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Jai Wolf's Family Affair

Jai Wolf will headline the Westword Music Showcase on June 29, 2019.EXPAND
Jai Wolf will headline the Westword Music Showcase on June 29, 2019.
Shervin Lainez

Jai Wolf loves his mom.

Jai Wolf — real name Sajeeb Saha — also loves his dad. He’ll tell you outright that they are the best parents in the world. They attended his headlining show at Terminal 5 in New York this April. They know who ODESZA and Porter Robinson are. They are, to use Saha’s phrase, “super awesome.”

His elders are also inarguably intelligent: His father has a Ph.D. in physics, and his grandfather has one in chemistry; both of his parents are physicists. But outside of their work, his father maintains a photography habit, and his mother plays music. By Saha’s account, their outlook is traditional — “I think it’s like that for a lot of immigrant parents,” he notes — having immigrated to Carbondale, Illinois, from Bangladesh when Saha was one. They later relocated to Pittsburgh, where Saha took violin lessons and listened to Indian and Bengali classical music alongside the Western classical canon.

At thirteen, Saha started listening to American pop and hip-hop: Ludacris, Usher, 50 Cent. And pop punk: American Idiot.

“I knew it existed, but I wasn’t recreationally listening to rap or rock music or pop music or anything like that," he says. "When I started listening to it, it was like, ‘Oh, shit, there is so much cool music out there.' It really resonated with me.”

For Saha, who will play a sold-out concert at the Ogden Theatre on Thursday, May 2, and headline the Westword Music Showcase on Saturday, June 29, the narrative that follows unspools easily.

“What I do now is sort of a mixture of all the things that I enjoyed growing up. A lot of my music has that orchestral, cinematic, large feeling while still retaining pop sensibilities.”

It didn’t start that way. Saha’s first musical project, No Pets Allowed, skewed heavily in favor of pop. He produced bootleg remixes of songs by Childish Gambino, Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake. His dizzying mashups now resemble perfectly contained time capsules of a very particular moment in pop: “Dead Siberian Romance” combines The Fame Monster-era Lady Gaga with Fall Out Boy and Swedish House Mafia; “Moves Like Taylor” opens with Taylor Swift singing over David Guetta, the whistle from “Moves Like Jagger” just audible in the background. That’s all before Drake chimes in.

If it sounds like Saha as No Pets Allowed lacked direction, well, that was the point. No Pets Allowed had no fixed point, and Saha was still relatively new to producing, so he used it as a space for experimentation. At the time, stadium-sized EDM was everywhere, as was dubstep.

“I tried house music, dubstep, all these different things. I wasn’t satisfied with larger-than-life maximalist EDM-type music,” he says. “Every kid who was trying to make music definitely indulged and tried it out. I got bored with it.” Saha eventually dropped the moniker and rebooted as Jai Wolf in 2014. That spring, FIGHT CLVB sent Saha’s bootleg remix of “Ease My Mind” to Skrillex. The producer was so impressed that he tweeted “SIQ REMIX,” added it to his live set, invited Jai Wolf on stage in Syracuse, and made the bootleg an official remix.

It was a leap forward, but not one that went to Saha's head.

“My sights were not set super high. One of my initial goals was, ‘I really want to go on an opening tour with a larger artist.’ That was my big goal,” he says. He did — with ODESZA, which just so happened to release Jai Wolf’s debut single “Indian Summer” on the independent label Foreign Family. “Indian Summer” was something of an adrenaline needle to the heart of the Jai Wolf project. Think nostalgic indietronic mixed with drone-shot-over-New-York-at-night grandeur for a generation that will never forget the words to MGMT’s “Electric Feel” or “Kids.” That’s important, too, since Saha was one of those kids.

For an electronic-music artist, Saha’s indie allegiances are worn loudly and proudly on his just-released debut album, The Cure to Loneliness. "Indietronic" is a worn-out term, but the record takes approximately forty seconds to deploy its first Is This It-era Strokes riff. Throughout, Saha plays to multiple tribes of cool kids: thick bass grooves on “Drowning” for the dance crowd, sincere guitar and National-esque moodiness on “Telepathy” for the indieheads, and “This Song Reminds Me of You” for the CHVRCHES fans somewhere in the middle.

(His list of dream collaborators follows suit: Lorde, HAIM, Two Door Cinema Club, Anna of the North.)

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Saha's indie sensibilities aren’t a gimmick, either, and he doesn’t think of them as one. In fact, staying true to them is a reaction against gimmicks in electronic. “I wanted to make sure that the sound choices felt a bit more timeless, especially because in the electronic world things can be very trend-based,” he says. “I thought the guitar was a very timeless-sounding instrument, so I sprinkled that throughout the album. But I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, look at me! We got guitars on the album!’”

So he’s got guitars on the album, and it’s out in the world, and he’s touring on the back of it. And his parents came to the Terminal 5 show, which, Saha later admits, might not have happened had he decided to go in a different direction.

“They’re thankful I’m not making dubstep or anything. I don’t think they’d be at the shows if I was making dubstep,” he says. “Maybe they would. I still love dubstep.”

See Jai Wolf at the 25th Westword Music Showcase in the Golden Triangle on Saturday, June 29. Get tickets and more details at westwordshowcase.com.

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