Artist of the Month: TJ Wade

Artist of the Month: TJ Wade

By Eric Clow.

Since I first moved to Austin, I had heard murmurings of this band called Foot Patrol. Fronted by a soulful blind singer with serious keyboard chops, they were a primo R&B/funk ensemble that found boundless inspiration in a love for feet. From what I gleaned of these intriguing stories, they symbolized the epitome of Austin’s claims to weirdness and the live music capital of the world. Though I would never see Foot Patrol perform, I did get to meet the man who would sometimes don the persona of Foot Monster in shows that sounded downright electrifying.

Originally from El Paso, Texas, TJ Wade boasts a prodigiously early start to music: piano at two years old, drums at five—the same age he joined Wallfire and the Cover Girls for his first singing and drumming performances on stage. He attended Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) throughout the 90s, then relocated to Oakland, California where he worked at Grassroots Records with D’wayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Tone! Four years later he returned to Texas and co-founded Foot Patrol with his former TSBVI instructor, Hung Nguyen.

Foot Patrol enjoyed a lengthy run on the Austin scene from 2006-2018, producing a prolific number of records and gaining a fervent base of fans in the process. When I met TJ at an experimental concert in 2017, I realized that the band I heard so much about was just a sliver of TJ’s impressive repertoire. I asked if he would perform at our nascent library concert series. In turn, I received a list of six disparate bands spanning every genre from jazz and funk to metal, rap, even noise. So, which one?—the question came. I was flummoxed, mostly because I couldn’t fathom how someone could possibly balance this many projects at once.

Ultimately, we invited the Heller Wade Experience, an experimental psych outfit with his long-time collaborator and girlfriend, Anne Heller, a talented multi-instrumentalist in her own right. Over the course of their 25-minute set, they took us on a journey from a medieval fair through a nightmarish landscape of noise to the catchy pop haven of “Kitten Planet Zone” and the Beatles. In 2018 they performed again, bringing a fresh collection of jazz-rock songs that displayed TJ’s virtuosity on the keyboard.

A blind man dressed in a Star Wars T-shirt, depicting storm troopers, plays keyboard with a microphone in front of him and a pink screen in the background. He wears black headphones and a surgical mask pulled down around his chin.
TJ Wade

I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with the duo to learn more about TJ’s creative process, the projects he’s currently working on, and how the two have weathered the pandemic as entertainers.

“Balance? What do you mean?”

I wanted to know if TJ still plays in as many bands as I remembered. Indeed, he does. His current lineup includes rap rock band Line of Fire, experimental noise project Aurora Plastics Company, Heller Wade Experience, his rebel gangsta rap alter-ego MC Terroristic, and the instrumental jazz-rock R&B compositions he releases under his own name. The latter two projects he self-records and self-produces at home using software called Reaper, which enables him to record up to 24 tracks of instruments and vocals. For his solo projects, he plays every instrument himself, following in the tradition of legendary home studio artists who came before him.

When I first posed the question over email of how he balances his various projects, he responded, “Balance? What do you mean?”

On the phone I clarified, “how do you find the time?”

“It’s just automatic,” he answered. “I produce whenever I feel it. If ever I feel an idea, I put it to use, and I make a record out of it.”

He nearly cracked up when I asked him how many hours he plays music every day—as if there would be any hours that wouldn’t be filled with music. But what he said next encapsulated him perfectly: “I’m surrounded by music every single day. It’s my life. Music is my life.” I would go a step further than that, however. TJ’s one of those rare artists whose raw passion and innate talent enables them to transcend their mediums altogether to become the very things they create—the poet who is poetry, the painter who is painting. In other words, TJ is music.

“Do your own thing.”

When I asked if he had any advice for aspiring musicians, TJ answered, “Do your own thing. Do your own records.”

He went on to relay the steadfast self-confidence essential for success in the music business: “Never let somebody tell you that they’re better than you, and never let somebody tell you that you’re never going to make it. Because that’s what people are going to tell you when you get in the game and when you’re just coming up.

“People are going to throw all types of bricks at you, and you just got to have a thick skin, and say, hey, look, this is my life. I don’t care what you say about me. You’re not going to throw anything at me, and you’re not going to say that you’re better than me even if you were… When you’re just coming up, respect the game, but don’t let nobody walk over you because they will if you let them.”

Coping with the Pandemic

As born entertainers—who perform not only to earn a living but to satisfy a need as essential as breathing—TJ and Anne were devastated by the pandemic. Social distance meant they couldn’t play with their fellow bandmates and that any shows were canceled indefinitely. Depressed and desperate, Anne had the idea of streaming their performances live on Facebook, straight from home.

On Monday evenings—their set rehearsal time for Line of Fire—they played “Live from the Living Room,” making adjustments so that songs intended for the original trio could work for a two-piece. On Fridays they streamed “Anne’s Freaky 15,” a 15-minute performance in which TJ’s alter-ego MC Terroristic would rap over his beats while Anne would do pole tricks on a sign post outside their house. Anne described it as “jerry-rigged stupidity, trying to deal with not being able to be entertainers during the pandemic.”

Although, thankfully, they can play proper venues again, they intend to continue their livestreams, now numbering close to 60 for each of their weekly series. In adapting to the pandemic, they also recognized another silver lining: the duo could learn more of TJ’s songs more quickly than with a larger band.

Looking Forward

When I asked TJ what he’s most excited about, it’s his instrumental solo work. “It encompasses rock, funk. It is soulful and psychedelic,” he said. “I just finished TJ Wade BEWARE THE GHOST TOWN. The first 8 songs are avant-garde and songs 9 thru 20 are rebellious rockers.”

We are thrilled to have TJ and Anne perform some music and chat with us in our Community Conversation Wednesday, May 12, from 7 to 8 PM Central. Sign up for our email list for details.

Currently they play shows at Sahara Lounge and Come And Take It Live. You can find TJ’s various music projects online at the following links:
TJ Wade
Line of Fire
Line of Fire on Facebook
Aurora Plastics Company

You can also find videos featuring Line of Fire, MC Terroristic, Aurora Plastics Company, Blind Sight, Off the Cuff, Jibber & Twitch, and Foot Patrol on YouTube. Watch a clip below!



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