This interview is part of our series featuring musicians touring with Wanderlust Festivals for the 2017 season. For a complete lineup of this summer’s musical features, click here.
Meet musician Jesse Blake. He’s been making music for as long as he can remember. “I made my first set of drums out of pots and pans when I was seven years old,” he recalls. “I was always messing around with pianos and guitars and whatever instruments I could lay my hands on.” From then on, it was history.
Jesse started out as a drummer, playing and touring in a few different rock bands. In 2002, he was asked to play drums for a yoga class. It wasn’t long before he evolved from solely playing drums to introducing more instruments into the mix. He has gained a great deal of acclaim for his yoga music, and has released two solo records under the name Jesse Hozeny. He also produces music for film and television, and has made a name for himself as a DJ, touring all over the western hemisphere and sharing the booth with luminaries like Jamie xx and Cut Copy. He is currently based out of L.A. and is the resident musician at The Xanadu Life. We reached out to Jesse to learn more about his practice and work.
Wanderlust (WL): When and why did you start writing music for yoga classes? Are you a yoga practitioner yourself?
Jesse Blake (JB): In 2002, I was a newbie yogi, I had just been laid off from my Internet 1.0 software sales job, and I was producing hip-hop beats for fun in a bedroom full of production gear. At that point, I had long ago given up on a career in music. After the layoff, I was searching for what to do next when I got the opportunity to play live drums for a weekly yoga class.
At first all I did was drum for class, but over time I started integrating instruments I was using at home—a synth, a laptop, and a lot more drums! Before long I had my own corner of the studio and was writing tons of music for yoga just to keep those classes interesting. I put out two solo records that got a lot of attention in the yoga world, and started touring the country playing classes and events.
Making and licensing music for film and television soon followed, which was the beginning of me being able to make music full time. My first DJ gigs were me playing live for yoga classes—it was only later that I started DJing in nightclubs and dance music events. So yoga and making music for yoga were really huge lynchpins in terms of my development as an artist. And I do still practice yoga, but I’m not all insane about it like I was when I was younger!
WL: Are there any specific teachers you collaborate with regularly?
JB: Yes, I work twice weekly at Wanderlust Hollywood for a class called Soulscape with Mary Beth LaRue and Whitney Allen, who both teach on the Wanderlust Festival circuit. I DJ another Wanderlust class called Deep House Yoga with Donovan Vries-McGrath, and I spin yoga classes for Equinox Fitness all over Southern California. I’m also the resident yoga DJ for The Xanadu Life, an adventure and events company based in Los Angeles.
WL: What is your writing process? Do you have any specific points of inspiration?
JB: My process really depends on what kind of music I’m making. I’ve been making a lot of house music lately, which has a different creative flow than making more down-tempo or ambient tracks. There’s a bounciness and a danceability, along with a certain trippiness I’m searching for with my house tracks. My yoga music or film composition tends to be more tribal or brooding, more cinematic, which requires a different head space.
One of the things I’ve tried to get better at is realizing sooner what kind of music I need to be making at any given time, because I often find the frustrating creative dead-ends come as a result of my nervous system or my spirit not being in sync with the music I’m trying to make. This is where asana and meditation practice have been so fantastic—both are great tools to get better at being aware of my own true experience moment to moment. When I’m in alignment with the music I’m making it become a “flow” experience, where time drops away and I’m completely engaged with the work. Yoga helps me identify why I’m not in flow when I’m not, and it helps me drop into flow where I find it!
WL: When you play live for a yoga class, do you play compositions that you have written or is there an improvisational aspect based on the energy of the class?
JB: Oh yes! I’m always mixing my own music in. I also have a ton of loops and samples I’ve made over the years that I manipulate using effects to create brand new soundscapes on the fly. So a lot of the music is literally live, in the sense that I’m improvising as I go, and generating sound in real time. My entire approach to DJing for yoga revolves around trying to find a very intuitive place where I can respond to the energy I’m getting from the room as the class is happening.
I think coming from the perspective of being a music-maker rather than just a selector has helped in the sense that if I found I needed a certain type of beat or sound or vibe in class, I just made it, rather than trying to find something someone else had made. So my yoga music is often borne of the experience of making it in response to the energy of an actual yoga class. There’s a communion that can happen between me and the participants of class and the instructor when it’s all working together that’s really beautiful.
WL: What projects are you working on right now?
JB: I’m working on an EP of deep house music, which is a bit of a departure for me. I’ve been really inspired by the Yoga Social (an immersive yoga experience with live DJ and headphones) and Deep House Yoga classes I’ve DJ’d and been a part of through Wanderlust and Xanadu, and that my friend Justin does with his company, Bender. There’s a celebration and an experience of joy and release in these classes where the line between yoga and dance party is pretty well blurred (they often turn into dance parties once the yoga is done). I love the vibe and working in those environments has been an amazing catalyst for my own creative process.
Check out Jesse’s original mixes below!
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga.