LA Riots Out, Hot Mouth In: The Evolution Of Jon Pegnato

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Photos by George LaMontague

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with my good friend Jon Pegnato (aka Hot Mouth) for my first stab at conducting an interview on behalf of Magnetic. Jon started Hot Mouth in 2008 prior to joining LA Riots and has now returned to Hot Mouth and is blazing full-steam ahead since his departure from LA Riots last fall. Jon recently released his "Habits" EP  ("Good Habits,""Bad Habits") on Chris Lake’s Rising Music and he has a full pipeline of new tracks and remixes slotted for release throughout the remainder of 2012 including a collaborative track with Chris Lake and Nom De Strip that features Benji Madden (Good Charlotte) on vocals which will be released on Ultra Records. Now without further adieu…

Sebastien Drums feat. Niles Mason "French Rules" (Hot Mouth Remix)

Basically it was just being a raver and being a stupid retarded kid looking for a good time.

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So Jon, how hot exactly is your mouth?

At the moment it’s actually pretty cold because I’m drinking this cold water.

Your bio claims "Hot Mouth" means nothing, that it's just a name you picked because deadmau5 and Skrillex were taken. I challenge you to come up with a meaning, right here, right now...Go.

Um…well you know it always gets the sexual connotation but…I guess sometimes I don’t know when to shut my mouth and I’m not very hot…Does that work? No that doesn’t work…actually when I was thinking about names years ago my friend wanted me to be Loud Mouth just because a lot of times when I’m drunk I just don’t shut up and he would always tell me to cool down, so that’s kind of like how I thought of Hot Mouth. So it was kind of because I run my mouth and I need to cool down because it’s hot…that’s meaning right there, there you go! I did it!

Now I know Hot Mouth has been picking up a lot of steam lately and rightfully so, but before diving into that I want our readers to learn a bit about the EDM super hero that is Hot Mouth… your secret identity and origin story, etc., you have had several different aliases over the years…what exactly is/are Hot Mouth’s super power(s)?

My super powers? Um…well I used to have a lot more super powers because I did drugs, but I don’t do drugs anymore, so I lost all of those abilities to fly and to go into outer space. So now my super power is being a workaholic; all I do is eat, breathe and work on music, that’s pretty much my life. My super power is just being able to do that constantly while absolutely loving it.

Hot Mouth Mix February 2012

I love listening to them and understanding why they’re the best, pulling pieces from everybody and taking that to inspire me to do what I do.

How old were you when you got into the EDM scene and how did you get into it?

I was in high school and I was a raver and I used to drop pills and chew my face off and stand next to the DJ hoping that he would acknowledge me. And then as soon as he did I realized what a tool he was, but then I realized that I wanted to be a DJ. Basically it was just being a raver and being a stupid retarded kid looking for a good time.

What came first, Jon Pegnato the DJ or Jon Pegnato the producer?

It kind of all started at the same time, because as I started Djing I had trouble finding music that really got into my head, so that definitely inspired me, I wanted to make the music myself. So literally within a year of me DJing, which was probably 2000, I had already gotten my first computer and bought Reason, which was the first program I started using. And then obviously it took me 12 years to get to where I’m at now; I definitely was not a natural you know?

Do you have major musical influences as a producer?

I literally listen to so many different types of music, from classical to electronic to funk, rock, acoustic, all types of different things, so I pull different elements from different artists. One of my favorite artists of all time is Danny Elfman who was the lead singer of Oingo Boingo and then went on to do all the scoring for all of the Tim Burton movies and now is one of the most prolific composers of all time. So I grab a lot of different emotion and things out of his music…and you know a lot of the heavy hitters in music now, you know Wolfgang [Gartner] and Deadmau5, all of the best guys, I love listening to them and understanding why they’re the best, pulling pieces from everybody and taking that to inspire me to do what I do.

Your music has clearly changed and evolved as you moved from producing as Jon Pegnato to Hot Mouth to LA Riots and back to Hot Mouth. Do you think you would have followed this same progression if you’d stuck with one alias the whole time, or did you purposefully shift your style to suit each project?

I am a weird creature of habit, and one thing I always constantly do is I’m constantly changing my surroundings. I think I’ve had about 12 different apartments in the last 10 years. I can’t ever stay in one spot at one time, just because my mind starts closing in. So for me I constantly have to be reinventing and revolving to keep my mind less spaced out, and it inspires me to keep trying and doing new things. I don’t like being comfortable with anything, I like being under stress and I like creating something, I don’t like being at a pinnacle of anything.

You became a part of LA Riots after starting Hot Mouth, put Hot Mouth on hold and then picked up with it again after leaving LA Riots. Is Hot Mouth now different than Hot Mouth pre-LA Riots?

Definitely the music is a little bit more relevant. When I was doing Hot Mouth before the style I was doing was more like jackin’ fidgety electro house, which at the time was more popular, but which isn’t really popular now, but what I take from that is my quirky fun-ness that I put into that music. There was definitely an element of fun, it wasn’t fully serious.

I think a lot of collaborations these days are a little too obvious and you know exactly what is going to come of it. It’s cool to put two people in a room that normally wouldn’t make a song together and see what you can come up with.

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With your new "Bad Habits" EP now out on Rising Music, what can people expect in the next year from Hot Mouth? More tracks along those lines? Changs? Musical evolution?

I definitely don’t like holding myself down to one style, my style ranges from techy big room and then it goes into funky electro at times, I just like being all around and a lot of my new stuff right now is that mixture of cool fun electro stuff with cool vocals, and then also some big room driving things.

Since picking back up with HM you’ve been collaborating a lot with the likes of Felix Cartal, Chris Lake, Lazy Rich, Nom De Strip, TJR, Benji Madden and PeaceTreaty. That's a pretty eclectic group, how was it producing with those guys?

It’s super cool, I like to learn new things and I like to put myself with different people that I can possibly gain some sort of inspiration from or create something new and crazy with. I think a lot of collaborations these days are a little too obvious and you know exactly what is going to come of it. It’s cool to put two people in a room that normally wouldn’t make a song together and see what you can come up with.

You currently hold a residency in Las Vegas at the Palms. Considering you’re not like the typical big room mainstream house DJs that play in Vegas these days, I find it an interesting pairing. How did this come about and how do you like it? Is it difficult to sell Vegas crowds on your sound? Do you change the style of your sets for them?

I really love playing there, I love the Palms staff—they’ve always been really good to me. As LA Riots we played there a couple times and when they found out that I left LA Riots they approached me about doing a residency there and I was all about it. The one thing that is a little tough about Vegas in general is I can’t really fully play my full sound, which is a little bittersweet. I have to tease them with certain pop type songs and then sort of bring in my sound, so I weave in and out to keep their attention. You get a lot of convention people or a lot of college kids that are coming in and they want to hear Pitbull, so I’ll take one of my songs and I’ll put Pitbull over it and make it cool.

Now you and I both have something in common, we were both a part of DJ groups for a few years and then went the solo route right around the same time (Fall 2011). What was this transition like for you? I imagine you enjoy the newfound creative freedom in the studio and the DJ booth, but at the same time, has it been a hard adjustment at all moving back a bit to smaller crowds and venues in lieu of the large festival and big-venue crowds you were playing in front of all over the world as part of LA Riots? I for one know that I do miss that a bit.

Back in the day it was kind of like the Wild West and everyone was still trying to figure it out, so yeah it may be cool just to go back in time to check it out, but you can take my word for it...It’s much better now.

Yes and no, obviously there’s the obvious hardships but I’ve kind of been raised by my dad who’s a firm believer that it doesn’t matter if you’re getting a paid a million dollars, two million dollars, he’d rather get paid nothing to be happy you know…and I just turned 30 and I’m at a new point in my life…both Daniel and I were not happy in that situation…if you’re doing everything you can in a certain situation and nothing is working then you just know it’s time to move on, regardless of how much money you’re making or how well it’s working or how it’s going to be perceived. So yeah, it was definitely hard but for me as a person, I love being put into a challenging position because I know my mind works differently, my music changes, I feel better things come out of myself. And even towards the end of my run with LA Riots I think personally that my music was suffering just because I was way too comfortable and there’s nothing really to work for because it’s just overly consistent. When I got thrown back into the lion’s pit so to speak it really kicked my music back into gear.

Do you regret at all the time and energy you put into LA Riots? Do you wish you’d spent those two years focusing all of that effort on Hot Mouth? Is it hard knowing that you spent two years of your life on a project only to then drop it all and more or less start over?

No regrets, zero regrets.

Final LA Riots question, are you tired of people that don’t know you left LA Riots talking to you as if you’re still a part of the group (because they haven’t heard the news)? Or do you have fun with it?

I’m still dealing with those questions; I don’t get so annoyed on that. I get annoyed by the wide-eyed “Why?” question…it’s just like, it’s none of your business. The only time I get upset about it is when I get the shock eyes and then when I tell them what I am doing now and they go “Oh…” There was also one thing too, there was this small certain group of people that when I first started Hot Mouth, were kind of like really cold shoulder to me, and then as soon as I was in LA Riots I couldn’t get their lips to release from my ass, and then as soon as I’m not in LA Riots again the shoulder is back the other way…but I have fun with that though, I’m not discouraged by that.

How was the dance music scene in LA when you first got into it? I think our young readers who got into the scene via this most recent wave of dance music would be amazed to see what it was like back in the Nineties and early 2000’s. What differences do you see between then and now?

Anyone my age that you ask that question to would probably say it was way better back then and it was all this and that, but I think it was fucking shit. It was all dirty ass warehouses, everyone was higher than kites, it was the same DJs playing songs that...I don’t know. Looking back on it you see how fortunate the kids are nowadays with the quality of the music and the abundance of music and the abundance of talent and the security behind all of these events and the number of events to choose from. Back in the day it was kind of like the Wild West and everyone was still trying to figure it out, so yeah it may be cool just to go back in time to check it out, but you can take my word for it, it was all right. It’s much better now.

You once told me a pretty intense story about your last time you did drugs in Miami while at WMC. Having survived that and put your raving days behind you (in the drug sense), does it worry you to see younger and younger kids in the dance music scene these days getting hardcore into drugs?

No, it’s just Darwin doing his work haha. Seriously, though, yeah it is sad. I did drugs for eight years so I can’t really judge anyone that experiments and does things—just as long as they’re doing it safely. But I guess I feel like kids are going to experiment with whatever, regardless of whether they’re listening to electronic music or any of that or going to raves. I think that’s the bad connotation that they’re trying out drugs there. For me growing up I knew people that were having E parties at their house and they didn’t even listen to electronic music. But yes, I guess it is a little discouraging, but I can’t really say anything because I did it.

You’ve been in this scene long enough to have seen many trends and genres rise and fall. What do you think will be the next big thing once all of these big room chords and dubstep chainsaws go away?

Oh my God, I am so excited for epic house music to go away. I just loath going to see someone play and every 30 seconds they’re just pointing to the sky like they’re some sort of angel gift from God that has just been bestowed upon this club as the epic trance chords play using the exact same Sylenth patch that is used in every other track he’s played…it just bugs the shit out of me. Music right now, in some of the more popular genres, is missing some of that soul and texture that I think techno has. It’s more cerebral, and you have to think about it to get it. But then you also have to think that the music that is this cheesy epic house and these dubsaw tracks, you don’t have to think, and that’s what pop music is, it’s designed to basically just stab you at all of the perfect points and leave all of the gaps between that, whereas other music kind of fills all of those gaps. So where is it going? It’s probably going to get more and more designed for more and more retarded people. That’s where I see it going. It’s going to be the Laffy Taffy style of songs, where it’s just so overly dumbed down that everybody will like it. Except for, like, us.

Back to your music. Where do you see HM five years from now?

Pumping gas…uh. Honestly I just really want to work on…over the next decade I just want my music to be very memorable, I want to make the poppy style of house that reaches a little bit into the crowd that are listening to the popular music, but also over the next decade I just want all of my music to be timeless. I always try to focus (sometimes too much) on just making what I think the crowd wants to hear and less on what is this going to sound like years from now. So like in five years I want to be able to be travelling and doing my thing based off of what I’ve been doing for the last couple years…making timeless music hopefully. That’s the goal.

Finally, so many interviews with dance music artists focus and ask only how it is they got into producing or what gear and software they use, but fail to really treat them as musicians by asking this: What drives you to make music? When you are making a track, where does it come from within you? For you is it purely technical? Or is it emotional? Do you work things out that are going on in your life through the songs you produce? Or are you purely just thinking about what will go over well on the dancefloor?

That’s interesting; before I got really hardcore into producing I was hardcore into surfing. I grew surfing; it was all I ever did. When I surfed all I ever thought about was surfing, I didn’t think about anything else. When I work on music I literally don’t think about anything else, all I think about is music. And for me there is the emotional aspect of creating a piece of music that can get emotion out of somebody, or you can envision a song being played for a crowd and watching a group of people go off, so while I’m working I’m getting that mental high of thinking about people having an explosive time and rocking out to it. And then there’s the technical aspect of it where when I make a song I try to learn something new engineering-wise, I’ll try to learn something about compression or EQ’ing, I’m always big into problem solving, so I get off on being able to solve an engineering problem, like “Why does this not sound good like this? Why is this bass not pushing through right here?” and then I’ll go and watch for three hours online a tutorial to figure it out and then I figure that out and I get off on it.

Short Answer Section:

Favorite Musical act of all time (non EDM): The Doors

Favorite EDM DJ or act of all time: Deadmau5

Favorite song of all time (non EDM):“House of the Rising Sun”

Favorite EDM song of all time: Jeff Mills "The Bells"

Favorite Kama Sutra position: Spider Monkey

Favorite James Bond movie: All of them that don’t have Sean Connery in them

Favorite 80’s cartoon: Tailspin

Anything else you’d like our readers to know about?

I just finished a new track called “Totally Worth It” with Chris James on vocals. I met Chris at EDC last summer, he was in the film crew filming LA Riots and we exchanged information and stayed in contact. Then recently I saw daedmau5 on uStream talking with a guy who sent him vocals for his track “The Veldt,” and it turns out it was the same Chris James I befriended at EDC. So I hit him up and now he’s doing vocals on my new track too!

Always a pleasure Jon, thanks for taking the time out of your day to talk with Magnetic Mag!

Thank you!

"Habits" on Beatport

For LA readers, Hot Mouth will be at Dim Mak Tuesdays on May 22