In STEMS, we ask artists to break it down for us. By stripping one of their tracks down to its individual components (known as stems), we get a rare glimpse into the artist's production process.
L.A. DJ/producer John Tejada has a long and storied history in the techno realm, making all varieties of minimal, maximal, and experimental for labels as diverse as Kompakt, Immigrant, Plug Research, and his own Palette Recordings (started in 1996). On his remix of "The Astronomer" by L.A. trip-hop trio Una, he wraps garage's bump 'n' flex into a crisp summer warmup vibe with ethereal vocals, bubbling aquatic bass, and synths that are cooler than a dip into an icy pool. In this edition of STEMS, Tejada breaks down exactly how he took the vocal-driven downtempo original into cool 4/4 territory.
"When working with an original that has a singer, it works sometimes that I can use the vocal track pretty much as is, adding my own work and edits. There are other times when that original vocal doesn't work with what I want to do... and this was one of those cases. Many times when increasing the tempo to a club-music-type bpm, I can keep things intact, but in this case I risked the danger of unnatural sounding vocals. While I was a big fan of the original vocal track, I just had to do what would work for me creatively instead of getting stuck in a place I would find it hard to get out of.
"I was supplied a great deal of processed vocal pieces which accented the main vocal in the original version. It took quite a few listens to notice how deep the details went in the original. It was great to have all these and it became great fun to play around with them. I took a few of these vocal phrases and processed them into my Eurorack modular system's Make Noise Phonogene module. This is a simple sampler module which has CV inputs for different parameters allowing for some bizarre results.
"By inputting different analog sequencer tracks into the gene-size, organize, and slide inputs, things just start taking a life of their own. This is what you hear in the middle of the piece where the chopped up vocals begin. The other vocals come courtesy of the original. There was a great "Muuuusiiic" phrase which I processed a bit further with some granular pitch shifting and a filter, as well as the original vocoder vocal pad."
"It's nice to get a batch of interesting drum timbres to work with rather than the usual kick, snare, and hat sounds. The band had a combo of what seemed to be new and old sounds, and while the bpm was much slower, I wanted to get the bpm of the drums up to my tempo and still keep things sounding natural and not sped up. For this I used my Elektron Octatrack Sampler and threw four different stems from the original in. I chopped and spliced them into pieces and played the original pieces while doing small editing tweaks to them. On the sliced versions, I shortened the envelope decay time so that each slice was more staccato, leaving a bit of room.
"The original ride cymbal gets some granular type treatment in the Octatrack at the end of the turn of the phrase adding some variety. One more snare from the original which was part of the loop rounds out the drum track which just accents that snare hit in the overall mix of the drums. Then I added my own kick sound and there you have it. I'm only adding one kick sound and using the rest of the original sounds in a new way to keep the sound and feeling of the original song."
"The bassline was something I added on my own. It is a combination of an odd sample and a Moog Minitaur. Just some sub to round things out."
"The other original elements I added were a couple of synth tracks. A simple chord is played on my LL Electronics Rozzbox synth. This synth has tons of character. You hear the chord has more of a rhythmic punctuation to add to the groove of the track. Later at 4:09, you hear another chord line come in with a modulated cutoff filter which gets louder as the filter opens to give it a bit more energy as the track grows in this section. This came courtesy of a Dave Smith Mopho 4x which I briefly owned.
"That's about it really. It's always a different process when reinterpreting someone's work. I enjoyed this as I got to twist things a bit further than I usually do."
Put them all together and here's what you get: John Tejada's remix of Una "The Astronomer."