Sir Mix-a-Lot met Ayron Jones a year and a half ago and decided to produce Jones’ debut album, “Dream,” out today. Mix-a-Lot is also opening for Jones at his album release party this Saturday at Neumos. I had some time to talk with Seattle’s hip-hop godfather last week as he drove through a lonely stretch of Montana. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Tell me your first impression of Ayron. You saw him in the University District about a year and a half ago, right?
Sir Mix-a-Lot: I walked in and the first thing I remember them doing, without knowing I was there, it wasn’t a showboat move, he did a solo. The crowd wouldn’t gather around, so he walked through the crowd, up to the bar, ordered a drink and was still in the middle of a solo. And the whole crowd kind of went around like a magnet, and fell in love with the group right there.
What about Ayron’s music made you think that you could help him?
The only thing I said when I saw them was, “Why haven’t these guys been recorded?” That was my first question. It’s funny, nowadays you run into a lot of bands that really aren’t that polished, who just show up to the studio and play a bunch of garbage, you massage it and they go and get a deal. Well these guys were polished already. I couldn’t believe they had never been recorded professionally. There wasn’t anything I though I could add to their project, I just wanted to bring out what they already are. We sat down and had long meetings about what they wanted. They wanted rock, they wanted more thunder from the kick drum, they wanted the kick drum to resonate in almost a hip-hop way. They gave me a set of parameters and I moved forward with it. I took it as a challenge.
Talk a little about Ayron wanting to sound like he’s from Seattle. What does that mean to you?
In my opinion there are a lot of artists in Seattle’s heyday, toward the end of that heyday acted like they were ashamed of their own town, which is really strange to me. What I like about Ayron is he embraces [the city.] He has a song called “Baptized In Muddy Waters” where he actually sings about it. So it was important to me that he was true to who he was and true to the city — not ashamed of it, not scared to mention it, not scared to wear the skyline on his hat. Because Seattle is a music town, one of the most authentic music towns I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to just about all of them.
Ayron calls you a mentor. What’s your relationship like with him?
It’s pretty interesting because I hear him say all the time that he learns from me, but I learn from him. He seems to always thirst for knowledge. He’s always looking to learn something, looking to hear about something. He’ll suck that up and it’ll come out in the next song. Working with him is kind of cool because he’s cerebral. The kid thinks. He thinks things through. He’s very smart. So I don’t see myself as his mentor. A lot of people do because they’re on the outside looking in, but when we’re in the studio we learn from each other. He learns the technical aspects from me but where he’s at vibe-wise, and his connection to his demographic, it’s cool for me considering I’m no longer in that demographic. I’m on the outside looking in, massaging these songs to fit his demo, and that’s kind of cool.
What’s the thing that really appeals to you about Ayron’s music?
To me, it’s his voice. The guitar, obviously, is what he does but his voice is the meat and potatoes of every song he does. That’s just my opinion. It does resonate. It has a bluesy sound to it, a raspy sound. It’s manly, I put emphasis on that. It’s a masculine, manly, growly blues song and I think that’s refreshing in this era.
You had mentioned that the first time you heard Ayron it sounded like three 50-year-old white guys playing, but not in a bad way. I kind of had that same feeling. I grew up on the blues and it does seem to me that the blues is dominated by that specific demographic. Why don’t you think more young people are playing the blues?
That’s a great question, actually. I’m glad you asked that question. I really don’t know the answer and now you have me thinking about it. I really don’t know why more people his age aren’t playing it. If you watch him play live, they love it. Maybe it’s the hip-hop influence. Maybe it’s this age of planned out pop music, this kind of contrived, programmed electronic music, maybe it just wasn’t cool. But look at a band like Alabama Shakes. I look at them like I look at AJ and the Way, I really do. Real music is back, and I love it.
Neumos on Saturday night provides a big stage for Ayron to introduce his music to a wider audience. How important for Ayron is the show and the next couple of months?
It’s a pretty cool situation. I’m glad they picked an up-close, cozy stage. I’m glad we didn’t promote this for three months, get a big show at a gigantic show where he’s opening for some big band. He’s saying, ‘You people in this room who were here from the gate, who watched me at the Tractor Tavern, you were the guys that watched me at all these small clubs, now I want to thank you for supporting me and let’s take this ride together.’ It’s a nice statement to play in a small, cozy venue. It’s an exciting moment for them. Now for me, being an old guy in the business, the scariest thing about a record release party is the day after, because then you’re like, ‘Now what?’ We have to make sure the momentum stays good. I’m going to bring one of my publishers up from L.A., let her see them and see what she thinks of them and if she can help them get some traction nationally.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails