Chicago Spotlight: A Conversation with Julius the Mad Thinker

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Julius the Mad Thinker is a dynamic producer and International DJ talent. Since the age of 17, Julius has worn many hats while distinguishing himself in the dance music industry. He is a true visionary with infectious energy and amazing music. His reputation for uniting music communities and launching premiere DJ music events has attracted worldwide acceptance and respect. Julius’ most recent production to gain international awareness is Mi Casa Holiday (MCH). In 2009, Julius and business partner Jenn Hurst bridged DJ entertainment with unique travel concepts to co-found and form MCH. In 2012, MCH achieved sold-out status. Approaching its 10th season, MCH is a destination event of choice for international travel, leisure, and music enthusiasts in the know.  In March of 2017, He released his debut album, “Perspective.  I recently had a chance to speak with him about his career, Mi Casa Holiday, his Album and upcoming projects. 

BW:  Where did your name come from?

JMT:  That’s a funny question.   I was a creative manager/executive producer of a hip-hop group we (Emmaculate and I) worked together with called the “Rec Center”. We were working on our first album and deciding what would be the first music video. It was 10 MCs, Emmaculate and myself.  Everyone went in line and said what they thought the first video would be.  When it was my turn and I finished talking the room was silent.  One of the MC's looked at me and said,  “The Mad Thinker”.   It was right around the time I was deciding what my DJ name would be.  So that’s how I got my name. It just made sense.

BW  Wow…I totally thought it was based on the Marvel Character. [Laughter]

JMT:  I didn’t even know there was a Marvel character named The Mad Thinker until years later when I was looking up my name.

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BW:  You know he’s known for being a genius with this knowledge of technology and photographic memory?

JMT:   That’s crazy! [Laughter] Well, I’m definitely on the mad kind of analyzing tip.

BW: What attracted you to house music?  How were you introduced to the genre?

JMT:  When I was a kid, we would listen to the radio and do splice mixes with three radios and it would always be playing on one, recording on the other.  It was always somebody in the mix, whispering “shhhhh” {Laughter}.  I didn’t know what I was doing. We were just doing it to do it.  Then in 6th grade, there was a kid who moved to our city.  He was the kid that if the teacher could control him, she could control the class. So one day she told him," If I grant you one wish, can you make sure the kids will do what they are supposed to do”?  He said yes and his wish was to listen to the hot lunch mixes in class instead of going to the lunchroom. I was one of those kids who listened every day at lunch.  That was the first time I knew house music.  Then, as a junior in high school, I remember seeing these guys getting ready for a talent show and they were dancing. They were moving in a certain way to this music and I was like what is this music? One of the dudes told me it was Larry Heard.  I was aww man…this is the real deal. Then there was a teen club that opened and from there… you know…it went from seeing it and listening to it, to dancing to it.  After that, I remember throwing my first party.  It was so boring sometimes in the suburbs; I bet my cousin that I could throw a party with 500 people.  My cousin thought I was crazy.  I convinced my mom to throw a party and she would only let me do it on 2 conditions. I had to write an organized plan of what it would be and if I made any money, I’d have to give my sister some spending cash for her first senior trip.

BW:   That sounds like me as a mom! [Laughter]

JMT: [Laughter] So it took a while, but I wrote a plan. She didn’t think I would do it and be so detailed.   She told me years later when she saw that plan, she said, “I can’t believe this kid wrote this plan…now I gotta let him throw this party”! [Laughter]

BW:  Your first business Plan!

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JMT: RIGHT!  She couldn’t believe how detailed I was, down to the garbage cans and security.   I had 605 people to show up for that party. At that party, Emmaculate was one of the first DJs I hired along with another guy, DJ Beauty.    I was able to give my sister $300 for her trip.  So, my sister goes to Acapulco and has the time of her life. I go on to produce a slew of parties and events.  My sister was trying to convince the company she traveled with to hire her as a student organizer.    Around the same time, I decided to start DJing.  My sister got hired and started working in the travel and hospitality industry and  I get hooked on DJing and event production and spend years doing that while my sister spends years working in travel and hospitality.   Fast Forward to 2009 we founded Mi Casa Holiday.

BW:  What was your motivation for creating Mi Casa Holiday?

JMT:  You know, after 9/11, people started to reprioritize what they wanted to do and what was important.  I was into producing events; I produced another event around that time called 3 degrees.  The disposable income wasn’t the way it was before and it had an effect on promoters, events, and clubs.  They didn’t want to pour any money into taking risks anymore so it made the window to be able to succeed in the business, get noticed or have opportunities get smaller and smaller. They started hiring the same DJs over and over again from out of town. I decided to take the type of community and music and create my own niche. That’s the vision I had.  My sister always said I should do something in Mexico because that’s what she was doing as a student organizer.  It didn’t make sense to me until I started traveling around the world and meeting different artists. One of which was Frank Oral. I ran into him one day and he told me they would love my sound down in Playa Del Carmen.   That was 3 years before we started the event.  A few years later, I ran into a guy named Nicodemus at a music festival in North Carolina and told him what we were thinking about doing.   Nicodemus told me he would introduce me to the president of the clubbing district. I met all the right people my sister had the resources.  Ironically, that same company that took her on that tour in high school and hired her is the same company that handles our hotels and tours now.  That’s a 20-year relationship that has enabled us to offer 4, 5 and 6-star hotels since the beginning.

BW:  See that was a $300 investment and you didn’t even know it! [Laughter]

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JMT:  Yeah! Totally! [Laughter]

BW:  You focused on event production instead of music production initially.  Why is that?

JMT:  A couple of things. I really felt strongly about the art of DJing.  I always wanted to travel around the world and I wanted to be known as a DJ not necessarily just a producer.  I went out of my way not to work on music until about 2003.  Then I was buying so much music. I remember telling Eric we can totally make this or even better.  I’ll never forget what he said; he said: “Dude, this shit is surpassable”!  [LAUGHTER]    So I started making music. I had a mentor named RC and he was one of the original engineers with Ron Gresham and Steve Shapiro.  He told me to keep working on music but to continue to build my community. He asked me, do you see yourself as this superstar DJ or do you see yourself as the person who plans and produces everything? I remember telling him, I can’t imagine not producing things because I’ve always been that way.  He said if you build your community, everything else you want to do, you can do it. After a few years of producing Mi Casa holiday. He told me I  don’t have fans going to Mi Casa Holiday, I have devotees.  I didn’t understand that until he said, These are people who are devoted to your community.  Companies spend millions to get what you have. He said the road may be rougher because everything you are going to do is unconventional but you will naturally distinguish yourself from everyone out there.  He told me to stick with my own vision. He said when it hits…it’s gonna hit hard.

BW:  That’s awesome advice!

JMT:  I feel like we are at the very beginning of everything, even though it’s going on 10 years. I kept doing the music but I focused on the event brand and building the community. That’s the narrative of my life, building community. You know it’s either be a star or build a community; for me, it’s always been to build a community.

BW:   Why is that important to you?

JMT:   I’ve always felt like I can make it but what’s more gratifying for me is when I build something where multiple people can make it or take advantage of it. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. 

BW:  Who were some of your early house music influences?

JMT: I remember some of the first records I bought.   I bought Lil Louis, “Video Clash”, Frankie Knuckles “Whistle Song” and Kerri Chandler, “inspiration”.  But what really hit me was when my friend, Eric sat me down and had me listen to "Journey of the Lonely"  by Lil Louis.   We listened to the entire album and it told this entire story…it was ingenious. I was blown away. It gave me a detailed interpretation of how I view music and projects.

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BW:  How do you feel music is transformed in your hands as a DJ?

JMT:   It correlates to the passion you have for it.  For me, I learned that the way I treat the mixer is like an instrument. I played the trumpet from 5th to 12th grade.  When I’m playing music, it’s just like when I played the trumpet.  The way I take in or absorb the music is an intricate analyzation. When I’m hearing it, I don’t know what I’m listening for but it’s always something special about what I choose and it’s  not the same thing or the same amount.  It could be one little sound.  From that point, I’ve dissected the song and when I play it, I’m going to break it apart so that I understand the role of the part that touched me and deliver it to the crowd I'm playing for; everything else is supporting.  I’ve never been intimidated by how someone plays something or if they have the same record as me because they aren’t going to interpret it like I do.

BW:   I took a listen to your album and was completely caught off guard by my emotional reaction to it.  It had so many different sounds and emotions.  I thought it was eclectic, original and told such a relatable story.  What was your intention with Perspective?

JMT:  I knew I wanted to do an album but wasn’t sure when.  Once I connected to Russoul and he shared with me the direction he was going in,  I told him about this album.  Russoul and I started working together and during a session, I gave him two options, and he chose “Born to Do It.” Now, I originally wrote this song for Peven Everett but that didn’t work out, so then I tried to do it with Nathan Adams, but that didn’t work out either.  So Russoul did it and it worked beautifully.  “Born to Do it” was the first song we recorded for the album. Once we finished the song, we were super hyped and excited about how it came out.  After that, I remember Lil Louis booked me for a party and he asked me if I produced music.  I let him hear a few songs and he said this is really good music, however, you played some stuff tonight that was really hard.  You got to remember to make sure to give people the ability to hear that side of you as well.  That’s why the song “Lifeline” is so intense! Then we worked on the title song, “Perspective”,    I knew the album was going to be called Perspective. I had to ask myself, “What’s my perspective on life”?   Life can be intense, it can be tragic but here are all these opportunities and possibilities in between. You have to make sure you don’t drown in the negativity. 

So now I had the feeling of the album but I still needed to figure out what the story was. What was the story that would generate those feelings and emotions?  This album is 99% about telling the story. This story is about a young girl with this incredible musical ability who loses her entire family in this horrible tragedy.    Her friends convince her to perform years later and join the music business again and it goes from there.   I had to figure out, how does she feel? What is she going to go through?  That’s why the 2nd song was “Moments” because it’s about reflection.  How would you feel 5 years after this tragedy and performing at this incredible moment of success but your family isn’t there to share it with you?  What does it feel like going from that high to that low?  Every time I would talk about the different songs, the pieces of the story would come together. “Do It” was going to be the final song on the album but we ended up deciding not to do that.  That forced me to write a new song.  That’s where “Fearless” came from.  Russ and I wrote it together for the album.  So the opening song and closing song were the two songs written specifically for the album.  When I thought about the album, it wasn’t just about making an album to sell but more about telling this story.  After that, I had to figure out the order. So the best way I did that was to make a screenplay for it and that’s how I figured out the order of the album. 

BW:   It’s rare to get bodies of work in house music because you usually get just singles and tracks.  The album reminded me of my own life’s journey.  The highs and the lows and all the emotions in between; the anger, the frustration, the pain, the joy, sadness, the doubt, the hope and the fearlessness to rise above it all.   That’s why I connected to your album so much. 

JMT:   That’s so cool.  I’m an unconventional thinker, so the entire time the strategy was to provide the context before you hear the music.  A lot of times it’s about what’s hot or whether or not this song fits here or there. I thought to provide the context first then let people hear what it’s all about.   Everyone who worked on this with me put their blood, sweat, and tears into this project.  I may have gone about the distribution differently but the feedback I’ve received has been similar to yours. People who listen to it really connected with the story.  I put everything into it and I’m totally cool with the outcome. As long as I keep going, eventually someone is going to see what we are doing over here. 

Black Widow:  You wear many hats, DJ, Event Producer, Label owner, Music Producer.  How do you balance it all and what do you do just for fun and relaxation?

JMT:   My favorite thing to do in the world is DJ, but who I am in life is a producer, whether it’s music, events, etc.  Everything I do is a part of one vision so it’s not like I’m going left or right, I’m going the same direction. It’s more about timing.  Last year I put a lot of time into Mi Casa Holiday and I had a short window to finish the album. So instead of resting, I did my album. That kind of burned me out. I usually shut down after the Mi Casa finale for about a month to regroup recover and reset.  I love to binge Netflix movies and series because it helps me as a writer.  Sometimes it reaffirms how I think…everything starts with a story. Whether you build it into a song, movie or business…it’s always about a story.   Outside of that, I work out and that helps.  My wife also… I don’t know how she puts up with me because I have these crazy creative swings.  She keeps me laughing and grounded.  

BW:  That’s the Yin and Yang! It’s awesome to have a partner to bounce those ideas off of and to keep you grounded and be honest with you.

JMT: {Laughter} she’s the tester of all my ideas! We think completely different which is what I love.  When I’m writing music, the lyrics have to be strong otherwise my wife will let me know. She’s all about the lyrics first. I’m like a student with some of the awesome friends and musicians I work with.  They help me craft the writing into melodies and such. I’ve learned so much from them.  

BW:   What’s next for you? What’s in store for you in 2018?

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JMT:  2018 will be the Launchpad for the next 5-10 years of music, events, writing.  It’s  also the 10th anniversary of Mi Casa Holiday and we are planning that right now.  We have so many different countries we are scouting; Negril, Italy, Rio, San Paulo, Panama, Brazil.  I’m focused and excited about that. I’m also working on making sure the “Perspective” story gets in the hands with some Hollywood producers too.   I’m in talks about possibly turning the screenplay into a musical, TV series or a movie.  I also have Break Away remixes coming out in Dec/January and my song, “I Just Love You ft. Kaye Fox and Russoul was licensed for the movie, “Illicit” ft. David Ramsey and Vivica Fox. 

BW: Oh wow, you have your hands in so many different pots.

JMT: Yeah, when I wrote the screenplay, the point was to hand it off so it can keep going. So while I’m doing everything else, these other things are still developing.  

BW:   What does it mean to you to be a Chicago Artist and to represent Chicago around the world?

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JMT:   It’s where I’m from. I love my city.  I take pride in being from here.  Knowing that it’s the birthplace of house music.  I feel honored, blessed and privileged. It’s almost not fair because one thing Chicago DJs have in common is their passion. It’s unmatched here!   The tier of DJs here is so high, the passion for what we do shows no matter where we are.  

BW:  Thank you so much for speaking with me today! I look forward to hanging out with you for your birthday party!

JMT:  Oh cool!  I’m so happy you shared your thoughts on the album. It’s what Life is all about. It’s about going through the most traumatic stuff but you didn’t give up and you bounce back from things you thought you’d never bounce back from and the only way you do that is by becoming fearless.  It was my pleasure speaking with you! Thank you so much!

BW: It was my pleasure! 

Hope you enjoyed my interview with this amazing artist and musical creative!  Until next time, see ya on a dance floor!

Black Widow

Find Julius The Mad Thinker at the following:

Perspective Album

"Perspective"

The debut album from Julius the Mad Thinker features Pleasure Prince, Russoul, Kaye Fox, and Emmaculate and tells the story of musical prodigy violinist, Jasmine Pharrell Love, who loses her family in a tragic fire at the age of 14.  At the encouragement of her friends, she gives a heroic performance for the first time in 5 years.  Will one courageous performance be enough or will her best friends influence send her into the unforgiving music industry? Perspective is available on Traxsource, Band Camp, ITunes, Beatport and Tidal.  Click here to listen to this amazing album

 

 

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Black Widow

D.Sanders, a Chicago native, is a devoted mother, blogger and writer who is passionate about her family, friends, women's rights, living authentically and telling her story.   She is also a spoken word recording artist under the name, Black Widow. She has been writing and blogging for over 15 years providing commentary and expressing thought on life, love and relationships. Her artistry can be heard on two house music singles, “Rough”, and “Gruv Me” released by Grammy Nominated Producer and CEO of T’s Box Records & T’s Crates, Terry Hunter under the production of Mike Dunn and Dee Jay Alicia. . Both singles reached #1 on Traxsource’s Afrohouse and charted top ten overall as well reaching the top ten in their year of release.  She splits her time blogging about the Chicago Dance Music Scene on www.blkwidowmusic.com and on her book’s website, www.thesumofmanythings.com.  She is excited about her debut book, The Sum of Many Things, scheduled for release in June 2017.   She wears many hats but refuses to be placed in a box.  She believes that women are "The Sum of Many Things".  Embracing all of her roles as a woman, she firmly believes in breaking free of preconceived notions of womanhood.   She believes it is her mission to define her own life experience, femininity and sexuality and not have it defined by society.  She openly shares her story with hopes that women understand their worth, power and place in this world.