Inteview with Memory Tapes

This interview can also be found on SFist.
memorytapes_0.jpg
(photo by Rez Avissar)

While you really can't go wrong with just about any of the Noise Pop weekend options, we are particularly looking forward to catching Memory Tapes as Bottom of the Hill tomorrow night. The solo project of New Jersey based stay-at-home dad Dayve Hawk, Memory Tapes 2009 debut LP Seek Magic was one of the most talked about and downright enjoyable albums of last year, earning a well-deserved place on endless best-of-year lists. Up until a few months ago, however, not much was known about the reportedly reclusive artist -- Dayve had yet to play a live show as Memory Tapes, and rarely seemed to sit down for interviews. We had a chance to catch up with Dayve earlier this month, where we had a lengthy discussion about his love of small shows, his desire to be a distinctly blue collar musician, his approach to remixes and much, much more. And guess what -- it turns out Dayve Hawk isn't quite the enigma people thought he was after all.

Memory Tapes play Bottom of the Hill Saturday (2/27) with Loquat, Birds & Batteries and Letting Up Despite Great Faults. Advanced tickets are sold out, but a limited number of tickets may be available at the door.

While your debut LP Seek Magic was released back in September, you just got around to playing live shows as Memory Tapes in late January. How have the shows been so far?

They have been good. The first one was in Manchester, and that was fun, because there was no stage -- I have always really liked playing at places without a stage. And then from there the shows got progressively bigger, and thus progressively a little bit weirder for me. But they have all been pretty good. Nothing terrible has happened.

I am always a big fan of those nontraditional venues, where the artist is forced to just kind of play in the crowd. Do you see yourself getting the chance to play more places like this, even if you wind up having to play them somewhat covertly?

I’d like to, and I know no one around me likes it when I say that. Coming home from England I was telling everyone that I only wanted to play shows to a 100 to 150 people from now on. [laughs] I like it better. I always like house shows and shows that are not in normal venues – it’s just more fun. It’s more like you are in a room with a bunch of people at a party or something and are playing. It’s not so much like the grind of -- you are in a bar, and you wait, and you go up on stage, and you do a sound check. It just gets boring. So I would like to be able to do that kind of thing in the future more.

Can you tell us a little bit about the live show setup?

Basically, it’s me singing and playing guitar, and then my friend is coming along to play drums. We have a computer running synthesizer things that I recorded before the show, so that I can play the guitar and still have the keyboard parts there until we find a third person to play them.

So are you looking to recruit a third member to handle synth at the shows?

I would like to, eventually. But we are also not rushing into it, because it’s more important to me that I am kind of traveling along with friends and not just random dudes that can play. My drummer is also my best friend, so it’s cool to be able to go around and do everything just us. But I have some other friends sort of playing, so if I can figure out ways to get them to do things -- that will be the way it will work. But I don’t know so much about hiring hand, you know?

I know it is probably the generic question you keep getting, but a lot has been written about your various musical incarnations – Memory Tapes, Weird Tapes and Memory Cassettes. Can you breakdown how you differentiate the three projects?

Well I really don’t do the Weird Tapes or Memory Cassettes stuff anymore, or at least I don’t use the different names. It just became too much of a headache -- people trying to get a hold of all these different artist that were all just me. But Weird Tapes, the big difference was that stuff was all samples. I don’t know what you would call it -- something like The Avalanches, where you are chopping up other songs to make new songs. The Memory Cassettes stuff -- that was all demos I had recorded as a kid and would just kind of tweak and put out. And the Memory Tape stuff is all new -- there are no samples or old songs. So that is kind of how I differentiate the three things.

So are you fairly adamant about keeping Memory Tapes sample free?

Yea -- I was tired of doing it. I mean, I started doing it with the Weird Tapes stuff because I was between places to stay, and all I had was a laptop. I couldn’t have my guitar or amps or any real instruments, but still wanted to make music, so was like chopping up songs I had on my hard drive.

But I like making music. I come more from a background of being a musician -- I don't come from an electronic kind of background, despite what I do. So when I sat down to make the Memory Tapes record I kind of had a rule that I was not going to sample anyone else’s record or anything like that.

I was curious what the recording process has been for you. Do you ever go to studio, or are you doing everything in the bedroom?

[laughs] It is all at home -- I don’t want to go to a studio. I just recorded it all on like an iMac. But I kind of used it the same way you would use a tape recorder – just a lot of overdubbing. I would play the keyboard part and then play the bass line or whatever, and just do a bunch of different passes layering the songs until they seemed done. A lot of the drum stuff I would program on an MPC or whatever -- just a lot of that kind of stuff. Nothing crazy.

When recording Seek Magic, would you pound at a single track until it was complete, or kind of lay down the foundation and then revisit and tweak in other sessions?

It is kind of a little bit of both for me. Some of the songs would happen. Like there is this song on there "Pink Stones," that is really fast. That was really just me -- I don’t know what you call it – jamming. Me on a keyboard, playing live, and it just seemed like a song. And something like "Bicycle", or one of the bigger, more arranged songs, I would do one pass on it and leave it, and then come back to it when I had a new idea. I just had a few songs that were sort of in flux for a while, and I kept going back to them because I didn’t like this or I didn’t like that or whatever.

You have always been extremely generous with your music, giving a significant chunk of your catalog away on your blog. Is this something that you plan to move away from now that you have a record out that people can buy?

I really like doing it, but at the same time, I like physical records. I was really excited when Acephale came and wanted to put the album out on vinyl -- I had never had anything on vinyl. But as that all started to come together, you get into the thing where the labels don’t necessarily want you to give away the music, which I understand -- they have to make their money back for pressing it up. So yea, I had to get kind of use to that. But at the same time, I still ended up giving away half the album, and I still give away a lot of the remixes. [laughs]

I don’t know, I like the immediacy of it. But I rarely do a track and put it up as soon as I do it. When I do the remixes, it is still for a record label or whatever, and they usually ask me to wait until they are ready. So it is rare that I get to put something up immediately, but at least fairly soon. It seems crazy to hoard all this music and hope that everyone on the face of the earth is going to buy it, because they are just not. So it is important to me to just kind of put it out, so then I sort of feel like “ok, I am done with that” and can move on to the next thing.

For better or for worse, I think that these tracks will realistically eventually turn up on mp3 blogs, so it is kind of cool that a fan can go to your site and get it from the source.

That's what I kind of like about it. It is kind of like a discography -- you kind of just keep everything in one place. I have liked artists that have had a lot of output, and I have had to scramble to try to find what they have done. So I don’t know, I maintain it as a sort of catalog -- not everything gets up there, but I try to do it.

You seem to particularly relate to those artist that have had a lot of output -- bands and musicians that strive to put out new material on a consistent basis. You have described this type of mindset as a "blue collar music career." Can you elaborate a bit on what you mean by this?

[laughs] I really like the old 60s Phil Spector or Brill Building type thing where everyday you just try to make a song – it is just what you do, and you do it. I have met some artists that can go two years and never do anything, and then maybe they get struck by some muse. Where as I am more -- I like to work everyday. I am just always working on something. So that’s what I mean -- I just like having as many opportunities to be messing with music, whether it be my stuff, remixes, producing or writing for people. Whatever it is really. I just like working on music – it’s just what interest me, so I want to be doing that as much as I can.

So are you getting fairly antsy now that you are on the road, and away from the home studio?

Yea -- it’s hard. I mean starting to play, it’s kind of complicated it for me. I was half way done with my next record when all the live stuff started to happen, so I kind of had to put it on hold. But at the same time, I somewhat accepted that this is part of it. But I don’t know. I am hoping that eventually I might kind of chill out on playing shows, and then I will go back to playing all the time. [laughs] I have to strike a balance -- I haven’t done that yet.

But you aren't totally hating the touring thing so far, right?

I’m not totally hating it -- but I won't say that I love it. [laughs] It's just not -- it's not my personality type. I’m not a performer. I don’t like that kind of attention. I like working, and I don’t mind putting stuff out -- I don’t really care if people like it or don’t like it. But the performance aspect, I get a little more weirded out by. But as long as it doesn’t become the focus of what I do, it's fine.

I think it is kind of interesting. If you go back to November of last year, you had only done a couple interviews, and seemed to be on the fence with ever playing live. Why did you decide to be a little more public with your work -- did something change between now and then?

It was kind of two things, but I guess both of them kind of fall under the same umbrella -- I get bored really easily.

So first off, I got bored of talking about my enigma or whatever. [laughs] People were always asking me “why are you so mysterious?” And I would kind of be like, “you are talking to me, so I cant be that mysterious. I’m not really mysterious -- you just don’t know anything about me, because why would you?” So I started to just be more open, so it just wouldn’t be so much of a talking point.

And playing live was kind of the same thing -- it got to a certain point where it was all anyone would be asking me about. It would just be like “when are you going to play live, when are you going to play live, when are you going to play live” to the point that I felt like, man, people aren’t even interested in me doing new music -- they just want me to play shows! But if I am not going to do something, I at least want to know that I tried to do it. When it came to playing live, it just came to a point where I was like -- I have never really even done this, so I need to at least try it. And then if I hate it, I'll stop. But I would rather do it, and then be able to tell people why I am not doing it. It’s really just an experiment.

The whole enigma thing always struck me as a bit odd. It just kind of seemed like people got a little carried away with pigeonholing you as this or that, and then would write about how "normal" you were once they actually sat down and talked to you. Was getting painted as this so-called enigmatic character weird and unexpected?

Yea I was definitely like -- I don’t understand, what is so enigmatic about me? But at the same time, my friends would say that I just didn’t really realize how much people put themselves out there. So it’s more of a comparative thing, and I can see that. When I would send a track to a blog, I would just send them a track and be like -- here is that song. It wouldn’t be like here is me, and here is my bio, and here is a picture of me. And I don’t know, maybe that’s what other bands do. And if it is, I am sure everyone wondered -- who is mystery man, sending us music. I don’t traffic pictures of myself and things like that really. [laughs] So I guess that’s where it comes from.

But it was not like I put the hammer down-- no interviews, and no pictures of me, and this and that. It's actually interesting -- when you do that, you draw more attention to yourself. That was part of why I started to be more open, because I was almost starting to get attention due to people not knowing about me. And I thought, “I don’t want this.” I did not want people constantly being like, “what’s the real you!” There is no real me -- there is no big secret here.

So I have read that you have actually done some uncredited ghost writing work for a few artist in the past. As you grow in popularity, do artists and labels seem a bit more eager to keep your name on this type of thing when they approach you?

I don’t do a ton of that kind of stuff, but there has definitely been more interest. Lately, the biggest thing is some sort of interest in me producing other artists, which I guess would be with my name attached to it. It is something I’ve never done, but I am interested in doing. So I could imagine sometime over the next year something like that may end up happening. But I don’t know – it could wind up being a complete nightmare. I don’t know if I could do my thing with someone else, so we will have to see.

It definitely strikes me as fundamentally different than a remix project.

Yea. A remix, I just get the song and can kind of do whatever they want – sometimes they hate it. Where as producing another artist, it should ultimately be about their style. That is the thing I have yet to see – if I can adapt to other people's things. But again, that kind of goes back to the whole blue collar thing -- I just want to try. I’m just interested in anything to do with music.

When you do these remixes do you generally spend a lot of time with the source material, or just grab the stems and start working?

Yea, just kind of listen to the stems. [laughs] Usually, I have not even heard the original song. But sometimes I do. Like the Tanlines one -- they sent me the song, and I listened to it. Tanlines was actually a real exception for me. I usually get hired to do remixes -- I get approached either by the band, their record label or their manager. But Patrick, who runs Acephale, had told me about Tanlines. So I actually asked them to remix one of my songs, and they asked for me to do one for them in return. So I should have a remix of Bicycle by them fairly soon.

But by and large, I will remix a lot of stuff I’ve never heard, and still have never heard. [laughs] I don’t know why – it’s not like a malicious thing. I just get the job and I do them, and it never occurs to me that I should go listen to the song.

I just don’t want to have to think about it too much – I mean, that’s kind of the bottom line. I just want to do it, and at the end of the day, people either like it or they hate it. And honestly, with remixes it doesn’t really matter to me. I know some people look at remixes and are like – you are supposed to take this and make it better. But that is really presumptuous -- oh, I am going to make it better. I don’t try to make them better. I just try to do my version of it, and that’s it.

So one final question. Despite a trend in the press to kind of lump you in with a handful of mildly related artist, I have read that you were not actually influenced by many contemporary sources when recording Seek Magic. So what artist did inspire while making the record?

The big record that I was trying to make it to sound like, it sounds nothing like. Which was -- I was really into Spirit of Eden, by Talk Talk. I just really liked how formless it was. But then I went and made like a dance record, so I don’t really know what the correlation was. But that was sort of my starting point.

But honestly, when I make a lot of music, I don’t really reference things directly. It is all just kind of subconscious stuff that gets in there. I know that people with "Bicycle" always talk about the “new order bass line” which first off, isn’t a bass line – it’s guitar. And it is funny -- when I did the song, I thought people were going to think I was ripping off The Cure. I thought it sounded like Robert Smith guitar, or something like that. But everyone says New Order, so I don’t know. [laughs]

So the correlation between the music and the stuff I listen to -- I think it is more abstract. I don’t really reference this, that or the other thing, and definitely not current music. I don’t have a problem with current music, I just really don’t know that much about it. A lot of the bands that I know are bands on the the same labels as me. When people ask me about new bands -- I like the bands on Acephale and I like the bands on Sincerely Yours, because that’s how I wind up hearing about them.

Would you ever tour with any of these bands?

[laughs] I feel like hardly any of those guys tour! Although I guess jj are starting to tour now. But other than that, I feel like a lot of the bands on both Acephale and Sincerely Yours don’t tour, really. I don’t think Salem really tours or that The Tough Alliance has been doing anything live for a while now. And Air France doesn't tour. [laughs] I feel like we are all a bunch of hermits or something!