Interview: Tedashii talks life Below Paradise

by Sam Robinson

Next week Reach Records artist Tedashii releases a new album, Below Paradise. It’s a self-described journal written through a time of trial after the passing of Tedashii’s son in early 2013. The album explores suffering, sin, the fall, and much more and is crammed with guests galore (read my review here). I recently had the honour of talking at length with Tedashii about Below Paradise, living life below paradise, the comfort of God, and video shoots gone awry.

SAM: Where in the world do I find you today, Tedashii?

TEDASHII: Man, I am in Dallas, Texas. Home town.

SAM: The new album Below Paradise – it’s raw, heavy, as you talk through your suffering and struggles. I want to first ask about the idea of living below paradise. On the title track you speak of the world’s imperfections. Is this a reflection on the fall?

TEDASHII: It’s a reflection on the fall, the result of the fall, and then it’s my… not of a real heavy punch or blow, more of a light jab at the fact that a lot of people are unaware of, or they discount altogether, the result of the fall. In life, day to day. A lot of people will say life is hard, and then try to somehow bring a happy ending to it by saying ‘But it’s all good.’ We don’t have any way to specify what that all-goodness is, but we just say that. We just say, ‘Well, it’s tough out here, but it’ll get better.’ When you look at Scripture and you look at the fall, none of that is promised until Jesus. And even in Christ, there’s still hardships – whether you look at Peter and his talks of persecution, or Paul and his lists of things he went through from being shipwrecked to being starving, to imprisonment – life can be difficult. And I think it’s just a subtle look at our ability to dismiss that.

SAM: Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of this idea of the fall, the track Catch Me If You Can… In it you seem to be identifying yourself with Adam and Eve in the garden after sin enters the world. Is that correct?

TEDASHII: That is very true. That’s the actual weird track on the album, it’s an experimental thing. Andy [Mineo] was willing to take that ride with me. It’s definitely a commentary of my take on life at the fall. Adam and Eve, my life, and how I identify with that. The foolish ways that I try and cover it up. It almost has a double meaning because The Lord is very good to point out our sin, otherwise we would be lost in it. But on the other side of it, there are people who want to almost become accusers and not really take into account that we’re all in the same boat because we’re all able to be accused.

SAM: You mention that’s an experimental track, why would you say that?

TEDASHII: Sonically. As far as the album sounds, it’s definitely a different sound than what people are normally hearing from me. It’s slow, it’s melodic, it’s got a lot of weird voices. It was just my take on the mood of a person who sees their sin, is grateful to God that he would call it out, but then really bothered by the fact that a lot of people would rather put you as the single centre in the bunch, when we’ve all done it. That’s why I end the song with ‘People claim I broke laws, but who really knows?’ And then I reference Shawshank Redemption. ‘People claim we broke laws, but who really knows? / Chipping paint with this shawshank, who really knows?’ And it’s almost just this heart of mine crying out: ‘The Lord knows!’ They’re going to make claims, but God really knows. And I was trying to be artistic – if you know the movie he ends up finding his freedom – and it’s just this idea that people are chipping away at some sort of hope at the end of the day. You’re really hard-pressed to find it because of all of the weight of everything. I felt like that was Adam and Eve. That was their plight – fear instantly, running scared, God pursuing them, and them having to own up to it because they really wanted to accuse each other and accuse themselves.

SAM: As you’ve spent time thinking about this – the fall, sin, and of course your own experience of suffering – has it caused you to look forward to the return of Jesus all the more?

TEDASHII: Yes! [Laughs] I tell people now that the hope of heaven for me is no longer a hope alone, it’s a must. Because there’s no – and not from the vantage point of… My fear is that people will treat what I believe as you would a person who’s in jail. A guy lives his whole life how he wants, goes to jail, finally gets in trouble, has no way out, and then he just turns to religion. And that’s kind of the way people view it, and I’ve been able to spend enough time with men and women who have been locked up to realise that they’ve been given genuine faith in this moment was what God used to give it to them. You may have the people who play the game because they don’t want to get in more trouble and they’re hoping God will kinda be duped by their facade. But truly for me I hope that no-one views heaven, Christ, the return of Christ… All of that is not a knee-jerk response to feeling like there’s nowhere else to go after suffering. But it really is a must. I say that twofold. It’s a must meaning I’m determined to get there, and it’s almost a must in the sense that it must be real. Where else did my son go? There’s no evaporation happening here. And so it’s a must for me in more than one way. My hope is that people will be able to see that and relate to it, and not just write it off as jailhouse religion. Or, ‘You went through something tragic of course you would turn to God and say that’s all you have!’ Hopefully the fruit of life before suffering only solidifies that life after suffering would be the same.

SAM: You’ve said that Below Paradise is somewhat of a diary through a time of great loss, the loss of your son. Is it hard to be sharing this diary with others, and to be as raw and honest as you are on this album?

TEDASHII: Very much so. Very difficult. Partly because of the subject matter alone. But the other part is, I’m going to – because of the way I approached the project – I am going to have to own the responsibility of leading how to differentiate and decipher between people’s disinterest in the music vs. the subject. Of course, 100% of me believes that everyone should care about this. At some moment either you or someone you love is going to suffer tragedy in some way. So to me, I’m 100% in. Everyone should care about this. Everyone should care about this topic. Everyone should glean from the album in some way. Everyone needs to hear the album. It’s just my attitude as a believer, even without being an artist. But I know there will be people who only hear it from a sonic, listener perspective and I will have to take that into consideration as they make comments negative or positive. There are people who are going to love it and miss the point, and there are people who will dislike it and maybe even hate it and not care at all because they’re not referencing the subject matter when they say they dislike it. They’re referencing what it sounds like. Yeah, that’ll be a huge responsibility on my part.

SAM: I want to talk about the first single we heard from the album, Dark Days, Darker Nights. It’s a very powerful track with Britt Nicole on the hook. What can you tell me about that song?

TEDASHII: Dark Days, Darker Nights is my honest, insightful, transparent confession to the world of where I was only a couple of months past. My son’s passing. I tried to do my best to hold nothing back, except to keep in mind the young and youthful ears that would listen. The impressionable minds that would only take a phrase and consider that as the whole point. So I tried to be mindful of that, but at the same time I tried to trust The Lord and the Holy Spirit that they would open eyes to what I was really wanting to say, even though I said some things that may sound really scary for certain people. And I knew also people may not relate. Being hurt to the point of almost helplessness and then getting to that place and realising the one person you’re going to turn to – the Lord Jesus – is the one in control, that didn’t cause but allowed. Even though I know the distinction between the two, there’s still so much pain. You go, ‘I don’t want to deal with you because you’re the one that allowed this pain. What do I do?’ It seems almost unfair. I get it – if I go into the town square and share the gospel and get shot in the leg – OK. Cause and effect. Here there was no cause in my opinion, but the effect was so real and so heavy and it seems because the cause is either absent, doesn’t exist, or at least is invisible to me, the effect seems unfair. In that moment when you feel like you’ve been mishandled or mistreated, you tend to turn to or desire to turn to ways of coping that go beyond God’s desire for you. So that song is really me trying to communicate that. I went through every option almost of what I could do to numb the pain, run from pain, and not feel the way I felt in the moment.

SAM: Were there parts of Scripture that helped you through your suffering and perhaps could be helpful to others as we experience suffering?

TEDASHII: Yeah that’s good. The first one would be – my wife and I were talking about this the other day – but Titus 1. Where it says that God cannot lie. Just honestly man, in that moment there were doctrines that I hold true to. I know that God is sovereign, I believe he is sovereign, I believe that he is omnipresent and he’s omniscient and I believe that he is unconditionally loving toward us, and it’s evident at the cross. But in those moments doctrine can feel cold. Even if you love being in shape, when it’s winter and you gotta go run, you just go ‘Man, this is a bad day to do this. I don’t want to do this.’ It’s unenjoyable. Not as much as it would be if the sun was shining, the breeze off the water was just right. Then it would be different. If I were running at Bondi and the breeze is hitting me, I’d be thinking that’s perfect, I’m loving this. But to land in Perth and it’s snowing, I’d be like, this doesn’t match! I don’t want to be out here. I’d rather go somewhere else. Just to realise doctrine can feel cold unless the Spirit of the Lord quickens those things in your spirit.

And so, Titus 1:1 was huge because God doesn’t lie. He does not lie. Those things are true. You have to believe them. John 3 – the account of God loving the world that he gave his only Son. Mature Christians would call that an elementary truth, but I would hope that would be seen as a truth that would be constant throughout life, from infancy in Christ to maturity in Christ. So I just fought to regain that. But also in John 3, the story of John the Baptist and how Jesus was in the wilderness with his disciples baptising people and so was John with this disciples baptising people. There just kinda became this scuffle between John the Baptist and his disciples of why Jesus is getting all the people all of a sudden. John was basically saying, I must decrease so he must increase. And when we read that we often think of ways to belittle ourselves so that God can then be exalted, but that’s quite unnecessary. God can exalt himself without any care or concern for us, but he involves us in his exaltation to the world. So I didn’t walk around saying ‘I hope to make little of my grief so that God can be made much of,’ I made much of my grief and the more I made of it the more God showed up, and the more he was exalted. If that makes sense.

SAM: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sure that in you sharing this – all of this – with listeners it will help them with their suffering as well, and knowing how to deal with it.

TEDASHII: Definitely. Definitely.

SAM: Speaking of that, you’ve started posting some short journal entries on Tumblr around this release. Is this to help people to see how the album fits with Scripture?

TEDASHII: Exactly. To see how to further understand why I would choose to do an album about everything I wrote on… Because a part of me for a moment felt the wrestle to say: Just do an album. Just make music. Don’t talk about what you are going through personally. Just, if I hear an album and it’s just good music that makes you move and gives you good vibes and good feelings, I’m going to go, ‘This is fun! This is cool! This is good!’ Like the new song from Pharrell, Happy. I just go, it’s a fun song! He’s achieved his goal, why don’t you go do that? Just do a song and achieve the goal of good feelings, happiness, good music quality, art, just go do that? I couldn’t run or escape from the reality that I was truly in a place of hurt and pain and disarray. Pretending it wasn’t there wasn’t going to be the answer.

SAM: Yeah. Now the track Paradise with Tauren Wells from Royal Tailor – sounding very Justin Timberlake I must say…

TEDASHII: Yes, he does!

SAM: It seems to link back to the first track, but what can you tell me about that song in particular?

TEDASHII: Paradise is a song that Andy Mineo actually wrote. He wrote the chorus for it. I heard him humming it one day, and I told him that I loved it and might need it for my album. He was more than willing to come alongside me and work with me on the track. So I went and wrote my lyrics and basically said, ‘I’m going to write a song, because in the midst of all of this communicating about my pain, I still have hope, and I still love God, and I still want to be embraced by The Lord, and be in love with Him.’ So I went ahead and said, ‘Let me do a song that’s a love letter to Him, that expresses everything that I would feel in the moment.’ And so that was kinda the goal: to say that I believe this. If I get to heaven and God’s not there but my son is, I’m gonna be let down. And so let me at least communicate that truth. Heaven is not heaven if the one true God is not there.

SAM: Very true. And as I listen to the album, as dark and raw as it is, there’s these bright spots of hope throughout as you listen through. What does the comfort of God mean to you?

TEDASHII: I think one of the main things that I would say to at least communicate that to a certain extent would be trusting in the truths that he says, as well as spending time with him in prayer and meditation. You don’t – in those moments you don’t have… In intense pain or suffering or grief you don’t have much except what’s before you. And if the Scripture is true that Jesus suffered as we have suffered, and if there’s a way that God can truly relate to who we are, then what I’m convinced is the further I go into my pain and grief, the more he’s willing to go into it with me. That’s been the peace that I’ve had. The more I hurt and the more I get sorrowful or angry, that he’s willing to be in it with me and not rob me of those moments. Instead he allows them and shows himself great within them. 

SAM: Now there’s a huge amount of guests on this album. It’s packed to the brim with guests! How do you go about selecting guests for your album, and which track to put them on?

TEDASHII: So I’ve always had a way of doing it where I would pick a list of people that I wanted to have and run with that list. But this album, I went in and basically did every song, and then came back and said, ‘Who would complement this song?’ Most of the singers are the main ones who would complement it the most. And I knew I wanted to have an album that would be filled with a lot of melody and a lot of emotion vocally. And so I went after a tonne of singers. Part of me is of the mindset that singers are features but also not features when it comes to hip-hop albums, so I was kinda OK with it. But yeah, I definitely wanted it to be a melodic album with a lot of emotion. Singers was the best way to do it.

SAM: I want to ask about the track Angels & Demons. To me – I’m not sure if I’ve got it right – but it seems to be the story of Job as he’s crying out to God. Is that what you were alluding to?

TEDASHII: Yeah you’re on it, bro. I heard all kinds of things when it happened. Crazy comments of ‘why?’, everyone’s opinion of why everything happened and what God was doing. Some of the most loving yet ill-informed comments ever, and some of the most misguided – it was all kinds of things, man. And I didn’t know if people had my best intention in mind or not, but at the end of the song, I’m like: ‘God please do for me what I cannot do. What I really don’t want but what I need make it true.’ Because ultimately, I’m – in my opinion – similar to Job.

One: This should have never happened.

Two: It did, can you take me out? I don’t want to live. I’d just rather not have to deal with this.

Three: Are you going to answer me, or am I going to be left in the dark? And if I’m left in the dark without an answer, then do for me what you did for Job and allow yourself to be enough.

That was the ending plea of the song. But yeah, there’s so much of me – that song was just a burden on my heart… There are people who are friends and there are people who are not. In this world, there are two forces at work. Of course, I hope no-one walks away thinking: ‘It’s a fair fight, God is definitely the victor.’ But ultimately, there’s a wrestle in my heart to sometimes embrace that truth. 

SAM: What can you tell me about the track My God?

TEDASHII: So a good dude of mine, we call him Biz. His name is Jacob Morris. And Joseph Prielozny. Biz is an engineer, he’s engineered all my albums except for a few songs where maybe he wasn’t in town. And then Joseph is an in-house producer and an amazing musician and artist all-round. These two guys came up with the track and then after tonnes of pushback from myself and other people, we got it to where we wanted it. And I wanted to have, again, a singer or something melodic. I wanted to be able to have the right type of tone to the beat, because I knew that I wanted to write a song that would share my paradoxical attitude if that makes sense. Like, in God I am invincible. There’s nothing that I can’t do – of course there’s a song on there like that – but the idea for me is to say that no sin can overtake me or stop me from pursuing the Lord. And then, in the midst of album full of pain, it’s a twofold song of clearly [saying] you can be hurt but in Him I can’t. Just trying to reconcile that within my own life.

SAM: I want to ask you about something a bit different now. You’re a radio host in the States, and I’ve done some radio as well… I’d love to hear what the best things are that you’ve discovered to make a good radio show?

TEDASHII: The best things I’ve discovered… Well, one. Start early! [Laughs] If it’s due on Friday don’t start on Friday. I’ve learned that now! And I’m only twenty-five shows in, so I’ve got a lot of ways to go to learn. The other thing honestly is to be myself. I tend to find that when I try to put on airs and be someone that I’m not, it translates and it’s usually a bad thing. It’s a hip-hop show mainly focussed on the music but if I’m going to be myself I have to talk and communicate. I’m a communicator. It’s what I do, it’s what God burdened me to be. So I told them – ‘You’re going to get a hip-hop show that resembles a talk show. I want to talk on issues and share views and beliefs and encourage people and challenge them.’ That’s what they’ve allowed me to do. So being true to myself was huge. Someone actually said that to me. He had been in radio for twenty years. He was a random guy I met at a concert but he heard about the show. He said, ‘Man, be true to you and be who you are, because the moment that you’re not is the moment that you start to lose who you are and it’s the moment that they start to lose you or just miss you. They wanted the real you and you gave them someone else.’

SAM: And that’s good advice for life really!

TEDASHII: Oh yeah. Very much so.

SAM: The photo shoot for the front cover of Below Paradise – from reports on social media it sounds like it might not have gone to plan. Is that true?

TEDASHII: [Laughs] Oh yeah. It was a trip, man. We were in Palm Springs, California in the desert. A good group of guys known as Invisible Creature got together and put everything together for the shoot. We get there, I get dressed. The desert is all you see because it was just desert and mountains. But right in front of us, behind the cameras, was a junkyard where the car came from. We were able to use that place as a home base. But when we got into the thick of it and started shooting the smoke was thick, I was coughing, they were worried about me getting sick. So it was a lot of quick shots and then get him out of there; quick shots and get him out of there. So for one scene, we were like, ‘You know what? Let’s get a couple more pics with the fire a little bigger, and then we’re going to get you out of there, and then we’ll let it go really big! We’ll take some shots of it and then put the blaze out.’ And… for some reason they couldn’t put it out. The Fire Department said, ‘If you want to do it, that’s fine. We don’t have to be present. But you need to have at least six fire extinguishers.’ Well we extinguished all of the fire extinguishers trying to put out the fire and it didn’t work!

And so, we had to call the Fire Department, they came out, and they said when they got on the scene that they had already got ninety calls because people could see the smoke from ten miles away. People are like – when you see black smoke, you know there’s an issue. So the car was vinyl on the inside. The vinyl was burning which was really bad and the tyres caught on fire and you need more than six fire extinguishers to put out burning tyres! That rubber started burning and it was bad. So, we just took a step back, took a breath and said, ‘Is everybody OK? Is everybody safe? That’s a win. The wind isn’t blowing this direction so we’re good there… Alright, we’re just going to wait on the Fire Department and hopefully they get here soon enough.’ They put the fire out. They didn’t fine us, we thought we were going to get a citation – they didn’t do it. They were like, ‘You called us a week ago, we knew you were going to do it. That’s OK.’ Everything worked out, praise the Lord.

SAM: Yeah! And you put safety first! That’s the thing.

TEDASHII: Exactly!

SAM: Before we wrap the interview, I want to ask about the last track on the standard edition of the album, Chase. The arrangement is striking because there’s no beats involved. Obviously the lyrical content of that song is heartbreaking, but the arrangement in particular adds to that. Is that something you wanted to achieve with that track?

TEDASHII: Yes. I’d already done one song. And I really went after a more light-hearted version of the song, because I didn’t want to just deal with emotions that I had either already dealt with or hadn’t faced yet. Doing the song – writing it, arranging it, recording it, forced me to do so. And it was really hard to go there but I tried my best to because I knew my wife really wanted me to. She thought it would be helpful. We’ve been in counselling since everything happened and he thought it would be helpful. So I did it. I knew the way the arrangement was was going to actually help emphasise the things that I felt as well as what I said. So, I tried to go there. I just let down my guard and I think it was two hours of rapping, crying, let’s do that again because you couldn’t understand what I was saying… But after it was all done and we got to hear it, it turned out to be something beautiful.

SAM: Absolutely. And what’s next for you? This album is now here – what’s next?

TEDASHII: Well I plan to promote and travel and tour with this album and hopefully continue the message of: We live in a fallen world with a loving God. So both are true, and to ignore one and only receive the other you dismiss how great a love God has for us. So I want to promote that. I’ll still, Lord-willing, be doing radio. I love doing it, and so I’ll continue forward with it and see how that goes. Then beyond that, I’m hoping to get back in the studio. Doing this album really did give me a new focus on really what’s important and in the midst of everything, what really does stand out to be true. It reignited my heart to share truth with people, man. I hope to be in the studio again soon.

SAM: Thanks for sharing that truth with me not only as a listener, but also through this chat. All the best with the album, and thanks for your time today!

TEDASHII: Sam, thank you bro, I enjoyed it. I appreciate it.

Below Paradise by Tedashii will be released this Tuesday 27th May. You can pre-order the album now on iTunes.

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