WITH his album out later in the summer…
I have been speaking with CJ Teffner about Stars and what we can expect. He talks about standout moments from the album and what it was like working with Robyn Cage (who sings on the album).
Teffner tells me about his early musical experience and taking to performance whilst at school; what he hopes to achieve before the end of the year; what Phoenix (Arizona) is like for music and venues; which artists we should be investigating right now – Teffner ends the interview with a rather good song suggestion.
Hi, CJ. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m great! I’ve been busy; always busy with music.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Hey, everyone! I spent a long time working as a hired-gun in the studio and on the road, playing and learning many different styles - which I feel has helped me become ‘me’, if that makes sense.
Talk to me about the album, Stars. What, in your mind, defines the record in terms of themes and sounds?
Stars is a bit dark and dreamy, mostly acoustic guitar-based with piano and cello, with the exception of the song Stars itself, which ends up as a full band song by the end. There’s a lot of emotion in the songs, they’re pretty personal, wrestling with my inner-demons and making friends with them.
They’re much better as friends…
Is there a song from the record that stands out? Which do you count as a highlight?
Always a trick question! As a highlight, the song Stars.
The lyrics, that was me being vulnerable, which isn’t easy for me…but is necessary for any artist. Writing all the vocal arrangements and harmonies as well as the instrumentation took a lot of thought to get right. I’m very proud of it.
How did you come to work with Robyn Cage? What was it that attracted you to her work and style?
I worked with Robyn on a previous project and was impressed with her conviction, delivery; emotion and tone - just a very clear and honest voice. When I wrote the song Meant to Fit, her voice popped into my head and I knew she’d be perfect for it - which made her a natural for Please Forgive Me and she really liked the songs and agreed to sing the E.P.
CJ. I believe you caused a bit of havoc as a child by drumming on your mum’s table! Did you have that curiosity and passion for music at a young age? What compelled that spark?
My mom’s father was a famous coronet player; my mom, aunt and uncle are all musicians as well as my father. They were all Jazz and orchestra players so it’s just a family curse. Haha! Music was always on in my house and it was all just natural. I took piano lessons really young and we always had a piano and classical guitar, so I was always just fooling around.
How important were those school years in regards your future collaborations, productivity and desire? Would you be as strong and far along were it not for that early education and fostering?
My 7-12 grade band, Jazz ensemble and marching band were a huge impact and basis for my music. I still keep in touch with my music teacher, Mr. Solt. He encouraged me and supported me so much; he even wrote me notes to get out of study hall so I could jam in the band room! He was one of those teachers you hear about who make a difference in a kid’s life.
Phoenix, Arizona is your base. What is the area like in terms of music and venues?
I love Arizona, but…the music scene is pretty limited. There is some work for acoustic duos at restaurants and bars and a few places that have original acts, four bands a night showcase things (but, it’s mostly covers). There are some great players but, for whatever reason, the pay isn’t here so it’s a challenge to get the great players to come out…
Can we see you tour this year? What gigs do you have coming along?
I won’t be touring this year: I hope to next year. It’s the age-old situation of finding the right players who believe in my songs and want to be part of the vision.
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
Stars will be my second release this year: The Cat’s Meow came out at the beginning of the year. I hope to put out two more releases by the year’s end, another one I’m cowriting with Robyn now; it’s totally different to Stars and is slated for the fall.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
I’ve had the opportunity to work for and play with some top industry people - but the one that was very formative is when I worked with Murray Krugman (Blue Oyster Cult’s producer) and James Ball (engineer for Aerosmith and Joan Jett). I was, maybe, twenty-one; I had written some songs with an artist but then parted ways. I got a call from her months later asking if she could record the songs. I said ‘sure’.
Then, I got a call from her saying no one in the band could play my parts and would I come to the studio. I said ‘sure’ and walked in to meet these guys; I had no idea what I was stepping in to. I learned so much about arrangement and production from those two guys. Two weeks with them was equal to five years on my own.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Wow! What a question! While he’s still out and performing, I’d say Paul McCartney. The Beatles were a huge influence on me - and even some solo McCartney albums.
Rider? Just feed me and I’ll be more than happy to play for you!
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Try to find someone who will mentor you, in songwriting, the business; how to record - if that’s part of your thing. I help a couple of younger artists because I wish I’d gotten more help earlier on. Also; work in a bubble. Don’t keep asking people if they like this or like that. Be you; figure out who you are as an artist. Basically, lock yourself in your bedroom and record everything.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Pierces
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I’ve been into powerlifting and bodybuilding for a long time, so that’s my morning five days a week; very therapeutic. Every night, I get to walk with and watch my Doberman Xena run a golf course. She’s just so happy that it makes me happy – and, of course, spending time with my wife and adult daughter.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
In the Meantime by Spacehog. It’s in my top-ten ‘happy songs’ playlist.
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