DJ Drez on the evolution of music, yoga, and raising a family…
So DJ Drez I know you’re from Orange County, from Fullerton?
Yeah, I grew up in Fullerton. I was born there and I lived there until I was about 22, and that’s when I moved to Venice Beach. While I was living there, I was deep into really creating the roots of Orange County hip hop. I was very deep in the hip hop world and bringing in artists from all over the place to little spots in Fullerton, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa…all over the place.
Is that where you started being creative with your music?
Yeah, very much so. The first club I ever played was Sensations right by Cal State Fullerton. That was in 1993. There was this other cool underground club called the Ice House in Fullerton that I used to go to. I used to watch the DJs there and I was like, yeah I want to become a DJ.
Wow, so OC is where you were inspired to become a DJ?
Partly, it was also from watching MTV Raps. I was in a dance crew and we would practice to mix-tapes. We weren’t always loving the mix-tapes in the mixes so I thought I needed to make my own. I got a turntable and a tape deck and started throwing tapes together. Then people started wanting them and buying them. Next thing you know people started asking me to DJ their house parties, I started DJing clubs, and it all began.
You started off as a hip hop DJ and now you’re doing more yoga work. Tell me more about the transition into these two different worlds.
I’ve loved Indian music for a very long time. Some of the first beats I ever made I used to sample old Indian records; so that love was always there. And then I came out with an album called Jahta Beat that was influenced by my love for Indian classical music. It was all hip hop beats and some downtempo stuff. Then I heard that yoga teachers were using this music in their classes and I thought, wow that’s crazy!
Were you familiar with yoga at this time?
Yes, I was already practicing at this time. But when I heard that yoga teachers were using my music I thought it was interesting because I never meant for my music world and my yoga practice to join together. I really wanted them to be separate. But then one day I envisioned myself in front of a yoga class sitting with my turntables, and I think within a month or two I was actually doing that. I had a talk with a yoga teacher, who eventually became one of my teachers, and we started trading services: me playing her classes and she would give me privates and let me go to the studio for free. Then it just got deep, and I realized I’m really supposed to be doing this. There was no separation between the two. And the rest is history!
That’s interesting that you didn’t have the intention for your worlds to merge, but it just happened that way.
No not at all. The intention was for it not to merge. My yoga practice was very serious. My teachers don’t practice to music. One of my teachers is a Mysore Ashtanga teacher. And my other teacher studied with Pattabhi Jois for several years. Music and yoga make sense, but not in the traditional sense. Bhakti yoga makes sense, singing to the divine. But to be bumping beats in class– I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first. But it makes sense now. People are so over stimulated these days, and coming into a room of music can really help you come to a space of peace. And some music can help people get into a space where they could slow down the breath, listen to the teacher, and maybe the mind begins to calm…“Music and yoga go together like macaroni and cheese.”
So you said that you didn’t know what the response would be like when you first started integrating your music with yoga, but now since it’s blown up into something huge, how do you feel about the evolution of music with yoga?
I think it’s really amazing. It has gone amazing places together and some real corny and annoying places together. And within that there’s balance also. But I love it and I never thought that doing yoga and doing music would bring me around yoga musically.
Do you feel like it’s added a layer of depth to your music?
Oh it definitely has. I was always into conscious hip hop. Straight up. With that being said, there’s a whole lot of great talk in hip hop. But there’s not as much great walk. When you’re doing bhakti music, singing the names of God, you’re still talking it but also singing it…you’re singing the name of the divine. “It’s interesting to go from loving conscious music and being influenced by it to being of that consciousness.”
Yes, that’s a lot of responsibility!
It’s a lot of responsibility. And ultimately it’s the responsibility of Self. If we want to help the world, we help ourselves. It’s like what Michael Jackson and Gandhi said—the man in the mirror and be the change. That’s something that yoga teaches us. If you’re practicing yoga, you are being responsible for yourself. “The only way to make everything better and of a higher vibration is if you take responsibility for your own thoughts and actions”; things of that nature. That’s why yoga is so crucial.
So you are a DJ and you are also a yoga practitioner. Tell me a little more about your yoga practice. How many years have you been practicing?
Well I’ve been practicing for around 10 or 11 years. I originally started practicing because of my crazy touring lifestyle. I was looking for balance. My wife actually talked me into going to my first yoga class.
What style of yoga do you practice?
It’s definitely a Vinyasa practice. It has Ashtanga influences as far as the asana goes, but mantras are constantly playing in my head.
Do you have anything that you do specifically before you go on stage to help you prepare for your performance?
I always find myself in gyan mudra, even walking around. But breathing; I make sure I consciously breathe. I think I unconsciously consciously breathe before and even while I’m on stage. I’ve re-learned how to walk with yoga; I’ve re-learned how to breathe. And breathing while making music – especially when performing – has been so crucial with being relaxed and with confidence. Breathing has changed my world.
So you moved from OC and now you’re living in Venice Beach. You got married and you have a son. Tell me a little bit more about your family life.
Well I moved from OC in 1996 or 1997. I moved in with my wife. She wasn’t my wife at the time; we were just making good love. We got married in 2000 and had a little boy in 2004.
What’s his name?
His name is Levi. It’s very beautiful being a husband and father and it’s also very difficult.
Tell me a little more about the challenges raising a child consciously in an environment that may not be so conscious yet?
It’s interesting living a conscious lifestyle and being able to observe myself, as a father, because there’s a lot of stuff that I want to let go and see how he works it out for himself. There were directions I was pushed in and punishments that were had and I wonder—what if I had another chance to do it my way? What if I would’ve listened and had it their way? It’s a lot of observing and learning as I teach.
You’re probably constantly learning everyday as you raise your son.
He doesn’t know this, but I call him my guru. I’ve learned so much about myself and so much about my father. And I’ve come to peace with some things. I do normal parenting stuff—making sure he’s going on the right path, or hope that it’s the right path. “But to watch my practice being a father is deep. It’s this constant lesson of selflessness; knowing when to push and knowing when to just be the example.” And I’m in the thick of it!
If there was one lesson that you could leave with your son, what would that be?
The lesson would be to create balance within yourself first, and then everyone around you. I’m not saying being extra great and amazing, I’m just saying find balance. And with that you will find balance in relationships, balance in day to day living in your home. A balanced body and a balanced mind is the closest thing to truth in the physical experience.