As RJD2, Ramble John Krohn creates soulful compositions by sampling the work of other artists. Judging by the length and scope of his résumé, hes doing something right.
THREE YEARS AGO, producer/ musician Ramble John Krohn (better known to his fans as RJD2) got a call that would take his career to another level and another audience. On the phone was a studio representative from Lionsgate asking for Krohns permission to use one of his songs as the theme music for a new show being launched on AMC. The track was the sample-based A Beautiful Mine, which had originally appeared on RJD2s 2006 album Magnificent City Instrumentals. The show was Mad Men.
I had no idea this show was going to be (a) a hit and (b) awesome, Krohn says. A pilot hadnt even aired yet.
Long story short, Mad Men is (a) a hit and (b) awesome. And having his music on the show led to what Krohn calls probably the proudest 20 seconds of my career, when an episode of The Simpsons spoofed the Mad Men opening credits and his song along with it. That was the only time I recall screaming at the TV, as something I had done had traversed the cultural telegram wires of America and wound up in the greatest animated show of all time, he says. A true deathbed moment.
In addition to their turn on Homer and company, Krohns tracks have been in a variety of TV shows (including CSI), films (such as Prime and Wimbledon), video games (like ESPN NBA 2K5 and ESPN NFL 2K5) and commercials (including spots for ESPN, Wells Fargo, and Saturn, to name a few). Its not difficult to see why Krohns music has become so popular in myriad outlets; for 10 years, he has made consciously or not the kind of music that easily translates to other mediums. His songs, many of which are sample based, sound cinematic in scope. A single note lifted from a classic vinyl recording and looped through Krohns trusty Akai Professional MPC2000XL sampler can serve as the starting point for one of his labor-intensive singles.
On his just-released fourth solo album, The Colossus (RJs Electrical Connections, $13), Krohn uses this sampling technique, which he first embraced as a teen growing up in Columbus, Ohio, to build more ambient songs, including opener Let There Be Horns and standout instrumentals Small Plans and The Stranger. Even though its his fourth solo effort, The Colossus has a few firsts for Krohn: For starters, its the first record to be released on his new label, RJs Electrical Connections, which he launched to retain more control and ownership over his compositions.
In contrast to his previous record, 2007s The Third Hand, which featured Krohn performing all the instruments and vocals himself, The Colossus utilizes the talents of other artists in addition to Krohn. When I would arrive at a juncture with The Third Hand, whether it was playing or writing, I would default to something that I could execute. Basically, [Id] write parts that I could pull off, he explains. With this record, when I would arrive at that juncture, I would write the parts for what I thought was appropriate for the song, and anything that I couldnt solidly execute like horns, brass, woodwinds, strings, flute, and then obviously the guest vocalists got hired out.
The result is 14 tracks of multilayered sounds that draw from all over the musical map. And while Krohn is a solo artist, he acknowledges that his work has always been a collaborative effort of people, places, and ages. [Im] taking elements that are recorded in completely different environments like a guitar that could have been recorded in London in a professional studio in 1968 and drums that could have been recorded in Memphis in 1975 in a basement and every single sound source has its own sonic imprint, he says. Thats something you just cant re-create with live music.