Growing up in South East London, Jon O’Leary – now best known under his As I Am alias – began his musical education at a young age with the guidance of his bass player father, listening to 80s disco and mixing cassettes at his grandfather’s house. He soon developed an interest in house and garage and in his school years was putting on his own nights before rushing home to listen to pirate radio stations.
In 2002 along with a couple of friends he started underground radio station Select UK Radio. Now with one million unique users it is one of the longest-running underground stations, focusing on house music across the board.
As a producer he creates tracks that have big baselines and a distinctive club feel, a category into which As I Am’s debut release on Defected Records ‘Saving Grace’ absolutely belongs.
With ‘Saving Grace’ out this week, Defected’s Lucy St John spoke to the fast-rising producer about his inspirations and how it feels to be gaining recognition from some of the biggest names in the industry.
Were there any particular inspirations for ‘Saving Grace’?
No inspirations in particular to be honest. I started the AS I AM project as an experiment, writing and singing my own vocals. I built the track at first but felt it deserved a strong vocal. Another producer called NG introduced Nicola to me- thankfully everything fell into place.
Your music seems to be on the bassier, clubbier side of house music…
Yes I love a little bit of bass; I am starting to mature musically so the sounds I’m experimenting with nowadays are less harsh. It’s good to think about dancefloor reactions but it also depends on which direction I’m heading with an idea. I try to just enjoy making a track, not think too much about what people think.
How did it feel to have support from people like Pete Tong and Kerri Chandler?
It still doesn’t seem real; never in a million years would I have expected the reaction to be the way it has, I can be very self-critical in some ways. Kerri Chandler is a wizard in my eyes, and every producer would love to have Pete Tong rubber stamp his approval on one of their tracks… It’s unreal!
Are there any artists that particularly inspire your sound?
I listen to a wide range of music from David Bowie, Jay Z to Jai Paul… Music has no rules in my eyes, we either like it or we don’t. It also depends on my mood too. This is the same when it comes to production. I try not to pigeonhole myself or search for inspiration.
What made you want to release the record with Defected?
We were in talks with two other major labels but this was a no brainer to be honest. Defected will nurture a track and help it grow organically, this will benefit me as an artist. Jumping in at the deep end is not always a good thing, it’s about building foundations for a musical platform so we can grow, Defected are perfect for this.
Tell us a bit about the radio station, does it solely focus on house music or does it also showcase other genres?
Select Radio UK was founded in 2002, with three friends I grew up with. All genres of house music are the main focus. The stats are great, the site is about to hit 1 million unique users also the mobile app has over 20,000 weekly users. The DJs have also been a massive supporter of my music. AS I AM tracks have never been playlisted or favourited in any way when it comes to Select, so it’s always refreshing when they play one of my tracks.
At a time where there is so much competition for up and coming talent, how do you think you can make yourself stand out?
Getting noticed musically is vital; hopefully ‘Saving Grace’ will give me a small platform as a producer and DJ. But I won’t be throwing any food, stage diving or wearing roller skates in music videos to get people’s attention, that’s a promise.
What are you working on in 2015?
I try not to think too far ahead. I have lots of finished material, so it’s nice to enjoy the music I’m making rather than rushing around trying to nail a next release. My aim is to continue into 2015 in the same direction. I would love to test myself by creating an album that appeals to most house music lovers, also an album people can let play rather than skipping through it. Let’s see.
Word: Lucy St John