During the Decibel Festival Conference this year hosted by CreativeLive, a number of artists from around the world came to talk about a wide variety of topics ranging from creative process, sound design techniques, mixing, songwriting and more. One of the workshops, presented by Elektron featured renowned LA based artist, John Tejada who spoke with us about his workflow and how his live and studio setup have changed over the years. Watch the full video below and read on to learn more about what John has been up to lately.
What were you most excited about coming to Decibel Festival this year?
It’s just nice to be back because of the way it’s curated, I really appreciate that. It’s not a big field with porta potty lines, it’s a bunch of venues, and each kind of experience can be unique to the venue. That lets everybody do their performance the way they feel it should be, whether it’s Noise, or Experimental, Pop, or Techno, or House. With all those venues working together, I find it makes it really special, and it’s a pretty rare way to do it, and I really enjoy that type of programming.
You have a long history in underground electronic music. What is your perspective on that scene now, where are things headed?
I’m no spokesperson, but my own perception is, having stuck around LA all this time of when maybe in my own world, there wasn’t too much happening. Now, there’s actually a lot happening, and people are actually really excited about fresh sounds. I really enjoy that, and I dig staying close to the West Coast, and coming up here, and everything in between. It has been really good lately. The other more mainstream side of that, I think that’s separated itself so much now.
You’ve been using analogue gear at your studio for a long time as well as hardware and digital. Your Elektron discussion at Decibel Festival this year was based around creative process with studio tools. The Elektron machines seem like kind of an awesome hybrid of analog and digital. Can you expand on that a bit?
I started out with simple stuff, Junos, and Casios, when the Roland Drum Machines weren’t that expensive yet. You could still find things. A lot of really cool things that are expensive now, were cheap, and I would just make the most of all of that, and have fun.
A lot of it was hybrid, digital already anyway. A lot of early ’80s synths used digital oscillators. There was FM stuff for Casios, phase distortion stuff. It was already a big mix of things, but even then, the most exciting thing was sampling. That was actually the cool thing, because you could go anywhere and sample people’s stuff or sample records. That was really the opening to the world, creative sound wise. Even though we had some synths that are now crazy expensive it was just like, “OK, when you need a synth sound, we’ll make a synth sound.” I think some of that’s come full circle, just embracing tools that do their job and do it well and are fun to use.
That ties into Elektron, they are a really neat hybrid of digital-analogue. I don’t really care about that whole message, just whatever gets the job done. Those machines being able to change every parameter per step, makes it very fun and easy to get things out of your head, instead of mousing around with a billion automation lanes or whatever. They’re very, very useful especially for a live obviously.
You’re using the Octatrack Live?
Yeah, the Octatrack and the Rytm right now. It’s always changing, but also with that said, I’m able to add more synths to it, or other drum machines. Sometimes, I bring the old Rolands to replace the Rytm, but the Octatrack is sort of the hub. What I do instead of trying to bring out a lot of synthesizers is, I fill up the Octatrack with all my kind of home synths and process sounds and whatever, and then just make it this giant jamming box. It just feels more, “Live” than any set up I’ve had in the past.
Interesting. Are you also using the Elektron Octatrack in the studio for composition?
Yeah, when the Monomachine and Machinedrum came out, that was another big step in the world of hardware, and that’s kind of what did it for me. Both machines can sequence the rest of your hardware quite well, so even if you weren’t using sound, which I was, the intuitive element of it was pretty apparent. I think the biggest tunes of my catalog from the time were all pretty much Machinedrum, and Monomachine, with some extra bits layered. All these revered machines, some were more pain in the ass, and some broke often.
How do you continue to learn? For me, one of my favorite parts about music is, this lifelong learning process where you never get to an end. New technology comes out, and then you might want to learn that, or you might want to revisit how you can incorporate new technology with old technology. What’s your own learning process like these days?
These days, it’s a lot of exercises in listening, and going to things that in my memory might seem different than they actually are. That helps me a lot in sound placement and arrangement ideas. I think listening is very good exercise especially these days, if you’re making electronic music, and you’re not coming from a traditional practice of instruments, that will go a long way. This is a new type of thing where we’re not practicing scales everyday. I grew up playing and I still practice an instrument, but this is a new way of working. It’s like, “How do you better yourself?” If you don’t play any traditional instrument, learn one, because that gets everything clicking in the right place. That’s an important experience.
I also think these days, it’s pretty fascinating that so much information is right at your fingertips. We had to wait for a magazine to come out. [laughs] Or go to the library, or something. Or you had to meet somebody and when you did, it was like, “Wow,” because you weren’t connecting with people instantly.
These days there’s a lot of things available to you as a learning musician. To get better, you’ve got to practice everyday.