It’s 11 PM on a Friday night, and DC Metropolitan area native Tay James is on a tour bus headed from Louisville, Kentucky to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Man, can somebody call the cops or something! What are fans doing on the tour bus right now?” These aren’t just typical fans, and Tay James isn’t a typical human being. “When I graduated from college, I knew someone who knew that Scooter Braun was looking for a tour DJ for Justin [Bieber]. I did his first few shows, and I’ve been on the team ever since.” Yes, Tay James, a humble graduate of Hampton University, and as well a mix show DJ for local FM powerhouse WPGC 95.5 FM is the tour DJ for arguably the biggest pop star of the last 20 years. At the start of our interview? He was dealing with fans struck by the most virulent strain of disease in American pop at the moment, Biebermania.
“The tour’s been great so far,” he responds to my question about Bieber‘s latest tour, which hits Washington, DC’s Verizon Center on tonight and next Friday at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center with fellow Scooter Braun-managed pop sensation of “Call Me Maybe” ubiquity, Carly Rae Jepsen. “The music has matured, and so has Justin, and the fans have really responded well to everything.” It can be argued that teen pop fans tend to well, respond positively to anything, and when the pop star is a multi-platinum film, television and music idol like the Bieber – even in the face of more mature fare like latest album Believe‘s lead single “Boyfriend” – the response is a foregone conclusion. According to James, though, there’s still work to be done to ensure that this is the case.
“I’ve seen Justin go from not even being able to really dance at all to getting to the point where he’s rehearsing eight hours a day, working on and now hitting all of the steps. His work ethic is amazing, and I think the fans realize that.” Insofar as the now 18-year old superstar’s evolved content aging with his fan base, his DJ is candid as well about the importance of his manager, top pop auteur of the moment, Scooter Braun. [Scooter Braun’s] the mastermind. He put all of this together, and with every song, every move, from “Never Say Never,” to “Baby,” to “Boyfriend,” everything, he’s been there guiding the process. He’s the guy who tries to ensure that Team Bieber can be as successful as humanly possible.”
James’ work as a DJ would appear simple. He’s dropping the tracks before Bieber’s wild live show, and also responsible for the tracks during his set. Given what should be a slam dunk of an assignment, he still takes his work very seriously. “I mean, it’s not like I can play anything, but I do try to play across a number of genres, to keep the energy high. I might play some Salt-N-Pepa, I might play some country, some oldies, pop, whatever. As the DJ, it’s my job to know what’s hot and what’s going to get the crowd moving. Playing for Justin’s cool, though, because I can play a number of different genres and have them work.”
While the past three years have proven successful in the booth with Bieber, Tay James, with the creation of his We Know the Music Foundation, now plans to extend his considerable influence into the world-at-large. With a mission that includes being “a supportive faculty to suffering or non-existent music programs around the country through creative modules of financial, tutorial and inspirational contributions,” James has set an ambitious goal for himself. “There was nothing more heartbreaking than to recently hear about the continued budget cutbacks for music education in schools.” His thoughts loaded with good intentions continued, “I had my father working with me making mixtapes when I was very young, and I don’t see – either at home or in schools – the same ability for kids in this generation. I started this foundation to give children in schools the same opportunities I had.” While currently busy on the road with Bieber, his plans include touring schools selected to receive benefits from the foundation when finished with the current tour.
When asked to offer advice for aspiring pros who would ideally want his ideal position, he offered a sobering opinion. “I’m going to keep it 100 with you,” James said. “I wasn’t technically the best DJ, but I put in the work, kept improving, and ended up here.” Such frank honesty is rare, but appreciated. “Team Bieber is all about believing. That’s the best thing about this album and this tour, is that we get to let the whole world see, as always, what we’re all about.”
For more information about Tay James, as well as his We Know the Music Foundation, visit weknowthedj.com for videos, mixes and latest news.