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RMJ: A 2018 introspective and how a $100 drum machine reignited my love of music

With the release of his most recent single Anybody (Quite Like You), South Australian singer-songwriter Ryan Martin John rebranded himself as RMJ.

The result was a far more immersive sound that we quickly became addicted to. So we thought it best to hear straight from the artist himself how this rebranding came about. Take it away RMJ…

Fresh off the release of his new single Anybody (Quite Like You), South Australian artist RMJ runs us through the story behind his recent rebranding.

This year after playing 18 months of almost exclusively solo acoustic shows around my hometown of Adelaide, I took a break to reflect on what I was actually transmitting to my audiences.

It’s admittedly easier logistically to wrangle an acoustic than a full band and play a 45minute set. The problem is you can’t exactly preface every song with a variant of “OK this next one, Imagine there’s a stereo-panned rhythm guitar, an 808 and a re-amped Wurlitzer behind me, go!

And so it was that folk became my attributed genre. I, Ryan Martin John, didn’t mind. But my writing became limited. And my appreciation for discovering music also followed suite.

Was I just getting jaded? Where’s my next Wilco? Where’s my next Radiohead? I hadn’t fallen in love musically for a such a long time. Was I really becoming that self-entitled guy? A few resentful keystrokes away from barking at the comments section of the alternative station’s annual top 10? Because I had plateaued as an artist/consumer?

Let’s be honest, no-one knows I exist. Every time I picked up the guitar, I enjoyed it. But I found me comparing myself to my friends, who are a hundred times better than me. Or comparing myself to the decaying echoes of guitar greats gone-by, flaking away in the trails of modern pop.

It’s been done,” I said. Sometimes, I get to this point. Where my lane stops moving and I start to watch the lanes either side of me move along. It’s not good. It saps my creativity.

I’ve been a studio gear enthusiast (read ‘nerd’) for some time now. I love recording at home, and as a result I’m one of the many who suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

I’d had my eye on these two cheap toy-like instruments on gumtree for a while. And one day on a carefree, defeated whim I asked the seller “are these still available?” They were.

Things were about to change. Enter the Korg Volca Beats Drum Machine. Enter the Roland JP-08 Synth. After the first comical 40 seconds of strange bleeps and dings, I realised how much of a voice these two types of instruments had been across everything I’d ever known.

I started to tick again. Curiosity flared. What’s an oscillator? What’s stutter? Can I make them play together?

The mixing room. Also, where I sleep. (Photo by RMJ)

Why did it take this long? Perhaps it’s because for the longest time I’d mentally mapped the word ‘synth’ as a metaphor to the somewhat comical intro of Van Halen’s Jump.

Enter a new found discovery of all these amazing artists that had fallen by my ignorant wayside. What else has synths in it? Or drum machines? OK, here comes LCD Soundsystem. Gary Numan. The Kills. Tears For Fears. St Vincent. TV On The Radio.

I get to listen to Arcade Fire all over again. I get to watch Talking HeadsStop Making Sense at least 40 times again. How did they marry up the synth elements with the live band in the mix?

I am hungry again. My brain is exploding. I’m like a kitten at a disco trying to pin down 100 lights on the wall with only my two feeble paws. I should rebrand. Everything is new.

The Korg Volca Beats & Roland JP-08 Synth (Photo by RMJ)

Now I’m furiously looking for the Roland CR-78 on every Gorillaz song. Now I’m sitting at the piano with my Volca Beats and a repetitive loop of a ride cymbal with no kick or snare has just inspired 3 songs in 15 minutes.

What are those weird textures that seem to bookend EVERY song on Hail To the Thief? That’s gotta be a synth. What is that low end thing happening on Alabama Shake’s song Future People?

That’s gotta be a synth. Tame Impala’s Currents? That shit ain’t a guitar, Kevin. And it’s beautiful. Was that a Juno or a Jupiter on Thriller? Pretty sure that was a microKorg on Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree. Beck’s Modern Guilt?

Now I’ve gotta check out every other thing Dangermouse produced, cause there’s synth textures and drum machines behind EVERYTHING. Hello Shins. Hello Broken Bells. My universe continues to expand.

I’m in the kitchen and I’ve figured out how to use the sequencer on my JP-08, because I’m trying to recreate the intro to The Who’s Baba O’Reily. Four more ideas in 35 minutes – and I want them recorded yesterday, so my band can hear what’s in my head already.

I’m no longer Ryan Martin John. I rebrand. I can do more as RMJ.

Photo by Annie Siegmann

Drum machines, drum machines. What about rap? It’s all samples and loops right? Enter J Dilla. Biggie. Tribe. Anderson Paak. Kendrick. Kendrick? Kendrick! Sorry hold on. I’ve heard about this To Pimp a Butterfly record. Let me put it on.

OK. Now I’m jealous. Every line here is a goddamn three-way mirror. Here I am, taking three verses to land my double entendres effectively after a calculated tension, and these guys are mugging me every second with their multidimensional art.

And I’m wondering how the snares were recorded on Tribe’s samples. I’m wondering what desk Dre used. I’m wondering what MPC Sampler Dilla used.

I want the marrow of it all. How can I implement this into my own stuff? I’ve got some serious work to do. I’ve been so ignorant. I’m blooming again.

All of this information. All of this curiosity. All this discovery. All of this growth is because one time, I was on gumtree, saw a crappy looking drum machine, and messaged a stranger saying “will you sell it for $100 if I cover postage?

Anybody (Quite Like You) is available now.