After 10 years as a musician and producer, RJD2, famous for crafting the sleek Mad Men theme, has come full circle. Well, almost. His new album, The Colossus, came out in January on RJ’s Electrical Connections, a record label he started. He’s back to, as he puts it in his bio, “making little beats in my bedroom for release on an independent label.” But as he points out, he now owns the studio and the independent label.
The idea to break out on his own came to RJD2, whose full name is Ramble John Krohn, in the winter of 2008. It was a way to resolve a few problems. Definitive Jux, the first label Krohn signed with, gave him the masters to his first three catalogue records. Krohn wanted to reissue them without having to re-license them to another label and he also had a new album to release. Armed with the experience he amassed during his career, Krohn decided to launch his own label. He acknowledges that being your own boss sometimes does more harm than good, but he has found a way to avoid becoming too headstrong.
“What I like about the situation is that the final say for things is on me, but at the same time it’s a regular occurrence for me to go to people and say “Hey, what do you think about this?'”
After releasing The Third Hand, an admittedly non-collaborative album (his goal was to see how far he could get on his own) in 2007, The Colossus is a complete 180. From flutists to guest vocalists, if he wanted something on the album, but felt his own resources weren’t enough, he enlisted someone’s help.
His dream list of collaborators included British electronica outfit MGMT and prog-rockers the Mars Volta. “But I don’t expect them to get back to me,” he said casually. “I’m just RJD2. They’re the Mars Volta.”
Krohn’s songs always start out as instrumental. Then, “the song kind of tells you what it wants to do,” in terms of whether or not to add vocals. He wrote all the lyrics and sang on every track, then sent the lyrics and instrumental versions of ones he wasn’t satisfied with to other artists as a kind of pitch.
Kenna Zemedkun and Phonte Coleman, both Grammy-nominated artists, are among the vocalists Krohn recruited for the album. The former lends his voice to the spacey-smooth R&B jam, “Games You Can Win,” while the latter croons on “The Shining Path.”
“The Glow,” track five, is the first that features Krohn’s voice. With a music video that features a snazzy-looking doll cruising around in a toy convertible to lyrics like “No need to vote, business leans our way/ No need to drive the block, we got valets,” the song is a result of his experiences being a student on scholarship at an elite school rife with people who personified old money.
“I just found it interesting, that experience of being able to see it in people’s faces that they’re of this stature, or whatever. But it’s not supposed to be a diatribe. I don’t want to come off as judgemental.”
Krohn compared The Colossus to a kaleidoscope, an analogy he said best characterizes the shift in style from track to track. But he also wants to make sure his catalogue is stylistically varied too.
“Even if I lose a couple of fans along the way, I don’t consider it the end of the world. What it really comes down to for me is that I, with a clear conscience, can’t make the same record over and over,” explained Krohn. “I’m not cut from that cloth.”
RJD2 plays March 10 at La Tulipe.
Music video “The Glow”: http://bit.ly/cX0S4k