ArtistWorks Blog

Interview with DJ E-Na

Tell us about this new album, where did the idea come from?

The idea came from me making my decision to no longer be a Soldier. It was an extremely hard decision to willingly give up a steady paycheck, and a job I enjoyed doing for an uncertain future of possibly having to live with friends or family and have pretty much no income. It was a huge risk I took and it caused a lot of stress. So I started looking into meditation, and later the chakras. During all that research and practice I saw meditation as a great way for me to get back to being me when I was feeling down and out. However, I noticed there was a more therapeutic feeling involved in just zoning out and becoming one with whatever beat I was scratching to. With that being said, it’s somewhat common knowledge that talking about your issues or concerns can help you through troublesome times. My problem is I’m not good at sitting down and talking to anyone about my feelings, but when I make music it all just leaks out and I need to share it so I can get feedback so I can continue to grow.

How does it compare to your last album, Fast Food Music?

Fast Food Music was birthed at the same time the idea for This Is My Therapy. The state of music in general is kind of depressing and as a DJ in clubs you are expected to play at least some of it because people “want” to hear it. This Is My Therapy is much more personal. The only real comparison is both of these albums were meant as a learning experience for me to create my next one, which has been the plan from the beginning. It is going to be a gross combination of the 2 and I still don’t know if I’m capable of pulling it off.

How long did you work on it?

This is going to sound crazy for a 7-song album but I worked on this project for over a year. In my defense most of this time was spent digging, engineering the beats to sound right to me, going back to college, taking IT certification exams, job hunting, and working a barely pays the bills job.

What equipment did you use? 

I used a bit of Traktor and the Z2 with an innofader PNP installed with 2 1200’s, 2 Vestax 06 Pro’s with 1 1200 in the middle, Maschine Mikro to make the beats, Reaper to record, a Samsung Galaxy S3, and records.

How long have you been making beats / skratching?

I’ve been scratching for about 4 and a half years now. This last year has been mainly cleaning up the scratches I know. I’ve been making beats for a little over 2 years, but composing music and recording for 15 years or so.

Love the phrasing, how'd you go about choosing samples to cut?

Thank you so much! Choosing samples was rough man. I wanted to use mostly samples I haven’t heard people cut up yet, but at the same time I wanted to scratch some of the famous samples that everyone chops up. To find the more original stuff I listened to a lot of records. When I say listen, I mean I was taking in every last word so I could find bits and pieces that matched a particular idea or story that I had in mind. Then I would scratch it for a bit to see if I liked it. There are about 60 samples I didn’t end up using. I should have made more beats.

Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Japan? 

I was born and raised in NY. Specifically I rep Brentwood, you know, the home of EPMD. “Brothers from Brentwood Long Island”.

It’s crazy how I made it to Japan, at least to me anyway. I joined the US Army, something I swore I would never do. After I finished my training we were asked where we preferred to go and I was like 'Germany, cause they have Oktoberfest and the Autobahn.' So Uncle Sam sent me to Okinawa, Japan. I still don’t get why they even asked but I’m glad it worked out the way it did.

Is it easy to adjust to life in Japan as an American? Easy to earn a living over there?

For me personally, yes it was easy. It is so peaceful here, and that is really all I’ve ever wanted. The hardest part about adjusting is learning the language. I’m still not what I consider to be fluent, but I get by with what I know.

As far as earning a living, in my area it is easier than most due to the large American military population so there are a lot of jobs you can get that don’t require you to know Japanese. If you get a job with a Japanese business as an American I feel for you. You have to pick up their work ethic. It’s hard to explain but if you ever plan to go to Japan as your last meal wherever you are eat at McDonalds, and as your first meal in Japan eat at McDonalds. You will see exactly what I’m talking about.

Is it true that Japan has all the records, but are more expensive? Is it easy to find cheap digs?

There are tons of records out here! It is also true that most places are ridiculously expensive. Which is why I dig at Super Slick in Ginowan. It is the only shop I’ve found with prices I’m willing to pay. Most stuff is around $6 or less but there are some rare records in the shop that cost a pretty penny. The other option is getting with DJs in the military that can’t take everything they have back with them when they leave here. I got over 5 crates of good records for $35. I still feel kind of bad about that.

How's the skratch scene over there? 

In Okinawa the skratch scene is continuously growing. Some of the clubs get us to showcase during normal club events, which helps increase our exposure. We also put on skratch events, with open turntables and showcases. For example about 2 months ago we had DJ Yasa from Kireek come down from Osaka to showcase an event. Not only did he blow our minds with his routines, but he also cut it up with all of us for the whole night, and there were people there paying to watch all of this.

Easy to get DJ gigs over there? What kind of music do you play when you DJ?

There are a lot of aspects to getting gigs in Japan. Mainly it is all about who you know. As far as mainland Japan goes, just that part will get you where you want to be and get you paid well. Where I am at be prepared to DJ for free or free drinks if you are just starting out. You really have to prove your worth here, because there are a lot of DJs that enjoy the craft and are willing to do it for free in this location.

When I DJ I like to play a lot of golden era hip hop, acid jazz, soul, and reggae. I just can’t be a part of poisoning impressionable young minds.

How often do you skratch, how do you go about practicing?

In the past 4 years I have probably gone less than 60 days without skratching due mostly to traveling and not having equipment but even that doesn’t stop me at times. When I tell people about how I practice they usually think it is really boring. I only let myself freestyle once a week and if I’m having a session with someone I’m allowed to freestyle during that session as well. But normally I will work on 3 to 5 skratches a day depending on their difficulty. My goal is to be the cleanest cutter you have ever heard.

Has QSU influenced the way you train or think about skratching?

Yes, from the very beginning. I remember getting a reply to my first video from Q talking about practicing stabs a lot so you are at the point where you sound like a sampler. Right at that point I had a solid goal to work towards and I ran with it. Quite possibly the biggest influence I have though is fellow students and skratchers around the globe posting videos and creating projects. There are people that in my mind I am trying to surpass, while there are others just starting out that I can’t let catch up to me. It’s a little mind game I play on myself to keep moving forward.

Any new skratches/techniques you're currently working on?

I am proud to say I am not working on any new scratches at the moment. For a while I was trying to learn a different skratch or pattern every week. I did learn them but I also found myself unable to truly freestyle with them. My current goal is to freely express myself no matter which hand is on the record or fader using the scratches and patterns I already know.

Who are some of your favorite skratchers and why?

Toadstyle: Yo, the way that cat grooves over a beat is unbelievable. I have to wear a neck brace just to listen to Switchblade Sermons.

Qbert: Do I need to say anything really? I will say this though. How many OGs continue to progress the way Q has? Remember I said progress.

Jazzy Jeff & D-Styles: I named both of them together because they are both super funky with 2 completely different styles.

Hamster or Regular?

Regular, I just can’t comprehend how people use their thumbs the way hamster skratchers do. It’s not even a finger.

Serato or Traktor?

Traktor all day, but I have both.

Ahh or Fresh?

Ahh, I enjoy having that long sound I can warp and play with.

Who are your favorite producers, and how have they influenced your own style?

That dude in Gang Starr, Preemo, and DJ Premier. Seriously. The man is a genius. What he does sounds easy but no one has come close to recreating his magic in my eyes. Like, people have a better chance of playing all 30+ minutes of Mozarts Piano Concerto no. 9 underwater with 3 minutes of oxygen left in their air tank.

Interested in your perspective on skratching in the US, what have you noticed in past 5 years or so? 

Wow, I don’t know if I’m really fit to answer this question. But I will say this - DJ IQ is the IDA World Skratch champion again because that dude is funky, and technical at the same time. I’m sorry to say it but it’s like America in general is forgetting entirely about the funk aspect.

Is skratching on the rise or decline?

Absolutely on the rise, there are schools popping up all over the world. Commercials using skratch music to sell their products, and a bunch of people that really love the art form and continue to contribute to it.

As humans, are we evolving or devolving? What does this say about the current state of music?

Honestly it’s both. Some of us are evolving and some are devolving. It is the same thing with music. The artists out there that really care about the music that they are making and not the product being pushed to some credit card number attached to an iTunes account are really doing great things and putting out fantastic pieces of work. Unfortunately the devolved portion outnumbers us much more than they did in the past.

What is the future of turntablism, how will this all look in 10 years?

I think there is a bright future and a possibility for many more of us to play big festival stages and venues. We are going to see more and more companies opened up by tablists that cater to the community's needs. Many of us will be able to make a living off of this instead of it being an expensive hobby we struggle to find practice time for.

Will skratching become more respected amongst traditional musicians? 

That is really up to us. We have to take this art serious enough to at least understand the basics of music theory so that we can talk with these other musicians using a common language.

What do you feel about what ArtistWorks is doing with teaching music online via these virtuosos and having skratching as a part of all that?

I wish I came up with the idea! All I see is growth in the future for this method of learning. Having skratching as a part of all of this really helps solidify the idea that the turntable can be used as an instrument.

Has Qbert given you any advice that particularly stands out?

Yes for sure. Q pointed out to me how I had my own patterns and accents, and to keep it up. At the time I really wasn’t feeling my own style at all, and his words motivated me to continue to embrace what I was doing.

What are your personal goals for music, what do you want to accomplish most?

My goal right now is to get better at incorporating skratching into my productions, but what I want to accomplish the most is to incorporate all of the skills I have and instruments that I play and create an album that is completely original.

There's a distinction between making music as therapy and making music as a job. Is it possible to do both? Is this a challenge that all artists face or more so turntablists? 

I feel the real difference between the two all comes down to whether or not you have a deadline. Usually if you are doing it as a job you do have a deadline. I actually put a deadline on This Is My Therapy, and I ended up paying no attention to it because it was causing too much stress, and defeated the whole purpose of the album. I’m sure there is someone out there that can do both, but not this guy. It’s a challenge for all of us that create, no matter the art form.

What other music are you interested in? Do you play other instruments?

To name a few punk rock, jazz, metal, and soul. I play the guitar and the trumpet. Learning to skratch is harder.

There's a video of you on YouTube where you give a review to the infamous Beamz, tell us how that came about, and what you thought of the whole Beamz saga?

My buddy was trying to get that product in stores in Japan for the company that makes the Beamz. After seeing my review of the Z2  mixer he asked me to review that Beamz product and gear it more towards tablists. That was impossibl,e so I didn’t do it and I kinda pushed it towards the “push button” DJ crowd. This all happened before anyone new about this product, you know before Flo Rida and Grandmaster faker. When Flo Rida first started endorsing it I thought to myself I should take the video down cause things are about to get bad for me. So, instead I put ads on the video and made a whopping $10. Thanks Google. I had people cursing me out and telling me I’m not a DJ and all types of stuff like I am what’s wrong with the community. It was not worth the 10 bucks… I’m glad I left the video up though cause then came the Grandmaster faker endorsement and people were asking my opinion of whether or not what he was doing was possible. I was all of a sudden an expert on Beamz, at least enough of an expert to tell people he had the damn thing backwards with the banks for cue points facing the camera. What a joke that was, and who would of thought I would be in the mix!

Speaking of controllers, what are you thoughts on the trend for DJs to incorporate more button pushing/technology into sets? 

I think it’s really cool. Limiting factors exist when you are using only records, and there are a lot of amazing DJs out there utilizing this technology to continue to push our art. What I don’t like is I see some newer DJs using it as a crutch to do things like bring a track back 4 beats to juggle. Which I personally feel is pretty lazy and lacks performance value.

dj e-naWhere can we keep up with you online (links, social media, etc)?

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/DJEEENaaa

Twitter:@DJ_E_Na

What's next for you?

There are still a lot of things left for me to do for this latest project. I will be releasing a professionally mastered and somewhat different version on CD, as well as making at least 2 videos to go along with this album. I also want to perform this album live for people.

Any final thoughts for anyone reading this? 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you ADA for putting this together. I really appreciate the support I’ve received from the community, and I wish you all the best. If you are ever in Japan hit me up.

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