Jai Wolf's Kindred Spirits EP begins with a hum. A lone, tenor, E flat that's almost inaudible at first, but grows louder with each millisecond, buzzing underneath as a top melody floats something victorious overhead. The intro to the New York electronic magician's debut EP (out on Mom+Pop) only lasts a minute, but it sets you up for what's to come: something with soul that's ever-present, that low vibration you feel in your gut when you're embarking on something new.
The hum builds into "Indian Summer," which was released on Odesza's Foreign Family Collective in 2015, racking up 11.8 million listens on Soundcloud since then. It was Sajeeb Saha's crown jewel in his Jai Wolf project upon release, which had only started a year before. In 2014, he was merely putting out remixes, switching up songs by Melanie Martinez, Dirty South, Alesso and ODESZA. His remix of Skrillex's "Ease My Mind" got the attention of Skrillex himself, who spun it at Glastonbury Festival and then released it on his OWSLA label.
Born in Bangladesh, Saha's family eventually settled in New York, where he continued following his love of music. Brought up on Bengali and classical music and making it to All-State Orchestra on violin, he ventured into EDM in 2011 under his No Pets Allowed moniker, opening him up to the world of bootlegs and remixes. But Saha knew he hadn't found a sound yet. He needed more heart.
That's how Jai Wolf came about. And that's why the intro to the EP is so important.
"I just found dance music to be sort of very saturated," Saha told us over the phone while prepping for his show in Seattle the next day. "I didn’t feel like I wanted to write EDM music for 10 years, especially because it’s a very saturated genre and people are quick to jump from one EDM artist to the next. They’re easily forgotten. I just wanted to write songs that I felt would last a little longer. Like I still love EDM music, I still listen to it. I have a lot of respect for it. But I didn’t feel satisfied writing it. It didn’t really reflect, as corny as it sounds, my soul, you know? I just wanted to take a step back and try to write music that I felt more connected to."
The journey to the album started with "Indian Summer," a slow-building pool of vocal chops and gushing euphoric synths, with little droplets of piano plunked into the mix. Saha toured like crazy around the tune and even had a spot at Coachella. But it was when he took a break from shows around January of 2016 when he got his ideas for Kindred Spirits, a conceptual EP about the many facets of the human connection.
"What I sort of realized over the past year was that, as I was playing shows, and as the shows were getting bigger, and that all these strangers were getting together for reason, and it was music, and specifically my music, I think that’s such a powerful and special idea," Saha said.
At one point, he remembered seeing a photo of two fans who met simply by wearing the same Jai Wolf T-shirt.
But it's more than just coming together for a show; it's all connections that inspired Kindred Spirits: "connections to places, to memories, to nostalgia, or friendships even, platonic friendships, physical friendships, intimate friendships." In the delightfully prickly "The World Is Ours," Saha skips singalong lyrics for chopped up vocals, and uses only sonic composition to put forward the idea of human's connection to the Earth. He likens the feeling of the song to stepping onto an airplane as you're about to travel to a new country, giddy with adventure.
"In the main part, I guess you could call it the drop, it sounds like you’re flying or soaring," he said of the song. "It’s very relaxed, it’s not in your face, like a rush of sounds. ... It’s a really smooth emotional ride that accompanies the feeling of traveling to a new place and really connecting to the greater part of the world beyond your bubble."
I'm listening to my EP from front to back and I'm tearing up. this project is so special to me...I can't believe I finally get to share it https://t.co/CIMNVMq3kz— Jai Wolf (@JaiWolfx) November 17, 2016
On "Gravity," JMR sings about trying to ground himself in reality while there's another force whirling him around. "It's just human nature," he sings on the spiraling track, a relaxing and twinkly pop ballad. "Gravity" tumbles into "Like It's Over," featuring MNDR, a vocalist who's been collaborating with one of Saha's inspirations, Flume. Her track was some sort of freak accident, Saha explained.
"I made this beat like a couple of months ago, where I had a panic attack and I felt really sad and I started writing this song," he said. "She had sent me some ideas earlier in the day, and I put one of them over the song. They fit perfectly. I chose that song because of the lyrics she was writing. I was like, ‘I feel these lyrics in this moment.’ Where she’s like, ‘Hold me like it’s over.’ I was really feeling that in that moment."
On "Drive," he tossed around ideas with Kamtin Mohager from Chain Gang of 1974, sending him an unfinished demo without much explanation. Despite direction, Mohager knew what to add to the song.
"[Mohager] told me was that he understood what I was writing in the chords, in the DNA of the song. He was like, ‘I get it,'" Saha said. "It came together because he understood the composition and the melody and what I was trying to convey inside the music."
The current version of "Drive" feels like exactly that, a fast, night drive, headlights hitting an empty road, cold wind conforming around your car.
To support the EP, Saha is currently on the Kindred Spirits Tour, which will wrap around North America and land in his hometown of New York with a final show at Terminal 5, the very venue he saw some of his favorites growing up: "Fall Out Boy to Porter Robinson to Childish Gambino, Two Door Cinema Club." His glowing orb stage, a custom production built to look a little bit like Saturn, reflects the bubble design on the EP cover—the bubble that brings people together. The stage is so large that in Salt Lake City, it couldn't fit in the venue, so instead they resorted to only visual projections and lights, as usual.
Post-Presidential-election, traveling around America has Saha a little wary, admitting that he and his friends are a tad more on edge than they usually would be. After the results of the election revealed that Donald Trump would take office in 2017, he took to Twitter to express fear.
I can't help but feel angry and defeated. my parents are immigrants. I'm an immigrant. I never felt like I belonged until I was maybe 16— Jai Wolf (@JaiWolfx) November 12, 2016
I can plug my EP and my tour all day every day. but the current political climate is much bigger than that. I'll always be honest.— Jai Wolf (@JaiWolfx) November 12, 2016
my music + career is secondary to my safety and well being in this country. I do not have the luxury to not care. https://t.co/rXUnquKIBG— Jai Wolf (@JaiWolfx) November 12, 2016
He doubts that Trump's America will permeate into the music industry, noting that electronic music is more inclusive than ever. But he's more worried about being able to bring his family over from Bangladesh.
"They’re very scared now," Saha says. "Like I got a message from my cousin the other day, like, ‘Hey Sajeeb, like, as a student, if I wanted to come to America, will I have any issues? Any trouble under Trump’s presidency?’ He felt very concerned because he really wants to come to America, you know? He’s a smart kid and he deserves the opportunity to be able to come here and study and work really hard like any immigrant. It’s sad to think that there would be this barrier where just because he comes from a Muslim majority country, he might be vetted very hard and might not have the ability to come here."
Saha feels that living in a more diverse city was a little safer growing up, but exploring towns around America makes him stick out more, and he brings a "buddy" with him wherever he goes.
"I’m reading about all these stories," he says about the constant stream of hate speech showing up in schools and in public places. "It’s horrible that children are doing these mean things to each other. Or like, bullying. And it’s sad to see that. I was one of those kids. I was the only minority kid in my middle school."
He says he'll continue to be vocal on Twitter about these issues, but at his shows, he wants to create an escape so we can all hold on to our inner hum.
"I said at the beginning of the show [in Denver], ‘I know that it may feel like we’re entering this really dark time in our country, but I want everybody to forget that for one night. Get lost in the music. I hope that the concerts in this tour can be a tiny form of escape, where for a couple of hours you can forget everything and get lost in the music."