Jim Smith aka TEEEL hasn’t been on the scene very long, but his impact is already unmistakeable. With 2 LPs to his credit and a brand new label he started from scratch, TEEEL is digging in his heels for the long haul. After taking in a matinee showing of The Hunger Games, I recently caught up with him at a competitive starving contest…
Violent Success: How did you arrive at your signature style? Was there a kind of “A-HA!” moment, or did it evolve over time?
TEEEL: I had been experimenting with so many styles of music from playing in hard rock and metal bands to learning production and electronic music. At the time, I was using Reason and still learning about synthesis, mixing, mastering and composition. I really wanted to get back to my band roots so I bought a Logic Pro to record live instruments and vocals. I really haven’t looked back. I knew at that moment I wanted to write electronic music and incorporate my guitars, synths and vocals.
TEEEL: Can I say better and worse? Considering in 1998 I was duplicating tapes of my band on a stereo unit, printing out covers and hand building demos to get our music out there, I think the internet has made things better. I do miss that element of discovery at rock shows, buying the band’s demo tape and owning something sacred. These days you can look up a song, find the band, download their entire library, learn everything about them in 10 minutes and by the end of the day, you’re over it. The industry is fast moving. I discover a new artist everyday that deserves recognition. There are so many people doing it now and with the use of blogs and social sites, it’s so easy to get your sound out there. The quality of music is much better now. Computers are faster, programs are better, and you can learn everything from YouTube. It’s pretty intense.
TEEEL: I love the Chromeo guys. I respect the fact that they are writing with a traditional method, running midi notes from vintage gear into a 94 Dell. They seem to have fun and really enjoy making music. Plus, I want to be surrounded by their massive synth collection.
TEEEL: Most of the music I write is done after 10pm. Working in advertising, running the label, being married and owning a home takes a considerable amount of time during the day. I like to wait till the world is asleep so I can focus and not be interrupted by distractions. My writing process is constantly changing as I find new ways of doing things. I’ll start with writing a bunch of demo tracks and I won’t work on anything too long, at first. I generally write a few in a night and move on so I don’t waste too much time on something I might not like the next day. It could start from a guitar riff or synth lead. It’s always different. From there, I’ll categorize my comps into playlists and see what works well with each other. I’ll take those songs and narrow them down to what I like most, start recording vocals on them and then spend time mixing them down and getting the composition together.
TEEEL: Synthemesc (Synth Records) is more an artist collective of like-minded musicians. No egos. No politics. No BS. We all want to spread our sound and share our passion. I think the average person goes to a label because they agree with their vision and taste. For instance, you’ll find synthesizer-based indie pop on our site. If I wanted to hear the nastiest dubstep, I’d turn to Dirty Recordz. Labels and genres help identify and categorize music. They might not be as important as in the past because the use of the internet, you can discover music so easily but it’s nice to have a common place for a specific style of music. I do think labels help discover new music.
TEEEL: I’m working with a pretty big artist and a personal hero right now on a side project. I don’t want to give away anything yet and jinx it. Let’s just say, it’s one of the coolest things to ever happen to me and I can’t wait to share this with the world. Also, I’m planning on releasing a full instrumental album. I have a slew of unreleased tracks that I want to give away. Really fun synth tracks that would be perfect for 80s movies and really don’t deserve vocals. I hope to get it out in the next couple months.
TEEEL: I do all of my own artwork unless I’m featuring someone’s photograph. I try to keep them consistent and minimal. I do think artwork conveys a feeling to music and they go hand and hand. University Heights was actually a finger painting by my one year old nephew Hayden Mitchell. I have the original framed in my studio.
TEEEL: I drive myself nuts with music. Is it done? Can it be better? Did I overdo it? Is it too weird? I think all artists go through the motions. I was extremely nervous for my second album. I knew I was taking a leap away from the more “chillwave” vibe of the first album. Really, I was just honing my sound, learning better production techniques and wanting to do something different. It’s funny. When I ask fans what their favorite song is, I get completely different answers. We all have different tastes so it’s hard to please everyone. I’m sure my next album will be completely different but still have the TEEEL vibe.
TEEEL: I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I think it’s pretty apparent. I pull inspiration from everywhere. I think because I write music late at night, it’s a release from the day’s pressure and stress and that’s what comes out.
TEEEL: I actually think my live shows are way better than my recordings. I would love to play a massive outdoor festival and hear my songs on a huge sound system. My dream gig would be somewhere in the UK with Depeche Mode, New Order, OMD or Tears for Fears. Purely epic.
TEEEL: The Ancient Aliens DVD set, The Synth Brittania Documentary, and Netflix. I’m also an obsessive collector of synthesizers, vintage synthesizer advertisements, everything Jack Daniel’s, DVDs, and fortune cookie fortunes.
TEEEL: I love when fans send me videos! I can’t wait for the next one. Eventually I’ll have a professional video made but it’s fun to see what fans come up with.