Jason Hogans might not be a household name when it comes to underground music but he’s an artist who has been at the coal face in Detroit for almost 20 years. He dropped his first major release on Planet E in 1998 which blended jazz, hip hop and drum & bass but melding them into a sound that was both individual and innovative. After just one release he dropped his own name as a production alias, focusing his efforts on his :Brownstudy moniker. 18 years later, with numerous releases on Third Ear and his own imprint Really Nice Records under his belt, he’s now returned to the source with a long player under his own name that brings his story full circle and now seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Hogans and find out what makes him tick.
We meet in his hotel room on the last leg of a whistle stop tour of Europe. He’s just arrived from Brussels and, while he’s clearly tired from the road, his excitement and enthusiasm still shines through. The endeavour is totally self-organised and Hogans decided to cut out the middle-man having grown tired of waiting for agents to pick up the phone. “I just bought a plane ticket and started networking” he explains. “It was just people who like what I do and want to see me succeed who connected me with other people or were promoters themselves. I’d spent time trying to link up with and agent but it was taking too long and I just thought fuck it I’m going to go for it!”
Having taken in Strasbourg, Paris, Amsterdam, Heidelberg and Brussels, I’m keen to find out his impressions on travelling in Europe for the first time. “The hospitality has been great” he says, and the architecture has hit him too, “when I got off the train in Amsterdam I felt like I was in a Tim Burton film or something, all these bikes and wonky people, and the buildings are literally leaning over each other it’s crazy”. But that said there’s been a lot to work out. For example, in every country there’s a new way of greeting people, “well in France you kiss on each cheek, in Brussels you just do it once, and in Amsterdam it’s hand slaps and fist bumps so there’s a lot to take in. Like I get somewhere and I’m thinking ok so how do I say hello here?!”
After a while the conversation shifts and we start talking about how he came to be where he is today. Growing up in Detroit, music was a huge part of his life from a very young age. “I started playing violin in like third grade, trumpet in middle school and then in high school I played a lot of piano, just absorbing all of the music that was out there like underground hip hop or jazz or whatever. Then when I went to college I had piano classes and they were difficult because I always wanted to go beyond what was on the sheet, I wanted to break the rules. And then all of a sudden I signed a record deal and I dropped out right away”. At this point he laughs at himself but you can tell this is where he really found his way.
A big catalyst for Hogans linking up with Planet E for his first record was Matthew Chicoine AKA Recloose. Having been to a night that Chicoine was putting on Hogans liked what he was hearing; “I guess I can be pretty bold sometimes and I just went up to the stage and was like “I do music, you do music, let’s build” or whatever and we took it from there”. The two exchanged some music and Chicoine then passed on a demo to Carl Craig which lead to his first release “Peter and the Rooster”. With the focus on broken beats and drum & bass, the release felt like the next stage in a game of transatlantic pong. Having absorbed the futuristic electronic music coming out of Detroit, the UK interpretation of black dance music was being beamed back across the pond and “Peter and the Rooster” was received warmly, picking up props from the likes of Dego from 4 Hero.
Hogans moved out to Ann Arbour when he was in his early 20s which is a 45 minute drive from the City. While close enough to Detroit for cross fertilisation, the college town of Ann Arbour has its own distinct musical identity with the likes of Ghostly International, Sam I Am and many more individual talents and labels all emanating from there. With his focus moving towards his :Brownstudy project, Hogans eventually linked up with Guy McCreery, the founder of Third Ear Records. “I think the first time we met was back stage at The Works in Detroit. There were a bunch of scene people hob-knobbing in the kitchen or something and we were introduced. I passed on some music and we went from there.”
We move on to talking about his new album “Age of Scrap” and I’m keen to find out the ideas behind the project. “A lot of that was about the collapse of industrial civilisation, based on a few things like resource depletion, climate change and all the shit we do. And growing up in Detroit I see quite a bit of scrap around me! I see that our possible future, our probable future, will be going back and reusing things we’ve discarded. Being creative with what we have left after things have been burned and thrown and consumed and whatever.” This also resonates back to a time around 2007 where he intentionally took himself off the map a bit. “I got so into what people may call doom and gloom that I started learning survival skills and stuff cos I thought this isn’t going to last. Especially after I started a family, things kind of sunk in on a whole new level.”
Sonically the album feels like both a departure and a home coming. While his output as :Brownstudy was by no means restricted to hip hop and broken beats, Age of Scrap delves into new sonic territory for Hogans that is both forward thinking and still rooted in funk. That said, the return to purely instrumental tracks feels closer to his 1998 debut under his own name than any of his material since. But does it feel to him like it’s a home coming? “Well I guess so yeah, I mean I started with instrumental music, then did my :Brownstudy thing where I’m running my mouth and now I’m feeling just beats again so yeah it’s back to Jason Hogans”.
As we bring the interview to a close I’m impressed by the way that, after almost 20 years in the business, it feels like Hogans is more motivated and excited by what he’s doing than ever. While he’s keeping the exact details under his hat for now, there’s more Jason Hogans material already scheduled for release and he’s already plotting his next trip across the pond. His genuine, friendly outlook and bucket loads of enthusiasm are definitely going to make him an artist to watch out for in the future.