Interview: Remix Kings the Jump Smokers Talk Touring With Pitbull and the Art of Branding in Dance Music
This weekend, we’ll be continuing our Green Label Live: Las Vegas summer series at LAX Nightclub, bringing you the best in EDM and nightlife culture.
This Saturday, April 25, features Chicago-based DJ/production duo the Jump Smokers.
Headed by Justin Roman and DJ Flipside, the Jump Smokers have over 150 remixes from the likes of P!nk, Katy Perry, Usher, Mariah Carey, Selena Gomez, Rihanna, Jessie J, and many more. Recently the duo just finished supporting Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull on their international tours, and looking ahead, they are planning on collaborating with both artists for upcoming albums.
I was able to chat with Roman over the phone to discuss his early music history, his radio career, their relationship with Pitbull, and the importance of branding your image in the EDM circuit.
Roman, you’re a successful radio host and one half of the Chicago radio show Stylz & Roman, while Flipside, the other half of Jump Smokers, has his own mix show, Flipside at 5, both featured on B96. How have you been able to juggle the world of producing and DJing across the world while having a regular show on terrestrial radio?
It was a lot of work. We just finished touring with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias and had to come back to our radio show in Chicago any night off of our tour. There were a lot of times when neither of us had any sleep, but it was definitely worth it for our careers. We love performing and producing and there’s a parallel for both what were doing in our music and radio, because we know what songs and formats work. We take and use that knowledge when we start producing to make a hit.
I actually saw that at one point you were a part of a boy band with a pretty significant single, but it died down shortly after. Can you expand on that and your early experience in the industry?
Both Flipside and I have a musical past. Flipside was making beats before Jump Smokers and I had a couple top 40 records that were on the pop tip with a group called VI3. I’m definitely not embarrassed about it. Everything that came up to this point brought us to where we are. At the end of the day, I’m still trying to write good songs. Flipside was making hip-hop beats before Jump Smokers and his productions only gotten better. We both grew up in Chicago, the birthplace of house music. That’s why we love it so much because we grew up here in Chicago. We take all of our pasts and combine our experiences to what we do now. That’s really the definition of the Jump Smokers sound.
Who exactly is Johnny Digital and what is his role in the Jump Smokers crew?
We saw what LMFAO and David Guetta were doing to make dance music a part of mainstream culture. We knew early on that a visual marketing aesthetic was just as important as our music. Everyone had a MySpace and a website and whatever we thought would be important for marketing. We knew the music needed to be on point, but our online presence too. Johnny Digital’s design was always on point and he became the silent partner of the group. One thing people can never say is that our design element has been subpar. It’s always been on the top of its game because of Johnny and we’re proud of that.
Adding to that, can I assume this was all a preemptive vision of what the Jump Smokers was trying to do?
Of course! We wanted to make sure our tracks were banging, but we didn’t want people to look us up and find some janky website with artwork that could have been put together by an 8th grader. In terms of marketing, the best thing we’ve ever done is put the whisper drop in our tracks and remixes. When you hear our drop you immediately know who you are listening to and people respond to that. Without marketing, you can make the dopest tracks in the world but if no one hears them they’re just going to stay on your iPod.
You’ve had tracks reach number one in the UK and have toured as a group internationally on a regular basis. Being from Chicago, how has the transition been from playing US clubs to stadiums across the world?
It’s a dream come true. I’ll never forget: our first big tour was Pitbull and Ke$ha and I remember telling Flipside after, “If we never do this again I just lived out a childhood dream.” Then we get a phone call three months later from Pitbull asking us to do it again with Enrique Iglesias, which was our dream come true a thousand times over. Then after this, Pitbull calls us again for the second leg of the tour… Everything that we’ve done so far we’ve been pinching ourselves. Were literally two kids from Chicago living out our dreams. Everything that happens to us we never take for granted.
How did your relationship with Pitbull come about?
First things first, without a doubt Pitbull is the greatest guy I’ve ever met. He’s the hardest-working man in show business and is super humble. How our relationship came about was after our first two singles dropped, we met Julian Booth over email. He had heard our beats and contacted us out of the blue. He hit us up and gave us an unreleased Pitbull acapella to work on. We didn’t even know if he was legit or not at the time and the track ended up turning into the song, “Now You See It”. It turns out Julian was one of Pitbull’s guys back in the day. He flew us out to Miami to meet him in person. When we finally met Pitbull, he told us he loved our style and sound and we ended up working with him for three songs on our first album.
“Now You See It,” is still one of the biggest international singles we’ve ever had and we’ve remixed every Pitbull single since then.
How is it being a part of SKAM Artists? The roster seems to have a really unique set of DJs and producers.
We’re really cool with the group. Tony Arzadon used to be in the group and remains a really close friend. Both Jerzy and DJ Vice are also really close with this, Jerzy actually used to intern at my radio show way back. There’s a camaraderie that’s a natural fit with the artists who are a part of the roster. SKAM Artists takes good care of us and is definitely where we belong.
Your work ethic as a group is really incredible. Your SoundCloud features new material almost every month and you have over 150 remixes under your belt. As artists that have solidified themselves primarily as remixers, when is original material from the Jump Smokers going to come out?
That’s the reason why we’re going to Las Vegas and playing internationally in the first place. The remixes have kept us afloat and we’re never going to give that up. Out of all those remixes they’ve all came from the original artists and labels, they’re all legal remixes and we’re really proud of that. The next stage is original production; we want to produce original material for the biggest artists out there right now. Currently, we’re producing original tracks for Pitbull and Enrique’s new albums and is the next phase for the group.
Is there any one you’ve wanted to remix you haven’t collaborated with yet?
I can speak for both me and Flipside on this one: Michael Jackson. He was our idol growing up and his label had that remix project that came out a couple of years ago, called Michael. Our label rep was in talks for us to have a remix for the project. I don’t know what happened but it ended up falling through. Still to this day I would love for that to happen. It would be a dream come true to work with his material, and think about it—shouldn’t the kings of the remix remix the king of pop? It’s a match made in heaven, haha.
What’s interesting about your music is that you embrace the aesthetic of being radio and club friendly. A lot of DJ’s and producers out there might shy away from that due to the stigma of “selling out.” In 2015, do you really think that term has merit anymore, or is it a rehashed sentiment in the music industry?
Both having a history in radio, we don’t care about that idea very much. We want to be heard by everyone. I don’t care if you listen to hip-hop, country, or anything else. We definitely try to not make anything cheesy, but we’re not going into tracks to make something so underground only a select few will like it.
That’s why people come to us, because we can remix and keep the integrity of a song, while still keeping it mix-show-friendly. It’s in our formula for success. The only selling-out we want to be a part of is selling out every stadium on every tour we’re on. That’s why we might not be featured as much on the festival circuit. We don’t just make EDM records; we’re also very commercial, but we’re also from Chicago and we’re trying to combine those influences to every one we play to.
Is this where the idea of “Don’t Be A Douchebag” came about?
After our first track, “My Flow So Tight,” we had a lot of labels coming after us. At the time we didn’t know what we were yet. We just wrote about our experiences at the club and the title and subject matter came from there. After that, in every city we came to, everyone thought it was about their city because everybody knew a person like that. We weren’t trying to do anything but make something relatable. People seemed to connect strongly to it because everyone knows those people, but that’s 2009 version Jump Smokers: it was a bit novelty, we’ve grown a lot and matured since then. We’re a different group now.
Speaking of your first single, “My Flow So Tight”: it’s a diss track aimed at Chris Brown. Do you think that producers and dance artists should be more socially responsible in their work?
Back in 2009 that was the first track that hit that was an overnight success. The situation was unfortunate, but people gravitated towards the subject matter and what we wrote about. The popularity of the track made us rethink the idea of the Jump Smokers being a side project. We don’t play the song anymore, but it is the song that made the group. Every lyric I wrote I still feel the same way. I’m not a fan of his and never will be. Again, that’s the 2009 version of the Jump Smokers but we wouldn’t be here talking to Green Label if it wasn’t for that track, either.
As far as dance music being socially responsible, that’s not our place to say yes or no. We chose “My Flow So Tight,” to speak out on what we thought was important and we’re very proud of that. There are also some personal issues I’d love to speak out about with our music, but we’re not a political group. Let’s be real though, it’s not our job to make our music a lesson. We make hard-hitting club records for people to have a good time. No one wants to be preached to at a club. You have to learn to pick your spots. We’ll leave that to other artists. Right now it’s all about dancing, for us.
What’s your favorite part of Las Vegas? How has your history been with the city?
Vegas has always been really good to us, we’ve performed a lot of places there. Its always bigger and better with everything they do there and their nightclubs are on steroids, haha. Whenever we’re there, we’re excited. It’s always a good time. When I was there last time I went on up on the biggest Ferris wheel in the world, The Linq. We saw everything. Vegas never looked so beautiful. It’s always a good experience coming here.