When Dirtybird approached Walker & Royce to make an album in 2016, they knew the guys were pioneering a new sound and thought they would make a timeless album traversing genres and moods. Needless to say, “Self Help” blew away expectations hitting #1 on multiple charts and leading them on a sold-out tour. It’s impossible to change perfection, but the album was still ripe for some new interpretations from some close Dirtybird family and friends. John Tejada re-appears after his first appearance on DB003 in 2005 with his remix and dub of “My Own Thang”, taking a stripped back approach with punchy drums and tweaked synths. We thought it would be fun to have the guys interview each other in a two way Q&A to let them probe each others minds about their background, favourite technology, creative process and about John’s remix of ‘My Own Thang’ from Self Help.
Walker & Royce began by asking “We as producers have had a few times where we thought about giving up and moving on, or times we have struggled with finding our sound. What keeps John Tejada going and inspires you?” John replied with some valuable advise “I feel this is part of the creative process and maybe a valuable part as well, forcing myself to step back for a while, even when it feels negative to do so. I’ve been playing music in some ways longer than I can remember so I sort of feel like I don’t have a choice. When I’m stuck in those periods, I take the opportunity to learn some new techniques or tools, or just read an interesting music book. I feel during those breaks inspiration can come from unexpected places. Some of my favourite ideas come out of just trying to figure something out when I definitely did not think I was working on a song.”
In return John pitched his first question back to the guys asking what’s catching their interest in music technology these days in both hardware or software? Sam replied first stating “we recently got a Make Noise 0-Coast which has this really grimey sound to it, it’s very distinctive. Other than that, we’re still getting a ton of mileage out of things we’ve had for a while like the Bass Station, Reaktor, u-he Diva. We’ve been messing around with the u-he Repro-1 and Repro-5 which are really great emulations. Gavin further added “I have been saving up to buy a piece from my friend Mark Verbos. He makes these amazing analog modules. It’s not like anything we have had yet, but I think we can get some really interesting sounds out of it. We always try and use unexpected sounds or gear that may not be so typical of our genre.”
As you could probably guess with the conversation directed to technology Walker & Royce returned the same question. John gladly explained:
“I’m lucky enough to be really good friends with a few music tech PhD’s. So, we have lots of fun over beers discussing our favourite music and how someone might have done something and the coolest thing is when one of them says “let’s build that!” So, I’m learning a lot from these guys.
Almost everyone I know got rid of all their hardware when computers became more capable and then we all regretted it. So, we all seemingly built up hardware again and now I feel a few of us are getting excited about software again. The remix was actually done all software except for one squiggly Avalon 303 Bassline with added Sem filter. This is probably the first time in ages I’ve used so little hardware on a song, but there are definitely benefits. For instance, being able to change a note or sound way down the road, where usually by then I’ve committed my hardware to audio stems already. I’m not so interested in vintage remakes, but new ways to manipulate sound in the box are definitely peaking my interest these days.
Off the back of Gavin having seen John perform with Reggie Watts Live at a Dirtybird BBQ in LA he was interested in finding out more of what the amazing project entails, which is called Wajatta. The guys asked John how the unique pairing come about? John explained “We met at an underground club I was playing here in LA. Reggie was just there that night as a friend brought him. We kept in touch and soon enough we decided to try some things out. We both like to get the initial creative parts down quite quickly and he also works very fast, so it’s making for a really fun collaboration.”
Walker & Royce got together in NYC in the mid 2000’s, meanwhile the city and its music has been continually evolving. John asked how has this affected them locally and creatively? “Neither of us actually live in NYC anymore. But it’s definitely become more open to the kind of house music we do recently. The past few parties at Elsewhere and House Of Yes have been awesome” says Sam. “I moved to LA recently, but we spent the last 15 years in NYC. While we had a time where we didn’t quite feel we fit in, recently NYC is showing us a lot of love. The city shaped us as producers and DJ’s and as people so we will always be influenced by that.” Gavin further added.
Moving onto the Walker & Royce’s ‘Self Help’ LP John was interested in the collaboration with Sophiegrophy and asked how they began to work together on the track. Gavin explained:
“We found Sophie while looking for vocalists on Soundcloud.. After a few hours of searching hashtags I came on Sophie’s page. She had only done a few tracks on her own over these free download beats, but it didn’t matter. After about 2 songs in I knew that she had some real talent.”
John was the first person the guys asked for a Self Help remix and he choose ‘My Own Thang’. They asked what drew him to this song? “I really like Sophigrophie’s delivery and attitude on the song. She’s so great! It just sort of flowed as I tried to fill elements around her energy and pace. A lot of the original got placed throughout as well and I just tried to add in what I could to make it my own (thang). It’s definitely my favourite remix project in ages” said John.
Aware that their next question may be a bit cliche Sam and Gavin asked John’s thoughts on playing in the US vs the rest of the world and if he has noticed any change in the US recently? “I have noticed a big change in recent years. I really enjoy having so many great events close to home. I’ve been wishing for that for a long time. I just really enjoy when I’m performing in an environment that seems more familiar. I find I want to experiment more and just have a lot of fun with it” John replied.
In the mid 2000s Walker & Royce both worked in music distribution. A time when physical and digital lived in harmony. As someone who misses the community around physical releases (weekly record shop hangs), John asked Sam and Gavin’s thoughts about embracing the modern methods of music distribution? Sam explained “On one hand it’s easier than ever to put out music. On the other, it’s made it way harder to find good material, it’s just drowned out by the sheer volume of junk. So, for us a good label like Dirtybird is still key since music curation is now more important than ever.” Gavin further added “Yeah so much has changed. We really are flooded with too much music now. I really miss the weekly record store visits and the friends around it. A lot of people will never know what that’s like, but we try not to dwell. I think that passion is still there and people are still just as interested in music. We just have to find new ways to build that community feel. It’s still happening.”
The guys ended their discussion with happy accidents in the creative process which Sam and Gavin have been quite vocal about. John also feels some of the best moments happen when he’s not actually aware he’s working on a new song. Bringing us to John’s final question…. Is there any particular moment you can share in the making of the last album that came as a surprise to you? Sam explained “Sure, most tracks are full of them. ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ we were going for a different vibe initially, but then once we put the guitar sample in there it changed things dramatically, took it in a direction we would have never done intentionally. Likewise, the pad section towards the end of ‘Role Models’ was added towards the end of the process and it’s my favourite part.
Walker & Royce ‘Self Help (Remixes) is out now on Dirtybird. Grab it here