RJD2 may not be as famous as the pint-size robot that inspired his name, but you've almost certainly heard the Philadelphia DJ-turned-producer's music.
His songs have appeared in commercials for Saturn, Heineken, and Bank of America, and in numerous video games, films, TV shows and extreme-sports DVDs. On Jan. 19, he'll release the eclectic new collection "The Colossus" on his own RJ's Electrical Connections label.
RJD2, who plays Visulite Theatre on Monday, recently spoke to the Observer about his new album, sampling others' work, and what standards he has when it comes to his music being used in commercials.
Q. "The Colossus" doesn't stick to one genre. Do you think DJs are more open-minded, stylistically?
At its heart, the nature of DJing is exploratory. Most people are constantly looking for new songs. The singer-songwriter guys are not the kind of people that are going to put a weird ambient instrumental thing in the middle of a record. When it comes to more ambitious and experimental approaches to constructing an album, they usually happen in the world of electronic music.
Q. When you're creating a track, do you try to find samples to fit what's already in your head?
What makes sample-based music such a special thing is that you're constantly following the song. ... Different things happen along the way, and can change the direction of the song. That's what makes it fun and exciting. You feel like you're along for the ride.
Q. AMC's "Mad Men" uses one of your tracks as its theme. Do you do a lot of work that's commissioned for use in TV or advertising now?
I don't do it a lot. It's not my preferred way of working. (If it's commissioned), they own the recording. When somebody approaches you and asks you to write something for blah blah blah, you get these ad agency people that don't have the lexicon of the musician. It's always work to get them to speak in terms of accurate terminology.
Q. You had a song in a Saturn ad in 2002. Back then, that was considered "selling out." Have attitudes changed since then?
It's totally changed. People were giving me flack. I vividly remember a girl coming up to me outside Bowery Ballroom in New York and being pissed off. (Today) you'd be foolish to pass it up. Not to say there's not a line. ... I passed on Marlboro. They were willing to sponsor a seven-day tour and cough up a serious amount of money. That was something I didn't feel comfortable with. If a kid starts smoking so I can make a bunch of money, that's not a fair trade.
Q. Do you think commercials and TV placements have led people who may not know anything about underground DJs or electronic music to discover you?
I can't see how that hasn't happened. People tell me all the time they heard this song called "Ghostwriter" - must've heard it from an ad or something. ... One of the relatively common questions I get is "You used to be this underground guy and now you have this higher level of visibility. What's it like not being underground anymore?"