When does James Amato sleep? From humble beginnings in Milwaukee's party scene, James hustled and scrambled to become a man to watch, earning accolades from URB and Nightclub/Bar Magazine in 2004/2005 for his promotion work for the Kamasutra events at Matra Lounge. From there, he moved to Chicago to become Director of Music and Bookings at Smart Bar, the legendary night spot that attracts a who's-who of top-10 DJs as guest performers.
Without question, he's one of the hardest-working men in electronic music. In 2007, he launched Potty Mouth Music, one of the first digital labels, and introduced America to the likes of Santiago & Bushido, Crookers and The Bulgarian through a series of quirky, high-energy releases. In addition to running nightclubs, booking talent and running a successful record label, James is also a touring DJ, who evangelizes for his Potty Mouth family every time he puts needle to record.
James is in Indy this evening at BLU Lounge, 240 South Meridian Street where he'll be joined by J Manic, Phenom, Tyler Stewart, and K.I.D. resident Slater Hogan.
He was gracious enough to take time out of his schedule this morning and do this short interview regarding his DJ sets, the label and his take on the state of dance music.
RK: You've been doing this for, what, 10 years now?
JA: I guess I've been actively pursuing my career in the music business for 10-plus years, I guess you could say. I was going to parties and growing up in the rave scene and all that fun stuff for a little bit longer, but 10 years is probably a safe estimate (laughs).
RK: You were the Director of Music and Bookings at Smart Bar. How do you keep the balance of being promoter, running Potty Mouth, and promoting yourself as a DJ? It seems to be an awful lot of things to track.
JA: It is an awful lot of stuff. About six months ago, I gave up my position at Smart Bar and moved to Los Angeles to pursue some the endeavors I've been working on. I was working for Smart Bar for about 3 years, and also during that time started Potty Mouth somewhere around 2007. My entire life - even before Smart Bar, or having my own club in Milwaukee - has always been about juggling everything. It has it's ups and downs, and I think over the past couple of years I've had to focus on one more than the other. It's hard to everything and be good at everything. Nowadays it seems like you almost HAVE to be part promoter and part DJ and part record label to make it in today's market… During the time i was doing Smart Bar, I never really had time to do anything but work… The music industry is what I love doing, and I had no problem devoting my life and all my time to it. I had no problem going to work at Smart Bar during the day and doing all the bookings and promotions, then get home to spend the rest of the night working on the record label. Then I'd wake up the next day and do it all over again (laughs). When you find your passion and you're doing something you love doing, it's not like it's work.
RK: A lot of sleepless nights, I'm sure, but it's the passion that pushes you through it.
JA: Yeah. So, six months ago I moved out west to LA, and I'm trying to actually open up a venue out there right now, so we'll find out in another month or two if the dream is going to become a reality.
RK: There seems to be an electronica renaissance happening, with mainstream keeping a close eye on the happenings in EDM. As a promoter and as a label head, is there pressure to cater to a more mainstream crowd?
JA: At the end of the day it's really about what you want to do, your sound and who you want to promote it to. Like an event - is your event trying to cater to a more commercial crowd or a more underground crowd? I think for a long time, growing up in the scene, I've been known as a more underground promoter and DJ. With the start of Potty Mouth, it's kind of broken out into the commercial scene as well. I think my label gets accepted by both underground and commercial crowds. The goal of everyone in this business is to keep it underground but to try and make it as commercial as possible…
RK: to cast the net as wide as possible…
JA: Yeah, but not to "sell out" in the eyes of your core fans.
RK: Potty Mouth Digital is one of the first success stories in the transition from physical to a digital label. It seems that everyone is doing the digital thing now, but what pushed you into that realm as far back as 2007?
JA: Before Potty Mouth, I had a label called Neighborhood House Watch which was a Chicago-house jack-type label. We would do vinyl on that and wait for the vinyl to come out and do the digital after. I was getting ready to do Potty Mouth and it kept getting delayed and that was right about the time that everyone was getting screwed by the pressing plants, distributors. It was difficult to press vinyl and distribute it and try to get paid, and NOT try to get screwed. It just became a real headache and fiasco, and was really holding up Potty Mouth from launching. I got to the point where I looked at the future and said "let's not even mess around with vinyl and push it digitally". And, you know what? It worked (laughs). Now, with Beatport, everyone can be a producer, and everyone can start a label. All you need is a computer. You don't even have to leave your house. Back in the day, you had to have several thousand dollars to put out a piece of vinyl. Part of (the success) is experience, and the other part is being in the right place at the right time. With the sound (of Potty Mouth Records) in general, we were pushing a sound that was relatively new, unheard-of, and that a lot of people weren't doing at the time. Literally six months to a year from the launch of Potty Mouth, it was amazing to see all these digital labels popping up that were similar in style and sound to Potty Mouth.
RK: You’ve gravitated away from the production side with so many irons in the fire on the promotion side. Now, with the move to LA and the club ownership opportunity in play, are there any plans to get back in the studio for a new James Amato release rather than working on other people's stuff?
JA: I don't know, to be honest… There was one time in my life where I was really striving to push myself and try to become that "superstar DJ" and play around the world. Fortunately, I have been able to play different parts of the world… I had to start to focus my attention on throwing events and running the label. I've chilled out on production and DJing as much as I used to. The reason I produced was to pursue the "DJ superstar" career and to be honest I'm not a fan of producing. I love putting music out, I love being behind the scenes, but I find producing to be a very tedious job. (laughs) I don't know, I just become frustrated when I have to do it, so it's not something I enjoy doing… You might see a couple of collab tracks out there in the future. with some fellow Potty Mouth artists, but it's not something that I'm going to focus on. My focus is on getting this (LA) venue off the ground.
RK: The label has a reputation for off-kilter electro, techno and fidget releases. What does a James Amato DJ performance encompass?
JA: A little bit of everything, I guess. When I play out, I really promote the Potty Mouth sound, either with Potty Moth tracks or I'll play a lot of my artists' tracks on other labels… As far as the style, - I don't know how Indianapolis has been going down lately, so I'm excited to come check it out and suss out the vibe and cater my sound what everyone is feeling and in the mood for. I may start off more deep and tech-ey, and slowly work my way up to more banging' and big-room stuff. Can't wait to see what it's all about in Indy.
Rudy Kizer is the host and producer for "Hit The Decks", Sundays @ 10pm on X103 (available via podcast here).