing all the beats. I was calling myself Joneski, and I released a mixtape and a collaborative EP with someone else. A friend of mine has a cassette label, and he released one of my cassettes. It was more straight-forward hip hop, and I decided that I wanted to take that energy and hip hop production and sensibility, but introduce some more elements. [I wanted to be] singing on more of an R 'n' B and funk record, with melodic things going on with structured songs, and a mixture of programmed and sampled sounds with live instruments.
That morphed into Stimulator Jones. Jones is my middle name, and a friend of mine called me The Stimulator one time. Somehow I put the two together. It doesn’t have a meaning; it just sounds interesting.
BW: It sounds like you had a concept for Exotic Worlds & Masterful Treasures, and you were writing for it as a complete album.
SJ: Yeah, but it’s a collection of music that was recorded over a two-year period. I did have the intention after I had recorded enough material to go through and put together an album that made sense out of the various tracks I was recording individually. I didn’t have any kind of concept in mind as far as a theme for the album. I was recording songs one by one, and later I decided which ones I wanted to group together.
BW: With that in mind, how did you get such a distilled, focused sound? Was it just where you were creatively at the time, or were you holed up listening to a particular group of artists or records? To not have a concept or theme in mind, it seems remarkable that Exotic Worlds & Masterful Treasures is so consistent in its character, sounding especially informed by 90s R ‘n' B.
SJ: I was definitely listening to and studying a lot of different artists and producers, absorbing their styles of songwriting and production. Going back and listening to older records to try to find out what gear they used and how they did what they did is always something I’ve enjoyed doing. I like to pick it apart and then put my own spin on it, putting my own energy through that form and template.
So I had an idea of the vibe and texture that I wanted the music to have. I feel that from track to track there’s enough variety in the rhythms, songs, and structure to keep it interesting, but I did try to keep a similar energy through the whole album. It’s like what Jimmy Jam describes as funky bottom and a pretty top. Basically the drums and bass and rhythm tracks are very syncopated, funky, and rooted in the earth, but the higher-end instruments like the guitar and keyboards are beautiful and ethereal sounding textures. [I was] trying to merge those two.
BW: You mention Jimmy Jam, and I feel that a track like “Need Your Body” especially channels a Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis vibe. Were they an influence?
SJ: Yeah, and with that song, I didn’t even realize when I wrote it that some of the chords are in Human League’s “Human”. I unconsciously took some of those chords, but I made it into my own thing. I love the sound that they achieved on their productions, and they were definitely somebody that I listened to and took sonic cues from.
BW: The single “Tempt Me With Your Love” comes out on Tuesday, April 17. It’s a cool pick for a single because it’s the last track on the album, and has a slightly different, more open vibe than the other tracks on the album. Were you involved with picking that, or was that Stones Throw’s decision? It’s definitely a standout track on the album.
SJ: Thank you. It was a little of both. I think Stones Throw picked that one, and I mentioned that it would be a good candidate for a single. That song was actually one of the first songs that I recorded once I started going in this direction, doing a Stimulator Jones album with vocals. The original demo version is a little faster than the one that’s on the album. At Peanut Butter Wolf’s suggestion, I went back and re-made it just a little bit slower. It gave it a nice relaxed groove, and we decided to roll with the re-done version.
BW: A track like “Soon Never Comes” so accurately captures the sound of the particular era and genre of music. What is it that motivates or informs such a strong and authentic-sounding reference to 90s R ‘n B in a track like that?
SJ: Basically, I’m just trying to make music that's fun for me to make and fun for people to listen to. I’m not thinking a lot about it from any conceptual angle; I’m just doing what I feel like doing. At the time [that I recorded this album], I felt like making music that had that sound, and anything I do, I’m going to go one hundred percent into it, and – like you said – make it as accurate as possible. It’s sort of like method acting – trying to see how deep I can get into that form. It’s definitely a challenge for myself, but a fun challenge.
BW: On tracks like “Sweet Love” and “Tell Me Girl”, it sounds like there’s a more experimental undercurrent happening, though it might be something as simple as vinyl crackling. What is that?
SJ: I sampled the music you hear on those two tracks. Obviously I added drums, bass, and other layers to it, but those are two sample-based tracks. I wanted those two to have an ethereal vibe that might be described as experimental, or whatever. I wanted them to have that strong rhythm and beat, but also be textured, layered, ethereal, and spacey sounding.
BW: Does Stimulator Jones talk about other past projects, like The Young Sinclairs, or is that a completely separate universe?
SJ: I do talk about it some. There are things I do on a local level where I live in Roanoke, Virginia. Though The Young Sinclairs have toured, and we’ve released a lot vinyl through labels in Europe and in America. That was a project I dedicated a lot of my life to, but at this point, Stimulator Jones is my main focus.
I was blessed with the ability to play a lot of different instruments within a lot of different styles and genres, so I like to do that. It’s just fun and interesting for me, and I listen to all kinds of genres of music, too. It’s fun to branch out, have my hand in different musical projects, and not just have my focus all on one particular thing. It keeps things fresh for me.
BW: The material on the Sam Lunsford cassette are great. “Just Wanted to Help”, for instance, is a fantastic track.
SJ: Thank you! I did two Sam Lunsford albums, and I was pretty proud of those. That was sort of similar to The Young Sinclairs, but different enough that I felt I needed to release it as something else. It’s possible I will make another one of those albums, or I may just make something that sounds like that and release it as Stimulator Jones – I don’t know. Because really, I don’t want Stimulator Jones to just release the same album over and over. I don’t want to paint myself into a corner of having one particular sound. We’ll see – I definitely want to keep things interesting and progress as an artist.
And I think Peanut Butter Wolf understands that. He’s like me; he listens to everything. He has knowledge about a lot of different kinds of music, and clearly he’s not hung up on Stones Throw having one particular kind of sound as far as what they release. [With] all the stuff they’ve released over the years, I think creativity, freedom, and expression is what he’s all about, and I’m the same way. I feel good about working on my next project.
BW: Here’s a random one: do you still know the drum part to “Squib Cakes”?
SJ: Oh yeah – definitely! I could go play it right now! I’m a big fan of David Garibaldi, and drums was my first instrument. I have an older brother, and he was the first one to play drums in my immediate family. He got a drum set when he was four or five, and I just always remember it being there in our house. Eventually I started sitting down and messing around on it. It wasn’t anything serious, but then around 3rd grade, I decided that I was serious about learning how to play drums. So my dad showed me a little bit, and obviously I watched my brother. He wouldn’t give me any lessons or anything, but I would watch him. Eventually I would go down to the basement, play drums almost every day, and figured it out.
My brother and I were James Brown fanatics from a young age, and we were always trying to figure out how they were doing those crazy funk beats with all those ghost notes and crazy 16th-note patterns. This was in the 90s, so we couldn’t just get on YouTube and look up lessons or tutorials. We had to just listen to the track over and over, sit down on the drums, and try to decipher it. We figured out “Squib Cakes” and “Ebony Jam”…so yeah, I could go sit at the kit and bang that out for you right now!
BW: So the “Tempt Me With Your Love” is out as of April 17, and the new album, Exotic Worlds & Masterful Treasures, is out April 27. Besides that, what is the immediate future looking like for Stimulator Jones?
SJ: I’m going to be doing some kind of record release show in L.A. – I think with Prophet, because his album is about to come out. I’m shooting another music video, hopefully doing some U.S. touring later this year, and I’m looking at doing some European tour dates as well.
You can pre-order Exotic Worlds & Masterful Treasures here.
Cover photo by Robert LeBlanc