conversations with bianca

Dr Octagon Returns! Dan The Automator: “Creepy synths, the bangin’ beat thing—I just feel good when I hear that…”

Dr Octagon is back! The extra-terrestrial time traveling gynaecologist and surgeon from planet Jupiter on the mic flowing through prolific rapper Kool Keith, anchored by Dan the Automator’s beats and DJ QBert’s next level scratching making their new record, Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation, refreshing, exciting and unique. No one does it quite like these guys! A few days ago, I chatted with Daniel Nakamura a.k.a. Automator about the record, a possible international Dr. O tour, and his other projects Handsome Boy Modeling School and Lovage… so stoked I got to speak with one of my all-time favourite producers! The new Octagon record drops April 6!!

How has your technique changed on this record?

DAN THE AUTOMATOR: In a lot of ways and not at all, basically here’s the deal, when I made that record [Dr. Octagonecologyst] I had been making music for a while, I was trying new things and I was pushing my own personal techniques and boundaries… it’s interesting, we started going on the road recently and I started listening to the record again and taking apart the tracks; it’s a lot more of a synth record than I thought. It was all these experiments, experiments with violins, experiments with rock guitars; now years later I’ve got to work with a million bands so my techniques have been honed in more, I’ve worked with a lot more rock bands. When I did “I’m Destructive” it may have even been one of the first times I recorded distortion guitar period; now I’ve done it all these times. My techniques have changed in that they’re refined a bit and I’m better at that stuff. What I don’t have is the same nativity. I gained ability but I’ve lost that first time feeling of stuff.

When you guys decided to do a new Octagon record, what kind of record did you want to make?

DTA: I wanted to make a Dr. Octagon record that wasn’t retro or not trying to be the last record but to still pay attention to what the last record was. As a concept Dr. Octagon can only be original one time, it’s a continuation of a concept that existed. I had certain sounds and tones that I wanted to use because to me they were Octagon sounds. I wanted to do it new and differently too though ‘cause I don’t want to make the same record ever again—that goes for all my records.

Totally! And that’s one reason I love your work, all your projects are so different.

DTA: Oh thank you so much.

One thing I do notice of a common thread through your projects – Handsome Boy Modeling School, Lovage, Deltron etc. – is that there’s a humours element to them; where does the humour come from?

DTA: I have a couple of thoughts about this. Obviously in Handsome Boy Modeling School the humour is right off the sleeve, but for me, records, especially soul records they’re all about love, hate, sex, anger… that kind of stuff [laughs]… they’re all emotions obviously but I think when you go for humour you start to get into Weird Al Yankovic – I think that’s a disservice to humour… by the way I think Weird Al is genius, I’m not putting him down, as a matter of fact… he’s not one of my idols but he’s one of the people I really respect musically speaking for what he does. That becomes slapstick or humour for humour, I think humour is one human emotion that gets people rolling, it’s part of the human makeup, so I try to be a bit attentive to it. Also humour doesn’t have to be like slap your thigh laughing, it can be dry humour, that kind of thing… I like the idea of that kind of thing existing.

Were you guys in the same room when you made this record?

DTA: Oh yeah, absolutely! That’s the only way to make a record. Every once in a long while I’ll have to make something by mail, but I really don’t want to if I can help it. It happens, but it’s not my preferred method of working.

Was there any challenges making the record?

DTA: No. Nothing is easy in terms of, you gotta work hard to get it done or whatever… when I do it I feel good about doing it. I feel like we get our group going and once we get going it goes. Once Keith told me he wanted to do this, I went in and worked on some tracks… there were a couple of songs that weren’t right and I had to fix them, but that’s part of the process anyway. I didn’t look at those like missteps though, that’s just the evolution of the song.

What was inspiring you when you started working on the music?

DTA: For me, I would like to say that I go into it with an open mind but like I said, since the character or the project existed before there were things I wanted to be conscious of, small stuff… like he’s a gynaecologist from the year 3000! [laughs]. When I went into it, it was more about stuff feeling good, the reason it was good is because sonically I think it fit the narrative… then I just kept going. We had a few duds, as all records [laughs]. It’s just an evolution, once you have that inspiration you can run really far with the inspiration and make it work.

What’s one of your favourite things about the record?

DTA: Nothing in particular but I will say when I hear a song like “Area 54” or “Black Hole Son” I think that this is what I want another Dr. Ocatagon record to be like. I’m not saying they’re the best songs of the record but they just have these things… the creepy synths, the bangin’ beat thing—I just feel good when I hear that. I don’t hear that stuff on a lot of records right now. To me, especially in the context of what Dr. Octagon is, they serve that purpose in the way that when I hear it, this is what I really want to hear for Dr. Octagon.

Keith’s lyrics get pretty wild sometimes; do you ever hear them when you’re putting the song together and go, what the fuck?!

DTA: [Laughs] All the time! He’s a porno doctor! He says a lot of sick stuff [laughs]. The thing about him though is that over the years I’ve gotten to understand more and more about his rhyme flow in terms of subject and what he’s talking about… I’m not going to say I understand what he says but I have an understanding of what he’s saying in the general sense—it’s pretty cool.

When you collaborate with people, working with different vocalists; do you let them do their thing or do you try to help shape what’s happening?

DTA: It’s a little bit of a combination. My whole goal is to push people in the direction I feel they need to be pushed without making them feeling like they’re being pushed against their will. I like to feel like it’s a burst of energy moving towards something. If you listen to a record someone did with me then one they didn’t you’ll hear it, it’s the elements in the room, that’s the best way to describe it.

Is there certain qualities that you gravitate towards when choosing the people you work with?

DTA: I would like to say yes, but I don’t think I can explain it simply… I like people that are very talented, I like people that have a good outlook and I like working with people that I like. The one thing I will say that is the most common thread is anyone I’ve worked with more than once or made more than one album with, is that I probably like them a lot! That’s the main thing. Personally, artistically and in other ways—they’re my people. Sometimes we might not talk for a while or work for a while but they’re my people, it’s like family.

I know that you’ve said that when making the first Dr. Octagon record Dr. Octagonecologyst that you felt artistically free; did you feel that with the new record?

DTA: Yes and no. Yes 100% I felt artistically free but I don’t feel like I could do anything because there was a previous record to deal with, or compare it to. Personally and otherwise there were expectations that I had to be aware of.

I love QBert’s scratching on the new record, it sounds like a transmission from outer space or something!

DTA: Oh yeah! He’s the best scratch DJ that there ever was and ever will be. People always say things like that, that someone’s the best, but he really is! He’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the turntable. It’s exciting to be around someone that can do that. I don’t think that many of us get the chance to be around someone that is the best like that. He’s a really old friend but it’s nice that he possesses that skill set too.

I interviewed him once and I remember being so impressed to hear him tell me that he always is working on his craft… like he’s the best in the world and he is still trying to become even better!

DTA: Oh yeah he practices all the time. To be honest half the stuff he does I don’t even understand because it’s so advanced in terms of scratching… I don’t need it explained to me, but I have to break it down a bit before I get what’s happening.

In the very beginning of Dr. Octagon, Keith gave you a couple of demos he’d made and from there you got involved; what appealed to you about working with him?

DTA: I’ve always been a fan of Ultra Magnetic MC’s. When I met him they weren’t really doing much; I’d met him a bunch of times before… we had worked a bit together. He had a deal with Capitol [Records] and it wasn’t going too well, he was frustrated about it and was talking to me about wanting to get going and I was like, yeah, let’s do it!

Who did the art for the new record?

DTA: The art is done by a local artist in San Francisco, N8 Van Dyke. I talked to Pushead but it didn’t line-up time-wise. Maybe they’ll be something appearing at some point. We just couldn’t get our schedules together to do it.

I saw that you have an ALF clock in your studio and that you post pics of your watches on insta; do you collect them?

DTA: A little bit, I have a few. The reason I posted the ALF clock was… basically me, Shadow and Jean-Jacques Perrey went to a Beastie Boys concert and we came to my studio afterwards and Jean saw the ALF clock and was like, “ALF is very big in France, we like him.” [Laughs]. I like watches, I like the mechanical side and the precision needed to make something like that happen.

I’ve watched Dr. Octagon live clips online, the show looks awesome; any chance you’ll bring the show to Australia?

DTA: Thank you. I’d like to, I hope so. We don’t have an international tour planned yet but it would be great to come to Australia. I love Australia.

I was reading an interview with you the other day and you were talking about all the different technology you’re using in the live show and how much you’re pushing what can be done…

DTA: Oh yeah, we’re trying lots of new things and trying to modify it and see if it can work. We just want to make it better and better and better. It’d be great to come to Australia and do it.

What’s one of your favourite things about what you’re doing right now?

DTA: I’m doing what I want to do, which is great, especially with the state of the music business right now… everything’s factory-ish, they put five producers and five writers on one song—I don’t want to be a part of that. I’m lucky and fortunate that I get to make my own records and do what I want to do, that makes me pretty happy. It could have easily got to that point where I’m one of five writers on a Katy Perry record or something, I’m glad I’m not doing that [laughs].

What else are you working on at the moment?

DTA: The newest thing is that [Prince] Paul and I have been in the studio working on Handsome Boy Modeling School. I’ve been working on a few other records for people, there’s always a record going. I just did a record with Andrew [Dost] from the band, Fun. I’ve been doing a couple of tracks for an Australian guy, Seth Sentry, too. Gotta keep it moving.

What’s something you’d like to do that you haven’t yet?

DTA: A million things! [laughs]. Musically speaking I like to work with people that are talented and do fun things. The music business doesn’t allow people to be as free as they may have been over the years so being a little autonomous and indie gives me the chance to do more things with different people. I like to be around people that I like.

Do you think you’ll ever make another Lovage record?

DTA: Maybe. I’ve done some songs with both Mike [Patton] and Jennifer [Charles] separately. Amazon had a new player platform and we launched a me and Jennifer song “Summer Lovin’”. It came out a little back but it’s pretty good.

Outside of music what are you passionate about?

DTA: Food! Very much food. I like all kinds of food. Basically, all the touring and stuff, I’ve never been into drugs and womanizing—I’ve been into eating. Getting a chance to travel around and eat is awesome! Through travelling and touring I’ve got to meet some of the world’s greatest chefs. Generally there’s not a type of food that I like the most, it’s really just people having the same art and passion for food as I do for music.

Passionate, creative people are the best kind of people to hang out with! My favourite.

DTA: Yes! I love hanging out with artists, musicians, chefs—they all have artistic goals.

GET the new DR. OCTAGON record here.

*Images: courtesy of Caroline Records and @dan_the_a

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Bx

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