Much life a chef that’s amassed a broad palate by mastering an expansive range of cuisines, Los Angeleno DJ/producer John Tejada has accumulated a comparably rich knack for tastes musically. Growing up, Tejada was raised–and subsequently taught–by two classically trained parents. After developing a deep-seated knowledge of piano and drums, he moved on to nurture his love (and skills) related to electronic music, beginning to DJ live and produce. “My happiest moments being young [were] going to buy vinyl; saving my lunch money and picking up a new 12-inch. I think the main part of that memory was the physical mechanics of the turntables,” John says.
The prolific producer released his comeback album Signs Under Text earlier this week via legendary techno label Kompakt. Rooted in a looping analog medium that extends from his hands-on, digging culture past, the techno dreamscape of an album explores a throwback feel enhanced by tape delay effects. In John’s own words, “all the tracks just seem to share this ambiance of worldly nostalgia–like the moment when you’ve found an old tape in the garage and [are] checking that out again to remember what that sounds like. It’s [the sound] of when it’s [gotten] busted, kind of like [revisiting] an old Polaroid.”
We caught up with John about to chat about his newest project while he reflected on defining creative freedom on his own terms.
You video for “One Step” not only has this avant-garde visual aspect to it, but it’s also matched by a track that complements it in its level of innovation. How did that concept come about?
I met Clément [Oberto, director] through my good friend Andy [Turner] who’s in a group called Plaid. We just started discussing ideas…I didn’t realize until the very end that we had actually gone about the process in a different way. What we did was something I’ve always wanted to do, where even though he was doing the visual aspect and I was doing the music, we bounced it back-and-forth to each other many times and just kind of incrementally got further down the timeline towards the finish.
I changed my single along the way. I would get some imagery from him; I would just want something incomplete to get a feeling for [something] write to. I would send him back [my contribution], and he would get inspired to do some editing. So, it was a neat process and I didn’t realize that so many people generally don’t work this way. It was a really, really interesting process. It was just something that both of us did for fun. I think it came out pretty cool.
It really did; the track and the visual component work well together–not distracting one element from the other. Your follow-up to your 2012 release The Predicting Machine dropped this week, with Signs Under Test on Kompakt. Has this project been in the works for awhile?
I started working on it about a year ago. I kind of tend to fall into a full length by accident because I’ll fill this free portion of time, or this blank slate where I want to experiment with some stuff I was studying up on, trying some new methods or programs. Usually, if that goes well, I’ll accidentally end up with some pieces that fit together that work.
“I feel like I might as well make myself happy with this and be as selfish as I can with it.”
I usually like to get in a mode where I finish [a project]. I think people always say this about their work–it’s kind of cliché–but I really did kind of hide away with it and got quite personal with it. These days, it’s tough to keep this all going and there’s always this possibility that this is the last one. More than ever, the older I get, [the more] I feel like I might as well make myself happy with this and be as selfish as I can with it. It made me really happy. I like the result a whole lot and I think it shows less of my influences than usual, which I’m always kind of quite proud to display.
What you mentioned about getting personal with an album is not really such a cliché, when you consider that most trends in electronic music of productions focus on the drop instead of the feeling at-large.
Thanks! I guess I always see it as a personal thing in that way. Even when I create music I’m lucky enough to do this as a job, but when I’m creating my own personal stuff I still need that extra time where I feel like I’m sneaking away or doing it when I’m not supposed to be because I can’t really just force myself to do it. The other musical hats I wear get regimented, and I have to complete work for clients. With my own stuff, I’ve always been lucky enough to keep it really personal, trying out whether something works or not.
“I might be dismissed quite a bit by people who are just about the current sounds, but that’s fine with me.”
That keeps things interesting for you, too.
Yeah, I’ve got a really great collection of friends, and we all kind of share the same gear lust and all try to match our studios. We kind of go crazy, nerding out about stuff. That’s probably one of the most fun things about it as well–that we get to go through these processes together. We’re just all super curious and nerdy. That keeps it fun for sure.
At the heart of your new album is a timeless sound. You managed to stay away from the trends to create a pure, melodic techno album. Given your extensive background, what do you think differentiates this release from past releases?
Actually, I really appreciate that compliment because the more I’ve been doing this, [the more] I realize [that] what’s going to make me happy is to not really worry about what people are doing. Doing something like this for a living, you can’t help but try to kind of keep up with it. I think now I’m at a point when I realize that the happiest place to be is to just not worry about it at all, which I think for me [was] a difficult place to get to. I think more than ever, that’s where my head was at. I might be dismissed quite a bit by people who are just about the current sounds, but that’s fine with me.