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The Music That Motivates VJ

usic means everything in a ride, says instructor VJ WESLEY. He opens up about how he creates his playlists, where he find inspiration and more...

What first brought you to SoulCycle and what got you hooked?
I got into SoulCycle like most of us: through friends. I was a bartender at the time, working long and late hours, bulking with beer instead of protein. My girlfriend was working at the TriBeCa studio and convinced me to come ride when a shoulder injury was keeping me out of the gym. Of course, as many are, I was very skeptical.

“It’s cardio but it’s fun and to good music, you’ll like it. Trust me.”

“Yeah, okay. Whatever, lady, you don’t know me”

Well, turns out she does know me. And was right. Again. It took me about three songs into my first class to get hooked. I used to be very overweight into my college years and have the body image issues that unfortunately seem to come standard these days. It used to be a struggle for me to enjoy working out and keeping the weight off. SoulCycle offered me a place to continue working on excellence, but this time with dope beats in the background. Bae is probably going to read this so I’ll leave it with: “Thank you. You smart. You loyal. I appreciate you. I love you. And you can ride as my guest anytime.”

How does music make or break a ride?
The nature of what we do at SoulCycle makes the music an inseparable part of the class experience. It’s a workout class: as a rider if you put the work in, you’re going to move, you're going to sweat, you're going to see results. So, what becomes the real draw? The instructor and the music.

But are they equally responsible?
Some people consider those equal, and sure, a great instructor can rile a room and manipulate the energy to create a great experience. That can of course be true. But if we liken a class to putting on a play then that instructor has to scout a location, procure building materials, construct the stage, write the script, and then go on to perform it all flawlessly. To me, at its core, music dictates movement and controls energy. So if you take care of your music, well then the location is already found, the stage is already set, tickets already sold—you just have to show up and rock the performance.

How do you find the right music?
The task is to find the right music to set the class up for success. In today’s over-saturated internet-age, we must remember modern music’s most sacred pillar: lyrics. The artists we love work tirelessly in choosing which words they use. There’s limitless value and opportunity in that. The first theme ride I ever took was a Kanye West ride. If you know me at all you could probably imagine how excited I was to work on my New Workout Plan to some Ye. How long was I excited to ride? All Day. Well, the instructor ended up playing only EDM remixes of Kanye songs. Can you imagine the (808s &) Heartbreak of getting ready to rap along to “All of the Lights” only to face more metallic noise? I left feeling so disappointed that I don't even remember if the instructor was good or not. For most of us our favorite songs cemented their place in our hearts because of their story, emotion, or message. At SOUL, we look to provide an effective workout that takes us on a journey, to deal with the emotions of living, with an overall positive message. Sounds like the two could work well together.

So the music is integral.
In all honesty, to me music is the ride. It’s our bridge, our ice breaker, the shot of espresso to get us going. Everyday I enter a dark room to sweat with people I don't know. It’s really an odd concept if you think about it, and playing music we all like provides a little cushion of comfort. We gravitate towards familiarity in just about everything we do. If you don't know me and I approach you to tell you something powerful and grandiose, you might shut down. You might agree with what I’m saying but the discomfort and lack of trust may put you on the defensive. Now if I said the same thing to you while a song you love — a song with similar message and emotion tied to it — plays in the background, you now have something familiar and relatable to ground the idea in. The defense fades, the ideas remain, a change begins.

How do you start creating a playlist — with one song?
There’s a few ways I’ll get into a playlist. No matter what, I always make sure to remind myself what studio and what time of day the class is at. Various places & times call for different moods. Reminding myself, “this is an E54th rooster” or “this is for the 5:30PM at Short Hills” gets me to start thinking about what vibe I’m going for. From there, it really depends on the day. Most often, I’ll scroll through my library to see if any particular opening song grabs me right away. Sometimes a certain day, season, or current event just calls for a certain song and if I feel one fits, I’ll use that as a starting point. In other cases I’ll have an idea of what we’ve come to call a “moment.”

What’s a moment?
A moment in a playlist can be a couple songs with a related message going together, different songs with the same featured artist in a playlist, or a specific go-home (the part of class after the arm series until the end). These moments can be noticeable to the rider, or not. During some hard times over the last year I’d know I wanted to play “Stronger” by Kanye into “Where is the Love” by The Black Eyed Peas so we could focus on building strength and believing in Love. I might throw Beyoncé in twice in case the powers that be need a reminder of who really Run the World (Girls). Or sometimes it might be an “inside moment,” one that will probably go unnoticed but gives me a little joy like playing a mentor along with a pupil a la following an Eminem track with 50 Cent.

Where do you go from there?
Once I have my starting point, I’ll build around it. Either maintaining a certain sound (more rock, more electronic, and always more hip-hop) or message. Aside from the seated songs and the arm series I only play original music so I have to pay attention to what each one is saying to make sure there some sort of story throughout the class. One of the things I have to work on the most is finding inspiration to coach and motive y'all without sounds too corny or like a broken record. I heavily lean on my music to provide me with that inspiration in the moment so I can play off the vibes in class as well as the riders themselves so that we can all experience the class better, together, and in the moment.

Where do you find your favorite music?
Oh man. Everywhere? That’s a hard one. I’ve been a music junkie since I figured out how to put a cassette tape into the Walkman and clip it to my Power Ranger PJ’s while I walked my Tamagatchi. I still have my Aaron’s Party compact disc on lock at the crib, you dig. Believe that. But now that we don't have to buy (*cough* or even record) complete albums it’s a bit easier to scan through tracks but theres also an incredible amount to sort through. I do have to shoutout my day one Dan Ross for maneuvering that. This dude is somehow up on every song that drops and keeps a steady stream of texts flowing into my inbox with the hottest and latest. Aside from him and following artists I love, I rely a ton on the visual arts. TV, film, commercials, stores, social media ads are all laced with gold. Y'all realize how many heaters House, M.D. dropped? There’s also the great power of all of you vetting music for me. More often than not I’ll let an anticipated release or buzzing new song simmer for a little bit just so we as a collective can decide if it’s a 100% certified banger or not. By the way, Noah Feinberg if you’re reading this: The whole world let it simmer for like a decade and IN DA CLUB IS A 100% CERTIFIED BANGER.

What inspires you?

It may seem backwards living in this city, but nature. A mountain, a forest, the ocean. It’s easy to live in our distractions. To focus our energy and emotion on ultimate superficialities. I’m not saying I don't do that or buy into them because of course I do (anyone with a link to a pair of Yeezy 350’s please slide into my DMs). But nature is a force that waits not on the likes of you or me. The grains of sand we step on along the beach and the trees that give us shade have seen quite a bit more than you or I ever will. And they will continue to do so once we’ve parted. The moon was indifferent that Moonlight ended up winning Best Picture (though, if he had actually watched it he would have understood). The Earth will continue to circle the sun every 365 days or so (unless you’re Kyrie Irving). If we’re lucky, we’ll get a few decades worth of these orbits and the oceans and mountains remind us how little time that really is.

Yes, it is.
I think it’s important to always remain humble even in the face of your greatest accomplishments. To remember that the world will spin madly on with or without so the only person that needs to validate you is you. To understand that all of this was created by a god but that God is YOU so if you’re out there trying to bless up the Great One all you need to do is bless up yourself. So that one day, a long while from now, when you’re on that beach starting at the ocean and thinking back on your life, you will feel joy. You will be proud of what you built and find happiness in all you’ve done and created. As I listen to the waves crash while my favorite song plays and my favorite person lies beside me I can’t help but realize what is really important in my life and what I’m working for: the people I love and the people that love me.

Live in Love & the rest will follow.


Catch classes with VJ at East 54th Street and Short Hills! Want to ride? Grab a series HERE and book a bike!

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