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On his first-ever visit to NYC I got to sit down with TJ Rehmi and chat about his visit and the music as he sees it. Enjoy!
AV: What's going on in NY? What are you doing here?
TJ: Well I am in NY to promote myself and the Warm Chill album. I have also been invited by my label Dharma Moon to do interviews, DJ gigs and live performances.
AV: Warm Chill came out in Feb 2004 - how does it feel to be promoting something that is 9 months old - meaning are we going to be hearing new material also at your gigs?
TJ: Well yea, you are right - I should have done this way before. At least before the American release of the album. But really, this album doesn't have a short shelf life - it's an album that we can keep pushing because it's not a pop album. We can keep pushing it for a few years. My record label, does recognize the fact that it would have been better for me to come a bit earlier but you know what they say "better later than never." But, as I said, I am not just promoting the album I am also promoting myself as an artist. I have other albums and I will definitely be back again to promote those also. This is all part of a new long term process.
AV: Actually that leads to my other question: a lot of times artists have something on the back burner while they are promoting one album - is that the case here?
TJ: Yea I am working on a lot of new material that will end up on future albums. After I chose which tracks that I like I compile them into a new album. I am continually working on music and when I come to a point where I have enough for an album then I go for it. The next one, I haven't really made up my mind yet, but I am thinking of calling it "Breaking News."
AV: Ha, how did you come up with that name?
TJ: Honestly I don't know - but the reason probably is that while I am in my studio I have the TV tuned to the different news channels and I keep hearing in the back ground "breaking news, breaking news" - so it must have just crept into my brain.
AV: Oh, I thought it was a political statement - possibly one about the state of American politics right now?
TJ: No, well it wouldn't be a comment on just America - it's bigger than that it would be about breaking news everywhere in the whole world.
AV: You've gone through about couple of different labels now, before Dharma Moon - how did you come by them?
TJ: Yea, I started working with Nation Records but then I wanted to move on, so I did an album with Shakti Records. Then while I was working on this new album my publisher contacted Dharma Moon and well, they expressed interest. After meeting and negotiations, I realized that they would push me as an artist rather than just "another album" because they are a small record label. So far, they're working out great and they have been pushing my album in terms of marketing and gigs.
AV: The music on this album is definitely more low-key than your previous albums. Is this somehow an influence of the new label?
TJ: No, I do the music not directed or aimed at any particular market. For example, now days, I wouldn't do a bhangra tracks for that market or do some dance music for the clubs. I tend to just work on tracks that I'm feeling at the time and compose whatever I want to compose. Whatever I end up with, I present that to the label and the public. So this album just reflects how I've felt over the last year and a half.
AV: So, how does it feel to bring it all together? When you sit down to compose something, you have all these ideas in your head -- how does it work out for you and how do you decide to follow one direction or another?
TJ: I don't go in decided on one way or another. It just happens. I just keep working on whatever I'm working on at the moment. I experiment and search for the right style, and when a sound comes along that I recognize and like, I use that. If it's not happening then I'll either struggle with the idea or drop it and work on something else.
AV: A little while ago, I heard that you were going to work with some rap artists called Maad Ethics - is that coming out?
TJ: That didn't pan out too successfully. There are a couple of tracks that I did with Maad Ethics that I'm going to release eventually - on the right album. It wouldn't feel right if I put it on something like Warm Chill. I've probably got two or three albums that I'm working on at any one time so I'll put those tracks on with some hardcore drum n bass tracks. I spend a lot of time on my tracks so it takes a lot of time for everything to be set.
AV: Is it true that you almost never do gigs?
TJ: Let's put it this way. In the past I went through a phase where I didn't want to do many gigs. I've been quite an anti-social reclusive person and spent a lot of time in the studio. At this moment I'm in a phase where I do want to go out and perform. Go to various places and meet people and play with live musicians, and promote myself as an artist and be successful. You can only be a reclusive up to a certain point because no one is going to know you if you don't reach out to new people.
AV: Do you feel like you've reached a point where you want to bring external influences into your work?
TJ: I need to work with other musicians in a live way because there is a different type of chemistry that exists when you play with other musicians. I get a buzz off it. It's different working with musicians in the studio and on the stage. There are other aspects of me as a musician that I need to fulfill, and one of them is playing live. I do have that ‘live music' background so now I feel like I'm coming full circle. It's all part of being a musician I suppose.
AV: I read somewhere that you have kids - so, how does your family feel about your branching out?
TJ: They think it's a really good idea, although my kids really don't care that their dad's a musician. They listen to a lot of commercial music because my music is too weird for them. But maybe perhaps when they're older they might actually listen to my music and forget everything else.
AV: Back in the day you started off with bhangra and jazz - do you think that the kind of music you compose now reflects your growth and maturity as an artist?
TJ: Yes, definitely. The music that I have composed always reflect how I feel as an artist - it is definitely going to reflect the events that have shaped my life and the age that I am. However, I do appreciate other forms of music, meaning I don't necessarily look down upon all types of pop music - if it has good production and a good melody, I will appreciate it. I'm not in any way narrow-minded in my listening repertoire.
AV: Changing topics a bit - what do you think about remixing your songs to try and appeal to a wider audience?
TJ: Now that I'm here in New York a couple of DJs have approached me. I don't want to name any names but I think I will work with them and remix couple of my tracks.
AV: In your previous albums there were some hard hitting tracks are there any plans for something similar on the new one you are working on now?
TJ: Certainly. There are a few Drum and Bass tracks that I'm working on. I love Drum and Bass, especially during the early days when Jungle was being invented. I love that kind of tempo and complexity in the beats. On my last album there was a Drum and Bass track although I wasn't intending it to. I was working on a different kind of beat but as I was working on that melody the Drum and Bass beat just crept into the track. And I liked how it turned out so I just went with the flow and just left it.
AV: So, what's going on during your gig? Are we going to hear more of your guitar playing?
TJ: Well I'm going to deejay for about 20 minutes, loads of Drum and Bass. Then for about 40 minutes I'm going to play live and improvise with the guitar with backing tracks of some new material that New York has never heard before. Dhruva is actually going to jam with me on percussions, sort of a live interactive performance.
AV: A lot of times when people talk about live performances they tend to get into the classical genre and how it's difficult to bring in the electronic sounds into the performance. What do you think your live performances will be like?
TJ: Well my live performances are definitely going to bring in my funky side since my background is in Jazz. I still want to bring the classical South Asian sounds in obviously. You just let the backing track play and if you feel like you can play over it then do. But obviously you don't have to cram the track with noises. You just play when you feel good and when it fits in.
AV: The Warm Chill album was very different from your other albums obviously. How has the response been to it compared to your other albums?
TJ: Different people have different expectations. If you like half the album that's really cool. The tracks you might not like right now - you might like in the future. If you are longing for a certain taste of music when you hear it, you might get excited. As a listener you have to be open minded and listen to the tracks. I'm the same when I listen to an album I might not like all the tracks.
AV: Any plans to work with any pop artists maybe?
TJ: I do have a few people in mind actually. If the opportunity comes by I would love to work with different artists.
TJ: Actually, I would like to make a comment on a question you had earlier, about my guitar coming through. Over the past few years I've neglected my guitar playing. I started off with the guitar really, and now I've come full circle like I said because I'm excited about playing guitar. That's why I want to incorporate the guitar playing into the work that I'm doing right now. The reason that I moved away from the guitar for a while was because I got into recording and producing and from there I got into computers and electronic music. So I got entrenched in the electronic world and now I've rediscovered my passion for the guitar and so I'm getting back to that. The chemistry that musicians have together while playing, it's all a part of life and it's good for the mind - You can seriously get high off of it without the drugs.
AV: what do you hope to get out of New York, besides just promoting your album?
TJ: Besides promoting the album, one of my fantasies is to go to go to a guitar shop called Manny's on 48th street I think. It's a famous guitar shop where Jimmy Hendrix used to play his guitar. I'm going to go there and I think I will buy a guitar from them.
AV: Ha, well I hope you get that! TJ I want to thank you for your time.
TJ: Thank you for having me on AsianVibrations again.
Transcribed by: Rummie