California based musician John Tejada has been honing his sound design and production skills for over 10 years developing a unique brand of house and techno music in the process. With a back catalog spanning in excess of 10 studio albums and countless E.P.s (often released through his own Palette Recordings label) John has built up an enviable reputation on the scene. Following the recent release of his ‘Parabolas’ album on the German Kompakt imprint we caught up with John to talk about music production, his motivation, life as a label owner and where he’s heading next with his music.
AS: The modern day producer often seems to live a somewhat hectic lifestyle. Does this fit with the profile of John Tejada?
JT: “Well, it is hectic to keep all the balls in the air. For most, this means constant traveling. For myself, it is less constant traveling, but also staying on top of all the studio work which includes my own productions, remixes and my collaborations, as well as running my label, publishing company, and organizing my own travel. That plus the day to day emails and business that comes along with all that.”
AS: Many of the prominent figures in house/techno and electronic music are pretty well travelled these days through DJing and live performances. Do you think this has influenced the direction the music has taken at all?
JT: “Perhaps. I’m no authority on anything or anyone, but I can speak for some people I know that spend all week recovering from their weekend and trying to make it into the studio to make some track or remix they can use in their sets. For me, most of the innovative music is coming from people not so tangled up in club life.”
AS: As the founder of Palette Recordings how important has it been to have your own label to release on?
JT: “It made a lot of difference for me. I can bet some of the big releases I had on the label, most labels would have passed on, so I had the freedom to do that and sometimes it paid off.”
AS: I don’t know about L.A. but the days of record shop culture are all but over in many countries after the transition to online music downloads. As a musician what do you lose and what do you gain from this change?
JT: “It’s also gone very downhill in L.A. We used to have some very good shops. It makes a big difference to me. The record store was such a big meeting place and a place where people could be influenced and exchange ideas. My happiest moments since I was about 12 included going to cool record shops and finding that record you’ve been after for ages. It’s a whole part of it that people are missing out on now. Most of them aren’t really missing anything because they never had that to experience. It’s the same with the constant vinyl vs digital DJ bickering. I think most miss the point. It’s just something we grew up with that was important to us and was part of our lives. Sure you can live without it, especially if you never experienced it but for some of us these things are part of our upbringing and very important to who we are.”
AS: The new album, Parabolas, has been really well received by the music press. There seems to be a different atmosphere to this album. Can you tell us a little bit about the production process you went through for this one?
JT: “I was a little less apprehensive about what people might think. I’ve actually produced about 8 albums which are non dance music if you count my work with “I’m Not A Gun.” I really wanted to paint a bigger picture of what I’m about musically. I think what made some of the real stand out artists who they were, was releasing those bits of music that most artists would be too afraid to release. I think that’s what I’m working on in the long run. To be as honest as I can with my music not worrying about this and that. I think Parabolas was a step in that direction.”
AS: You’ve been using our DrumSpillage drum synthesis software for about a year now so hopefully it has found its way into some of your recent productions?
JT: “It has actually. For synthesized virtual drum sounds nothing really comes close. I have some hardware bits I really enjoy working with, but I’ve managed to really get comfortable with it.”
AS: Would you care to share your thoughts about the plugin’s strengths, what attracted you to it and even ways it could be improved?
JT: “It’s the first drum plug that I can get really usable kicks out of that stand up to the hardware. I like that it isn’t a giant groove box and that it’s geared towards serious sound designers. I think my only thing on the wish list would be another hi hat model, but perhaps I just need to try harder with what it’s got.”
AS: Regarding software instruments and workstations are you right up to date with all the latest releases or can staying on top of it all be a big distraction to your workflow?
JT: “I do stay up to date with what is being released and try most things, but when it comes down to it I only use 2 synth plug ins (rarely) and 1 drum plug in. Other drums usually come from my EXS24 banks which I feel are also easier than all the groove box style plugs. As far as EQ and effects it’s a pretty small list as well. It’s taken me a while to sort it out, but now I feel quite comfortable with my selected tools.”
AS: A lot of musicians claim that the user interfaces of software based instruments are not as immediate or intuitive as a traditional analog or hardware device. Do you think this is true or even a fair comparison?
JT: “I think it actually is true, but not necessary to make constant comparisons. I feel there are real instruments and emulations of those instruments. Granted, the virtual side is making great strides, but for me it is the difference between a real Steinway piano and something like the Pianoteq plug in. But with virtual instruments you have the possibility for things that don’t exist hardware wise, and those are the computer’s strengths. Problem is the big companies just keep doing these boring recreations where it’s the indie plug in market making strides ahead.”
AS: Are you using any of the iPad and mobile studio tools that have emerged in the past couple of years in your music?
JT: “No I’m not. They are fun to check out, but I feel they are just in their beginning phase.”
AS: In addition to your solo work you’ve been a very active collaborator over the years. Does this create a kind of feedback loop where your solo work influences your collaborations and vice versa? Do you find this a good way to take a break from being John Tejada once a while?
JT: It’s a completely different process. Also, for me, it has to happen in person. That’s where the fun of it all is. Sending sessions over the net is like the worst idea to me. When we’re doing a session it’s all happy accidents and it’s almost the other persons duty to notice something when it’s happening and say “leave it, that’s it!”. That is the best thing about it I think. When we are collaborating it’s more like hanging out and we just happen to be making noises. It’s quite fun and effortless, but once things start coming together, that’s when it’s time to get serious, otherwise it ends up being another beginning of something that never gets finished.
AS: Similar artists like Jeff Mills and Plaid, for example, have seen their work move into soundtrack and film scoring territory. Is this something that interests you either now or sometime in the future?
JT: “Yes, absolutely. I’m just waiting for the right projects to come along. Making drugged people dance in a dark room is pretty much last on my list of priorities.”
AS: Locations like Detroit, Chicago, Berlin, and London (to name a few) are often credited with producing a characteristic sound, feeling or atmosphere. How much has living in L.A. influenced your music over the years?
JT: “I suppose it has, but it would probably be hard for me to verbalize how. For us it was admiring these other cities scenes so much. There was a scene in L.A. but it did not interest us too much. One thing we did have was a great hip hop station and great DJs on KDAY. Most of that is what actually led me to exploring the electronic music that I did.”
AS: And finally, in an industry where many people come and go you’ve obviously maintained the desire to continue working. Where does this drive come from?
JT “I’m not sure to be honest. I just enjoy making music and playing around with things that make noise.”