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Interview with Teeel

April 25, 2011

*** Click HERE to see my recent interview w/ Teeel, or check the linked ‘trackbacks’ at the bottom of the page***

Welcome to the 1st ever Hipster Files (HF) interview, with one of my favorite new artists, Teeel. I think 2011 is going to turn into the resurgence of the synthesizer. I recently reviewed Teeel’s debut album, Amulet. If you missed that, check it here. I have emailed Teeel some questions & gotten back some awesome responses! I have also quoted from 3 previous interviews, with Lyfstyl, Waves Visuals, & Discosalt blogs.  I didn’t want to waste time asking the same the questions over again. Big thanks to my new friends that were gracious enough to let me quote from their blogs. Be sure to check out the their blogs & interviews afterwards.

Name:

James (Jim) Smith

Location:

Trenton, New Jersey

[Quoted from Lyfstyl] Genre-wise how would you describe yourself?

JS: synthwave, drumbeat, dark disco, emotional pop

[Quoted from Waves Visuals] Where does the name Teeel come from

JS: After thinking about a name for this project for a long time it became obvious it should be “Teeel”. It’s my favorite color. I painted my studio/office teal a couple years ago. I love the way it makes me feel. I wanted to use “Teal” but obviously it’s been used. I figured I’d go with 3 “E”s to make it unique. With a name like Jim Smith, I wanted to stand out a little. Also, the color teal holds a few meanings that I think are truly represented in my music: emotional, healing, and unique.

[Quoted from Waves Visuals] When did it all start?

JS: I’ve been playing guitar and singing with bands from Metal to Hard Rock since high school. I got into electronic music around 1996 and found Drum and Bass. I instantly had to get a set of turntables and wanted to learn how to mix records. This led me to create my own electronic music. I fell in love with the synth sound. A few years later, I was DJing drum and bass out quite frequently in the Philly and New Jersey area and became even more focused on production. After writing heavy drum and bass for a year, I turned to the softer side of music and begin writing electronica. Two years ago, a friend/co-worker and I started Silver Sea, an electronica group. I’ve been collecting synths and I picked up a broken Yamaha DX7, had it fixed and recently began writing Teeel songs. That about takes us to today.

HF: Now that you are making music on your own, is Silver Sea finished, or will you continue any other projects on the side?

JS: Actually, I never stop creating different styles of music. I get bored pretty quickly so I try to keep things fresh. I still like to get together with old band mates and jam or collab on an evil drum and bass tune. Working on a wide range of music has really helped me learn more about producing and creating music. As for Silver Sea, we actually have enough material for a second album. We’re debating what to do with it, to be honest. We’ve considered sending it out for commercials and advertising or maybe just doing a free release for everyone. Dave, the other half of Silver Sea, still comes over and does some recording sessions after work but it’s pretty rare these days. I had to put a lot of my side hobbies and music collaborations on hold to focus on Teeel and completing Amulet.  Eventually, I’ll have everything up on the web for people to grab for FREE. That’s a whole project in itself.

HF: What has the music scene in New Jersey been like for you?

JS: There are quite a few bands in my area so there is always something happening on the weekends. All of my close friends either play an instrument, DJ or produce so I get to hear new music all the time. We’ve been throwing rock shows and DJ parties in the local area dating back to the late 90s. One of my favorites; I did a weekly that featured rotating bands and DJs in the same night. That was a pretty cool way to get other scenes interested in different underground music. As for living in NJ, you can’t go wrong with Philly and NYC as neighbors too. There is always something happening.

 HF: I’ve never seen it, but feel obligated to ask you this….Do you think the TV show ‘Jersey Shore’ gives Jersey a bad rep?

JS: Yes, it actually annoys me to the bone. I’ve lived here for a long time, spent weekends down the shore and it just gets worse and worse as the years go by. South Park did an amazing job making fun of the whole “Jersey” reality thing. I get it, the shows are entertaining but really stupid. My brain melts when I watch it. It’s like the new Jerry Springer for America. When I travel and mention NJ, that’s all people talk about. In reality, I always have to justify that none of my friends look, talk or act like that. It’s a shame.

HF: In your Waves Visuals interview, you said that in high school you & your friends would sometimes load up your cars & drive to Vermont to snowboard for the weekend. Do you still snowboard these days?

JS: Not as much as I’d like to. The weekends tend to fill up pretty quick these days with DJing and work. It’s hard to sync calendars with my friends too. Everyone has their own lives, wives, etc. & so much going on. I love getting a day at the mountain to reset my mind and relax. There’s no better feeling.

[Quoted from Lyfstyl] I am a huge fan of your debut Lp Amulet! Where did you get the inspiration for the album?

JS: Musically, A lot of my inspiration obviously came from 80s new wave and synthpop movement. I also listen to a ton of french electro and electronica. This year alone I was stuck on a lot from the “Valerie” label and also a ton of newer music from Cut Copy, Air, Album Leaf, TOBACCO, FM Attack, Com Truise, The Deftones, and Tesla Boy. The lyrics and song concepts were inspiration from movies (I watch at least one a day) to personal life experiences.

[Quoted from Waves VisualsYou seem to be good friends with “Com Truise” how did you two meet?

JS: We met at a Drum and Bass party about 6-7 years ago and became internet buddies. Being both designers and musicians, we had very similar interests and we became close friends. He lived in upstate NY at the time and then I encouraged him to move to New Jersey and get into advertising. We’ve been working together ever since. He’s my brother from another mother.

HF: I also consider myself a big movie guy, what are a few of your favorite movies and/or movie genres?

JS: Oh man, that’s a tough one for me. I spend a lot of time in the basement watching flicks. I don’t do sports or TV so I’ve built up quite the collection. I’m more into horror and comedies than anything else. I actually collect horror figures too. As for my top movies off the top of my head… ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Donnie Darko,’ ‘The Last Dragon,’ ‘Army of Darkness,’ ‘Fight Club,’ ‘Willy Wonka,’ Friday the 13ths, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ &  ‘Dumb and Dumber. Also, stuff by: Quentin Tarintino, Kevin Smith, Stanley Kubrick & the list could go on forever.

HF: Seems we have a lot of the same tastes in films. I’ve noticed that you have more than one tattoo of scenes from Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange”, what is the story behind some of your other tattoos?

JS: My lower right arm is a dedication piece to ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ my all-time favorite movie. I also have an M.C. Escher piece on my back, both upper arms are dragons, and my right thigh is Koi pond scene. I plan on working on some horror portraits on my leg next year. Also, I want to do some sort of family crest with my brother, I still have plenty of time and skin so I’m in no rush.

 HF: In your song, “Amulet,” I got the impression that a vampire movie might have inspired some of your lyrics. Like these: 

“The Cold is where we shall sleep

Your neck is all that I see

This blood is the one for me”
Am I right with that assumption? If so, was there a specific movie that inspired “Amulet”?

JS: Actually yes! The album Amulet was a reference to ‘Monster Squad,’ which was a favorite of mine when I was little. I just picked up the 20th Anniversary on DVD and was totally inspired for the album. The song itself is actually a sad love song about how Dracula is madly in love with a woman but his fear is, once he bites her, she’ll become a monster like himself.

[Quoted from DiscosaltWhat are some artists/albums that influenced Amulet that people wouldn’t automatically guess?

JS: Well for 2010 it would be a lot of Air, Röyksopp, Telefon Tel Aviv, Com Truise, 311, The Album Leaf, Chromeo, Midnight Juggernauts, TOBACCO, Cut Copy, Phantogram, Deftones, Just Jack, anything from the Valerie Collective and lots of old Madonna

 HF:  Do you have a favorite album yet from this year? If not, how about a favorite from last year?

JS: Hands down, Phantogram’s Eyelid Movies. Not only are the songs amazing, but the track listing and order of the album do it for me. A definite album to throw on repeat.

HF: In your interview with Discosalt, you said, “I have a ton of ideas that need to get from my head to my music.” What part of a song do you usually write 1st, the beats, the synths, the guitar, or lyrics? Do you have a certain way you usually go about writing a song? 

JS: I’ve done it a few different ways. Sometimes it will start with a little keyboard or guitar riff and I’ll build from that, but I usually get a solid beat going, then the bassline, then lay in the pads and synths, moving onto vocals, add in sound fx and crashes, rises etc. Once I have all the sounds in there, I’ll mix it out and EQ everything, adjust levels and make a few last minute tweaks. Some nights I’ll actually rip out a ton of quick comp ideas or just make synthesizer patches. The process is ever-changing. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning and discovering new ways to make music.

HF: You have recently played a couple shows in NY, one in NJ, and most recently in LA. How was your experience playing in LA?

JS: It was really fun. Since I was visiting friends and family out west, I didn’t bring my whole live setup consisting of guitars, synths, pedals, etc. Instead, I brought my laptop and midi controller to keep things minimal. The Bronson Bar was a cozy and classy spot with great people and an amazing vibe. All of the DJs played some great tracks. I ended up Djing an 80s and electro set and we all had a blast. I’m really excited to get back out there and do an official performance soon.
HF: I noticed you had a small Gizmo setting on top your Moog keyboard at one of your shows. Did he make the trip to LA as well?

JS: Nah, Gizmo doesn’t like the California sun. I left him home to protect the synths.

HF: Is Gizmo a good luck charm or just the unofficial Teeel mascot?

JS: He’ll definitely be making more appearances. He usually just hangs in my studio and gives pointers. I always like to bring something fun to the event, whether it’s a wig, goofy shades or a stuffed gizmo.

HF: Thanks so much for your time Jim. Best of luck with the rest of your upcoming tour & your career going forward.

JS: Thank you sir for the support and kicking butt. I’m looking forward to working with you again. Take care and much love to my friends, family and fans. \m/

I gave TeeelAmulet, 9.0/10

Again, big thanks to Teeel, & also to my friends at LyfstylWaves Visuals, & Discosalt blogs.

Click on the blogs above to check them out.

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