Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen
Photography by Jenkin Au
Jus Frais is a Halifax, Nova Scotia native who now makes incredible music out of his new home base of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Montreal possesses a surging DJ and dance scene that values the high energy beats that you can move to and Jus Frais has been right at home with his signature blend of hip-hop, southern hip-hop, dubstep, techno, drum and bass, and electronica. Furthermore, just as important to Jus Frais as music is the drive to constantly look to establish a cohesive culture within the Montreal hip-hop community that advocates cross promotion and cooperation in advancing the city’s already forward thinking musicians and consumers.
justalilhype! is at the market today to pick up some fresh juice. Also included on the shopping list is some information on Jus Frais’ formative years, the advantage of having perfect pitch, and the necessities of getting artists to work together in order to promote the scene as a whole. Jus Frais’ music is a step in a refreshingly new direction that will be sure to challenge and elevate your musical tastes.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Jus Frais. I am from Halifax, Nova Scotia and I now live in Toronto. I have been making music since I was a small child. I taught myself how to play the piano by ear and then I learned the guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard. I like to make hip-hop now because it is an expression of all the kinds of music I like and puts me in touch with my soul!
Nice. So do you have perfect pitch?
I do. It’s actually problematic. For example, I will hear a song for the first time, go home, jam out, and recreate something that I heard earlier that night. Mostly I like to make beats by composing them myself but it’s happened before. I will go home and I will play my beat for someone and they will be like, “It’s that Drake track I showed you earlier!” It doesn’t happen often and when it happens I just change it up, slide it around, pitch it up, and slow it down. Good composers borrow, great composers steal. Words to live by.
How did you first get into hip-hop?
I am a kid of the eighties. Hip-hop was a big part of pop culture. Break dancing was big and I was also exposed to hip-hop by the movies. Then DJ Critical a.k.a. Buck 65’s radio show turned me onto a lot of stuff that I wasn’t hearing on MuchMusic. I love many kinds of music and my love for hip-hop grew from that. I was in a band with DJ IV where he played bass and I played guitar. We both got into DJ-ing and I was just throwing on instrumentals and free styling over them and then gradually started MC-ing. Hip-hop provided a way for me to play all the instruments that I like, flip and chop samples, and basically took everything I loved about music and allowed me to do it all at once and call the end product something. In truth, what I do now would not traditionally be considered hip-hop except for the fact that I am rapping over it.
Tell us about your alias, Jus Frais.
It’s a nod to my homeland of Quebec. They are very nice to me here. They have my name on signs everywhere! When I moved here my name was just Jus, which means juice in French. I put a lot of time and effort into building that name too. Then I moved to Montreal and you would see fresh juice in the grocery store. “Jus Frais” means fresh juice. I thought that would make a cooler name. At first I was going to anglicize my alias but I thought it was stupid after a while. I wanted to pay a little more respect to Quebec. I titled my latest album C’est Cool. French people sometimes pick up my album simply due to the reason that it has a French name. French people don’t like French rap and it gives them a reason to look into my music and get something that they will probably like on top of that.
Why did you first relocated here?
Despite many rumours, we came over on a bus. It was a drunken whim to be completely honest. Switch K, who is my cousin, and I were chilling in Halifax and we just took the first bus to Montreal. I had just broken up with my girlfriend at the time and had moved back into my parent’s house. I had seven dollars to my name. That wasn’t going to fly for long anyways, as an adult so I thought that I would go to Montreal, see what was going on, only stay here for a week or two, and then return home. I ended up loving the place. I can’t leave now. I have tried to move to Toronto a few times and every time I am almost going to commit to it something pulls me back into Montreal. This city is just home, I don’t know why.
How has growing up in Halifax and then moving to Montreal affected your music?
I throw French into my rhymes now, which I didn’t use to do. The culture here is geared more towards DJ and the dance floor. I was always into that in Halifax but the people into hip-hop there were into the mean mugging aspect of it. I liked the 80’s and 90’s hip-hop where you danced and had fun. I liked techno, house, disco rap and all the stuff that is about rocking the party. When I moved here, everything that I liked about music was coming from the DJ culture way more than from the MC culture. DJs are the people I listened to and fell in line with and made friends with. I started gearing
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my live performances to that kind of energy. My production has become very electronic and synth heavy. I befriended DJ Vilify and she opened my mind up to other aspects of hip-hop culture. She is an amazing dub step DJ. I use hip hop, electronic, and dance music to inform my style and to rock the party.
Where do you plan on taking your music?
I want it to get weirder but at the same time retain some pop sensibilities. I feel that I have grown as a songwriter in terms of constructing my songs. I have begun to evolve from the traditional verse-chorus structure. I grew up with classical music and going back into writing hip-hop music I noticed that it is purely a compositional form. It’s cool and it’s a valid art form but composing music is an entirely different thing when you are working in scales and movements and making symphonic pieces. I am trying to engage more in that now and you will hear this on my album. Some of the songs are six or seven minutes long, with elements of progressive rock, and all with a strong beat that you can dance to. I am very inspired by OutKast and I am sure that anyone who listens to music will hear their influence too. I want to be more like Andre and Big Boi. In the same way that rappers pick up a Bronx accent without ever having been there I have absolutely picked up a southern accent when I rap, I just can’t help it.
Throughout the years, what do you think has been your biggest musical accomplishment so far?
I won an east coast music award for a track that I mixed and engineered. It was Switch K’s track, produced by Switch K, and DJ Y-Rush off of Switch K’s The Main Event. It was our first project after moving to Montreal. There was five of us living in a place meant for three on the east side. We stayed home and made three albums, Switch K’s album, my album, and another artists’ album, in a little over a month. We crushed it. Just doing that and building a following in Montreal with no connections and just off my talent, wit, charm and good looks would be one.
If you were to move somewhere else that is predominantly English speaking would you have changed your name despite the huge following that you have built here in Montreal?
Part of me would want to because I am weird like that but I think that it would be dumb at this point to do that. I might start toying with the idea of referring to myself in rhyme as ‘Fresh Juice’ a little more to help the rest of Canada know what ‘jus frais’ even means. I don’t want to alienate people. I mean, if I have to market myself in the states I don’t want to alienate people too much. At the same time, it’s not too much of a concern. I think it’s a cool name and surprisingly a large number of people knew it. Wendy Day knew what it meant and that’s enough for me.
What do you think about people downloading music for free?
I came up just on the tail-end of that. I am old enough to hate it but I am young enough to embrace it. I put out an incredible number of tracks for free this year. I am a producer and an artist and I make two or three songs a day, record them all, and I then will develop and really turn the good ones into songs. There are thousands of shitty songs. I was doing a track a day at the start of the year and I was going to continue doing that. I focused on the good ones that I was going to put out and focused on putting those into an EP. I am working on another EP that is almost ready to come out by the time this interview is seen called Lullabies and Other Bedtime Stories. I just stay busy with music at all times. It’s what I do. I am lucky not to have a real job. I can do whatever, whenever.
As a producer and artist, what is the direction you approach when you make beats and lyrics?
Usually my method is to sit at the piano and start playing, jamming around and looking for a good riff. Then, I will lay down the beat in a logic session with just the piano over the metronome. I will see where that takes me and then depending on how I feel I might work on the lyrics or I might lay down a melody for the chorus and produce the song that way. It almost always starts with the music first though. Sometimes, I will sit with my friends and somebody will say something and it will sound cool to me and we will turn that into a chorus and then I will it to music after that. Most of the times though I will put out a significant portion of the track, write the lyrics and then go back and finish the track.
How else have you made an effort to market your music to locals in Montreal beyond your name change?
The DJ culture is a great tool to market myself with. All my friends are DJ’s and I serve them with that fire. I ask them what they are playing and what is popular. Know what is big in Montreal kind of fuels what I do and allows me to feel like I am giving back to the city when I do stuff. It’s hard in hip-hop and I get a lot of flack for giving rappers shit constantly. Nobody is on their shit, nobody is reaching out to the media to get any shine for themselves and when they do, they are not speaking about anybody else so there is no culture and community here like there should be. So, one of the things I do besides preach constantly about that is to reach out to people, even if they are not reaching out to me. I talk about them and try to get some interest going on in what people are doing here so we can all move forward together. Nobody comes from nothing. I cannot be like, “Oh no I am the only one doing anything here, there is no one here, don’t bother,” because no one is going to care about that. It’s not interesting or something that people are likely to engage in. It’s doing a disservice to the scene. There are pretty sick artists here doing their own thing. Lou Pesci has done his thing with the battles he has set up; he is a bona fide celebrity in my eyes. I don’t consider battle to to be the highest form of hip-hop music. To me, it is kind of like stand-up comedy. It’s really cool to watch and it’s culturally hip-hop and they are doing cool stuff and getting a lot of shine. He handles his business very well. Nation Ruckus is sick. I like Mark Kings. There is a group called Ain’t No Love that is made up of some people from here and Toronto. Another great collective is MC Beans, MC 1990, and their producer is Love Thy Brother. They are incredibly talented. They call their music thug step. It is like dub step and gangsta rap. It’s innovative and interesting and serving the consumers with music that they want to consume. That is an important thing. It doesn’t make you any less of an artist if you make music with the goal of being successful or having people listen to it.
As individuals who are both artists and producers progress in their production skills their sounds will evolve and grow. If you were to let someone listen to your tracks today, which track would it be and why do you think that that track accurately sum up where your production level is currently at?
The track I would probably show people is Public to the Sky with Little Prince from Atlanta because it blends elements of electro, hip-hop, southern hip-hop, and drum and bass. It’s 170 bpm and the floor and rhythm that you will be dancing on is 100% drum and bass; it’s really fast. The production itself is 808’s, all day, and big, big cymbals. This song shows everything that I love in my music. It’s sparse and it’s not incredibly complex but it’s thick and beautiful in its simplicity. I have always tried to maintain simplicity. My old beats were simple. Now my beats are less simple but I think that they are more subtle. The musical ideas have matured and what I am able to do technically is to take the ideas in my head and transfer them to music much more effortlessly. I don’t want to take 20 hours to make a beat. I want to make this song and if it’s no good, whatever, I will make another one. Sitting around trying to perfect everything will make you bang your head against the wall. You are never going to release any material and you will never have a jump off point. I would rather release a shitty album and release consequently better albums and to become an experienced artist who has failed a million times and paid my dues than to come out of nowhere and be amazing. I am a bit of a perfectionist but you can’t polish a turd. If the idea sucks, it sucks. I like to work fast and I don’t spend any more time on a beat now than I used to but since I am more experienced, the beats sound better.
How do you decide which beats to keep and which beats to give out? How is that line distinguished?
With money. Typically, I have a small network of artists that I will work with and they will be in the studio, hear something, and maybe like playing to it. Chances are that if I am showing somebody something I have plans for it and it is spoken for. I don’t make a lot of throwaway beats. The artists that I know are aware of my work ethic and my work and they have seen how I can coax the best performances from artists. I charge hourly for studio time including production and it works out better that way because I am working the whole time and the artist is working the whole time and we create a unique piece that we worked on together. I have an album that I am doing with a producer in Saskatchewan and he will send me beats and I will send him notes on them and every few months we will meet in Toronto and we will work together. You can’t capture the right energy or vibe when you are trying to jam with someone apart. I don’t want that and I don’t want other artists mixing my work. It often sucks and I sounds bad. I am very careful about what I put my name on. I like having a high level of control over my work unless there is money involved. I am an artist and I am hungry so you can do whatever the hell you want with it as long as you just pay up. Money will solve any of my reservations.
What is HYPE?
HYPE is that certain thing that you can’t really put your finger on. It is a kind of energy that everyone has. When you are in a situation that is HYPE you feel that energy and it drives you and everyone can sort of poke around and see each other and feel it. It is a positive energy that motivates you to do something rather than just sitting around and talking about it. However, chances are that you will end up talking about it a lot.