There’s lightness to John Tejada’s new album Signs Under Test, out Feb. 2 on Kompakt. Not that we’re saying it’s lightweight or substance-deficient or any of those corny rock-crit concerns. No, the L.A.-based veteran electronic musician’s stuff is lighter than air, in a floating-free, mentally liberating kind of way –– it breathes.
Eminently listenable and danceable (and a great running soundtrack, too), the seductive mind massages of Signs Under Test were the product of several months’ tinkering in Tejada’s home studio in the Valley, where amid a mountain of synths, tone generators, tape reels, patch bays, sliders, switches, plugs, wires, filters, drum boxes, voltage controllers, mics, laptops –– and a ray of warming sun –– he worked for the sheer pleasure of making music that pleased him and him alone.
Below, L.A. Weekly is premiering a track from Signs Under Test, the aptly named “Endorphins.” After that, we chat with the man himself.
John Tejada: I try to keep it so that music-making feels like extra free time for me, because there’s still a lot of music-related things I have to do to make this my job, and the main part of that is usually not making fun records for myself. I feel like I sneak away and make music that I want to hear.
L.A. Weekly: Signs Under Test is nicely blank-slate. By drawing inspiration from the machines themselves, you’re freed up to create music that reflects yourself and invites listeners’ projections.
Sometimes I’ll patch up some of these vintage drum machines and tape-echo units and effects boxes to see if I can create a self-generative type of beginning point, a sound that feels like it’s breathing, evolving, and then I start to compose some melodies with that. There’s this moment where something starts happening that I maybe didn’t expect –– then I feel like I have a collaborator there.
The main interest is one sound. I want to see if that’s going to work, and if it does then the other ideas come really quickly. And if it doesn’t, then probably it’s not going to turn out that great. [Laughs]
To the average listener, all this folderol about the relative superiorities of analog versus digital music-making must seem pretty arcane. You’ve emphasized the analog in these new recordings. Why?
Well, if that was an underlying theme, it wasn’t intentional, but I did use a lot of old tape-delay machines on this new material. I like doing stuff like reversing the sound/effect and adding textures underneath the rest of the track that sometimes just play in the background. That gives it a nice little nostalgic, ‘70s cassette-player kind of vibe, without being lo-fi.
There’s just something about rocking a tape reel back and forth –– I could never explain why it feels a little different. I don’t really care about the analog-digital comparisons; there’re a lot of amazing digital tools, and I’ve embraced them. But I want them to be a future version, instead of like how everyone’s replicating old things, re-creating some sound from the ‘60s. You know, people who made old things probably thought in the future there’d be new things.
Your pieces have a fine-tailored feel to them, like you’ve given a lot of thought to the effect of the arrangements. It’s a very personal kind of electronic music.
All the sounds are created from the ground up. These days, with electronic composition, there are large sound libraries that you can work with as a starting point, but, generally, I’m starting from absolute nothing. You know, I could turn stuff on, but it’s not going to make any sound; I have to make connections. I just feel the most happy that way, like I’ve soldered these notes and ideas together. I want it to be completely mine.