When the history books are written about this era, while there will be many artists recognized for their various awards and industry accolades, few if any will match the prolific artistry of Dolphin. With over 50 albums recorded and an arsenal of more in the works, perhaps the greatest testament to his talent is the level of artistry put into each song. As you listen you hear an artists investigation of self explored with integrity and a value for quality that matches the quantitative output. Free from the confines of industry, Dolphin creates like few have ever done. When the history books are written while the list of entertainers may be extensive, the list of true artists will be a select group, and amongst those you will find Dolphin.
In Part I of this interview learn more about the history of Dolphin, his influences and the process by which he creates.
Can you give a rundown of all the names you’ve got projects under with a little background on each?
Absolutely, first there is Dolphin. Currently to date there is about 7-8 years worth of material under Dolphin, roughly about 45 plus albums. Dolphin ranges from progressive soul to alternative rock to punk funk. It’s basically limitless in terms of what type of music.
Then there is Ocean Aquanaut which has about 8 albums total with 3 more on the way. Ocean Aquanaut is exclusively underground hip-hop, both instrumentals and with lyrics.
Then there is October Octopussy. There are two albums (soon to be three) under this name which range from new wave punk funk to straight rock with an edge.
The Magnetic Moves is another moniker, which is an all electro funk both instrumental and with vocals. Only one album to date.
Another name used is MCZUMA (hip-hop). These names if you will just merely allow me to create without boundaries and explore different areas. It also allows me to show up in places people least expect with minimal expectations other than the music itself.
House legend Ultra Nate’ and I spoke a lot about working together in ’08 and me helping out her label, but since House music wasn’t necessarily my staple, it became exciting to know I could do whatever I wanted and just give a different name. That being said the music is always pure and everything is always thought out thoroughly.
It’s all me playing all the instruments, writing, producing and performing the songs anyway so I don’t care. When I was in High School, I would play with a funk ensemble, then play bass for a jazz orchestra, then hang out and play with a straight punk rock outfit and then play on weekends with a cover band. This allowed me so many different avenues to explore ’cause the entire time I was at home producing and making beats for my friends who rhymed. That being said, I don’t believe in boxing people in squares.
Considering you perform most if not all of the instruments on your recordings, what is your first instrument?
My first instrument in life was the guitar. It’s such a universal instrument that if you can unlock it’s coding it can guide you through other instruments.
In terms of recording, it differs each time. Sometimes I will create the drums first and just study them for hours and hours just letting them play until they speak to me and guide me in the next direction. Some albums are more guitar based with me writing the songs on acoustic guitar first, as to have a full understanding of the composition before creating the actual song. Other songs I write on piano cause everything is laid out in front of you. It differs.
For example “One Thing” (the only Dolphin song to ever be remixed so far), which was remixed by Primus Luta, I wrote that on Harmonica and acoustic guitar, performing it live in one take. However once the structure was done, I simply added all the backing vocals and that allowed a bigger take on what the song could be. Then I shipped it to Primus and he didn’t send it back until it was completed and of course I was pleasantly surprised at how he freaked it. However with Dolphin, Ocean, and OctoberOctopussy I always play all the instruments. That may change however ’cause I just asked my sax player Tiffany if she would join me on a new Dolphin song that is on a new EP.
Where do you pull song ideas from, and how do you decide which project is going to be the best channel for those ideas?
It comes through various sources. Some arrive in dream states, some are inspired from hearing great music live or otherwise, some are fully composed in my head long before I record them and won’t stop playing until I record them. It depends on my vibration at the time and what has my interest. I was explaining to a friend the other day that I was watching the French film Amelie, and was so inspired by one statement, one phrase that I ended up recording an entire album within a week ’cause it was that powerful.
Walk us through your songwriting process.
It differs every time but to give you an idea of say the current albums (The Ancient Astronaut and The Underground Garden), I started writing them on acoustic guitar first, then transposed them on the piano and bass. Each project has a different sound to me and I hone in on how I want the drums to sound to define the rest of the song. Soft, hard, midrange, downbeat, punk, afro beat… depends. This may mean playing the drums live myself or if I program them, scowering old records for snares, kicks, high hats etc. I’ll pair up 13-23 different snares to create one, 20 different kick drums to create one, etc. I never write any music down per se as I cannot read music, so it’s always playing mentally in my head. After I record the drums I’ll go back and play the guitar or piano, then add vocals (lead and backing). Then I’ll study it in terms of it’s mix and start adding violins, cellos, synths etc. Sometimes the songs come first in full form and the lyrics have to wait. However fortunately for me whenever I hear a sound, any sound, almost immediately lyrics come to me and songs are fully composed in my head.
Sometimes however it’s a completely different process. For example on piano I may write some songs and live with them on the Fender Rhodes long before they see daylight. So after laying the drums it may be all about laying down the piano, then the bass guitar. Some songs I prefer have very distinctive sounds so I’ll run acoustic pianos through guitar pedals or record the initial foundation on VHS tape and dump to back to my CPU to warm it up. Lately I have been getting into recording the drums, then channeling them out into my stairway at home by way of speakers, setting up mics on the steps to capture it’s ‘ghost’ bouncing off the walls and then mixing the two side by side. It depends on the song, what it means, where it came from and where it’s going.
Almost always with Dolphin, the recordings are analog with me mic’ing amps and using old techniques to record. However I have just started a series for Dolphin using all beats, much in the same way I do production for Ocean Aquanaut.
You recently took your live set The Airmath into the studio to record an album. Can you talk a little bit about how that was for you.
It was an excellent experience. We recorded at the Peabody Institute of Classical Music, a world renowned and respected school. The oldest school in the world for Classical music. Jake Leckie who was our bassist at the time (and always an Airmath member) was also one of the head engineers at the time. We went in for two nights, one for the electric versions of our set (drums, electric guitar, electric bass, and Fender Rhodes) the second night all acoustic (grand piano, upright bass, drums, and acoustic guitar). We only recorded live, no overdubs of any kind and then Jake mixed the sessions while on break in Boston. It was our first recording experience outside of rehearsals and really opened us up in terms of flexibility.
We recorded at least 5 takes per song, so after both nights not only did we have a new sense of bonding but it really asked us to stretch and push some limits.
Studio or the stage?
Both have their place. I was dormant in the home studio for so long that I was dying to get back on stage. Most people think my music career started under the name Dolphin but I have been writing, recording and performing for the majority of my life. Dolphin has only been a small part of that (2001 going forward).
The studio allows me the freedom to just create, try new things and really challenge myself personally as all the albums mentioned before are just me.
The stage has such another connotation to it. It speaks volumes to ones understanding of collaboration and ability to read the audience and draw from it.
A musician can walk away from both completely empowered and with a renewed sense of direction.
Who are some of your biggest influences in the studio? On the stage?
Most of the musicians who influenced me where powerhouses in both contexts. I follow the greats and study them intensely for as Quincy Jones put it, this allows you to “walk in the footsteps of giants and see what it feels like at 50,000 feet”. However, you have to be clear on where to draw the line and find your own lane.
I would say David Bowie, Prince, Miles Davis, The Velvet Underground, John Coltrane, Bad Brains, Bernie Worrell and Funkadelic, The Cure, The Beatles, SunRa, Joy Division, Van Halen, Run DMC, Double Trouble, A Tribe Called Quest to name just a few. The usual suspects along with countless unknown musicians and artists I have met along the way. For example, lately I have been listening to Double Trouble alot, a group that got little fanfare outside of the movie “Wild Style” during the early to mid eighties. What’s been getting me about them is almost all the material available is live which has been inspirational to note that just like funk bands in the 70’s and jazz bands before them, material was hammered out on stage first long before it was ever recorded. That being said, it’s some of the most authentic hiphop ever recorded. Busy Bee (from “Wild Style”) and I are neighbors and friends so whenever we link I try to pick his brain and get his energy cause even now when he performs it’s powerful and you just know it comes from nights and nights of doing his thing. It’s so different from today’s MC who record and record, but have virtually no experience on stage and it shows when the lights go down. Even Coltrane at his height, would sometimes practice for 16hours a day to keep his chops up and to be prepared for a last minute gig. Hendrix would fall asleep with the axe in his hand and wake up with his hands in a chord position. So finding that fine line and maintaining both is mandatory.
If you were born into any other era of music which do you think you’d be the most comfortable in as a musician?
There are two periods that always come to mind. The jazz explosion of the 40-50’s cause the musicians then were not concerned with fame, money, and all the trappings of success. One of the main reasons is ’cause their biggest names were making very little; their only concern was the art, the music. Pushing the boundaries. They would starve for their work, ignore day to day common necessities just to create and express themselves. Also, ’cause of the time period and the political climate of the day, jazz musicians weren’t allowed to freely express themselves, so they did so with their instruments. Something many songwriters, singers and performers can learn from.
Then there is the late 60’s early 70’s. Arguably one of the most important moments in history because of the need to express oneself politically and socially in order to challenge the power bases that controlled the masses. During this time you finally got a chance to hear what the people were thinking; from Nina Simone to James Brown to Hendrix, everyone questioned and challenged societies take on how we should be living. Also during this time you’ll find some of the most experimental music ever created as people completely utilized technology to their advantage with the sole intention of creating new sounds. I maintain that if you study both periods, you can see the direct lineage to any form of music being created today.