15 Doors: sounds like the type of advent calendar you’d get off Wish.com, actually an exceedingly tasty album from London-based Trex.
Following 2018’s debut album High Time, it comes at us once again on Randall’s Mac2 and provides an in-depth exploration into what makes the man tick. From savage bangers to low-tempo smoochy soul pieces to powerful breaks cuts to rattlesnake rollers and back again, the album offers 15 trips into 15 different sides of drum & bass jungle’s ever rich melting pot. And it does so with some major league collaborations. OG dons Fats & Bailey, Audioporn dons Trimer & Pastry, one of the US’s best roller wizards Jaybee and a whole plethora of Bristol MCs such as Gardna, Medic and Buggsy are just some of the kindred spirits tuned into Trex’s frequencies on 15 Doors. As is his wife, singer Ella Jones.
Landing at the arse-end of a terrible year, 15 Doors seals the deal on another prolific period for Trex – real name Joe Kehoe – with releases on the likes of Sofa Sound, Bingo Bass, Dispatch, Delta9, Four Corners, Heads Bass and his own Trust Audio. During lockdown he also kept himself busy and fans inspired with his weekly Stay Calm project where he’d task himself with writing a tune in a day and releasing it on his Bandcamp at 6pm the same night.
Very much part of the new-gen of D&B artists, yet coming from a slightly different place and age in life than most newcomers, you’d be hard pushed to find a harder working and more determined man in drum & bass than Joe. It’s paying off; in the years that have passed since his debut album his presence and profile have risen to ‘appreciation post’ level in online D&B groups. Not bad considering the first time we spoke to him, he wasn’t sure if High Time would be his only album. It’s safe to say he’s blown the doors off. All 15 of them.
I want to start with a big up. You were a significant part of that early lockdown movement of people keeping themselves – and us fans – inspired at the start of lockdown with the Stay Calm project…
I enjoyed doing that. I did it for nine weeks until it drove me a bit crazy but I got some good tunes out of it and learnt a lot about myself as a producer. How to do things quickly and work off gut reaction. I work well to a deadline. If I feel I’ve got all the time in the world I don’t get anything done but give me a time limit and I’m on it.
We thrive off pressure as humans
We do and it took my mind off things, which is what I needed. It’s mad looking back. It already feels like longer than a year ago in a way. Lockdown had little phases and chapters. You had the Tiger King chapter, you had the Stay At Home and massive streaming chapter, you had the civil rights period and George Floyd which was very dark but essential for progress, we had that bit where things seemed almost okay for a week or two. It’s mad.
Totally man. I reckon this album was made prior to all those chapters. It was going to be called New Normal wasn’t it?
Yeah that got too ridiculous to even think about calling it that, for obvious reasons. I did have most of it written but I changed things, added ideas and tracks. It has to change to fit the idea I had with 15 Doors. 15 tracks, 15 ideas or stories.
15 ingredients that make Trex
Yeah totally. There’s a soul track on there, which is a sound I’ll always love. There’s a trap thing on there with Medic, he’s smashed it and I got some more things planned with him and hopefully a few gigs when we’re allowed. I got some dubstep/dubby influences in there with Bugsy. He smashed it, came down last summer, smoked a few zoots and did it one take. So interesting to work with him. Then there’s Gardna who’s been really supportive of me and I did a remix of him for his album. And Obviously Ella, my wife, is on there with Dreamy Dayz. That began as a Stay Calm track, but I felt it had more potential for the album.
I’ll always think it’s beautiful that you make tunes with your wife
Yeah it’s nice when we get to do it. That was written in April when it was peak covid. The death rate was going through the roof but it was such a nice day outside. Ella came in the room humming to that tune and I was like ‘yeah, come in now, quick.’ I turned the mic and we recorded it and that was it.
Nice and spontaneous!
Oh totally. It was recorded in 10 minutes. So I’m very happy with that. I’m also very happy with Space Race, which is like a Digital-style roller I did with Jaybee.
Ha! I actually wrote Digital in my notes about that track before calling you!
He’s been an influence since Phantom Force. And there are a few tracks like that on there that tap into the older roots of my influences. Artistic Playa with Fats and Bailey is on that tip, too.
You did Sugar Riddim with Fats a while back, right?
Yeah a few years ago. Randall linked us. We get on really well, he’s an inspiring man. He said he had this beat he and Bailey had done a while back and it needed a bit of work so I went in, Bailey was happy with it so that was done.
Truth Hurts is a banger for me. On that breaks tip.
Yeah what I wanted to do with that one was a bit like those old hardcore tunes where you’d have clear sections in the track so it’s got a breakbeaty intro then goes into a garage vibe. I was happy with how that came about.
Nice, this album really is the full flex of Trex isn’t it?
Yeah I love pretty much everything about this music. I get along with everyone, I stay out the politics and appreciate what everyone does. Sometimes I worry about snootiness between subgenres. We’re all just making music at the end of the day.
Amen! So you’re probably sitting on lots more stuff now if most the album was finished prior to lockdown?
Tonnes! I can’t say too much right now but yeah there are a lot of really exciting releases with labels I love and collaborations with artists I’m really into.
How about things with your label Trust Audio?
We’ve got big plans with that for the new year, too. We’re not the highest profile yet but we’re working on it. We got some fantastic talents on the label and people are starting to pick up on us and sending us amazing beats. When the album’s out I’ll have more time to do more headhunting and A&Ring myself, which I’m looking forward to.
Now is a wicked time for brand new talent innit
They’re the people I gravitate towards and want to collaborate with. They got fresh ideas and energy and that’s what the music needs. I sometimes see the younger artists getting told they’re not doing things right or whatever but they just want respect and not be looked down on. Obviously the respect goes both ways but I think when people step back and look at how much talent there is across the generations right now, we’re in a really exciting place.
What’s exciting you about 2021, though?
Obviously I’m very keen to get back DJing again, but on an even simple level; I just want to go out and have a dance. That’s it. Just to see friends, have a dance, have a few beers or whatever. That excites me. I think we will all appreciate things a lot more when things return to some type of normality. And another thing, actually, I hope that this will reset how we – as an industry – approach green energy. We can’t fly around like we used to, it wasn’t sustainable and that has to change. So hopefully we’ll see changes like that, too. And musically I’m pressing on. I’ve hit a patch and I’m rolling with it. There were points when I wasn’t sure I could continue.
We spoke about that when I first interviewed you. You weren’t sure if High Times would be your first and last album!
Yeah. It was that feeling that I could only ever chip in little bits and never make the music I really want to. To contribute any more to the scene and to get to the level you need to be at to be recognised and have your music played out, you have to on it 24/7 and go all in. You can’t just dabble and expect to make it, it doesn’t work like that, I had to give up my day job and go all-in. It’s not been easy, nor should it be. I have to thanks to the support of Randall for giving me a platform to release my music and having faith in me to do this.
Nice. And now you’re getting Trex appreciation posts in Facebook groups!
Yeah that was quite crazy. I don’t sell myself very well, I’m not the shoutiest man or full of hype, but some days I do feel blessed and it does feel like what I’m doing it trickling down to the right people who like the type of stuff I do and appreciate what I’m doing. Hopefully they like the album, too.