PASSED MUSICIANS EXPERIENCES WORKING WITH DAVEY JAMES
Bradley T. DeLaire
I have known Davey for a period of over 3 ½ years. During these years, he has been a mentor, producer, writer, sound engineer and key inspiration in my career as a singer- songwriter. To my knowledge, the complex and dynamic music services he provides do not exist elsewhere in the city of Toronto. On a personal level, those meeting Davey will find him charming, humorous, but also candid and direct; virtues that at first might offend sensitive clients. Ironically, these are the same virtues that make him among the best - if not the best - choices out there. I work with people who understand that criticism, not flattery, is the way we improve. Davey has persistently challenged and pushed me beyond limits I set for myself. He identifies where you are in your learning curve and growth as an artist, advising you exactly with what you need to know, what to do and how to do it in order for you to succeed, while delaying aspects best addressed later in the career path. He combines a degree of tact and vision that I have yet to see in the musicians and technical professionals I have worked with.
Davey is a passionate professional of the highest caliber and integrity; a man whose talents and dedication I hold in the highest regard. In short, he is the mentor, producer, mixer, arranger, tour manager, promoter, band mate, fan, and record label all wrapped impossibly into one. I value him for his larger perspective and grasp of music history and the music industry at large. With no bias, I fully endorse and encourage musicians of any genre or background to benefit from the services he provides.
I worked with Davey as a drummer and collaborator on a few projects and it was kind of like being an apprentice to a riverboat gambler. That is, he showed me what worked in and didn't in my hand and how to lay 'em down best. He seems to be inhabiting in a different world than most and knew it. I recognized it and moved right in. He's a killer with a gold toothed smile dedicated to the sporting life of music. He helped me make sounds that only full grown men could make - never any kids stuff. Regardless of distance, Davey will be a part of whatever I do in some fashion from this point on.
Jackie: Girl + Machine
Davey goes above and beyond, always thinking out of the box creatively and he is able to bring out the deeper potential in the artists he works with.
J. (Brownie) Brownell
I had the opportunity to record with, and be taught by Davey James in the summer of 2011; it was an eye opening experience to say the least. I had been flirting with song writing, playing and singing for years, but had never gotten serious about it. Dave and I had a sit down prior to getting to work, and right away his approach was unique. We talked at length about what I wanted to accomplish and how I had planned on getting there. We discussed aspirations and past experiences, fears and goals alike. Originally I thought I would just write some songs , track them, and he would just work some producer magic! Which was not at all the case. When all was said and done, I walked away with a completely new understanding of songwriting, music, and what it took in order to bring an idea to complete fruition. Dave was able to teach and coach me through all aspects of the process. We worked on song structure, vocal pitch, and practical guitar theory, harmonies, transposing piano to Bass/guitar and the list goes on. It was invaluable to be able to have access to all that knowledge and experience in one teacher. He pushed me beyond my comfort zone and ability on many an occasion, and the result in the end was an EP that I think we were both surprised with, he took the time and included me in the editing process and bounced his idea’s with mine. He was unbelievably generous with his time and never rushed me though any roadblock or “writers Block” but instead gave me the tools to work through it and come out the other end stronger and armed with more knowledge. I always felt included in the postproduction process, as Dave would fire off the different mixes for me to sign off on. The things I took away from the experience will be applied in not just music but all my future artistic endeavors no matter how grand or small. Davey James is a gifted teacher, versatile musician, and phenomenal producer, and I am simply better for it. Many Thanks and gratitude!
I had the opportunity to record with Davey James in the summer of 2011 with my punk band "Cerebral Scrub?". Not having much recording experience or studio knowledge Davey was able to put me at ease with his hard work and made sure the band was happy with our "sound". Another great aspect of Davey was that he did not drink or participate in drug use. It was important to us that we had a strong and clear headed engineer with a goal in mind and a plan to execute it. People may think this is not much a big deal, but IT IS. Davey is a very hard working engineer and helped us stay on track while recording. He also payed attention to the bands energy levels and was able to utilize our energy to capture it for the recordings we did. Davey always had great energy and a positive attitude, which made him very comfortable to work with. I highly recommended him. Not only can he track a song, he also gives bad ass hair cuts.
Kevin Myles Wilson
When I met Davey I was 22 and a budding songwriter. I was new to the process of writing/performing music and especially new to the process of recording. In my two years spent working with Davey, he worked with me as a friend, teacher, mentor and helped guide and push my progress in songwriting, performance and recording. He also educated me on the music industry, new music and being an artist in general. I went from a naive musician with very little musical vision to having a musical confidence and outspoken vision/direction in what I wanted to do with music. In that time, he also helped me record my very first record. I am very proud of that record and it is a great acheivement in my life that I couldn't have done without him. Since that record I have recently been signed to a record deal with a label in Toronto and am just about to release my second record. A huge thanks goes to Davey for helping me get to this point.
I met Dave at a gig at the Drake Hotel on Queen West Street in Toronto Canada. He came up to me and said ‘hey we should talk, I have a piece of equipment coming soon that I’m going to need some help moving in to my studio’. Long story short I ended up ‘moving a dinosaur of a 500 pound time capsule, ‘a 1980 2 inch Otari tape machine’. Dave was straight up and said he got this machine (I thought he was a bit crazy) because he knew ‘you’re never going to get a sound like this from the digital world’. Dave is a combination of knowledge and personal sacrifice to enact that knowledge he lives in and for music. He will text me in the middle of the night to tell me he’s pumped and restringing his guitars and then calls me 4 hours later to fill me in on what he just did. Dave will ‘never give a product that is half ass’. Straight away I considered him a part of my project. My intention was only to hire him for some help here and there but his ‘skill set is foolish to let go’.
My overall experience making a record with Dave was great. I'm not sure if I was the client which took the longest to make a record (3 years) but in this time Dave coached, encouraged and challenged me to end up with a product I couldn't have imagined. Due to this process I was transformed into a musician in my own right. I learned about writing lyrics so that the listener can identify and receive emotional impact. I learned about how to deliver vocals with inflection and expression. I learned how to understand and use studio equipment and also about recording, audio levels and tuning. I also learned about all the stages of making an album everything from marketing, mastering and to printing. Not to mention performing! Not only did we make a awesome record but I had some of the best times of my life in and out of the studio with Dave.
When Davey James first approached me with the notion of a feature on singer/song writer Brownie’s song, “Russell Crowe” my thoughts were both of excitement and a sense of eagerness. My first initial thought of Jeff was nothing special, just another Toronto singer who wanted to get a kick on his career, by getting an up on the game trying to infuse rap and rock. All previous judgments were put to rest when Dave first played the vocals on “Russell Crowe.” I was blown away at the dimensions of his vocal talents. Brownie had managed to master that falsetto sound that so many rock, r&b and soul singers had fail to grasp over the years. Upon hearing it, I knew I would have to lend my lyrical talents to the track and be apart of the madness brewing in Producer Davey James' head. Working both with Davey proved to be a fun yet a learning experience. Davey has a way of pushing you out of your comfort zone and in doing so made me discover talents I never knew I had. Working with Davey has given me a new love and a lesson to grab on and utilize my new found talents for later projects in my musical endeavors. If asked again to work with Jeff, I would not hesitate to be apart of another project with him. As for Davey James, I love the guy so much I joined a band with him.
The Full Recording Experience for the album 'Turkey XXX'
Traveling to Toronto, Andrew had no idea of what to expect. However, after only the first two nights of performing together in Taipei, both he and Davey knew something special was going to happen. They were willing to have faith in the whole process and in the story that was unfolding....
Prior to making the journey to Toronto, Andrew had ingested some funky chicken and spent the entire night in a hospital with a high fever and massive dehydration. He desperately wanted to make this trip work and was baffled by what to do. After a night of no sleep in a overflowing Taipei hospital, he returned home at 630 AM to get 2 hours of sleep. Still quite sick, he called the airlines and they informed him there were no seats until five days later. Andrew was left with no option but to fly that day. Luckily he made it through customs without being quarantined! He was on his way and Turkey was about to make its first album.
In the plane, Andrew imagined some big rock start studio similar to the ones he had seen in the movies. He imagined colorful waiting rooms, nice plush couches and smoky soundproof rooms. Somewhere there was an expectation of a big fridge with whatever he wanted to drink and eat, and people to serve him hand and foot. When Davey told him of an expensive studio, he imagined luxury. Reality fell upon him as he walked down the stairs and entered a basement he would soon live in for two solid weeks. Andrew was not aware that a lot of studio s spend money on the equipment, not the surroundings or space itself. Davey was all arms open and welcomed him with a smile.
There was just a simple living room with two grandpa chairs, a vintage record player and a dart board. On the way to the bedroom, a hallway packed full of African drums, a bicycle, and a bunch of clothes lined the walls. The “studio” was a small room filled with all sorts of strange boxes, cables, and a big computer with a colorful mixing board. There was some strange poster of superheros dressed like nuns. Many musical discussions were had between the two while staring at this peculiar picture. Andrew could almost smell the ensuing creative energy as he walked into the room for the first time. The room was warmer than the rest and he greatly appreciated this. This would be his home and sleeping place for the next two weeks. He was congratulated with a roll-up air mattress and was told, “Here ya go, enjoy.”
Each day began with a trip to the coffee shop. They ordered the same tea, fruit juice, and bagel to get in a routine with food. This helped deal with waking up completely obsessed with the music that was being created. The less these guys had to think about what and where to eat, the better. There were times that Andrew couldn't get the musical ideas out of his head, especially in the morning. Sometimes he woke up with a pounding heart and ears ringing with the previous evening's creativity. He was totally immersed. Hell, he was sleeping in the studio!
It was terribly cold (coming from Taiwan in early March) as they went on many walks to get fresh air and some quiet time. These “time-outs” are what saved them from going bonkers. Davey taught Andrew that breaks actually are the most important part of doing intense recording. He knew just when to take them. Even at 2 AM, on a quiet night, they would wear earplugs walking outside to give their ears a rest. Andrew was quite surprised by how much sound his ears were being exposed to each day. Having headphones on for 12 hours definitely takes its toll.
In the studio, where they were battered by sound, a look said it all. Davey and Andrew began to learn each other's facial expressions and what they meant. It was amazing, that after only knowing each other for five days in Taipei, these guys would decide to intensely work and live together for two full weeks. Different musical opinions were worked out on the spot and they began to really trust each other's intuition. Davey would speak about thinking less, playing sta-ca-to, letting the music breathe, and catching the mood on the first take. Andrew would talk about specific harmonies, certain colorings, and the moments to “rock out.” A lot of times Davey would quickly press record and say “go!” not giving Andrew much chance to prepare the take. But it was soon gathered that this is how pure creativity is caught. There were only a couple moments of slight tension, due primarily to fatigue and hunger. They wanted this thing really bad and were making the situation work.
Andrew was jet lagged and supremely out of sorts the first two days of recording. He had just crossed 13 time zones, night was day, and was not a happy camper. The most vicious part of the jet lag occurred the second day, where at one point, he misplaced his glasses and was desperately trying to find them. He spent about two hours doing so. This actually was a blessing as it kept him awake during the 4 to 6pm interval until the time loop was rounded. Davey was humorously polite and kept teasing him, which actually helped him get through the afternoon without lashing out. Andrew was so jet lagged and paranoid that he actually thought Davey had purposely hid his glasses to keep him coherent and focused! Davey also kept promising a rest in just two more hours, two more hours.... well, that never happened. There was no option of an afternoon rest, there simply wasn't time to do so. During these two days, Andrew felt shell-shocked as he had just barely met this Davey guy and suddenly realized he was deeply in this process with no where to go. A part of him had no idea what he was doing there. When they went through these dark times, there was open talk between them. They decided that since the other had faith that this was going to work, it was simply going to work.
Things started to improve as the two began setting up the drums and Andrew started to see some real sound equipment in action. Davey pulled out the old microphones and speakers and smiled. He said, “A microphone doesn't know how big a speaker is.” This revelation would the beginning of many during this experience for Andrew. Davey wet his aural appetite with the display of numerous effect pedals, vintage pre-amps, and strange beat up mixers. He said “It's best to add air, and vibe.” Andrew didn't really know what he was talking about. There was the thought that all his high-tech new-age fancy gear was the way to go. He couldn't wait to blast through his trills and wacky keyboard effects. He was going to show everybody why he had schlepped the keyboard all the way from Asia! On arrival, he was under the impression that he would simply flip a switch, throw some delay on and there they go, album done! Well, he was in for a bit of a rude awaking. Recording a full length record is a tedious and time consuming project, as well as an adventure in self-discovery; not always pleasant at times.
The first two days of actual recording Andrew plugged in mono (there was impatience, wanting to run in stereo) and the playing was just used as a backdrop for various grooves that Davey was laying down. Since there was no plan, structure, or prior tune concepts, there was only one option but to start jamming and record the drums. Andrew asked for some certain moods and specific tempos, but that was about it. He really had no idea of what was taking place. Davey kept saying “We are simply laying bed tracks down, we are starting from the bottom-up.” Andrew had never heard of an album being recorded this way. He was just jamming away thinking that the material he was playing would be referred to later on. Actually, as it turns out, five days later, they dumped everything from the original keyboard and started from scratch. But this process gave everything a certain flexibility to the music, at least to the drums. They wanted to make it feel as if they were just jamming away in a basement, which is exactly what they were doing. This way seemed so natural after only playing together two times. The two never actually “rehearsed” and so this was the closest they would, or ever would probably get.
The hardest and most tedious part for Andrew came when sitting on a church bench in the small studio watching Davey mess with squiggly lines all day. They were taking all the drum tracks from twelve jams and condensing and rearranging them on the computer. Andrew was so impressed by the use of advanced technology. He felt he had been living in a cave as he watched pieces of sound being effortlessly mapped together, without much of a glitch. Davey had this possessed look on his face as he starred at the monitor for hours. He told Andrew that the soundwave forms actually comforted him! Their only firm concept was based on organizing a particular jam by energy, or general flow. They didn't really have enough organization for forms and would discover this to be a major challenge a week later. They had sections of 11, 13 and 17 measures! However, there was a certain freshness to the idea of creating songs based only on drums, volume and intensity. It was all experimentation and they were having fun.
After the two were pretty happy with the drum tracks, they started layering music on top. Andrew was surprised by the time it took to setup each instrument being recorded. For instance, it took half a day to get the right sound and gain for just the Wurlitzer and one of the Nord Keyboards. “Air” was the goal with each keyboard, and so they always tried to go through an old speaker to give each instrument that “live” sound. Davey would use microphones ranging from 50$ to 4000$ to catch the energy flowing from the cabinets. Andrew was impressed by how Davey could make a keyboard sound like a real road-beaten B3! This process was a bit snubbed by upset neighbors as the sound was being blasted through Davey's dilapidated speakers. They weren't too happy about the shaking walls, and the two had to cut it short and run directly into the mixing board. But a band can never be given “rocking out” status until neighbors start complaining....the duo was pleased.
Each day then centered on one keyboard instrument. For instance, they would take the Korg and track some of it in every song. Making this record taught Andrew a lot of about uniformity, as he learned that a good record has the same kind of sound, or character, throughout. This was put into practice as he was limited to a maximum five sounds on the 400 sound Nord Wave. The duo even used little toy keyboards that reflected their spirit and spontaneity on the record. Andrew remembered thinking, “What have I come to, I'm playing keyboards for babies!” The keys were way too small for his hands! Actually in the end, these two or three toy machines gave the record a unique, childlike quality. One of the funnest “instruments” to fiddle around with was the Wavetek. This was actually a tool used by electricians to measure electronic frequencies. But this tool also gives off different pitches and the two figured out how to make them work in the record. Andrew remembers Davey laughing when he caught Andrew practicing with the Wavetek. Andrew replied, “Hey, I was just trying to get the pitches right!”
Davey was really the producer for this album and a bit of a coach for Andrew. He trusted Davey's experience and was open to suggestions. He learned about style and how this influences music. Andrew was told that wearing certain clothes would get him in the right “mood” for the recording process. It was strongly encouraged to take on a new outer style to reflect an inner change of musical style. Andrew walked outside with boots on, squeezed into tight clothes, wore the leather jacket inside, and didn't shave for two weeks. At first, he really didn't like this idea of dressing up like a puppet and held some pretty nasty thoughts. But all this actually helped him let go of some old ideas about music making and the musical persona that had been left behind in Taipei. This kind of lesson could never have been acquired in the practice room, or in the music school classroom.
The two referred to “fluff” as using strange tools such as the Space Echo, delayed trumpet and the Kaosolater. At times, Andrew was so excited for the fluff or “coloring” part of the recording. There was the thought, “Finally, this is where I can really freak out and do my weird stuff!” However, when the time came, the record was full and he was worn out. Andrew realized that the coloring should have happened from the very beginning, with the sparseness of playing.
He remembers one moment in which their backs were against the wall, as far as time went, and he was playing too much. They needed solid material, and fast. The harmonies were muddled with too many 3rds and strange jazz extensions. The melodies Andrew was creating were too complex and legato. Davey slapped on a bass drum beat, pressed record, and said, “Play to this.” This openness terrified Andrew. He was exposed and Davey knew it. He had been so used to “filling in the space” when playing behind a soloist, or in a band. Andrew's musical position had always been to back somebody else up, or at least play a melody that somebody had just sung or played. It was quite difficult, in that moment, to let go, play simply and let the space speak for itself. That was a breaking point, the song Ice and Rug came then.
Another special moment happened when Davey pressed record and put on the drum track for Toronto Clothesline Creeper. The song was five minutes of the same beat, another open invitation to fill in. This time, with Davey's encouragement, Andrew waited to play. He really listened to the drums and delayed the response. This is when the realization took hold that he could, in fact, trust a solid beat. He really could trust another person's time and playing. Making music is a team effort. He remembered the most important aspect of music, which to him was pulse. He took a breath and let go of the need to control. Davey turned from the monitor, smiled and gave him that “yeeeaah” in his classic Texas draw.
After a heavy tune or intense period of recording, Andrew would go out and sit by that old record player in one of the Grandpa rocking chairs. Those chairs were Davey’s Grandfathers and were older than us! He drank a lot of Chinese Oolong tea as he poured in music that was new. There was encouragement to listen with “fresh ears” to music that he had heard many times before. Listening to artists such as Wilco, Hayden, and Explosions in the Sky gave him a sense of great hope about the music of forming today. These groups also gave a deep nostalgia about America and what he was away from, living in Asia. He then realized that a generation, or a set of ideas attached, could be experienced and felt just by listening to well written music of that time. One doesn't necessarily have to live in America to experience America. It could be done through great music, or any kind of art. He gave old artists like the Beetles, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, The Who, and Neil Young a new listen. Andrew opened himself up to the group Radiohead, a movement that had been completely disregarded in his years in jazz school. He really tried to discover what made each group's music great and why they changed the music world with what they did. There finally came the single conclusion that it was because they had their own unique, personal sound. This would be then their goal, and the goal of this duo Turkey.
After returning to Taipei, Andrew felt lethargic and a bit lost. Davey, from his experience, told him that this was normal, and that he would go through a “detoxing” process. He did. A big part of him only wanted to get back to that experience of intense creativity and focus. In that Toronto basement, he was living in a different world, both literally and figuratively. A world that was solely about discovery and creative immersion. Andrew realized that he is, in a sense, intensely drawn to that feeling. He felt that it was this feeling that, in the future, prompted him to cancel a relaxing trip to balmy Hawaii and choose a path of intense artistic self-exposure in frigid Toronto.
Making this record changed Andrew's life. It revolutionized the way he thought about music and art. Before, music was basically about intellect, about training and skill. He believed that “smarter” music was better music. After the two weeks, he realized that this idea was always getting in his way and blocking his enjoyment of simply making sound to be heard. Afterwards, he was not caught in how fast or how complex something could be played, but in how simple and straight-forward he could convey the message of the music. He truly learned and experienced quality over quantity.
Making music in the studio is so different from a concert, gig, or classroom experience. A person can have a do-over, but yet, have nothing but a cold microphone, engineer or single producer for feedback. Recording is a snapshot into a certain time period. It is also a look into a group's artistic thinking and development. For Turkey, it was two weeks in March 2010 as the two really worked together for the first time. Davey told Andrew that at the end of this recording period you will be ready to make a record. He was right, Turkey is ready to make the next one!