James Teej, in advance of his BPM festival appearances, spoke with Alex Fish about his artistic process, his side project My Favorite Robot, the direction he’s taking with the album he’s currently working on and some of the obstacles he initially encountered while pioneering his “minimal house with raw vocals” sound. He’s refreshingly humble and articulate to boot.
How long have you been pursuing electronic music as a career-when did it finally become a living? I've been doing electronic music for about 16 years now. Djing for that length, and producing for about 14. I have been doing this full time a a "career" for the past 2-3 years, with the occasional freelance design and audio production projects to help support the slower touring times. Being a North American DJ is definitely hard, especially when you aren't wanting to do what so many other Canadian artists get forced to do… make the move across the pond to Europe.
When did you first start singing on your records? Were there any people who pushed you to get out or influenced the decision-or was it entirely self motivated? The decision was entirely self motivated. And it was something that the people around me questioned a lot at first. I heard a lot of "the track is dope without the vocal, why do you need to sing on it". That being said, I was thoroughly inspired by the early Fuckpony/Jay Haze sound, and sorta started pushing my own brand of 'minimal house with raw vocals' sound around the time dOP was pushing their sound as well. So that kept me going in the beginning. It has now become something that has helped separate my records from the lot, and in the end, singing is something I enjoy so much, so it really is just natural that I gravitate towards using them on some of my records (and more recently for other artists' tracks)
From what I can understand, you really developed your sound and global brand awareness through your work in the studio before things started to really kick off from a DJ touring perspective, although you’ve been putting events together in Toronto for a while. Are you finding touring and making music at the same time is difficult? What are some tips to staying prolific when working on planes and in hotel rooms-or do you concentrate production only in your hometown and home studio? Well I don't like to produce in hotels or on planes. It's just not the way that I work. What I do like to do is spend the off days while I'm on tour visiting other people's studios and working with other musicians and producers. I absolutely love to collaborate with different people. To see how others interpret the creative process, to see, feel and put to use their working environments is amazing to me. So that I guess helps keep things moving forward, but I definitely have had to slow down since the traveling has picked up… especially when I'm balancing 2 significant projects (solo and My Favorite Robot). Throw in helping run the label, it's a lot to undertake, but this is my passion so I appreciate every moment of it.
Night Wears Thin is a personal favorite of mine, who plays the guitar on the track and how did it come about? (“Super Symmetry” is another favorite just by the way.) Firstly thank you very much, those are special tracks to me as well. As for the guitar, I wrote and played it, as I do with all my tracks. I'm lucky to be able to play a bunch of instruments, and love incorporating different sounds into my music. In fact, I've begun writing songs for my new album and have been almost exclusively coming up with their concepts on the guitar. Playing guitar to me is so amazing, and I feel that way about most acoustic instruments. So I guess that will give people a bit of a sense as to the direction the next album will be going. I have a clear vision that I want to materialize, and this is going to be my way to show the world that I'm far more than simply a dance music producer.
What differentiates the sound of releases under the James Teej moniker from your output as My Favorite Robot? The sounds are very unique, and so is the creative process. James Teej music has much more house roots and an indie/neo soul element to it, while My Favorite Robot is more on the electro, new wave tip. Inherently, by working with 2 other people in My Favorite Robot, the creative direction is going to be very different than my solo material. But I enjoy both tremendously as different creative outlets.
You’ve clearly made your mark as a talented producer in your own right but have you worked with anyone recently who’s made you feel like an amateur? I wouldn't necessarily say that I've felt like an amateur, as I am very proud of my skills and style in the studio… though I am always trying to push myself further. However, most recently, it was amazing to collaborate with Sasha on our EP together, and it was also really fun to get in the studio with the Audiofly guys. People I really look up to from an engineering point of view would be guys like Adultnapper (Francis Harris) and Phonogenic… both of which I have developed good working relationships with, and they help me with many of the more technical aspects of the production and mixing process. I really am set on becoming as good of producer and engineer as I can, and it's really great to be able to bounce ideas back and forth with guys of this caliber.
Your track Fame suffered a bit of a dismissive review on RA back in August (We disagree entirely). Is this piece of work the most polarizing release you’ve put out-or have there been others like it? What made you feel the need to respond to it personally? As you so adeptly put it “haters gonna hate.” You know what, this was a lesson learned… one that I guess you have to get past at least once in your career. In the end, I think it would have been better to have left it alone, but I did feel that perhaps the entire record was maybe judged a tad too harshly because of the reviewer's distaste for the choice of sample used. The artistic part of me wanted to explain why I did what I did, but I think in situations like this, the best road is to just leave it be, and let the people speak. It's a record that I still get so many compliments about, and the people that like the record, tend to love it… And that's the whole point of my music, I don't expect everyone to love what I do, and some writers are going to highly polarize a review to initiate that conversation. It may not be my favorite style of journalism, but it's a technique that some use when there maybe isn't the time to fully listen to and dissect a piece that is being written about. There's no harm done, and I think it shows my passion about my music, but I can confidently say that my days of falling into those 'traps' are over. I now feel confident enough in who I am as an artist, and in what I'm doing musically to face the harshest of criticisms.
Did you get a chance to play in Ibiza this summer? Unfortunately no, but I will be making some appearances this upcoming season
What were some standout parties of the summer season for you? First and foremost, my live show at Fabric. I love that club, and I love all the people that work there. It is such an amazing place. As for other standout parties, there are just too many. All my traveling to Mexico has been amazing, Sankeys was a blast, and the Lo*Kee guys in London to me throw the most badass Sunday party I've ever been to. This is just the beginning, so I feel there are going to be many more standout memories in the pipeline.
Since BPM in many ways has strong roots in Canada (and Toronto more specifically) how does it feel to be returning for your second time? It's great to go back, and we're looking forward to putting on an amazing My Favorite Robot label party this year (Thursday January 5 @ Canibal Royal Beach Club). Mexico is an amazing country, with a great appreciation for us as DJs and our music… and it doesn't hurt that the Mayan Riviera is one of the most beautiful places I've been to in the world.
What are you looking forward to for 2012? I'm looking forward to all the touring, both solo as well as with My Favorite Robot. Looking forward to all the amazing music we are going to be releasing on the label, and all of the projects that I've worked on over the last few months as well. 2011 was surreal, so I don't expect things to be any different next year. I feel blessed to be able to do what I'm so passionate about, and I just want to again thank everyone who has supported the music and gotten some level of enjoyment out of what we're doing... It's what keeps us all going.
Listen to James Teej on Pulse Radio.
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