New York City’s Sam Walker & Gavin Royce have been producing their emotive, subdued and groove-heavy house since 2011
Walker & Royce started when Sam and Gavin, having known each other in and out of the dance scene for years, finally began working together in 2011. Crosstown Rebels boss Damian Lazarus noticed one of their very first releases. The result was the Crosstown Rebels EP “You’re Not Welcome” and with that, Walker & Royce was launched into the dance music spotlight.
Around the same time, Walker & Royce released a track on OFF Recordings that went on to become a house anthem: “Connected”. The song became a mainstay in Solomun’s performances and with that set the stage for a diverse range of sounds from the pair. Their EP on Moda Black entitled “Sister” was picked by Pete Tong as his Essential New Tune, and their chart toping remix of Baunz’ “Out the Window” on Pets Recordings garnered support from many of the biggest artists in electronic music. Most recently the duo has joined the ranks on Claude Vonstroke’s seminal Dirtybird Records with the release of the “Boy” EP and “Hit Dem Draws” and Green Velvet’s legendary Relief Records with their chart toping release “Peep This Cat”, and “3 4 Shake It” with fellow Dirtybird artist Will Clarke.
Having solidified their unique sound, you will hear Walker & Royce’s music in many of the top DJ’s from around the world! From Sasha to Adam Beyer, Maceo Plex to Gorgon City and Eats Everything to Locodice, they continue to break down the genre barriers and turn heads….
Credits to: Resident Advisor
GET TO KNOW WALKER & ROYCE, THE DUO MAKING THUMPING HOUSE MUSIC FOR DIRTYBIRD
It took Sam Walker and Gavin Royce until they got into the DJ booth to notice what was happening in the crowd at last year’s Dirtybird Campout. As they peered out, “In Tha… Butt” signs were being held aloft in front of them – the phrase coming from their 2016 release ‘I.T.B’ on Dirtybird.
“It was fandom to a level we’d never thought about before,” says Gavin. After “years of disappointment”, the New York duo finally felt things were starting to work for them.
Walker and Royce, both 38, first met back in 2005 as interns at the music distribution company Studio Distribution in New York. The two became friends, but it was years later that their creative relationship began: Gavin called Sam to help him out with a track he’d been working on. It started the pair on a path that saw them continue to spend time together, both in the studio and in the booth.
Their first release – a remix of Saarid’s ‘Future Lately’ on Nurvous Records where Gavin also worked as an A&R – counted Danny Daze and Damien Lazarus among its admirers. “It was like being a struggling fashion designer,” explains Sam, “and having some celebrity suddenly wearing your clothes.” It was this moment, back in 2011, that properly kick-started the New Yorkers’ career. Releases on Moda Black, Crosstown Rebels and Dirtybird have followed, each growing closer to the deep, hard-hitting, groove-riddled house that feels fully realised on their forthcoming debut album.
Dropping on Dirtybird, ‘Self Help’ sees the duo push in directions that are groovier, deeper, and even weirder than they’ve traversed before. Tracks like ‘Best Track Ever’ wriggle with electro energy, hip hop vibes stack up on ‘Role Models’, while ‘Reaching’ has eerie r’n’b vocals spinning throughout.
“We never try to repeat ourselves with any kind of sound,” says Gavin. “We wanted it to work for people, but also make a strange, ‘out there’ album.”
Walker & Royce have picked up plenty of praise from their peers over the years, including Pete Tong, Maceo Plex and Adam Beyer, to name a few, but only recently has the fandom finally found its way to their gigs.
“It’s only now that people aren’t mistaking me for Eats Everything!” laughs Gavin.
Credits to: CHARLIE CASE of Mixmag
Walker & Royce: 5 things we’ve learned about music production
“Ideally, the track feels like it writes itself,” say the acclaimed house duo
Groove-laden house hounds Walker & Royce – Samuel Walker and Gavin Royce – return today with Bodies Do The Talking, a two-track release on Dirtybird that represents the duo’s first time back on the label since the release of Self Help, their 2017 debut album.
Their story actually started long before, though: they began life on the New York underground scene and were signed by Damian Lazarus to Crosstown Rebels in 2011.
As they embark on a busy summer of festival appearances, we asked Walker & Royce to distil their accumulated music-making knowledge into five pieces of production advice.
1. Finish your tracks quickly
“The longer you work on a track, the more you lose perspective on it. You need to try to finish arranging a track before that happens.
“When you lose perspective, you lose the ability to know when it’s time for things to change. Your brain will tune-out certain elements so that you think more needs to be added, and even things that are great will start to seem boring. It usually happens after only a few days.”
2. Come up with more sets of ideas than you will use in the final track
“There’s nothing that kills a track faster for us than starting to arrange it and saying ‘OK, now what?’. We want to feel like we have more than all of the parts of the track to go to when we start arranging. We want it to be obvious what to do next, to make the track more spontaneous.
“Ideally, the track feels like it writes itself. So we usually come up with way more than will end up in the track so we never have to start adding more parts when arranging.”
3. Producing is more about working for a long time on something and less about being in the right moment
“We’ve written in a good mood, a bad mood, in the afternoon, at night. It’s much more about taking the time to experiment than to trying to plan out when you’re in the right mental zone. You scare up good ideas by working, and the longer you do it the better the ideas get (to a point- see tip 1).”
4. Mix as you go
“In any kind of dance music, the music is only as good as the mix. Make sure your studio’s acoustics are controlled enough to be making the right decisions throughout the entire process. You are trying to save time – while you can write on a crappy system and then fix it later, it’s better to get it right from the beginning. Also, always assume that you are responsible for the finished mastered product.”
5. Don’t get caught up in worrying about bitrate, sample rate, analogue/digital, etc
“It’s important to know your DAW and what effect, if any, it’s having on the elements of the track (for example, warping in Ableton has blatant effects which shouldn’t be ignored). But, outside of that, don’t get too bogged down worrying about technicals.
“Keep your DAW at 44,100Hz. It’s way easier on your CPU, which will allow you more creative freedom. 99.9999% of the time no one is going to hear the difference if you produce your track at a higher resolution, and it may end up making things worse if you forget to up-convert your samples and the DAW has to do it (badly) on the fly.
“Likewise, stop worrying about using analogue gear. So many great tracks are written with plugins and samples, or recorded in bad conditions. Analogue gear is great, but also has its limitations. It’s much more about knowing which tool to use for which job.”
Credits to: Ben Rogerson of Music Radar
Walker & Royce performs at 1up on September 3rd, 2019 in Reno, NV as part of The Great Depressurization.
Special guests TBD
10pm | 21+
Discounted room rates, mulitpasses and tickets at www.GreatDepressurization.com
Unapologetically influenced by the strong but easygoing grooves of West Coast ’70s rock, Howlin Rain represented something of a change of pace for guitarist and singer Ethan Miller, who previously fronted the psychedelic noise rock ensemble Comets on Fire. After the recording of Comets on Fire’s final album, Avatar, in 2006, Miller was eager to explore the more melodic direction the group had begun pursuing, and with bassist Ian Gradek (who had known Miller since high school) and drummer John Moloney (a member of the like-minded band Sunburned Hand of the Man), he formed a new band, Howlin Rain. Since then, they have recorded sporadically with a constantly evolving lineup. Miller is also a member of Heron Oblivion, Feral Ohms, and the Odyssey Cult.
The independent Birdman Records signed Howlin Rain and released their self-titled debut in 2006, while the band hit the road, touring as an opening act for Queens of the Stone Age, with guitarist Mike Jackson beefing up their lineup on-stage. After touring behind the group’s album, Moloney returned to Sunburned Hand of the Man, and while writing material for the second Howlin Rain album, Miller assembled a new version of the band. Jackson joined Miller and Gradek as a full-time member, alongside new recruits Joel Robinow (ex-Drunk Horse) on keyboards, horns, guitar, and backing vocals; Eli Eckert (also of Drunk Horse) on guitar and bass; and Garrett Goddard (of Cuts and Colossal Yes) on drums.
Rick Rubin, a noted fan of classic ’70s rock, was impressed with the material for Howlin Rain’s second album, and 2008’s Magnificent Fiend was jointly released by Birdman and Rubin’s American Recordings imprint. The band released the digital-only 12″ “The Good Life” in 2010, followed by a limited vinyl release the following year. Also in 2010, Belle & Sebastian selected them to perform at the second Bowlie Weekender in the U.K. (produced and presented by All Tomorrow’s Parties). Howlin Rain subsequently recorded their third full-length, The Russian Wilds, which was co-produced by the band and Tim Green and released by American Recordings/Birdman in early 2012. Concert recordings from the tour were later collected and released in 2014 as Live Rain. Miller had been working on a trilogy in the studio at the time of its release. The first part of that project, Mansion Songs, appeared in January of 2015. After incessant touring for the better part of two years, Miller assembled another incarnation of the band–Daniel Cervantes, bottleneck slide guitar; Jeff McElroy, bass and Justin Smith, drums–for the second installment in the Mansion Songs trilogy, The Alligator Bride. Recorded by Eric “King Riff” Bauer, the band cut everything live to tape in first or second takes with no overdubs. Their attempt was to capture the spirit and vibe of recordings such as the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72, Mountain Bus’ Sundance, and Free’s 1969 classic Fire and Water. Miller categorized the sound of the record as “Neal Casady Rock,” in honor of the inspiration of the unofficial patron saint of the Beat Generation writers. The Alligator Bride was issued in June of 2018 on Miller’s Silver Current Records label.
Credit to: Mark Deming of Allmusic
CLICK HERE to read full bio
Howlin’ Rain on what it’s really like to work with rock-n-roll yogi Rick Rubin
Formed in 2004, Howlin’ Rain are connoisseurs of the soulful sounds of California circa 1969 – the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Little Feat – albeit salted with an extra dose of psychedelic bite. During the late ’00s, the San Francisco-based quintet got an unexpected windfall when it caught the ear of record producer Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Johnny Cash), who not only offered to produce their next record, but also signed them to his label, American Recordings
.And then… four years went by. But now Howlin’ Rain has finally reemerged with a new LP, “The Russian Wilds” due out on Valentines Day. With the band performing at Red Palace on Friday, guitarist and singer Ethan Miller recently chatted with the Click Track about the record, Rubin, and why it’s hard for a bunch of working stiffs to make an album on an Adele-style schedule.
It’s been four years between your last album “Magnificent Fiend” and “The Russian Wilds.” Where have you guys been?
I don’t know what the deal is exactly with that. It’s one of those things. Your whole life can be like this if you’re not careful. One minute you’re collecting old newspaper scraps from Pearl Harbor from the late ’40s, and then suddenly 20 years go by. Luckily, our obsession stopped at the four-year mark.
But really, what took so long?
Let me lay it out: We toured “Magnificent Fiend” for about a year. When I got home, I thought, ‘What can I do to prepare for this next record to make it go more quickly?’ Write songs. So, I began my part of the songwriting process then. Also, once we came off the road in 2009, that current lineup of the group was breaking apart. It boiled down to just me and Joel [Robinow] and we had to put a new group together. That’s always a trial. We took our time to make sure we got incredible guys who we liked as people. And then we began rehearsing the record. At the time, I was still going back and forth to Los Angeles to meet with Rick. And then we worked all these tunes that Rick and I were going through. All of this stuff too a second to do. Rick pushes you to [write] a lot of songs. Howlin’ Rain songs aren’t just tiny little songs, either. To put 30 or 40 songs on the table takes a lot of time because they’re these crazy ten-minute epic things. And then, in that long span of time, at any given point, things could be going smoothly with Rick and then he’d disappear for a while. That was happening here and there at inconvenient moments.
All of that stuff starts adding up. And on top of that, you start forming a mild to severe obsession about how long it’s been. It starts to consume your whole life. You start becoming kind of a little crazy about it as a survival instinct. I mean normal bands at our level, that don’t have a lot of financial means, usually just disintegrate when they try to make things happen over long periods of time.
I mean, nobody in their right mind wants to work on a record for that long. Especially when they’re just starving artists collectively working on one project for four years. Then we got it done, but we just couldn’t quite get it out under the wire during the dead time Christmas. All these little pieces create this gigantic period of time extension. It became this glacial thing — it’s too big, but it’s still moving. It just keeps moving a little farther and a little farther. That’s the messed up thing, just looking around and seeing the world change. Band’s careers came and went. You’d become a fan of somebody and see them release two albums and a couple of 7”s and have a successful arc and fall out of music history and you’re still there pushing on this glacier. And it’s threatening to crush you.
Rubin is the guy who revitalized Johnny Cash’s career and got Anthony Kiedis, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to write “Under the Bridge.” In short: A heavy, mystical rock and roll presence. What was that like?
The artistic portion of the work is very rewarding. He’s very honest about the music that you’re working on. When you’re opening up into a deep place for your songwriting, it’s a very intimate place. It’s a place where you can easily be damaged by other people. Artistically speaking, Rick is honest to the point where you feel very quickly that you can rely on his musical opinion. He does sit on the inside of the project. He can say, ‘Try a phaser, that might be a cool effect.’ But he also listens to the core of the song. He can turn all that [technical stuff] off and ask himself, ‘Is this really just igniting me on all levels?’ It’s very interesting to have feedback from somebody like that. You don’t feel like somebody is just kissing up to you and you don’t feel like somebody is trying to attack you.
How did you go about working together?
We’d demo songs, he’d listen to them and then he’d give and initial assessment with his eyes closed. Maybe he’d be grooving. Or not. Whatever. First thing, he’d say usually, there’d be one of kind of three extremes: ‘I kind of hated that one, lets move on’ or ‘That one’s great.’ Or sometimes something in between: ‘I really liked the chorus and liked this part, but a whole lot that needs to be fixed there.’ He did a lot of deep, classic producer work – ‘Check out the lead after the chorus, the chord not quite enough suspense. Make it a Dylan-esque moment.’ If I would ever say, ‘I was trying to do this one with a poppy edge,’ he’d say to stop thinking about those things, that your best stuff is going to come from a place you can’t control. He’d tell you to open up and produce your music without thinking about it. I think all songwriters say that their favorite stuff that happens when they just can’t stop a thing from coming out. You know, when you’re scribbling out words and chords and then, suddenly, you banged out a tune. You can’t do that on command. You just get those moments and then write everything else as best you can.
Howlin’ Rain’s sound has changed considerably between the last record and this one. You guys are lot more easygoing now. “The Russian Wilds” has a lot of lightly funky moments – not in the slap-bass sense, but in the Little Feat, bluesy swagger sense. Was that a conscious move?
Most of what you’re hearing, thinking back, I can say that it was kind of a Rick influence. Initially, I was trying to do all these heavy Deep Purple-type songs. Rick said, ‘These are cool and stuff, but I miss the funky edge. There’s nothing funky about this song — it’s heavy, it’s fast, it’s got some Viking style, but I love the harmonies and that funky thing.’ It made me stop and think for a second. Even though we worked hard on that batch of songs, in my quest to keep changing and challenging the other guys, I thought, ‘I gotta be careful with going too far with that and becoming a chameleon.’ That was the point where I started trying to pull back and not let genre guide things as much.
Wait, you wrote a whole separate record that was discarded?
Oh, yeah. We discarded records and records worth of songs. The final song demos – everything written over the past two-and-a-half years – when you put it together, it’s about two 75-minute CDs-full.
So you’re finally done. What do you do now?
That’s the irony. No matter how long you’re making a record and pretending to be like a character from “Moby Dick” or something, in this game you release the record and then you get in the van and go do the gigs. You hope that successful things happen and you can continue making records. I feel, I hope, and by God, if I have anything to say or do about it, this kind of long-haul album making is a chapter that happens once in our lives. Maybe if someday I’ve got the funding, taking four years is a very convenient way to make a record — when everything is comfortable, when everybody is getting paid, and you’re not so far out of a cycle that people aren’t incredibly interested in booking your band.
Very literally, bands try to pursue the album cycles that they do in order to continue engaging with press, the fans, everybody. You buy an album, put it at the front of the stack and then it drifts off. After a couple of years it’s maybe in a box. You can see why people don’t want that to happen, professionally. Just as the buzz is just fading, you hit them with the new one and re-spark that thing. At the same time, I also believe that when you live by those cycles – when you make a record, take four months to set it up, and then it comes out, and then you try to keep that 12-to-14 month cycle going business-wise, a lot of time you find the albums don’t matter as much. In the new model of survival, very often, the album is just a tool to keep the talking points going. In that light, I’m very proud and very sure that we did something that completely and obsessively and sacrificially honored great album making. We honored the idea that an album is an icon, a fetish. It’s the thing that a band or a musician lives to do. It’s their novel. But I’m sure over the next ten years you’ll see us engaging in some yearly album cycles.
Credits to: Aaron Leitko of The Washington Post
CLICK HERE to read full article
Ethan Miller Commuted to L.A. to Keep Howlin Rain Together
The Oakland psych-rock trio’s latest, The Alligator Bride, is a cohesive collection of sun-drenched, Crazy Horse-approved rock anthems.
Ethan Miller isn’t one to stress about the potential decline of the Bay Area’s music scene. Not anymore, at least.
“The ups and downs of it all — it’s not going to keep me up at night,” he says, sipping tea in his sunny apartment in the hills above Lake Merritt. The walls are lined with books — John Steinbeck, Paul Auster — and records sit 12-deep on the floor next to his couch. Incense fills the air. It’s a space that feels settled and lived-in, and Miller has been here for 15-plus years. He’s been a fixture of the Bay Area’s fuzzed-out rock world for even longer.
The frontman of Oakland psychedelic rock outfit Howlin Rain has been a local Sultan of Shred since his days with Santa Cruz garage-psych rock band Comets on Fire, before transitioning to Howlin Rain’s poetic, ’70s-soaked, epic rock stylings. Their self-titled debut, released in 2006, combined twangy banjo, feedback-heavy guitars, and winding song poems into a somehow logical whole. Since then, the band has released four albums — plus one live recording — each of which has a distinctive sound and feel, thanks to a regularly changing lineup. Their latest release, The Alligator Bride (2018), is a cohesive collection of sun-drenched, Crazy Horse-approved rock anthems, rife with wailing guitar solos, road warrior vibes, and Miller’s powerfully distinctive howl. It’s unlike any other Howlin Rain album, but, per Miller, that’s kind of the point.
“Here’s how I’ve always thought of Howlin Rain: I’ll create a band and I’ll lay down the gauntlet of that band’s spirit,” he says. “I’ll be the caretaker of it. But the changing band members will dictate what the flesh and blood of the thing will be.”
The nebulous nature of Howlin Rain’s membership proved to be a huge point of stress in 2014. The band had wrapped its third album, The Russian Wilds (2012), and essentially, disbanded — all of the other members opted to pursue their own projects. Miller understood, but needed to rebuild a touring band. He started making calls and struck out, again and again.
“The Bay Area was in this moment of flux — all of the musicians were fleeing to Portland and Los Angeles,” he says. “For a minute there, I was like, ‘Dude … This is a goddamn crisis!’ What does a band leader do?”
He did what any Bay Area inhabitant would do for the right gig: commute south. Way south.
“I adapted to being a Bay Area musician by commuting to Los Angeles and San Diego for rehearsals with my band!” he says.
The commute is intense, but worth it. Miller found kindred spirits in guitar player Dan Cervantes and bassist Jeff McElroy. Drummer Justin Smith joined as rehearsals began for The Alligator Bride. Miller thinks that the current lineup is the tightest, most effective iteration of Howlin Rain yet. He was so struck by the band’s chemistry, and fans’ reactions to it, that he dedicated the creation of the album to trying to capture the energy of the band live.
“I was going for almost a cinematic realism feel,” he says of the recording process. “I tried to keep all of the tracks pretty rough sketches. I didn’t want to demo them up with overdubs, or horns, or fucking glockenspiels! I wanted to capture the band speaking their native tongue.”
The Alligator Bride is the second in a conceptual trilogy that Miller developed back in 2014, when Howlin Rain disbanded and, “everything kind of disappeared, all at once.”
Mansion Songs (2015), the first album, was a representation of that moment: Miller had no band, but a lot of songs. He gathered musicians that he’d worked with previously in Howlin Rain and members from Heron Oblivion, with different groupings on different songs. He would give the band a key, but not much more direction. The resulting tracks, often recorded on the first take, were meant to capture the idea of the song coming to life, rather than the most polished version of it.
Miller had thought that the second album would go one step further, showcasing the sound of a band starting to come together and find its voice. But this grouping of Howlin Rain was way ahead of that.
“We’re already at that fully formed place,” he says. “So I’ll need to rethink what that third record is — where the story goes from here. That’s kind of fun, though. And really, who wouldn’t rather have a band over a concept?”
Miller’s waiting for that conceptual spark to come before beginning work in earnest on Howlin Rain’s next album. For that to happen, though, he needs to find some space for the ideas to come. That can be hard to come by: in addition to Howlin Rain’s often frenetic touring schedule, Miller leads two other bands, dreamy psych-folk Heron Oblivion, and scuzzy psych-punk Feral Ohms. He also runs his own record label, Silver Current Records, under which he’s releasing a few live albums, including one from local band Wooden Shjips.
“I’ve been so back to back with different projects lately that it’s been hard to find that moment of psychic vacuum,” he says. “Or, as David Lynch says, ‘When your subconscious can fall down into the deep water and see the big fish in the dark down there.’ ”
Until he takes the plunge, Miller has a West Coast tour with Howlin Rain to look forward to, including a Jan. 19 show at The Independent with Scott Law and Ross James’ Cosmic Twang and Garcia Peoples. Considering Howlin Rain’s current lineup, it promises to be a raucous, high-energy affair.
The band is “ready to climb the walls, do cartwheels and backflips and stuff,” Miller says. “Like, ‘Hey, settle down, don’t knock my amp!’ But mostly, they drive my energy up. Like, wow, we’re all looking like a Fraggle dust storm up on stage here.”
The musicians may be relatively new, but Miller thinks they may embody the quintessential Howlin Rain spirit more than any other. It’s a satisfying feeling of realization, or return. And it goes to show that, sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“That kind of summarizes the Bay Area for me, a little bit,” he says. “I’ll go to a gig at the Nightlife or the Ivy Room, and you’ll still see a lot of bands that were playing when I first started coming down from Humboldt and going to shows in the ’90s. These East Bay punk rockers are still there, still playing, and probably will until the day they die. That feels pretty magical.”
Plus, we may be just an earthquake away from another artist’s renaissance in the Bay.
“You live long enough, things change over. At some point, the earth might open up the ground, and the artists will come back because it’s all fucked up and dangerous again!” He pauses and laughs, going to tend to the whistling kettle. “‘Make Oakland Dangerous Again!’ Put that on a bumper sticker.”
Credits to: Lauren Sloss of SFWeekly
CLICK HERE to read full article
Howlin’ Rain and Buster Blue play the Reno As Fuck four year anniversary party at Revison Brewery on September 7th, 2019.
Psychedelic warehouse party with Howlin’ Rain and Buster Blue. We are bringing out all the stops with the Mad Alchemy analog light show.
Casual High Technology. Music by Reggie Watts and John Tejada. We make music so you can dance to it.
Wajatta – the new group formed by beat-boxer/comedian/musician Reggie Watts and electronic music artist/DJ/producer John Tejada recently released its debut album, Casual High Technology. Presented as a cosmic collection of funk-infused techno, Casual High Technology is the culmination of decades’ worth of Watts and Tejada’s favorite electronic music shaped to fit a new dance sensibility. Wajatta (pronounced wa-Ha-ta), as the name suggests, is a mash-up of the artist’s last names. Having grown up with similar musical influences, Austrian-born Tejada and German-born Watts draw from their love of urban, electronic music. Exploring the intersection between influences and innovation, the two describe Wajatta’s music as “electronic dance music with its roots in Detroit techno, Chicago house, ’70s funk and New York hip hop.” Tejada’s deep, melodic production makes the perfect backing for Watt’s wide vocal range and live looping skills.
Credits to: Resident Advisor
Wajatta’s Wickedly Funky (And Fun!) Casual High Technology
As a way of potentially creating something genuinely new, or at least surprising, the time-honored but perhaps neglected artistic scheme of melding or juxtaposing multiple dissimilar aesthetic beliefs or conceptual visions in order to birth a third entity, independent of its parents’ genetics, might be the best way to describe the resonant thrills encoded within the grooves of Wajatta’s debut album.
Fascinating, funky, funny and just plain fun, the appropriately titled Casual High Technology is the knockout result of a fortuitous partnering of beat-boxer/comedian/musician Reggie Watts and electronic music artist/DJ/producer John Tejada, whose backgrounds and areas of expertise, on paper at least, wouldn’t immediately suggest logically fertile grounds for collaboration. German-born, L.A.-based Watts is familiar to TV watchers as the bandleader on CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden, and for his 2016 Netflix special, Spatial, numerous major festival appearances and as co-host of the IFC variety series Comedy Bang! Bang! He’s an improvising comic motormouth known for an excellently fresh use of an array of looping pedals to avalanche audiences with major loads of surreally humorous vocal and musical quixotics.
Meanwhile, Tejada is what you’d call a West Coast electronic legend, a reputation the Austria-born/L.A.-bred tonemeister earned for his consistently satisfying catalogue of uniquely (within the “genre”) melodic and subtly opulent arrangements on labels such as his own Palette, primo Koln imprimatur Kompakt, Pokerflat and Plug Research; a major draw on the Euro club and festival circuit, he’s also due big tips o’ the hat for what in retrospect are groundbreaking remixes for the likes of The Postal Service, Bomb the Bass, Kevin Saunderson, Gui Boratto and Simian Mobile Disco, among many others.
A wickedly funky branch off the techno tree — yes, it’s great for parties — Casual High Technology is on the one hand a tasty batch of undeniable dancefloor fodder. Dig a bit, though, and the set reveals a lot more than that, and this is where the aforementioned “third entity” thing comes into play: As heard on tracks like the gorgeously harmonized opener “We Know More (Than We Let On),” “The Solution,” “Je Wa Soto” and “Synchronize,” this super-choice compendium of the best of a few decades’ worth of Detroit techno, Chicago house, ’70s funk and East/West Coast hip-hop is, while not overly studied, rather educational. Whether boiled down and studio-enhanced and transmogrified via Tejada’s advanced melodic and harmonic gifts, or perhaps owing to Watts’ special brand of this-absurd-life humor, virtuosic vocal-style references (hear him channel EWF’s Philip Bailey throughout) and unfettered sense of sheer sonic possibility, if one pays the record the honor of listening to it more than once, that lucky one will hear these initially infectious but merely charming tracks blossom and bloom, transforming into musically thrilling entities.
It’s not that electronic dance music has never seen real artistic depth before; it is fair to say however that the genre has rarely evinced the willingness or ability to venture there. And of course the wisdom behind great music of any type is how it rarely reveals its true nature, its resonance, its soul, till one has lived with it for an extended while. Owing mainly to Tejada’s wonderfully understated use of a gently progressive harmonic and textural palette, Casual High Technology’s tracks too do first come off as mildly engaging bits of danceable product — which apparently is about how high most other e-dance producers or DJs set their bars — so it is somewhat of a revelation to experience the flowering of these pieces into entities quite unlike what they at first appeared to be; “Get Down With Your Bad Self,” even, with Watts spouting deliberately wack-ironic “party” lingo, mutates in effect from eyeball-rolling tolerance to amused affection for the track.
Worth noting is the duo’s working process of conceiving and executing the album’s tracks: In what seems to have become the core element was the very idea of the quickness of action with which the tracks were generated, mixed and edited. This by now vintage idea of not letting the intellect interfere in the flow of creation — to not censor one’s self, to respond to one’s immediate environment and fellow musicians — was in Watt and Tejada’s hands/mouths a way of capturing an evanescent, spontaneous magic as if netting butterflys fluttering by.
There was a time when those hoary old new-wave types from the early ‘80s loudly proclaimed “Forget art, let’s dance!” Sure, but lately it’s become way clear that such simple dichotomizing between the two things is, well, it’s just not necessary. Casual High Technology offers the chance to chin-scratch-ponder a genuinely fine, high art sound, and shake your booty at the same time — should you so desire.
Credits to: JOHN PAYNE of Riot Material
Wajatta It shouldn’t be painful to have fun and make art
L.A.-based electronic duo Wajatta drop their debut album on May 11. They’re an unusual pair for sure — Reggie Watts is an acclaimed absurdist comedian, while John Tejada produces refined, melodic techno. Put it all together, and Wajatta make off-the-wall funk and hip-hop–inflected dance music by capturing, looping and layering Watts’ vocals over Tejada’s synth and drum arrangements.
Titled Casual High Technology, the album will be available initially as a digital release. The vinyl will be released June 29. The song “Slippin’” is getting regular play on KCRW, which recently hosted Wajatta on Morning Becomes Eclectic. “Runnin’” was released on 7-inch in March as a lead single, with a digital teaser first appearing in December.
Wajatta and their label, Comedy Dynamics, have kindly agreed to have L.A. Weekly premiere “Get Down (With Ya Bad Self).”
“‘Get Down’ started as a simple idea, which got totally transformed with the help of my frequent collaborator, Justin
Maxwell,” Tejada explains. “Justin took my linear idea, added the main vactrol bass pulse and spaced apart [Reggie’s] busy vocal into what is now the final version.”
Wajatta – the coming-together of electronic composer John Tejada and poet, musician and stand-up comedian Reggie Watts. Andy Hermannsat down with them in Los Angeles to dig into how this surprising duo works so well
John Tejada rises to greet the arrival of his friend and collaborator, Reggie Watts. “Do you remember?” he asks. “This is the spot of our first date.”
Reggie looks around. “Oh, right, that’s true,” he says, his ever-present smile widening.
They’re on the back patio of the Paramount Coffee Project in Los Angeles, a favorite hang of Reggie’s because it’s right down the street from CBS Studios, where five times a week he leads the house band on The Late Late Show with James Corden. After first meeting at one of John’s DJ gigs a little over a year ago, the two men reconvened here for a little coffee and conversation, bonding over shared passions — old-school hip-hop, 80s sci-fi flicks — and similar upbringings.
Long before they met, they were mutual fans: Reggie of John’s crisp, propulsive techno productions for labels like Kompakt and Poker Flat, John of Reggie’s surrealist comedy and improvisational vocal funk jams. Still, it took a while before John broached the subject of working together. “I didn’t want to force him into anything because I figure anyone who meets him is like, ‘Hey, do you wanna be in my thing?’ So we just hung out a bit.”
When they did finally begin working on the project they would eventually dub Wajatta — a portmanteau of their last names — their musical chemistry was immediate. Two of the tracks on their debut album, Casual High Technology, were recorded on their first day together in John’s home studio in Van Nuys, several miles north of Hollywood, where he lives on a quiet, tree-lined street that seems an unlikely source for his futuristic sounds.
“On Make Some Sense the first bit you hear was first-take Reggie,” John says, referring to the wordless scat singing that begins one of the album’s most classically four-on-the-floor tracks. “I work with a lot of people that are fast, but they need to hear it and write some lyrics and get the headphones and get used to it. [With] Reggie it was just like, I hit record and five seconds in, it’s what you hear on the record.”
“Yeah, it was pretty instantaneous,” says Reggie. “What he played me was really fun and awesome and it sparked a lot of possibilities in my head.”
Reggie is famous for working improvisationally, using vocal loops to build tracks from the ground up and then freestyling on top of them with an expressive, multi-octave voice that startles people who know him only for his comedy. It’s a style that seems at odds with John’s precision-tuned techno — but John, it turns out, likes to work quickly, too, rejecting the popular notion that producing electronic music has to be a laborious process.
“It shouldn’t be painful to have fun and make art,” he says. Once you’ve logged your
10,000 hours, you shouldn’t still be agonizing over getting the perfect kick drum sound. “This isn’t supposed to be a challenge. We both put 20-plus years into it. We should be able at this point to express ourselves without too much error.
“I agree with him 100%,” says Reggie. “I’m always looking for the fastest form of production. And it’s not about low quality — it’s about capturing the freshness. That’s the difficult thing. If you’re doing something long enough, what you’re expressing is not the thing you’re worried about. Like, I’m never worried about, urgh, will I have an idea?”
He says this matter-of-factly, not “tooting my own horn,” as he puts it. By his own estimate, he’s logged “about 15,000 hours of stage time,” most of it doing an entirely improvised mix of standup comedy and music constructed from vocal loops. “I’d say about nine or 10,000 of those hours — just into the ether. There’s no evidence of me having done it, no recording of it, nothing.” So when John asked him to collaborate, he was ready to tackle a project on which there would be a tangible, permanent record of his improvisations.
John, for his part, began producing techno in the mid-1990s and has become internationally renowned for a distinctively springy yet cerebral style, built almost entirely on analog synths. He’s never courted mainstream success by tailoring his sound to the trends of EDM, but his best-known tracks, including Sweat (on the Walls) and The End of It All, are the kind of underground classics that can fill any dance floor, from a dirty warehouse to a Vegas megaclub.
Both men are biracial and bicultural. Reggie was born in Germany in 1972 to a French mother and an African-American father serving in the US military; John came along a couple years later in Vienna, the son of an Austrian conductor and a Mexican-American opera singer. They both moved to the States at a young age; Reggie’s family settled in Montana, while John’s mother brought him back to Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, where he’s lived ever since.
“He was a little younger when he moved here, but some of that stuck in our heads,” John says of their similar backgrounds. Both men are hesitant to attribute too much of their creative identities to their upbringings, though Reggie does think it played a role in his ongoing fascination with language. “I love speaking in a way that sounds like a particular language,” he says. “When I toured Europe, I used to do fake Italian, fake Spanish, fake whatever.”
On Casual High Technology tracks like Je Wa Soto, Reggie strings nonsense syllables together in ways that sound like a lost African dialect, or possibly the patois of a particular Rio favela. “A lot of our improvisations, people say, oh, is that Brazilian? Portuguese? Which I kinda like, because that’s a beautiful, really sexy language.”
Their collaboration is an extension of their friendship. Everything is done together, in person — bouncing ideas back and forth in a studio, rather than over email. “You have to hang out,” says John. “You may have a bit of food, you have some beers, you make a tune.”
There’s an ease and warmth to the music on Casual High Technologythat makes sense once you know their process — and once you see the two of them sitting together at the very same table where they had their first “date,” sharing a slice of coffee cake and setting up the punchlines to one another’s jokes.
You wouldn’t call Casual High Technology a comedy album, even though it was released on a label called Comedy Dynamics that’s best-known for stand-up albums from the likes of Bill Hicks and Patton Oswalt. But it’s filled with a playful back and forth, as Reggie’s vocalese loops ping-pong between the snaps and clicks of John’s drum machines. Often, as on the subtly insistent mid-tempo groove of Slippin’, the sounds bleed together until you can’t tell where the vocals end and the synths begin. “A lot of the percussion, even though it’s not super-obvious, it’s his mouth,” John reveals.
Their chemistry peaks on Runnin’, which achieves a kind of weightlessness in its lush blend of layered, soulful vocals, jazzy keys and high-BPM techno gallop. It’s the embodiment of their philosophy of working quickly and keeping it fresh — 20-plus years of experience distilled down into five minutes of dance music as graceful and seemingly effortless as a ballet dancer’s grand jeté.
Things get ruined fast for us if it’s like, no, it’s not right, try it like this, try it like that,” says John. “Then it’s like, you know what? This song’s not gonna work.”
“Exactly,” Reggie says, laughing.
To perform live as Wajatta presents new challenges for them both. Reggie has to learn how to rein in his improvisations and recreate, at least in part, the melodies and phrases of the original album tracks. John has to learn to follow Reggie’s lead and embellish on the fly when inspiration strikes his partner, which it frequently does. “We’ve almost built these signals,” John says. “There’s certain things I do — like if I pull the beat out, he knows, here’s a change coming. And we just like … right?”
Reggie nods in agreement. “Eventually I hope John and I will have a portion of the show or moments in the show where we’re just kind of jamming together,” he says. “I’ll have a synth on stage and I’ll loop and he’ll be doing beats.”
At the time of our interview, they’ve done five live shows, including radio and TV appearances. In two nights, they’ll be doing a sixth, an album release concert at the Teragram Ballroom in downtown L.A. “I’m curious what we’ll be doing,” John says with a chuckle.
“I am, too!” says Reggie.
The show is a triumph. Once each track has achieved liftoff, propelled by John’s Roland TR-909 beats and Reggie’s vocal loops, Reggie steps to the front of the stage to work the crowd, unleashing his inner house diva with soulful shouts and a soaring falsetto. He’s clearly having a blast, bobbing his top-knot in time to the beat. Even the often stoic John moves to the sinewy rhythms, a shy half-smile etched across his face.
“This is a tune off our fourth album,” Reggie jokes at one point. “I hope you guys like it. It’s a song about love, loss and regeneration. Enjoy.” Then, unexpectedly and much to the audience’s delight, they launch into John’s biggest underground hit, Sweat (on the Walls), with Reggie paraphrasing the track’s original, spoken-word vocals in a deadpan, vaguely British accent: “Have you ever been a party where there was just sweat, dripping down? Dripping down from the walls?”
For the encore, they improvise. John builds a drum track on the 909, one element at a time. Reggie adds some vocal percussion effects, then loops the phrase “Get some.” John adds more synths. Reggie adds a keyboard part. He sings a falsetto lead, something that sounds like, “I know we should be able to know,” though it could also be the half-formed words of a made-up language. He looks back at John and they exchange grins.
It’s a moment no one will ever experience again. And like everything Wajatta does, it sounds effortless.
Credits to: Wepresent