MARC DOTY w/ AUTOMATIC-GAINSAY

How did you get hooked on Rock & Roll?   It’s interesting to be asked that, as people seem to have pretty much forgotten about Rock & Roll, but I still describe myself as a “rock keyboardist,” in regard to music.  As a synthesizer enthusiast, these days, the assumption is that I’m all about various electronic genres… and while I do enjoy a few, that’s not what I do.  I think initially, I liked pop.  But my brother was inclined towards heavier music, and played a lot more Rock-oriented music.  I think I connected with it intuitively, but it was that exposure that made it happen.

Do you have a favorite go-to album of all-time and how have your feelings about it changed at all over the years?  My favorite albums are too numerous to name, but I do have two albums that I would say are my favorite albums of all time… truly my “go-to” albums.

Out of the Blue– Electric Light Orchestra.  When I first heard this album in 1978, it was everything I wanted music to be.  It had a great Beatlesque vibe, but also explored a lot of different genres, production styles, instrumentation, and technology.  It was where I first saw the name “Moog.”  My perception of it has changed primarily in that as I have gotten older, had more education, more experience, etc., I’ve been better able to hear the instrumentation, recognize the production techniques, and understand everything “underneath the hood.”   My love of it has not wavered at all.

The Beatles– The Beatles.  I probably don’t need to say anything about this, but I will say that the weird combination of exquisite production and raw messy production along with the combination of amazing songcraft and unique musical exploration basically made me who I am today.  I think I love it more every time I hear it.

What was your first public live performance and how did it go?   If I exclude piano recitals, my first musical performance was in high school… in a band where we dressed up in punk clothes and performed Country music.  I was just plunking out chords on a piano, but it was incredibly exciting, and it pretty much set everything in motion.  My first “public” performance was probably this one time in a bar that I was too young to be in (but there were provisions for under-age musicians).  I felt confused and out-of-place, but very excited to be playing in public. And in a bar.

What you gives you the biggest high as a musician?  I have been obsessed with creating music since I was nine years old (the age I started writing music at).  I have been intent on learning to express myself and create compelling music.  So, I guess I’d say that… but I also enjoy performance, and have often chosen performance over writing.

How does the song writing process happen for you ? (Is there a Marc Doty riff graveyard?)  Initially, it was me sort of imitating the music of my idols.  Then, I went to college and got a degree in composition.  During that process, writing music became essentially an opening of the floodgate in my brain, and a desire to make every idea into something interesting.

It depends largely on what the intent is… what I’m writing for.  But in general, most of my music starts with either messing around on a piano, or having an intense emotion that I vent by spontaneously creating lyrics and melodies.

I do a lot of synthesizer demonstrations on YouTube, and when I’m writing the themes for these demonstrations, I often let the unique strengths of the synthesizer I’m writing with inspire me to create theme music.

And yes, if I never wrote anything new ever again for the rest of my life, I have enough ideas lying around to probably carry through the rest of my life!

What’s your philosophy on drums and getting the right drum take?  The most inspirational song for me in regard to drums was “Louie Louie,” if you can believe that.  Louie Louie had a drum sound that really reached me on an emotional level, and I realized early-on that it was because it is natural and expressive, and because the vibration of the drums in the room lead to the timbral aspect of the drums.  That is to say that drums sound best and most expressive as a person who is experiencing them there, and experiencing them there is an aural experience of how the vibration of the drums interact with the room they are in.

Recognizing this led me to recreate the drum production of some in the past… and I found that a great way to record drums was with a single mic sensing the vibration of the room.  I LOVE the sound of single-mic recorded drums.  And most of my songs feature acoustic drums captured with a single mic in a room.

I’ll admit that I do often boost the bass drum, or record it separately with a different mic arrangement simply because placement of a mic in order to capture snare, toms, and cymbals often results in a baseless bass drum… but still.

I loved drum machines when I was young, but I got tired of them.  Even when I do electronic stuff, I tend to sample live drums and create loops.

Will rock & roll continue to boast bands whose careers span decades or have folks attention spans shrunk too much for a new band to sustain such success?  It’s hard to imagine Rock surviving what is happening in music right now.  It has become a business first and foremost, and the music has been reduced to its most selling aspects.  It’s no longer about expressing what you personally feel and having another person identify with it, it’s about pandering directly to musical aspects and lyrics that invoke immediate feeling in the listener.  It’s not so much communication as it is manipulation at this point.  I wonder what the future will hold.

Your speaking at KnobCon here in Chicago this week, what sort of stuff do you plan to get in to?  Well, I have somehow generated a world-wide following in regard to my synthesizer demonstrations and education, and I look forward to any opportunity to teach people about how vast, deep, and long the history of synthesizers is.  At Knobcon, I’ll be doing a presentation on a synthesizer inventor that most people haven’t heard of… which is sad, because he created many of the aspects of synthesis we attribute to others!  It’s an awareness campaign.  It will also be fantastic to interact with synthesizer pioneer Tom Oberheim, and my friend Michael Boddicker, who, in addition to being an amazing keyboard player and synthesist, was responsible for SO many of the session keyboard parts for musicians like Michael Jackson.

Synths almost killed rock in the 70’s with prog, tried again with new wave in 80’s and today seems to have found a new host in EDM: Is this just another occupational hazard or will it have longer legs the ‘keyboardist’ as it were?  Ha ha, yeah… it’s hard to beat keyboards back, sometimes.  But the fact is, there is a balance that can be had with the synthesizer and Rock… it’s just that it’s easy to go too far.

What advice would you give to a talented young artist wondering how the fuck to get from A to B and make a real go of it?   Well, I spent 12 years desperately trying to get a record contract back in the 80s and 90s.  I worked my ass off trying to do what was expected.  I tried to write songs that would appeal to audiences and A&R people.  I tried to get that stuff heard.  I had a manager in L.A., and interest from labels like Geffen and Interscope… but it all failed.  And I think largely, that was because I was shooting for an idea as opposed to doing what I loved.

Conversely, I started demonstrating synths on YouTube, and suddenly, my work was spread all over the world, synthesizer companies started asking me to demonstrate their products, I got hired at a historical synthesizer foundation, met all of my idols, and have tens of thousands of people hearing my music every month.

I really think the key isn’t to try to be something you want to be, but to try to show people what you are.  Don’t make your art some sort of bartering for something that has nothing to do with art, delve deeper into your art and live it, and opportunities will come to you.

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CHRISTIAN SBROCCA

ChristianWHAT WERE THE FIRST 3 RECORDS YOU BOUGHT AS A KID?

I can’t find 3! The first two I remember wanting to buy…but that my parents bought for me were vinyls: John Cougar Mellencamp (Hurt So Good), Joan Jet and the Blackhearts (I love Rock n roll) and on tape the first two I bought for myself were Michael Jackson (Thriller) and Men Without Hats (bought with my Brother) for the song Safety dance. Other tape (records) bought a little after that:  Appetite for Destruction (Guns), Tesla, Bon Jovi, Ozzy, Def Leppard..

AND HOW DO YOU RANK THEM TODAY?

Classics! Really good songs still.  I’m not the type of person who got “trapped” in the 80’s…but I have to admit that the quality of songs during that decade is phenomenal. We turned our backs to 80’s music in the late 90’s until recently.  When we look at the top 40 from 1980 till 1989, we realize that a lot of those songs are still “up to date”.  Especially the “New wave music” and the “Rock” music…but no so the Hair metal bands..

DID YOUR FASCINATION WITH MUSIC, LIKE SO MANY ARTISTS, BEGIN IN THE HOME WITH FAMILY?

Absolutely.  MY father was an italian immigrant from Rome Italy.  He came to Canada with a plethora of music styles as he was also a musician himself.  The Beatles, Elvis, Southern American music, Italian classics etc, played continuously on our turn table but also “Live”.  Parties at my house were legendary…My father was one of the best “entertainer” I’ve ever seen…

As he (my dad) fell in love with the french Canadian culture (The Quebec Culture), he also learned a lot of folk music form here.  As you can imagine, mixing the Beatles, italian classics and french traditional folk would rock any party, in any country!

Those were fine days….  I started playing with him at the age of 12-13.  Started with some back vocals and easy rythms.  Things moved forward pretty fast though, as I was really passionate about it.  By the age of 14-15, I was playing at parties (with my buddies trying to impress young girls!), camping trips etc…at the age of 17-18, I played my first “bar gig”

My father passed in 2002… We played hundreds of times together at our house or at relatives for Christmas, Easter, New Years, name it.  Since he passed, I’ve never played a single note at a home party again.  It was his kingdom…he did it so well.

WHEN DID YOU START ACTUALLY WRITING SONGS AND CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE WRITING PROCESS FOR YOU?

My first melodies (with bad lyrics) were written between the age of 15 and 18.  Although I do not consider them as “songs”. My first real song was written in College at the age of 19.  The song is called “Unexpected”.  This song followed me for quite some time since it was kept on my first english album in 1999.  It was written after a young hockey player, Travis Roy, at Boston University (I was also a player at UMass, Lowell), became quadriplegic during a hockey game. This accident really moved me.

After that song, it took me a few years to write again. As for song-writing itself, it always has something to do with emotions as far as I’m concerned…  Self doubt, happiness, love, death, anxiety, substance abuse etc… are all topics I have sang about in my career.

It usually starts with what some of us here call “yaourt”.  A melody with no real lyrics… It can, or almost sounds like real words but they aren’t.  They are just there to guide you to an emotion that will end up leading you to real words.  Once the melody starts to take form, then real words come naturally….

I wrote strictly with the acoustic guitar for 10 years…  The first song I’ve ever written on the piano is a song about my dad called “Un monde sans mon père”. ( A world without my dad).

Today, I’d say that 60% of the songs I write begin with the piano, the other 40 is with the guitar.  Same deal….Most of the time, melody, then lyrics.  I have also done the opposite (lyrics first) since I write for others quite often.  I love it….  Completely different dynamics, but challenging.

Writing is a full time job for me…and although I do it more with my “head” then with my “soul” lately, there is always a way to put “heart” and honesty into it… Obviously, i’ts different when the writing is for my own material….then soul comes first.

IF YOU WERE TO HAND A DISC TO MR. BIG IN AN ELEVATOR LIKE IN THE MOVIES WITH ONE TRACK OF YOURS ON IT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

It’s very difficult to answer…I’ll say: “The Choice Is Yours“. It’s a song I have not yet released…. but:the track pretty much sums up everything that I am as a human being, an artist, a singer song writer.

Christian2HOW DID YOUR RECENT EUROPEAN DATES GO?

Very good…  the most important show I’ve done in France was in a 13th century Castle in the French Alpes… What was really for about that experience is that 16 of my faithful fans from Canada made the trip to Europe with me !  They followed me on tour for 10 days and on the 10th day, we played a sold out concert in the Tallard Castle.  On top of the 16 that made the trip, about another 15 french Canadian fans joined us on the last day to attend the Castle concert…..  One word : Magical!

IT’S BEEN A FEW YEARS NOW SINCE YOUR LAST FULL LENGTH RELEASE, L’OPNION DES AUTRES, ANY PLANS FOR A NEW DISC?

The french canadian market (95% in the Province of Quebec) is pretty Small…..only 6 million people.   In order to have a great quality of life, one has to find multiple ways to make a living.  As far as I’m concerned, in the last couple of years, I have found ways to position myself (and my studio), in great position.  Lately, I have been writing for other artist that are much more « commercial » and « popular » then me !  Interesting copy rights come along with that.  Also, I have been hired to write « thème songs and « music » for many TV shows.  Some of then are « daly » shows.  Interesting copy rights and publishing rights come along with that as well.

As for my own material, It’s been too long LOL. Textbook story :  Since my last full length CD « L’opinion des autres », I have lost a little bit of momentum.  I’m now on my own with no record label, no manager and no bullshit.  My last record deal experience was brutal.  I’m excited about doing things slowly and on my own.

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF FIRST AND FOREMOST TODAY: A PERFORMER, A SONG-WRITER, A SINGER OR A PRODUCER?

Probably the most “unanswerable” question ever! But let’s be honest here… I ain’t “the producer”, but I’m pretty good at it. I’m not a “singer”.  I’m a singer–song-writer that can sing…but I’m not “the singer”! I think I’m a “performer” and a “song writer”….that produces music and sings his heart and soul out.

CANADA’S OBVIOUSLY HAD SOME GREAT ARTISTS OVER THE YEARS: WHAT’S THE CLUB SCENE LIKE IN QUEBEC FOR NEW MUSIC THESE DAYS AND ANY ARTISTS GRABBING YOUR EAR?

The club scene is very healthy for new upcoming bands.  But unfortunately, it’s hard to make a living playing “clubs” with original material.  That being said, Montreal is probably the best “stepping stone” in all of North America for “indie music”. I’ve been an “Arcade fire” fan for years… So cool to see them do so well.

Patrick Watson, Malajube (french), Karkwa (french), Stars etc….There are also other “main stream” bands or singers that do really well, and although it ain’t my type of music, it’s fun to be able to appreciate other’s talent and success (Celine Dion for example)

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG ARTISTS RECORDING THEIR FIRST DISC?

Cliché stuff but so freakin true:  Be yourself.  Don’t let the “web”, “youtube”, “instant star’ bullshit syndrome get to you. IT  DOES NOT MAKE YOU AN ARTIST AND IT WILL NOT GIVE YOU A CAREER OF ANY KIND. Write your own stuff cuz that’s how real careers are built.  If you do not write your own stuff, then find the right songs for you.

Work. Dedicate yourself….Work…Never give up….  Cuz if this is really what you want to do, there will never be any other options anyways!  You might as well work.  Oh yeah…have fun along the way!

WHAT PITFALLS NEED AMERICAN BANDS BE AWARE OF WHEN VENTURING NORTH TO PLAY DATES IN CANADA (OR QUEBEC?)

No too many…. Be polite.  Be open… Be respectful. Yes, a little cliché but…..Break the stereotype: Show us that you “understand” that although “America” is a great country, that you “ain’t” different then any of us or any body else for that matter. We love that especially in Quebec!  We are a nation of our own…we speak French, we have a different culture, we have a different back ground, different traditions……Know a little bit about us (Canada or Quebec) before you head up here…it’ll show that you “care”.   Do the same in Europe and anywhere else your music brings you! ~ Christiansbrocca.fr

JIM VALLANCE

JimVallanceWHAT WAS THE FIRST TUNE YOU LEARNED TO PLAY ON THE DRUMS?

It was a very long time ago (1965?) but I think the first song I played on drums was “Little Red Riding Hood”, by Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs.

DRUMMER JOKES ASIDE, IT SEEMS THE BEST ARTISTS (AND PRODUCERS FOR THAT MATTER) CAN PLAY SOME DRUMS, OR IN FACT BEGAN ON THE DRUMS: HOW DID UNDERSTANDING RHYTHM HELP YOU AS A SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER?

There’s this presumed orthodoxy that everything begins with piano … learn to play piano and the rest will follow.  That’s why so many kids are forced to take piano lessons.  If it were up to me, I’d say “start with drums and the rest will follow”.  Rhythm is the most basic musical building block.

I took piano lessons like every other kid of my generation — except the ones who took accordion lessons! — but it’s drums that taught me how to play music with feeling.  Even now, when I play guitar, I play like a drummer.

WHAT WAS THE ALBUM THAT GOT YOU HOOKED ON ROCK & ROLL AS A KID?

I wasn’t aware of albums when I was a kid.  It was all about singles, 45 RPM vinyl disks.  The first ones I bought were “She Loves You” by The Beatles and “Glad All Over” by The Dave Clark Five.

RodneyHiggsHOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE STAGE NAME ‘RODNEY HIGGS’ WHEN YOU WERE IN PRISM AND DOES HE, AS AN ALTER-EGO OF SORTS, EVER PAY VISITS TO YOUR MIND SET?

I live part-time in London … I have an apartment in Kensington. I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes, that whole Victorian-era thing.  Rodney Higgs sounded like a character from a Sherlock Holmes story.

DID BEING FROM CANADA MAKE IT HARDER TO BREAK INTO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AT LARGE OR DID YOU SEE IT AS AN ADVANTAGE?

I’ve always wondered if it made a difference.  There were hundreds of bands in Los Angles, all of them within walking distance of the big label offices.  Whether it was Devo from Akron or Nirvana from Seattle, I think there was some novelty attached to bands that were from somewhere other than LA.  So yes, I think it helped to be from Vancouver.

IN YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH BRYAN ADAMS, HOW DID YOU GUYS WORK ON SONGS TYPICALLY? DID THE APPROACH CHANGE AT ALL OVER THE YEARS OR DID YOU HAVE A FORMULA TOGETHER?

No formula, but certainly a democratic approach to writing songs.  There’s no ego … the best idea wins, no matter who came up with it.  We both write melody and we both write lyrics.  We can bounce lyrics and melodies back and forth until the best idea becomes apparent.  Sometimes I’ll play guitar, sometimes bass, sometimes piano.  It depends on the song.  Bryan usually plays guitar when we write, although he’s actual a very good piano player.

Cars_JimVallanceYOU HAVE WRITTEN WITH A NUMBER OF MAJOR ARTISTS OVER THE YEARS, WHICH WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU AS AS SONGSMITH?

I’m 60.  I’ve been writing songs since I was 16.  You’d think it would get easier, but it doesn’t.  It’s hard work.
Every song, every artist, comes with its own set of challenges, the main one being, you want to do the best job possible.  I admit I was nervous the first time I wrote with Steven and Joe from Aerosmith — same for Ozzy or Alice Cooper — but you get over that quite quickly.  Then it’s all about focussing on the task, spending the time — hours, days, whatever it takes — writing, re-writing, honing it until you’ve got it right.
Honestly, every song is a challenge.  There’s nothing quite so daunting as staring at a blank piece of paper waiting to be filled with lyrics.  Somehow it just happens. There’s that great story about Andrew Loog Oldham locking a young Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a room, threatening not to let them out until they’d written a song.  That’s kinda what it’s like.  That’s what it takes.
ONE OF YOUR CURRENT ‘PET PROJECTS’ IS JOHN LENNON IN GERMANY FROM 60-62: CAN YOU SHARE A PEARL FROM THE YOUNG TOUGHS DAYS IN HAMBURG?

An interviewer once asked Lennon to divulge the secret of the Beatles’ success.  Lennon replied, “We were a really good band!”.  And they were.  Listen to their recording of “Kansas City”, which is straight from their Hamburg set-list.  That’s four guys in a studio, singing and playing at the same time.  No ProTools or overdubs, just a really good band taking their Hamburg club show into a recording studio.  That’s where they got good, playing eight hour sets at the Top Ten Club and the Kaiserkeller.  There’s no substitute for that kind of apprenticeship.

 HOW DO YOU RATE RINGO AND WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OF HIS DRUM TRACKS IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE?

Ringo is one of the best rock drummers, ever. Bonham may have been heavier, and Stewart Copeland may have had more finesse, but you won’t find a more tasteful drummer than Ringo.  Plus, he basically invented the drum fill as we know it.

My favorite  Ringo tracks include “Lovely Rita”, “Carry That Weight”, “Ticket To Ride”, “Rain”.  For that matter, he played great on everything.  Never the same feel twice.

DO YOU STILL PLAY ‘SONG DOCTOR’ AND DO YOU MAKE HOUSE CALLS?

I don’t like the “song doctor” label.  It sounds like all I do is fix other people’s songs, or contribute the last 10% to fine-tune the song for radio.  I might have done that a few times over the years, but 99% of the time I start from scratch, sitting in a room with Bryan Adams or Steven Tyler, blank page, no clue where things are headed, and somehow you come up with a song. That’s a great feeling.  That’s what I love about my job … creating something from nothing. – JIM VALLANCE