In Miami with Jeremy Olander

Jeremy Olander is one of the most inspiring producers I have ever met. I had the chance to sit down with Jeremy in South Beach during Miami Music Week, where we spent the better part of an hour discussing the creative processes of production, the cultural differences in dance music, and, most importantly, techno. What sets Jeremy apart from most DJs for me—and places him amongst the ranks of the melodic trifecta with Eric Prydz and Fehrplay—is the flowing, ethereal harmony he creates in his productions and sets. Jeremy has a wealth of knowledge and is a testament to the success of technologically-minded musicians; he had no formal training in music before he began producing on software. In light of some of the most legendary melodies in electronic music, from “Let Me Feel” to “Lauderdale,” let Jeremy Olander’s creativity inspire you.

If you could sit across your eighteen-year-old self now with all of your current technical music knowledge, what would you tell yourself about producing music and getting into the industry?

That’s a pretty freaky question, I like that.

Batch: Haha, take your time.

You know, there’s not that much I would change in what I did. I think I was lucky enough to make the right decisions and to focus on the right things. I hung out a lot on forums and was able to talk to people like Laidback Luke, you know, good producers I really looked up to back then. They would point me in the right direction and say, “focus on equalizing, try to be creative as you can, and don’t try to copy anyone else. Try out different things, but get to learn your craft and what it is that you’re working with.” Still, to this day, I work with very basic synths. I just learned how to tweak them from their default sounds. I think a lot of people just try to jump onto going through presets and create Avicii’s music, but it’s not going to be interesting at all. Because everyone can find a preset. It’s important to experiment and get to know your craft.

Jeremy, you’re twenty-seven now. When did you start producing?

I was fifteen when I started messing around, but it was nothing back then. Maybe a couple hours a day. It was in Reason. I never really got to know the program, to be honest; it was way too complicated for me to even know how to arrange a track in it, but I still got to learn the basics of making a good loop. The whole interface looks a little strange; you have one that’s kind of like an oldschool rack, where you plug in everything, and then the other window—which I didn’t even get into—which was the whole arrangement part. But it didn’t make sense to me, so I moved on to Ableton. It was really easy to get to know how to arrange tracks, but I didn’t feel the synths were that good, so I would have to get plugins. And then I found Logic, which I felt had great synths and a really good arrangement window that helped out with my workflow.

I used to like doing DJ mixes in Ableton, like if I was on the road it was easier to put it all in, like how it cuts it up so it’s all beatmatched, but the guy who made Ableton didn’t make it to be a production program. He made it to be a mixing program. The whole engine—he said this in interviews—didn’t sound good at the beginning, now I think he’s sorted it out, but even when I put in tracks to do mixes, it messes up the quality of the tracks. It was not made to be a production program from start, and now that I know a little more about how things should sound, I can definitely tell.

Jeremy Olander foto: Viktor Fremling

Do you mix and master your own tracks?

I have someone who masters usually, but I mix it all. I think the mastering is getting it all closer, sounding a little bit tighter, a little bit louder, and I think you need at least one hardware compressor to get that feeling. You know, all the stuff that I play out, I haven’t released.

What synths do you use?

I use most of Logic’s own plugins. I really like the Arturia plugins; they’re kinda buggy, they sometimes crash the program, and they use a lot of CPU, but I think they have some cool, really old school sounds. I just recently bought Spectrasonics Omnisphere; it’s a sample-based synth, but it’s super nice. It has thousands of presets, it’s inspiring to go through it.

Who were your biggest inspirations when you first started?

I started out like everyone else, you know, really commercial. Steve, Sebastian, the Swedish guys—they weren’t even Swedish House Mafia—they were just these guys that were making good music. Joachim Garraud, this French guy. He had a podcast that was really good, and through that one I discovered Eric. We have this club in Stockholm called Cocktail Club—this was back before the whole EDM movement—it was this basement under this posh restaurant. It was kind of like a bar in a sense. It was a really small place, like 150 people, and they would have Felix the Housecat, Steve, Seb, Eric, Richie Hawtin played there… It was definitely an institution for all of us. It’s become a legendary story in a way.

What genre would you say defines you?

I would say progressive house and techno. I’ve been talking a lot about genres lately, and I feel like it’s all just gone… Everyone is getting influences from everywhere. People are like, “Ah, progressive house on Beatport isn’t progressive house anymore,” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s right.” But I can’t be bothered anymore. I just make music. But I still consider myself a progressive house and techno producer.

Your DJ Mag Canada Secret Session set was legendary, what was the vibe like?

We were able to go outside our comfort zone a little, as well. I was playing a lot of stuff from other people, played some classics in there as well. When you produce music, and people hear what you produce and they come to your show, they kind of expect you to play a lot of your own stuff, which I do and I love, but at the same time it’s fun to go outside your comfort zone and play other stuff as well. Now I’m trying to play more longer sets so I can do that.

Tell me more about developing a taste for techno.

It takes a while to get to appreciate it. Now I can stand there and appreciate the kick drum, and then a clap coming in. And then go like, “Ahhh, that clap was so spot on!” Or like a hi-hat coming in. People that just get into dance music wouldn’t necessarily understand the power of the hi-hat, or the power of the clap.

What was your Ultra experience like?

I played at Ultra back in 2012. It was a smaller stage. It was fun. I think they’ve gotten better, especially with Carl Cox coordinating a stage and setting up the lineup there. It gives it a bit of diversity. People going to Ultra might just pop in there and discover new music. I think that’s what a DJ has to do. They have to bring you new music, and I feel like a lot of people have lost that. A lot of people are just playing what everyone else is playing. And I can understand; going to a festival, you want to hear something that you know, but at the same time, when I went to shows I wanted to hear stuff that I’ve never heard before. And get inspired. You want to hear something you’ve never heard before, that’s where the whole DJ culture came from. Having the only vinyl of a track, no one being able to get it, stuff like that. That’s kinda gotten lost.

Have you ever been in the crowd for a music festival?

No, not really. It was mostly clubs. I was planning on going to some festivals; Creamfields was one that I really wanted to go to, and then I ended up playing there. I’ve never been an attendee at a festival… it’s kind of a shame to say. I was too busy trying to make new music. But I still enjoy going out. Festivals have been around for a long time in Europe. Obviously, house came from Chicago, and techno from Detroit, but it stayed secluded.

If you had to reset and become a new producer in 2015, what would you do?

I would do it the same way. Tutorial videos to learn basic stuff like sidechaining. I knew no music theory. I didn’t go to music school. I kinda think that going to a school is not going to help you, and it’s one person’s view of how to produce. You’re not going to be able to make your own workflow or anything, and I think that’s something important when you make music and you have your own way of doing things. I actually went to New York to study music production, at SAE. It was a kinda shitty course, an electronic music production course. I went there in 2009, the course was cancelled because there were too few participants. You don’t see that happening nowadays. I started working at a clothing store in New York… I made a lot of my records there actually.

What makes Swedish and Dutch culture such a catalyst for making electronic music?

I can only speak for Sweden, but I think that, to be fair, we’ve had this socialist-run country for a long time, which encourages people to do activities after school, which the government pays for. I think that gets a lot of people to do things like learn how to play the guitar, instead of just hanging out on the streets. I think that helps out a lot, getting government funding for people. But also, there’s not that much to do. It’s cold for most of the year, so people just stay in. They don’t want to move around too much. And there’s also the longing for the summer that gets you into a certain vibe, as well. It’s melancholic, in a way. There are a lot of factors; I can’t really speak for England and the Dutch, but I’m sure it’s the same in many ways. There’s a lot of rain in England, so that probably helped people there to get emotional. They party hard. It’s almost borderline depressing. But as long as you have strong emotions, whether it be sad or happy, you can write emotional music.

What’s been your favorite set you’ve played of all time? 

That’s a tough question, man. Obviously, playing Madison Square Garden was pretty big. But I was almost too nervous to even enjoy it. My parents flew in. I had friends coming in. It was a big deal.

How do you go about planning sets like Madison Square Garden?

I tend to plan maybe fifty percent of the set. If you plan a set, it might be completely wrong for the vibe. In the beginning I was planning sets because I was way too nervous to do it on the fly, but eventually people kept telling me, “I understand why you’re planning it, but you shouldn’t, because it kind of takes away the enjoyment.” You want to be able to enjoy yourself and have fun and be a little bit stressed, but when you nail that good mix… you can’t fake that. It’s more fun doing it on the fly.

What’s your take on syncing visuals during larger sets?

The thing is, if you have your own visual guy and your own pyrotechnics guy and everything, you can let them know the cue points in some of your tracks. Then you can just do whatever you want, and these guys know, “here’s this track, this is where I do this.” There’s no reason not to do it on the fly. It’s not that hard to coordinate, at least a little bit, with the people that are taking care of it. Just saying, “this is what it sounds like, I think it should explode here.” And then, the rest of the set you can just do whatever you want. I think it depends on what artist is playing.

Take us through your creative process. Do you have any rituals?

To be honest, it’s kind of like a 9 to 5 job. I wake up, make coffee, listen to some new tracks, maybe listen to what I’ve worked on the day before, it’s nice not to rush anything. I hear some producers says, “ah, I’ve been sitting in the studio for two months working on this one track twenty hours a day,” and I think how can you work that long on a track? Just finish it and move on. Everyone has different ways of approaching music. Madeon is a brilliant producer and a true musician. I really respect what he’s done, but, for me, even just listening to loud music for four or five hours is going to mess with your mixing. You have to rest your ears. It can be very exhausting for your ears to listen to the same thing for five hours. People sitting for twenty hours a day… it’s hard to get the mix right. I’ve tried forcing it, but it doesn’t work for me.

Sometimes I have a melody I write, and I build upon it. I usually just put out notes, but now I prefer playing on the keyboard. My go-to kind of way of doing things is starting with a beat. But I also feel that if you’re starting a track, and if you’re not getting anywhere in a full day, maybe you should move onto the next one and try that. Why force it? When I started producing, I had this rule that I wanted to finish everything that I started. It’s really hard to do. A lot of people ask me, “how do you finish your tracks?” It comes from me being really strict at the beginning; finishing it, even if it doesn’t sound good, just to get the feeling of finishing something. Obviously, I don’t do it that way anymore, but it kind of taught me how to approach finishing tracks.

What hardware do you use now?

None. Just my MacBook Pro, plugins, soundcard (Apollo Duo), and Genelec 8030 monitors. They’re kind of small, but why fix it if it ain’t broken? I’ve got a sub bass, but I don’t think my neighbors would approve. I’m sitting there 9 to 5 anyway, so they’re not going to be at home. I think people can get too stuck in buying new gear, and thinking that that’s going to do the trick. It’s not going to do the trick. When you have to reference tracks, I love using shitty headphones, speakers… I usually put it on speakerphone, because that’s the way that people are going to be listening to it. It’s important to get that sense of mixing, as well. For headphones, I use my Sennheiser HD-25s.

Lastly, if you could give any advice to new producers, what would you say?

Try and find a niche for what it is that you want to do. Find a label that suits that. And try to approach them once you have stuff that sounds good enough for them. Don’t rush anything. I feel like people rush it too much nowadays. They want to get big in a year. People send me stuff, and they’re like, “I’ve been producing for six months.” I’m going to listen to it, but it’s probably going to be shit, because you’ve been producing for six months and it can’t be good. [Regarding exceptions] The early Avicii stuff I heard was very good actually; it sounded well mixed. We went to the same high school, but I never knew him, he’s younger than me. The stuff that he did… I remember, that was back in the days when people would do blogs and were putting out tracks in blogs. The stuff I had heard that he made—and he had been producing for six months—was really, really good. He just got way into it. It takes a lot of time. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become a professional. There are no shortcuts.


Photography by Viktor Fremling.

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