RJD2 is a timid beast that thrusts creative aggression into turntables, samplers and drum machines, pushing buttons while scratching records to create todayâ€™s masterpieces that score films, commercials and staying true to the present day, video games. RJD2â€™s debut release on a new label, XL, is titled, The Third Hand (It was made with my own two hands, I pass it on and the person that is listening to it is the third hand that the record is seeing,â€ says RJD2 of his title, a title that suggests a youthful attempt of sexual innuendo) and he packs innovative ideas that place new sounds found with the freedom of opportunity â€“ â€œI recorded this album when I wasnâ€™t under contract to anybody and I did that so I could have the freedom to record what I want and enjoy myself, have fun.â€
This week, RJD2 plays in his native state, Ohio, then Kentucky, then Tennessee, then Arkansas, then Oklahoma and finally, Austin, Texas for SxSw before traveling to seven more city dates â€“ whew, rest for two and a half weeks, on the road for three more.
RJD2 is not a junkie rock star or catty rapper. RJD2 is a 30-year-old man that enjoys the music in classic Nintendo Entertainment System video games.
â€œI did grow up playing video games and there are things that Iâ€™ve absorbed and internalized from the music of video games, and those things kind of creep into your head.â€
Format: On tour, youâ€™re the star every night, how do you prepare for that?
RJD2: All the preparation that Iâ€™m putting into this tour is learning the songs and getting the show to where I want it to be. In my experience, if youâ€™re prepared enough for a show, there is enough to occupy your brain for that hour. You donâ€™t have enough time to get sucked into how many people are in the room or it going to your head. Thatâ€™s the way I deal with that. When I first started touring I learned that when you go out and youâ€™re half-assed with a set and you donâ€™t have a set thatâ€™s engaging, and requires your thought, thatâ€™s when youâ€™re sucked into a bad train of thought.
Format: Youâ€™re touring to 25 American states and two Canadian provinces, how do you manage an insane schedule like that?
RJD2: If you look, there are two week windows where I am off so itâ€™s not like 35 or 45 dates in a row. I go out for two weeks and I come home for two weeks. Two weeks off and two weeks on, and I do that for three weeks. Itâ€™s not as long as it seems.
Format: Youâ€™re touring with a four-piece band, how do you enjoy playing with live musicians?
RJD2: Weâ€™re going to do the new songs with the bands and Iâ€™m going to do some of the old songs by myself, just using turntables and a sampler. I donâ€™t really know how it is to play with the band, I have my first rehearsal in two days, right now, Iâ€™ve given everyone their parts and we start in two days.
Format: Your new album, The Third Hand, is on your new label, XL, how was the label transition?
RJD2: This is the first big time, Iâ€™ve always worked with different labels, as a freelance producer and stuff, Iâ€™m used to dealing with different people, but as far as my solo career this is the first time Iâ€™ve moved. I recorded this album when I wasnâ€™t under contract to anybody and I did that so I could have the freedom to record what I want and enjoy myself, have fun â€“ not feel any expectation as far as what a label is expecting me to turn in. Then, once the record was done, I realized that XL would be one of the most appropriate places to do the record. They have experience doing rock music, electronic music and their roster reflects â€“ theyâ€™re obviously experienced in a field I think this record is closer to than just rap music or hip-hop.
Format: What is the contrast between The Third Hand and your last album?
RJD2: I hate to say this, but I would rather have people listen to it, because I donâ€™t like going into records with preconceived notions about what to expect. I get more out of music â€“ Iâ€™d rather let them decide. A lot of things changed and some things stayed the same.
Format: Do you feel that youâ€™ve grown as an artist, or is The Third Hand a side of you that listeners have never heard from you, to date?
RJD2: I definitely feel that Iâ€™ve grown as an artist. In some of the things that come through on this record you could say are things Iâ€™ve always had an affinity for. There is a quiet acoustic song and there is another song with no drums, itâ€™s all just ambient synthesizer music. These are facets of music that Iâ€™ve always appreciated and liked, and wanted to experiment with and work in, but this is the first time Iâ€™ve gone balls to the wall with it.
â€œIf you were going to invest in building cars and you invest $50,000 in it and there is a portion of society that believes cars should be free and they steal cars from factories, would you invest $50,000 in it?â€
Format: On your MySpace page, your influences are listed as Capcom, Midway and Nintendo, did you play video games?
RJD2: The funny thing is that I put it up there as a joke and I realized at the end of the day that itâ€™s a joke, but itâ€™s a lot more serious than I care to admit. I did grow up playing video games and there are things that Iâ€™ve absorbed and internalized from the music of video games, and those things kind of creep into your head. I know for a fact, not the reason, but a small facet of why Iâ€™m into older, analog, polysonic synthesizers is because of the video game music that I was listening to as a child. All of the music that was done on Donkey Kong, Pac Man and all that stuff, people have told me that itâ€™s a PolyMode or Roland System 100, but anything from the first Ledged of Zelda, on NES, the eight-bit. Metal Gear to Contra, Kid Icarus, these are all things that had good music and there were some interesting things. I think they were valid, Iâ€™m not saying that I put the fucking cartridge in and listen to my TV, but I like that shit â€“ itâ€™s nothing to be ashamed of. There are guys that, in my eyes, good composers that were making some of that music.
Format: Your songs are in video games and commercials, how does that make you feel?
RJD2: Itâ€™s cool. When I did the score to that game Getting Up that was a big accomplishment to me. I got real busy after I did it so I didnâ€™t get a chance to play it for the first year it was out, I just got to play it a month ago, and that was fun. Playing through a game and all the in-game music that I recorded in my basement, it was cool.
Format: Internet marketing, audioblogs and MySpace are huge for a person in your industry. Please explain how those Internet outlets are advantageous or challenging to your career.
RJD2: Thatâ€™s a tough call. Iâ€™m not really sure. I donâ€™t like to spend too much time thinking of marketing, but since I manage myself I have to and I have to make these decisions, but at the end of the day I donâ€™t think itâ€™s the most exciting thing, Iâ€™d rather listen to records. The obvious challenge is dealing with the downloading thing and they way people behave with the thing. It can be hard to stomach. To give you an example, weâ€™re living in a day and age where some of these people that run blogs and Internet services, websites and stuff, they truly believe that music should be free. If I were in a philosophy class and I was just sitting here and I wasnâ€™t involved in music, I could discuss this rationally and I could see their point, but the hard part for me is that I see people around me â€“ to really make a good record, you have to invest money in it. To me, 98 per cent of records that are classic records couldnâ€™t have been made where there wasnâ€™t that business model of itâ€™s OK spending $50,000 making this record, because it wonâ€™t be a total loss. If you were going to invest in building cars and you invest $50,000 in it and there is a portion of society that believes cars should be free and they steal cars from factories, would you invest $50,000 in it? These are the kinds of things to a certain degree, dealing with blogs and Internet marketing puts me in too close of contact, itâ€™s depressing, but itâ€™s like beating a dead horse. The upside is that it keeps you on your toes.
Format: The Third Handâ€™s cover art looks like Ohio, your home state, was that intentional?
RJD2: It was kind of my agenda,. I approached the guy and I had a specific idea of what I wanted it to look like. I didnâ€™t really relate it to Ohio, but I can see that, because there are parts of Ohio that look like that. I just had an idea of what I wanted the record to look like.
Format: What does The Third Hand mean to you?
RJD2: The title is in reference to the fact that this is the first record that I did with my own two hands. When I was thinking about titles it was around the same time when you prepare yourself for making a personal experience of your own to a public thing that you share. It was made with my own two hands, I pass it on and the person that is listening to it is the third hand that the record is seeing.