Lab Chat with Pezzner

by Dorian Goldman

David Pezzner was kind enough to sit down with us and answer some questions
about his newly released album and his productions, in anticipation of his show tonight at TBA.

You’ve just released your third LP, ‘Title Track’ on Get Physical after a string of fantastic dancefloor-oriented EPs. How does your approach change when you’re writing music for your albums as opposed to singles or EPs? This one sounds slightly more experimental.
Well - usually I change it. You think it sounds more experimental? From my perspective it feels more club oriented. The tracks were specifically written as possible singles for Get Physical actually. I was initially putting together a small EP for them, but they weren’t really answering my emails. This is really common when submitting music to record labels. If they say nothing, then I send them new music. The label manager and I shared a dropbox, and every time I finished something new, I’d drop it in there. The body of work just kept on growing. A couple of songs they were into, but they weren’t sure if it was right for Get Physical exactly. They thought maybe it was appropriate for Kindisch because the stuff I was sending was a bit left of center, weirder stuff which maybe would be good for an EP on this sub-label. But I just kept on putting music in there, building up my body of work. Then I did a mix for them for their podcast. After the podcast, then they got back to me about all the stuff I had been uploading. “We want to put all of it out” he said. He then pulled all those songs together and made an LP - it was like an LP that wasn’t meant to be an LP.

Was this true for previous LPs of yours as well?
No actually. My last LP, for example, Last Night in Utopia,  was meant to be a full album and was actually originally put together for Freerange. Some of the songs were meant to be an interlude from this song to that song and it was all very intentional.

In this LP each track really gives me a different picture - as if I’m in a completely different theme as opposed to many LPs which have one consistent picture. Was this intended?
That’s totally true actually.  Each tune gives you this different picture! A lot of different LPs have one consistent theme like for one movie. Each track was written completely separately of one another and tells a different story.

Your initial LP had the title ‘These Tracks are Alive’ on Freerange Records, which I understand was motivated by your addition of live elements into the tracks when producing them. Did you also have a motivation for the name ‘Title Track’?
I just recently realized that for all my LPs, the titles are about the songs specifically. ‘These Tracks Are Alive’ - this was a personal discovery in electronic music, that if I touch each sound and somehow just record in some kind of inconsistency by just subtly touching everything, in my mind this makes the tracks ‘alive’ - this gives some kind of ‘life’ to each track rather than just some repetitive looping like you hear very commonly in electronic music.
This one, however, it was a little bit more poking fun at the shelf life of music. You know, we have some very short attention spans in dance music. People take in dance music; they digest it, then they set it aside and forget it about pretty quickly usually. In naming this, it’s sort of the jaded me being like ‘let’s just give it a very generic generic title’. We are going to call this song ‘Title Track’ and it’s on the album called ‘Title Track’. That’s really it. That’s all it is.

That’s funny that you’re cynical about your own LP.
Yeah, it’s totally just ‘Yeah I did this huge thing on Get Physical, and it’s gonna be forgotten by the end of the year’. I beat myself up a lot. As a lot of artists do I suppose.

This album seems to be a bit more experimental and moody than your first. Did you have a particular idea in mind with the tone of this album or has your style evolved over the past few years?
That’s totally just a product of what I’m into now as to what I was into back then. When I got signed onto Freerange I was doing a lot of happier sounding music - I also did some moodier stuff like ‘Almost Here’. The tracks I play are just what I’m sort of into right now. I’ve been gravitating towards not particularly happy sounds personally. Lately, my music has been a little bit more left field experimental and leaning on sound design and percussion. It’s just what I’ve been doing lately.

Is this tied in with your cynicism about your title? The moodiness?
Haha. Maybe? Lately, when I sit down and work on music, I’ve not really been writing it. It might just be a phase that I’m going through this year, but I’ve just really wanted to come up with a new kind of sound. In my experimentation I’ve been finding a lot of darker, moodier sounds coming out of it. 

How long overall did it take you to complete the LP?
The first submissions were ‘Undone’ and ‘Heartline’, and those two were submitted about a year ago. Those sat on the table for a long time without me really submitting anything else, since I was working on other tracks at the time. Then once I completed those projects I started submitting and completing the other tunes. The other ones came about really fast - I was on a roll. In the span of about 2 months I finished all the other songs. The first two took me a few weeks to do then the last ones came together in the span of a month and a half. There were two songs that were used on a compilation that I had completed before. I did one with this guy Kid Hops - he’s more of a drum and bass guy. We collaborated on ‘Scissor and Law’. Then I also had ‘Love Train’ already released on a Get Physical compilation and added it in . All the other songs were added in after. In total it only took two months to put together. Definitely the fastest I put together an LP. 

In ‘These track are Alive’ each track represents a different story in your life I understand. Do you have something similar here in this album?
Nah not really. There was a definite narrative behind some of the songs in “these tracks are alive” and “last night in utopia”. The nature of this album has to do with the way it was put together; I wasn’t really thinking of any more of a narrative other than what will a person feel when they’re on the dance floor. So like, what kind of head space will it take somebody to while they’re in the club? What time would you like to play this song, etc.? How is the DJ going to direct the dancefloor with this piece of music? There wasn’t really any kind of deeper narrative  - it was for the club.

Many of your initial releases, including your first album, were on Freerange Records. Your more recent releases are on labels such as Systematic, Visionquest, and now Get Physical. Was this due to a difference in the sound of the tracks you have been producing?
Yeah, I think so. Also by getting my music accepted and signed to these various labels, it’s easier to spread your wings and get exposed a bit more. Freerange didn’t take everything I produced. Everything else was up to me to put on other labels to put out. Maybe not all the things I was doing were right for Freerange. Back then I was releasing on Om records as well, and over time I was introduced to the people who run Systematic, Visionquest and Crosstown Rebels, so they were taking in my music. They were responding a bit more than Freerange was. My last album, Last Night in Utopia, was intended for Freerange, but they weren’t really connecting with all the music, just a handful of tracks, so I was given the option to break it up into an EP on Freerange, or I can keep it all and find another label. I was working with Marc Romboy from Systematic, and I sent him the entire body of work - he told me that all of this was perfect for Systematic. So I made the decision to just send everything over to them. I put together probably 18 songs that by the time I realized that it wasn’t going to work out for Freerange. I ended up sending some of the songs that weren't going to into the LP - I then sent them over to Crosstown Rebels, and they picked up some of them. Crosstown Rebels lead to Visionquest since they’re kind of in the same circle, and that’s how it went.

Some of your early Eps were quite minimal - for instance,  ‘Almost Here’ LP reminds me a lot of Philip Glass in some regards. Did you have any particular musical influences when starting - have they evolved over the years?
You might be thinking of ‘North Star’ from Philip Glass for this one. For me this is a really special tune even though I did it ages ago - I still love that song. It was one of the first things I produced, and it was a completely different sound for me at the time. I was doing music as Jacob London up until that point, and my music was very quirky/silly up to that point but I was really aching to do something deeper and different from that. I was influenced by Steve Reich, definitely Philip Glass and also Pierre Boulez. I was trying to pull that into dance music

Yeah, I have always been surprised there haven’t been more ideas incorporated from minimal classical artists like Philip Glass into electronic music. What do you think inspired you to try this?
I wanted to make house music using sounds that aren’t really used in house music a lot. What I’ve been working on now also is in that direction.

You have a unique sound which seems to incorporate many different elements, and this album certainly has a very ‘retro’ feeling to it, yet the tones and vibes of each of your tracks can vary dramatically, ranging from funky to bangers, to ambient. 
What kind of hardware/software do you use to produce these sounds?

My studio is very modest. I don’t have any analogue gear. I have a Dell desktop computer that I bought at Costco, and I’m using FL Studio, aka Fruity Loops for $150 - it came out in like 1999. I’m not using Logic or anything like that. I use a lot of the Native Instruments as well, and I have the Komplete Collection  so a lot of what I have leans on what you can do with it. I have massive sound libraries that I’ve built up over the years. I pride myself on how I organize all these sounds so I can get things out really quickly. If you were to see my studio you’d be like ‘where is the real studio?’. It’s not sound treated at all, my desk is next to the television, nothing special at all. 

You seem to play primarily in North America. Is there any particular reason for this, and do you plan on expanding more to Europe in the future?
It’s mostly convenience, but it's also an agency thing. I recently signed up with an agency that deals with Europe specifically, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of calls from clubs in Europe. Right now we’re working on a tour - with the RVS agency. They’re working on something. I believe I have a gig in Switzerland and one in Moscow, but it’s one of those things - they can’t happen unless we have more shows coming in. It’s common for me to plan a tour, then if we don’t have enough dates that confirm, then the whole thing falls apart. This just happened. I was supposed to go to South East Asia with many pending gigs, but none of them confirmed in the time that we needed to buy the tickets, so the whole thing collapsed. It doesn’t really happen in the US since it’s easy to bounce over to NYC from DC, for example, then head home. But it’s very expensive to travel abroad, so we need to have several gigs to balance the whole thing.

Do you have anything special planned for your upcoming show this Friday at TBA?
No… If I show up with a plan, then I’ll get into there and say “what’s plan B?” So no I don’t have a plan. I just plan to kick some butt. 

Album review:

Pezzner - Title Track

Label: Get Physical Music
Released: 08.05.2016
Beatport

Title Track is an LP, like his others, that transcends any one particular theme with a rich variety of sounds, melodies, and harmonies which nonetheless have an inherently retro undertone. Each track feels like a journey through someone’s past. The underlying retro bass lines and riffs provide the theme, with the haunting echoes, sounds and vocals providing hints of the surroundings and memories of each journey. Each track in this album stands on its own.

Starting off with ‘Undone’, we have a slow, retro, ambient entrance into the album which quickly escalates into the track ‘Title Track’, a subtle haunting blend of bass and synths which captivate the listener’s attention and escapes the ambient.

From here we evolve into ‘Aloe’, a dark, melodic and haunting beginning with echoes of a trumpet on a rainy New York City street at 4 am in the 1940s, twisted by perception and time, yet with a rhythmic underlying riff and bass which nonetheless escalates in energy to provide direction and structure.

This then brings us into ‘The Jackal’ which takes us out of the ‘Aloe’ with a focus and teasing, escalating energy. The same warped sounding trumpets combined with retro, robotic sounds along with a hint of vocals are almost on the verge of cacophony, yet with an overall structure and focus which never quite reaches that tipping point, but which leaves the listener hungry for more.

‘3 Hands’ then delivers calming retro organ synths that leave the audience with a feeling of a peaceful, yet distorted and confusing evening in the 80s.  This continues to become more and more distorted as the track evolves, hinting at an underlying darkness and confusion. Eventually, the track eases back down to an (although somewhat still distorted) tranquility as it fades out.

The calmness then quickly transitions in ‘Heartline’ which combines a tone of ‘curiosity’ and ‘exploration’ with its xylophone type synths, yet continuing to maintain a hint of distortion/confusion with the interrupted radio sounds and vocals that are displaced throughout the track. Both of these feelings are temporarily relaxed with an overarching trumpet which provides calmness to the overall track.

‘Love Train’ moves away from the subtle, spacey distorted feel of the past few tracks and moves into a fantastic minimal dance floor track with a generous bassline and rhythmic vocals, and a consistent focus in the background noise that removes the feeling of ‘lostness’ that the other tracks before it had.

’Scissor in Law’  somehow walks the line of having the wonderfully distorted synths of previous tracks feel both disorienting yet structured, maintaining energy and focus which is ideal for the dance floor or home listening. The main riff and bassline sound like you’re going down a warped tunnel. This is combined with many background elements that sound like distant haunting memories of past events, with bells and bees and other mysterious sounds. 

The LP finally ends with ‘Julie’  which doesn’t feel like any mysteriously distorted reality, but rather just a beautiful escalation of beats, sounds, and vocals. It makes you want to pump your first on the dance floor as it slowly builds and builds, but then finally gives you that drop that you’ve been waiting for all along.