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Soundscape Studios has been a staple in the Chicago music scene for years. A who’s who of artists have recorded there from Chance The Rapper to FKA Twigs to Chet Faker and so many more. But the work that goes into the music doesn’t stop with the artist. Engineers are often very literally the unsung heroes in the music world. In our new series we will interview engineers from the one and only Soundscape Studios to show you who has the magic touch behind the boards. They are artists in their own right, any music fan should be at least somewhat familiar with the people who make the music sound radio ready. This week we have Jabari Rayford aka Jack Red.
Where does the stage name Jack Red come from?
It stemmed from what I do in my creative process. I’m an engineer, producer, vocalist, and songwriter. A Jack of all trades so to speak. Nowadays, the name’s meaning changes more and more with every song I make and every story I tell.
What artists inspired you to sing?
I grew up on Motown so artists like Otis Redding, Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye really inspired my vocal style. Also artists like Tank, Frank Ocean, Mac Ayres, really have a vibe that keeps me fed.
How do you maintain the creative energy to make music and balance running sessions all day?
They all work together. I’m fortunate to be mostly working with artists that appreciate my creative arsenal toolbox and allow me to access as much of it as needed.
What have you learned in your time at Soundscape?
I’ve learned that music is just as important to the world as it is to me. I grew up in a musical family with parents that are musicians and in the industry. So, to be in an environment where most if not all the people need music as much as I do is a motivating feeling.
Recount a memorable session that you’ve ran
Definitely most memorable session was with Wyclef Jean.
Mike hit me saying he was coming through with Young Chop, who at the time I was working fairly often with. Wyclef gets there on time and Chop is about 2 hrs late. Very unusual for him. While we waited, Wyclef picked up a guitar and started playing. The man is a genius, no doubt in my mind. As he played and began to hum, mike and I set up a couple mics to capture the brainstorm. As I said, I’m a singer at heart. No music can be played without me singing to it. NONE. So as I set him up, I was harmonizing to the melody he was playing. He heard me and said, “Hey, you got a voice. You wanna sing this with me?” Hell the f*** yea I do! Being the singer that I am, and having an opportunity to “show what I got” to the legendary Wyclef‐ I began singing my entire heart out; runs and all. After a while he stopped and said, “Hey do you smoke weed?” I hesitated because I had no clue where he was going with this. “I have.” I replied. Wyclef continued “You know how when you’re high, sudden moves and loud noises kinda throw off the vibe?” *insert the saltiest face ever made here*. “That’s how it is making music. You gotta catch the vibe. I’ll start again, listen for a bit, catch the vibe, then come in.” He began to play and sing, “Shoot first, Think last….” After a few bars I joined in with a lower harmony. He smiled, nodded in approval, and we continued the vibe. That song would go to garner millions of views on Worldstar and I believe a shout out from Oprah. My creative process was forever changed.
How did you end up singing backing vocals on DJ Khaled’s album Grateful?
I was at CRC recording some vocals and making some arrangements with Peter Cottontale for his project. Along with artists: Lisa Mishra, Teddy Jackson, Yebba, Sherren Olivia, and Mickey Miller. Too much hotness in one room. We were in Studio 1 i think and I walked over to Studio
4 to see what Chance was working on. As I walk in, I hear Marvin Sapps ‐ “Never Would Have Made It”, interpolated into this beat. Quick backstory. I sang that song at my Kenwood high school graduation and definitely hold that song near and dear to my heart. Ok I’m back. Yebba was in the booth at the time singing over the vamp. I turned to Chance and said I gotta do a pass on the record. He said, “Definitely.” When I tell you I blacked out singing lol. The wild part is you can barely tell my voice apart from the sample. I hit Pat after I saw the tracklist come out and asked they kept my vocals. Once he confirmed, I then had my first Platinum selling album placement.
Does music ever take time away from your marriage? What’s it like being married and working in the music industry?
Can’t lie, it used to. With anything new there’s an adjustment period. My wife first met me at a show when I was like 14 years old. This has always been my life. But it’s all about priorities. Music is my passion and happens to be my job as well. I’m blessed to have a wife that understands that. When she wakes up and goes to work, that’s what it is. Same for me. When it’s time to go to work, then it’s time to work. We just happen to have significantly different business hours.
What’re some projects you’re working on that people should be excited about?
I’m releasing a visual EP in episodic form in December. Every Friday we’re dropping a new part. All the content will be available exclusively on my website and available on all streaming platforms on Dec. 29th. We are also, setting up pop up viewing stations around Chicago to give a sneak peak of all 5 parts.
What did the local music scene look like to you when you were attending Kenwood? How did growing up in the city affect your outlook?
I didn’t know much about the local music scene when I was in highschool. I didn’t get into the scene until my college days. A that point it was, The Cool Kids, Kids These Days, the Savemoney Crew, Treated Crew etc.
Growing up in the city made we less open to people. Chicago is an amazing city and so are mosts of its people. But it is definitely not for the faint of heart or weak minded. I’ve learned to always be on my toes, always prepared. In any setting. The city also gives you a brief glimpse at how separated the world is. Neighborhoods, people, social class,opportunities, etc. You got two options. You can find out where you belong and live life blending in. Or you make your own way.
What are some go to albums you reference for mixing?
Kendrick Lamar ‐ GKMC
This album is always a go to. I really rock with the way Ali mixes Kendrick’s vocals.
Coldplay ‐ Ghost Stories
I love the space they create between the leads and the world around it.
PND ‐ TWO
I go to PND songs for that INDIE/MAJOR sound. His vocals have this very rough, harsh sound but it works for certain styles. They are very effects heavy but still cut and are gigantic to me.
How does being an artist affect engineering other artists songs?
I think it makes for a better final product. Being an Artist myself, I can hear what’s missing from a record that makes the artist shine. I bring that perspective to other Artists’ songs that I Engineer.