Alex Mejia, The Bay Area Attitude & 4-Track Recorders

Updated: May 24

Alex was born in Oakland, California. He started his radio career as an intern at KMEL radio station late 1986 along with DJ Dave Moss on a show called "Club 106", before he worked his way up to the Street Music Director position where he gave airtime to up and coming DJs from the Bay Area, including DJ Shadow in the early 90’s. Following his work at KMEL, Alex worked as an A&R Director at Noo Trybe/Virgin Records where he worked with artists such as Lenny Kravitz, OutKast, KRS-One, The Neptunes, The Roots, and more. Following several years with Virgin, Alex decided to go independent and returned to DJing again. More recently he has posted several new mixes to his Mixcloud, and he’s playing live on Twitch 3 times a week.


The KMEL "Club 106" crew featuring Alex Mejia

Jon

Thank you for agreeing to this interview.


Alex

Let's get down to business, man. I appreciate your interest in music and all that you do.


Jon

OK, so how did you meet DJ Shadow?


Alex

I'll paint the picture for you of how him and I encountered each other. I worked my way up through the ranks of DJing and I ended up landing a show on KMEL as a mixer. So, I kept hearing about this kid named DJ Shadow.


Jon

Was he called DJ Shadow back then already?


Alex

Yeah, he was called DJ Shadow when I met him, at least that I can remember. So I was trying to get that young new talent that was coming up, you know, and I can't remember every single conversation, but I do remember when I did speak with him it was extremely important.


He was so respectful of the music. There was just something in his vernacular, the way he talked about music, and his passion to do things. I just remember picking that up early on, and he didn't really say a lot, but he said it all the right way. And I was like, “You know what? This dude's on point”.


So, I was like, “You got your mix show ready?” and something happened to his machine and I had one, so I said, “Come on over”, and he came out to my father’s house in Berkeley, California.


Jon

Was he using an MPC?


Alex

No, he had a multitrack recorder and he started to build it from scratch. That was the part I also liked about him, he already had planned it all out! Before he even went to tape, he had all his own records ready to go. Maybe I may have made a suggestion, because that's the kind of person I am, because I was also a record breaker. But he was extremely organized, he had his records, he was taking care of business.


To be very honest with you, I didn't know really what to expect with him. I just trusted him. I was always about helping out somebody, to at least give them the tools that they need and whatever they come out with, we'll see what happens. I didn't do that for everybody but, once again, he had that way of speaking about music and he was very passionate.


I remember I said, “I’m gonna leave you alone. You let me know if you need anything”, and I walked out of the room. My Dad and I were in the backyard doing some stuff and next thing, I'm hearing music in the background. I'm like, “That's kind of funky”, and he just kept going at it. Then from time to time I would check on him and say, “You need anything?”. But he was focused.


Maybe it took him about a couple hours or something like that, and then we were done. Sometimes DJs take weeks, or longer to make a masterpiece. Josh made a masterpiece to me, and he did it in hours! He was so focused on what he wanted to do, and when you have that kind of focus on completing your goal from A to B, the world is yours, you can do anything. He had that ability.


Alex after a long night at work. Year unknown

Jon

He might have been like 17-19, but for you he was already well versed technically, and culturally he was very knowledgeable?


Alex

He was advanced. He had been listening to breaks and he had his own ideas. He was well studied in music. That's the part I really enjoyed about his conversations, he really knew a lot already, and then when it came down to the art of recording, he knew what he was doing. We had some laughs, and it was a brief encounter, but I really did appreciate that moment when we had a chance to work together.


Jon

You are in the thanks section of his first LP, so I think that it must have been very important for him to meet you.


Alex

I think for one thing it was nice for him to meet me, but it was also about getting yourself on the airwaves of KMEL and other radio stations, which was always a goal of anyone who was interested in the art of recording and mixing and making mixshows. Because when you achieve that, it gives you a fulfillment of accomplishment, and of course friends and family can hear you all over the Bay Area.


Jon

Working at KMEL, what was your role?


Alex

I was a Street Music Director who was in charge of all the mixshows. We brought in a lot of DJs, a lot of talent, a lot of personalities, and we just did innovative things with music, and DJ Shadow was once again one of those DJs who was bubbling in the Bay Area. Even though he wasn't right in the Bay Area, he was on the outskirts of it, he was strong enough for us to hear about him. And I love that. I love the fact that we gave someone an opportunity. And look what he's done with it: he was meant to be there.


Jon

He was also part of the Solesides Crew. Meaning The 8th Wonder who was designing his demo tapes, Jazzbo doing promotions, Jeff Chang who was a writer... Did you meet any of them?


Alex

I remember that whole entire crew from Jeff Chang to 8th Wonder, everybody. I mean, just when you were telling me all these names, I remembered these encounters, seeing them briefly at conventions and stuff like that, and luckily for me I had the opportunity to work with 8th Wonder too, hiring him for some graphics. He was just a talent in himself. But everyone there that you talked about were just committed to the Sound from the Underground, and that's what I also loved about DJ Shadow. He was independent, and he loved the raw elements of Hip Hop, and you can't front when someone gives you that raw stuff. Nothing can stop you.


I just want to share this with you. The part that was beautiful about that era was there were no rules. People try to put rules on people that create music, but we always broke the rules. We always redefined and pushed the new envelope of stuff to happen. As you can see, that happened with the progress of music for many different genres. DJ Shadow was an innovator and he's always been an innovator, but he still has that raw essence, that his core is down to his heart. They love him for that raw element that he still brings to the table. He had no rules, and that's the part that was so dope about him right at the beginning. He was like “I’m doing it this way, my way. Watch out!”.


Jon

Do you think that it was different for him as a skinny white guy in the Bay Area, or was it so mixed up culturally that it didn't really matter?


Alex

That's the beauty of the Bay Area: if you're dope, you're dope! That's why you have innovators like Q-Bert, DJ King Tech, Shortcut, [MC] Hammer, Paris, Souls of Mischief, Too Short... The list is very thick. But then if you think about the roots of music, just overall the Bay Area from the Santana's, the Tower of Power’s, The Engineer’s, the Mike Denton’s of the world, it's white, black, and everybody's just working together for one cause. It was always about respecting where the music came from. But if you're dope, you're dope, and no one could ever take that away from you.


There’s a gentleman I would recommend for you and everyone to check out: DJ Dave Moss. He was probably one of the first to really do multitrack innovative things with music. He had that old New York underground sound, but he did it in a Bay Area fashion, because he's from the East Coast, but he was living in the Bay. He did things a little differently, in his own way, and I think you would be surprised how funky that white boy was. He was cool as hell, and for the brief moment that he was on radio at KMEL, he influenced many, many people.


He was also a 12” buyer at Tower Records in San Francisco, and he was bringing all the breaks to the Bay Area. He was buying all this music from all over the world and bringing it right here, and you can tell that he had an influence on a lot of people.


Return of the Jedi? (Saddle Rack in Fremont, CA on September, 3rd 2017)

Jon

Would you say that many beatmakers were using a 4-track recorder back then? You said DJ Shadow used one for his KMEL mixes, and it sounds like using a multitrack recorder was kind of archaic.


Alex

It is archaic, but also just someone diving into the music, and just mastering the craft. Many, many DJs were doing multitrack recording. This was part of the art form that came from the Bay Area, and I think Shadow was just doing something that he'd seen and loved and heard as he was growing up. A lot of the beatmakers were using it just to get their song ideas down, and I'm glad they did because look what they did for music!


So, let's both encourage people to go back in time and to listen to that mix from DJ Shadow that was broadcasted on KMEL, but was recorded at my Dad’s in Berkeley, California.



Jon

For sure.


Alex

And thank you for keeping that era of music alive and paying homage to it. I appreciate that you asked me to do this interview with you, and also, if you happen to talk to Shadow anytime soon, please give him my best and send my love, and let him know this: Keep Rockin!


Jon

Will do! Thank you so much for your time.


Alex

Peace.


All photos used with the kind permission of Alex who can be contacted via his social media pages: Instagram and Facebook as well as on his website, and 3 times a week on Twitch.

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Conducted by Jon (eikimono) on August 10, 2020

Transcription and editing by James Gaunt

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