Concert preview: Beyond composing “Mad Men” theme, Columbus native RJD2 has built lasting career

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From the April 4, 2013 edition

Since this is the “Mad Men” issue, it behooves us to remind you that the hit drama’s opening theme music was composed by Columbus native RJD2, aka Ramble John Krohn, who’ll return this Saturday for a show at The Bluestone with fellow MHz member Copywrite (backed by DJ Scratch Johnson) and DJ Ginsu.

Originally, the ominous, tumbling beat appeared on rapper Aceyalone’s Magnificent City in 2006 under the name “A Beautiful Mine,” but when the instrumental version came out later that year, AMC came calling to license the track.

“It’s a fairly unglamorous story for this thing that would eventually grow to be arguably the most recognizable thing of my career,” Krohn said.

But glamour isn’t what defines RJD2, even if he did perform on the same bill as Justin Timberlake and ?uestlove’s MySpace Secret Show during SXSW this year. Rather, Krohn has stayed afloat through hard work and opportunism ever since the hype storm around 2002 solo debut Deadringer subsided.

He called from Philadelphia, where he’s been living the past 11 years, to catch up in advance of Saturday’s show.

How’d you manage to end up on the hottest ticket at SXSW?

One of the guys who’s working over there [at MySpace] used to work over at Vice, and he is just a dude that’s been a champion of mine since my first record came out. So he reached out to me beforehand and told me about the lineup, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to definitely do that.’ (laughs)

What was your set like there?

I played after Timberlake, so you can kind of imagine, there was a little bit of a scrum. (?uestlove), I don’t think he was too thrilled. Playing after Justin Timberlake is, like, a less than ideal slot. Hopefully I don’t have to explain why. But I was fine with it. I’m always down for a challenge. I roll with the punches. As expected, some people left, but a good amount of people stuck around, and that was cool. It was a small room, real intimate. It was probably only like 4 or 500 capacity. [Editor’s note: Official count was 800.] And it was swamped with security. It was definitely one of if not the biggest party — biggest is not the right way to put that. But people were, like, full court press to get in that show. Timberlake’s set was amazing. Totally. It was so good. His band is just like smoking hot, and he was just completely on point. A consummate showman.

Ever do any shows with your Columbus-based band anymore? What kind of show should we expect at The Bluestone?

I haven’t since the last tour. I have been playing with another Columbus expat, Chuck Palmer. So sometimes I do shows with him when it’s feasible and able to be coordinated because he has people he plays with. To play with a band when you’re on a tour, it works well. You can jam a bunch of people in a van and you go for two weeks. Basically almost all the time I’ve spent since my last solo tour, I’ve been doing spot dates. I pop out for the weekend. So it’s really not an ideal format — I’d have to fly out like five people, then there’s the equipment. The logistics behind it are difficult.

I pushed myself really hard before I went out with a band to develop a show that worked just by myself. And part of the advantage of that is that now I’ve got a show that I feel comfortable I can go out and do on my own. It leans more toward the turntables and sampler element unless I have Chuck with me. So the song selection changes for that kind of format to be a little more focused on the digital side. The situation that I’ve got with Chuck now is kind of cool because it’s a little bit of a best of both worlds situation. I’ll have Chuck with me at The Bluestone.

What projects do you have coming up?

The big push right now is my next solo album, which I am fairly far along on. Probably 80 percent of the production or so is probably done. A lot of it is probably coordinating vocal and/or instrumental appearances and guest spots. The collaborative side of it is kind of the last piece of the puzzle. Me and Blueprint are working on the next Soul Position record, and that’s well enough along. That’s probably not quite as far along as my solo record, but we’ve done a good amount of work on that. And we’ve just very, very preliminarily started knocking around ideas for the next Icebird record. I’m anticipating going in that order. Those are my three priorities.

What can you tell me about your new solo record?

I’ve decided that this is a record I don’t want to talk about before it comes out. I want to just avoid describing it. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to just put the record out one day like some very big artists have the luxury of doing. They can sequester themselves in the studio and put it out without any banter. I can’t do that, but I wish I could. I like the experience as a fan of a record being totally virgin, not having any deep notions about it and just going into it and listening to it. Because of that, I want to present fans with that same thing.

Like the Mad Men theme, your hit “Ghostwriter” wasn’t originally a single. What’s that like to have your best known music be deep cuts?

It’s really reassuring, in all honesty. What it speaks to for me personally is longevity. At the heart of how those things happen to me is that for me, in my case, I am continuing to make records and produce music, and the outgrowth of that is the thing you think is going to be the successful single isn’t always. If at any point in time I had quit doing music, that wouldn’t have been an outcome. That wouldn’t have happened.

My take-away from it, frankly, is that I feel glad and lucky that I have been able to weather the last 12 years of the music industry and still make music, still put records out. I was talking to a friend of mine, King Britt. He licensed a song to L’Oreal in Europe. It was the largest paying license he had ever experienced, and it happened 16 years after the record came out. Those kinds of things are really reassuring as an independent musician that is well aware that it could all go down the tubes, within six months to a year it could all go away.