It's been a hell of a year for James Teej.
The Toronto-based producer has been busy burning up international dance floors as one-third of My Favorite Robot, while curating some of the international tech-house charts' most forward-thinking releases on the act's eponymous label.
But Teej is a veteran of the electronic dance music scene -- a seasoned soloist whose lyricism and soulful yet gritty vocal style put his work a few notches above the uhntz-uhntz fold.
Ahead of his gig at Treehouse on Saturday alongside UK progressive house legend Sasha, LINK and Miami Rebels, Crossfade caught up with Mr. Teej to chat about the Toronto scene, My Favorite Robot, and his new album due out in early 2013.
Crossfade: Your production work is very sophisticated, not just dance floor-functional. Were you classically trained? What is your background in music? And how did you first get into electronic dance music production?
James Teej: I've been studying music since I was a little kid. Always been in love with it. I took lessons on a bunch of instruments until the end of high school -- all experience that has helped me develop the tools to materialize my vision of electronic music, which coincidentally I've been listening to and making since my early teens as well. As much as I tried to fight it early on, this really is what I've been meant to do with my life.
You also have a very distinctive vocal style. Did singing come naturally to you? Or did you hone the skill through training?
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Vocals were something that I never really played around with much until I moved to Toronto. I didn't know many singers and other musicians in the city at that point, and was wanting to incorporate some vocal elements into the music I was making. So it kind of happened naturally, and I really got into singing after that. There's something really spiritual and trippy about putting that level of emotion into music. I'm definitely not the best singer out there. But I know my voice, and I'm honest with what I sing. So I think it comes across in a way that people apparently have connected to. In my eyes, a dash of soul can never hurt anything.
Toronto's electronic dance music scene appears to be in full bloom with international stars like Art Department, Azari & III, Nitin and you. How has living and working there informed you as an artist?
Well, Art Department and Nitin are definitely my family. We've all been working on music for a long time. And before everyone started to tour more internationally, we were all playing together a lot. I met the guys from Azari a few years later, before they blew up, and there are others around as well that all were the fabric of Toronto's scene -- basically, a lot of people that are really into music.
The scene itself is deceptively small, considering the size of the city. But it's Canada's music hub, and a lot of artists travel through here. So finding inspiration was never really that far away. The city really defines my sound at least, and is why I've chosen to stay here. It's a beautiful place to live, in an amazing country. I guess I've gotten more patriotic as I've gotten older.
How did My Favorite Robot first form? And what sort of creative avenue does the outfit provide you outside of your solo work?
My Favorite Robot originally was the duo of Jared Simms and Voytek Korab, both from Montreal. I met Jared around four or five years ago, here in Toronto. And as we got to know each other more, we found that we had similar visions of music. We then started working more closely, and then with the label. Over time, I've gotten more and more involved with things. And after working collectively on a series of tracks, just naturally visited the idea of me joining the band. The rest is history, and our best work yet is coming out real soon.
What is your day-to-day involvement in running the MFR label and its A&R? What sort of artists and overall sound are you looking for to define the catalog?
Well, basically, daily duties depend on what needs to be done and where we are at the time. Jared is the man with the plan, and is able to keep things rolling silky smooth. And collectively we really have been able to define the core direction of the label and its style. As for the A&R, I listen to absolutely everything anyone sends to me, and will give my honest feedback. Constructive direction is something I struggled getting earlier in my career, and I feel it's my way of giving back. I also like to discover new talent along my travels. Getting the opportunity to travel the world and meeting so many talented and dedicated artists makes finding new music really interesting.
You recently announced the completion of your sophomore album Eight Bit Ocean to be released early 2013. What can you tell us about the work you put into this album and what fans can expect?
Well, I hadn't planned initially to do an album this year. But I had been working on a series of solo tracks alongside the writing of My Favorite Robot's album. After the collaboration with Sasha, we sort of talked about the idea of me doing another EP for his label, Last Night On Earth. Then there was this point where I just saw the vision of the album so clearly. And ultimately, I wrote the nine tracks consecutively, aside from the closing track, which was actually the first track I did in the series.
Before I started -- and after my last album -- I had made the decision to do an album with fewer tracks and I'm really pleased with how it all turned out. I really think people are going to enjoy the direction of this project. It definitely feels like a continuation of sorts to my Evening Harvest LP on Rekids in 2010. It really paints a deep and colorful story in a very fun and 2012 kinda way. I can't wait to share it with people.
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Besides the new album release, what's next for you? Any upcoming projects or releases we should keep an eye out for?
Right now, the albums are front and center. But there are some other projects and collaborations that are being worked on that I'm really excited to be involved with. Lots of electronic, and a dash of some indie hip-hop pop stuff. I'm continuing to evolve and grow musically, and trying to be as diverse as I can be -- all the while trying to collaborate with more and more artists around the world and keep refining my musical skills. It's what keeps me inspired and motivated to keep doing what I'm doing.
James Teej. Alongside James Teej. Saturday, October 27. Treehouse Miami, 323 23rd St., Miami Beach. The party starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $25 plus fees via residentadvisor.net. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-614-4478 or visit treehousemiami.com.