Jason Bentley on the Music That Is the Core of His Being
Our music feature this week breaks down the career of KCRW Music Director and Morning Becomes Eclectic host Jason Bentley, who has been a central figure in the L.A. electronic scene since almost before Skrillex was born. We spoke with Bentley a number of times for this story, including in the basement studio at KCRW, about the return of his electronic-focused radio show Metropolis and some new developments at this year's Coachella. Here are some outtakes from Bentley and Hard Events founder Gary Richards that didn't make the story.
On how he spots new musical trends:
Bentley: It's kind of a magic process, and I only say that because I try and respect a bigger conversation and voice. Sometimes one single record will open the door and then everyone wants to go through that door. It's not a conspiracy, it just happens. Deadmau5's Faxing Berlin is an example; after that, everyone wanted to hear that kind of record.
I have respect for a cultural conversation bigger than me, and I think that gives me a certain power in the process because I just sort of abide by "this feels right and we're going this way." It's not like I'm so centered and ego driven like "I'm a hitmaker and this is where we're going to go now," it's sort of like, "yeah, I feel this cyle of music and it's coming around this way." I think I've always sort of been that way. I've always loved subculture and people that do things and try things differently, taking risks. I admire that about people and the arts.
On where he finds new music:
I do try and just keep my mind open and listen, but any of the more heavy-sell designs on getting my attention on something have no effect whatsoever. I'm not interested in that at all. People wait for me outside the station. People send me ornate things, flowers or candy. I get a lot of emails and facebook messages and Tweets, and really I'm waiting for the magic. I'm waiting for the same thing that got me when I was 16 years old.
On playing music in a city of influencers:
People have said that KCRW's influence goes well beyond our actual audience, and that speaks to the idea of maybe it's a smaller audience, but they're way more influential. They're taking those ideas and they're putting them in films, and they're putting them in ads and bookings. They're doing things that take the message further afield, and that's the beauty of being here in Los Angeles.
The first concert he went to:
This is always an embarrassing question. You're first concert, you're not really in charge. I always marvel at people who say their first concert was The Clash. Like, "What do you mean, The Clash? How did you go to that?" So, my first concert was the Go-Gos.
The first albums he listened to:
I don't remember the first album I bought was, but I remember the first albums I made my own were the ones I found in the attic of this house we moved into. I was exploring in the attic and there was some leftover vinyl in a crate. The two records were the Beatles' Rubber Soul and The Monkees' Meet the Monkees. I latched onto those albums and played them over and over again.
On his favorite genre:
I just love house music. That's not to say I don't like other stuff and can't enjoy and appreciate different records, but if we're talking about the core of my being, strangely, it's house. I don't know what it is, but I love that shit.
On audience feedback:
I do get a lot of positive feedback from people, so I do feel fulfilled in the simplest ways. Someone tweeted me yesterday in the morning, a stranger, but it was such a wonderful sentiment, I couldn't believe it. It was "@jasonbently you're a miracle." That's so awesome! It's like, "I'm done. I'm good." To get that kind of feeling back from people is so gratifying and it's like, "How can you be a better person. How can you apply yourself in the world in a more effective or conscious way?" It's a work in progress.
On everyone feeling like they know him:
I do understand that people have a relationship with me through the radio that is totally unrealistic. In those situations I just try to be courteous. If people want to take a photograph or connect with me, I just need to really be courteous and ask them their names and find out a little bit about them. You can't always control that process. There will always be someone who says, "Yeah I tried to talk to that guy he's a total jerk." But I really try to come off as not being arrogant or being a jerk. I think I get that from my mom, in trying to be mindful and make a connection.
There is a dialogue that's imaginary to me. [Henry Rollins' KCRW show] is a good example of that. I've become a character on Rollins' show that's not based in reality at all. It's very entertaining. I'm really just a part of the audience at that point. I'm not personally attached to what he's saying, because it's so outlandish.
On going out to concerts, (or not):
I don't actually go out as much as people probably think. I have the luxury of having the guests in studio. Bands will be like, "Are you coming to the show tonight?" and I'll be like, "No. I just saw you. I'm good."
On the evolution of the Hollywood electronic scene:
At some point in the early 2000s, the Hollywood scene, which was always pretty unimaginative, made the jump to dance music. I would actually credit Steve Aoki and DJ AM. There was this sort of celebrity culture that they were used to. AM was dating Nicole Richie. They were fine in the tabloids.
On electronic music as the new normal:
I went out to a club on 20th and Wilshire. I go in, and it's predominantly college kids and the DJs are playing sort of melodic downtempo disco stuff like Classixx, and it's not strange to anyone except for me. I'm thinking, "Wow, this is just normal now." My point is that as I've come into my own at KCRW and brought these influences, it's also part of a broader shift. My goal is not to have dance culture be a sort of distinct ghetto at KCRW. You can enjoy it all, and especially this generation.
On how he chooses the music for Morning Becomes Eclectic:
I sometimes audition music in the morning before the show, but I think the secret is that because I'm on so often, there's never really a break. I'm auditioning in real time. I'll maybe give a song a play on air and it'll either sound great, or I won't really play it again. To a certain extent you can kind of say the auditioning is the show.
On working with the Grammys:
Really being in the trenches with that organization and giving dance music its due, that was a professional victory for sure. Unfortunately it was followed by a whole controversy with Al Walser. I noticed that the committee just gave the award to Skrillex again, which just felt like a reaction to the Al Walser criticism. Everyone just freaked out and said, "Ah let's give it to the person we know." Really it should have been Avicii for best single and Deadmau5 for best album, although that's just my opinion. I think the lingering issue is that the voting members [need to be] really educated on this genre.
On future projects:
I'm the executive producer of a remix of Bob Marley's Legend [out in July]. It's going to have Thievery Corporation, Pretty Lights, Jim James, etc. My sweet spot for who I want to embrace this record is kind of the Lightning in a Bottle crowd, this conscious Whole Foods yoga crowd. That would be the goal.
Gary Richards, on he and Bentley DJing together in their younger years:
Richards: Once he and I got booked to play for a ski trip at USC in Tahoe. We carried all our gear up there and we thought it ws gonna be great; we were going to meet girls and play techno, but they just hated us. Neither one of us were having any luck. They kicked us off and the guy who came on played "Footloose" and the place went bananas. We left.
On Bentley as a central figure in the local electronic community:
L.A. is the epicenter of electronic music in north America. I credit that to a handful of people and Jason is definitely one of those people. For 22 years the guy has been on the radio every single day playing music that no one else plays in this city. He doesn't follow a format. He just plays what he likes, and that's amazing.