There are few collaborations that fit so perfectly and seem to fulfil each artist with as much joy as Wajatta – involving established DJ/composer John Tejada and multifaceted musician/comedian Reggie Watts. In 2018, the duo blessed the world with their debut album Casual High Technology and this week, they are releasing their second record Don’t Let Get You Down. Already being a notable presence in the US, they are hoping to get a fresh start and build momentum in Europe with the new album. Another reason why this release has the quality of reaching a wider audience is their choice to move from their previous label Comedy Dynamics to no other than Flying Lotus’ victorious Brainfeeder – it could not be a better place. A couple of weeks before the album’s release, NBHAP writer Anna Stich spoke to the two about the power of creative spontaneity, growth, virtual reality, and memories from alternate timelines.
The success of Tejada’s and Watt’s dynamic lies in a shared love for improvisation and it is a constant that has shaped their careers. Each of them, having over two decades as internationally touring artists behind them, are adding an unmistakeable touch to each song by relying on their impromptu talent.
Reggie: “I trust John and his sensibilities and also his ability to create music and my side of it is that I do the same thing in my own way and having that confidence, knowing that there is a 90% chance that whatever we come up with is going to be really fun and exciting. That really inspires me!”
“We don’t really think ahead of what’s going to happen so all of these songs start a certain way but they all go very different directions. Do we slow this down or do we speed this up, what country is Reggie from today, what spin is he putting on it? It’s really fun cause I’ve worked with some great collaborators in the past and if it’s a vocalist, you have an idea what you’re going to get from this person but we can go so many different ways with it.” (John)
Both of them radiate an ease while talking about their creative process which is the reward of longstanding experience and the fearlessness of the unknown. It is the red thread throughout our whole conversation. Each time I ask about a certain choice of words or here, about the title for the album, it comes back to a similar point:
Reggie: “That lyric stood out just as I was saying whatever words while improvising. I thought it was cool that it’s ‘Don’t Let Get You Down’ instead of ‘Don’t Let It’ or ‘Don’t Let Them’ since there is no subject in it. Then, this whistle idea happened and we went with that. There wasn’t really a lot of thought behind it other than what was coming into the room at the time. It’s with most of these lyrics and melodies, it’s really in hindsight that meaning can be ascribed to it.”
Giving technology a purpose
The meaning I ascribed to the record as a whole is the juxtaposition of the individual and their belonging to a collective consciousness, considering our minds have never been as evidently connected with each other as they are these days. The 21st century presented us with an overwhelming amount of communication technology, one of them is the research of virtual reality. By working with VR, Wajatta also explore a new way of interacting with their listeners:
Reggie: “What we’re doing with the idea of a music video in VR is a relatively new technique called biometric capture which is a way of having multiple cameras around people or a subject. A bunch of video cameras are recording it from every angle and the computer is able to stitch it together and then you’re able to put it in a virtual environment. That technique is great because it preserves all of the human emotion, expression, and the way that a body looks in space. In the first one that we did, ‘Runnin’, I wanted to see if it is possible to make a music video for VR that feels fun and interactive. It’s an attempt to make technology feel like it has a purpose. I think that’s largely what was achieved so now we have an experience where at the end of it people take of the headset and think ‘That was a really fun experience’.”
While Reggie talks about this, I wonder why I haven’t heard of too many other artists venturing further into this territory. The amount of stuff people have access to at all times is already so enormous and time never enough that it becomes increasingly difficult to choose. John, as a DJ and producer working with samples and remixes every day, elaborates on his experience with this issue.
John: “I think because I still buy physical media, it gives it a bit of a purpose. You actually have to wait for something to show up in the mail or to go get something and make the effort to flip things on. It gives it more purpose rather than just skipping around playlists. I think the challenge these days is to find a way for that endless stream of music to make sense. I’ve gotten more into Hi-Res streaming now and those interfaces are a bit more streamlined. The music sounds so much better. I didn’t realise how much Lo-Fi streaming was making me not wanting to listen to music. That was a recent revelation so now, even if it’s digital streaming, I can give it purpose again because I want to hear something again and get re-acquainted with it.”
It is true. The worth of physical media is rising again as the consequences of social media and online consummation become more apparent. And the physical copy of Don’t Let Get You Down is embellished by bright colours and its details only significant when closely zoomed in or held in hands.
Reggie: “Maggie Jung, the artist, I met her at a Buzzfeed-show I did three years ago. She drew a picture while I was performing and showed it to me. I thought it was cool and got her email. So I asked her for the first record, she came up with something in a couple days and we both thought it looked great. And then this album was a similar thing, I just approached her about doing it and she listened to the music and came up with that, it’s really cool.”
John: “The secret message in there is another personal touch. There is also one thing in Korean that says ‘Banana Milk’ or something like that. And she’s done a really great video that we’ll unleash quite soon. It’s all animations and us flying around.”
Again, it seems obvious that what- or whoever reaches the duo’s trajectory got Midas-touched. There is a lyric on the last song All I Need Is You which is part of a live recording that gives a glimpse into what it must be like to see the world through Reggie’s eyes and use the confusion around you as an advantage – “You’re living in a moment you designed long ago.”
Reggie: “I think that lyric is a concept I think about a lot. I feel like sometimes when you’re experiencing something and you think it’s fantastic, that it has already happened. In a way the reason why it feels so fantastic is because you’re remembering it while it’s happening. It’s more about appreciating moments in your life but for me I always find it fun to think of it as a memory. I’m actually remembering or re-remembering this experience and that’s why it feels so amazing. As if you live in multiple states of time and if you want you can project into it what you think is the future or what you think is the moment but it doesn’t really exist, it’s just something we’re always remembering. Or you can flip it and say ‘I’m experiencing something new’ or flip it again and say ‘I’m experiencing something I forgot about’.”
Don’t Let Get You Down is out on February 28 via Brainfeeder
Further, John is releasing a new EP in April/May on his label Pallette Records featuring a remix by the London-duo Plaid.
Reggie will upload his own app ‘WattsApp’ in March – an online store as well as a place to put pictures, videos, announcements, live streams and more.