TNJ sat down with the 25-year-old music Jack-of-all-trades to discuss his divine gift, his road to finding his niche, and what makes him different in an industry consumed with similarity.
It’s a beautiful yet surprisingly calm day in The Concrete Jungle. The sidewalks of MacDougal Street are filled with those enjoying every moment of the warm weather. I, too, take a moment to embrace that summer is well on its way as I walk to Olive Tree Café.
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, the café is dimly lit with its décor of chalkboard-surfaced tables and red upholstered seats. Jason Norris, who’s casually dressed in a plaid patterned shirt with white pants and sneakers, warmly greets me. He shares that Olive Tree is one of his favorite places to eat, especially after a long day in the studio.
TNJ: What started your love for music?
JN: That came straight from my parents, who were both musicians. My mom sang in the choir and my father directed the choir. Music was always around. It started at home and then it was cultivated and manifested at church. When you hear that certain church chord, well I can’t help but to be me!
TNJ: You went from loving music, growing up with it, to studying business in school. How did that happen?
JN: Music wasn’t something that my mother, who was paying the bills for college, supported. She was looking at wanting the best for me financially; you know, parents just want the best for you. She knew how hard music was and how hard it was to get into the business, how ugly it is, so she was trying to protect me.
TNJ: Take me back to that moment when you knew business wasn’t it for you.
JN: I knew before hand, before I even went to school for business. I knew before I was accepted, I was trying to find schools for music to go to, to apply to. She [my mom] let me apply to two, Five Tows College and SAE.
TNJ: Was there a defining moment that changed your mind?
JN: I was away at school and of course I linked up with people that did music. This guy from Jersey was a DJ and he had a little studio set-up in his dorm. I came over one night and he was like “You do music man?” and I said “Yeah you know a little bit, my brother is a musician.” I was always around my brother’s coattail like “my brother plays drums for this person” but I never talked about what I did. He said “Ok cool but I asked you if you do music?” So I said “Yeah, I produce” “What do you use?” “I use Reason and Fruity Loops.” He said “I got Reason on my computer.”
Reason is a program that you use to make music and produce. So he put the computer up, he had a little keyboard set-up, turned everything on said ‘Let me see what you got.” I made a drum track in like 5 minutes, and then produced a song and then we started writing about an hour and a half into the session. To see the reaction that he had, from a peer, to see his positive reaction, that was it! I went back to class tapping on my desk, listening to music, not paying attention to anything they were talking about in my Business Tech class. (laughs) From there, I knew it wasn’t for me. After that, I made that call and said that it wasn’t working out. “Ma, it’s not working out. I can’t”.
She didn’t take it well at first but then when she got my grades (laughs) and that academic probation letter, she knew. Needless to say, I was somewhat forced to go back home.
TNJ: So you’re back home. Now what?
JN: I told my mother I had this. You [his mother] want me to do well in school, well I applied for Five Towns College a year ago, let me reapply. So I reapplied for my Bachelors in Business Audio, and I swindled it like it was a degree in business with a concentration in audio production. She finally accepted and I went in 2008. That’s when I found myself musically and I got a chance to experiment and meet other people who were trying to find themselves musically.
In high school, I kept it [his talent] to myself. People that I did reveal it to, I was a master at it. But when I got to Five Towns, everyone was dope! It was a mixture of competition and getting to know cool people who love what you love.
TNJ: Did you have a plan? You’re in school for what you want to do, but is there a long-term vision?
JN: My brother and I always wanted to work on music together. Because of what we did, I was in school and he was traveling, it never really came together and we didn’t know how to bring it together. But we always wanted that production company. We always wanted to be The Neptunes, to be insert super dope Production Company here, we wanted to be that. Dr. Dre and his team, Timbaland and his team.
TNJ: They are also your inspirations?
JN: Oh, definitely. I think my biggest musical inspiration as far as production is Pharrell and Dre. Those are my two biggest influences. When you look at executive production, not necessarily making the music but making the decisions, those are my inspirations. If you look at beat-making, people like Ryan Leslie. He was the most influence for me for a long time. I used to watch his videos on Youtube and then tried to make my own.
TNJ: How did we get to this point of being so excellent at producing? Did you teach yourself how to produce?
JN: Fake it till you make it! Teach yourself how to get by and make it work. My expertise is audio engineering because I got training in that, that will always be a muscle that I rely on. Everything else is just winging it and really I guess, divine gift. That gift that you receive from God, that is just implanted inside of me and believing in God to do things that I was never taught. That’s how I do it.
TNJ: For those who don’t know, you’re a producer, songwriter, a singer and at a times a musician. Which one is your first love?
JN: Production is always my first love. Singing is second because it’s second nature to me. Because it’s more of a task for me to play instruments; guitar, keys, drums, that’s last.
TNJ: Now that you are pursuing your passion, do you think you’ve found your niche?
JN: Absolutely, I’m most comfortable in production. People like Dre and Pharell don’t necessarily play everything but they know music. They understand multiple instruments and I think that’s where it all comes together. I know how to communicate to a guitarist, to someone on keys, on drums. I know how to communicate to the singer in the booth. That’s where it all comes together because that is what production is all about. It’s about making that song, that full record and bringing together an idea and making it something worth listening to. Taking a story and making it presentable to the masses, that’s production.
TNJ: With the ups and downs that the industry brings, what keeps you grounded?
JN: God keeps me grounded. I have a relationship with God, I pray morning and night. I study. I attend church, everywhere I go I have to find God. My father is my covering, no matter what church I’m at, my dad is my spiritual covering.
TNJ: Who would you credit as your biggest inspiration?
JN: (laughs) My brother. He believes in me when I don’t believe in myself. When I think I’m whack, he loves it and thinks I’m dope. Something that I don’t see in myself, he does.
TNJ: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned thus far?
JN: Stay true to yourself. Stay true to your gift and don’t get caught up in chasing what’s hot. People told me this and then I learned it. When it comes to finding your own sound, you’re really trying to find yourself. That very thing that you do effortlessly, stay true to that.
TNJ: Many of the greats have stories about hitting rock bottom. Have you experienced that yet?
JN: (laughs) I think I’m just coming out of rock bottom. I’m crawling from the ruins right now. After I graduated from school, I started an internship with a major production house for commercials, Pulse Music. I interned there for a year painting walls, and sweeping floors. I became such of a good intern that I got hired as the supervisor for interns. That also gave me the opportunity to assist the Chief Engineer which then led to being able to run my own sessions. I did that for two and a half years, then due to unfortunate circumstances, I was let go. No warning, just let go. It was hard because I was so dependent on that space, that was my extra income, and it also became a part of the package of me. You were paying that price because of where I worked. That got cut from me and now I have nothing, well at least I thought. Where am I going to work? It wasn’t until I connected with my manager, amazing guy. He began to tell me “When you get so comfortable in a space, you forget about the important thing which is yourself. It’s not about where you work, it’s about you. People are working with you because of you. Think about how many studios are in the tri-state area, people are coming to me for me. Hitting that rock bottom, I went back to finding myself and soul-searching. “Why do people want to work with me?”
TNJ: Let’s talk about some of your accomplishments. I see you’ve worked with R&B artist Syleena Johnson.
JN: Yes, she’s a client for Pulse. We did her listening party for her album Chapter Six: Couple’s Therapy and it was a huge success. I made wonderful relationships there.
TNJ: How did this opportunity come about?
JN: Just me being an employee for Pulse.
TNJ: Were you the extra man that was needed for the job?
JN: Yes, I was the only man! The Chief Engineer wasn’t around, me as his assistant, I had to run the session.
TNJ: Let’s talk about other artists you’ve worked with.
JN: I worked with KG and Treach of Naughty By Nature. I’ve worked with an amazing writer by the name of Cannon. He’s done a lot of things for Bad Boy and Atlantic Records. I’ve also worked with the son of gospel legend Rev. Timothy Wright, Derrick Wright. Those were my singing days, he has a group called Driven.
TNJ: Did you produce for Derrick?
JN: I didn’t get a chance to exercise that muscle. That was originally the goal. We were friends and he put me behind the mic because friends like to do that. I appreciate that because I learned so much from being in the studio, like studio etiquette. I learned a lot about the process of making an album as an independent artist. It’s very different, especially when it’s on your dollar.
TNJ: Who’s on the list of who you would love to work with?
JN: Pharrell. I would love to work with Stevie Wonder one day, he’s getting up there so I need to get myself together. I want to work with PJ Morton, he’s a big inspiration for me. I really want to work with anyone who’s about making great, memorable music that speaks to not only them but to a generation of people.
TNJ: Tell me about HBI and the inspiration behind that.
JN: HBI stands for How Bout It and the inspiration actually came from Charles, my brother, greatest inspiration and support. He came up with the idea and originally it was for mentorship and drum clinics. How Bout It is a term or statement that calls for a reaction, it’s a question. It forces someone to prove themselves. It is the platform or umbrella of our whole being as music producers, it’s going to be the engine for us.
TNJ: What role do you play in HBI?
JN: I’m a partner, co-founder, one half of it. Charles is the other half.
TNJ: We’ve talked about your journey thus far as the producer. But who is Jason?
JN: Jason is a young visionary. That’s who I am, I embody that. Jason is honestly a young, shy kid with dreams. I’m an introvert playing an extrovert. I’ve always been to myself, but being that I’m in the music business I’ve learned to be social. I want the best for everybody; I want to see everyone win. I want to take part in building something special for the world, whether that’s music, a business, anything. I’m a slave to my visions and dreams and that’s what drives me in everything I do. Music is my greatest dream, idea and goal, and that’s why it’s the main focus.
TNJ: What’s next? What can we expect?
JN: Oh man! You can expect a resistance. I’ve been through a lot. So many people have died trying to bring their visions to life. So many people have been lost trying to bring other people’s visions to life. I’m here because of those people that are willing to fight and resist what people think of them and their ideas. I’m here to resist. I’m saying this word because it will be relevant soon. A resistance is coming. It took me a lot to get to this point and now I’m ready.
TNJ: What do you want to leave behind?
JN: I want to leave behind a story of a person that has been through so much and still made it. I want to leave behind the story of the underdog so others can say they can make it too. I want to inspire people to look beyond where they are, realize they are bigger than what they are going through. If I can inspire one person to be better, I’ve done my job. I’ve done my deed.
TNJ: One word that describes Jason.
JN: Resistant. I was born expected to die. I was sick as a baby. Shy of two years old, I was in a car accident that could’ve shattered my face. But God! Seriously, obstacle after obstacle, I’m still here.