Who is Tje Austin?
Tje Austin (pronounced TYE) is an ambitious Austin-based R&B singer-songwriter. Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Tje was adopted and raised by a loving Mormon family alongside 8 siblings. With little thought about a potential music career, Tje made his way to the University of Texas at Austin to study political science. Once he discovered his beautiful hidden talent, he took his hobby of playing music and turned it into a full-fledged career.
Tje loves to embrace life-changing opportunities, so it’s no surprise that he eventually found himself on a stage in LA performing for NBC’s The Voice. In 2011, Tje sang “Just The Way You Are” by Bruno Mars for the show’s first season and successfully won the hearts of judges Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green (choosing to team up with the latter due to similar music styles). After the experience on television, Tje wrote music with three-time Grammy award winner Taj Jackson and was a Semifinalist in the 2015 International Songwriting Competition – R&B Category, proving that The Voice was merely a pit stop on his musical journey.
Looking up to musicians like John Legend and Lenny Kravitz, Tje has begun making his mark on soul music, focusing on spiritual encounters he has endured to give his listeners a full excursion into deep heartbreak and powerful love. No one can doubt Tje’s credibility when it comes to singing about loss and assurance. In 2013, after he discovered malignant melanoma on his leg, he learned he would have to undergo extensive chemotherapy. For three years, Tje went through a grueling chemotherapy regimen that left him weak and tired. However, he worked with his limitations and while searching for artistic inspiration in the large amounts of TV he was watching, Tje discovered a new talent and love for baking. Last May, Tje received good news. Pleased with his progress, Tje’s doctor ordered a CAT scan instead of more chemo, and his treatment was over.
The experience gave Tje an entirely new perspective on suffering and how to use music as an outlet for his moments of struggle. His powerful EP “I Belong To You”, which was recorded during his chemo treatment, is a celebration and open love letter to life and the little things that get twisted in the mix. The EP was self-released in 2016 and peaked at #25 on the iTunes R&B charts, thanks to its melodic spin on life’s triumphs. With the album out, Tje has re-entered the live music circuit in earnest. You can catch him at the famous Austin venue, Antone’s, every Monday night of August starting on August 7 and at 2ND Street District’s White Linen Night on Saturday, August 5 (tickets here).
AMF EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
WITH TJE AUSTIN
You were adopted by a large, multicultural family when you were only four days old. How has your untraditional upbringing played a part in your life?
Being adopted is a big part of my identity, as is growing up a military kid. My parents are both white. Love them to death, but I didn’t really have a connection to black culture so eventually, it made me reach out in different ways. Discovering my love of music and ability to sing was a pretty big deal.
How did you go from pursuing a political science degree to taking on a full-time music career? Was that decision difficult to make?
It wasn’t a hard decision for me really. A few of my friends encouraged me to try performing down town since we were living in the “Live Music Capital of the World”. I gave it a shot. It soon evolved from hobby to career.
Your songwriting has received a lot of attention over the years. What is your songwriting process like?
I am constantly recording voice memo’s using my phone. I have tons of melodies that pop into my head and I never want to lose those moments. Sometimes I must get it out immediately and I grab my guitar or run over to my bandmates house to use his piano. And I just noodle around with words. Sometimes I have a phrase that I want to center the song around and I just go from there. Then I record the full song into my phone so I don’t forget. That’s the worst when I forget something I’ve written. There are also random nights when I am dreaming about music and a melody infiltrates. I wake up and record those too. Listening back the next day can be really weird or really cool.
Who are your main musical influences and inspirations?
Brian McKnight was my first introduction to R&B music. His voice is stellar. Craig David, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder, India Arie, and John Legend are my favorites. And then of course Adele and Sam Smith. I do love the Brits.
You’ve experienced a lot of amazing achievements, like performing on The Voice and working with Taj Jackson. What has been your proudest musical moment thus far?
My proudest musical moment happened this year with the release of my EP “I Belong To You.” I recorded it here in town at Orb Recording Studio with Matt Noveskey (Blue October) producing and joining in playing the bass. It was the first album I recorded where every concept for the album was mine entirely. From the album artwork to the songs. I had previous recordings where I had written the songs, but then the music was changed by the label and I wouldn’t even find out until the album was released. With this EP, I knew exactly what I wanted and I did it.
What was working with Cee Lo Green like on The Voice?
It was amazing! Cee Lo has always been a favorite singer of mine. The rasp in his voice is so dope and he is such an eccentric person. I knew who I wanted to be my coach even before I made a team.
In 2013 you were diagnosed with malignant melanoma and began a grueling chemotherapy regimen that lasted 3 years. What kept you going during that taxing time?
Honestly, Star Wars. LOL. Just kidding. Sort of. I thought of all the things I haven’t done, the music I haven’t written, and the movies that were coming out that I may not be able to see. And of course how sad everyone would be. I just did what I could and tried to keep a positive attitude. It didn’t always work, but I tried.
In the midst of your treatment and recovery, you discovered a deep love for baking. What is your favorite treat to bake?
My favorite thing to bake is a Chocolate cake. I love baking. It’s very therapeutic and my friends reap the benefits. I don’t eat cake often but I bake all the time so I just give whatever I make to them.
You released your debut album last January. What was the recording process like? Were there any surprises along the way?
The recording process was amazing. Orb Recording Studios is such a great space to record in. Matt was really easy to work with as well. Anytime I go into the studio I know we are about to do a lot of work. It takes a toll physically and emotionally, and sometimes I reach a point where I temporarily hate whomever I’m working with, but I/we get over it and the end result is golden. I also consumed a ton of barbecue and whiskey.
What’s your favorite song to perform live?
My favorite original song to perform is Whiskey. My favorite cover song to perform is a tie between Redbone and Bag Lady.
What is your favorite venue to see live music in Austin?
It’s a tie between ACL Moody Theater and One 2 One Bar. Different venues but both have great stages and sound systems.
What is your favorite music album of all time? Why?
Wow, that is a hard question to answer. I have 5 favorite albums that I can listen to from start to finish: Tweet – Southern Hummingbird; Anthony Hamilton – Coming From Where I’m From; Young The Giant – Mind Over Matter; Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer; India Arie – Acoustic Soul. All of these singers have very unique voices. Melodies are on point, words are killer and musicianship is top notch. These particular albums are straight fire for me.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started in the music/performance scene?
Have fun with it. Perform wherever you can. Go see other band’s shows. Make friends with other musicians. Be nice to people.
How did you get involved with the Austin Music Foundation?
I began by attending the panels. I am constantly looking for ways to be a better artist and gain a better understanding of the music industry. AMF gives a lot of helpful info.
What does it mean to be named AMF Artist of the Month?
It means a chance to get some great advice and guidance straight from the source! And it’s an incredible honor. It means that I am doing something right and folks out there are listening. It’s love.
What’s next for you??
I have goals! Music videos, record more music, and tackle performing at festivals. This is a journey. I want to do it all!