Rjd2, coming to Union Transfer, makes music to defy expectations

Rjd2 has been many things - music producer, electro-pop maven, singer-songwriter, DJ - but says, "I don't make records as a vessel to pitch anything about myself." He has a new album, "More Is Than Isn't Volume 2" coming out this year.
Rjd2 has been many things - music producer, electro-pop maven, singer-songwriter, DJ - but says, "I don't make records as a vessel to pitch anything about myself." He has a new album, "More Is Than Isn't Volume 2" coming out this year. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 21, 2014

It's difficult to put your finger on Ramble John Krohn, better known as Rjd2.

Since his first recordings under that name in 2001 for the underground hip-hop label Def Jux, the Eugene, Ore.-born West Philadelphia transplant has shifted gears and challenged expectations.

Is he the indie-hop producer we first knew, or the cut-and-paste sample-centric musician he became on his debut album, 2002's Deadringer? Was he the electro-pop maven of 2004's Since We Last Spoke? The singing, songwriting strummer behind 2007's The Third Hand? Or the masher-up of all those styles on 2013's haunting More Is Than Isn't and the forthcoming More Is Than Isn't Volume 2?

Or was Rjd2 a moody maker of theme songs? His sexy, dramatic tune "A Beautiful Mine" has been the opening theme for AMC's Mad Men since it began in 2007.

Mark all the above true and more. He runs his own label, RJ's Electrical Connections. He has two bands: Soul Position, an alterna-rap duo with Ohio rapper Blueprint; and Icebird, an indie-pop outfit with vocalist Aaron Livingston. Both bands drop new albums this year.

And he continues the gig he started with: DJ-ing.

None of which necessarily defines who he is. "I don't make records as a vessel to pitch anything about myself," says Rjd2. "I use myself as a vessel to pitch you on a record."

One indicator of Rjd2's restless unwillingness to be pinned down comes when he's asked about Philadelphia. He got his start here via his pal Wes Pentz - better known as DJ, producer, and recording artist Diplo - in 2002.

"I've always felt like a visitor or transient, wherever I am," he says. "Of course, I have my own pocket of the city, and places I frequent - record shops, restaurants, etc. - but I also feel like the city has so many layers of culture, music, art, and stuff, that there's more than I'll ever explore."

Rjd2 laughs about how Diplo used to take him to flea markets, "back when I didn't know my way around too well." The two still speak now and then, "when we cross paths. He's a busy guy, as you have surely noticed."

Besides crafting his two-volume More Is Than Isn't, in the last year, Rjd2 has been gathering members for his "brand-spanking-new band," a live trio with drummer Chuck Palmer and bassist Khari Mateen. "I'm stoked," he says.

When we first spoke about More Is Than Isn't last year, before its release, Rjd2 was reluctant to discuss its sounds or how he got to them. He sees his secrecy as a necessary thing because he sees an album as a gift to the people who listen to it. "And a gift, or a record," he says, "is best experienced with as little expectations or preconceived ideas as possible."

Both volumes of More Is Than Isn't came without any preconceived program. "Yeah, it definitely was the first record I had made in a long while that didn't go into any sort of mission statement," he says. "The overarching method was to just be reacting to songs on an instinctual level, not a cerebral level. I have tendencies that I just can't escape - one for variation and what you might call sonic boredom - so that creeps in. And there are other things I just do throughout the composition phase that ties a record up as a piece, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing."

For such cohesion, he rolled an ominous musical through-line throughout the first volume, not unlike the Angelo Badalamenti/David Lynch theme for their Twin Peaks TV series. He believes in the power of the catchy hit song - witness recent tunes such as "Her Majesty's Socialist Request," "Behold, Numbers!" or his new video, "Descended From Myth." But he insists that the coming album, like all albums, must be digested as a whole.

"I'm still very much enthralled by albums," he says, "both in making them and listening to them. The experience of a truly cohesive album can't be approximated by anything else in the world. For better or worse, that's the lot in life that I've chosen. Or maybe it chose me?"


Rjd2, with Lushlife, plays 9 p.m. Friday at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. Tickets: $20. Information: 215-232-2100 or www.utphilly.com.

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