Dec 17, 2013
interview
MAKJ

Mackenzie Johnson (aka MAKJ) is a very busy man. Coming off releases with major labels such as Spinnin’, Doorn, and Hysteria, the relatively new producer has started with a bang and shows no signs of slowing down. We got a chance to catch up with Mack about breaking out in the scene and collaborating with artists like Hardwell.

MAKJ & Henry Fong - Encore [Hysteria]
LessThan3: What has been the biggest surprise since you became a part of the electronic music industry?
Mackenzie: I honestly think it’s how genuine the people are. I just got off tour with the NERVO girls, and they’re like sisters to me now. It’s very much a bonding industry, and that was really surprising to me.
LessThan3: You started out by DJing weddings and bar mitzvahs. At what point did you decide it was right for you to start producing?
Mackenzie: The point came for me when I moved to LA and was DJing a lot. I realized that a lot of the “producers” were just making edits and not really getting a lot of recognition. Then you had guys like Porter Robinson and a few others who were producing their own music and seemed to come out of nowhere right as the whole EDM boom was starting. These guys were seen as artists as opposed to just DJs, and it made me realize that if I wanted to make it in the industry, I would have to start producing my own music.
LessThan3: With the advent of production software like Ableton and Logic, anyone with a computer can become a producer. What do you think it is that helps separate new DJs that end up “making” it from the pack?
Mackenzie: You know what? It’s hard. It’s really hard to do that. It’s one of those things where if you’re not different, and if you’re not doing something that’s going to grab peoples’ attention, you’re just going to get lost in the pool of a million producers. Everyone produces; everyone DJs. I didn’t really plan anything out; I just thought, “what are people listening to in the clubs?” I play for the people; I don’t play for myself, and I think it’s hard for a lot of producers to say that about themselves. I definitely enjoy the music, but the most important thing is making sure that the people are having a good time while listening to it. That’s always been my mentality.
LessThan3: You were a race car driver before becoming a DJ. Was there anything you learned behind the wheel that you were able to transfer over?
Mackenzie: There really isn’t much that I was able to take from racing to DJing. It’s a whole different world. Being able to communicate with people and being genuine were things I learned and got a lot of experience with.
LessThan3: Can you give us your thoughts on EPs, LPs, and singles? Do you have any plans to release a full album?
Mackenzie: I’ve chosen the route of really funneling my name to a lot of different labels. I call it “being a slut” in the industry. You’re basically slutting your music out to multiple labels. I’ve released on Spinnin’, Doorn, Revealed, Hysteria–I haven’t really chosen one label. Each of the labels have different followings and appeals to different people. I’m going to have to make an album at some point, but it’s almost impossible to find the time to sit down in the studio and just focus on that.
LessThan3: You’ve done collaborations with Hardwell and, most recently, Henry Fong. Is your approach to collaborations a lot different than working on solo tracks?
Mackenzie: The funny thing about collaborations in this industry is that it’s not like two artists get together in a studio and come up with a song like poof, and then it comes out to be Encore or Countdown. All of the songs I’ve put out as collabs I’ve started and nearly finished and after putting out there someone has said, “Hey, this really works; let’s collab on this.” The one that hit me the most was the Hardwell one. I finished the song, and it didn’t have a lot of the parts it has now. Hardwell played it in France about a year and a half ago, and he said, “Wow this is bigger than Spaceman!” So I sent him a text that said, “collab? :),” and he said he was down. I sent him the stems, and he sent something back that was way different, and I thought it was a lot better. Being able to do this stuff over Skype is insane. Luckily, Henry Fong lives up the street from me, so it was pretty easy, but with these guys living overseas, the time differences, and the touring, it’s almost impossible to get in the studio with anyone.
LessThan3: Speaking of collaborations, who would be your number one to do a collaboration with, alive or dead?
Mackenzie: I really want to do a collaboration with a rock band. My parents used to own a record store, so I grew up listening to classic rock and stuff like Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads. Working with someone like Tom Petty or someone else of his caliber would be awesome and show that I don’t just listen to electronic music all the time.
LessThan3: If Barack Obama told you he was throwing a party at the White House and needed you to play, what song would you open with?
Mackenzie: I would probably play the Arrested Development theme song.
LessThan3: Describe your sound in LessThan3 words.
Mackenzie: Fast. Powerful. Annoying.
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