Born and raised in Tucson, AZ, Amateur Genius is an award-winning producer, clinician, and musician well-versed in piano, music theory, and creative wisdom. Formerly known as Lee TRBL, his love for music began at a young age playing drums and trumpet. After finding his way to playing the organ to help escape from personal issues, he hasn't stopped playing it since. His production has been featured on various platforms from NPR Radio to the Grammys, The Source, Rap Radar, VIBE, and more. Amateur Genius is not an amateur at all when it comes to producing as his musical ear ranges from EDM, R&B, Hip-hop, Alternative, Soul, House, and Rock Music.
Amateur Genius is also a member of The Dojo District, a team of Black animators that provide services for storytellers and aspiring creatives. The group highlights POC content creators by sharing resources and amplifying different networks to collaborate with each other. The Dojo District compose of LA screenwriter Brandon Hampton, chief administrator Wendy Cruz, and creative director Shelly Johnson II. They are currently in production of season four of their anime, Atomic Valor along with their first short film, The Floating Koto. In November, the group held a panel at the San Diego comic-con to discuss barriers faced in the animation industry as members of the POC community.
Jay: The Dojo District Team had their own panel at the San Diego Comic-Con back in November of last year. The panel focused on the barriers in the animation industry and additional challenges POC faces in that creative realm. Can you give me a recap of what were some of those barriers and the solutions that were presented at Comic-Con?
AG: That was an honor of a lifetime. Our Dojo District Team did an excellent job of giving a nuanced take on why POC are so underrepresented in animation. I feel like it's the last creative frontier for POC, so we wanted to showcase our anime Atomic Valor and our upcoming short film The Floating Koto to show that we are here to hopefully change the narrative.
The Atomic Valor anime via IDMb
The barriers are that POC does not have the access to resources and opportunities, so we get tokenized in our art and passion. I really wanted to drive home that we are not simply just a "black anime", but we are providing a universe that represents everyone, but the POC will come from me, a black man in Arizona. Shoutout to my team, our publicist Wendy Cruz, Shelley Johnson II, who is directing our film, and my writing partner Brandon Hampton. Visit www.atsdojo.com to learn about everything we do.
Jay: How can people find The Dojo’s first short film, The Floating Koto?
AG: Once finished, the first thing we will do is send our film to film festivals and hopefully broker a distribution deal. Selfishly, I would like to do film premieres in certain cities where our manga is popular. Our backers will have access right away, but for everyone else, we are still figuring some things out in terms of distribution.
"The barriers are that POC does not have the access to resources and opportunities, so we get tokenized in our art and passion. I really wanted to drive home that we are not simply just a "black anime", but we are providing a universe that represents everyone, but the POC will come from me, a black man in Arizona." - Amateur Genius
Jay: If you had to give your top three anime soundtracks, whether it’s from an anime series or film, what would they be?
AG: Samurai Champloo's soundtrack is groundbreaking. It basically invented lo-fi hip hop (R.I.P. Nujabes). It is the only anime I own on DVD and I watch it annually for inspiration. I love anything Studio Ghilibi does. It's the gold standard of composition in any film genre. Attack on Titan's soundtrack is so underrated. It's an anime that relies on tension and fear, and the soundtrack complements those elements perfectly. Cowboy Bebop probably has the best anime intro of all time.
Jay: Your production has been featured in the Grammys, The Source, Vibe, Rap Radar, NPR, and many other major platforms? Which one or which few stood out to you the most?
AG: My proudest moment was the NPR feature. Joella Deville and I did a song called Submit To Ya in literally two hours while she was sick. The song exploded all over the globe and the NPR feature really cemented my status as a producer in the industry. Working with Joella really helped me find my sound, which I described as progressive but familiar. I am forever grateful to her for that. I got compared to Timbaland, which is the highest honor anyone in music production can achieve. [Read the original coverage on NPR]
Jay: I loved the various sounds of Atomic Samurai. The introduction of the album was the same instrumental used for Joe Sweatpants’ song American Girl if I’m not mistaken. You have worked with Joe Sweatpants several times in the past. Can you talk about the chemistry you two have with each other?
AG: It was so instant. I met him through photographer Bria Celest, and I mentioned that I make music. He did too, but in LA everyone does music so initially, I was like "Eh, maybe." Then I heard his stuff and was blown away. Instantly, I sent him beats off Atomic Samurai and he really captured the dark and moody sound that I was aiming for. He is the best rapper I've worked with. I compared him to like Tyler The Creator meets Earl Sweatshirt because he has a deep baritone but he's spitting rapid-fire. He can do an entire song in one take and not miss a bar. We have more music to do for sure.
Amateur Genius produced this beat for Joe's song Nodding. Learn more about Joe Sweatpants in our interview.
Jay: What were the inspirations for your latest songs Losing U and Azul? On the first listen of Losing U, the constant claps and sonic melodies screamed Kaytranada with a mix of those hypnotic YouTube “lo-fi music to study to” live streams. For Azul, I pictured myself doing work in the living room staring out of the window at some rainy
AG: I am having so much fun making music again! I've gotten into psychedelics and it's enhanced everything I do creatively. I want to be able to see my music, so I'm making music I want to see. I got some fire visuals to go along with these songs so check it out. I'm working on a jazz project and a rock project so there's going to be a variety of moods and sounds that I'm going to try to capture.
Jay: As an Arizona native, what can you say about the music scene there?
AG: It's interesting. There isn't really a music business here, but there are small pockets of creatives doing some cool stuff. Phoenix is slept on in terms of artists we've produced. Cece Peniston, who is the nicest person on the planet, Ryan Leslie, Linkin Park, Alice Cooper Charlie Mingus, and Stevie Nicks are all from Phoenix. We have world-class talent in Phoenix but wish we had a real music industry for the creatives here so we don't have to go to LA to make shit pop off.
Jay: What was the purpose of the rebrand from Lee TRBL to Amateur Genius?
AG: Just life. Lee is my middle name, and TRBL is short for the treble clef. It was my stage name, but I was way more known for my online persona than my name. It got to a point where if my name was brought up, it would be for the wrong reasons. It got in the way of things I was trying to do musically and I hit a wall creatively and professionally. When COVID happened, I took a long break from music. I had some mental health issues I needed to work through, so it was a time of reflection and introspection.
So I deleted anybody and anything that was harmful to my overall mental health. I had kept people around for the wrong reasons like ego, pride, and envy. I told myself that if I were to ever come back to music, I want a different name that better captured what I do. Years ago, I typed in my name in the WuTang Name Generator, and it came up with Amateur Genius, which is the perfect description for my music and anime career. But I want to be paid like a professional for my artistic talent goddammit!!
Jay: Who are some indie artists that you would want to shout out?
AG: Man, there are so many dope indie artists I'm enjoying right now in music. My particular favorites are Emawk, Devin Morrison, Silas Short, Keifer, MNDSGN, and Nubiyan Twist. As far as anime, our IG @atsdojo follows a grip of dope POC who work on visuals. I'm inspired by Concept Moon, Impound Comics, and even Flying Lotus and Thundercat's work on Yasuke.
Jay: What was the best no you have ever received and why?
AG: My first music industry opportunity for sure. I was in Nashville for a few weeks executive producing an album, but I was totally inexperienced and a bit over my head. The album was never finished, and I got replaced. That rejection fueled everything you see today in me. It put a huge chip on my shoulder and I was determined to prove to everyone that I belong. I've learned over the years that God doesn't say no, he says 'better'. And better came.
You can stream Losing U and Azul on his Bandcamp. Follow him on Instagram @trblwashere and Tik Tok and Twitter @amtrgns. The Dojo District can be found on all social media @atsdojo .
Written by: Jay Guevara. @justinhisprime on all social media.
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