John Tejada talks Parabol's and LA's growing scene

Words by: Polly Lavin
Posted: 7/11/11 10:24

John Tejada talks Parabola’s and LA’s growing sceneBased in California, John Tejada has been producing electronic music since the mid 90s outputting on labels such as Palette Recordings and Poker Flat and playing festivals such as Movement, Sonar, Dance Valley, Sync Festival and Mutek in Mexico. As the child of parents who were both classical musicians he acquired a basic foundation in piano and music theory early on which he states had “quite an impact” and that “learning proper music theory and technique takes you a long way.

A move into hip hop ensued in his teens but once he became aware of the sounds emerging from Detroit and Chicago he opted for a career in electronic music which for him was then an “experimental way of working with digital tools”.

Attaining a legion of new fans in 2004 when 2 tracks ‘Sweat on the Dance Floor’ and ‘Mono on Mono’ impacted he went onto deliver Fabric 44 in 2009 which featured no less than 8 of his own tracks. Last June saw the release of his debut album ‘Parabolas’ on Michael Mayer’s Kompakt label.

A mix of melody, minimal, techno and high octane trance sounds Tejada says of the album “I wanted to experiment with some longer phrases again, step away from the analogue sequencers more and get back to using my hands to create the melodies. I also feel for the first time in quite a while I've made an album of songs for myself without worrying about the usual pressures.

Overall, it’s a slow burner of an album that dips into darker melody based structures which appear to have evolved or originates from the progressive genre. Opening track, “Farther & Fainter” loops around a core melody, whilst “Subdivided” and “Unstable Condition” are filled with playful metallic tones and experimental drum tempos. We decided to grab 5 mins with the producer who has been around since 1994 to grab his take on the increase of rave culture in LA and the work processes behind new album ‘Parabolas’.

What are your thoughts on the social structure of America at present? Homeless-ness in San Fran, treatment of Hispanics in La/Arizona etc?
I'm mostly focused on my musical process and not so much on political views. However, at the moment things to me feel a bit broken and I'm excited to see the nationwide protests at the moment as many people have had enough with the way things are. My background is Austrian/Spanish/Mexican-American.
For me, it’s important to re-interpret my works in a live set, having as much creative room to work with. If I can just walk away during the set and it keeps playing fine, well then it really isn't a live set...
Can you talk me through your production process from start to end point of creating a track?
It varies track by track. Sometimes a rhythm element will kick things off, but mostly it will be working on a patch on the modular with a sequence that will sort of shape everything else to fit around it.

Can you tell me what you mean by ‘modular’ set up? What exactly is modular?
Modular refers to modular synthesizers. The concept is that you pick the modules you want from different manufacturers. There is no preset architecture, meaning you have to patch all the modules together with cables to create a basic sound and so on. This way of working forces you to be creative and come up with original ideas. 

What are your thoughts on plug-ins and DJs who say they are playing ‘live’ but are playing ‘Ableton’ isn’t a live performance meant to consist of much more?
I can only comment on what I do. For me, it’s important to re-interpret my works in a live set, having as much creative room to work with. If I can just walk away during the set and it keeps playing fine, well then it really isn't a live set. I break out many elements and have hardware synths playing parts so that it’s similar to my recorded works, but you can tell there are many differences and that I'm actually trying to make something happen.

Talk me through creating an ‘arrangement’, creating harmony lines and watching tempo’s etc how it impacts on a track?
That would just be the process of my workflow. It really does differ every time. I don't follow a template as far as arranging goes. I don't have the typical intro, breakdown type arrangement. I work it more the way I would like to hear the song and don't have a usual starting point when it comes to arranging a song. It depends what kind of song it is and if it will start with rhythm elements or melodic elements. It's always a different process.

You were influenced in some ways by New York and Chicago House. What are your thoughts on the fact that identity has been eroded from the cities and the labels that were based out of them?
I feel the classic Chicago and New York labels still hold their ground. Those releases are classic and nothing can be taken away from them. The problem is cities don’t have much to do with the music. Cities inspire music and music can inspire a city. 

You’ve been around a long time what are the biggest changes you have seen? Also where do you think the ‘industry’ is at right now? Is there an industry or just an independent scene within a scene?
I think the biggest change has been the internet and all the new companies that help connect people and music. That and of course the digital music industry.

How important is it for producers/DJs to learn how to collaborate?
It's a fun process for me personally. Usually the way it works here is hanging out while making some sounds and before we know it there is something going. It's meant to be fun and we trust each other with our ideas. It's always a great way to learn from each other as well.

The US seems to be having a bit of a surge in rave and rave culture. Has that impacted on you and bookings etc. What do you think is causing same?
I haven't noticed a huge change in the States in the last few years. I've noticed a bit more interest in LA though which is nice. It just seems with the Internet, Facebook, Soundcloud, Youtube etc sounds are being passed throughout the glove instantaneously which is something that wasn't around before. That seems to really help spread the sound world-wide. 

You’re based in LA. What’s actually going on in the city there seems to be some energy over there with club nights etc? How connected are you to that? Who are the main promoters, labels, DJs, producers etc behind same?
There are tons of people here. Once in a while I meet someone who I believe is doing something new and it turns out they have been running their night 8 years. It's that kind of city. It's a long spread out place and there's much to discover all the time. There seem to be more nights going than ever which is good for the city.

I know quite a few of the people doing most of it since I live here. I'm working with many people who live here. Silent Servant, Arian Leviste, Josh Humphrey, and playing parties for guys like Droid, Bottom Floor, Compression, Incognito. The list goes on and on.

I wanted to return to a more personal approach blending more styles & sounds that feel comfortable to me... You run a label as part of your business can you talk me through your working week? When you started did you press vinyl straight away? How do you feel about the ease which digital seems to have taken over? Is it a sign of one’s serious intent if they invest money, press and sell vinyl?
Palette Recordings started in fall of 1996. We just turned 15 and started with vinyl. There have been some CDs as well. Vinyl is still very important to me. For me, it's musical currency. It holds its value and can sound great many years later. I'm not a huge fan of digital.

Your live show which will tour around ‘Parabolas’ what actually is in the set up?
At the moment it's a compact set up of a laptop, launch pad, audio card sending 8 outs, Electron Mono-machine, and that is all plugged into a 16 channel mixer which also has sends going back into the computer for processing. By the end of November I intend to add another synth, perhaps the Moog Voyager for the bass parts.

ParabolasOn “Parabolas” you used a 909 on some of your tracks. Do you think young producers are missing out on hardware and the benefits of using it over plug-ins and software?
For me it’s the difference between a real instrument and the emulation of an instrument. It's quite a difference

Also, what inspired the lower key moments in the album? It seems almost sparse and reflective on tracks such as ‘sub-divided’?
I wanted to return to some earlier works. I've actually released 8 non club albums if you count my 5 albums with I'm Not A Gun as well as my earlier albums for DeFocus and Plug Research.

I wanted to return to a more personal approach blending more styles and sounds that feel comfortable to me. That as well as exploring longer phrasing with the melodies. Songs like Subdivided as well as a few more on the album have longer phrases which ends up being not so loop based. 

Can you tell me a bit more about the album and song titles and where they originate from?
The album title Parabolas refers to a geometric shape which I began to notice everywhere I looked in both nature and architectural design. Titles take me longer than anything to come up with. The album opener "Farther and Fainter" is from an exhibit at the Griffith Observatory here in LA I saw the last time I visited. Some titles I come up with like this from daily experience, others come from all sorts of sources whether it be favourite bands, song lyrics or just thoughts I have throughout the day.

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