Photo: the 1point8 (John Tejada)
John Tejada keeps busy and he plans on keeping it that way. The Los Angeles-based producer and DJ released his fifth Kompakt album The Year of the Living Dead in late February, following up on the sophomore LP by his Wajatta project with Reggie Watts, while also giving courses at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and kickstarting a new project together with fellow lecturer Nathan H, Machine Lab. He may have also reactivated his Mr. Hazeltine project, presenting a new and previously unreleased track under the moniker in his mix for our Groove podcast. Much like his recent work as producer, the set feels far from busy, but instead relaxed and self-assured. It’s a joyful hour full of bouncy and deep music.
First off, how have you been doing this past year?
I’ve been pretty good considering. I’ve increased my involvement with CalArts a bit, created some sound design work, got to record this new album and focus much more on my recording projects. I was lucky to feel inspired to work which I know wasn’t the case for everyone, so I kept as busy as I could. Having extra time at home has been nice and has helped simplify a lot of routines. For example, there was no driving across town frequently for meetings, etc. This past year has made me rethink how I manage my time for the better.
Speaking of which, your latest album was called Year of the Living Dead, a nod to the time in which the album was produced: you started shortly before lockdown and finished it in isolation. Which impact did the situation have on your working process?
Well, the mood was quite bleak in the beginning for everyone here. We were all washing our groceries and the stores were out of food. It was quite intense. The uncertainty created a very strange atmosphere. As I was getting into the theme of the album, I wanted to do something related to ghosts, as I felt we were now all walking spirits in that we couldn’t be near or touch our loved ones, only from a distance or over webcam. However the ghost concept has been done before so I asked my friend Terry Morgan to come up with some ideas, which he did. Our love for zombie horror and the current mood made the title fit perfectly.
In terms of tools, you have said that you mostly used some that you were previously unfamiliar with. Why did you take this approach and which tools were those?
I’m bad at languages but I’m good at learning DAWs. I find the freedom to use whichever one fits my current project makes my work a lot more fun. I ended up learning and going with Cockos REAPER, as it is highly customizable. It’s quite amazing what you can do with scripting in REAPER, however it also becomes a bit distracting getting super deep with possible features. It offers quite a few things I don’t get in other DAWs and it forced me to work a bit differently. When I’m learning a new tool I work more by ear, listening to what I have going on rather than going by eye and seeing how full the screen looks of information. So as I learn to do what I want I sometimes get a clearer picture. I feel this whole process lent itself well to the production and feel of the new record.
The album’s artwork was designed by the self-described “contemplative artist” David Grey. How did it come about that he created the cover?
David has done all of my Kompakt albums with exception of Dead Start Program. He’s also designed for my own Palette label since 2006. He’s a great friend and lives deeply in his vision of design. He’s a great collaborator in that I let him hear the music and he creates options based on how it makes him feel.
Last year, you released the another of your Wajatta project together with comedian Reggie Watts. How did you get to know each other and how would you describe your collaborative approach?
We have a lot of mutual friends and have always meant to link up, but finally did when I saw him at a warehouse gig I was playing. We started talking, kept in touch and started trying some musical ideas soon after. We have a great time creating together. We both like to work quite fast, at least initially, so we always record at my place, together, and start with a sketch that we live with for a bit and then come back to the songs to tighten them up. It’s a lot of fun and our live shows are a lot of fun as well.
Another new collaborative project of yours is Machine Lab, which sees you working together with Nathan H. What brought you together?
Jordan (Natan H) is also a professor at CalArts. He was one of the first people I met some years ago who brought me in to do some guest talks. We immediately hit it off and when I heard his solo work and his work as part of Gauss I knew we’d eventually collaborate. He’s an awesome producer and has a PHD, so there’s always lots to learn from him.
Just recently, Touched released John Tejada presents Future Stars 2, the second instalment of a compilation series with music made by you and your CalArts students from your Advanced Electronic Music Production course. What exactly does this course entail?
This is one of my two spring courses, the other one actually taught with Natan H. The CalArts Music Tech program isn’t necessarily about music production, so my course brings more of that to the program. We go through the steps I take towards building a full song with different exercises I’ve come up with. We eventually make a full song and remix each other. Then the final project is working on the compilation album together for Touched. It’s so great to partner up with Martin and be able to do this every year and generate some money for charity as well.
You have played a few virtual DJ sets and recorded some mixes, but did not perform in front of a crowd for a whole while now. Would you say that this has changed the way you DJ?
Before the pandemic, I realized to make myself happy as a DJ I needed to be true to myself even if that means not making everyone happy all of the time. But I realized this indeed does make everyone happier than trying to play how I think they might want me to. I don’t have the pressure of headlining festivals (usually), so I feel I have more freedom to try things out. Of course with virtual sets you can be super free not worrying about a crowd, but I do feel I learned more about the way I want to continue playing out in front of people or not. At this point the only way for me to continue playing is if the music is genuinely interesting to me when I’m playing it. I feel time’s too short for playing functional music at this point.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
I wanted to play some more recent tracks that have caught my ear.
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
It does seem the future is still not 100% certain, but I do plan to stay very busy with my own productions, spend more time with CalArts and developing other online learning courses and playing some of the more interesting shows when they become available again.
Stream: John Tejada – Groove Podcast 299
01. Pepe Bradock – Major I (Atavisme )
02. Big Ever – Otto (Incienso)
03. Fred Berthet – Imper (Lost And Sound)
04. Joss Moog – Hit (Cobra Edits)
05. Omar S, Norm Talley – Muggy Detroit Heat (Upstairs Asylum Recordings)
06. Skudge – Untitled 24 (Acid Test)
07. John Tejada – Ashes (Dusk Recordings)
08. Ste Roberts – The Crescent (Hypercolour)
09. Reece Cox – Clang 3 (iDEAL Recordings)
10. Steve O’Sullivan – 01 Vert (Unreleased Extended Mix) (Trip)
11. Omar S – Storm (FXHE)
12. Mr. Hazeltine – Unreleased
13. Anthony Rother – Psi Robotics (original) (Mechatronica)
14. M.S.L. – Limits Of Likeness (Sushitech)
15. Annika Wolfe – Vibrate (Wrktrx)
16. Client_03 – Protection Service Provider (Astrophonica)
17. Suburban Knight – Listening Systems (Detroit Techno Records)
18. Legion – Bewildered (Artikal Music)