Memory Tapes Talks Isolation, Insecurity and Ghost Writing Pop Tunes

Dayve Hawk is a music industry rarity – a reluctant rock star. He’s like the anti-Bono. Better known as Memory Tapes an amalgam of previous monikers Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes, Hawk doesn’t own a phone or know how to drive and calls rural Southern New Jersey home. Much like this guy the one man maestro splits his time between looking after his daughter and making music – buoyantly skewed pop that has garnered near universal praise across the Blogosphere. We recently chatted to Hawk (on his In-Law’s mobile) and discussed the perils of media attention, new Memory Tapes output and his little known career as a pop Ghost Writer.

What have you been up to today? I’ve been working on a remix actually it’s for Phoenix.

Cool. You’ve done a lot of remixes this year, is that a process you enjoy? Oh yeah, many (laughs). Um, honestly I’m kind of sick of it, I do like it but it seems to be all I do, and I still may have more to do. So there’s been a lot, but it’s cool.

So how do you approach the remix process? Is there a certain modus operandi you employ? I guess my thing is I don’t pay a lot of heed to the original song, which seems to be what people pick up on with me. A lot of the time I haven’t even heard the original song. They’ll ask me to remix it and they’ll send over a part of the song and I’ll listen to that part as a starting point. It builds from there and usually 90% of the remix will be original stuff.

What’s the weirdest remix request you’ve ever had? Probably the Michael Jackson or the Britney Spears ones, they were both in this world that I’ve never been connected to (laughs). I’ve also done a couple of hip-hop ones lately. I just did one for Gucci Mane and I also did one for Dem Getaway Boyz and I did that one for Cartoon Network so that was kind of a weird one.

You mentioned that with remixes, it’s usually 90% original music. How do you justify that when you could just cut out that other 10% and put it out under your own name? That’s a good question. I’ve done a couple recently where I’ve tried to approach it differently just out of boredom. Like I did one for Tanlines that hasn’t come out yet but I left the song as they had it and then I just added my own instrumentation rather than chopping it up and that’s the same thing I did for the Michael Jackson song but that was more out of respect. I didn’t want to chop it up and turn it into a dance song.

You must work pretty quickly on remixes because it sounds like some pretty prolific shit. How long does it usually take? And who would you love to remix? Ah I do most things pretty quickly! I would say, usually, just during an afternoon I’d do it. As far as dream artists go it’d probably be Elizabeth Fraser from The Cocteau Twins or Kate Bush or maybe Prince (laughs). All of which will never happen!

Let’s talk about Memory Tapes. Is this the final moniker you’ll put music out through? Yeah, that was my intention. In my earlier stuff, I wasn’t taking my output as seriously as other people were and it was starting to get some more attention paid to it. It was becoming more confusing to other people where they were thinking I was all these different people, even though there weren’t that many names but people got really confused by it for some reason.

Yeah you could start your own record label. Yeah, I would probably have fun doing stuff like that but people get bugged out by it. I mean, at the time I only had two names and I was like “Man, if I could I’d have 6 different names”. But people were bugging out about me so I just wanted the one name because I’m lazy (laughs).

So when it was the two, Weird Tapes and Memory Cassette, did you compartmentalize the stuff you wrote? Like did you sit down and think “this is going to be a Weird Tapes track” or did you just organically write stuff and then worked out where it fit later? Well, with both of them, what really made them different to me was the Weird Tape stuff was all instrumental with no vocals on it, and a lot of that stuff was samples. I would chop up a lot of songs and build new songs out of the parts. And the Memory Cassette stuff I was basically taking demos I had recorded in high school and just tweaking them. That was the difference between the two things and by the time I was approached by labels I was bored of both and I didn’t want to use samples anymore. I wanted to make a proper record from scratch, and that’s why I put the two names together and started fresh.

I guess the logical conclusion would be Weird Cassette would you ever do that? Yeah that’s in the pipeline (laughs). No, I don’t have any intentions to have any more names although I keep it in the back of my mind.

Yeah because it would feel absolute then. Yeah yeah to finish it up (laughs).

So what’s it like living in southern New Jersey in 2009? It’s crowded! But the area I live in is sort of rural actually. New Jersey is sort of the joke of America. If you go anywhere in America and you talk about New Jersey its nickname is “The Armpit of America” (laughs) but that’s largely because of North Jersey and being next to New York City and people in New York looking down on New Jersey. But Southern New Jersey is where the pylons are, its mostly just pine trees and suburbs because New Jersey is very crowded. I dunno, I kind of like it though. I like the juxtaposition of being at a strip mall and then being in the middle of a huge forest. Down here you’re close to the shore and you’re close to Philadelphia.

Do you think that isolation, relative to say, a New York City band, finds its way onto the record? As far as not being in direct contact with other bands and the media.</b> Yeah, I’m sure. I’m not sure how much that has to do with me being in New Jersey. I don’t particularly socialize you know what I mean? The more I interact with other bands the more I realise that they all know each other, and I’m like “Wow I don’t know anyone and you’re all friends with other musicians and I don’t know anybody” I just have my kid and then I have my friends and family. I just do my own thing, I don’t think it’s New Jersey, I think it’s just me.

And what does your daughter think of your music? She likes it. She always makes little comments but she prefers Black Sabbath she tells me. I kind of prefer Black Sabbath too so I don’t blame her (laughs). But yeah, she likes it.

So what does a typical day entail for you? It seems like your life is pretty single minded in terms of family and music, what else do you do outside of that? (Laughs) Nothing! I’m the one who takes care of my daughter so I’m with her a lot of the time, she’s still young and she’s not old enough to be at school yet. And then I get so many jobs, either remixing or writing for people or doing my own stuff. Any other time that I have I end up just working on music. So really there isn’t a lot out of that. I pretty much just get up and I’m either sitting there writing songs or taking my daughter to the playground.

So you don’t really have any hobbies outside of that, is it because you don’t have time? Yeah, not really. I like music more than anyone I’ve ever met, even more than other musicians. I have a couple friends that I used to play in a group with and they’re musicians but for me it’s 24 hours a day. Its life, it’s all I really want to do.

So how does working solo vs. working in a band environment compare? What do you see are the biggest benefits of that? It’s a lot better for me and for my personality type. When I was growing up, which is when I started doing music, in my town I was like the only kid who played guitar. And the aim for me was to figure out how to record and play other instruments, not to start a band because I didn’t have anyone else to do it with. But then when I got older, got a job and started meeting other people, I realised that for most people they would learn to play and then they’d have friends and start bands. Whereas for me it was to learn as many instruments as you can and learn how to record, so for me it’s more natural to be alone.

And what’s the song writing process like for you? You mentioned that remixes take an afternoon. If you’re going to write a track, how do you start out? It’s a lot more traditional than other people assume. I usually just write them on guitar or piano the way, you know, Johnny Cash would (laughs). I’m like any classic, typical songwriter, and then when I record them they get convoluted.

You mentioned that you’re tracks become convoluted, or I think layered would be a better word, when you finally commit it to tape. How do you plan to translate that live? I don’t know. When I made the record my intention was to never play live because I don’t really like it. But the pressure it’s pretty much all that anyone ever speaks to me about anymore. They’re always asking when I’m going to play live. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it and I’ve got a couple different ideas. I’ve got a friend who put together a group of musicians and so we’ve been rehearsing with them and then I may also have to just bite the bullet and take a computer on stage with me and have it as my side man with maybe have one other person with me. I dunno. I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to work but the record definitely doesn’t lend itself well to me being pulled off by a band.

Yeah there’s a lot of dudes singing with just a laptop these days, it’s kind of like glorified karaoke. Yeah I don’t wanna do that! That’s kind of my issue when everyone’s saying “you gotta play live!” and I’m like “you realize I’m not a band” you know? Like, why do you want me to play live? Not to knock on those dudes if that’s what they wanna do then that’s cool, that’s fine but I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it. Because I used to be in a band and we toured and everything and I’m used to being up there with a guitar in my hands and being in a band. So the idea of standing there with just a computer would totally bug me out. So even if I did it with some technological assistance I would still be playing.

You mentioned before that you work on remixes, your own stuff or stuff for other people, what does stuff for other people mean? This is weird territory where I’m not usually allowed to talk about it so I don’t even know how much I can answer it but I get chances to write for people and submit tracks for pop singing type people so I do that but I’m usually never allowed to say that I’m doing it.

That’s so weird. As evidenced by your album you can write pop hooks but have they heard your music? Okay, we’ll just have to talk about it really vaguely now. Yeah (laughs) that’s the best I can do.

So with the song writing process for that, do you find it easier because, assuming that it’s pop, there’s a certain restriction on the sound? No, I find myself to be the easiest person to write for because I think I can write in a factory kind of way just because I like to write so much, I’m not incredibly good at reining it in. So writing for myself is the best thing because I don’t really have to care if it’s successful or not, I can just do whatever.

So as far as your own stuff goes, what’s next in the pipeline? Um, I’ve been trying to sort that out, I’ve actually recorded a lot of stuff and I’m trying to decide if it will be the next record or if I’m going to try and break it up and do an EP or I’m not sure how it’s going to come out. It’s different, I don’t know if it’s radically different but the biggest difference is that the songs are a lot shorter and on this record I wrote a lot of epic songs so they’re pretty long for what they are, I guess. And those songs that I have now are more 60’s pop music or something, they don’t sound like 60’s pop music but it’s that kind of writing. Simple 3 minute type songs.

Almost different enough to call it Weird Cassette right? Yeah almost (laughs) I could do it, I could do it!

So have you gotten a mobile phone yet? That always struck me as weird that you didn’t have a mobile phone. No I don’t actually, I’m borrowing my in-law’s phone right now. I probably need to get a phone soon.

Is that funny for you because people will be trying to call you now more than ever? Yeah, it kind of puts the spotlight onto how not together I am, where I’m all like “Oh no I don’t have a phone, oh no I can’t drive”. I’m sure on the outside it seems like some sort of weird persona but really it’s just the facts and I’m just caught off guard with people wanting to get access to me, so I’m not really prepared.

From the outside, honestly, it’s not that bad. So what’s the hardest part about people not having access to you? I think it probably just skews people’s perceptions of who you are. I think it’s changing slowly but initially people thought I was this hyper enigmatic person or something, and then they get me they’re like you’re relatively normal, you’re just some dude. And if I wanted to be some enigmatic figure I’d be stoked about that but I often feel like everything’s got a line of bullshit through it. So I don’t like any kind of sound byte about myself. I guess that’s the biggest problem.

Yeah, it’s weird you’re the first person I’ve ever interviewed who’s not only a self described hermit but is totally cool with it. I also wanted to talk to you about Green Knight it has that basketball noise, did you record that? Yeah. What it actually is was I had the sound of a ball hitting the wall and then the sound of a sneaker squeaking on floor and then I actually played it on the keyboard to sound like that. So it’s not actually a recording of a basketball, I played it on the keyboard.

Wow, so you just tweaked it until you got it right? I don’t know how to explain why but I wanted it to seem like a basketball thing. But I wanted it to be in time I didn’t just want it to be a clip of a basketball game so I just had the sounds and I played them until it sounded to me like I could picture someone playing basketball.

Did you do any weird field recordings? I do a little bit of that. I more tend to find things and then just play them as whatever I want. Like for “Green Knight” I found the sound of a ball and the sound of a sneaker then I worked out how to replicate that sound on a keyboard.

So it’s all by ear? That sounds like it would be ridiculously hard to do. That’s what everyone says (laughs). But to me I try to explain it to people like this: I’m just a traditional musician even though my music’s very electronic sounding so I just play it. That seems so much easier to me then programming stuff and tweaking things and getting crazy like that. I just play.

Are you a basketball fan? Not really, that was just the neighbourhood thing when I was a kid. The song was kind of nostalgic for a friend of mine growing up and that was the point of it.

I’m a different age and across the other side of the world but your music still evokes that sense of nostalgia, do you re-visit a certain time and place when you listen to the tracks? To a certain degree. I definitely feel the nostalgia thing is real but it’s not as specific as I think other people think it is. Like you say you’re in a different place but you can probably relate to it as much as I can. I don’t zero in on “it was from this time and this place” like some people make out that everything is about the 80’s with me but it’s just makes me feel this weird nostalgia.

So you read music blogs then? I don’t read a lot of blogs but people feel the need to send me a lot of things like “look this is about you haha!” so I’ll sometimes read them but I try not to read a lot of that stuff because I’m sensitive I think I’d get bent out of shape if I knew what people were saying about me.

So does that stem from a sense of insecurity? This might be out of line but judging from your reluctance to leave your house and play live would you say you’re an insecure person? Yeah I think so. I think I tend to take things seriously and I tend to get bent out of shape about things that are unfair, like if someone doesn’t like me that’s fine and that’s fair but if someone doesn’t like me because they think I’m this thing that I’m not, I get bent out of shape about that. There’s so much misinformation and assumption in this culture so I just try to keep my head out of it.

You’ve probably chosen the worst career as far as attention goes. Yeah I’m kind of the wrong person to be doing it (laughs).

Is that something you really struggle with? Yes! Definitely! That’s one of the biggest struggles in my situation that I genuinely don’t want a lot of attention and I would really love to do music anonymously but you draw more attention to yourself by doing that I found, so I’m trying to be open but at the same time I don’t have a performer’s personality.