Tonight in Columbus OH, RJD2 presents the worldwide debut of his new live band at the Wexner Center. We caught up with RJ on the eve of his big change.
Wes Flexner: Do you foresee yourself going back to sampled-based composition?
RJD2: I don’t know. I can foresee what I am going to be doing in the future, but at this point I am a little too “out there” as an artist to go around sampling shit, and without clearing it it’s a very limiting form to be working in.
WF: When creating the album, did you use equipment from the eras of sound you were striving for?
RJ: Yeah, I spent a lot of time and money buying the instruments that were on my favorite records and then even more time restoring shit. Clarinet, Hammond organ, electric pianos, synths, vibraphone. There are only one or two instruments in my studio that were made after 1980.
WF: Was the transition from producer/deejay to front man, difficult for you? Was it out of necessity or a rooted desire to experience the extreme extroverted side of musical performance?
RJ: I don’t think too much about it. I think there is an inherent disparity in being primarily an “instrumental artist” that’s not part of the group. Because naturally you need to be the “front man” of your own act. But the music is inherently introverted. So it can make things hard. I’m kind of relieved to just be in front of the mic since my name is top on the marquis anyway. It was really hard to headline shows when I was primarily using turntables and a sampler and present it like a big deal.
WF: Has singing been like forcing yourself to skydive, or a natural comfortable process?
RJ: Yeah, a little. Really, preparing to go out and sing the songs is the most like skydiving. In the studio, it’s just…”ok, take 13″. But that’s what makes it so exciting. There’s such a chance for mistakes. I’m looking forward to those kinds of things. I think it’s more interesting to see a performer succeed when they occasionally fail.
WF: All of your band members had their various impacts on Columbus music. Can you recall and memories of being a young man in the crowd and watching Howling Maggie, New Bomb Turks, RC Mob, etc?
RJ: It’s funny, cause Happy is such a humble guy. It’s almost hard to think of him as a rock star, but every now and then I think about that song “Alcohol”, and I think hey, this guy was on the radio when I wasn’t eve thinking about wishing I WAS as musician. Same with Sam. These guys need to work a little harder at being dicks if they’re going to convince someone they are big shots.
WF: Did you ever perform at Freakin Pizza or at the Groove Shack?
RJ: Freakin Pizza, yes. I also worked there. Groove Shack, no, I just attended. Drastic was sort of the “house dj” and they primarily just had mc battles. I was just wallpaper.
WF: Derek DeCinzo and yourself have a musical history. What did you guys do together?
RJ: We had a band called “Free Willy 3”. It was fun. We didn’t have ANYTHING planned for those shows. We knew one song. I think it was “Take 5′ by Dave Brubeck. So the other 1:55 of the show was basically improvised. It was a blast. He’s too talented. It’s scary.
WF: You are in Philly now, home of Diplo’s Hollertronix movement and The Roots Okay Players movement. Have you picked up any insights from them?
RJ: Probably. Diplo is a character. Seeing him build the Hollertronix thing out here from scratch was really cool. I knew him before he was “Diplo”. Back when he was deejaying and making little demos. Okay Player? I think I’ve gained some insight into the more “major label” side of music from being around some of those guys and how it works.
WF: Why do a good deal of Roots fans like John Mayer, Steely Dan, Basement Jaxxx and Coldplay?
RJ: Maybe cause the Roots can actually play and so does John Mayer and Steely Dan. I don’t know what’s the deal with Basement Jaxxx. Coldplay….. Shit. Everybody likes Coldplay. They are after all a platinum act. The Parachutes record was good. I liked it.
WF: Why did you decide on XL records for the new album?
RJ: I had finished the record and I knew I wanted to be at a label that was familiar with rock music as well as electronic music or something else. There were a few labels on my list and an a+r I knew just moved over there. So I called him. After talking to a few people, I felt like Kris at XL was the most passionate about the music.
WF: Let me ask you about some of your songs. First, “You Never Had it So Good”. Have you any advice on how someone get a meddling, overbearing mom to chill out and accept you?
RJ: Do the dishes. It’s simple. All it takes is one time, trust me.
WF: “Law of the Gods” What is your work schedule like?
RJ: I don’t really know how to stop working, unfortunately. I’m watching a movie while I do this interview. I didn’t want the song to come out as a damnation of laziness. It was more a little audio post-it note to myself. A number of songs on this album were written as a note to myself. Really.
WF: What are three good electronic albums that are good to set a romantic mood?
RJ: Bjork, “Vespertine”. Brian Eno, “Music For the Airports”. Air, “Talkie Walkie”
WF: What are three R&B Records to hump to and then figure out the artistic merit later?
RJ: Oh man, I don’t know where to start or stop here. Top of the list has got to be Ne-Yo’s album. He’s got the kind of dirty talk that isn’t so explicit that your lady is like “is this new Kells?” You cannot smash to Kells. No way. And I love the guy. Need I remind you he’s the king of R & B?
The first Anthony Hamilton. It’s real dignified. “Voodoo” by D’angelo. He is the Barry White of our generation. I’m sure he’s inspired more unions than any singer of the 2000’s and maybe something older. Like some Sam Cooke or Ray Charles.
WF: Do you read reviews?
RJ: Of my own records? I used to. Not now. Ugh. No way.
WF: When I was 17, I hated anyone that would sing or make Electronica. Real Hip Hop only. Do you have anything you might want to tell a 17 year-old to make his mind a little more open?
RJ: Oh, I was the same kid. And you gotta admit, both of us were probably impervious to talk of that sort at 17. You just grew up and spread out. Think of all the kids that discovered the Pixies in 2001. Or Zeppelin in 86. That’s the beauty of music. You have many chances to appreciate something.
WF: Is there anyone in Hip Hop that still peek your curiosity?
RJ: Yea. Sure. Doom, The Clipse, Snoop, Murs. There’s definitely a handful of artists I still pay attention to.
WF: I noticed a pattern where you do a lot of Hip Hop projects one year and then focus on your solo stuff another. Is this a deliberate and possibly a repeating cycle?
RJ: Yes, it is. I think it’s an artifact of the push-pull I deal with in my own interest. Musically, more specifically. Between having control over a project, and being able to collaborate and not drive the boat. I find it hard to focus when I feel like I’m going through the motions. So it’s natural for me to want to change my environment regularly.
Disclosure: Donewaiting.com site owner Robert Duffy is also an employee of the Wexner Center.