Congratulations on the release of ‘Static’, last September, I’ve really enjoyed listening to it! Before we start with the more serious questions, I wanted to ask, where does the nickname ‘Squids’ come from?
Well, since I’m a keyboardist who plays a lot of keyboards and have a lot of pedals I use with my feet I’m kind of like an octopus in that way. So, that’s a big part of the reason I got the nickname ‘Squids’. But, I still go by Dave. It’s not like Fish or Sting or The Edge where I want to be called that all the time. I don’t mind but it’s more of a fun quirky thing that I find amusing. Something to let people know that as serious as I can get in my music I also don’t take myself too seriously.
The album’s been out for a few months now already, how have the reactions been so far?
I’m very happy with the positive reactions from fans and reviewers that I’ve seen. I took some risks on the album compared to my previous work so it was nice to see the range of responses to that. Naturally some people are going to compare and perhaps prefer this album to the previous one I did called ‘New World’ or vice versa for various reasons. ‘Static’ is a darker, edgier album with less lush romance than I normally would have done in my writing with Sound of Contact or on ‘New World’. I personally like diversity in emotions and topics to be explored in songs so I’m happy with all the music I’ve released. I think if you can manage to please yourself when crafting an album there’s bound to be people who line up with that.
Similar to your previous work you’ve found some guests who were willing to participate on the album, among them are Steve Hackett, Nick D’Virgilio, Durga McBroom, just to name a few! How did you go about asking all of these people to play on your album?
Most of the guests who play on my albums, like the three you mentioned, are friends. Nick D’Virgilio used to play in two bands with me called ‘Thud’ and ‘Giraffe’ which were led by the late great Kevin Gilbert. That was in the mid-nineties. Steve Hackett and I have been ‘trading favors’ playing on each other’s music since he invited me to play on his ‘Genesis Revisited 2’. He then played on my album ‘New World’. Then, I had a song on my new album called ‘Dirty Soap Box’ which was kind of like a modern day ‘Broadway Melody of ‘74’ with a retro sound but with modern themes. If you could have told my younger self that I’d be working so much with one of my all-time musical heroes I’d probably explode! I also dreamed of working with singers like the backing vocalists for Pink Floyd and I’ve been very lucky to record and tour with both Durga and Lorelei McBoom who have both been backing vocalists with Pink Floyd.
Were there any reasons why most of the guest performers have contributed to the specific songs ‘Dirty Soap Box’, ‘Static’ and ‘Chain Reaction’?
Chain Reaction was a song I was originally going to do with a band project called ‘Mantra Vega’ with Heather Findlay, formerly of Mostly Autumn. I had several songs I was going to sing lead on but then decided it was better if she sang lead and I saved these songs for my solo albums. This is why Chain Reaction has Alex Cromarty, Stuart Fletcher and Chris Johnson on the track. That was the rhythm section of Mantra Vega. Generally speaking, when I’m producing an album I take the role of ‘musical casting director’ very seriously. I like to find the right people to fit with the song adding their style and character to it. At the same time, I’m enjoying building a network or musical family that consists of recurring musical collaborators like Fernando Perdomo and Derek Cintron who play both on the album and live. I enjoy creating music that lets them shine. Just because it’s a solo album doesn’t mean it’s all about ‘me, me, me look what I can do’. Sure, I could steal all the solos. It’s my album! Haha. But, I love hearing what Fernando or Randy or Steve will do on guitar for a song or what Derek might do in a drum solo like the one he did for the song ‘Reckless’. When we play live we each have our moment in the spotlight and I think it makes it interesting. It has more of a band feel to it without the band politics that tear bands apart.
Are there any artists that you would love to work with on your next solo album?
I really enjoy working with people like Fernando Perdomo, Randy McStine, Derek Cintron and all the musicians I’ve been working with on my solo albums so far as I was saying. I do have a list of artists I grew up listening to that I’d love to work with someday. I just had Geoff Downes of Yes and Asia guest with me on ‘Cruise To The Edge’. We might work together on something. Whatever flows naturally based on the music and the opportunities that present themselves.
The album is a rock opera, meaning that there is a theme or story line. I’ve read the lyrics while listening the album and found that the theme isn’t joyful whatsoever. Here’s my interpretation of what you’re trying to tell; the increasing egocentricity of people, the unstoppable urge for people to spew their uninvited opinion, and the stubbornness of people who don’t believe they can be wrong. Am I far off? Can you shed some light on the themes as intended by you?
Well, there are a lot of different sub stories that are tied together by a central theme which is that most of us are distracted by chaos either internally or socially or both and challenged to find happiness amidst this ‘static’ that gets in the way. It’s a very honest album and also very timely in terms of the state of the world today in politics, social media, how we interact with technology like cell phones and how people are glued to them and all sorts of current events that factor in. There’s also a bit of dark humor on the album. These songs really put the harsh truth in our faces, even my own, and I love that. It’s actually quite liberating to admit that you’re a hypocrite. We all are whether we want to admit it or not. We judge others for things we’re guilty of ourselves in different ways. We also all think we’re right! Most of us are paranoid as well and full of worries. This is about the range of real emotions and states of being that we encounter in life. By the time it gets to the closing track ‘The Carnival of Modern Life’, we feel like we’ve been taken on a tour through the beauty, intensity, irony and absurdity of man. I enjoy that because it also makes us think. The last lines on the album are ‘Breakdown. Look at yourself’. I think we can all stand to do that more as happiness starts with ourselves.
I don’t want to discuss too much politics, we’re a music e-zine after all, but I was curious on your opinion about the current leadership in the United States. I could be wrong but I believe to have seen some points of criticism in the lyrics?
I do some psychological profiles of the characters in some of the songs and take it to the extreme. A recurring theme in the album is narcissism. We all have different degrees of it. I would be a hypocrite if I were to call some politician a narcissist when I’m a narcissist as well in my own way because I post pictures of myself looking like a suave dude next to my Mellotron and hope that people will like-away on Facebook. Yet, the current president of the US happens to be an example of someone with a narcissistic personality disorder which is a more severe case of narcissism that’s not as common. I’m not like that and no one I’d want to be friends with is either. I won’t get into the fact that I’m embarrassed to the rest of the world that this is the best we could come up with to lead our country. Like you said, you don’t want a political discussion and, to be honest, I’m even bored of having that discussion anyway. He gets way too much attention and mind share for a president because of the controversy so I prefer not to talk about him specifically. World politics, in general, has become such a sensational clown show and soap opera. But, getting back to ‘Static’, I don’t overtly name anyone or point the finger directly at any one public figure. Instead, I’m making statements about what it means for people to behave a certain way. There are other actors and entertainers that have also behaved in a way that exhibits a narcissistic personality disorder. The song ‘Millennium Man’ is more about the irony of how self-boasting jerks have somehow become heroes in our modern society as opposed to having virtues we can admire and respect.
Besides writing music you’re also in the business of sound development, as founder of Sonic Reality, how did you roll into the sound development business?
I grew up reading Keyboard Magazine since I was a kid and I was fascinated with all the variety of keyboard instruments there were. So, when I moved to Los Angeles in 1989 and they had a weekly bargain trader paper called the ‘Recycler’, I would hunt for these instruments. Then, because I had to get rid of them to make room for new ones I would ‘sample’ them which means recording and digitizing their sound so you could still use it in music without having the instrument around anymore. I got known around town as someone who had vintage keyboards so companies like Roland and Alesis came to me to do sounds for their keyboards. I also worked with artists who needed sounds for their touring systems so I worked with Madonna, Smashing Pumpkins and all sorts of artists doing that. When it was possible to sell sounds on CD ROMS, I started my own company Sonic Reality. I still run Sonic Reality but I decided about ten years ago to make sure that I balance the work creating products for musicians with making music myself.
You’ve worked together with a lot of artists and I was wondering if there’s a specific album or artist that you will always remember?
I think I’ll always remember all of them. But, some of my most fond memories are the times I spent talking and working with the late Keith Emerson. He was such a fun cool guy. When I first met him in the nineties I was playing with Kevin Gilbert and Keith came to see us play at this little dive bar called ‘The Alligator Lounge’. I had never met him so Kevin introduced me to him. We chatted and then I had to move my keyboards into the venue so he offered to help and said ‘Could I be your roadie for the evening?’ Moments like that I’ll never forget.
I’m curious to the music you are listening to, as you’ve worked together with loads of people who’ve been in the business for some time, are there any new artists that you’re impressed with?
The best person to ask this question to is Fernando Perdomo, the guitarists/bassist I work with the most. He’d tell you all sorts of young bands like The Lemon Twigs and Vulfpeck etc. and he’ll play me something and for that moment I will be impressed. But, if the music doesn’t draw me in and make me want to listen to it over and over I won’t. The modern bands I like who aren’t even really modern anymore are Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Muse etc. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be impressed if I discovered new artists that drew me in. I’m just not actively looking because I’m in the mode to create music more than listen. I’ve spent my whole life listening and now I want to make the music I’d want to hear. If I stumble upon the music I want to hear from others I’ll eat it up don’t get me wrong. But, it’s rare. I’m kind of particular about it. What others think is great I can easily have issues with whether it’s lazy lyric writing or a lack of memorable melodies or overplaying and noodling… I want to hear a great song that moves me.
A questions that I ask in all interviews is about streaming services, such as Spotify. It’s not a secret that the revenue stream for the artist, through Spotify, is nearly inexistent and it begs the question if it makes sense to put your music on Spotify. There’s no incentive for people to buy music when they can listen to the music for free. On the other hand, music has never been so accessible, it’s much easier to get your music out there and find new fans. What do you think?
I think it makes sense for artists like me who want to be discovered by more people so that a certain percentage of them become super fans who will want to buy everything I produce from music CDs to merchandise to our concert tickets. That seems to be the name of the game in the indy music world. What hasn’t changed is people’s love for music. We need music in our daily lives and most of us don’t go a day without something playing somewhere. If we have to drive anywhere then we’re probably listening to something we like. So, streaming services make the music itself a loss leader. It’s the lure to get people into the artist just like radio always was. That was free too. But, I embrace it and look to see how I can reach more people with my music. That will lead to more income in other ways and this is the modern music industry. There’s a certain percentage of amazing cool people who still love to buy CDs and pay for music downloads. I’m one of those people myself. I enjoy buying music. I always have.
What are your plans for this year? Will we be seeing you in the Netherlands anytime soon?
Oh yes I am happy to say that I will be co-headlining the ProgDreams VII festival at De Boerderij on March third in Zoetermeer. I’ve played there several times. Once with Sound of Contact and another time with my solo band and this is where we recorded my ‘New World Live’ concert video. We will be recording it again and I am really looking forward to coming back. For some reason my music connects with the Netherlands. It’s the only place in the world so far where I’ve been put on the cover of magazines. I’m inspired to return again and again with this kind of reception. Who wouldn’t be?
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you’d like to say?
Thank you as well! I’d also like to say ‘Squids!’ for no apparent reason. I have a strange sense of humor.