TJR: A Revealing Portrait of A Determined Music Indie Artist

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Recently, Fullerton, CA based indie recording artist, Timothy John Ramirez known as TJR, took the time to reply to interview questions via e-mail about a wide range of topics regarding his music, his influences, the recording process and future plans.

NewsBlaze (NB): When and what inspired you to first pick up a guitar and learn to play?

Timothy John Ramirez (TJR): Seeing my older brother play guitar.

NB: What role did your family play, if any, regarding your music?

TJR: One of my older brothers played piano and guitar and I wanted to do the same. I wanted to play the piano first and my father got me some work (through his employer) assembling electrical parts that I could do at home (I was only about 14 or 15 at the time). My Mom would help me do them too. We did this over the summer and we saved about $400. We found someone who was selling a used upright piano for under $400. and used the leftover money to pay for my first music lessons.

NB: Where did you play your first paying gig?

TJR: It was at a friend’s party. I was so nervous that I actually tried to smoke a cigarette (I don’t smoke) LOL.

NB: Who, particularly, do you draw musical inspiration from?

TJR: Anyone who is good. This list could go on forever. And different artists are inspirations at different times in my life. But some of the biggest of all time are: Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and, of course, The Beatles.

NB: When you were in high school, who were you listening to?

TJR: All kinds of stuff but Elton John (anything he did in the 70’s) and The Beatles were probably the two I listened to the most.

NB: When and what was the first song you wrote and recorded?

TJR: The first song I wrote and the first song I recorded are two different things. The first song I wrote was some awful piece of crap whose title now escapes me. I wrote a bunch of crap before I wrote anything even decent.

NB: Who are the other musicians in the band and what do they bring, musically and otherwise, to it?

TJR: I am a solo artist. I bring in other musicians as needed. Right now I work a lot with drummer Chad Marks, who is just incredible. Robert Trujillo, who runs Tru One Recording Studios (http://home1.gte.net/res0kebm/truhome.html) where my current CD is being recorded, did the bass on the advance single, “Peace, Love And Don’t Trust MTV”. I will hopefully have him playing some more bass. Bassist Eddie Roman recorded some bass tracks and I am also working with another bass player right now who might do some bass tracks as well.

Timothy John Ramirez at the Cat Club in San Francisco
Timothy John Ramirez at the Cat Club in San Francisco.

NB: When and how did you react the first time you heard your music on the radio?

TJR: It was surreal. It was on Poor Man’s now defunct Anti-Radio show. He played Cool Cat Party from my first album. What was cool was that, after the song played, Poor Man actually commented on how much he liked it.

NB: Could you describe the process of your song writing?

TJR: There is no single one process. More often than not though, I write a piece of music that I think sounds cool first. Then I find some lyrics to fit it. But sometimes a great song title comes first and I write the music and lyrics around it. Peace, Love and Don’t Trust MTV was something that I started saying as a joke and then thought I should write a song to fit it.

NB: How does the band, as a whole, construct the songs you have written during the recording process?

TJR: I have the song written before I even show it to the band. It’s pretty much all there, but as the band starts to rehearse, it changes so the arrangement can develop. Sometimes there are happy accidents that occur where a mistake can create something very cool in the song’s arrangement.

NB: How much give and take is there among the band members regarding the songs that you write?

TJR: I write the songs that I record. If I think I am going to include it in the next album, I see how well the band that I am recording with is going to gel with it. If it’s not gelling I just set the song aside. This rarely happens anymore. In the past, I did have to do this because I worked with some musicians that weren’t up to par. I don’t do that anymore.

NB: How open are you to their suggestions and them to yours regarding the recording of your songs?

TJR: I am told that I am very open to suggestion. I don’t like telling other musicians how to play their instruments. I try to find good players who know how to figure out their own parts. I show them the structure and chords of the song and tell them to figure out how they want to approach it. If it’s not working, I might give some direction or I might just tell them to try something different. Once in a while I have something specific

that I need them to play.

NB: You are currently recording your third album. How is that project coming and when do expect to have the finished CD out on the market? And do you have a title for it yet?

TJR: No title for it yet. It’s a funny thing about how soon I expect to have it done. Recently I did a recording session for Neil Young’s latest CD “Living With War”. It was a one day session and we were in the studio with him for 12 hours. He recorded that album in about a week or so. Neil is the exception in the music world where other artists take months and even years to record their albums.

I think I’d have my newest CD done in a month or less if I could have 12 hour days in the studio. But I have to go into the studio when my budget and the studio’s schedule will allow. Unless we are doing drum tracks, I tend to only get 2-3 hour slots in the studio. I work really fast. But the time in the studio is brief and sometimes I only get in the studio twice a month. This last month I haven’t gotten in at all.

NB: You currently have a new single out in advance of your forthcoming album called “Peace, Love and Don’t Trust MTV”. What else, if any, motivated you to write the song besides the fact that they are no longer much of a music television channel?

TJR: That’s pretty much it. I was pissed because MTV used to be one of my favorite things. It was 24 hours of music videos, live concerts and real music news. They used to have all kinds of specialty shows ranging from cutting edge new stuff to classic archive footage of artists that were pre-MTV. Now it’s just a bunch of dumb reality shows and the same ten videos over and over again. The whole thing is just a circle jerk. Most

kids don’t even know that MTV used to be something very different from what it is now.

NB: What excites you about playing your music before an audience?

TJR: Everything! It’s so hard to answer this question better. But I’ll tell you one thing, it’s terrible when you don’t do well. When you know you are capable of doing better but, for some reason, you choke up. I hate when that happens. It kills me.

NB: If you had the opportunity to play with any musicians, dead or alive, who would they be?

TJR: I would love to jam/meet with Elton John. I wish I could’ve met Johnny Cash. As much as I admire Chuck Berry’s song writing, I’m not sure about performing with him. I’ve heard he can very difficult. I sure would love the chance to meet or work with Robert Plant. Don’t know if I could collaborate with Fiona Apple, but she sure does blow me away. I wished I could’ve jammed or written with or at least met John Lennon. I could go on and on with this one.

NB: What can your audience expect from TJR in the coming months?

TJR: Hopefully the new CD will be finished before the year is over and I can go into more debt getting it manufactured. I am also working on a 2nd album that will be computer based (I got a Mac computer and have been learning how to compose and record with it). This album will be very different from what you might be used to hearing me do. It will be a much quirkier sounding album. Also there is the “other” band that I play with called Project Tru (http://www.projecttru.com). We have a 2nd CD that is almost done.

I also wrote and recorded a song called “Walk the Wire” for an indie film that is in post production. I did some guitar tracks for a song that’s going to be used in a multimedia project for Regal Comics.com and rapper, Kelly B (http://myspace.com/kellyb) wants me to try putting down a couple of guitar tracks for his next album. That’s about all that’s coming down the pike right now.

Official TJR Band websites:

http://www.tjrmusic.com/news.html

http://www.myspace.com/tjr

See also: Indie Artist Takes On The Behemoth MTV Channel

Richard L. Barrett, III is a writer with a BA in English Literature, who loves to write about the human condition