Process 03: Dream Journal
For those of us at Big Slide, it can be hard to pinpoint what it is about the artists on our roster that makes us fall in love with the music they create. What is it that causes our hearts to thump a little faster, makes us dial up the volume and forces us to get up and groove? Getting a peek into the minds of the creators we love and admire is our first step in uncovering what exactly that special trait is that keeps us hungry for more. When an artist is able to create work that’s both moving and technical, that’s dynamic enough to transcend genres and still maintain a unique sound, you know there has to be something special happening behind the scenes.
Seattle producer and DJ Dream Journal’s [Josh Leibsohn’s] work leaves no room to doubt its creative capacity; you know what you’re hearing is the product of meticulous fine-tuning and attention to detail. With dreamy, ethereal vocals layered over clean, rhythmic electronic beats, Dream Journal’s sound is instantly recognizable. You know you’re listening to a Dream Journal track when you feel yourself slipping into that blissful dream-state that can only be reached through truly good music.
We at Big Slide are constantly captivated by his emotionally fluent approach to creating tunes that carry poetic depth while still preserving that danceable quality. In the wake of the release of his newest song “Now or Never,” a collaboration with Seattle R&B/pop artist and producer Paris Alexa, we’re excited to share a small piece of the creative puzzle that is Dream Journal’s approach to creating his signature sound.
In the third installment of our “Behind the Process” blog series, Dream Journal shares what makes him tick, his creative philosophy and his upcoming projects.
Can you talk a little bit about how you first got started in producing music; did you have a musical background or did you come into it as a complete beginner?
I started out playing guitar, you know playing in bands. And then at 16 or 17 I got really obsessed with DJ-ing. I bought turntables, so that was kind of my first introduction into the electronic music world, through dance music and DJ-ing. And then from there I just fell in love with production and I’ve been producing music ever since.
How do you approach creating music and what does your creative process look like?
It really depends on what the project is. A lot of what I’ve been doing recently is being involved in working with other artists, either helping them realize their creative visions or having them as a feature artist on a project I’m working on. When I’m working with someone else I think the most important thing to do is really create a relationship with that person and get a creative rapport going. For something like this track, [Kody Ryan’s ‘Hard to Feel’ remix] you don’t necessarily get to know the person as much as you do need to get to know the song and understand what the song is about and what it’s trying to do. Then make sure that you’re honoring that in your version of it.
What equipment do you use?
I use my computer and my guitar and that is it. I am a strong believer that less is more when it comes to creative tools.
What are some artists that inspired you when you were first starting out, and who are some current artists whose work you admire?
There are so many artists that I’ve loved over the years. In the beginning it was flying lotus. He was one of the people who really opened my mind up to how creative electronic music could work as a creative art form other than just dance music. Other people since then, Jamie XX is someone I really look up to and Nicolas Jaar is someone that I’ve always really loved. So those are the people that have kind of stayed with me, I’ve really followed their careers. And now I’ve been more interested in backend producers. People that I’ve really been studying are Max Martin, who’s a pop music producer. Also, people like Timbaland who’ve made a lot of hits over the years. I’ve been really diving into how their creative process works.
What do you do to get inspired when you find yourself in a creative funk?
What I like to do is just take a walk, just take some time. And another thing that’s really important is to not force anything. It’s important to set time to do things and to work on things. But if you’re working on something and it doesn’t feel right then it’s really important to just say ‘this isn’t working’ and deciding to come back to it at a time when it will work. I don’t think necessarily forcing it is the best way to go.
So I know you have a new song coming out this week featuring Paris Alexa. What was it like collaborating with another artist? Do you ever find it difficult to mesh different creative approaches when working with other artists, or is it more of a learning process?
I feel like it differs a lot from person to person because everyone approaches things so differently. Working with Paris was really great. She is an incredibly talented performer who I really believe in, and she’s also really quick. She’s a very quick songwriter, which is something that you really come to value as you get into projects more. You know, a lot of people can make good music, but not very many people can do it in the six hour session that you’re given, and fit it into their lives in a way that’s manageable. That’s a big part of the skill set, and she is excellent at that. It took us only two sessions to finish that whole song. Well, two sessions with her and another maybe three or four sessions of just me working on the production. But yeah, it was really quick, really easy, really fun. We knew we wanted to do a pop song, so when you have that kind of clear direction things can work out really well. And I think it did with this one.
What’s next for you? What can we expect to see from Dream Journal in 2018?
I’ve got this track coming out this week. I’ve got a couple more singles that I’m hoping to put out in the summer and I’ve been working on a record for about six months now. I don’t know when it’s going to come out but I do want to put it out sooner rather than later. But also for me it’s much more of a personal thing rather than fitting into this project specifically, so I want to take my time with it. It may come out in 2018, but like I said, I’m not going to rush the record. There’s also a couple remixes that I’m doing. I’m working on a remix for a band called ‘Hibou.’
And I have another project I’m working on with a really good friend of mine. I’m playing more of a backend role, but I’ve been working as a songwriter with my friend whose project is called ‘Alter.’ None of his music has come out yet, but he is an incredibly talented person. The singles that we’ve been working on are probably going to start dropping pretty soon.
As always, we want to give a huge thank you to Dream Journal for making time in his busy schedule to talk with us about his work and creative process. With so many new projects coming from Dream Journal in the near future, we’re excited to join him on his journey and exploration of musical storytelling.