John Tejada is indisputably a Music Industry veteran. With over 24 years active in the industry, the LA based electronic artist, producer and DJ has over 26 full releases under his belt, DJing prolifically throughout LA and in over 25 countries across the world. His label, Palette Recordings, is still going strong after 22 years in the ever-changing tide that is the music Industry. We recently caught up with John to discuss audio, using Zone and all things music.
Q. In your own words, can you tell us a bit about your background in music and your career to date?
My parents both being musicians got me started on piano around age 4. At the age of 8 I moved from Vienna to LA and discovered the drums which replaced piano for me. Soon after (mid 80s) I started hearing lots of mixes on the radio and lots of electronic and hip hop. I wanted to learn how to mix like the djs on the radio and soon got some cheap decks and started to figure it out. Not too long after that I wanted to figure out how to put some of my own music together. At age 17 I got my first sampling workstation and a couple of synths and also around that time met Arian Leviste (my longest collaborator). He had some gear as well and we just started working on songs all that time. That was in 91. It took us a few years to figure out how to get music out there but around 94 I started sending out tapes and got the ball rolling. Since I’ve started my own label, Palette Recordings back in 96 and have recorded for 7th City, Playhouse, Kompakt, and loads of others including a lot of remixes.
Q. You’ve been consistently putting out music for over 24 years, which has resulted in a pretty impressive back catalogue. For people hearing your work for the first time, which song/album would you point them to as an introduction to your music, and why?
That’s a really tough one! Maybe the album Parabolas
is a good place to start. It gathers a lot of my influences and moods.
Q. Most artists we talk to have a specific sample or production technique that they like to incorporate subtly across their works. What’s your "Wilhelm Scream" of sounds/techniques? Do have a consistent one that you like to slip consistently into different tracks?
Not really and I’m trying to develop a little bit of that so I don’t have to start over completely every time. But I end up trying different things and changing my approach pretty frequently. It also depends if I’m sequencing with hardware or software. Some instruments and software sort of don’t make sense for me to use at the same time, so at this point I almost have 2 totally different ways of making songs. I also use quite a few daws just to change things up.
Q. Can you talk us through your process when approaching sound design for your music?
I’ll usually try something out on one of my synths and that sort of gets the juices flowing. Most of the time I’m capturing my own sounds as audio so most productions are unique in that way. I’m creating a little sample library for the song I’m working on and putting that together. Mostly it’s been capturing audio from midi phrases/arrangement, as well as making drums sounds, but now I’m starting to capture more in a sampling kind of way rather than looping stems and playing with the sounds a bit further.
Q. You’re well known for heavily using hardware across your recordings and live set-up. How do you think Zone will factor into your workflow?
I’m quite interested in DSP again and plugins that don’t mimic hardware and Zone fits into that very well. Zone has a great modulation system. I’m also a big wavetable fan and it’s got little hints of real world synths I really enjoy using. It’s quite fast and inspiring for me. Just used it for a bassline before answering these questions.
Q. What were your first impressions of using Zone? Do you have a favourite preset, or have you been busy making your own?
I like to start from scratch and play around with some of my user wavetables. I keep my patches kind of simple so I’m just looking for the right timbre and envelope settings. It’s immediately easier to work with for me than some of the others I’ve checked recently and sounds better to my ears as well. The UI just makes sense to me.
Q. With a career spanning nearly 2 and a half decades, you’ve seen the industry evolve and change massively. If you could give a piece of advice to a budding electronic artist in only 5 words, what would it be?
Have fun, don’t overthink it.
Q. You’ve been quite busy this year, releasing Dead Start Program, following on with Casual High Technology collaboratively with Reggie Watts. Your new album Live Rytm Trax is about to drop [on Friday the 30th], which was recorded live with no overdubs, edits or computer. Can you tell us a bit more about the album and what 2019 has in-store for you?
I wanted to write a new live set on my Elektron Rytm MK2. I use the Octatrack a lot but wanted to get away from any loops and stems. This keeps sounds a bit more honest when everything is really playing back as opposed to stems stretching etc.I like the filters in the Rytm a lot. So I approached it with a bit of MPC style production technique, loaded it up with little sounds I was making and started writing material for a new set. I thought it went well and performed it at a couple of shows. My friend Kenny Larkin always offered me his studio which has a great API console and some other things so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. It was great having him as a 2nd pair of ears and I sort of performed the songs down to a 2 track Tascam hard disc recorder. I didn’t think I’d record so many of the tracks, but 12 were recorded and 10 were used on the album. I didn’t actually intend to make a new album but here we are. I used to do a lot of production like this with my MPC and I sort of discarded that way of working and I really enjoy it. I feel the album is a sort of honest-no fuss representation of my sound. Sometimes less is more.
Q. Finally, In an interview with House of Disco, they asked you what you’d hope to see happen within electronic dance in the next 5 years. In response you stated that you “would like to see more experimentation again in the scene...” It’s been nearly 5 years since then, do you still hold that sentiment or do you think that things are finally changing?
Those are always tough questions and you want to try to answer them, but I always feel pretty silly trying to predict the future. I actually don’t remember being asked or my answer but I do feel lately there’s been a lot of genre bending which I find interesting for sure release wise. I feel parties are a bit safe though compared to some of the music being released. I was speaking with an old friend about all the groundbreaking records, way out there stuff from the early 90s that would inspire us to make techno and how it would clear the room now. There’s a couple of DJs I know of that will go for it, but yeah not many that I can think of.