Since bursting onto the scene in 2011, DJ, producer and label owner Jeremy Olander has been described as the savior of the melodic house and techno style once made famous by Sasha and John Digweed. Looking in the rear mirror, Olander got his start eight years ago on Eric Prydz’s Pryda Friends imprint. He went on to put out an unprecedented seven releases with Prydz, play New York City’s Madison Square Garden and record a BBC Essential Mix that was shortlisted as one of the best of the year. Born in Fairfax, VA in America to a Swedish father and an Indian mother, Jeremy was brought up in Stockholm and become exposed to the city’s small but passionate electronic scene in his early teens. With role models in the likes of Adam Beyer, Cari Lekebusch and Joel Mull leading the charge, Jeremy found sources of inspiration at defunct legendary club Grodan Cocktail Club among Stockholm techno royalty, as well with Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Berry Gordy, Shigeru Miyamoto and east coast hip-hop. His deep and emotionally charged style aside, true to his Swedish electronic music heritage, Jeremy also masters the craft of driving, drum-oriented techno under his enigmatic Dhillon monicker. With multiple tracks on fellow Swede Adam Beyer’s Drumcode label, one of the most coveted in the world, Olander displays his near uncanny breadth as a producer. In the last three years, the now 30-year-old has kicked his career into the proverbial next gear. Almost reemerging as a new artist after finishing his formative years at Pryda, Olander appeared on Canadian label microCastle, home to Guy J, Eagles & Butterflies, Chaim, Navar, with the stupendous three-track ‘Goliath’ EP that also featured a Marc Marzenit remix. To this day, the EP remains the best performing release in the label’s history, making #1 and #2 on Beatport’s genre and overall releases charts respectively.
When did you start writing/producing music – and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing around with Propellerheads’ Reason shortly after getting into dance music in high school. An old friend of mine showed me that you could make music on computers and that intrigued me. What made it so easy to get into was the basic setup and the fact that the music was instrumental so I didn’t need a singer. The whole idea of arranging the music was also very appealing to me. It reminded me of a lot of the strategic games I grew up playing, like Diablo and Starcraft. It’s almost like a puzzle once you have a few blocks of MIDI. The genre itself wasn’t something I was instantly hooked on though. It took me a while. But just as today, typically the first dance music you are exposed to on radio isn’t the best and it wasn’t back then either. It took having friends showing me Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and Joachim Garraud’s podcasts to get me proper interested and start digging deeper on forums and blogs. I was 15 years ago so I was around 15-16 at the time so a bit too young to go out clubbing, but the older guys told me about a basement where everyone was playing called Grodan Cocktail Club. Thankfully a lot of the nights they had good bookings were Thursdays. So I guess the door security didn’t expect someone under 18 to go out on a weekday and I made it in most of the times. I still miss that place and I’m sure a lot of other producer and DJs from Sweden would agree. It was a seminal place. Seeing all these guys that later have gone on to sell out Madison Square Garden and other huge venues playing in a small sweaty bar for 120 people was so inspiring to me. I had never seen a performer interact with the crowd in such a way at other music shows before.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
For sure. I think it’s like that for most. I think it’s a great way to learn as well. I mean, when you’re taking piano lessons, the first thing you learn is to play “Für Elise” and then go on to learn other works before you can even consider writing your own pieces. It’s definitely an approach I took when it came to learning how to produce. I would copy bits from here and there just to get into the habit of at least finishing up a track and after a while you just find your own way of doing things. I still use other tracks as mixing references. My studio setup is very basic and sometimes it can be hard to tell how things will sound on a big system, but that’s where comparing your music to a track you know sounds great comes in handy. With that being said, if you continue straight up copying someone else’s work, it’s never going to be as big as the original and you won’t be bringing anything new to the table. You can get inspired by a small section of a track or maybe how someone has used FX and for me that’s fine – as long as you blend it together with something that’s yours.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I really struggled with mix downs and I still do. It was a real battle especially in the beginning, considering everything sounded sonically shit. I would stay up at night while still living with my parents and produce in bed, feel super happy with a track and then the next day it would just sound shit. The ideas were great, but just not sounding well. I guess I kind of set the bar a bit high comparing it to the works of Pryda, Trentemøller and Seb Legér, but it was also very motivating for me to work harder on it. I spent time on Laidback Luke’s forum where he would feedback literally every track that was posted. This was a time when dance music wasn’t as big as it is today, but it was still big deal for him to do that. I learned quite a lot there. At this time I had moved from Reason to Ableton and was digging deeper into external plugin synths.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio, if you can call it that, was my laptop at my parents’ place, and to be honest it hasn’t evolved that much since I first started 15 years ago. I use Logic as a DAW, Genelec monitors, an iMac, Apollo Twin sound card and a MIDI-keyboard. I like to keep it simple. I think production is about properly learning what you have to work with in and out, rather than looking at stuff you don’t have thinking it’s going to make a big difference for the end result.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I have a lot to thank technology for. I do all my productions on a computer for a few thousand dollars that anyone can get. Music production and the ability to reach an audience has been democratised thanks to technology. If you really think about it and compare to how the music business used to be, it’s really quite amazing. Before, you had to have all this studio equipment and pay big money to get in which made it impossible without a rich family or a major record label deal. I think that it made it possible for more artists to develop and experiment. But even if you have all these endless possibilities you still need to know how to use them. And that is where human creativity comes in.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I love getting a new synth or a plugin and trying it out, but most of the times I end up using some of the more basic stuff that I have used since I started. The time it takes for me to dive into a new piece can get too consuming and complicated so I find myself just scrolling through presets. In the end to me what matters is the final result.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I have done very few collaborations, even fewer that have seen the light of day. I just don’t feel comfortable sitting next to someone in a studio and writing. Writing music is a very personal thing to do and you can feel very exposed. I even have a hard time writing with my friends or girlfriend around. The few times I have worked with someone next to me has felt very limiting so I don’t do that too often. When I worked together with Cristoph, the idea came together through us messaging each other on Twitter and sending a couple of projects back and forth and it worked out great. In a way it was very similar to remixing someone’s work.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feedback into each other – do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I really don’t have a fixed schedule that I follow, but I try to work during business hours and get up at a reasonable time in the morning when I’m not on the road. I’m lucky to have my studio in my apartment, so I don’t need to travel anywhere to get started. Later on, in the future, I think I’ll want a space someplace else though. The neighbours must really hate me. I guess the only real routine that I do every day is walk my dog, except that I like to keep things open. If I want to catch a movie in the middle of the day I want to be able to do that and not be tied to a schedule. Since I’m away on a lot of weekends catching up with my friends down the pub and having dinner with my family is important to me. It re-energises me a lot.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that’s particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
The creative process isn’t so much different from track to track, to be honest. I write down a rough sketch or idea and try to finish it whenever I feel inspired. Ideas can come from anywhere and it’s always hard to pinpoint where it comes from exactly. I like movies, photography and video games so I probably get a lot from these creative areas. Seeing new places when I tour too.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I’ve discovered that I have a really hard time forcing music, so whenever I get the occasional writers block I just drop everything and start to do something else. Listening to music is good and most of the times for me that’s not electronic. Having a peace of mind will help but it’s not always the easiest state to reach. I think a good night’s sleep and a break every now and then is key.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Impossible to tell what music is going to be like in the future. I don’t think anyone 15 years ago could have predicted what music would sound like today. You can only guess, and that what’s so beautiful about music. It’s a dynamic phenomenon and never stops changing. I think that music and art go very well together, so that might be something that will take more shape in the future. In a way it already does with music videos, I guess.