This Friday, The Bike Shop will host the Maximum Bounce Tour featuring Mr. Jennings, Beat Kitty, and a selection of big grooving bass tracks! Mr. Jennings, also known as Conway Jennings, is a Richmond native and the founder of Party Liberation Foundation in RVA. If you’ve attended First Fridays or the Carnival of 5 Fires at Gallery5, you may have seen their performances at various events, stages, and festivals up and down the East Coast. Although currently residing in Portland, Oregon, Conway continues to produce music under the moniker Mr. Jennings and is a prominent artist at many West Coast events and large bass music festivals. In an interview with John Reinhold, Conway discusses everything from music to noodles.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Jennings
The Maximum Bounce Tour has you I imagine pretty tired from traveling, so what’s been happening and where are you?
Last weekend, Beat Kitty and I had a busy schedule with three shows. We flew into Raleigh and performed at The Fruit in Durham with Down Deep Productions. It was super fun. After that, we drove to New River Gorge in West Virginia to perform at The Art Party, which is like a flow arts and painting retreat. It was an interesting mix of things because Thursday night in Durham was a raging dance party where I got to see a lot of old friends that I haven’t seen in years. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, it was more about flow and art. We still played hype music, but the vibe was more about chilling and painting.
Then you’re off to Wilmington.
Then Wilmington, North Carolina! That was like a seven hour drive. Yeah, but that was nice. That was Liquid Culture and I hadn’t seen that crew in years. I played there in 2018 for one of their Grizz After Parties and played with their trombone player live.
What are your thoughts on touring and doing multiple gigs in a short amount of time, versus just doing one-off gigs?
Personally, I enjoy both, but there’s something special about going on tour and being able to really concentrate on those shows, especially if you have enough time to prepare. It frees you up to finish more music and make each show as tight and unique as possible. I’ve actually got six new unreleased tunes that I’ve been playing on this tour, which has been pretty awesome.
Looks like you’ll be here in RVA this Friday at The Bike Shop for a stop on the Maximum Bounce tour. It’s great to have you back in town, almost like the prodigal son returning home. <laughs>
Definitely! I’m super stoked about that one. It’s going to be a blast, almost like a family reunion of sorts. With PLF, I of course, have a lot of connections here in Richmond, and it’s evolved so much over the years. I haven’t been to a PLF party in a while, so it’ll be great to be back. After 2018, I started to gradually step back and focus on my music, and then COVID hit – and everything felt like a time warp. I haven’t performed since Decemberween 2019 and into 2020.
We have been working on it all this week. We have lights and sound coming in. There’s fire, of course, with vendors, decorations, videos and all that. Should make a very special night.
I was digging the videos I was seeing from the other events with the mapping and big archway with big booth setup.
That’ll all be there. I imagine coming back to RVA and being a part of the Party Liberation Foundation again for a night will brings some emotions with it.
Yeah, it does. I had spent some time finalizing things before relocating to Portland in February 2020. But just as I was about to leave, COVID happened, and it was pretty strange timing. I was so caught up in trying to get away that it wasn’t until almost two years later that I started to really take notice of what I had left behind and lost. I went through a significant change in my personal life and moved over 3000 miles away. However, it’s been great to come back and feel like Portland is now home, while still enjoying being in Richmond.
I mean you still have so many connections through your friends and family. Like you said its like a reunion show. But Portland is home now, so on that subject what are the similarities of Portland and Richmond and what are the differences?
I feel like there used to be a stronger connection between Portland and Richmond like 10 to 15 years ago. Maybe I’m wrong, but I remember some of the people who started Lamplighter moved out to Portland and wanted to bring a Portland-style coffee shop to Richmond. There were cross-pollination things like that. Nowadays, things seem a bit different. I think when people think of the West Coast, they usually think of LA and San Francisco, but Portland and Oregon have their own unique vibe. It’s a bit less glitzy than those other cities, more like Richmond in that way.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Jennings
Much closer to nature to a certain extent too.
Absolutely, Portland and Richmond both have their unique ways of incorporating nature. In Richmond, it’s right in the middle of the city with the riverfront being a major part of it, which is incredible. It’s rare to see such a connection to nature in the heart of a city. However, in Portland, it’s different. We don’t have that kind of nature right in the middle of downtown, but we are surrounded by big nature. You can see four different snow-capped mountains from downtown, including Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams, and they’re all massive. As a result, there are some really good skiing and snowboarding opportunities. I can drive 30 miles from my apartment (which isn’t downtown but more or less in the middle of the city) and be at a 250-foot waterfall with a beautiful hike. So yeah, both cities have amazing access to nature.
Ok putting you on the spot. Which one has the better food? …. hmmm… <waits patiently>
Ahhh… well Portland. (laughs) Although I will say so far, I think Richmond has better brunch. Ooh… I’m sure some will wanna fight me over that. I do think Richmond has better brunch for sure.
We are both foodies to some extent so gotta mention this. What do you look for on tour stops for food? What’s a must… though I know the answer…
A lot of it’s just about like trying to get vegetables and healthy stuff. Yeah. Like if I eat fast food the whole time, my body, just like after a couple days, my body just like, what are you doing….?
<laughs> I mean, I was hoping there’d be a future Mr. Jenning’s book, you know, when you’re tellings us all the hot noodle spots across America or something.
Shit. Oh yeah, definitely. Asian and East Asian cuisine is what I crave the most. I am a big fan of Chinese food, especially Sichuan style. Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian foods are also on my list. It’s always a fun challenge to seek out these foods when traveling, and I have been surprised by some unexpected finds. For example, when I played in Wichita, Kansas, we stumbled upon an amazing ramen place with Miyazaki murals on the walls. The food was fantastic, and I was pleasantly surprised to find such a great Chinese spot in Kansas.
Photo courtesy of Beat Kitty
In Kansas, you are slurping noodles all over man! You mentioned Beat Kitty earlier, who is also joining you on The Maximum Bounce tour. The song Maximum Bounce was a jumping point for your collaborations and gigs, and of course, you have a history of playing together. How did the idea for the east coast tour come about?
We started talking in like November or maybe October a friend of ours was asking about maybe trying to book our homie Lexi for a show in Baltimore. And I thought we might have a little more draw if we added like one more headliner, like just me headlining like would have a decent draw, but I feel like adding someone else would, would add a little more to the overall lineup.
And, and she was like, “oh, what about Beat Kitty?” Great Idea! So let me see if she’s free. And I asked her and she said well my whole March is wide open. Ok then what if we tried a little East Coast Tour. So you know it all came together that way, and also gets us over to see a lot of people and crews we had been wanting to work with.
So obviously when you moved out to Portland, you concentrated on production you’ve been making your own music that’s obviously grown and got its own following and all those things. So I guess the initial question is how long have you been doing that? And what is your general, general process these days of making a tune?
I started dabbling in production like literally when I was like 13. Yeah my grandmother was like an amazing piano player. She could hear any song and just play it. She had that rare genius ability of being able to just like, know the notes and just play it, which is really wild. I saw her doing that and I was like, I wanna do that. And so I started taking piano lessons.
My grandmother gave me a mini keyboard that had different sounds for Chritmass. So it had drums and like drum samples and keyboard sounds and stuff. So I sort of stumbled over learning how to play by using like program drums on it and like add some stuff and like do layers basically and starting production. So I started playing with that for like 13. The first song I released as Mr. Jennings was in 2011 – dubstep remix of the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
When SoundCloud started pulling people’s stuff for copyrights, I got scared and I pulled a lot of my old bootleg remixes. Yeah. That one had more plays than almost anything I’ve done. I think it had like a hundred thousand plays. Yeah. So <laugh> cause back then, like a song would get put on a blog. Yes. And people actually read blogs. So I would get on one blog and it would get like tens of thousands of plays. I’m like, now you have to push so much harder to get that level of play.
So when you make a song now, what do you start with? Do you start with snares, like all day. <laughs>
Yes, obsessively EQing my snare for days now <laugh>
I mean, that’s kind of a thing right?
It’s a thing. I don’t fully get that cuz I feel like, I don’t think it’s that hard to get snares to sound good, but I don’t know (laughs).
But I definitely obsess over things. My stuff is very rhythm motivated for me. So often I start with the drums and the baseline but sometimes I will hear a riff in my head. Like a lot of times I hear music beats and weird sounds going through my head like all the time. And so it’s like this attempt to take that and harness it and put it into a song. It never sounds like what the final product is though.
Yeah. That’s always the hard thing, isn’t it? You hear it and you want to get it outta your head, and its not quite that, but sometimes you find something better. So that’s what’s nice about it.
Totally! Like my best songs, I feel like, and I know like a lot of people say this, but my best songs, it’s like, it almost feels like it just happened. Like it wasn’t me doing the thing. It was like suddenly one five hour session. I’m like, damn, this is a banger <laugh>. Like how did that just happen?
What producers do you think are your biggest influences from a production standpoint? I mean, there’s one that pops in my head immediately and that’s EDIT.
I mean EDIT literally, as far as the original influences, EDIT Certified Air Raid Material 2007 album was sort of back when people still called it Glitch Hop. It was sort of like bam, this is Glitch Hop, this is West Coast Base. Yeah! Like we’re on the map now. That album still sounds like there’s nothing else. It sounds quite like it still, it’s kind of impressive that it was that timeless. I heard that album and I was like, whoa, wait, you can do the electronic sounds with hip hop beats?? And bass! Whaaaa?? Like that’s possible?! That seems obvious when you say it now.
We all kind of took it, some of us quicker than others. I think eventually we’re all like left turn base.
Yeah. Totally. And you know, I like a wide variety of music, but I like that kind of rhythm structure more. I mean as far as people now that I really like? I mean it’s funny, some of the stuff I listen to, like electronic music wise it’s more just like chilling listening in headphones, music like Ivy Lab although their dance floor stuff is really dope too.
Oh, you know, someone who is more on the dance force I love is Copycatt, you know him. I think he’s Australian now. I feel like he and I as far as when I do halftime have a similar vibe, kind of like a lurky bouncy offbeat vibe. I also still to this day do miss the classic TropKillers <laugh>.
Oh oh… hahah There was a time, always looking for that sound…
…. 100 BPM twerky stuff. You know, I have been thinking a lot about songwriting and structure and I feel like it’s easy for me, and I think this is a common thing for producers in general, but it’s easy for me to think that I need to add more things. Then really you actually just want to like have one or two iconic riffs basically. But maybe there’s only one thing that you latch on at a time and you sort of call in response back and forth from that kind of thing.
So what are you working on for production then?
Music? I think I’ve sent you one or two of ’em, but I got about six unreleased songs for this tour.
You finally did a DUNE one! <laughs>
Yes. <laugh>. Yes. The Sardaukar track! Finally I sampled that chant. Yeah. Put that out a couple months ago. And that song’s actually been doing really well. It’s just cool to see. I’ve been trying to hone in and focus on like one iconic element at a time.
Right. Like a hook that people can remember. Love that one with the Edit kinda vibes and synth stabs.
I’ve made a couple songs where I’m trying to do like dirty bass and good sound design, but also still have it balanced and groove. I feel like there’s a couple tracks that I’ve either just finished or I’m putting the finishing touches on that I’ve been playing on this tour. I’m finally getting that groove I’m looking to create.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Jennings
Can’t wait to hear them live on the big sound system Friday. So what’s after this Friday gig here in old Richmond?
We’re doing Oakland and Seattle in April and there’s a couple other ones in the works that haven’t quite been announced yet. But that Oakland party, They’ve been throwing parties in the Bay Area for like 15 years or something. They’re awesome and have a great vibe, love that area. A few more big ones are coming up, but can’t quite announce that yet.
Well, if people wanted information about future stuff, where would they look?
I mean my Instagram or my Facebook is probably the most updated, my website is just https://www.mr-jennings.com/ and that’s got link’s all my music, it’s got my tour dates, and all that for you.
Sweet. See ya Friday, can’t wait!