It’s almost noon in Los Angeles. I’m sick as a dog but need to jump on a conference call… my head is about to explode. Through the haze, I hear a wash of tinkling, stark sounds coming out of thin air. Oh wait, it’s an alarm clock tuned to Jason Bentley on KCRW. What is this bewitching tune tugging at the melancholic side of my aching head?
The song is “Slider” from I’m Not A Gun’s latest EP, “Sub-Tones,” out this week. The work is a three-song collaboration with electronic music artist, John Tejada, and guitar virtuoso, Takeshi Nishimoto. You know Tejada from his techy brilliance and integrity-based compositions, albums and DJ sets—most recently captured on the 2012 album, The Predicting Machine (Kompakt). Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to catch him play a rare LA DJ set, festival slot or club in London or Tokyo.
We’ve really reached that point where it’s, here’s an iPad now go make an album. When we started, it wasn’t so easy to put music together. It was more of a real tech process…
If so, you know there is no trendy “EDM” in Tejada’s DNA, especially in regard to I’m Not A Gun, a decade long collaboration with his Berlin-based instrumentalist friend who grew up in Japan and moved to Los Angeles where the two met. Today, their live instrument-based electronic music project is found on seven total releases from Berlin's City Centre Offices label and now Tejada's own Palette label.
I’ve actually been here before… experiencing this oddity of hearing three notes in a song that completely shifts my state of mind. But it was a very different type of song. One late night, while driving in the desert, almost falling asleep while going 80 miles an hour on the I-10 speeding to Palm Springs, there was another John Tejada composition that had the same effect.
This time, it was a minimal tech number—measured and ominous with a danceable underbelly—that snapped me to attention. The track’s perfect pitch was pretty imposing. Sure, you hear “pitch” like that in choirs and opera voices, but not in club music. Musical friends of mine insist you are born with your ability to detect pitch. It can’t be taught.
So does this make Tejada some sort of wunderkind? Well, he was born in Vienna, Austria to an orchestral composer-conductor father and a Mexican-American, soprano singing mother (whose name, “Carmen,” even speaks to operatic grandeur). Magnetic caught up with the insanely talented producer-musician to discuss his unusually beautiful new project, I’m Not A Gun, the weekend before "Sub-Tones" was officially released as a digital only EP on iTunes and Beatport.
Where did the name of this project (I’m Not A Gun) come from?
It came from the animated feature The Iron Giant. He has this moment where he realizes he did something he didn’t mean to do and says, “I’m not a gun.” And that was a little phrase we went with.
You do a lot of projects under different monikers, John. What sets this one apart for you?
The deal with this recorded project is that most of it is based on musical performances where we are capturing a performance—not programming. With the electronic thing, I have a lot of time to think about how to approach something and various ways I can get that done. While I’m using music theory, I’m programming and can take my time to correct mistakes.
When we’re capturing ourselves playing guitar and drums at the same time on this project, we have to make sure we play correctly. The main focus is to capture that performance and get that out of us and get it synched. The groove base for the track is done—kind of an old school way—at the same time. Once we get a solid base we bring it into computer land and fire up the synth then see what else we’re going to do with it.
The times we’ve played this project live, it’s a totally different atmosphere and crowd. The people who come don’t go to dance clubs so they only know us from I’m Not A Gun. It’s kind of funny.
For your overall creative process, do you find you must do both live instrumentation work and electronic production?
Yeah, definitely. There’s a difference between learning an instrument and practicing it and simply using that programming side of your brain. I’ve always grown up practicing some different instrument and that’s by definition a musician. In a way, you can argue that programming doesn’t have a ton to do with that—it’s more the composing side of it. That’s essentially it, a musician plays an instrument, practicing and getting it better and better and learning new techniques. The same does happen in the studio but it’s the mathematical, composure side of your brain that kicks in to do that. You explore different tools and methods but you don’t have to practice hitting the buttons the best way you can because it’s all correctable and enterable by grid.
Now it’s EDM. It’s all essentially loud noise. Big parties are nothing new. I can’t remember a time when they weren’t there. It just naturally keeps growing.
Do you prefer one to the other?
No, it’s just using two sides of your brain. Most people I know started out playing piano like I did as a kid. Whether they stuck with it or not, it gave them the space and knowledge for interpreting a sense of melody, learning the keys and all that. We’ve really reached that point where it’s, “here’s an iPad now go make an album.” When we started, it wasn’t so easy to put music together. It was more of a real tech process instead of an iPad software way to go. It’s become paint-by-numbers. The minute you can get a laptop, you can be considered a producer. That just skews things.
Do you flinch at the term EDM?
It’s just the new word for big parties. It’s a press buzzword to make a scene out of something that’s already there. “Trance” was the word for big parties in the ‘90s. Now it’s EDM. It’s all essentially loud noise. Big parties are nothing new. I can’t remember a time when they weren’t there. It just naturally keeps growing.
Do you prefer playing festivals or clubs?
It depends on my schedule. I like playing Sonar in Detroit. I do like Tokyo quite a bit and Fabric in London. Apart from that, I enjoy keeping it closer to home. Going up and down the west coast has become a lot of fun... Doing Decibel events in Seattle and playing San Francisco is always pretty great.
I have a new two-track single coming out just before summer on Kompakt. It’s called “Somewhere” on one side and “Elsewhere” on the flip side.
You know, Kompakt is still my favorite label.
Yeah, they turn 20 this year. I’ve been included on their 20-year double or triple disc release. And they’re making a documentary.
Twenty years is pretty epic.
Yes it is.
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