Summer Festivals: we interview GAUDI on music making, Sonic Bloom, vocal coaching The Voice-Italy
● By Grant Johnson
Hi GAUDI, this is
Grant calling from Steamboat Magazine.
Nice to meet you brother.
It’s great to meet you too! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us this afternoon, we are certainly looking forward to hearing you perform this weekend at Sonic Bloom. Shall we go ahead and launch into some questions?
What is most important to you when performing? What’s the most important aspect that you want to bring to the audience?
The most important aspect for me when I’m performing live is always, always, always remember that I’m part of an industry called “entertainment.” So, let’s never over value ourselves as artists/musicians and not take everything too serious, because otherwise we’re stepping into the wrong territory. I’m making music because it makes me feel free, and I try with my music not to change your life at all, I try just to make your day better. That’s the main thing that an artist generally needs to remember. My first thing to consider is to do my job as professionally as I can. I try to achieve my goals, but I am part of an industry called “entertainment.” I’m not inventing like a new medicine for cancer or a new spaceship that discovers the galaxy, I’m just a humble musician and I try to do my job as best as I can.
I need to be happy in order to make other people feel happy when they are close to me. Happy does not mean necessarily hilarious or laughing. Happy is another thing. It means positivity. It means finding a different balance. So, you know, you can be a joker if you want, you can be extremely deep and serious if you want, and music helps me find that [balance.]
What is your approach when composing music, and how might it differ from other artists?
I started making music at a professional level in 1980, which is 33 years ago. When I started, to be a musician meant you know how to play an instrument. Like, you want to be a builder, you need to know how to build a wall or fit a window – it’s part of the job. I think it’s a pretty basic concept. Nowadays being a musician is not necessarily being able to play an instrument. You can be a good computer wizard or a clever geek and you can generate sounds or take pre-fabricated loops from a sound library, assemble them together, and bang, done, it’s a track.
My approach with music today is exactly the same approach as I had 30 years ago when I started, which means give me an instrument and let me have fun. Let me enjoy it. Let me play. I need to use my fingers. I don’t want to use my mouse or look at my screen. I can’t see the music in the screen. I need to feel it. Most of the time when I record my music of course I use computers because they make my life easier, for editing especially, but everything you hear in my production is pretty much all played for real. I use electronic instrumentation (synthesizers) – my Mini Moog, my Fender Rhodes, my Arp 2600, reverbs and compressors. All of them have their own identity; it’s not all coming out from the computer, it’s real gear. Every piece of it has an identity, has a color, has a sound and a different vibration. Most of my keyboards are not even MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), so you have to know how to play them.
Once I have my layers of music composed and assembled together, I’m thinking in the opposite way. I’m thinking in terms of removing elements. Nowadays with technology and everything, you buy a laptop and it comes with everything you want; including sounds, or facilities to allow you to compose, which is absolutely fine and absolutely brilliant. But it entails a bit of a risk, because you are adding things and it’s very exciting. You add a new drum loop, and you add a percussion loop, and you add a guitar, and you add a bass line, and then you add a synthesizer, and you add this, and you add that. At the end you have what’s like a canvas full of zillions of colors, and you don’t leave any space for your imagination to fill and create your own vision of the piece.
I’m taking as an example my favorite music ever, which is dub music, it has this magic respect of the silence in between notes, which is equally important to me as the notes themselves. Notes are important, and silence is very important too, and I always consider that. So yes, I do use this principle of dub music. That’s my personal vision. It doesn’t mean I’m right and others are wrong. Every artist has his own personal interpretation of this amazing, fantastic, unfinished thing called music, and I have mine.
That sounds like something that can be applied not just to music, but to all areas of art.
That’s absolutely right. I talk about music because I’m a musician, but I try to apply this formula everywhere in my life. Try not to over-do it, try not to push it. But try to be insightful and straight to the point, without extra flavors. Sometimes if you add an extra ingredient to a dish that is already succulent and good, you’re not going to make it better – fact. You’re adding things there that are un-needed. So why? Are you trying to impress someone? That is the wrong approach.
What or who most inspires what you do musically?
I have 2 sources of inspiration equally important in my music. When I was 16 years old I was exploring dub music and roots reggae. Also I was attracted by and still have a huge collection of the extreme electronica psychedelic movement. Snakefinger, MX-80 Sound, Tuxedomoon - very unknown for the majority of people. I was a fearless explorer of music territory. I had this love for reggae music and love for electronica and so I was exploring both territories and working with both elements.
Trust me, back in the day there wasn’t anything that could match with both reggae and electronica because they were very distinctive genres, too far away from each other. My mission was to one day join or merge those two styles. Maybe it would take years, but I wanted to do it. Slowly, slowly, after 16 years I did it. My albums from the 80s are really electronica – dark, Bauhaus, goth style mixed with electronica synthesizers, and also a bit of reggae. At the end of the 80’s I did my first album as GAUDI and it was pure dancehall reggae – reggae with some electronica going on. Then slowly we started working on Earthsounds, that was the first example of pulling together all the music – electronica, reggae and dub. It was 1994 when I started the album and it was released in 1997.
Your collaboration with artists like Michael Franti, Hedflux, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Michael Rose, Dennis Bovell, The Orb and others seems to add a great level of diversity to your music. Do you tend to seek them out for projects, do they seek you out, or are your projects the result of mutual interest?
Every approach, with all the artists I work with is different. For instance, in 2008 when I was in the studio with reggae producer legend Dennis Bovell for the production of Lee "Scratch" Perry's new album, I was working on the programming of the drums and the bass directly with Mr.Perry by my side. We had an amazing synergy so we kept in touch for potential future collaboration, and when I started the composition of my new album he was working with my "music brothers" The Orb, so I invited them both as guests on my track "I start to pray". And on the bass, guess who's playing ?.... Mr Dennis Bovell of course, great great vibe!
In regards to Michael Franti, I met him at a festival in California where we were both playing and we instantly clicked; we were both signed to the same label, Six Degrees Records, so there was already a link that connected our music. Then back in my studio in London, I ended up working on my track "There's enough" with Hardage and Michael, which is now part of my 2010 album, No Prisoners.
Back in 2006 I composed and produced the album "Re:sonate" with electronic pioneer Pete Namlook (r.i.p). We recorded it in about 1 month, spending time together in Pete's studio in Germany, working back to back, waking up in the morning, having breakfast together, then going into the studio, totally living together for about 1 month - an amazing experience! Every collaboration is different.
We're all connected, all the musicians are resonating with each other, we're constantly sending messages out there and we are constantly receiving.... art in general travels with this kinda "frequencies", in my specific case, being a musician, I am referring to music. Artists talk with each other, sometimes not necessarily using words, when two artists meet and collaborate is absolutely normal for me, I think collaborating is good for each other's brains.
You have been a vocal coach on The X Factor 3 times and are now a vocal coach for “The Voice – Italy.” How do you like working with up-and-coming artists while being filmed for TV?
Let me start by saying I love music in its totality. I love every angle of music. I‘m curious about discovering every type of music, and then I decide what I like and what I don’t. You can’t really generalize and say I don’t like “Krautrock” or “Psychedelic” music. Have you listened to it? “Not really but I don’t like it.” What do you mean? It’s like “I don’t like tomatoes.” Have you tried them? “No, no, I don’t want to try them.” Huh? That doesn’t make sense. So exploring the mainstream territory, which is the X Factor or The Voice, made me really curious. I have a decent knowledge of music genres and styles, but something that was still uncovered was the mainstream.
I always rejected the mainstream, maybe because I’m a bit of a rebel. When I saw someone at number one on the charts I automatically was not interested. I remember that I snubbed the Beatles for ages. For many, many years when everyone was picking them up I was like “Me, I’m a punk, and I hate them.” Then slowly I managed to approach the Beatles eight or nine years after they were number one. I saw that some of the most beautiful chord solutions or harmonization or arrangements or song writing are from the Beatles. Which is to say that even in the mainstream there is beautiful stuff. So I’m helping, I’m putting my input into the TV format. All the words in this interview are the same words I use on mainstream TV channels. I’m talking about roots, about the Clash, the Who, things that on TV they never talk about. I’m on a mission, and I’m having fun doing TV. In some countries I’m a celebrity because of TV popularity. Then also I like to play at Sonic Bloom and Sierra Nevada World Music Festival and other places like that. I want to keep my music doors always open, because I love music.
in between times definitely got me grooving in my office chair. I can hear the fusion of electronic and dub in there, which is something that I personally really enjoy.
Thanks, it’s good to hear that. Me too, I’m very proud about this job, this work, because it took me to another level. I had already succeeded in combining two genres, and now in this album there was another combination I wanted to merge, which is my work as a solo artist, as GAUDI (primarily dub-oriented, deep, downtempo, mysterious, monotonal) and my work as a music producer (remixing many artists and giving a sort of club flavor to fill up the dance floor, get the crowd moving). I wanted to try to merge my two identities of studio producer and solo artist, and I managed to do it so it made me feel fulfilled once again. I achieved the goal that I wanted – having the depth of dub and the groovy and sexy atmosphere of the dance floor. It’s suitable for radio play, or festivals, or anything. My music is a constant exploration and a constant matching of elements.
So is the title of the album speaking to that merging of two identities?
Wow, very good, I never thought about it but that makes absolute sense. The title was referring more to two or three elements of my life. I lost my dad recently and it was a very bad transition from fully alive, bright person to being no more. And on top of it we had the 21st of December , which was a big change in the world. I went through an enormous change. Not only me, but every person I spoke with went through a shift in the last three or four months. Not necessarily bad, but drastic, and then you realize that the change helped to create a stronger foundation for what you are working on. An example that just popped into my mind is a tree, I think it’s the sequoia, and for the species to survive it must be burned. Only from the ashes can new trees grow. It’s very representative – you have to let go of the old for life to go on. This doesn’t just apply to music but to every moment of your life.
One of my favorite songs from the album is “Spiritual Orphans.” I found the words by philosopher Greg Sams on that track inspiring.
That song represents exactly the direction that my music naturally goes. I gave this very important and solid mission to Greg, who is a dear friend of mine. He’s a writer and a philosopher; he’s an amazing person. He’s a visionary explorer like us, and I asked him after reading a book by him, which was really mind opening big time. I said “Greg have you ever recorded your voice for music or for an audio project?”
He said “No, no, no, I don’t want to do it.”
I said “Come on man let’s do it. I’m going to create a piece of music and pass it to you, and if you feel inspired, just get the microphone and we’ll do it.” So he was extremely, instantly inspired. We recorded his voice via Skype and the first take was awesome.
Then he started saying “I’m not happy about my voice, let me try again.” So he tried it again and a third time, but they were both worse. It was like when you hear on TV journalists reading the news – too perfect. Perfect pronunciation, perfect accent. But the more it’s perfect sometimes, the less the message is received with depth. Bob Marley is a very tangible example of this. The first recordings of him in 1963-65 were not musically well-positioned let’s say, but they are in my humble opinion one of the richest musical pieces ever created, because of the substance. I do not care if you are playing a piano and you hit a wrong note. It’s about the substance. So back to the recording of Greg, the best one was the first one because it had the vibe of testing a microphone – “one two, one two,” just delivering yourself in a very raw way. I kept the original take.
This is the story of my life really and truly, because even 20 years ago when I recorded my album Earthsounds it was pre-internet era. I remember that I have a track in that album called “Heart.” In this track, my idea was to record 21 different people in 21 different countries and languages saying one phrase, which was “My heart continues to beat as long as the heart of the earth beats on.” I managed to record them all, some in London, some in Africa. Most of them I recorded in phone boxes on the street. I would come with my portable dub machine and microphone to the phone box and recorded it like that. It was all very raw and rough, but there’s plenty of succulent juice and deep messages. That’s it. I don’t care about the technicalities of cleaning and polishing frequencies. I do not care. I care about different aspects of the music.
We can’t wait to see your set at Sonic Bloom! Is there anyone else on the line up are you excited to share the stage with?
I know them all basically, I do not look to seek any one in particular to mention because than the others will say “why did you skip me?” I feel really happy to finally be a part of this beautiful event. They made me feel really wanted and loved because when someone books you a year before like they did it means they really care. So that means we have exactly the same vision. When I care about some thing I’m not scared or afraid to show how much I care or show my love. It’s completely nonsense to try to hide your emotion, especially in those kinds of contexts when its a festival like this that’s explicitly made for unity, connecting people, gathering, and celebration of exchange.
It’s so inspiring to talk with you and hear your perspective because I think it’s a really good one – your open-mindedness regarding music and life in general.
Thank you man, I appreciate it.
Thanks again for taking an hour with us today, we can’t wait to see you at Sonic Bloom. We’re going to really shake it on the dance floor; you’d better be ready.
I’ll see you in Colorado bro, respect.
Download "Why u wanna run (feat. Danny Ladwa)" from in between times by clicking on the player below. You can also stream the full album at www.gaudimusic.com.