[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
We usually imagine scientists as mad or mild-mannered. But the North Hollywood-raised, synthesizer freak named Computer Jay splits the difference. He has the cyclone hands of a turntable wizard, the wandering mind of an inventor and the cool of a pro skater. He's a trained music engineer, amateur film editor/animator and inventor of the Moogodore 2600 keyboard (part Commodore 64, part Moog, part Atari 2600), the “rapping, talking supercomputer,” and the online-only video game Savage Planet Discotheque.
You may not recognize Computer Jay's name, but chances are you've heard him over the last decade and a half.
The 33-year-old Echo Park resident born Jason Taylor has been a linchpin in the hip-hop, indie rock and beat scenes for almost half his life — first with DJ crew The Handroidz and later as keyboardist for Ima Robot, The Pharcyde and the Dam-Funk-led Master Blazter. That's not to mention his collaborations with Gaslamp Killer or his kinetic solo sets performed with drum machine, turntable and laboratory-sculpted instruments.
“I always loved early video-game sounds, so I started studying the instruments that created them. I originally wanted to sample, but as I got more in-depth, I decided to build the Moogodore,” Jay says of his one-of-a-kind creation.
We're sipping iced coffees at a cafe in Hollywood and Jay might be the least eccentric-looking person in the room. He wears a fitted baseball cap, jeans and a white shirt with a picture of a DJ hovering over a rainbow-colored dance floor. He's light-skinned with burgundy-brown eyes and has a tattoo of his logo on his left bicep. He vaguely resembles Deron Williams, the Brooklyn Nets' point guard.
“I built the supercomputer using a circuit-bent Speak N Spell, combined with an old Odyssey video-game console that has a voice mechanism that I used for the computer's voice,” Jay continues. “The digital voice came first, then I decided to animate a face for it.”
Lacking an electronics background, he taught himself how to solder iron and about resistors, transistors, capacitors and other things typically only known to the Doc Browns of the world. He admits that he broke a lot of devices before his creation came to life.
But the ingenuity conveys only half the story. Born to a mother who worked in administration at MCA Records and a father who worked for Motown and KDAY (he DJ'd during the late '70s and early '80s), Jay initially rapped. His first musical venture was in a short-lived rap group alongside Beau Dozier (son of legendary Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier) and Cash Warren (future Hollywood executive and husband of Jessica Alba).
After earning a rep as one of the city's most innovative DJs, Jay graduated to playing in bands. The best of those, Master Blazter, dissolved earlier this year following the tragic death of its drummer, Jovan “J-1” Coleman.
Rather than recruit a new member, Jay and Dam-Funk amicably parted ways, allowing Jay to pursue his passion: the four-part Savage Planet Discotheque series, the first of which was just released on his own Weird Science imprint. They're sinister but funky, halfway between horror scores and science fiction — the ideal soundtrack for a Halloween party on the planet Hoth.
“The idea is that Savage Planet is supposed to soundtrack the renaissance of tomorrow,” Jay says. “It's been a long and gradual process. It's cool to say that you've only been doing this for a year and you're just that good, but that's not me. I've been chipping away at this and improving for more than half of my life. Music is what makes my heart beat.”