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: 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