Decent house music vocalists are few and far between. By now the world has (or surely should) have grown tired of the creaminess of Robert Owens, but who is there to take up the veteran’s mantel in the contemporary house scene? Canadian James Teej, that’s who. Over the last few years he has imbued his own music with a very unique voice. Slightly grainy and tortured sounding, the Toronto based producer has been on a mission to shake things up and get away from diva cries of “Detroit” or “one love” and instead concerns himself with more cerebral subject matters.
So too is he a partner in My Favorite Robot Records, one of Canada’s foremost house and tech imprints, as well as being one third of the band of the same name. With one full length already to his name, a second, Eight Bit Ocean, has just dropped on Sasha’s flourishing Last Night on Earth imprint. It will not be the pair’s first collaboration, as we learn in this quick fire interview…
When did you realise you had a singing voice?
I started singing around 7 years ago when I moved to Toronto and started working full time on music. When I first moved here it was difficult finding singers to work with so I started singing on my own tracks and realised it was something I really enjoyed doing. It kinda evolved from there.
I studied music when I was young so I’m trained in different areas but not singing. I have a very difficult time memorising words. I love singing to death but it’s a challenge for me to do it. I was not one of those people memorising songs and singing along to the radio as a kid.
How long did it take you to find your own voice and be happy with it?
I’m definitely no Michael Jackson, but I kinda found it right off the bat. What I wanted to do was sing in a way that I could reproduce live. I don’t use any auto-tune plug-ins or washed out effects. I want it to sound the way that it does, but I’m also working with a songwriter here in Toronto to help me take it to the next level, which will end up being more leftfield I guess.
Do you write your own lyrics?
I do but I never wrote when I was younger so it’s something I’ve found interest in more recently. That’s something I would like to work on – I put a lot of effort in but it’s not something that comes super easy to me. I don’t want to sing about your traditional things.
Can lyrics in electronic music be socially and politically aware?
If you really dissect what I sing about it’s certainly, for people that know me… there are pretty significant political and social undertones to what I'm singing about. One thing I don’t feel the need to do is to be overtly in peoples’ face with it. I think music should be fun, I don’t want my music to be this social and political ranting, but at the same time I feel the need to do something that comes across as being slightly more significant than singing about getting fucked up in a club.
You are a part of the My Favourite Robot crew, how did that first come about?
It all happened organically, I got more and more involved in the label then became partners because I had always thought about starting one myself. I realised our visions were similar so it made sense to work together. As for being part of the band [of the same name], I started helping them with production then about three years ago we decided I would be an official third member: I always wanted to be in one when I was younger but it never happened because of where I lived, in a small town in the West.
Is showcasing Canadian talent important to the label?
We’ve definitely worked with Canadian artists a lot. We’ve just gravitated towards them but it was never something we were conscious of doing. In the beginning it was just a matter of accessibility. Now we’re more conscious about it than we were, and Canada does have a relatively rich heritage but sometimes it would be nice if the people here were more supportive of what we do.
Why aren’t they?
We don’t have outlets like the BBC and things here that showcases and puts electronic music on the map. It’s strange that after 70 releases on MFR Records there is just not much awareness locally even if there is everywhere else in the world.
You’ve recently collaborated with Sasha. Was it an internet thing or did you hook up in the studio?
It was an internet thing. I had gotten hold of something he’d put together, a 2-minute snippet, and worked on it over a weekend and sent it back to him. It resonated with him and he asked if I’d be up for turning it into an EP. We’re actually working on something else again now but that’s how I came to Last Night on Earth and that’s where my new album is coming out. Since then we’ve hung a few times and it’s been really inspiring.
Finally, what is your favourite robot?
Voltron. I think we are like that sometimes the way we all come together. The name of the label is one of the things I loved about it in the first place.