On one side you’ve got your Kanye-types, artists who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread, or Prince; on the other, there’s someone like Jeff Hazin – who wonders why anyone is even interested in his career, or wants to work with him. It’s refreshing, and funny.
“I still don’t even know if I have a skill,” quips the self-deprecating producer-songwriter, who’s recently watched two artists he’s developed land big record deals — alt-pop act Ren with Interscope/Geffen, and indie-pop singer Anna Sofia with Republic. “I’m, like, why are these people coming to me?”
Another, the intriguing genre-merger j. ember has been called “one to watch,” and urban artist Yoko Gold was selected to play the VIP reception prior to Barack Obama’s January appearance at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“The biggest thing is that I just do it. I have a need to be creative. That’s a part of who I am and what continues to push me forward,” explains Hazin, 28, who co-writes with all the artists he produces. “I think a lot of artists have that same feeling, because there’s nothing logical about being in the arts, and finding a stable career in the arts. That’s not what you’re after at first.”
Born and raised in Toronto, Hazin is the only musician in his family. He picked up the guitar at age 11, and “it was game over,” he says. A year or two later, he put bands together with his friends and started writing music he, of course, calls “terrible.”
Did he sing? “I tried, but no. People wouldn’t listen,” he deadpans. “I sing to myself, like in the shower and to the artists I work with, but you’re not going to really hear me on a lead vocal anytime soon.”
Hazin basically fell into producing and songwriting after getting simple recording software, Cakewalk Home Studio, and experimenting, and working away on GarageBand on one of the computers at his high school (“instead of doing real work”). He then learned how to use Ableton Live.
“I always stress, to every artist I work with, to be yourself”
“I started as an artist doing my own produced music, very weird conceptual-based experimental electronic music,” he says. “It was under my last name. Don’t go looking for it though ‘cause it’s not very good.”
A voracious learner, he explains, “I’m very obsessive in arts, in general. I love poetry, and art, and museums, and sculptures, and movies, and music, just the whole culture. So those projects, I was taking spoken poetry and chopping it up, and doing weird stuff. It was fun.”
At Ryerson University, he enrolled in the Radio and Television Arts (RTA) program. “I wanted to be surrounded by the academic environment,” says Hazin, “but I learned halfway through university that a lot of that is outside of school, so I just started doing a lot of learning on my own.”
The first artist he worked with was in 2014, a schoolmate, Maccie, creating music in an alt-pop vein. “From there, my community started to grow more and more, and I started to work a whole bunch of different artists — I still do work with them.”
If he has an approach as a producer or co-writer, it’s this: “I always stress, to every artist I work with, to be yourself.
“There might be some other producers and writers that are always looking for something, and they might not be looking at the artist in front of them,” says Hazin. “But to me, the best stuff comes from being honest and truthful to who the person and that character is. I think when you tell that to an artist, it gives them the confidence that they’re enough.”
With Ren and Anna Sofia, Hazin co-wrote with them, but their respective sounds were arrived at after years of trying things out “until it feels right,” he says. “Sometimes it takes a journey until the artists find where they’re most comfortable being, and I’ve been a part of their journey. Where it goes from here, who knows?”
As for his personal career goals, unsurprisingly, he wants to continuing learning, and would like to continue working with rock bands, pop acts, indie-folk, or hip-hop production styles.
“I definitely think my strong suit is that I’ve recorded and produced live bands like After Funk,” says Hazin, “that’s more in a traditional, old-school sense of producing – where we’re writing and arranging songs, and then producing the sounds, as opposed to more of a beat-maker or modern-day producer approach. That’s something years ago that I wanted, to have both, of because a lot of the producers that I look up to – like Pharrell, Rick Rubin, and Frank Dukes – have best of both worlds.”