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TJR talks playing Vegas, DJ idols and why America doesn’t care about house music

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What’s up Suckaz: TJR will keep the Hakkasan crowd on its toes Friday night.
Annie Zaleski

Thomas Rozdilsky, better known as TJR, has been kicking around West Coast DJ circles for several years now, cutting his teeth in San Diego and LA. But the Connecticut native got a break after British DJ/producer Chris Lake signed him to his Rising Music label—and an even bigger break when Pitbull built his top-20 hit “Don’t Stop the Party” around the TJR track “Funky Vodka.” Building on that momentum, TJR just released a new single, “What’s Up Suckaz,” and is planning to rerelease the electro-leaning “Ode to Oi” later in the year. The Hakkasan resident DJ spoke to the Weekly about his recent entry into the Vegas market (he played here for the first time in late 2012), his organic career growth and just how Pitbull found “Funky Vodka.”

What have your Vegas experiences been like so far? My first time was this past December at XS, and then I played at Hard Rock [Hotel]. But then I got the residency at Hakkasan, so I’ve played several shows there. … I’ve had wonderful experiences everywhere [there]. Playing in Vegas, for me, has been such a great experience. Everyone takes really good care of you, and the productions of the clubs are always amazing. Hakkasan is just next-level for me right now. It’s a thrill to play there.

What took you so long to play Vegas? I have been DJing for a long time, but I’m still new to a lot of people. I had a little bit of a following going on, but nowhere near big enough to play Vegas. [Then] I had “Funky Vodka” come out, and Pitbull picked it up for “Don’t Stop the Party.” But it was still a house sound, and house is not big for America. America doesn’t give a sh*t about house music—for the most part, I should say. America is big on the Avicii, Alesso, Tiësto, Calvin Harris—big-room music. And I don’t really make that. It was a slow progression. My next track, “Ode to Oi,” was more of an electro, big-room festival-style track. That was probably my biggest track to gain exposure in America.

Plus, my DJing style and stuff, it’s very fun and I switch it up; I play a lot of different stuff. And it was getting with the right management, the right booking agency. It just takes time. It’s the boring business stuff that people don’t realize goes into a career.

And I think, too, the way dance music over the past few years has exploded ... like, Porter [Robinson] or Zedd, they blow up within six months. They’re very talented guys, but when people see that, the perception sometimes is, “How come you’re not blowing up that fast?” The trajectory that I’m on is what normal dance music trajectory guys are. I’m not the 19-year-old super-producer who gets huge overnight.

When you finally played Vegas, what surprised you about the vibe and the crowd here? Put it this way: It’s almost like every track you play in Vegas has got to be something interesting, or you’ll lose the crowd. They’re just there to party; a lot of times, they just want to hear familiar music. I thought I was very well-prepared. I play a lot of hip-hop, mashup, I’ll go into trap, I’ll go into some moombahton. I really try and mix it up to give people a lot of energy and a lot of dynamics in my set.

[In Vegas] I feel pretty comfortable. know what they want. It’s Vegas—people just want to party. I’m not trying to be like, “I’m TJR. Make sure you know who TJR is.” I’m just trying to give them a good time.

It must be gratifying to know you don’t have to change anything—you can come into this city and be successful. Sometimes, in my situation, you have to eat humble pie a little bit and say, “They’re not spending $10,000 on a table for me. My role is to keep them excited and interested.” That’s how they’ll start to learn about me: “Oh, this guy plays really fun stuff.” That’s how I’m different from other guys; I’m not just straight big room, big room, big room. I go all over the board to keep it exciting. That’s my angle.

What made you first want to get into DJing? Who were your idols? It was really the Chicago house guys and the West Coast house guys. The West Coast house guys—DJ Dan and Donald Glaude. Those guys were big, because they were really good at playing funky. That was back in the day when it was James Brown samples everywhere in house music, and house was super funky. That got me interested. The Chicago house guys—like Terry Mullan and Bad Boy Bill—they were really big into DNC stuff. They were into scratching and cutting—they would just fly through records, just bang through records, battle style. Those two areas were my big influences.

How did Pitbull come across your song? My management and the record company that was putting the record out approached Pitbull—he was their first choice. And it all worked out great, because I learned from Pitbull at the video shoot that he and his crew already knew about “Funky Vodka” before he got approached. They were like, “We love that song, we already know about it.” He got approached on a Thursday—he was doing his world tour—and I got the chorus and the verses back on that Saturday.

How did him featuring the song change your career trajectory? It opened the doors for me now producing for other mainstream acts. I can’t talk about any of the names, but things have already been contracted and signed. Plus my track “Ode to Oi” is getting the same treatment as “Funky Vodka.” They’re getting mainstream acts to do a chorus and a verse over it, and it’s going to be released to the mainstream the way “Don’t Stop the Party” was.

That’s so crazy that it’s one song to open those doors. I was about to run out of money when Chris Lake approached me to sign me [to his label Rising Music]. This was a year and a half ago. I was almost literally done. I left LA, because I ran out of money. I moved to San Diego with my friends in a house, because I couldn’t afford rent. [But] I’m like, “I’m just going to stick to this and try to develop it more and more.”

You keep on putting out this certain sound and eventually, hopefully people started getting into it. It’s like, “Oh, you’re different than everything we’re hearing.” You stick to a sound and try to make it as good as possible—and hopefully you’ll be rewarded for it.

TJR with Deadmau5 July 26, doors at 10 p.m., $50+ men, $30+ women, local ladies free. Hakkasan, 891-3838.

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