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.