Interview: Memory Tapes

Memory Tapes

With his latest release Grace/Confusion (Carpark Records) barely a month old, Dayve Hawk—the sole man behind Memory Tapes—is getting ready to head out on the road for some dates in support of the record. Peddling his own unique brand of electronic pop experimentation, he is ready to bring that sense of unexpected creativity to a few cities in the northeast part of the country.  But before that happens, he did take some time to answer a few questions for Beats Per Minute concerning his latest album. With insights ranging from his thoughts on arbitrary musical labels, how Memory Tapes evolved from his previous bands, and his anticipation for the new My Bloody Valentine record, Hawk talks candidly about himself as a musician and his approach to the material on Grace/Confusion.

Beats Per Minute (Joshua Pickard): I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I know that you’ve probably already played a few dates in support of Grace/Confusion.  So to start off, I’d like to ask about your recent touring. Obviously, there is a lot of excitement when an artist released a new record, so did you feel any anxiety getting back out on the road with the new material? Have there been any memorable reactions from fans to your new music in comparison to past tours?

Dayve Hawk: I actually haven’t played any shows with this material yet, but they are just around the corner: we are doing a few East Coast dates starting Feb 4th. Recent Memory Tapes shows in general have gone well… it’s strange because obviously I make the records alone and the music isn’t easily translatable to a rock club, but in a way that makes the shows interesting in their own right. The biggest hurdle is really my social anxiety, I’m not nearly as bad as when I was younger (I used to not even be able to leave the house) but it is definitely a challenge for me to get on stage. I want to do it because I appreciate the people who listen to what I’m doing and I think it’s important to engage in the real world. My concern is that sometimes I come off as indifferent when actually I’m just struggling not to have a panic attack! It’s good to be challenged though, I think it’s helped me.

I tend to obsess over details and accidentally generate extra details to continue to obsess over like an infinite loop.

BPM: After spending some time with Grace/Confusion, it seems to me that there was a deliberate effort on your part in focusing on the development of the multiple layers of instrumentation across these songs—from my perspective even more so than on previous albums. Did you specifically approach the writing and recording of your new record differently than on past albums?

DH: Well, the primary idea behind the album was to have the songs develop outside of traditional song structures. I initially described the album as “messy” which was probably a poor word choice because that implies looseness to most people. What I should have said is “directionless” because the album is actually very neurotic but without being concise. I tend to obsess over details and accidentally generate extra details to continue to obsess over like an infinite loop. I’ve described the album as being like a bloated prog record but instead of representing my chops it was about representing my indecision: The mental state I was stuck in.

BPM: On the album there seems to be a definite break from your role as an  frontman of sorts and a move toward a role as a producer. You’ve done  numerous remixes of bands like Tame Impala, DIIV, and Tanlines, so as a  producer and a musician, what particular aspects of a song draw your  attention and make you want to put your own unique stamp on the track?

DH: Honestly, the remix work I do is always at the request of the artist or their label… it’s not something I do on my own. I try to keep an open mind and say yes to most requests (time allowing) because it’s just another opportunity to work on music. A lot of artists seem to find each other… there’s support and friendship based on creativity. One of my frustrations is I haven’t really found that… I’m generally alone with my work. Remixes are the closest I come to collaboration.

BPM: I remember you doing a remix of “Excuse Me” by Gucci Mane a few years ago and it always struck me that the song actually benefited from your hand in production. What led to you taking on that song? And is there another song that you’d love to take a crack at?

DH: I was asked to do that track by the guys at Mad Decent. It was a cool opportunity because I don’t usually get to work on that kind of music. Choosing a favorite track to remix would be tough because most songs that I love… I wouldn’t want to change! I think if it were up to me I’d do more production of original material with artists I admire.

BPM: If you could choose any artist, living or dead, to collaborate with (and not just in a remix capacity), who would it be? And I’d be curious as to why.

DH: I get asked this question a lot and I always say Elizabeth Frazer. The Cocteau Twins are one of my favorite bands and outside of Liz having a beautiful voice, I think her melodies are amazing. I really think she deserves more credit as a songwriter not just a pretty voice. There was also some talk recently of me working with Boris which I hope eventually comes together… that could be amazing.

BPM: I know that you play all the instruments on your records. And from past history, your albums are littered with dozens and dozens of different sounds and instruments. On Grace/Confusion, was there anything new you were playing around with or that you had purposefully wanted to use on this album in particular?

DH: Well the only truly intentional thing I did sonically was actually to reference sounds I’d used on Seek Magic. Some people have taken this as some sort of step backwards or confirmation that I’ve got nowhere else to go, but my intention was actually to make a kind of peace with myself. As soon as people took that record upon themselves I felt compelled to deny it. I fall into that trap a lot… it’s just a symptom of self-loathing. I think coming off of Player Piano I felt I’d been trying too hard to distance myself from people’s perception of me. I wanted to make a record that felt different but had a clear acknowledgment of what I’d done before.

As soon as people took Seek Magic upon themselves I felt compelled to deny it.

BPM: Your records have been assigned fairly meaningless genre labels in the past and Grace/Confusion seems to have drawn out those same reactionary associations. For me though, I hear a definite grounding in bands like The  Cocteau Twins and New Order on your earlier records and a subtle shift to more beat oriented artists on your latest, though with no overtly particular  genre tendencies. Is this shift something that you actively sought out or was it just something that seemed to happen of its own accord?

DH: I really never think about genre, and have a hard time relating to people’s obsession with categorizing things. Anything I do is usually motivated by a desire to prove something to myself, overcome or exploit some aspect of my relationship with music. I guess that’s fairly idiosyncratic and isn’t realistically going to translate to most people: so you have a lot guesswork being done and a lot of “he’s THIS kind of guy” sort of broad strokes criticism. I’m definitely touchy about that kind of stuff even though I know I shouldn’t be. Ultimately I think it goes back to being socially inept: I don’t have friends or peers around me to provide a kind of confirmation that I am who I say I am. I’m trying to get over it… I’ve given up on thinking my identity for most people has anything to do with the truth.

Memory Tapes_3

BPM: Player Piano felt almost collaborative in its approach to music, but  Grace/Confusion definitely seems to have a somewhat insular creative drive.  And I think this makes the record feel incredibly cohesive and possibly  stronger than its predecessor. Did the recording process of Grace/Confusion feel any different than Player Piano or even Seek Magic?

DH: The process was different in that my personal life was very out of sorts, but I think that ended up providing the album with a through-line: It was something outside of the day to day that I could focus on. It was created in a very “off again/on again”, kind of disjointed process, but it was also one of the few things I could control so it’s focused in it’s own way.

BPM: Going back a bit, you originally released music under the Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes monikers. And from the convergence of those bands, Memory Tapes was born–leading to the release of Seek Magic on Something In Construction, Sincerely Yours, and Acephale in 2009. What was the process and reasoning behind the decision to combine the names and record as Memory Tapes? And were there any dramatic shifts in your creative processes from those early recordings to your more recent records?

DH: Well Weird Tapes was almost entirely composed from samples, like The Avalanches or something… and Memory Cassette was recordings I had made in the 90’s as a teenager: so both projects had pretty specific workflows that defined them. Seek Magic didn’t use either method but was informed by the aesthetic of both so I guess it felt like a consolidation and a departure. Memory Tapes was meant to reflect that.

BPM: I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. Last question: heading into the new year, is there any record that you as a fan are looking forward to?

DH: The new My Bloody Valentine, like everyone else!

Grace/Confusion is out now on Carpark Records.