DJ and Palette Recordings Boss John Tejada

John Tejada works his turntable magic
John Tejada works his turntable magic
Ryu Kasai

"If you say the word techno, people assume you're playing hard, banging music, and that house is always deep with vocals and congas," says Palette Recordings label boss John Tejada. "Not true. I feel genre descriptions have really lost all focus." Appropriate, then, that LA-based Tejada will bring his quirky yet soulful style of electronic music to Focus in Newport Beach on Tuesday (Feb. 23). 

A DJ since the age of 12, Tejada will be joined by ~scape Records co-founder Barbara Preisinger, who is expected to serve up some fresh house sounds, Berlin style. Having already featured heavyweights like Green Velvet, Doc Martin, and Ben Watt--with Marques Wyatt arriving on March 9--Focus has a proven track record of showcasing quality music within an intimate venue. Drink specials until 10:30 p.m. and $1 tacos only sweeten the deal.

OC Weekly (Richard Thomas): Talk to me about the latest release on your label, Palette Recordings: Nothing But Love Songs. How did the collaborations come together?

John Tejada: It turned out our little team had a bunch of new material that seemed to fit well together, so the idea just came quickly out of that. I've been making music with Arian [Leviste] for 19 years now, Justin [Maxwell] for about seven years, and Josh [Humphrey] in the last year. I'm constantly working with all three, and sometimes we all collaborate, as on the Palette All-Stars song, "Action Section." There is new solo work [from Justin and Josh] on the compilation, as well as new work from Dave Hughes. Arian's solo work does not appear on the compilation, but after almost 14 years of Palette, his solo EP is finally on the release schedule for mid-March.

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What is Palette's creative M.O.?

There seriously is none. That's what has kept it fun to keep going over the years. There is no office or label mentality. It's mostly hanging with my closest friends and sharing music with each other. It's our own personal outlet for our creativity. I'm also quite proud of the fact we are all LA-based, with the exception of [Justin] Maxwell, who had to move a bit up north in the last few years.

Back in 2006-07, when you released Cleaning Sound..., techno wasn't hugely popular in the US. Some might even argue that it still isn't. But there's no doubt that techno has influenced house music these days more than it has in the past. Why do you think "tech-" is such a popular prefix for lots of electronic music, but the pure genre as a whole hasn't really taken hold in the States, at least on a large level?

I don't think I have much more insight into this than you do. I do know that living in LA in the 1990s was pretty odd, music wise, especially when I started traveling internationally in '97 and discovered that this giant world of techno existed. For me, it seemed the sound never really traveled west. They had their own scene here that had nothing to do with the sounds that were influential to me. I tend to refer to my music as techno, but these were just regional words in the beginning: techno from Detroit and house from Chicago. In the beginning they were both soulful and melodic. They were individual but shared many of the same characteristics. There was some really deep Detroit music and some very banging Chicago music. Now if you say the word techno, people assume you're playing hard, banging music, and that house is always deep with vocals and congas. Not true. Also all these sub-genres like "tech" this and that, it really makes no sense! Now I hear this sort of cheesy club music sound being referred to as electro. For me, electro is Arthur Baker and Egyptian Lover. I feel genre descriptions have really lost all focus. People have no sense of the history of the music. Because of that I barely make an effort when someone asks me to describe my type of music.

Talk to me about your side project with Takeshi Nishimoto, I'm Not A Gun. How often are you able to perform with that live set-up, and what part of your creative mind does the band expose?

I'm Not A Gun is another LA-based, sometimes Palette Recordings project. Takeshi was living in LA for many years but now lives in Berlin. This makes it quite hard for us to do any shows, since it takes days of rehearsals. We have done a handful here and there, but mostly in Japan. The shows are a lot of fun and hopefully we can do some in the future. We are releasing our fifth album around the end of May or so, titled Solace, once again on City Centre Offices. Our creative mind on this is a nice change of pace, as our process is generally based on capturing a good performance rather than programming patterns. We are not programming our hands, we are playing instruments with them, so we have to be sure we can properly capture our playing, as it's only played like that once.

I've noticed that over the past few years you've stopped releasing as much stuff on labels outside of your own. Has the shift in digital distribution, social networking and new media marketing made it easier to move away from third parties and just focus on cultivating your own brand?

It just made the most sense to keep everything 100 percent since I now have the opportunity to. Every time someone else is in the picture there is some sort of compromise, so I figured why continue to work that way if I didn't have to. I still haven't embraced much of the digital and net promotion side of things. I'm still focusing on pressing vinyl mostly.

Satellite and Internet radio have really done a lot to further electronic music outside of the club. Are there any stations or programs you listen to on a regular basis?

I haven't heard much satellite or Internet radio at all. I need to do some exploring. I do find links to mixes by interesting artists from time to time, which turns me onto new sounds. I mostly still just find albums I'm interested in and listen to them.

As a purveyor of analog gear and an LA resident for quite sometime now, where are the best places to shop for hardware in the city?

Big City Music in Studio City. Josh Humphrey works there, so sometimes we get to use some strange instruments like the Swarmatron, featured on the song "YZZ."

Is this your first time playing at Focus? They seem to have a cool Tuesday thing going on there.

It is my second time playing there, actually. It seems they constantly have interesting artists. I will be playing with my good friend Barbara Preisinger who runs ~scape records. She is visiting LA and I thought it would be really fun to play together. She is a superb house DJ who is traveling and playing around Europe all the time, but is making her first trip to the States next week. I think people can expect to hear the best of the current Berlin sound from her, plus some deep electronic quirky things from myself.

John Tejada and Barbara Preisinger with Acid Circus, Club Focus at Tapas, Newport Beach, Tues. (Feb. 23). $5 before 10:30 p.m. $12 after. Click for more info.


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