Photo Credit: Tehillah De Castro
First Look Friday: DOMi & JD BECK's Biggest Fan Is Anderson .Paak — And For Good Reason
For this First Look Friday we spoke with DOMi and JD BECK about their debut album Not Tight, Anderson .Paak being their biggest fan, and more.
"Wait, we have an album?"
It's a question asked jokingly by Domitille Degalle, better known as piano protegé DOMi Louna, as she and JD BECK — a fellow protegé but for the drums — talk about their debut album, Not Tight. But it's also a moment that highlights DOMi and JD BECK's playfulness and unseriousness when it comes to themselves, a contrast to the seriousness they bring to their music.
This can be seen in some of the viral videos they've uploaded on social media. Whether it be performing songs in a bathroom (and JD adorning his snare with a roll of toilet paper) or performing in a room while wearing brightly-colored ski masks, the young jazz duo may have you laughing at first for their eccentricities. But don't be surprised if you're left asking yourself, "How the fuck are they playing this?" as you try to comprehend what you just watched before the video plays again.
Most of these videos have helped the duo gain a global audience (including some notable fans like Anderson .Paak and Thundercat). But before DOMi and JD partnered up, they were already gaining attention for their talents. Born in France, DOMi grew up with jazz in her household — Charlie Parker, Keith Jarett — thanks to her parents. At the age of three, she started out on the drums but took up piano because of how noisy the former was for her neighbors (funny enough, JD first started out on the piano but switched to drums). At 17, she was awarded a full ride to Boston's Berklee College of Music, where videos of her performing in jam sessions made their way on social media, and led her to being discovered by musicians like Robert "Sput" Searight, the drummer for Snarky Puppy.
As for JD, he had been gigging since he was 10 throughout his hometown of Dallas, playing with Erykah Badu's band, MonoNeon, and Jon Bap, and learning from fellow Dallas drumming phenoms like Searight, Mike Mitchell, and Cleon Edwards. JD also shared how integral the late J Dilla is to his drumming, saying that from ages 10 to 14 he would only play Dilla stuff on the drums.
"I mean it's not very often that someone creates an entire feeling behind music, rather than just technical sides of stuff like that. Being able to literally make a pulse, something that you create, is insane," JD said of Dilla. "He's just the greatest. It's hard to put words to someone like that because everything you say just doesn't live up to what he actually did."
DOMi and JD ended up meeting after Searight invited them to play at the National Association of Music Merchants' trade show (NAMM) in 2018, and from there their musical partnership began, culminating in a handful of viral videos that found them playing everything from their own material to Madvallainy instrumentals, the latter of which was posted a month before it was revealed that MF DOOM had passed.
"We were listening to the whole thing all the time and we were like, 'OK, which beats can we play the best?'" DOMi recalled. "Sometimes the loops are so complicated and it's not really notes, it's more sample based, sounds. So, those songs [we chose to play] seemed like the most appropriate, and are also our favorites."
Through their viral videos, this has led to them backing Thundercat (most notably this performance of "Them Changes" alongside Ariana Grande), Eric Andre, Mac DeMarco and others, as well as partnering with Anderson .Paak on their debut album (Not Tight is the first official release under .Paak's new label, Ape Shit).
Despite its name, Not Tight is actually tight. The 15-song album finds the duo taking on pop music structures through their distinct blend of complex rhythms and intricate chord progressions. As the pair shared during the interview, most of the songs were made four years ago, born out of jam sessions the two had at JD's family home in Dallas. With this being their debut, the duo said they learned a lot about the process of making an album — from creating fully-realized songs to the business side of it all.
"I guess the easiest part was the music," DOMi said, before adding, "Discovering all that business side of being a musician and stuff, it kind of sucked. But you have to, and so we got through that, and we learned a bunch about that."
"We had so many problems and so much back and forth with things and so much legal business and stuff that we had no idea about before we got into it, and that definitely...changed our perspective on things, for sure," JD added. "We go about stuff a lot differently than we would've."
The pair are proud of their first full body of work, and rightfully should be. At almost 45 minutes, most of the album is made up of instrumental tracks that are more jazz in aesthetic and feeling than in a literal sense. The most traditional-sounding jazz song on here is "MOON" — which features jazz legend Herbie Hancock on piano and vocoder — with it's latin-tinged groove. But for the most part, Not Tight is jazz in the way Thundercat, Louis Cole, MonoNeon, and Hiatus Kaiyote is jazz: obviously indebted to the rich musical theory the genre birthed, but moreso adhering to the ethos of the genre — experimentation, evolution — than the sound of it.
"I guess the only rule we have is be serious about what you do, but don't take yourself seriously. You don't have to act serious for people to take you seriously," DOMi said. "I think that's the big misconception with jazz — we got to put our suits on and do this and sound really serious on the mic and not talk to the public, stuff like that. I guess it gravitated toward that but I mean, who made that rule? There's no rule. Jazz is about experimenting and playing with each other and going places you've never explored before."
That exploration results in some great moments on Not Tight. The title track featuring a rapid-fire back and forth solo between DOMi and Thundercat, only to give way to a neck-breaking beat switch that feels like Q-Tip and D'Angelo's "Believe," but much slower and slightly more eerie; the upbeat and driving "SNiFF" that manages to alternate between odd time signatures — 5/8 and 7/8 — with a groove that is exhilarating; and, of course, the .Paak-featuring "Take A Chance," which not only stands out for its own use of an odd time signature (the verses are 7/8), but because it's one of two tracks (the other being "U DON'T Have To ROB ME") where DOMi and JD sing, which isn't a norm for the pair.
Photo Credit: Tehillah De Castro
As JD explained, it was .Paak that encouraged them to sing on the track after they initially hit him up to sing its chorus.
"He was just like, 'Nah, you got to do it,'" JD recalled, with DOMi adding, "Andy is the one who made us definitely sing on that."
Referring to .Paak as their "mother" and "biggest fan," the multi-talented artist has aided the duo in more ways than one. Of course, he helped the pair with Not Tight — including appearing on it, getting the features for the album (and even writing lyrics for one of those features, Hancock on "MOON"), and releasing it through it his new label APESHIT — but he also gave them their first songwriting credits on a big pop song: Silk Sonic's "Skate." Born out of an instrumental DOMi and JD made, "Skate" became Silk Sonic's second single, reaching No. 14 and N0. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts, respectively.
"He really believes in us, which is the coolest shit ever. And that's the only reason we signed a label deal to begin with, is because he believed in us so much," JD said of .Paak. "We were like, 'OK. Yeah. Shit. You really, really can help us.'"
As our interview comes to end, it's only fitting that DOMi and JD finish on a humorous note, jokingly telling fans to "listen to the album, motherfuckers," and requesting that they continue to send the duo death threats for postponing their album (even though it's now out).
"Even after we announced the date, we would still get messages — 'Hey, when is the album coming out?' So, I swear, people better buy glasses," DOMi said. "But I love them. They're so sweet."