Comment
Interview

DJ Shiftee's Hot Mom USA confession: "My mother certainly doesn't like the name, logo, or aesthetic."

By KC Orcutt
dj-shiftee-gold-newport-city-mix-june-2010

Only mere days into 2013, and it’s already a busy year for DJ Shiftee (aka Sam Zornow). 2012 saw the launch of his label, Hot Mom USA, which he co-owns with fellow DJ/producer Rx. Since then it’s been nothing but hard work and channeling good ol’-fashioned American spirit, with releases, events, and mixes scattered along the way.

On Monday, the pair released “Ice Is Back,” so we went in for the inside scoop with Shiftee on the label, upcoming releases, and why he’s yet to have a sandwich named in his honor.

What influenced you to get into DJing at such a young age? What was your musical upbringing like?

I got into DJing via a love for hip-hop music—backpacker stuff like Rawkus Records, The Arsonists, Cali Agents, etc. Once I purchased turntables at age 14 and saw a DMC tape, I became immediately obsessed with turntablism and battling. Before that, I had been playing saxophone since I was six.

Following your DMC World DJ victory in 2009, how did you first celebrate?

There’s an official DMC after-party following the battle, so I spent quality time there with my friends and girlfriend. One of my original DJ mentors, Cutfucious from the Lo-Livez, made the trip out to London with me. My great friend who I grew up with, DJ I-Dee, was there, too. It was special, and definitely met the criteria for a Kodak moment.

How much of your daily routine is dedicated to music these days?

So long as there’s not a Knicks game on TV, almost 100%.

I’m sure living in NYC feels event-saturated at times. Do you go out often, or are you occasionally selective about which artists you’d like to see play?

I’m more of a homebody. It has to be a good friend or an artist I really want to see to leave my apartment. Since I live in NYC, I also can pretty much get any food delivered right to my door at any time. I rarely even need to wear pants.

When did you decide to begin your Hot Mom USA imprint?

At the beginning of 2012, my co-owner Rx and I made a whimsical track called “Act Out!” that didn’t really have a good fit on other labels. So, mainly as a joke at first, we decided to launch a label in service of the track and general silliness. As for the name, we pretty much tried to think of the most ridiculous, attention-grabbing, offensive, and silly name possible—Hot Mom USA! We launched on Mother’s Day, 2012.

Asking a DJ and/or producer to contribute to the MILFcast sounds like it could be fun. Has anyone said no to contributing or had an interesting reaction solely due to the name?

First more info on the label: We are uber-American. We only release on American holidays. We believe in above-ground pools, Jeff Foxworthy, and Arby’s fine dining. We ride gators through strip malls, and shave American flags into our chest hair. This definitely resonates with a lot of artists. For instance, we have an original Hot Mom USA of sorts, Chrissy Murderbot, doing a remix for our next release. My own mother, however, certainly doesn’t like the name, logo, or the label aesthetic.

What is the main feel to the label that you’re aiming to achieve in your curation? How do you narrow down whom to talk to releasing tunes from?

The label has grown significantly from the initial ethos of pure silliness. I’d say the main characteristic we are drawn to is artists experimenting with styles outside of their normal approaches. We released a weirdo 4×4 future bass tune from the grime producer Spooky. We put out the debut release from Boligee, the deep experimental bass alias of disco producer Aimes. We dropped a free celestial hip-hop instrumental mixtape from the then dubstep producer Shackles.

We like people to get weird, not just in general but with respect to themselves. As far as narrowing down with whom to work, it’s partly friends and partly the intersection of my taste with that of Rx’s. My style is a bit more heavy. I’m really into grime, hip-hop, dubstep, and aggressive music. He gets down with heavy stuff, too, but he also has a huge techno and deep-house aspect to his personality. When we find music that gets us both excited, sometimes for different reasons, we know we have a winner.

What’s next for the label in 2013?

We are more or less signed up through September. First up is an EP from myself & Rx that is illustrative of some of the stylistic range of our label. Then we’ve got an EP from Doctor Jeep, and our first vinyl-only release from Mr. Mitch. Also coming is our first compilation, tentatively called The 90s, and our first album release from our artist Shackles.

Since we are a new label, a lot of what we are still doing is trying out new forms and seeing what works for us. The compilation should be really fun—lots of exciting names on board getting way outside their normal modes of operation. And for the album we are going to put all of our focus into Shackles really for the whole summer. Exciting and unforeseen things may emerge, though. Anything is possible in America, and thus anything is possible in Hot Mom USA.

What about for your personal career? What are some projects you have in the works? Any travel planned for 2013?

I’m typically doing a lot of solo touring, probably sticking mostly to North America through February before SXSW and WMC hit in March. One project I’m excited about is my UK Meets USA mixtape collaboration with Elijah, who runs the Butterz label in London. We dropped part one in 2012 and part two should be released in the first quarter of 2013 with a European and then USA tour to follow.

I also do a lot of work with Native Instruments, including membership in the band Mostly Robot. Hopefully more festival gigs with those lads in the summer. Otherwise, expect music, routines, mixtapes, goofiness, and overall glasses-and-hat wearing.

Tell us about teaching at Dubspot.

I’m indeed still teaching at Dubspot. I’m an instructor for normal DJing, turntablism, Traktor, and I also co-created our online course in Digital DJing with Traktor alongside DJ Endo. I additionally am the director of DJ curriculum, which means I oversee and write the curriculum for almost all of our DJ classes. It’s really exciting to see how Dubspot has grown since I started working there around five years ago. What was once a small operation with a single classroom is now a thriving, multi-layer, multi-classroom, international company. It’s a bit shocking how much it’s grown actually.

As for 2013, I (knock on wood) see it continuing to grow, expand, and always adapt in order to create the best educational experience possible. I’m still an adjunct at Clive Davis NYU as well. The class I co-teach with DJ Rekha, The History Culture & Technique Of DJing, wasn’t offered this year, but I believe it’s still in play for the future. Someday I’d be into becoming a full-time professor, but not anytime soon most likely. I really enjoy touring and pantless delivery ordering.

As a self-proclaimed “demanding critic of sandwiches,” what are some of your favorite spots in NYC? Have you achieved getting a sandwich named after you yet, or what? If you did, what do you think some of the ingredients would be?

Katz’s, 2nd Avenue Deli, Mile End, Baguette, Momufuku Noodle Bar (their pork buns are sandwich-esque), my apartment, and more. I have not yet achieved a Shiftee sandwich, and this is the cause of much shame not only for myself, but for my family. A Shiftee sandwich would include hot sauce, Genoa salami, Virginia baked ham, guacamole (yes, as a topping), Swiss cheese, jalapeños, and my own tears.

Do you have a New Year’s resolution you’d like to share?

I think you’ve just thought of it for me: Get a sandwich named after myself at a highly regarded NYC deli.