Every week we feature a notable rising artist on the verge of success. Meet our latest artist, the indie-electronica musician/producer who goes by TelepathicTeddyBear. We had a chance to talk to Juan and go On The Record with questions that let us view alternative culture from the eyes of the musician.
What are your top 3 favorite albums that inspired you to get into music?
There are so many but off the top of my head I used to dance around my room to Ten by Pearl Jam. It was just amazing how it made me feel, there was nothing like it. Eddie Vedder was my hero of heroes. The 90’s were a big part of my musically formative years. I had a tape of Nirvana’s Nevermind in my mom’s car, I drove her nuts playing it 24/7. I could say that Rush’s Roll the Bones was also a big influence. Those albums made me want to pick up a guitar or the sticks and play all day with my head phones on when I was young.
What are your fondest musical memories?
I remember listening to the Fiona Apple cover of Across The Universe… on acid. I could touch the music and play with it in the air and it made me think about my musical standards and how I could create art that could have such an impact on someone. My musical standards rose considerably after that and I strive to make something as special today. I’m still trying to get there but I have no doubt that I will be making music as special as that someday.
I find that being progressive, honest and original are my most inspiring characteristics in music so that means I love James Blake’s stuff as well as Bjork and Sufjan Stevens. Rufus Wainwright is up there too, especially when he uses orchestral arrangements so grandly. So, when I hear classical harmonies with a modern sound that pushes the envelope it makes me want to create. That’s the style I’m going for: the modern sound of electro pop with experimental tangents toward classical tendencies. That’s a mouthful but I think that’s a good thing.
He went to Berklee College of Music focusing on making music for film which is where his love for orchestra was initiated. Even after returning to his hometown his passion never subsided eventually developing into his sound of today, arising from an experimentation with synth sounds and within an atmosphere of home music production.
What is Telepathic Teddy Bear currently working on? Any new projects?
I’m about to release a new single very soon and keep releasing music every couple of weeks. I don’t know the name of the album yet, though. I just noticed it’s been 3 years since I’ve released something commercial/accesible so I’m kind of excited about the response it might get. My last project, The Course of Empire, was too esoteric.
What is your dream collaboration and why?
Rufus Wainwright, Sufjan Stevens, Bjork, Matt Mahaffey, James Blake. But I think as of today I would go with Kanye West. He’s an amazing producer and I admire his boldness while still maintaing a commercial vibe. I don’t listen to his albums too much but I think that he could teach me so much from a producing standpoint. It would be a dream come true.
What is your writing process like? How do you create your music? What subjects/experiences do you draw inspiration from?
I try to change my writing process with every album, sometimes every track, so it’s never the same. This keeps me learning and pushing towards a more streamlined process later on or so that I can stumble upon something original. I watch videos of producers all the time trying to get how they do things. But I’ve done most songs by fiddling around Logic, my audio software, trying to find an interesting synth sound or get inspired with a sample library. I also have a handful of melodies and harmonies recorded on Evernote that are sitting in scattered folders throughout my computer and I usually sift through them when I get started with a song. Sometimes they turn into a song, sometimes they die and end up in music idea purgatory.
The usual creative process might look something like this: vocal melody idea (no lyrics, just mumbling) recorded over synth/piano harmony idea in Logic, develop verse or chorus, add supporting elements, refine, come up with lyrics, refine, do a pre-mix, realize it sucks and feel self-loathing creeping in, refine lyrics, add more elements, feel a deep understanding that I will never reach my goals, yell at barking dogs out of frustration, mix, mix again, mix some more, check in car, check in mono, check in shitty stereo, check in headphones, develop tinnitus, develop hatred for song after listening to it 300 times, get intoxicated to listen to it at your friend’s party and think it’s pretty awesome, then send to mastering, question mastering and its benefits, publish or put away for later listening with a fresh ear. That’s usually how it goes if everything went well. At this point I have no clue if the song is any good or not but I think that’s a good thing since self-satisfaction is the end of creativity.
These days I’m been playing with some classical harmony structures just to see what happens. There are usually unexpected changes since I’m not used to the style and good surprises pop up more often.
What do you think about online music sharing, both as a music fan, producer, and as a musician? How do you think social media/music streaming services impacts the rising musician?
If by online music sharing you mean piracy or sharing between friends without paying anything then I think that it helps the rising musician. You’ve got to get the word out somehow and it’s a good thing that you can give away your stuff in the beginning. In an oversaturated market, it’s the only way to get noticed quicker. But if you’ve been in the game for a while and haven’t figured out how to break through, it sucks. You need every single cent you can get to finance your tour, develop a marketing campaign, pay for your album’s art, renting a studio or obtaining new gear, etc.
You’ve got to put in to get back and you can’t do that if you’re reward is, literally, one cent per stream on Spotify. Sure, back in the days of record labels controlling the industry, you didn’t get to see much money from cd sales either. But if Spotify or some other service is going to be the next Netflix for music then I hope we can figure out better deals for artist so that they can keep making music and getting better at what they love instead of being renaissance men that do everything else that requires the band to be well managed instead of making music. I see a lot of artists that spend way too much time worrying about how to get more followers on Facebook than they do spending time in the studio or on the road.
What are your views on the current indie/alternative music scene, in comparison to other scenes such as mainstream pop music?
I think there’s a lot of originality in the indie music scene today. There are so many acts reacting off each other that a cycle of innovation goes by too quickly these days. You go to a festival one year and you get all these fresh new bands coming up and then next year they’re the headliners until you don’t see them again because they’ve gone mainstream or get lost in the noise. So, a lot of pop music is just the remnant of what used to be indie.
But if we’re talking about pure pop like Miley, One Direction or Justin Bieber, then I think it’s aimed where it’s supposed to be aimed: at very young kids. Children are not supposed to be sophisticated about their music tastes so they take what is being offered by people who know how to market it in a massive way. Even Justin Timberlake or Pharell or Jay-Z, which I like, caters to the young crowd but somehow they manage to appeal to a wider audience as well. That’s a very hard thing to do and takes years of experience to get there as well as having a lot of luck and connections.
So, indie is turning pop. But maybe that’s how it’s always been.
In his latest EP, The Course of Empire, Telepathic Teddy Bear has taken the EP format and produced a unique creation that delivers an epic story through a merging of electro synth soundscapes with organic and orchestral elements designed to unfold the rise and fall of a kingdom. There are 5 songs in the EP, one for each painting of The Course of Empire series by Thomas Cole, where the birth and death of humanity, the harmony of nature, the excess of wealth, all take place within the span of 30 minutes. Held together by towering basses, swelling cellos, heavy brass and soothing pianos, this work is a cool breath of ingenuity that is welcome in today’s indistinct musical landscape.
Your most recent EP is what I would describe as an auditory art installation reflecting Thomas Cole’s series of paintings. How does art of other mediums inspire your creative process? How do you transfer paint on a canvas to orchestration? Are you more inspired by specific art movements, or did The Hudson River School just catch your eye? In other words, could you make possibly create an album on 60s pop-art or ancient greek statues?
These are great questions… Film might be another medium that is very inspiring. You see a scene that evokes certain emotions and you sit down at your piano or computer and try to musicalize that feeling. It might be anger or sadness or joy but film is very powerful as opposed to, say, food. But still, I mean, why not be inspired by cooking? It doesn’t have to be overtly artistic. Cooking feels kinda jazzy already.
You might transfer paint on a canvas in the same way. I felt this series by Thomas Cole to be an epic story of the conquest of human civilization over nature and you can get the tribal feel of nature with the natives in the first painting. So, you pull out some gritty drum samples and get native. In the first track I made the verse in 5/4 time signature because I wanted to get the feeling of something a bit more arrhythmic to portray the chaotic element of nature since, in relation to the rest of the series, there is mostly no civilization being depicted there. The ominous clouds inspire intensity and danger so the chords might have minor harmonies and a powerful melody on top of it. It was a lot of fun.
I liked the Thomas Cole series because of the symmetry and the five paintings coming full circle telling a story from birth to death. I used to be very neurotic and this feeling of completion from the story kinda resonated with my obsessive compulsiveness. I also like impressionism a lot. I think if you listen to Debussy you might get his idea of impressionism but what if he we’re living today and decided to musicalize Monet or Degas? It’s extremely compelling to see what would happen if he had some awesome synth sounds to work with, don’t you think?
And of course you could make music based on 60’s pop art or greek statues. Can you imagine the musical grace of a hellenistic piece? It would be extremely challenging, I think, since you might be persuaded to follow the intricate detail of this style. I’m afraid to even think about that challenge.
I can’t recall just one experience but my best experiences as a producer are always, very selfishly, when I have people helping me reach my vision. Collaboration is harder since it involves a lot more compromise; it’s also a lot of fun. But I’ve always been more of a loner. When you get to bounce your ideas with someone else to help you do your thing, it’s so gratifying.
I wish I spent more time listening to music that inspires me. I just can’t seem to make the time. I used to be the type that got inspired from not listening to music thinking this made me more original. That’s obviously complete bullshit. You need great input to get a great output.
At the moment, I’m super excited about starting on my next record. I’m still refining the last 2 tracks of my upcoming album but I can’t wait to finish it so that I can get started composing again. The album I’ll be releasing soon might sound a bit like Reactions since I used the same tools in the process. Now, I have a bunch of new tools like sample libraries and synths and drum machines and new friends to influence the sound that I don’t know what’s gonna happen but I’m sure it will be a blast. Also, the experiences I’ve had in the last year will contribute a lot to the sound and you’re always curious what your life will sound like when translated into music. Hopefully others will find it interesting as well.
Today, Telepathic Teddy Bear has spent considerable time in the studio this year producing his latest LP, scheduled to come out in 2014, as well as producing and collaborating with the Grammy nominated Los Claxons and a promising mexican band Clubz. He has also produced many tracks for the internationally acclaimed EDM DJ and entrepreneur Kryoman. Among his achievements, you can catch TTB’s music among many popular commercials from Nike, Jaguar, W Hotels, Blue Tomato, Loose Kid, K-Mart, Kickstarter and Sprint.