[Interview] Lord Raja Discusses New EP and Future Plans
Speakeasy Promotions has always brought in a diverse range of musical talent to Atlanta, but I’ve recently started paying more attention to the lineups that have come out under the Speakeasy name. I made it a priority to come to the Lord Raja show at 529 in East Atlanta Village, as I would want to come see any artist with releases on Adult Swim and Ghostly International, two of my favorite labels and brands; and names that greatly influenced my college days as I explored IDM, ambient, and chiptune.
Lord Raja’s direct support, Deku, was accompanied on stage by a drummer who kept up with every tempo as the set took a winding path through techno, hip-hop, glitchy lounge, and drum and bass. The performance was casual but enjoyable, driven by an APC and Ableton Launchpad that Deku dexterously manipulated, though not always in obvious time with the music, leaving me wondering what level of improvisation I was actually experiencing. I stepped outside to talk with Lord Raja about his recent releases and overall direction of his creative output.
You’ve sampled your parents’ Indian record collection before, but most of your music draws from influences in hip-hop, jazz, and other genres. It really sounds like American electronica, which is exactly what it is. What influence has that heritage had on your music?
Yeah, that was way back in the day; it was actually my Grandfather’s. He just gave me a bunch of records when I was really young. It just doesn’t come to me naturally; I don’t speak Hindi. So, whenever my parents would play Indian music, I would just focus on the instrumentals. I love Indian music, but I don’t naturally make stuff like that. I grew up with my older brother and I watching MTV and listening to P. Diddy, so that’s probably the hip-hop influence. I was also listening to alternative rock; I just listen to everything all the time.
At what point did music clearly become something you wanted to pursue seriously, beyond just a hobby with your brother?
Just always, really. It was all I did all the time unless I was told I had to go to school or do something. It was never like, ‘Ah, I should call it quits.’ I mean, I would get down sometimes, just society or emotions… and I would think ‘Where is this going?’ But, that’s why I realized I just have to keep thinking like a kid so I don’t think about that shit.
Your music carries a lot of meaning to you, but you don’t create a lot of lyrical content, so some of that meaning might be hidden to a casual listener.
It’s nuanced. I like to try different genres and push myself and see what I can do, so I think the next step is to get lyrical and exercise a pop sentiment; because I actually like pop music. I want to partner with people for my own stuff, and partner with people as a producer. Maybe songwriting for singers, and making instrumentals.
You’ve said you wanted to make music that sounds like visuals. What does your music look like to you?
Sometimes it’s movies, or an image and the colors that come with that image. When I was making Amadeus, I was also going through a sneaker obsession. So, I was looking at the colors of the sneakers, and I was also thinking about lightning; like just sheer electricity like that. I was projecting the old Batman with Jack Nicholson. I like the images in that a lot. That and, it’s generic, but Bladerunner also.
There’s a long history of overlap between Adult Swim, which is here in Atlanta, and Ghostly International. Can you talk about your working relationship with those brands and how it has enabled your music to reach new audiences?
Those are two staples. Ghostly and Adult Swim really shaped my childhood in a way. I got lucky. I did a show in college, I opened for Shigeto and Mux Mool. I was really silly and just played whatever music I wanted, and Shigeto had listened to my music beforehand so then he told Ghostly. Para was on Adult Swim and I did some singles in their singles program. The bonus track on Amadeus was a single last year, and then I’m about to have another come out with them, and it has lyrics on it! I know through Twitter that Jason DeMarco really liked The Constant Moth when it came out. I didn’t know he had anything to do with Adult Swim, but he runs Toonami and he helps run the Adult Swim Singles Program. He’s a really awesome guy.
We’ve talked about a lot, but is there anything else coming up next for you?
Well, the Amadeus EP. I was thinking of doing another tape of Amadeus outtakes to tide people over, but I kind of want to get more focused and take my time with something. I really am getting my head focused on making somewhat of a hip-hop, pop… just songwriting type of album. A composition-focused album. These days I don’t listen to much instrumental music anymore. I’m obsessed with Prince and a lot of rap music, so I’m trying to work with people.
After our conversation, Lord Raja went back inside to prepare for his set. The crowd was small but enthusiastic, and everyone danced to the music as we were taken on a journey through drone, hip-hop, R&B, and electronica of all sorts. It sounds like things are changing for the young beat producer, so watch for collaborations and a new style of production coming from him soon.
Photos by Megan Friddle for Bullet Music.