Over the past decade of me making it through the ups and downs of the music industry the music of British Columbia producer Jamison Isaak and his moniker Teen Daze has been a constant companion on my personal and musical journey. I only realized that when I took a closer look at his rich discography and I found parts of his first ever record My Bedroom Floor from 2010 in my hard disk along with some of his early recordings and remixes for artists like Tycho, Young Galaxy, Sun Glitters and even Nils Frahm. If I counted correctly, the freshly released Interior already marks Isaak’s 10th full-length recording in eleven years, not counting all the EPs and compilations. Yes, the shy gentleman has been quite active, to say the least, keeping the Teen Daze legacy alive way beyond the initial bedroom/chillwave scene some considered Isaak to be a part of.
Over this time he created some truly mesmerizing records, including personal favourites of mine like the two albums Themes For Dying Earth and Themes For A New Earth back in 2017. Despite always having an electronic foundation the sound of Teen Daze also found inspiration in traditional folk music, pop and field recordings. And while you can’t deny a certain dreaminess in his music the songwriter and producer was always keen to let the groove of dance music visit his cosmos occasionally. 2020 saw him release a four-parted EP series called Reality Refresh which – for me – was a great way of coping with the pandemic reality due to its hopeful and meditative nature. However, there were also quite danceable vibes on these releases and people who know me and my taste know that you’ll always get me with a good Balearic house groove. So, in many ways, it was overdue to shed a light on Jamison in my Electronic Empathy section, especially since we already crossed paths on NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION multiple times over the past decade and the new album is one hell of a grooving tribute to the dance music that shaped his artistry.
Freshly released on cult label Cascine, Interior is an album that was already envisioned a few years ago, one that shows Jamison’s love for good ol’ French filter house, smooth acid, cosmic beats and neon light dreams. According to the producer it sounds “like what the teenagers in Akira might be listening to” and that sums it up pretty good. I was happy to exchange a few questions with the Teen Daze mastermind to talk about the album, his relationship to club music these days and how Daft Punk changed the life for him (just like they did with so many of us). And of course, he also compiled a mighty selection for the Electronic Empathy playlist which you should give a spin immediately as you start reading this little interview.
Greetings Jamison, nice to talk again. I’ve been following your journey for more than a decade now and it’s great so see so many facets of your sound over the years and still discover new aspects with every release…
Thanks for tracking with what I’ve been doing for so long! It’s been a productive decade, and while I’ve always admired artists that have prolific outputs, I know it can be challenging for people to stay up.
How do you keep the level excitement for change alive for you as an artist?
I think conceptualizing new projects and experimenting in that early phase is my favourite part of any project, so the excitement for change is just built into every new release. My favourite artists have always been ones that seemed to enjoy reinventing themselves, and as someone who has always had a pretty broad taste in music, I love the idea of keeping things fresh from record to record. I haven’t necessarily tried to stay relevant with my sound, but I do try and switch up the overall vibe every time I start a new project. At the end of the day, whatever type of sound I’m working with, it’ll always filter through my own personal lens.
Over the past years you always circled back to dance music territory eventually but never as clear and cohesive as on Interior. Was that a reaction to the more meditative EP series from 2020?
Honestly, I wrote the majority of the record before I released any of those Reality Refresh EPs. When I was working with Joel Ford during the making of Bioluminescence, I realized how skilled he was at taking my home-studio recordings and turning them into tracks that would work well in a club setting. That was the catalyst for this whole record. I actually conceptualized the whole Reality Refresh project a week or two into the pandemic. I thought to myself, “If I’m not going to be going out and playing shows, I better have some music to release.” I wrote all 16 songs over the span of two months (April and May of 2020), and released them throughout the year. So Interior was about half done by the time I was done making all of the Reality Refresh tracks, and it got wrapped up sometime during that year.
That’s quite interesting in terms of the whole time setting. I also find it quite fascinating to record a club record in a time when dancing was basically “forbidden”. How did you keep that grooving spark alive? Were you feeding from memory? Listening to lots of records?
The nostalgic feeling of being at a really good party definitely fuelled a lot of the making of this record. The songs that I had started before the pandemic all got shifted into a much more French house-influenced sound post lockdown; that style of music really does feel so romantic and dreamy to me, so being stuck at home, imagining up the feeling of being at the ‘perfect party’, that type of dreamy, romantic feeling just made so much sense.
Not born and raised in the club scene
As I get older I actually do appreciate clubbing more than when I was younger, especially in the months following the first lockdown winter. I gotta say, in 2021 I’ve been out clubbing way more than I did in 2019. What’s your personal impression of that?
I had zero clubbing experience, and really zero live music experience, in my younger years. I lived in small, isolated towns, so I really only went to my first show when I was in my late teens. I probably only went to my first ‘club’ when I was like 22 or 23? Really what that means is that I’ve never had any sort of deep attachment to the experience, even if I have had some really amazing, life-affirming nights. I completely get it though; if I didn’t live an hour from the city, and have a toddler in the house, I’d probably find myself going and listening/dancing to DJs much more often.
The early 00s French house movement clearly affected you and the sound of Interior. I read before that it was the sound that made you decide to turn to music making. Can you recall a specific moment or record that had this effect?
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The big, life-changing record for me was Discovery by Daft Punk. I was 15 when it came out, and I remember burning it on a CD before a family road trip. We were dropping my older brother off at college, and were staying in this hotel in the town he was going to school in. One of the nights in the hotel, my parents were watching TV, and I put on Discovery on my headphones, and I just remember feeling completely transported. The music was so colourful, so vivid (it only makes sense it would go on to be the score for an anime) and was filled with so many melodies. Even to this day, it’s hard to not be moved when I hear it, there’s just so much emotion in it. It stayed as one of my favourite albums of all time throughout my life, and from time to time, I’d try, as an experiment, to make some music for my own personal “Discovery-record”. Nothing ever really stuck until this time around.
And indeed, if you listen carefully you’ll find plenty of nods to Discovery on Interior. Especially songs like Nite Run and the closing Translation are quite a tribute to this iconic record by the two French house music icons that sadly split up earlier this year. Daft Punk and French house are a recurring theme in my Electronic Empathy section, I gotta say. Roosevelt also named them major influences and even I produced a tribute mix following their split this spring. Unsurprisingly, Jamison’s picks for our playlist got a lot of that sweet dreamy French House sound. I mean, the opening track comes straight from Discovery and is followed by the iconic Music Sounds Better With You from Stardust (which is another Daft Punk side-project). But apart from that we also got folks like Alan Braxe and Fred Falke in there. He compiled lots and lots of tunes for us and I actually – for the first time ever – had to cut a few ones in order to make room for my own picks like I usually do. So, needless to say, I found my master when it comes to playlist curation.
Alright, so that’s one hell of a playlist; you pretty much outdid yourself on this one. I can only assume you must have one hell of an archive. How much time does it take for you to compile mixtapes and sounds?
Hahaha, I’m glad it impressed! I tried to dig deep. I’ve always loved making mixes for people, and spending more time in DJ world has been a great excuse to put out more mixes. It’s a labour of love usually; over the course of a week or so, I’ll compile a playlist of tracks that I feel like will fit the vibe of the mix, and then whittle them down. I try and keep things unique, try and stump some folks with some deep cuts, but at the end of the day, I usually want to pick a collection of songs that I really love.
In the spirit of Daft Punk – this also works as a great “discovery” for me, I gotta say. love that Jack J tune Something In My Mind … 10 and a half minutes of bliss, great saxophone outro. Well, and of course DJ Koze’s Pick-Up never gets boring even in that ultra-long version. Are there any personally highlights in the playlist that are close to your heart?
Yeah, that Jack J song is pure perfection. It works in so many different settings too. I’ve already mentioned my love of Daft Punk, and Voyager has always been one of my favourite tunes of theirs so it had to be the opener. I think A Paw In My Face by The Field is another tune that’s been with me for so long, and just works in so many settings; there’s a hypnotic, dreaminess to it, but if played in the right setting, people will really dance to it. I definitely tried to keep the playlist pretty danceable, and pretty contemporary; if you asked me to compile a playlist of my favourite jazz records, I’d be thrilled to work through 100 of my favourites. Next time! (laughs)
More than just copying and pasting
There’s this great Jex Opolis tune from today which sounds like 1991. Are you interested in revisiting and “copying” patterns of past generations of dance music or is it important for you to find your own sound?
What I love about Jex is that while he pays homage to that era of dance music, it’s still definitely ‘his own sound’, which is what I find the most inspiring. I’m definitely not interested in copying and pasting anything that I’m not familiar with. That’s why I felt so comfortable making a record like Interior, because I have this deep history with French house, and I have all these emotions and memories connected to the music. I would never just hop on a bandwagon.
The Teen Daze sound always comes with that dreamy DNA and I was wondering whether you got a specific set of sounds or a specific instrument that you always turn to when you run out of ideas.
Great question! I always find so much inspiration from any electric, whether a real Fender Rhodes or an EP preset on the Korg Triton or DX7. There’s something about it, a softness that makes everything sound good. For the last few years, I’ve also become really attached to the Korg M1, a beast workstation that has some of the prettiest presets. When I fire mine up, the first preset is this pad sound called “Universe”, and I remember knowing immediately that this was going to be an instrument I really connected with.
Is there any favourite sound in dance music that always excites you? I gotta say I’m a sucker for such house piano like the one you used towards the end of your single 2 AM (Real Love).
I love the Todd Edwards style microsamples! And really, a looped disco sample just speaks to me every time.
As I already mentioned your work flow is quite impressive; ain’t no year without releases goes by. How do you keep the spark alive? What inspires you to continue doing this?
I’ve always wanted to do this, and I realized early on in doing Teen Daze that this project was my chance to get to be a full-time musician. So it’s always been about the act of sustaining. If I know this is a thing I want to do for the rest of my life, I need to work at not only producing music I love, but also creating an infrastructure around me that will help make it possible to keep putting out records. That’s a huge motivation for me. In terms of being inspired creatively, I find inspiration every day, in nature, in people, in other art.
Thanks for taking the time for this little exchange. Of course, at the end of the year, I gotta ask: What’s next for Teen Daze in 2022?
I have a couple different projects I’m working on: a bit of a follow up to Interior, an EP with some more dance-leaning tracks. But what I’m most excited about is a collection of songs I wrote during the heaviest season of the pandemic. It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever been on a record, lots of singing and lyrics about how I processed everything that was going on in 2020. But also, it kind of sounds like slow Steely Dan tracks, with a lot of vocoder and auto tune. That’ll be out next year hopefully!
So, luckily we don’t have to wait that much longer for more material from Teen Daze. Until this happens you got plenty of music to catch up with, including the great new record Interior that’s out now. And, of course, you got the mighty Electronic Empathy playlist, including lots of picks from the artist. The first 60 tracks are entirely Jamison’s choices while the other 40 songs (starting with Teen Daze track Swimming) feature some of my current favourites from the field of electronic music. All in all you got a ten hour journey in front of you so that should make up a great soundtrack for your next party, right? Thanks for sticking with me and Electronic Empathy throughout this rollercoaster ride of a year. See you in 2022.
Please note: The Teen Daze selection will be only available for a limited amount of time before it will merge with the picks of the next Electronic Empathy update. So make sure to save your favourites as quickly as possible and discover the music of these lovely artists.