John Tejada's place does not look like the home of an internationally renowned techno producer. Tucked away on a quiet street in a Mayberry-like corner of Van Nuys, where lawn signs from the neighborhood council warn you to "Watch for Kids!", the cozy mid-century ranch house feels far removed from the commotion of Hollywood clubland.
For years, Tejada himself felt just as removed from that scene, even as slinky, melodic tracks like "Sucre" and "Sweat (on the Walls)" made him a rising star in Europe. But recently, that's started to change. "I very much feel like a part of it now," the 38-year-old says, sipping iced tea in his well-equipped home recording studio. "It's really cool."
Still, Tejada's never exactly been your typical L.A. club kid. Born in Austria to classical musician parents (dad's a conductor, mom sings opera), he felt like an outsider in Los Angeles from the moment he arrived at age eight, a "weird little piano kid" who barely spoke English. "It was a shock to go from Vienna to the hood" of Panorama City, he recalls. "It was just like, 'You're different. Let's fight.' That was basically third grade."
By the time he got to middle school, Tejada had already discovered Kraftwerk; a poster of the synth pioneers is one of only two decorative touches in his immaculate studio (the other is a bobblehead of Rush drummer Neil Peart). But as a kid, he mostly kept that music to himself. "I remember thinking, 'These guys are singing in German. This is not cool to listen to publicly.'"
Instead, he immersed himself in '80s hip-hop culture, whose drum machine beats and electro embellishments eventually led him to early Detroit techno and hip house. "Even back then, my ear went towards these more electronic sounds," he says. "I think that's still what drives me: 'What's making that sound?'"
Aside from the computer that he considers a necessary evil for doing his final mixes, most of Tejada's studio gear dates back to those analog days of old. "It's just a really cool way of working," he says, gesturing to a huge patch board that looks like it should be operated while wearing a lab coat. Other toys include a Roland TR-909 ("the techno machine...almost every techno beat is [made using] this") and an SH-101, a vintage keyboard synth on which he composed most of the hypnotic leads on his latest album, The Predicting Machine, which arrived earlier this month on the German label Kompakt.
"For me it's the difference between like a really great piano plug-in and a grand piano," he explains. "I choose to work on instruments and not emulations of instruments. Do I want to play an instrument or do I want to play a mouse?"