DJ Shadow: ‘Action Adventure’ KCRW interview

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DJ Shadow… no stranger to KCRW’s Basement studio, but making his first appearance at HQ. The welcome wagon responds accordingly. (L to R) Anthony Valadez, DJ Shadow, Novena Carmel. Photo by Zacille Rosette.

Pioneering crate-digger, sampler, mixmaster, and producer DJ Shadow is literal KCRW family, so of course he’s coming through to drop all the deets about his seventh LP Action Adventure (due Oct. 27 via Mass Appeal). Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host Anthony Valadez sums up Shadow’s approach to making and sharing music in a single word: “methodical.” 

Read and listen on for our conversation with the Bay Area native as he breaks down prioritizing his daughters, nostalgia, and baseball. 

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

KCRW: How do you know when it’s time to do a new record?

DJ Shadow: I actually choose to prioritize my daughters. I'm sure many parents can relate, it's not hard. It's pretty cut and dry — family comes first. Everything else is secondary, and as much as I love music, and as much as I love getting out there and everything… It's never a difficult decision for me.

But you do have a new album on the way now, Action Adventure. With all of this focus now directed toward your kids, are you finding yourself mining your own childhood nostalgia for inspiration?

I think nostalgia has a place, but I think it has to be balanced with a sense of what's possible in a contemporary sense … I'll wake up in the morning, and I'll play a big band record, or a rockabilly 45. Then I’ll click on links of new music that friends send me. My listening diet is very broad and unique. So all the different little ideas — whether it's a melody from the 40s, or the 60s, or the 80s — whatever it is, it all kind of works its way in. 

There was this thing that happened in the throes of COVID, when everybody was going through what we were going through, I was in a place where I didn't want to listen to music a lot. For whatever reason, I almost felt like what was going on was so difficult to process that I didn't want to imprint anything on the music that I love. Like, I didn't want to ruin those songs by suddenly having those memories in my head of what we were going through. 

But what ended up happening, long story short, is I came across this lot of tapes on eBay. ..  I bid, and I won them, not really knowing what to expect. I started popping these [mix tapes from a mystery DJ crew] in while I was driving around, and [they gave] me a bridge back to music in a weird way. I was hearing songs that I kind of remembered, [some songs that] I knew by heart, but all mixed up in a really enthusiastic, and compelling way. And I did allow myself some nostalgia in that moment. And it also allowed me to find that joy in the music, and be like, “Okay, I think I'm ready to start approaching music again.”

The video for the album’s lead single “Ozone Scraper,” almost plays like a short film. What can you tell us about how it came together?

We got a few treatments where it's like — super expensive sports cars zooming through the streets of Tokyo! And then this happens! And… 

[But I was thinking] I can't really relate to that. I can relate to the first car I owned, which was a ‘77 Cadillac Sedan deVille that I bought for $900… that broke down constantly. I think that's a little more relatable, so even though the song evokes a feeling of speed I just liked the idea of a humble villager on a bike that is super slow and falling apart. [But] then having that character imagine getting away to a different place. 

What’s a non-music related place that you go to when you need an escape? 

I don't know what I would do without baseball. I used to play as a kid up until high school. I completely drifted away from it for a decade or two, and [now I’ve] come back to it. It's just a great thing, for seven months out of the year: I can come up from the studio, I've got the game taped, or [there’s a game] in process. Even if my team isn't playing, I can pull up a game.

The word that most comes to mind to describe you is “methodical,” so how do you deal with being methodical in a world that has constant expectations from you?

As an artist, you have to be satisfied. You have to allow yourself to be satisfied, and to acknowledge when you've done your best. I've seen a lot of artists struggle with completing [a project]. They get to the 95% mark, they think it can be better, and they keep retooling. I've seen great records get worse, way worse. And not only that, but two years have passed.  

So, I think it's important to have a really strong sense of when you're doing your best work in the studio, and when you're just not having it [that day]... being able to recognize [the difference]. I do care what other people think, I do care about what my fans think, but it's got to start with me. I have to give it my wholehearted, 1,000% endorsement. 





Anna Chang