Nikola Zjalic gives us a candid look into his life and shares stories from the making of the new TESKO EP
Tell us about your musical journey and how did it lead you to ill.gates, The Producer Dojo and the Class of 808?
It’s been a long journey, almost half my life at this point. My dad encouraged me to pick up an instrument when I was in seventh grade and he assured me that if I could learn to play the guitar or something well I would get all the girls. I ended up getting my first acoustic shortly after that and starting listening to Blink-182, Sum 41, Green Day, and anything else that was somewhat edgy. Then Guitar Hero 3 came out and that was my first insight into bands like Metallica, Guns n’ Roses, Disturbed, Rise Against, etc. which all became staples on my iPod. My best friend also got the game and a guitar around the same time so we spent a LOT of time practicing and sharing music with each other.
From there I got into Post-Hardcore, Metal, and more extreme styles of music. The time I would have spent swatting off all the girls I thought I was going to get, I was practicing my instrument and trying to emulate what these musicians were doing. In High School the bands Protest the Hero, The Human Abstract, and Between the Buried and Me were my holy trifecta. My friend had stopped playing guitar as much and got more into early edm/trance/whatever and FL Studio. We wrote a few cheesy DJ Splash rip offs but I wouldn’t budge yet.
After High School I went to University to get my bachelors in Computer Science. I went through a random Future House/Oliver Heldens/Tchami phase which looking back was pretty pivotal. I redownloaded FL studio, went in on that for a year and slowly transitioned over to house from metal. I kept getting frustrated trying to start bands in my local area so it made sense at that point.
I can’t remember exactly how I found out about ill.Gates but I would google music things all the time and just always try to find new videos, forum posts, etc. that could give me an edge. I was talking to my friend Sean (Squashed Out) once and showing him Dylan’s (ill.Gates) Patreon page + the ill Methodology and a slot happened to have opened up in the Class of 808. I immediately hopped on that opportunity and got on a call with him later that month. That was roughly 2 years ago now
Where are you from originally?
Born and raised in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. 15 minutes from Detroit for reference
What made you want to become a music producer?
For years all I wanted was to be a guitar player and just write music to perform with my band. I would program out my songs in a program called Guitar Pro 5 and whenever I’d send ideas to people they’d always say it sounded too electronic and cheesy. I realized that no one would listen to all the songs I wrote if I didn’t record them and make them sound good so I ended up getting my first interface and actually recording my music instead of programming it.
Tell us about the “Something Wrong EP.” When did you begin working on it and how long of an adventure has it been?
It’s been a long time, maybe a year (and a half?). I’ve scrapped a lot of music that I thought would end up on it at the time, or that I thought represented my style. I was making lots of different styles of music and experimenting but nothing felt quite right yet, like me.
Something Wrong came about from a combination of me reaching a level where I was comfortable with my production chops as well as the realization that I couldn’t keep shielding myself from criticism under the guise of striving for perfection.
I just want to create lots of music, move on, and the write lots more new music. If it were up to me everything I’ve ever written would just sit on my hard drive because I could always one day make it even better. I decided I’d dedicate, put in the grind to finish a project even if it wasn’t perfect. Hence the title Something Wrong
What creative ways do you promote your music?
I’ve been really inspired by Moonboy, Panda Eyes, Virtual Riot, and other producers who are putting out content outside of just songs. That’s just in the electronic world. I remember growing up I would nerd out SO hard over random little videos bands made on tour or in the studio or whatever and I feel like that was so important in the whole experience of getting immersed in that band’s music. I’m focusing more on video moving forward. I’ve taken a much more hands on approach to the visual side of TESKO recently so I’m creating all sorts of art and videos to supplement each release. I want to create an experience around the music. My YouTube channel is here.
Are there other artistic projects and communities that you are a member of?
Absolutely! ALIVE Imprint is a community I’ve started with my good friends Squashed Out and Lurking Shadows. The imprint stands for appreciation of life and creation. I want to cultivate a positive creative space and encourage people to be the absolute best versions of themselves. If I could sum down what I’m trying to promote in two words: gratefulness and appreciation.
If you could go back 10 years ago and advise your younger self of 1 thing, what would that advice be?
Music is not only possible to do as a career but you can live good off of it, and RELEASE STUFF SOONER!!! I feel like I could have been so much farther along if I started building up a fanbase in the earlier days of YouTube, SoundCloud, etc. but I was way more concerned with perfecting my music. I had a few videos on YouTube rack up quite a number of plays but never built upon that. Ah what can you do.
Also, my dog passed away a few months ago and he was almost 10 years old. Since then I’ve thought a lot more about what 10 years means and how much time that actually is. I don’t know what I’d advise myself exactly but if younger me knew what the timespan of 10 years felt like I think that would have put some things into perspective.
Do you ever experience writer’s block in the studio? How do you overcome it?
Writer’s block is a weird thing for me. I have had phases where I feel like I have it but I also haven’t believed in writer’s block for years now… When people ask I’m quick to say it doesn’t exist but I am empathetic to the struggle. I think it’s more a matter of being too critical of your ideas before you’ve stumbled upon that one thing that propels your song forward. There’s a quote I heard from a random Mr. Bill video way back that stuck with me. Something along the lines of “writing music is work, it’s not going to write itself.”
Many songs don’t take shape until a few hours into the session so I’ll keep at it and usually there’s a breakthrough eventually. On the days when I’m really not feeling it I’ll make sounds, organize, get on video call with my friends if they’re working on music and sit in on their session, or whatever. I try to keep it music related but sometimes something totally unrelated is what you really need.
How did you come up with the artist name, TESKO and what does it mean? What is next for TESKO?
Teško (teshko) in Serbian means heavy (weight-wise) and anglicizing it to TESKO had a nice ring to it + I wanted to write heavy music. Everyone that has heard the name ever since has liked it so I just stuck with it!
Is there one song that you are most proud of on your latest EP? If yes, why?
Maybe “For The Homies” with Squashed Out. We’ve spent lots of time over the years working on various collabs and just hanging out as friends and that was the first of like 500 collabs that we finished (ok not really but we had a lot). It also took over a year to finish since we were sitting on different versions for months at a time so it was nice to wrap it up finally.
Writing music alone is alright enough that I’d dedicate my life to it. Writing music with people can be even better. I feel like things just came together real nicely for that one.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
Yeah, if you read this far I appreciate you, for real!! I feel confident moving forward and that’s thanks to all the genuine friends and supporters over the years. It’s helped put in perspective what is important moving forward.
Thanks to my mom and dad, for everything. I never would have got into music if it wasn’t for them. Thanks to my close friends for continuing to take initiative to include me in their lives despite all the times I’m not present because I’m working on music or something else.
Thanks to Dylan (ill Gates) for helping me develop as an artist. Big big thanks to everyone that helped coordinate this release: Dov Bruyns, Sean Naughton, Shaun Sokalski, and everyone else in the class of 808.
This EP has been in the making for a long time so I’m sitting on so much unreleased music I can’t wait to share more music!
My new “Something Wrong” EP is available here: https://fanlink.to/TESKO
You can Follow me on all social media @iamtesko
Watch me here: www.youtube.com/c/teskomusic
Stay grateful and appreciative. Thank you again for supporting.