Interview: Reggie Watts And John Tejada On Wajatta And 'Don't Let Get You Down' The electronic duo, composed of improvisational musician and comedian Reggie Watts and LA dance music powerhouse John Tejada, talk about their second album, Don't Let Get You Down.
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'Art Shouldn't Be Painful': How Wajatta Combines Improvisation And Production

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'Art Shouldn't Be Painful': How Wajatta Combines Improvisation And Production

'Art Shouldn't Be Painful': How Wajatta Combines Improvisation And Production

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. Now let's get to a story about a musical pairing that, on paper, maybe shouldn't work. It's a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants improviser along with a meticulous electronic composer. Let's start with the improviser, Reggie Watts.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

REGGIE WATTS: (Singing) It's "The Late Late Show," "The Late Late Show."

GREENE: Watts is the bandleader for "The Late Late Show With James Corden." But before that, he was a comedian with this particular delivery. It's an absurd stream of consciousness. This is him giving a TED Talk back in 2012, where he is basically poking fun at some of the stuff here at TED Talks he had seen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATTS: As music is only the division of space. And it is the space we are listening to, divided as such, which gives us the information in comparison to something other that gives us the idea of what the idea that wants to be transmitted wants to be. So, please, without further ado...

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

GREENE: So that was actually all improvised. And then he shows off this other talent. Reggie Watts creates intricate pieces of music - again, totally improvised - using mostly wordless vocals, which he inserts into a device that loops those vocals live. So he might start with a simple rhythm like this...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATTS: (Beatboxing).

GREENE: ...And the device seamlessly loops that into a beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: But that's just where the fun starts. I asked Reggie Watts about this process.

WATTS: I just add, you know, drums, bass, rhythmic elements.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WATTS: I riff over that. Sometimes, I'll discover a melody. I'll add that to the loop. And then I'll harmonize over that to create kind of a chorus or a hook.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATTS: (Singing) And I've been trying to be the one that you believe in.

So it's - I guess you'd call it live production.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATTS: (Singing) Want to be so saucy.

GREENE: So this is really fascinating to watch. But Reggie Watts just wasn't satisfied.

WATTS: I'd always wanted to make proper dance music - like techno, house kind of realm. I have always been trying to do my own electronic projects but not quite getting the sounds right. It was always a dream to be recognized by the scenes that I really dug. You know, if I could get, like, a German, like, dancing, you know, in Berghain or something like that and just be like, what do you think of this track? - and they be like, it's not bad - I would be like, great. I did it.

GREENE: So enter the other part of this duo, the composer, John Tejada. The Los Angeles Times calls him one of the most important figures in LA dance music for a couple decades. Watts and Tejada met at one of Tejada's club gigs. And he agreed to help Reggie hone his sound and build upon some of those improvised loops. So together, Watts and Tejada became Wajatta. See what they did there?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANOTHER SUN")

WAJATTA: (Vocalizing).

GREENE: Now, a lot of electronic dance composers can spend months obsessing over just one song. John Tejada decided to fight that instinct and be with Reggie Watts in the moment.

JOHN TEJADA: Our sort of mantra is, like, art shouldn't be painful.

GREENE: So a song might start with a simple John Tejada beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RENEGADES")

WAJATTA: (Vocalizing).

GREENE: And then Reggie Watts lets his creativity take over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RENEGADES")

WAJATTA: (Vocalizing).

GREENE: Again, here's John Tejada.

TEJADA: I think, initially, it's sort of, like, throwing paint on the canvas and then seeing where we're at. And then once the canvas gets kind of full, we have the ability to sort of edit and tweak. It's hours of fun. And it's just tons of material.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RENEGADES")

WAJATTA: (Vocalizing).

GREENE: With John Tejada's grounding and composition, Reggie Watts now had that missing element he needed to make the music he had dreamed of.

WATTS: I just never had the patience because I'm more interested in, like, oh, this is a cool idea. Oh, how about this idea? So with John, it was very refreshing to know that he's like, no, that's all I need. Cool. I'll see you later, you know? (Laughter) And I was like, OK, great. That's it? OK, cool. And then we have a badass track.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAJATTA SONG, "DON'T LET GET YOU DOWN")

GREENE: And while Reggie Watts took advantage of John Tejada's precise and thorough nature, Tejada says he learned a valuable lesson from Reggie Watts' approach.

TEJADA: I remember one time he came up with this great idea, as he does. And I just looked at him like, how are we going to do that? And he just looked at me and says, yeah, we're just going to do it. That actually really stayed with me...

WATTS: Yeah.

TEJADA: ...To your credit. Like, ever since then, if something seems really difficult, I just sort of think of him going like, yeah, we're just going to do it, you know? And that's kind of a small transformation for me, I think.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LET GET YOU DOWN")

WAJATTA: (Singing) Don't let get you down. I know how love can feel.

GREENE: Reggie Watts and John Tejada are Wajatta. Their new album comes out today. It is called "Don't Let Get You Down."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LET GET YOU DOWN")

WAJATTA: (Singing) Don't, don't...

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