JONAH on pursuing DJ as a full-time career, spending time in Vegas during the pandemic, and more.
Aditya – Hey Jonah! Glad to have you for the interview. How’s 2021 been for you so far?
JONAH – Hey! Thanks for having me! I feel like over the last 5 years, each year has been better than the one before; and 2021 is no exception. It’s been a great year – full of exciting new ventures. 2021 will forever be known as the year I decided to go all-in on my music project – both as a producer & as a DJ.
Aditya – Firstly, you’re a law school student. When & how did you decide to drop out and pursue a full-time career as a DJ?
JONAH – In 2017 I was in my final semester of law school in Malta. At the time, I knew I no longer wanted to become a lawyer and that I wanted to pursue some sort of career that would allow me to travel the world and be creative. My friend Joey Ingram invited me to go to Vegas for the summer, for the World Series of Poker…”it will be a lot of fun, you’ll meet some amazing people; who knows what opportunities will come out of it.”
When I told him I couldn’t make it because of my law school final exams, he said “No problem! There’s always next year.” After that, all I could think about was “what if there wasn’t going to be a next year?”
I spent a month or so thinking about it, and eventually decided that I needed to take the leap and bet on myself. I figured law school wasn’t going anywhere; but this opportunity might. That was the most pivotal moment of my life, and looking back on it, the best decision I’ve ever made.
Oh, and I never ended up graduating.
Aditya – We know that you’re raised in a musical family, which is the first instrument you’ve picked and when?
JONAH – My mom is a piano teacher, so I started playing the piano when I was 2 years old. My dad and my grandpa also played a lot of instruments, so everyone pushed me to dive deeper into the music world at a young age. Growing up, I was convinced I needed to start a band, so I played a bunch of instruments – piano, drums, guitar, flute, trumpet, harmonica, and the violin. I tried them all.
Aditya – You were stuck in Las Vegas amid the global pandemic, how did you spend your time there?
JONAH – 2020 was a crazy year. I was living in Vienna at the time, and I randomly ended up getting stuck in Vegas when all the flights back to Europe got cancelled, and borders were closed. I spent the first week thinking the world was going to end…then I decided to make the most of my time. Since dropping out of law school, I went full steam ahead, jumping from one opportunity to the next, never taking a break. I always wondered what it would be like if I took 3 months off, but I never did – FOMO I guess. 2020 gave me the perfect excuse to take a break.
We were in a very strict lockdown for the first 4 months of the pandemic. I figured I would use this time to learn a bunch of new things; so I took tennis lessons every week, and spent a lot of time diving deep into the world of startups, crypto, and NFTs.
The one thing that was missing was entertainment, which is strange, being in Vegas with no entertainment! So I bought this small DJ Controller, taught myself how to DJ, and started throwing these weekend “parties” in our kitchen. At first it was just me and my 3 friends, but it was still a lot of fun at the time.
Aditya – You’ve been a photographer & videographer too. I’d like to know more about that.
JONAH – When I dropped out of law school and went to Vegas for the summer, I didn’t really have a plan, but I was extremely driven and motivated to not go back to law school. I spent my time in Vegas meeting as many people as I could, getting exposure to as many industries as possible.
I would always have my camera with me; shooting photos & videos. It was a lot of fun and everyone seemed to like it when I sent them content from the event we were at; or trips that we took together.
My friends Richard Blankenship, David Lee, Jeff Liboon, and Saba Golshan were running an esports production company – Estars Studios – producing esports events around the world. I eventually joined the team as a producer, creating content for ESPN, CBS Sports, and Twitch. I spent a year traveling around Europe producing short feature films about esports pros from different games.
While I was in Vegas I got to meet a lot of people in the music industry, mostly DJs. I ended up becoming friends with Justin Mylo & Martin Garrix and eventually got to travel to a lot of their shows in Europe as a photographer & videographer. I later did a 4 month Asia tour with R3hab.
Aditya – Ookay had invited you to perform alongside him at New York’s iconic nightclub Marquee. How do you feel about that?
JONAH – I became friends with Abe (Ookay) during the pandemic. He had just moved to Vegas and we got connected through mutual friends. He would come over and we’d end up DJing together for hours and hours at a time. He’s insanely talented and I learned a lot just by watching him do his thing.
In August of 2021 he asked me if I wanted to perform at his show at Marquee New York. I’ve done a lot of partying in the last 5 years, and Marquee NY is up there as one of my favorite clubs in the US…so I was ecstatic. Up until the point I hadn’t actually played in a nightclub…at least not a nightclub as iconic as Marquee.
A lot of my friends ended up flying out to the show and we turned it into one big party. I played for an hour before Abe, and then we ended the night with an Ookay & JONAH b2b set. It was such a fun night with a lot of great people. I’m still super grateful for the opportunity and I always tell Abe that his belief in me to perform instilled a great amount of confidence that’s allowing me to do what I’m doing now!
I have to also give a massive shout out to Michael St Pierre & Jonathan Schwartz from TAO Group for giving me the opportunity to play at one of my favorite venues!
Aditya – You’ve recently released your debut track ‘I Found Love’, could you share the creative process of the track?
JONAH – When the DJing expanded beyond our apartment here in Vegas, the first thing I started thinking about was producing my own tracks. I had given producing a shot when I was younger, but never released any music…so it was more about getting myself in the zone again and proving to myself that I could do this.
When my friend Daniel North played me the vocals I immediately connected with the lyrics because I felt that my love for music got us through the worst moments of the pandemic. I’m here today because of music. Most of the people in my life I met through music.
I’m generally a very positive person, but I think we all went through some difficult times over the last few years. Being able to put my headphones on & perform in front of my friends, allowed all of us to forget about the negative things in our lives and enjoy the moment.
The actual creation of the track spanned over a few months. I knew that whatever we produced would be the first ever song release under the JONAH brand. So it was a lot of back and forth on the genre, the energy of the song, and the statement that I wanted to make. At the same time, I tried really hard to not overthink it. It’s so easy to get stuck in a creative loop of wanting something to be “perfect” – whatever that means!
We ended up going for more of an electro house, club-banger, vibe. During my sets I always try to keep the energy very high, just because that’s what I usually enjoy when I’m partying, so I wanted this track to reflect that. In everything I do, I always try to collaborate with my talented friends, so I want to give a shout out to my friends Daniel North & Stryv for their help in the studio with this track!
Aditya – I’d like to know more about your investments in startups, NFTs, & crypto.
JONAH – When I’m not working on music, you’ll find me working closely with my best friend and roommate, Richard Blankenship. Our friend group is very entrepreneurial so we’re constantly exposed to amazing founders who are in the early stages of building their startup. We take calls with founders everyday, and whenever we find ones that fit our portfolio, we always try to find ways to help out; mostly with fundraising, business development, partnerships, and marketing.
Some of the companies I’m most excited about in our portfolio are Toto Foods (a healthy & delicious cookie dough); The Plug (a plant-based recovery drink); and Vitaclean (a filtered & aromatherapy showerhead).
The Crypto & NFT space has been very fascinating & exciting to follow, especially in 2021. There are a lot of smart people that are building really cool projects in this space, so we’re starting to add some of these companies to our portfolio!
Aditya – Could we have a sneak peak on the NFT project you’re working on?
JONAH – I always tell people that I do my best work at the spa, and I’m not kidding. I take a lot of meetings at the spa. I find that it’s a great time to relax, but also focus. This NFT project I’m working on is a result of a recent spa session with my friend Nicholas Parasram. It’s still very early so I can’t really share a lot of specific details about it.
For better or worse, there’s a lot of hype in this industry, and everyone’s excited to work on projects in this space right now, including all of my closest friends. We want to build something that all our friends can work on together, yet contribute to the growth and success of the music project.
The overall idea behind this is to provide in-real-life, fun, live-music utility to the NFT side of it, and make my music project more dynamic. I know that’s not much to go off, but that’s all I have…for now!
Aditya – Lastly, what do you look forward to in 2022?
JONAH – When I started DJing in 2020, I didn’t expect things to go as well as they did. To be honest, I didn’t even plan on “becoming a DJ” – it was just a really fun thing to do. When all the amazing opportunities presented themselves, I decided to seize the moment and go for it. In 2021 a lot of these opportunities popped up, and they’ve opened some amazing doors for me.
So in 2022 my goal is to take this to the next level.
I’m going to be kicking things off with some exciting events. On NYE I’m performing at ZOUK Nightclub in Las Vegas, with one of my really good friends – Zedd! Then on New Year’s Day, we’re flying to LA for a show at Exchange, again, with Zedd.
Anton (Zedd) has been an amazing friend over the years, and has been extremely supportive of my music project. It’s been fun seeing our friendship grow over the last 6 months as I dived deeper into music…sending tracks to each other, DJing after parties together, and just overall FULL SENDING it. And now to be doing it at two iconic venues in the US, is super exciting. Very grateful for the opportunity!
So overall, I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of the work I put in behind the scenes come to life next year. I want to continue playing shows (hopefully around the world). The last two years taught me a lot about myself. I feel very happy with where I am in my life, and I just want to keep building on that!