LWE Interviews Dave Aju (part 2)


Photo by dCOY

In part two of our interview with Dave Aju, we discuss the balance between fun and function, the reception to his music, and his plans for the coming year.

With your mission statement in mind, do you think there’s a point when things get too weird?

Definitely. It’s like anything else, the balance is crucial. Again, [the mission statement] is a George Clinton motif. To me, I would always love the way he would be so out there but it was still very functional. And some people have said, ‘Well your stuff’s not functional.’ I’ve had people say to me, ‘Dude, I can’t play your records,’ and I say, ‘That’s real interesting, because every record that I’ve made you can start it on the one and it will follow through.’ Every now and then there will be a little intro thing that might throw you off, but very much so it matches my DJ style fine. I drop the needle in the middle, get the speed of it and bring it back. So it’s all playable, it’s just not like the other records you bought that week.

That’s interesting, I wanted to ask you about functionality. A track like “Be Like the Sun,” it definitely has a consistent groove but it seems like it doesn’t operate like a lot of dance music. How do you keep functionality in mind when you’re making your tracks?

I got into this, again, as a dancer first. And that’s the thing too, in a sense the dogmatic approach to dance music, in that it has to have a kick right here and a two and four snare strictly, and a hi-hat has to be– and that will instruct people to dance. I can dance to anything. Latin music, there’s all sorts of shit that doesn’t have that kick drum and is just as dance floor intense. So when I’m making a track, as long as I can sit back, close my eyes and feel myself kind of rocking out to it a little bit, that’s the test — as long as it passes that I’ll put it out.

Is it ever difficult to fit concepts into listenable music? So much concept music sounds like a concept, you know what I’m saying?

Yeah, novelty sometimes.

Is it difficult to fit that into straight up listening music?

I think in general it’s really easy to get caught up in something like that, maybe almost pretentiously — ‘this is my concept; it’s a concept work, that is the piece.’ I think especially with the album and maybe with “Love Always” because I had such inspiration through personal means, I decided I’ll probably always work in concepts at some level. I’ve always loved layered meaning and reading into things, but how the record will make someone respond is number one, always. For example, with the album, other people who have heard it have already said they didn’t even know it was made with my mouth, and that’s the best thing I can think of. But then people who would be into that can read into it. I like the idea that music can be appreciated on so many levels. Somebody can dance to it and be like, ‘Whoa that was a cool track,’ done; some DJ can be like, ‘I’d play that’ or ‘I wouldn’t play that,’ done. Then the more studious gear types can be like, ‘Oh, I see, he put an LFO on it…’ The more interpretations the better.

“The Tables Turn,” “Crazy Place” and Open Wide are all freed by their artistic constraints. Are artist constraints or concepts you had to adhere to — are they freeing to you?

I got into– I studied a little bit of stuff when I was in college about Steve Reich and the classical composers — minimalism in that sense, and I was really into this whole idea that the concept could become the content. Concept itself is the form, and that becomes the content and it takes on a new life. And it becomes not a restraint but it sort of opens up a bit. And yeah, I like the idea of employing that, and I also like the idea of music that becomes sort of like the design work: the art is the piece and the piece has a purpose. Each record I put out– the one I did for Context was conceptual as well. I bought three records off the street that were just gnarly, and I bought them because they were so beat up and just used those for samples, just used all the dirt to make the tracks. “The Tables Turn” was an ode to the turntable. They’re all very personal, heartfelt issues almost that I want to employ and turn into tracks.

Are there other concepts rolling around your head that you would like to work on?

Yeah, Open Wide was all made with the mouth so I’m still working out a couple things to go with the live set for that and a couple cover versions. But yeah, there are a couple ideas I have. I want to do an instrumental thing where– I have a different friends that play instruments, and what we’re going to do is (and this is tentative right now) work on something where the entire song is constructed just from that instrument being played, but not necessarily in a traditional solo sense.

A lot of your work is sample-based. Are you adding much in the way of other instruments, or how much are you working with other musicians to bring things together?

So far, other than the occasional samples, I haven’t really collaborated with musicians yet, which is why I’m looking forward to this project I just mentioned. I basically create each instrument for each track. So it all starts with samples, whether it’s a microphone recorded found sound or sometimes its vinyl samples, but I haven’t done that for a while. But each sound turns into an instrument. Interesting sounds are the whole point of this shit to me.

Why did you decide to use your mouth as the source for the entirety of an album?

Well I was thinking about the ideas– debut album, I’ve always wanted to do an album, I’ve been doing these 12 inches. I knew that I would have a little more freedom, but I also knew that it would require me, at least within myself if not within industry expectations, to be more personal. And I just thought that was the most personal thing I could do — it’s 100% me, there’s not one additional sound, environmental or recorded otherwise, from the synth to the hi-hat. And I always liked the mouth — it’s a human thing, it gives the music a human quality but it can also be playful and soulful, which I again think is key. My favorite music is equally playful and experimental in a sense, but also really rooted, soulful and kind of emotional, it has a personal resonance to it.

How much processing did you have to put into the mouth samples to turn them into a song like “Crazy Place”? Because even after reading that it was made entirely with the mouth, I still swore I was hearing a synthesizer.

I processed the vocals/voice samples– the synth sound is basically me singing the chord, quadrupled up, the same way you would do a synth so there’s an LFO, so it ends up sounding like a synth but it’s still my voice. Depending on what each track needed I would do a lot or a little processing. Some of the tracks– actually, the track “Crazy Place,” for example, I think, is literally just me going [makes mouth noises]. It gives it that kind of puffy, it actually sounds like a trap drum, ’cause I wanted that track to be more disco sounding in a sense, so the hi-hat were just [makes a mouth imitation of a hi-hat], mic’d and turned up. So I think that track is processed less than any other on the album, and the synths were definitely heavily processed. And each track on the album is approaching a different sub-genre of dance music basically. So “Crazy Place” has the disco thing, and “Open Wide” the title track has a broken beat, almost like a reggaeton kind of thing going on. “Roundabout” is the shuffle-y, Chicago-styled house thing which I’ve always loved. It closes with a straight up, vocodered R&B track. It covers the spread for sure.

Were you surprised how people received your Dave Aju stuff?

At what period are we talking about? More recently?

More recently, I suppose. It seems like from the “Love Always EP” on, and some of the stuff before it too, but it seems more people got plugged in around that release.

And I think it makes sense, because I think with that EP, which was at a very emotional time for me, that was kind of a purging that I had to do. I had just lost a good friend in a car accident, my father wasn’t feeling well, there was a lot of hectic shit going on at that time for me. I wanted to do an EP that still traveled in what I considered uncharted waters to a degree, but was a little more accessible so the message could get across better. With “The Tables Turn” and especially the Context EP, because Sutekh is a like-minded iconoclast, who would say ‘Dude, if they can’t play them, fuck them. They should be able to. Get it gnarly, keep ’em guessing,’ Ya know? But with that one I wanted to go as far as I could with the message, but was also a kind of reaching out from me to the people, and I think you can sense that. I wanted to make sure you could dance to it, so I wanted to make sure the DJ could play it. Not in the sense that, ‘Oh, it’s my time to blow up’ or bullshit like that; I wanted to make sure the message could get across. I remember when I was working on it, and at points I thought, ‘That’s not quite going to work,’ and I definitely chipped a little away at that one, probably more than any of my other stuff — even the newer stuff — just because of the head space I was in at the time.

So when it got the reception that it did, were you expecting that at all?

Not necessarily, but I knew that because of the emotion that was put into it, I knew that it would be received on some level. I didn’t know that people would be as vocal about it because, to be honest with you, when I first gave it to the guys at Circus, I was a little hesitant because it was significantly more emotional than stuff I’d done in the past. It has that kind of charge to it. But even though it was a little more accessible rhythmically, a little more direct in that sense, I felt it was a little more introspective at the same time except for the breakdown vocal thing. I added that later, actually. [“Be Like the Sun”] was done without that and I thought, ‘It needs a moment,” It didn’t have one at that point. I was telling friends, ‘Dude, why don’t kick drums drop out more? When they drop out you can still move, you can still feel without the kick drum, I swear!’ I wanted to do something like that.

I knew people would like it, but I thought people would be more like [off to the side, almost whispering] ‘Hey man, I really like that record,’ but it was more celebrated which was really cool, because it was inspired by and dedicated to specific people. Alice Coltrane had just passed and James Brown had [too], so in the liner notes I gave props to them too; because they were monumental in music to me. Seeing the tracks get celebrated was like seeing the people get celebrated, which to me was the best payoff that I could possible imagine. I was thinking about the album too; to me, it can only come back down from that because it was such a really cool emotional junction.

I can imagine the album will do well based on the reaction to “Crazy Place.”

The reaction’s been really interesting just from the single. A lot of people who haven’t felt what I’ve done prior to, or not as much, are really getting into it. Especially… there’s a certain contingent of people who got into the “Unorthadoctor EP” I did. I had a few people who contacted me directly from that period when that style of music was allowed to be way more choppy, and they’re probably like, ‘Whoa….’

It’s a little smoother.

It’s cool, though, I have records like that. For the Open Wide, the other thing besides using my mouth, is to open back up, as a DJ, as a music lover, particularly the dance floor. Whether it’s disco or it’s house or it’s breaks… I kind of miss when DJs had a personal aesthetic and would play– again, like my brother, who was very much into that variety style, and when I DJ I play like that as well. “Crazy Place” to me was just my take on so many records I always– I love all the Metro Area stuff, even the rock crossover DFA stuff, new school Gang of Four dance rock kind of shit. I was always a fan of ESG, Liquid Liquid, I always used to play those records. So it was my take on all those records without being too far removed from what I normally do.

What’s next from Dave Aju?

Well, I’ve got the album coming out. And then actually, one of the more exciting things is, one of my inspirations coming up, Matthew Herbert, he’s just commissioned me to put out an EP on his label. So on Accidental, I have a 12″ coming out probably shortly after the album. Based on the first one I gave him they asked me to do a second one. So, with fingers crossed and high hopes, it looks like Accidental will be a new outlet for me. That’s the next step after the album is that one. Stuff with a concept too, of course. It’s made with Native America instruments, hand made ones, but avoiding the world music cliche you think that would sound like. The world music inclusion thing started coming up, a lot of bongos all of a sudden. So I said, I’m going to use just hand made, indigenous people instruments and it’s not going to sound like world music at all. It’s the same sort of reverse spin on what everyone was doing.

Is there stuff you’ve been working on more recently that hasn’t gone out to labels yet?

Well the stuff for Accidental I just tied up. I’m actually doing a lot of remixes at the moment.

Which you’ve actually only done one of so far.

Yeah, there’s only been one pressed so far. There are a couple that are coming out on a digital labels, and actually I’ve got a coupel other ones that I’ve been working that are from, what I would consider, more high profile artists, which is kind of exciting.

Any you can tell us about?

I just finished one for Tiny Sticks, Dflex, Diesel from X-Press 2, his new project. It’s a really cool record that they’re putting out a remix 12″ of, and I did one of the remixes which I’m pretty happy with. I did one for Musique Risquee for Pigeon Funk, which is Sutekh and Kit Clayton’s oddball boyband project, kind of. So I just did a remix for them, which is a pretty interesting one. I’m doing one for Matthew Herbert’s Big Band on Accidental that will tie in with my release for them.

When you’re doing a remix, how do you approach it? Is it important to keep part of the song? Is it not important? Are you trying to give you own new version?

This is a good question; I’ve had discussions with a lot of other producers about this. I ask some people, ‘Do you add your own stuff?’ And I won’t name names, but some would say, ‘Aw fuck yeah,’ and ‘It’s 90 percent my stuff because I didn’t like one sound they used there.’ For me, I don’t add any other sounds other than if I think it needs a vocal embellishment or something, literally my addition to it. So far all the stuff I’ve been given is good enough; and what I usually try to do is maintain the vibe, the feeling of the original, but give it a slightly different pathway to get there. For example, the “Utopia” one, the guy Max [Brannslokker], the original artist, put some amazing sounds on there. There’s a lot of counterpoint and this really a lot going on, and it’s also very mid-range in a sense that the synths are key. Basically I said, I’m not going to try and one-up or maintain this crazy thing he’s got going on. So I just added bass and vocals and stripped it down a bit; but I think in a sense it still gets to the same height but just through different means using exactly the same sounds. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with all the remixes.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming producers on the bubble of whether or not to take it seriously?

Yeah, I’d say first and foremost, if you feel like you have a voice, even the smallest inkling of just ‘hey, I like things this way,’ pursue that. Try not to curb that based on what you see and hear a lot of. And if you’re like, ‘Oh, my stuff never sounds like…” that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just follow that and stick with it. Try not to get too caught up in the technical. I know a lot of people, even I had my periods when I was just starting, you have to have that software, that drum machine, that mic. Some of the best stuff ever was created with… a harmonica. I’d say just go for it. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Believe in yourself and eventually people will believe in you; it’s one of those basic tenets of creation. (interview by Steve Mizek)

Limbic  on November 14, 2008 at 1:52 PM

thanks for this interview steve, great!
and thank you DaveAju for this fresh music!!

Krul  on November 16, 2008 at 3:28 PM

nice interview.
btw, am I the only one who thinks dave looks like an older version of harpomarx in this pic? :p

littlewhiteearbuds  on November 16, 2008 at 3:33 PM

So true!

harpomarx42  on November 17, 2008 at 10:40 AM

…a little bit, yes. Mind you, he’s got a slightly broader face, what appears to be a soul patch, and more equipment in front of him than I can afford. Otherwise, it’s a match.

alland byallo  on November 26, 2008 at 9:51 AM

marc’s the man and sf is the town!

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Little White Earbuds » LWE Interviews Dave Aju  on November 13, 2008 at 8:26 PM

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