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DJ Organic on His Love of Soft Rock and How He Used to Buy Old Ladies' Record Collections

DJ Organic spins at Rips Ales & Cocktails.
DJ Organic spins at Rips Ales & Cocktails.
Courtesy of LIV Photography

Despite the fact he sports snapbacks and Coolin' Out T-shirts, spins at the Blunt Club, and has a new project with Phoenix rapper Very G., local selecta Dominic Khin Htay doesn't consider himself to be purely a hip-hop DJ.

The 35-year-old, who performs as DJ Organic, prefers to be versatile with the sounds he spins and the gigs he puts on around the Valley, which is why you'll find him dropping yacht rock tonight at Rips during the latest edition of his club night Mellow Heat.

If you're unfamiliar with what exactly yacht rock is, it's the easygoing rock 'n' roll (think Robbie Dupree, Michael McDonald, Doobie Brothers, and Toto) that your mom and dad might've listened to back in the late '70s and early '80s.

For hipster types, there was a big fixation with yacht tock a few years back that included club nights where they jammed out such tunes while poking fun at yuppies that used to listen to the tunes on their yachts (hence the genre's name) while wearing nautical wear like boat shorts and Sperry Top-Siders. But -- like most hepcat trends -- the yacht rock obsession eventually sailed into the sunset long ago.

For DJ Organic, however, spinning up the sometimes-cheesy soft rock, easy listening, and album-oriented hits of the late '70s and early '80s was more than just a passing fad. It's music he was raised on and still enjoys to this day.

"It's nostalgic and definitely transports you back to a certain time, like when rode around with my mom in her car listening to the local soft rock stations growing up," he says. "Its has a sorta niche thing with the yacht rock tag attached, but I've always really dug it. It seems corny, but it's still good."

Hence the inspiration behind Mellow Heat, a one-off yacht rock night Organic has occasionally put on at Rips during the warmer months of the year that included him and his patrons dressing for the high seas. With spring currently slipping into summer, he's bringing it back as a monthly starting tonight. Organic will be joined by a crew of fellow DJs -- including Valley Fever's Dana Armstrong, Bob and Katey Time from The Rebel Set, M-Fasis, and J.P. Woody -- as they sail the seas of soft rock.

We got the chance to interview Organic last night outside of the Tempe's Yucca Tap Room about his love of yacht rock, the origins of his DJ career, and how he scored his first records as a selecta from an old lady.

Name: Dominic Khin Htay

A.K.A.: DJ Organic

Preferred genres: By trade I'm really a hip-hop DJ, but over the years I've become extremely versatile. And I think that's really important. The biggest thing I've got going for me is that I'm really versatile.

Current gigs: Wednesdays at Rips for Uptown, Thursdays twice a month at Blunt Club, a post-punky/New Wavey/New Romantic thing every second and fourth Friday at the Red House Pub, and the Yacht Rock thing once a month through the summer every third Friday. I'm sort of all over the place.

Briefly, how did you get into the DJ game? It started with hip-hop, because I was so about rap music and the culture and everything. I wanted to be a part of that, but I knew I could never rap, so I decided to DJ. But I didn't even really know where to start, so I just sort of [sought] it out in my own way. I saw someone DJing and it hit me: all the music that I loved, that's what those guys were doing.

I figured out that had to be a DJ and I started playing records and doing hip-hop stuff. And again, because I grew up on several types of music, I didn't want to play only hip-hop, I wanted to play all this other stuff, too. But basically it was hip-hop that really got me into wanting to be the guy working records. So I'll just buy some turntables, since that seemed like the right thing to do, since all my heroes that made beats were DJ Premiere and DJ Beatrock

What sort of turntables? Two Technics 1200s and I still have 'em today.

What was the first album you bought after getting your turntables? I've always been really big on thrifting and knocking on old ladies' doors and asking them if they had old crates of records around, so I can't pinpoint a specific record. I remember after getting my turntables, I walked next door to a lady that lived next to my mom and asked if she had any records. She coincidentally had a couple boxes of old Motown records. So even with wanting to be a hip-hop DJ, I started cutting and doing everything was on old soul records.

 

DJ Organic pores through his own stash of records...and probably your grandma's.
DJ Organic pores through his own stash of records...and probably your grandma's.
John Carbis

Do you still raid the record stashes of old ladies around town? I still love digging. I'm a thrifter, I spend a lot of time in thrift stores. Any time I can go dig for records, I do it. I love records.

But do you hit up old ladies for vinyl? To be honest, I do. I absolutely do. I try to stay out of record stores. The thing about record stores is that they're dying, unfortunately, but the guys that run the stores around town are doing the same thing that I'm doing. They're answering ads on Craigslist, going to thrift stores, finding stuff for a quarter and beefing the price up 20 percent, 30 percent.

They're dying, huh? We're a few hundred feet from a thriving record store [Double Nickels]. Well, a place like that has a staying power because of their reputation. The Eastside [Records] guys have been around forever. They can do that because the rent is cheap, but as far as the big box stores, they're gone. And the only way you can really support a record store these days is to do it like that -- have clothing, have comics, and have other options involved. Because, let's be honest, it's hard to have a record store.

What's your take on the recent resurgence of vinyl then? It's a love/hate relationship. I think it's great, but its also made a lot people out there do the same sort of thing I'm doing: looking for records.

And if everyone is looking for records, no one finds those gems? No one finds the gem or someone else grabs it first. It's not in abundance like it used to be.

Everybody sees that scene from Scratch where DJ Shadow is digging through crates and gets inspired? Yeah, absolutely. And now they're all looking for it. I think it's great, though. I love that vinyl is still around and it's important that that physical piece of music stays around, it's just that spending all my time in record stores is not a priority like it used to be. But any time I get to a thrift store of a ma-and-pa store or a yard sale where I can buy a big box of records for $20 off an old lady, I'm all about that kind of stuff.

What's the explanation behind your DJ name? Jesus . . . when I started playing records, I didn't come up amongst a lot of peers that were doing the same thing, so I though "Organic" was a cool name. It's something without any additives or any sort of outside influence. It's like I basically taught myself everything while living out in the woods...well, not in the woods but I grew up in a small town.

So you were raised by wolves or hippies or even hippie-wolves? No, no, no. I moved around a lot as a kid. My mom always lived in small towns. And when I first got real serious about DJing, I was living in and out of the city, and to get out of trouble, I went to live with my mom. She works with horses and always lived in small towns and did a lot of Outward Bound programs. Because I couldn't save any money living in the city, I worked 15-hour days to save up money, buy some equipment, and go back to the city and be a real DJ.

Can DJs get stuck in a single genre, and thus, a rut? I can't really speak for anyone else. I talked to a buddy of mine a couple Blunt Club's ago about that and he was asking about that. Does it put him in a weird place to do a lot of different types of music when people think that you specialize in one genre? I didn't really think about it until he brought that up. I've always thought of it as an asset, like if I do a lot of stuff, I can cater to a lot of different people, which is why I did an all-45s surf rock night or do hip-hop at Blunt Club, the Mellow Heat thing, or spin soul and funk on vinyl.

DJs can walk around with the biggest head, and one of the things I'm most proud of that I can say with certainty that I kick ass at is that I've extremely versatile and it doesn't sound contrived, it doesn't sound fake. Like I truly like the music that I play and like to think I know a lot about it. I won't just say, "Oh EDM is a cool thing, I'll specialize in that," because I don't know shit about it.

Do DJs and huge egos go hand-in-hand? I used to think so. I like to think I've come this far by maintaining a pretty steady ego. I think there's a difference between ego on confidence. When I first started getting around other DJs and watching them, there was a lot of ego and a lot of showmanship and a lot of that big-headed attitude. And I thought I could never succeed because I never could be like that, but I've realized in the last couple years that there's a big difference between ego and confidence. I think I've got a strong sense of confidence moreso than ego. Like, I don't want to go out and kick everybody's ass and be that guy. I feel like I'm good at what I do and it was a matter of turning that switch on as opposed to being like, "Oh, I'm bad!"

 

DJ Organic dressed up as Magnum P.I. at a previous edition of Mellow Heat.
DJ Organic dressed up as Magnum P.I. at a previous edition of Mellow Heat.
Courtesy of DJ Organic

How did your love of yacht rock come about? My cousin and I have a real love for that music. It's cheesy, but I want to make it really clear that I'm not trying to cash in on any sort of niche thing. I don't expect a huge turnout, I'd love for the people to get in on it. It's just something I really wanted to do.

It really stems out of being a child and remembering that music. I remember the [bumpers] of "light rock, less talk." And it's very fond memories, but it's also sad too. That music is sad and weird. It's like sappy. It just reminds me of a different time, a strange time.

How so? All I remember about the soft rock era is full beards, chest hair, aviator shades and whatnot. That's more of the nichey side of it. I always think about David Crosby and all those guys from the '60s, by the time the late 70s, early '80s came around, they were so burnt out that they had to swear off blow forever and buy a boat and go sailing. It was the end of an era and it started this new era of soft rock kind of stuff.

There's just this sad undertone to it. Like one of my favorite tracks was "Southern Cross" from Crosby, Stills and Nash and its just them talking about just having these wild times with this ex. The whole undertone about him being on a boat or in a bar calling his ex-wife who just broke his heart. That whole undertone of this era in rock was these guys who were so coked out and were doing everything and there came this time where they had to swear it off, bought a boat with the last of their money leftover from their tax bullshit and just went sailing and wrote these sappy love songs.

Like they joke about on KSLX, everyone tried to be the Eagles in those days. Who I can't stand, either. The Eagles are one of those groups that I don't like at all. I like Joe Walsh. When Joe Walsh fucked with the Eagles, they were at their best.

So you're like the Dude from Big Lebowski then? They're not a preference. I do love that line in the movie when he says, "I hate the fucking Eagles" and the Muslim guy kicks him out of the car.

Are you wearing a costume for Mellow Heat? My boat shoes ripped last night, so hopefully my Sperrys will be ready. But yeah, I'm putting a little costume together.

Mellow Heat featuring DJ Organic takes place at 9 p.m. tonight at Rips Ales & Cocktails.

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Rips Ales & Cocktails

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