Gabriel and Dresden Interview
Exclusive interview by PJ Gach, contributing editor
Bloom, the first release by Gabriel and Dresden, is now hitting stores, and attacking clubs and Internet radio stations across the world. Who are these musical men of mystery? Josh Gabriel and Dave Dresden collectively are the production team Gabriel and Dresden. Based in California, they've done remixes for some of the biggest names in music: Evanescence ("Hello"), Depeche Mode ("Here is the House"), Annie Lennox ("Pavement Cracks"), Sarah McLachlan ("Fallen"), New Order (Someone Like You"), Jewel ("Intuition") and Britney Spears featuring Madonna ("Me Against The Music"). Besides doing remixes of Paul Oakenfeld, JD Tiesto, Way Out West, they have their own side project, Motorcycle, featuring the vocals of Jes Brieden, are creating a label of their own, Organized Nature, and have signed a two record compilation disc deal with Nettwerk records.
UGO caught up with the pair at the Tribeca Grand in New York City, right before they were to make two club appearances later that night. The guys were dressed down in shorts, relaxed and ready to chat.
UGO: What inspires you?
Josh Gabriel: The feeling you're talking about is a fingerprint. It's like cooking, you know...bland corn meal has a taste, and when you're cooking, you know what's wrong with it. Because it doesn't feel like the way you want it to feel. So, music is just another feeling, so when it doesn't feel like the way you want it to feel, you create stuff...you'll notice that all our tracks may be different, but in a certain way they all create a similar feeling. And we're trying to put our finger on that feeling. We don't know what it is but some people have said, "Sad euphoria," some people have said, "hope," some people have said other things, but whatever that feeling is, it's that place we want to go to. And so...like for instance, when you're buying music in a record store, you're dropping lots of needles and listening to stuff that gives you that feeling, and for some reason for both of us, even though we come from different backgrounds, I think that feeling that we want to get in our heads is very similar, so when we're working on a track we're constantly trying to adjust things to give you that feeling.
UGO: Yeah, but what is that creative spark that gets you going?
Gabriel: We play a lot. We mess around with things, so if something catches our attention we might focus in on it and then that might turn into an idea. A lot of our good stuff, for us, comes out of play.
Dave Dresden: That's when the best stuff happens for us. When we're trying too hard, or we actually go in and say, "Let's make this thing for that person," it never nearly as...it never works out the same way as when we just go in and say, "Let's make something cool today." Even when it's a remix, you still have to feel the music you're working on. In that respect, we don't do remixes to music we don't like or don't feel that we can bring something to.
Gabriel: Did you see Fargo?
Gabriel: Well, you know the woman who's in it (Frances McDormand) is in the movie Laurel Canyon; she plays a record producer. They have this whole thing where she's with a band and there's a scene where there's somebody who doesn't know anything about music at the house, and she's like, "Come on down for a listen, I want to see if you like something," and they're like, "Well, I don't know anything about music," and she says, "Well, everybody knows something about music because it's pop music, it's what grabs you." To us, that's what we're tapping into, the same thing that grabs people for pop music; we're just putting it into a different format. There's some idea that's clear up front and lots of wishy-washiness to keep your brain occupied.
Dresden: And always very modest. I can't speak for Josh, but I want every song that I work on to be memorable. That's one of things that I ask when the song's almost done, is this thing memorable? Are people going to know it? Will people be able to identify it? Is it going to bring that feeling to them? That's what makes it memorable, is the feeling that they get, in addition to something that's catchy.
UGO: Do you feel that you guys have your own musical signature?
Gabriel: I think that we already do, I think our songs sound like our songs. I don't think that they sound like anyone else's. Again, it's that cooking thing that I was talking about before. The right amount of this spice, the right amount of that spice. I think for us, it's the roundness of everything, the cloudiness and the clarity and all these things together make up the music. We always put the elements together in a similar ratio.
Dresden: Also, when working on a song, if I'm not absolutely in love with it the whole time, that's bad. It has to be a love affair from beginning to end for me. If it's not a love affair at the end, I have problems finishing it.
UGO: Do you ever just toss them out?
Dresden: Nah, just toss them aside.
Gabriel: Things get put back into the machine.
Dresden: But I've been able to prove to myself that having this love affair all the way to the end is a good thing, because the songs that I did have an affair with were our most popular songs. I believe myself now. I understand what it is that makes our music good. Sometimes, you don't want to believe your ears, "No, no it's good." And then you wake up two days later and you're like, "I have to re-do it. It's not right."
UGO: Who are your idols?
Dresden: I definitely have clear cut idols. They're all basically music industry people who have taken their thing and brought it to the people without really super-compromising. Definitely one of them is Paul Oakenfeld. You know people say a lot of things about Paul now, but they weren't there in 1989 when the Manchester (UK) scene was happening, the rave scene was happening and there was Paul Oakenfeld at the forefront of this stuff, bringing this culture to Britain. Which has been the youth culture in England now for about 15 - 16 years. A huge part of the reason is Paul Oakenfeld. Pete Tong is another person who followed his conviction and brought music to the people. These are definitely the two people in the dance music industry that I respect and idolize.
Gabriel: I really don't think about things like that.
Dresden: I can definitely say that is not a think that Josh thinks about. He's a very individual guy.
UGO: I just read that you guys signed a deal with Nettwerk-you'll be doing two compilation discs. Do you have any ideas for themes?
Gabriel: Basically, the CDs for us are meant to represent what we're doing at the time. The second one will be...
Dresden: The second one will be about whatever we're feeling at that time.
Gabriel: We kinda surrounded ourselves with music we love and we'll pick out of that at that particular time. The mix CD...it's a time slice; in the next two months we might like different music or...
Dresden: It's kinda like...with our music you can definitely hear where it was made and how it was made. There was a certain period when we were making house music and then we had success with this song and we started making starting making music like that because that was the scene that we started getting based in... Josh's learning new production techniques or I hear different melodies somewhere that inspires me to think of different feelings...just recently I discovered a whole world of rock music that I've been missing that involves dance music. A lot of the music that's coming out of New York right now, like the BFA, Postal Service...
Dresden: I love his voice (Jimmy C). It sounds so honest and believable, and I love Death Cab for Cutie. I'm learning all these new bands on the XM College station-on XM radio and there must be 60 to 70 new bands I've heard that are interesting. This is what I do, I drive my car and I type in what I'm hearing and that's how I learn about it. There's this other band called Q and Not U...
UGO: Have you guys listened to stellastarr* or Interpol or any of the bands that are coming out of New York now?
Dresden: Yeah, Interpol is awesome. These people drew from the music that I drew from, the Cure and New Order and Joy Division. They're all using electronics and live instruments together. I especially love New Rapture, how they totally are a dance band. They play house music with rock instruments. Then there's this band called !!!, have you ever heard of them? They are the most dope beat creators that I've heard in a long time. So that's a little insight into the world of some of the bands that we listen to. Before that, I think that a lot of our influence came from '80s music, the stuff that these people were influenced by as well. Depeche Mode, Duran Duran.
UGO: Favorite '80s band?
Dresden: For me, it was New Order, because they mixed super believable club music with pop songs. They definitely most influenced me
UGO: Didn't you guys work together for the first time on a remix of a New Order song? What was that like?
Gabriel: It was cool
Dresden: Actually it was sort of overshadowed at the time by events of September 11th. We started working on it, and now every time I hear this track, I'm always brought back to the buildings falling. And I don't even remember how we made it, or what was involved in it. I just remember the buildings falling whenever I hear it. It sounds like buildings falling, even...there's a lyric in there that's very pertinent to that day, right in the breakdown, "get set to run, the crew is stranded"
UGO: Oh, that's chilling
Dresden: Yeah, that was to me, even at the time...gives me chills just thinking about it. How bizarre that lyric was to be working on that song on September 11th. I think for me, September 11th did a lot to make me...I was sort of bumbling around doing DJ'ing, A&R, this and that and the other, and it sort of made me say to myself, you have to do something, you have to do something that's going to go forward and the only thing that made me feel that way was working with Josh. So, that's pretty much how we started. Because we were just doing this for fun. The New Order remix came out of Pete Tong saying to me, "Hey, you want to have a go at this?" type of thing. Not ever thinking that I'd ever make anything that he'd even like. There was no guarantee. It was just like, "Here's the parts, have fun."
UGO: You guys had met at the New Music Conference that year.
Dresden: Yeah, that March.
UGO: You, Josh were designing software and Dave you were doing A&R?
Dresden: I've worn many hats in the dance music industry. I started DJ'ing right out of high school; because music was the only thing that I felt I was really good at. So, I quickly wanted to translate that into a job at either a radio station as a music director or program director or a record company A&R guy. And so I DJ'ed and I became way more involved in the DJ'ing in Connecticut and it was giving me way more of a guaranteed income, so I didn't take anybody's offer for many years. So I kind of went...I never really had an offer that I really wanted.
UGO: So you were just club jocking?
Dresden: I was club jocking; I had signed 20-30 different records to ten different labels. You know, "Hey, there's this record out there, you should check it out, it's a hit." Being a DJ was very safe, so that's what I did. But on the side I would do things for A&R. But I also wrote articles.
UGO: Speaking about radio and music, radio is so segmented now...
Dresden: My word, it's pathetic
UGO: So the only way you guys can be found is the Internet, clubs...
Gabriel: Message boards...
Dresden: Internet radio stations
UGO: What do you guys think about file sharing and downloading?
Dresden: It's a double-edged sword. Because these kids learn about our music and come to the shows knowing everything
Gabriel: Hey man, it's kind of like, what do you think of water?
UGO: Well, it could be good or bad...
Gabriel: It's just a fact of where we are in the world now. There's file sharing capability and people will do it, and they'll never stop doing it. I mean, it's beyond having an opinion on it now.
UGO: Well, there's a camp that says you must pay for legal downloads and there are people who are using Kaaza or Kaaza lite and there are a lot of artists and official organizations...they hate it because they're not getting any money.
Gabriel: But you're not going to change people, so that's what I mean. This part of the record business's problem is that they've been worrying about trying to police people breathing air and drinking water; to me, file sharing is just that. You can't stop people from doing what's human nature. Human nature is to get music really inexpensively and really quickly and whatever they want, whenever they want it. That's what those services are. Historically, the music companies instead of trying to figure out what the public wants, they rolled up their sleeves and showed their muscles and said, "look we're big distributors-you need to listen to us." And they're scared to figure out the new way. Trying to figure out a new way, in a way, it's not really the public's job.
Dresden: I think any business plan that's based on making people fell bad for not buying music is definitely a bad business plan.
UGO: You're going to turn people off from the product.
Gabriel: I don't know what's going to happen. We have a generation of people who feel that music's free and it's going to be hard to convert them into people who think music costs something.
Dresden: Which is kind of interesting, because it doesn't give the perception that now that you're a known artist, you're a millionaire? I definitely don't feel like people look at me like I'm some sort of millionaire.
UGO: But there was always the perception that if you had a record out, you had a lot of money. Bu you had contracts that had recoupability costs, and after paying out for studio time etc., you ended up owing your life to the record company.
Dresden: When I was a kid, if you had a record in a store you were a millionaire.
UGO: Yeah, I thought that too. Then I read that an artist gets something like three cents for every record sold.
Dresden: If we were doing this for money, we'd be stockbrokers or something. This is definitely not something...
Gabriel: It's not a get rich quick scheme, or not a very good one...
UGO: But it's definitely worth it?
Dresden: There's no better feeling than playing a song that you love no matter if it's your or somebody else's in front of a crowd that wants to hear it. To me, that's the ultimate feeling.
UGO: What do you like best: Producing your own work, producing other people's work or working live?
Gabriel: Definitely...I prefer creating music. I like that basic feeling...you've created music right? You've made electronic music right?
UGO: I've tried to make music, but not electronic music...
Gabriel: With electronic music...imagine...you said you liked the album right? You're trapped in some soundscape...
UGO: Yeah, I want to live in that album...
Gabriel: That's how we feel, but we get to do it for a week and we get to move the walls around and change the ceiling and so to me that's like heaven. To be able to move around in that space and...it's like sitting in a bean bag, you move all your bits around until everything fits and that's a really great feeling. So I don't know, somewhere between producing our own stuff and working with other people. Something about working with other people is amazing because you get pushed to do things you wouldn't think of yourself. (Going) into directions you wouldn't think of for yourself.
Dresden: And also just their vibe.
Gabriel: That's what I'd like to do long term- is to work with other people, producing other people.
Dresden: Right. It gives us a new experience all the time.
Gabriel: We'd like to produce one to these New York bands, you know doing something different.
UGO: You should, if you're here longer you need to check out what's playing in the bars now...
Dresden: I'm just getting the lay of the landscape of other music that I haven't been hearing all these years. It really makes me sad, that me, I'm a music freak that had to get some like pay for radio to get anything. I grew up listening to good radio in New York and now I think that the radio here (New York) is pathetic, but that's just because the business became corporatized and everything
UGO: When you're working on remixes (Dido, Britney Spears, Madonna) how much input do you get from the artists?
UGO: So, how does the song get remixed? Does the artist request it?
Gabriel: The artist, I think, is kind of unaware a little bit; they're like, "Oh, that's the stuff that my label does to promote me in the dance world." The only person who might give an opinion is the A&R person.
UGO: When you're working on a remix, how do you break it down?
Gabriel: We start with the vocals and work around it. We make a track just of the vocals.
Dresden: Sometimes, that's all you get. We ask for bits of songs, with lots of parts because we want all the instruments there, but we don't usually get so lucky. So then we might off the original track and sample it and cut it up and do all our production stuff to it. And we make it part of our track.
Gabriel: Once you've got the vocal track down, what do you do next? Drums?
Dresden: Drums, basses, pads
Gabriel: There's no set formula
Dresden: We just have fun. We hone in on it...we start with something and we tweak it out and turn it out and...
Gabriel: We describe it as, to ourselves like this; it's like landing a spaceship on a planet in a foreign galaxy. Day one, driving around in your spaceship looking for signs of life. You're completely in the dark. You don't know if you're going to find anything, and you just keep driving until you see signs of life. Then when you see signs of life, you go in that direction and eventually you get reassurance that there is a sign of life. That's when the work begins and the idea part ends. Now it's work to land, it's literally...once you know what the idea is, a little less creativity goes out of it, because now it's trying to make it happen.
UGO: How do you balance between working on your stuff, working with Motorcycle and remixing?
Gabriel: We just kind of do as much as we can, it's not really well thought out...actually we're going to start a label.
UGO: Really? What's the name?
Gabriel: Organized Nature
UGO: I like that. When's the first release?
Gabriel: Next couple of months, maybe. It's going to be like underground...you know Freebie, an underground label matrix. It's really just to get out DJs.
UGO: Have you signed anybody?
Gabriel: It's mostly our music, stuff that's not out yet, because it never gets out. Because nobody signs tracks that aren't big hits. So these are those tracks that we made that never get out there and a couple of songs by other people
UGO: So where can people find it?
Gabriel: The normal DJ shops. We're going to operate on the old system
Dresden: Until something's figured in a new system. So we're going to lock into the label...
Gabriel: The label's that we've been acquired by, and that also works for us.
Dresden: I respect what John Digby did with Bedrock, that's a good label. An underground label, and the way he markets and puts everything in a consistent look. He looks after his artists in a sort of like posse way. We want to build out our own posse of people that we see coming up.
Gabriel: It kind of started out of frustration. We'd go to these big events and it's segmented, there's the drum and bass tent, there's the trance tent. And there's not really a tent for people that do what we do. We play too fast for the slow tent and we play too slow for the fast tent and we play too pretty for the dark tent and we play too dark for the pretty tent. We play a little of each, it just doesn't work out. So we were like "why don't we start our own day." We'll have our own holiday.
UGO: If you could have super powers, what would you have?
Dresden: I think I'd like to modify that a little bit. If there was just one super power that I'd like to have, that would be warping through the phone. You just dial a number and be in Chicago in two seconds.
Gabriel: That would be so cool.
UGO: And you?
Gabriel: That would be invisibility, because I'm a voyeur at heart. I'm very interested in watching what people do when they're not aware of it.