Pop music doesn't have to be supersmart. It's for out-of-control bouts of shouting, makeout sessions, and screaming along with when traffic on 826 is moving in slow-mo.
But Miami DJ-producer Joseph Espinoza (AKA Jesp) thinks that pop should be both fun and intelligent. In fact, his dabbling in ostensibly serious genres like punk and progressive rock has given birth to an appreciation for the structural composition of melodic, beat-driven party anthems and their function in society. Even further, Jesp has developed a soft-spoken party ideology that champions pop escapism as a legitimate response to constant global turmoil.
With the release of Espinoza's brand-spankin'-new EP, Step Into The Dark (now available on iTunes), Crossfade thought it would be a good time to pick the songsmith's brain on the impending a-pop-aclypse.
Crossfade: Where is modern pop music going? Who in modern pop do you draw influence from?
Current American Top 40 pop music can sometimes contradict what people are going through and the way people feel in 2011. There is uncertainty all around us. The saturation of "house" music and feel-good lyrics on the radio stems from the club where individuals most often go to escape reality. The original version of "It's About Time" is an attempt to fuse dance music with lyrical themes we see outside the club. The more instrumental EP edit takes the club feel a step further. It was created to challenge the listener, as most of my songs attempt to do.
In modern pop, I am inspired by the big cats: RedOne, The Cataracs, Stargate as well as more recently popular DJ-producers like Afrojack and Skrillex.
What do nightlife, desire, and the apocalypse have to do with one another and Jesp?
The dance-oriented pop music that has done well in the last year or two very often uses the word tonight, and for a reason. When it comes to clubbers, ravers, ragers, and festival-goers, this crowd is living for the moment. DJs and "DJs" are the new rockstars. Kids are going out and buying turntables and software intstead of guitars. There is a big influence of the club in all aspects of our modern society. Although nightlife may seem to have nothing to do with a recession or a loan default or a foreclosure or anything else we see going on in the news and our lives, it actually has a lot to do with it. There is a direct correlation between the darkness' of our future and the desire to party till the sun comes up.
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How did you progress from punk to prog-rock and now dance music. Do you still take influence from your earlier genre experiments?
I grew up listening to '80s electro, New Wave, and Power 96 freestyle/booty bass. Punk was my introduction to the profound impact of live music. When I was 14, I used to sneak out of my house and go watch Against All Authority at ['90s Miami punk haven] Cheers whenever they would play. I was fascinated by bands like Minor Threat, Husker Dü, Pennywise, and NOFX. When I started playing in bands, my taste for rock grew in complexity until I was introduced to Pink Floyd, Rush, King Crimson, etc.
By that time, I was studying music at Berklee and was able to interpret and analyze the music I loved with musical theory. At Berklee, I started using Digital Performer sequencing software, which opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities of sound design. I found myself slowly transitioning from a live performer into an electronic music producer.
Was the plan always to produce and sing? Have you ever thought about teaming up with someone else and producing/writing for them or vice versa?
The plan was never to produce and sing as Jesp. As a matter of fact, this EP is a step away from my singing, as you will notice much more of an instrumental presence. I am a trial-and-error type of live performer. I like to play shows, and change things to make them better. This is the one thing that attracted me most to being a solo artist. My instincts were to always be a frontman. I soon realized that, in terms of this project, the emphasis should be more about the music itself than me dancing around on the stage.
Recently, I have embraced the DJ-producer platform (à la Skrillex and Deadmau5), which I find is much, much more impactful at my shows. This summer, I released a rendition of a track entitled "Eat My Heart (Sharks vs Mermaids Edit)," which I made with a good friend of mine, Lauren Wolfe, who I am working with more and more as a vocalist-lyricist in my most recent work.
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To come full circle with pop: A lot of music on the radio, across genres, seems to be becoming increasingly digital. The indie underground has its own e-music variants - electro, dubstep, etc. What is your relationship to these allegedly alternative electronic music genres? Do you take more to traditional SoBe techno?
Not at all. I am actually working on two dubstep/brostep tracks and one complextro track as we speak. I make music that is functional for the environment -- small club, big club, festival, radio -- and try to make it as original and cohesive as possible.