There are few producers out there willing to push the boundaries of sound and not conform to one type of genre. One of those producers is MAKJ, the former race car driver turned producer/DJ has dabbled in a variety of genres from bounce and electro, to bass, and even deep house. After releasing the massive hit “Party Till We Die” with Timmy Trumpet and Andrew WK last year. MAKJ has explored other sounds in 2017 with his new track “Knock Me Down” and his deeper edit of “Work Me” by MADLY, and a delightful remix of Ed Sheeran‘s smash hit “Shape of You.” I got to talk to Mackenzie before his St. Patrick’s Day show at Exchange LA. Needless to say, the building was extra festive. Here’s what Mack had to say.
Hey Mack, 2016 was a big year, you played EDC, you had a huge hit with Party Til We Die. What were some of the highlights for you, what do you have planned for 2017 as you continue to grow as an artist?
“2016 was crazy; it was a year of not really releasing music though, I released two records last year. I was gigging more and getting more exposure than ever, because people were waiting for my next release, which is nuts. 2017 started off crazy, I released one record in January, two tracks in February, and then coming into March and April, I’m doing all the Miami stuff of course, but just a lot of cooler, more MAKJ events that cater to my style. I love the EDC crowd, but honestly, my true passion is doing smaller, more club environment places, like Exchange. Everyone that comes to see me is coming to see me specifically, if you go to EDC, you’re kind of there for everyone. So 2017, a lot more music that is more about the background of Mackenzie Johnson and MAKJ.”
You’re such a versatile producer and you never conform to one style. Tell me a little about your production process and how you decide which direction to take a track?
“To be honest, I really just go off my DJ sets, which is almost unheard of nowadays for a lot of producers. I mean, yes, what works works, but going off more what I like to make is more of the 2009-2010 style of hip-hop and mixing it with electronic elements. That’s where I’m going this year. A lot more stuff that makes Mackenzie happy, so I can sit in the studio all day and be like, fuck yeah, I’m stoked on what I’m making, and not saying I’m making this for someone else.”
You just released a new song with Max Styler, “Knock me Down”, it has a really cool kind of future house/bass vibe and it’s really different. I love the Elayna Boynton vocal, she has that smoky jazz voice. How did you guys come up with the track?
“How we found her was that Jaso (his manager) works for a management company called ATC, which they do a lot of TV commercials, so I was like let me look through their catalog one day, and I found Elayna. On her resume was that she sang the theme song for Django Unchained, how crazy is that. So I was like, yo, let’s get this chick on a fucking record. But, here’s the thing, to get someone who’s super bluesy and almost like a bluegrass feel, to say, hey let’s pitch an EDM record to her, that shit’s wack. Most performers would be like nah, I’m good, that’s okay. So, to pitch that record to her and be like, hey, I really like this, it was amazing to me. It was easy to work with her and she’s an amazing singer, but it was a different vibe. You don’t really hear a lot of those vocals, the soulful bluegrass vocals, on electronic records. Max definitely put his style into the record, it’s more future bass-y, it was a fun record. Plus, Max lives like 30 minutes away from my parents’ house. We had to work on a record together.”
You have a ton of rap remixes and your awesome new Ed Sheeran remix as well. What kind of music do you listen to? Any specific influences musically?
“What’s the last thing I listened to? I listen to a lot of classic rock, I’m from San Luis Obispo, so everything on the radio is from the era of 1960-1995, nothing else beyond that. So listening to Traveling Wilburys, which Tom Petty and a couple of other guys were in the band, Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, that stuff I grew up on. My step-dad owned a record store, so being influenced by that style of music throughout my whole entire life, I think catered me into being a DJ, to be honest. Playing weddings, playing Michael Jackson, I actually enjoyed it because that was the stuff I grew up listening to. For a lot of people that’s hard because they have to be forced to play that because that’s what people like. In my case I was really into that music while I was playing it. (Checks Spotify) The last thing I listened to was “Mask Off” by Future.”
I know you’re a California native, what’s it like when you get to come play in L.A. Do you ever miss the quiet life in SLO?
“All the time, I live in San Diego right now, I learned my lesson by living in L.A. To me, L.A. is great because you can check up on all the people who are working for you and being like what the fuck are you doing? But, there wasn’t really an advantage of me living in L.A., minus the airport. There’s a lot of beautiful people here, my manager lives here, it’s a lot easier for me to go do meetings and not have to call them and be annoying, and emails, and so much better to shake hands and be face-to-face instead of over fucking technology. So San Diego’s not that far, but missing SLO is kind of like going to Vegas. You go to Vegas for a week, and after that week you’re like get me the fuck out of here. SLO is very similar because there’s not a lot of stuff going on, and once you kind of accomplish everything when you’re living in SLO like going on hikes, doing the nature stuff, you kinda get over it really fast, and growing up there. I mean, how long can you go home for? 2 or 3 days and you’re like, mom, shut the fuck up. That’s how it is. But, I’ll go to SLO if I ever can’t think of a song. So, yeah, I miss SLO sometimes.”
Any words for the fans?
“Thank you for supporting my shit for this long. It’s crazy, it’s only been like four years, and how crazy the scene has gone left and right, back and forth. I remember a few years ago Swedish House Mafia was headlining, and now a guy with a bucket on his head is headlining. There’s so much shit going on in the world of electronic music, so thank you to all my fans who have supported me thus far, and for continually coming to my shows, and being the MAKJ supporters they first started out as.”
Check out MAKJ’s new single with Max Styler “Knock Me Down” featuring Elayna Boynton on Spotify and Soundcloud below.