Interview: RJD2

Photo credit: Dan McMahon

RJD2 knows how to get the bodies in the crowd moving, and tonight’s show at the Casbah promises to be no different.

The multi-instrumentalist/turntablist extraordinaire’s live show is a multimedia experience that combines interesting samples, pop culture imagery, and head-bobbing beats. Before seeing him in action, I’d never witnessed a DJ step away from the 1’s and 2’s, pick up a guitar, and start playing a frantic punk song, let alone do it believably. It takes some serious cojones to pull that one off.

That sort of confidence has embodied RJD2’s career. From signing to legendary hip hop label Definitive Jux to creating his own — RJ’s Electrical Connections — it’s always been on his terms. I’ve been a fan of his for almost nine years now, and during that time his production skills have continued to be some of the best in the business. So when I had the opportunity to ask RJD2 a few questions, I jumped at the chance.

Owl and Bear: You grew up in Columbus, Ohio. What kind of music did you listen to as a child, and does that music still resonate with you and the music you make today?

RJD2: I listened to Michael Jackson, Tears for Fears, UTFO, Led Zeppelin. It definitely stays with me; I think your first music experiences become like your musical DNA, so to speak.

Owl and Bear: I know you play more instruments than just the turntables, but what was the draw to the 1’s and 2’s? Was it just something you picked up naturally?

RJD2: No draw, it just happened. I was a record collector, and a friend was selling his turntables. It just seemed like a good investment at the time, ’cause they were cheap, and I figured I’d keep the accompanying records and sell the tables. I really haphazardly fell into it. It took a lot of work and practice, ’cause I was basically teaching myself as I went.

Owl and Bear: When you first started out, what kind of equipment did you use?

RJD2: Initially, just two turntables and a mixer. Then I bought a sampler (Akai MPC2000). That was my main rig for five or six years, really. Then I started buying keyboards and such.

Owl and Bear: I am always interested in hearing artist’s opinions on the state of music these days. Some hate the file-sharing generation and feel it’s destroying music, and some embrace it. What is your opinion on the state of music from a business standpoint?

RJD2: I don’t HATE file sharing. I think that it’s an inevitable aspect of music today, for better or for worse. I’m just trying to follow the transitions and stay afloat, really. Do I think it would be nice to live in a world where music had a monetary value? Of course. Who wouldn’t, if your living relied upon it? But you gotta play the hand life deals you. I also think I’m lucky that at least I sold some records before the bottom dropped out, and I’ve been diligently touring, licensing, and remixing, so I think I’ve got it easier than your average “new artist.”

Owl and Bear: You left Def Jux and decided to start your own label, RJ’s Electrical Connections. What’s the best part of having your own label, and what would you say the most challenging aspect is?

RJD2: I’d say the best part is not having to have discussions about the direction of an album or project. The most challenging part is all the work; it really is VERY demanding. But I do feel like I made the right choice and have seen a lot of validation so far for choosing this path.

Owl and Bear: It has to be a challenge trying to keep a new album from leaking. One download can proliferate all over the world in days, if not sooner. What process do you go through to keep your material from leaking early?

RJD2: Oh, man, you don’t know the half. Well, for this album, I did ALL of the promo copies via digital stream-only service. So NO physical copies were mailed out. This made it a lot tougher on the publicity end of things, but it didn’t leak till three days before street date. Also, I was lucky that I had the legal team of my distributor behind me — the album actually leaked once in December, but we were on top of it immediately, had the link taken down, and it didn’t leak again. So it was tough, but we did it.

Owl and Bear: How have your fans received your new album, The Collosus? I know you had a little bit of a backlash with your last release. People were expecting Deadringer Vol. 2.

RJD2: So far it seems to be great. I think the process of “The Third Hand” maybe made it clear that I wasn’t going to remake Deadringer. Almost all of the feedback I’ve gotten has been positive, but I’m sure there are lots of bad reviews floating around out there. C’est la vie.

Owl and Bear: You’ve toured all over the world. Have you noticed any major differences between European audiences and American audiences?

RJD2: Absolutely. EU crowds are willing to hear new music and enjoy it on its own merits. By and large, US crowds’ enjoyment is dictated by how familiar they are with a song. This is not so elsewhere in the world.

Owl and Bear: How has Philly been treating you? Can you recommend any good record stores there?

RJD2: Yes, there’s a great store on Passyunk Ave in South Philly called Beautiful World. Philly’s good, got no complaints. Good food, public transport, close to New York. And it’s a US-Air hub — so I get lots of direct flights everywhere.

Owl and Bear: What do you have planned for 2010 and beyond? Any collaborations, remixes, etc.?

RJD2: Well, first up is going to be a sort of modified instrumental version of The Colossus, which will come out in June; it’s called Inversions of the Colossus. I also have a group with Aaron Livingston called Icebird — we just completed an album together in a singer/producer collaborative fashion. I also have an instrumental record I will be putting out under an assumed name as well, so I’ve already got a fair amount of stuff in the pike, really.

Download: Balkan Beat Box – War Again (RJD2 remix)

RJD2 Tour dates
Apr 5 2010 – Casbah – San Diego, CA
Apr 6 2010 – El Ray Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
Apr 7 2010 – The Independent – San Fransisco, CA
Apr 8 2010 – Red Fox Tavern – Eureka, CA
Apr 9 2010 – Dantes – Portland, OR
Apr 10 2010 – Wild Buffalo House of Music – Bellingham, WA
Apr 11 2010 – Neumos – Seattle, WA
Apr 14 2010 – Kirby Sports Center – Easton, PA
May 11 2010 – Aeronef Club – Lille
May 12 2010 – Laiterie – Strasbourg
May 13 2010 – Trabendo – Paris
May 14 2010 – Les Nuits Botanique – Brussels
May 15 2010 – Fiddlers – Bristol
May 16 2010 – Scala – London
May 18 2010 – Luna Club – Kiel
May 19 2010 – Cassiopeia – Berlin
May 20 2010 – Erste Liga – Munich
May 21 2010 – Bonsoir – Bern
May 22 2010 – Kaserne – Basel
May 23 2010 – Stall 6 – Zurich
Jun 4 2010 – Terminal 5 – New York City

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