Magic made out of friendship and Fermented Spirits - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Music is one of the most universal things in the world. It unites people similarly to food, except music feeds the soul. Music can build friendships — it built some of my closest friendships –and it also built Haj of Dumbhi and Michele QJ’s friendship into the one that gave us a beautiful and soulful new project, Uncle Miles.

With features from longtime collaborators Side Effect, Ethel Cee, and Margel Overton, they brought an amazing new project to the table, and they sat down with me to talk about it and how they made it happen.

Josh Leidy: Can you give us a little background on yourselves?

Haj of Dumhi: I started producing music about twenty years ago. It was really just a hobby, then that grew into a passion. In that twenty years, though, I’ve had a hand in steering about twenty-five projects. Most of the projects were sample based, this new project veers away from that.

Michele QJ: I’ve been doing music for about the same amount of time, around twenty years. I had a band called Peoples Mural, we opened for Kindred and Raheem DeVaughn. I’ve been in a few different bands; my latest is called Adornment, we were doing a lot of stuff before the pandemic but haven’t done much since.

JL: How did you guys build this friendship?

HD: We’ve been working on stuff as Fermented Spirits since about ‘03, and that was still really early in music-making for me. We worked on a few things but it wasn’t until the pandemic that we really focused on a project which was the Like Minds album. We released that in 2020 during the pandemic. Then about a year ago, I started taking playing the guitar way more seriously, and I hit Mike up and was like “I have some ideas,” hahaha.

MQJ: Haj forgot to mention we did a Fermented Spirits project in 2008, 2009 — so it was nice to reconnect during the pandemic and start working on Like Minds. Really helped to have an outlet creatively during that time. One of the really cool things I think comes out of these musical relationships is the connections you make. On the last project, Like Minds, we had a feature from an emcee from a band I was in years and years ago, and then my new band Adornment does the remix, and that kind of feels full circle.

HD: One thing I think is important to note is even when we weren’t working on music, there was always that personal connection. We remained strong throughout.

Fermented Spirits | photo by Melissa Simpson

JL: You guys have been making music on and off together for almost twenty years, how do you guys feel age and time have grown your music? 

MQJ: I think age and time give you perspective. It’s definitely allowed me to learn to let things go and put more music out. There was a point I didn’t think me and Haj would work on music again because the first project we did took years, because I was taking so long working on the lead single. Fast forward to this new project, Uncle Miles, and he sent me a beat and I had a completed song back in an hour. Age allows you to let things be what they are.

HD: I definitely think with time to touch on what Mike said about relationships, time really can affect that. When I started making music, I didn’t really know many people who did. Ten years later, most of the people I dealt with were all involved in music. It really becomes the community you grow with. I also think with time you get better, but I’ve always kind of felt that way even in the beginning; I felt like three songs from now, I’m gonna be better, and ten songs from then I’ll be even better. My biggest change is my sense of urgency, where Mike has learned more freedom, I’ve learned to be just a little more patient, hahaha. Everything doesn’t need to be out as soon as possible.

JL: You mentioned the new album, Uncle Miles: how did you start working on it? 

HD: Like I said earlier, I started messing with the guitar a little more seriously, and I hit Mike up about some ideas. We started getting together in January once a week to work on music. They started a jam session we’d record. I’d start playing some chords and Mike would hum a melody or even start singing some lyrics, and when we hit on something, it was like mark that down. Once we had three or four songs, I was like I think this is an EP.

MQJ: I think a lot of stuff fell in place with this project. I mentioned the song I sent back in an hour, I normally write to the beat, but with that one, I had a melody and lyrics already I just needed a beat, and when Haj sent the beat, it was perfect. So as soon as I got home, I hopped on the mic and sent it back. That’s always a good feeling.

HD: When things fall into place when you’re doing stuff like this, it’s normally the best thing you create. This whole project felt like that a lot, and that feeling is a drug you have to chase it.

JL: Haj, you’ve primarily been a sample-based producer in the past, but this project isn’t sample-heavy at all correct? 

HD: There are some drums and sound effects that are samples, but no loops or anything. Nothing on the project started from a sample. It all started with guitar chords and Mike humming or singing. We didn’t go into a studio and play each song with a band, so there was arrangement like a more sample-based song, but not in the sense that we looped up music.

MQJL For example, the intro is a sample of me singing and Haj chopped it up and played with it, but it all came from me and him and those sessions.

Fermented Spirits | photo by Melissa Simpson

JL: You guys obviously enjoy working together, what is your favorite part of the collaborative process?

MQJ: For me, it’s the surprise factor. You don’t know what goodies someone else is gonna bring to the table and when you get it you have a newfound excitement. Also, Haj particularly shows real excitement and energy when he likes something, and his drive really helps me with working on projects for sure. My confidence and drive can go up and down and he really helps be the balancing force.

HD: Mike is one of my favorite people to collab with, our energies work. He’s more mellow I can be a bull in a China shop. We won’t always agree, obviously, but even on our first project, his encouragement gave me confidence. Like he said, I can be his balance. He’s really mine in a lot of ways. And that’s cool and exciting when you’re working on something. When you’re working on music or anything creative, most of the time it’s not two plus two equals four right? It’s really more subjective, so you want a partner that’s going to encourage you to explore creatively because when they do disagree you know they are doing it for the best reasons.

MQJ: On that, the first single “Slide” we were talking earlier, that I returned in an hour. Haj’s excitement for it made me go back in and do more adding more harmonies and some lyrics. When I sent it back Haj thought it was dope but worked better as the original way and so many people have told me that hook is so catchy it’s stuck in my head and we wouldn’t have had that if we went with the second version. So again it’s about trusting we both want the best for the project.

JL: Where can folks keep up with you and the music you’re working on? is always a good place any time I’m dropping stuff it will be up there. Dumhi on Facebook and @alwaysdumhi on Instagram and Twitter. Also Dumhi on Bandcamp, that’s where Uncle Miles and all my projects are.

MQJ: You can keep up with me on Twitter @micheleqj.

Slide - Fermented Spirits and Margel Overton
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