NEW YORK -- Producer/remixer/musician Towa Tei came to Elektra Records' New York office recently to talk about his new album, Sound Museum. But first, he cautioned, "I don't speak English much anymore."
It wasn't an apology on Tei's part as much as a reflection on how much his life has changed in the past 10 years.
Tei, along with Lady Miss Kier and DJ Dmitry, made up Deee-Lite, the New York City dance band that arced like neon across the club
circuit of the early '90s with infectious hits such as "Groove is in The Heart" and "Power of Love." The band's debut album, World Clique, went multi-platinum and Deee-Lite was hailed for their positive themes of sexuality and a sound that typified the energy of the DJ club scene of the times.
Now the 34-year-old musician's life is decidedly more subdued. He has moved back to his hometown, Tokyo; he's married and has a
2-year-old son. Each morning, he drives to a nearby studio where he makes records for his own label.
With the full artistic control that situation allows, Tei has pursued his own, varied musical visions on two solo albums in the last three years. On 1995's Future Listening, he utilized a swank, cocktail hour approach; on the new Sound Museum, he cross-pollinates disco, techno, jazz and R&B.
Tei has also kept up with the cutting-edge dance music scene, continuing to do production and DJ work with artists such as Bjork, Pizzicato 5 and the Geisha Girls. He showed up for the interview in red pants, a black shirt and space-age sneakers, looking like he had just walked off a Details photo shoot.
The playing field has changed too. Tei pointed to a tall Starbucks
cappuccino standing on the table of Elektra's conference room. Coke, bottled water and Altoids were also carefully arranged on the table, all courtesy of the label.
"They never brought me cappuccinos when I was in Deee-Lite," Tei said with a smile.
Taking a retrospective look at his days with Deee-Lite, Tei stated that he
"made a big break" when he left the band in 1994. The decision was made, in large part, he said, because of a freak accident that occurred while touring with Deee-Lite in Brazil. During a show, he fell from the stage, injuring his back.
"I was in a really bad condition, mentally and physically, because of the
injury," Tei said. "I had really terrible pain, I felt really old and no energy. The other members of Deee-Lite thought I was finished. They still wanted me, but all I wanted to do was rest."
By the time Deee-Lite released their third album, Dewdrops in the
Garden, Tei had pretty much withdrawn from the band, contributing one song to the Dewdrops album.
"When I made a big decision to take a break," Tei said, "I started to
listen to different types of music again -- bossa nova, soundtracks. I
started getting materials that went beyond the Deee-Lite concept. For me
it fit, but for them it didn't really fit."
Some of the sounds Tei explored on his own made their way onto his
Future Listening, a collection of bossa nova and
electronica that featured musicians Arto Lindsay, Maki Nomiya and vocalist Bebel Gilberto (daughter of legendary Brazilian vocalist Joao Gilberto). The album garnered worldwide acclaim, particularly in Japan, where Tei was transformed into a celebrity.
Sound Museum, which he described as a "fraternal twin" to the previous album, spans the spectrum of disco, pop and rap and includes Kylie Minogue, spoken word/jazz artist Ken Nordine and once again, Gilberto, who performs a campy version of the Hall and Oates' "Private Eyes."
Boogie Brown (a.k.a. Charlie Brown) of the Leaders of the New School, with whom Tei had worked in the past, adds some old-school flavor on
"Corridor"; and Biz Markie also makes a guest appearance on the song "BMT." "He's my idol," says Tei of rapper Markie. "I wanted someone very special and unique for that song."
While reviews of the new album have been overwhelmingly positive, Tei is
reluctant to tour.
"Other than the injury, a reason I left Deee-Lite was that I hated the
touring -- playing the same songs over and over again every night," Tei said. "I'm not that type of person. I don't like being in front of the people."
Nevertheless, Tei said that he is hoping for a reunion with Deee-lite, which disbanded in 1996. "I'd really like to work with Kier again," Tei said. "She was so inspiring, her voice and her personality of course. She's special."
Talking about his old group and his new album, Tei became philosophical. "And now here I am. I feel older," he said. "But I think it's good to be
older. From my point of view now everything happens for a reason."