A couple of summers ago -- 2009, to be exact -- several bedroom musicians arrived at approximately the same sound. Their music seemed as though it was recorded on melted cassingles. The critical watchwords were "Day-Glo," "spectral," and "nostalgic," though lovers and haters alike quickly labeled the genre chillwave. Some of these artists already fit into a tight social network. But while Toro Y Moi and Washed Out issued their viral MP3s from the South, Dayve Hawk made his opaque synth-pop from New Jersey in relative isolation. He called his project Memory Tapes.
Chillwave has already moved on, even while some of the genre's most vehement detractors have not. One of this year's interesting subplots is the return of the artists both blessed and cursed by their association with the tag. Toro Y Moi put out his second album last winter, while Washed Out followed this summer. Last week Hawk returned with Player Piano, a set of songs more musically bold and lyrically pronounced than his earlier, gauzier tracks. All three albums are still touched by the zombiefied hand of pop's past. But Hawk is emerging as perhaps the most sonically astute of the pack. On Player Piano, his layers of synths and noise never fail to add up to a kind of story told in timbres.
I exchanged emails with Hawk this week in anticipation of his visit to San Francisco. Memory Tapes plays Slim's tonight.
I understand you don't like to do these kinds of things -- interviews, publicity, and the like -- so I appreciate your indulgence here. How have you been occupying yourself offstage while on tour?
Touring is pretty mind-numbing. When I'm not playing we're usually driving, trying to sleep, or trying to eat. Life becomes about basic needs.
You and I are similar in that we grew up in communities where there weren't a lot of people into music. I was known as the all-purpose "art guy" among my peers, and I hated that for some reason. Back then, were you known as "the music guy"? Is that something you embraced?
I was known as the "weird kid." I can't say I embraced it cause it mostly just lead to shit getting thrown at me. I never really understood it. I never had blue hair or wore dresses to school. There were some pretty outwardly eccentric kids in my high school but I still got picked out of the lineup.
Your songs demonstrate a strong appreciation for good pop music. What are your thoughts on that wooly word "pop"?
I really just associate "pop" with a certain kind of songwriting. Obviously when you tell people you want to make a "pop" record you tend to get the assumption that you want some level of success along with it. But for me it's about writing these sort of little orchestrations of simple ideas.
What makes a good pop song, then?
I think a pretty even mix of simplicity and complexity. A lot of modern pop music is more like a catchphrase than music to me.
You wrote a fascinating article for the Quietus in which you put your finger on one of the things I most appreciate about your work. You said, "I don't want to make a song that sounds like that song you heard on the radio; I want to make a song that sounds like that moment you heard the song on the radio."
I'm not a very topical thinker. Music is more about abstract expression of basic ideas for me. When I'm working on tracks there's usually some sort of visual running in my head and I try to produce the track as some sort of sonic representation of that. Like if I write a song that in some way reminds me of a kid I grew up with, a kid I associate with old computers; I'll run my voice through an impulse response from the speaker of an old PC. I know no one will get that by hearing it, but it translates on some level.
The Quietus article was very impressive -- lots of crisp imagery and captivating explanations. Do you write much beyond lyrics? Keep a journal, for example?
No, my interest is pretty exclusive to music. I think I just enjoy the chance to explain myself sometimes because there are so many false assumptions about me. I don't care if people like what I do, but I can get a little touchy about misinformation.
Have you noticed how being a father has impacted your creativity?
I think it helps to maintain your integrity because it has such a massive effect on your value system. I had a hard time knowing what was important when my life was just my own.
Well, I'd like to wrap up with the obligatory Q&A closer: What's next for you, Mr. Tapes?
More music. I'm working on several things that I'm excited to get back to when I get home. I was very frustrated by the time between Seek Magic and Player Piano, so I'm really hoping to increase my output this year.