Bristol-born producer J-Felix has joined the likes of Quantic and Hot 8 Brass Band on local label Tru-Thoughts. He’s spent the year producing tracks in his basement bunker, playing DJ sets all over (solo and with his backing band), and smashing collaborations with big names from Brighton’s soul and RnB scene. We wanted to know about his past collabs, his upcoming releases and shows, and his musical life in general, so we grabbed him for a chat about life on the label. Enjoy.
Talk us through the process that led to you focusing on production rather than traditional instruments.
I started by playing the drums, then focusing on the guitar and bass, and now I’m attempting more keys and voice, so traditional instruments will always be part of the focus. I always wanted to be a producer, I’ve spent the years gradually building up the studio and finally got to a place where the combination of gear and my own abilities reached a passable standard, and I had a few tracks put out on compilations. That and the fact that I’m probably a bit of a control freak.
How would you describe your signature sound? Do you have a clear vision of the kind of music you want to make?
At the moment the sound is pretty uplifting overall and has solid roots in the soul music spectrum, be that Disco, Hip-Hop or Funk. After messing around with the sound, I had a pretty clear objective of what I wanted to achieve whilst writing my first album. I reached this through trying to focus on one part of what I want to do musically at a time. I think it helps to give yourself a specific area of focus sometimes.
There’s a lot of revivalism in your music. How do you stick to your roots while avoiding bland reproductions of them?
I’m not sure if I do, but will take that as a massive compliment, thanks. My studio setup isn’t particularly analog or old school, so inevitably I was gonna create a modern take on things, just by using modern gear. When I was writing 101 Reasons, I didn’t really reference other music much, I more just went with ideas floating around my head – which must have come from listening to odds and ends of funk, soul and RnB which resonate with me. A lot of the music I listen to is modern soul and funk like Reggie B and D’Angelo, so maybe it was 'cause I don’t actually know much of the old stuff, it’s a re-revival of the revival ha!
Describe your production setup. Do you tend to favour simplicity or a complicated rig?
It’s fairly straight up, I’m using a Micro-Korg and my most recent addition, a beautiful juno 106 with my bass, guitars and software synths and FX with a few pedals and voices. Simplicity is the key for me.
You work with a variety of singers. Who are they and what do they bring to the table?
I’ve worked with Abi Flynn, who is great, she’s fronting my live band at the moment. She brings a nice RnB vibe with jazzy flavors to the table and is very hard working in the local jazz scene. Sophie Paul is pitch perfect and has fantastic knowledge of harmonies. She’s also done some impressive session stuff. Victoria Port has a very sweet, yet smokey vibe that flows beautifully over Rhodes-esque keyboards – she’s now one half of Anushka. It was great working with the guys above 'cause we all used to do function work and stuff together, so the relationship was already there and we all share similar tastes in music. Jake Jon is another fantastic local soulful singer who I released a track with in 2013.
You used to run your own workshops. What were they and do you still do this/will you do it in future?
I’m still teaching at DV8 Sussex, last year I was doing Music Production and DJ stuff at BACA and Ringmer schools and have done various projects teaching young people.
How long have you been signed to Tru-Thoughts, and how did it come about? Were they the label you were hoping for?
Just over a year now. Tru Thoughts are a cool label who I always liked, and they give you creative freedom and opportunities to collaborate with or remix other great artists on the label, as well as links with singers etc. I met some guys from TT through playing with Alice Russell and sent Rob Luis a demo, which he obviously had some faith in; Paul Jonas was a great help in getting a multi-album deal at the label.
How does it feel to be signed to one of the giants of DIY production, and arguably one of the most successful indie labels in the UK?
It feels good baby!
Do you ever feel the pressure to fill the enormous shoes of the artists who are and have been signed to Tru-Thoughts?
All amazing artists, I’m just gonna do my thing and if it goes as well as that, result!
You’re also in a band named E.M.E. Tell us about them.
We’re no longer running as a band as such, but will always be doing music (and drinking together) together in some format, those are my go to musicians if there’s something I need on a track, all as talented as they are silly.
You played a set recently with the Neon Saints Brass Band. What’s the connection?
I’ve played with James Coleman, one of their sax players a few times. Great guy and great band!
What do you look for in live music and are there any local bands you would tip for success?
Good players, tightness and vibes. Black Peaks from Brighton are bubbling up if you like heavy music. Some members of Neon Saints Brass Band have got together for a smaller, more hip-Hop orientated project, so keep your ears to the ground for that.
Any lesser-known artists you can recommend, past and present, for someone looking to expand their music catalogue?
I really like a guy called Reggie B and a singer called Amalia. Harleighblu is wicked. A rapper called Delta Lima, Werkha is very talented, I like the 22a guys in London, Fatima and Anderson Paak.
If you could choose anybody to work with on a musical project, who would it be?
Tough one, but Prince is up there!
You’ve toured with Alice Russell, but there are no recorded collaborations. Maybe there’s something in the works?
Not yet sadly, definitely on the wish list though!
You’re in the studio a lot at the moment. What are you working on?
The next album’s on the hob. I’ve also been doing some remixes, recently for Hot 8 Brass Band and working on some production for Abi Flynn and spending a lot of time messing about with my new juno 106.
Do you have any more live dates booked, either solo or with bands?
My live band will be supporting Soul ll Soul at the Brighton Dome on 21st Feb, there’s a few more dates TBC and you can come check out my DJ residency every Saturday, 8pm-12pm at Patterns, Brighton. I’ll also be warming up for Gilles Peterson there in March which is exciting.