Get to Know DJ Jewel, Host of KEXP's new psych show Astral Plane

Powering KEXP
Emily Fox

As of Sept. 13, 2023, KEXP has begun to roll out a new radio lineup full of new shows and DJs. One of these newcomers is DJ Jewel, the host of our new psych show called Astral Plane – airing Wednesday nights from 7-10 PM PT. But DJ Jewel might be familiar to some listeners – you may have heard her bands The Grizzled Mighty, Golden Idols, or Frond on the KEXP airwaves. 

To help introduce DJ Jewel to our listeners, KEXP's Sound & Vision host Emily Fox caught up with the Astral Plane host to learn more about her background in psych music and tech as well as three songs as three songs to get to know her. Read their conversation below and check out the debut episode of Astral Plane in the streaming archive

Emily Fox: So what I love about learning about you is that you play in the Seattle bands Golden Idols, the Grizzled Mighty, and Frond. But would you describe those bands as psychedelic? 

Jewel: Well, so one time Golden Idols in an album review by Northwest Music Scene was called "psychedelic to an extent," which is probably my favorite press quote I've ever gotten. There are some Grizzled Mighty songs that I think kind of ride the line that are a little more psychedelic. But Frond is the project I have with my fiancee, and that one definitely psychedelia is built into its ethos. 

I love it. So what draws you to psych music and also how would you describe this, this new show? How would you describe the spectrum of psych that you'll be playing on this new show? 

So I'm taking a pretty broad approach to psychedelic music because, when it comes down to it, I don't think it's really like one genre. It's kind of more about... In some ways a collection of aesthetics, but really it's about what it does to you. There's a great quote by Michael Hicks saying, to paraphrase, that psych music really just like mimics the effects of being on a trip, right? You're like losing track of time, you're experiencing ego death, everything feels alive and moving. And so for me, music that does that, that kind of makes you feel like part of something bigger than yourself, music that makes you [feel] like, "Is this the beginning? Is this the end? I don't care. I'm just here present in the moment." Those are the kinds of things I really look for in music, something that you can just kind of get lost in – as if you're kind of experiencing a trip. And so that's kind of what I'm going for in the show because I think there's a lot of there's a lot of medical interest right now in psychedelic journeys, which they're saying it can be very good for you mentally, but not everyone can just go trip on a Wednesday night. But maybe, kind of theoretically, you could do it just via the music. So that's what I'm trying to provide. 

So I asked you to come up with three songs that are meaningful to you that could either and probably would show up on this new show, Astral Plane. I left it open-ended. Songs that either inspired you throughout your musical life or songs that you're really excited about to play on the show. What's the first song you'd like to share with us today? 

 So the first song I'd like to share is Gandalf and it is their cover of the song "Nature Boy." So Gandalf is a pretty obscure 1960s band that never really went anywhere. Kind of a heavy psychedelic band out of New York City. And they got signed pretty much right away, I think it was to Capitol Records, I want to say. Got a record deal, made an amazing record – their self-titled – but during the time it took to make the record, they just didn't really get along with their label. And because of that, they kind of got the shaft. And one of the biggest things that happened was they actually, when they printed the vinyl, they put the wrong vinyl in the wrong sleeve. So a bunch of people bought this album and we were like, "This is nothing like what I expected it to be based on my cover."

So it never really went anywhere except – because there were all these like random misprint copies of it – it became something that people found in record stores a lot and like crate diggers started kind of talking about this record. So it's actually if you can find an original now, it's probably like $500-600 to find one of these records. But this song in particular is a cover of a jazz standard called "Nature Boy." And that's actually how I found the song because I grew up playing jazz. I played saxophone and all throughout high school. And jazz music is very, to me, like a lot of psychedelic music, I think comes out of the ethos of like jazz and improvisation and everyone being in a groove together.

So I was I was just looking for versions of "Nature Boy," because I just wanted to learn the chords. And then I found this crazy hard rock version of it that has this, like, wailing guitar solo and these drums that come in kind of late. And so this just, for me, really solidified... Like, I had this theory in my head that I'm like, "I think that if you just put the right pedals while you're playing a jazz song on, it'll just become psych." To me, that song helped reinforce that for me. 

What's the second song you'd like to share with us today? 

So the second song I want to share is from a group called Teal Pop and the song is called "Aptos." 

And what do you love or what's the back story behind this song for you? 

So this is a pretty new one that just came out, I think, last May. So it's a collaboration album between Vinyl Williams and  Dream Crease, which is Lionel Williams and Marina Aguerre. And I just really love everything that Lionel Williams does. He has these very dense arrangements and he has these drum sounds that are just so dry and the percussiveness, it's like a machine gun. It's so tight. And he also has this very distinct visual identity. He does a lot of his own art and makes, like these 3D videos for everything. It's really cool. And so this collaboration, it took all of those things that I really liked already about Vinyl Williams and then added this beautiful new aspect, which is the dreamy vocals of Marina Aguerre. So this song has just been a jam for me all summer. I've been blasting it all summer, so I definitely wanted to make sure that this got in the rotation immediately on my show. 

So what's the third song that you'd like to share with us today? 

So the last song I wanted to share is from a band called Troubadour Dali and the song is called "The Prickly Fingers of Santa Muerte." And the reason I picked this song is because this song is the reason I responded to the Tinder message that brought me together with my now fiancee. 

Tell me more [laughs]. 

So Troubadour Dali was my fiance's band in St. Louis, kind of in the early 2010s. I had never heard of them until said Tinder message. I, at the time, was playing in Golden Idols, but I was feeling the itch to join something new or do my own thing. And I was really wanting to do something more in the kind of psychedelic realm. I think at the time I was like getting very into King Gizzard and I had just gotten back from my first Desert Daze. For me, that was a very transformative experience. I went to Desert Daze, my first one in 2016. I went to that alone and it didn't matter that I was alone because the whole time I was just like surrounded by all of the music that I loved. And it really solidified in my head that like this is what I'm looking for. I just want to live in this world forever.

And at the time, right after, I got this Tinder message from a guy who saw one of my pictures, like, "Oh, did you go to Desert Daze? I love psych music." And he actually, I remember that first message, he also said he had just seen... or did he invite me to? I think he invited me to go with him to see Thee Oh Sees do a live performance at KEXP. But I had work so I couldn't go. And he saw that I was in bands and he's like, "Hey, if you ever want to jam like, this is my old band, let me know if you like it." And then I heard it and it was like, "Oh, I want to jam and other things." So, to me, it really kicked off what has been the most important relationship of my life.

And I think through psych music is really what brought us together and what connects us. When I was like in the early stages of this relationship and really obsessed with him, I listened to this song constantly, the way you do when you're obsessed with someone. And it's still one of my favorite songs ever. 

So something else that I find interesting about you is not only are you in a bunch of local Seattle bands, but you also work in the tech world by day. Also, something else I learned about you is that you created this program that determined which songs KEXP played the most, like using your tech skills to create this program. Tell me more about this. 

Jewel So this was back when I worked at Tableau Software, which is like a data visualization software. And my whole job was it was actually kind of a cool job because it was just like, "Hey, learn how to use the software really, really well and just make cool graphs that people want to look at." And I said, "Okay!" And so one cool graph that I decided to make was I found a way to get all of KEXP's playlist data for an entire year. And I broke it down by like each DJ and what they played, like which artists, albums, all of that.

And it was just incredibly interesting to me because I was selfishly using it a little bit for myself in my band skills of trying to figure out like which DJs played bands that are like my band so that I knew who to send our CD to. But also it was just like really interesting to see, I think, just like repeating patterns of what people did. After that first year, which was really fun, and I just kind of put it on Reddit and said, like, "Here's a thing I made." And people ended up having a lot of fun looking through it and spending a lot of time filtering it down and looking at particular DJs or particular hours or parts of the year.

So after that, KEXP actually asked me the next couple of years after that, while I was still at Tableau, like, "Hey, will you do that again? We'll just give you the data this time." So that was really fun. So I got to do volunteer for a little bit, making those charts. And there is some really interesting stuff that happened in the following year. One of the years was the year that both David Bowie and Prince passed away. And it was very clear that something had happened with both of those people because you could see huge spikes in the number of songs played for like a couple days afterward. And then so after that, I started tracking, okay, like, let's look for these spikes. You can really see, like what were the important events or who had some who had some news based on how those programming big spikes happened. 

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