JJ Demon may look like a scene kid, but explore deeper into his music and one finds a complex individual with a big heart and a tormented past. Recently signed to Revel Record by Joe Nicolo – an industry veteran who has worked with everyone from Boyz 2 Men to Cypress Hill, JJ’s debut album for the label is entitled Funeral Disco – and it’s quite a find. A hip-hop artist who dares to be different, JJ has a larger-than-life personality and loads of talent. Highwire Daze recently caught up with JJ Demon, and he spoke candidly about his time in prison, how he has reconciled the trials of the past with his promising future, the terrific songs, and other topics of interest. Read on to learn more about the world of JJ Demon and sounds of Funeral Disco…
Where are you based out of and what is your local music scene like there?
I live in Philadelphia – and it’s not really scene oriented. There’s not too many of my types of fans around here, so it’s a little tough as far as doing huge shows around here. It’s kind of more something I’ve got to take on the road – nonetheless I’ve got a following around here.
Where did you come up with the idea for the term Funeral Disco?
Actually I came up with it when I was in jail. The only thing I could listen to was the radio, and they were playing that MGMT song Kids a lot. And I was just kinda listening to it. I didn’t go for that exact sound, but it’s definitely similar. I was definitely inspired by that song and a few other songs I was hearing coming on college radio stations. I just wanted to do something that was musical with a nice dance beat – give it a kind of 80’s New Wave sound – but I wanted to keep that element of darkness in there. I knew my writing style was a little bit darker and a little bit deeper. The words “Funeral Disco” popped into my head and it just seemed right.
Did you write any lyrics while you were actually in jail, and how much did that experience inspire you?
The difficult thing about, at least for me, I feel like I have to be in a positive space. I need like a positive air around me. It was tough for me to create anything worthwhile in jail. I did write two songs that are actually still up on my MySpace that didn’t make the album – Alone Together and Oh My God The Blood. I wrote both of those while I was in jail with no music – I just had the music in my head and I wrote those there. I even still now, when I go back and listen to everything I’ve done that’s been released so far – you can hear a difference in those two songs. No technical difference, but the lyrics are a little more tortured – the perspective I was writing from.
Prior to when you were in jail, were you involved with any other bands at all?
Yeah, I used to be in a group called the Cult Classics. It was more like a hardcore rap group. Recently I’ve been doing some freestyles over industry beats – and it was more that sort of stuff. It was kind of like “Scare your parents” type shit. It was more violence, dark, horror inspired lyrics. It was coming from the perspective of two white kids who let their lives spiral completely out of control as far as drugs and crime – it’s just the way we were living. It’s really like a snapshot of how I was living at the time. It was me and another guy who was mainly the group actually. Two months ago, the other guy just died. We were real close and it was like a testament to the way I was living and the way he was living. It swallows you up man, and that’s just where I came from as far as old music and stuff like that. When I got (sent to jail) was when that group broke up.
How did you get connected to Ruffhouse/Revel Records and the owner Joe Nicolo? He’s worked for some pretty famous people…
He actually noticed me while I was in that group the Cult Classics. We gained a small following around here locally and we were doing shows every week. It was my only job at the time. I was living off just doing shows – I made a career out of it. People around here mainly knew who we were. A lot of people were afraid of the act. A lot of labels didn’t want to come near us. They thought it was just too destructive and they didn’t think that we’d live another year. A lot of people didn’t want to be involved. But when I went to jail, I had a manager at the time – Cole Thomas – who’s the general manager of Revel Records now. He saw the change in me and he saw that I was ready to try something different and to start living right. Him and Joe – they had some long conversations about it. I’m sure that Joe was more reluctant. But when I was able to finally speak to him, and when they were able to see the changes that I had made – he knew that there was definitely talent and something there and he wanted to be involved. He just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t gonna – you know – die…
Why were you in jail – what happened?
Like I was saying, my life had spiraled out of control, as far as drugs and everything else. It was actually a robbery that I was arrested for. I was addicted pretty heavily to heroin at the time – I mean it just had taken me as far as it could take me. It was almost like I wanted to get caught for this robbery. It was almost like I just needed to get off the streets – I needed to get away – I needed to get clean by any means necessary. It was just like I acting without thinking. It wasn’t even like it was me that was committing the crime. I was being controlled by some other force that was trying to save me. It ended up with me going to jail. But to speak real about it, if I hadn’t had gone to jail, I would have died. I would have died on the street. So jail ended up saving my life – and jail is kind of responsible to why I got signed. Like I was saying, Joe didn’t want to come anywhere near me. He was familiar with the group, but he didn’t want to come near me because I was insane – I was out of my mind. When I finally cleaned up is when they finally said, “Alright, let’s get a piece of him now. Let’s get him signed up.”
How long were you incarcerated?
I got sentenced to 9 – 23 months – because when they arrested me, I confessed immediately. I didn’t play any games with these cops. I told them, “Look! It was me. I did it. Take me to jail!” I was at the end of my rope and they gave me a little slack. “Well, this kid obviously just has a problem. Let’s get him enrolled in some kind of program.” And they dropped my bail and allowed me to get out on bail so I could go to rehab and I could get some things straightened out in my life before I went back to jail. Because I was cooperative when I went in there, they kind of cut me a break. Instead of charging me with an armed robbery – which is what it really was – they only charged me with a robbery. Being honest got me a little slack there.
I wanted to talk about the lyrics about three of the songs. On Bubblegum – what inspired you to write that?
I became a fan of pop music – but it’s not something that I fully embrace. When I sit down and want to listen to music – pop music is cool and whatever and it’s not easy to do, by any stretch. People think pop music is easy to make – and it’s not. It’s the hardest music to make, because it’s the most popular music. It’s a jab at pop music and it’s me embracing pop music at the same time. It’s like, “Why are we so afraid to make music that people like?” All these people that are so anti-pop and “we don’t listen to that bullshit” and “we don’t listen to that garbage” and “we make real music…” Well, pop music is real music. And I used to be one of those people, so it’s kind of like me lashing out at myself. The last verse is kind of a diss verse and it’s almost a diss verse at myself. For many, many years, I was that person – I was that dude that didn’t want to have anything to do with pop – and if you were pop, I was going to put my finger in your face and I was going to make fun. Getting clean and that time I spent in jail – it straightened my head out in a number of different ways. And one of them is that I understood – this stuff that’s on the radio – whether I like it or not – is not fucking easy. These artists are working their asses off to make this shit – and to make something that the whole world embraces – that’s the hardest thing to do. So it’s kind of my little love letter to pop music – my love/hate relationship that I have with it. And I’m still on the fence about it. I’m still not completely sure whether I love it or hate it.
Another one which I think could be a big hit for you is The Phone Song. Is there any story behind that one?
Yeah, kinda, but it’s not as interesting. When I was younger and I used to be out all hours of the night – I was 15 or 16 years old – my step dad used to call me. I would shut my phone off because I would be out getting high, and I just didn’t want to deal with anything. And I would turn my phone back on and I’d have messages on my voice mail and it would be him going, “John! Answer your god damned phone when I’m calling you.” And it was just so scary when I would get that message, because I knew he paid my bill and I lived at his house and he was a big dude. I didn’t want to fuck with him and I didn’t want him to shut my phone off or go upside my head or something. I figured, the way that used to creep me out, I would write a kind of creepy stalker-ish story as it’s me saying to a girl who’s not picking up my calls. Pretty much everything that I write about comes from somewhere in my real life.
And then the last one I wanted to talk about was I Killed Hip Hop. What was the idea for that and aren’t you a little worried that a reviewer might have a field day with that title?
(Laughs) Yeah, and that’s the reason why I wrote that. To me, when I go online and I see what the people are saying about me – I should say it’s split right down the middle, but it’s not. I’m still at the point where the majority of the people that are talking about me still love me right now. Pretty soon it’s going to be split right down the middle. I am that kind of artist that is going to be argued about. There are going to be some people that really, really hate me. And it’s because of the way I dress, it’s because of the way I talk, the way I act – it’s because of some audacity of me to say things like I Killed Hip Hop! What people have to remember is that you have to listen to the music. When you listen to that song, you realize that I’m not saying that I Killed Hip Hop – I’m not trying to say that hip-hop is dead. In fact, that song, to me, is like hip-hop’s lifeline – songs like that – I’m not saying that song itself. I took a dark beat and I rapped over it for four minutes straight. I put one hook at the end. That’s hip-hop! That’s as hip-hop as it gets! It’s just lyrics, beats, rhymes. In the song, I do talk about some of the problems I have with Gangsta Rap and things like that – but it’s not even to be taken that seriously. Pretty much what it is – I’m just flowing over that beat. Hip-hop heads love that song. Scene kids love that song. Everybody’s into it. It’s the people that don’t understand it that get upset about it. They’re not listening to it – they’re looking at my skinny jeans and they’re looking at my hair and they’re looking at the title of that track – and they’re going, “Oh, this mother fucker! Who does he think he is?” You know what I mean? You’ve got to listen to it and realize there’s a lot more going on than what people are thinking.
What do you think of other MySpace artists such as Jeffree Star and T. Mills?
I like those guys. Jeffree Star has done quite well for himself. T. Mills – just recently I tried to reach out to him. Those guys are cool man! I’d love to collab with them. Musically we’re very similar. Right now, I’d be happy to be the go-to guy, as far as rapping, for all those collaborations. I really dig those guys! I work with Dot Dot Curve a lot, and I just started working with J. Bigga. I’ve done some things here and there with individual members of all those different groups. I like a lot of it. And some of it I wish the rest of the world would give it a chance. But it’s tough to get outside of that circle, especially nowadays as far as like the record industry is in shambles right now. So it sucks that a lot of these guys are going to stay on MySpace.
What is it you’d like a listener to remember the most after hearing your music for the very first time?
I want people to remember the way it makes them feel. I’d love a pop song that everybody listens to – but more so than that, I’d want to make some that people remember – they remember where they were – they remember the smell of that summer when they heard my album or they remember the room they were sitting in and the sneakers they were wearing. Those are the artists that had the most impact on me. It wasn’t the biggest song on the radio. It was as if I felt like that artist was talking specifically to me and reaching out from wherever they were at – and really grabbing me by the heart. I throw myself into a lot of that music to the point where you can sit and you can discover things about my songs – different quirks and nuances to my lyrics if you sit and listen. I just want people to spend the time to do that and spend the time to recognize what really goes into that. It’s not like simple shit, you know what I mean?
Do you have any messages or final thoughts for people reading this who might want to check out your music?
It’s not something that’s being done by anyone. When I think about my music, the closest thing I can relate it to, honestly – it’s like a hardcore act. Even though when you listen to it, it’s completely the opposite – but it’s just the fact on how I throw myself on these tracks. I really want people to hear the pain, and I really want to people to hear the pride. I really give myself over to these lyrics – it’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. I really want people to have a good time and I really want people to be able to get into this stuff – and have it be something that you could revisit and something you could explore and dig deeper and deeper into. At the same time, it’s fun music – even if you’re not gonna delve that deep into it – I’ve got stuff like The Phone Song – a quirky novelty song. It’s like something for everybody and I just want everybody to get on to it and get rad with it.
(Interview by Kenneth Morton)
JJ Demon on Myspace