If you are active in the NYC dance scene, you’re probably familiar with producer and Naked Music co-founder, Jay Denes.
After founding Naked Music with Dave Boonshoft in the 90’s, Jay began to find an audience with his romantic take on dance, deep house, and downtempo.
Typically consisting of very mature and sensual dance rhythms, Jay’s Blue Six moniker is still loved by many and is frequently touted as one of the best downtempo acts of the 2000’s.
His collaboration with vocalists like Aya, Catherine Russell, and Tabitha Fair (coupled with their poignant exploration of ubiquitous emotion) added an undeniably human element to the Naked Music pantheon.
I love Aquarian Angel, so to have the opportunity to learn about Jay and the project was nothing short of a gift.
Prox: Many have described your core sonics as Ibiza-based. How does someone from the east coast embody such a global sound so well?
Jay: Really? I didn’t know that, I always thought I was just a moody NYC type. Admittedly, I’ve been very influenced by all kinds of African based music. But really anything with a strong beat is African at it’s core. I just do what comes naturally. I don’t think I’ve ever given Ibiza a thought.
Prox: Could you give us a bit of insight as to where you were in your life during the creation of each release? Has anything dramatically changed regarding the equipment or headspace you work with?
Jay: Yeah, everything changes! I like to think that with each record I’ve grown more into myself.
I have strong emotions attached to each one. I can hear the variation in production as it relates to how together, or un-together as the case may be, my life was – I have a hard time coping with reality sometimes. Humanity can be a real drag. I’ve had some high highs, and low lows.
Everyone does, I think music can help people feel less alone in their struggles because that’s what it’s done for me. I was the closest to imploding personally during Aquarian Angel, and I still have those feelings if I hear it somewhere. Music is sort of reality therapy for me. I like to think something I made helps others deal with reality too.
Prox: Much of your work deals with internal struggles many of us go through as we experience love, loss, and maturation. Why do you feel that these feelings are worth documenting and exploring so heavily in your music? What do they say about the resiliency of the human spirit?
Jay: Well, they say “write what you know." I pretty much document my consciousness in sound.
Music, for me at least, is a very spiritual and potentially transformative thing. I like to think that it finds it’s own audience, that like attracts like.
I find the majority of the current popular culture to be somewhat empty and materialistic.
I may be dating myself here, but I come from a time when even mainstream pop could be really meaningful. I’m thinking of stuff like Stevie Wonder, and Earth Wind and Fire, or XTC, and countless others. I know it just makes me sound cranky and old, but I really do think standards have fallen quite far. I find it very disheartening.
I find the crass materialism of the day greatly at odds with the tremendously meaningful and critical/transformative times we’re living in. It’s such a huge disconnect. The major problem with music as business (capitalism) is that music that is good for commercial interests (selling beer for instance) is not usually related to real feelings or any kind of deeper truth.
Prox: What are some techniques that you use to get the most out of the vocalists you work with? Are there any particular emotional cues that you use to get them deeper into the atmosphere that the sound is trying to create?
Jay: Work with great singers would be rule one! No amount of auto-tune can make a vocal good. I’m try to explain what it is I’m trying to convey before we start, I usually have a pretty good idea who is going to sound right on what track. It’s very easy to give good direction when you’re working with highly skilled singers like Catherine Russell, etc. There is no amount of direction that works with amateur singers, they just get spooked when you try to direct them. I don’t have the patience (and thankfully never had to) to deal with that.
Prox: Speaking of atmosphere, which of your projects best encapsulates what you’re aiming to achieve with your music and the Blue Six project?
Jay: There’s no one thing. I think maybe out of my whole career there’s probably a few tracks that I felt I got really right. It’s hard to know what percentage achieved the feeling I hoped to convey. I always tried my best, and continue to do so, but ultimately if I’ve done anything worthwhile time will tell.
Prox: From your perspective, what are some memories and moments you want people to associate with Naked Music twenty years from now?
Jay: I’ll be pleased if something I created touches someone twenty years from now. I’m pleased that twenty years later so many people still write me about the Beautiful Tomorrow record. It’d be nice to be remembered.
Prox: Tell us something about yourself that we may not know that influences your work.
Jay: I’ve wrestled with depression my whole life. I’m a better photographer than I am musician. I like dogs better than people.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
Jay: Whoa, so many! In no order, Carl Jung, Ray Kurzweil, Elon Musk, Joni Mitchell, Andy Partridge, Robert Heinlein, Phillip K. Dick, Claude Monet, Richard Dolan, Rupert Sheldrake, Bill Watterson, Avedon, Terrence McKenna… That list could go on forever, that was just a random few that popped into my head.
Prox: Favorite Hobbies?
Jay: Movies, hangin’ out with my Frenchie and my wife, Scrabble, cooking.
Prox: Tips for aspiring musicians and label owners?
Jay: Well, recorded music has been pretty profoundly devalued. So if you’re going to do it, it’dbetter be for love!
Prox: Anymore information on other upcoming projects and releases?
Jay: I’ve had a half done EP for over a year now, I like it a lot, I’ve had a mental block about finishing for some reason. I will finish soon, for sure. This is the longest I’ve ever gone between releases, I need to get my ass in gear.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Jay: The internet has really profoundly changed culture. There are many wonderful things about the modern “connected” age, but I think culture (with the very notable exception of TV) is crappier than ever. Somehow social media has managed to erode real connectedness, and everyone is proceeding unconsciously forward into an unknown and possibly disastrous future. The casual cruelty found in many corners of the web worries me. There’s a lot to be said for “real” human interaction. It bothers me that there’s a generation of people who are growing up being their own publicists – if everything is equally important and valued, than everything is equally unimportant and valueless. It bugs me when hard work and excellence aren’t appreciated. That’s when I go walk my dog.
Jay's music as well as other updates can be found on the Naked Music website.
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