interview by Michael McCarthy
One of the very first interviews I did for Love is Pop was with Dean Garcia, formerly of Curve, who was promoting his new project SPC ECO, which finds him recording dark and dreamy music with his daughter Rose Berlin on vocals. Since that interview, SPC ECO has released several more mesmerizing albums of the highest quality, including All We Have is Now, Dark Matter and The Art of Pop. In addition to continuing on as SPC ECO, Dean has recently released two collaborative albums S T F U, which was made with Preston Maddox, and M A D, created with Steve Monti. If I had to categorize either of these projects I would dub them trip-hop because they remind me of some of the trip-hop masters, like Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead. In the following interview, we discuss all of Dean’s many projects and albums at length. Grab a cup of coffee or a cocktail and enjoy the ride.
MM: You’ve recently made albums with Preston Maddox as S T F U and Steve Monti as M A D. Were you working on both albums at the same time? If not, which album was made first?
DG: All done around the same time but spread out over the months, generally I’d spend a month or so focussed on one and then move onto the next, the thing with both albums was the fact that both Preston and Monti were sending me fairly advanced recordings in that they were quite developed, especially the M A D tracks, some of which I would just concentrate on Bass the odd LO-FI add or sequencing and work with Rose to get the vocals. so it was all entirely workable. I think I started the M A D recordings first, work on the tracks for a bit then move onto the other incoming from Preston, it’s a cool way to work, and not in any way confusing as both records had their own separate agenda.
MM: For a while there you were just making music with Rose as SPC ECO. When did you decide to start working with others and what prompted this decision?
DG: Working outside of S E was not a decision as such it was more a case of getting round to something that had been in the pipeline for some years, with both Monti and I have been looking for an angle to work on something that we could both fully express that felt right for us which I believe we tapped into with the SLOW Mo record, similar situation with Preston as it has always been on the table it was just a matter of getting the right time to do it. The thing with the STFU record was the fact that we had no preconceived idea of what it would be, we just went purely on instinct somehow knowing that it would work for us both, it was just a matter of the right moment to come along.
MM: You previously worked with Steve Monti in Curve. What album(s) specifically did he work on? Did he do any of the Curve tours with you?
DG: With the Curve records I used to create most of the drums so never really used any live playing until the Cuckoo record, Monti played on a few tracks my fave being Superblaster where you can hear Monti at his finest along with the spectacular fills and cymbal crossings like no other, it’s one of the highlights of that song for me. Monti played on all the Curve tours I think, he was the only drummer that I knew who was not only capable of dealing with the machines and sequencers timing wise but he’s the only drummer I know that makes the tech catch up with him, he basically owns that shit, it follows him. I’ve always said that Monti is the best drummer in the world and I will stick to that until the end of my time.
MM: How did you connect with Preston Maddox? Did you know him before the S T F U project?
DG: He approached me about 5 years ago to do a Bloody Knives remix and requested an S E song for a comp he was working on, both of which worked out well. From there he was reintroduced via my buddy Perry Pelonero who I was working with at the time on the S E You Tell Me record, Perry and I also had another project on the go named Morpheme, there were a bunch of ideas that needed vocals one of which was sent to Preston for vocals, this one in fact http://deangarcia.bandcamp.com/track/steal-you-away when that came back that was the exact moment I wanted to make an album with him, which I suggested to Preston but the timing was out of place due to various other commitments, so it was since then that I’ve been wanting to make an album. I connect with his voice, it has the crucial combination of ache and soul, it’s a rare combination but he has it in a very natural way, understated and undeniable, and to top it off he has something to say as well. No brainer for me.
MM: Did you collaborate with Preston and Steve in person or were the projects done over the internet?
DG: Both were over the wires, even though Monti lives down the road from me, we all work better in our own spaces and way/time etc, that’s not to say that we wouldn’t connect if we did work in the same room it’s just that it’s better for us all to work in our own ways. Plus sending shit back n forth is so easy nowadays. You sink or swim very quickly that way as well, it becomes very apparent when something is working or not. I like that.
MM: How were the songs usually written – did you start with the music or did they ever give you a vocal melody and have you build a song around that?
DG: Depends but from my angle it’s always from the music up, same with all I think, get something you dig and worth putting vocals on and work it from there, Getting the backdrop right is first task, how you do it is up to you, no restrictions or ‘can’t do’ thoughts, everything is a can do if I feel like it, core. Once the desired effect is there it’s then passed on for vocal, once that is working it’s a follow through with the back drop to bring it all in line to get the best out of all the elements. Done. Working with Preston is slightly different in that sometimes the vocal is more or less in place when I first get it, which is cool to as I can then work with the secondary stage of recording/production rather than from the ground up which gives things a certain focus from the off, I pretty sure Preston will work in a similar way as I’ve described, ie backdrop first then vocal.
MM: There are obviously layers and layers of sound to everything you work on. How many tracks would you say your average song has?
DG: Depends how far I go, recently I’ve discovered that minimal can be more than effective, the less is more train of thought, but I’ve always enjoyed the thing that happens that is unpredictable when you layer and build sound, which is the more you add you get this blurring of sound from one to the next which forms a new sound that otherwise wouldn’t happen, it’s like a blending area of sound that happens because of the way they interact with each other, the sound dust element, causing a morphic blurring, I really like it because you can hear different things within it all the time, well I can anyway, but that could be the drugs talking…
MM: What programs or equipment/instruments do you use for making beats? What do you use for tracking your projects?
DG: I use Ableton, Reason and a Protools recorder, and tap into an ever increasing library of collected sounds from the many years of doing this shit, I’ve got DATs of the weirdest stuff recorded with Flood and his bonkers antique 60’s modular Moog’s Putney’s and Arp’s, endless loops and weirdo FX from Toshi who collects odd sound toys, Japanese sound lab experiments, Russian space lab bleeps, Monti’s plugins n beat machines, Subtub apps and fuck knows what else he brings me and let’s not forget all the cool odd shit from the web that is just astounding really, I’m a collector of sound and I use them as and when they get dialled up either by accident or whatevs, in building backdrops that make me smile. But I always say it’s the recorder itself that is the most adaptable and creative tool of the lot.
MM: I know you’re usually the multi-instrumentalist/programmer/producer on your projects, but do you ever write any lyrics at all? Which instruments do you play?
DG: I have written lyrics but they are generally total shit, I come up with the odd line here n there when working with Rose but that’s about it, I love words but I think it’s best kept to those who are delivering them, I’ve sung on a few things and love to sing so that’s the only time I dig into lyrics, they’re mostly either bland or make no sense…..
MM: What would you suggest someone who wants to make electronic music start with?
DG: A glass of scotch, an open mind and a good set of speakers. I think anyone who’s interested in making electronic music will also have an ear/eye as to what are the best tools for going about it, Just find something you like and get stuck in, don’t expect to make something that changes the world and just have fun with it, take the piss and push it to the limit, be irreverent and don’t give a fuck about it, if none of those things are working try turning it all up and have another drink or whatever it is that allows you to escape the’ can’t don’t must not’ internal dialogs you get and have some fun with it. It’s all the same in the end, it doesn’t matter what you use it’s how you use it and the mindset all that involves…
MM: Will you be touring behind S T F U or M A D? If so, are you doing a lengthy tour or just a few scattered dates?
DG: Never say never to all, it’s all a matter of if and possibly re timings and mood space logistics all working together. I’d love to play live with any of the projects I’m involved with just depends on the demand and timing in the end.
MM: If you are touring, will you be doing any songs from your other projects live? If so, which one(s)?
DG: I’d only perform songs live with the people who are involved in the recordings and are part of the band, for example I wouldn’t play a SE song as M A D or whatever, I don’t see the point in that ( if that’s what you’re asking ?) it would be fun to combine them all as a show but they would all have to be separate and within their own identity.
MM: Do you ever perform live as SPC ECO? If so, do you do so often?
DG: We used to but it became more frustrating/ trouble or stressful than it was worth, we do love playing live but not to three people and their dog with someone leaning on the stage with there back to you checking their Facebook wall, I’m to old for that shit, I’ve done it before when I was in my teens /20’s, it’s never fun playing those toilets, it’s fucking horrible in fact but it’s something you just do at that age, I don’t need or want to do that anymore. It’s all about the demand now, I know how good we can be live, just give us the opportunity and right circumstance and we’ll own it, it’s not a show off thing it’s just I know what we’re capable of, so unless it’s worth doing we’ll just sidestep that for now.
MM: In our previous interview a few years ago you indicated that you prefer performing live over making albums. Is that still the case?
DG: There’s nothing like playing live both in the highs and lows, but unless it feels right in sync with the things I’ve outlined above we much prefer to record and write for the time being, it’s too stressful and painful playing live for us atm, but that’s not to say we won’t it’s just not on the top of the priority list.
MM: I’m assuming S T F U stands for shut the fuck up. Do the letters in M A D stand for anything?
DG: Monti And Dean, Baxter ( Monti’s son) came up with it, he was lying in bed one day and suddenly jumped up really excited to tell Monti ‘I’ve got it I’ve got it, you have to call yourselves MAD, can’t argue with that. Perfect I thought, seeing as we’re both a bit peculiar.
MM: Was the spacing between the letters in these projects your idea? If so, what inspired it?
DG: It was, I like spacing but the spacebar is the real inspiration I’d say.
MM: Rose does a lot of vocals on M A D, which begs the question: why didn’t you release it as a SPC ECO album?
DG: Because it’s not a S E record, Monti and I wrote it for M A D, is the main and only reason, I can understand what you mean but it’s just not a S E record because of how it sounds for one followed by how it was conceived and recorded. There are blurred lines here and there but overall it has its own distinctive flavour that is M A D.
MM: Have you continued making SPC ECO music while making the S T F U and M A D albums?
DG: Always yes, Rose and I never stop recording for S E, we’ve always got something on the go, for example we have an ever changing EP on the boil to go with the up n coming S E Anomalies release in July. We don’t feel right unless we have something in the wings waiting to be released and the more current it is the better.
MM: S T F U and M A D have been compared to Massive Attack and UNKLE. Were they influences at all? If so, were you simply influenced by their overall sound or were there certain songs in particular that inspired you? I especially hear similarities between M A D and Massive Attack’s Mezzanine album, which is my favorite Massive Attack album, so I mean this as a compliment.
DG: There were never any influences/agendas in mind other than just letting it be what it wanted when we started the S T F U record so any comparisons are entirely coincidental, I think it’s a very personal thing when it comes to how others perceive the record and how it sounds to them re genres and influences, if you can hear Massive and Unkle that’s great if you think it fits in with any genre known or unknown that’s cool too, labeling is up to the listener, I’m open to whatever tags it sounds like to whoever, it’s not mine anymore it’s yours so go for it, I’m cool with all of it. To me it sounds like something I really dig and that is the only influence I’m interested in throughout the entire recording process.
MM: Listening to S T F U as I write these questions, I find myself imagining what remixes of some of the songs might sound like, which begs the question: are you having any of the songs remixed? If so, by who?
DG: Remixes are a world unto themselves and are interesting but I’ve an odd dichotomy with them in that I can take it or leave it, the track is as is because that’s the way we like it…the end. It’s like someone adding strokes to a painting because they think it looks better, which may well be the case for them but fuck you I like it the way it is. That said it would be cool to get Massive/Unkle/ProdLiam/Eno/Chems/Orb/Dr Dre/and whoever the fuck else is making all those bonkers cutting edge irreverent beats n shit nowadays to have a pass. Probs get some very cool stuff but going on what the very many people have done for other songs I’ve made in the past with various projects I always prefer the original.
MM: You’ve mentioned that the albums SPC ECO ‘All We Have Is Now’, S T F U ‘What We Want’ and M A D ‘Slow Mo’ are like a trilogy. In what ways are they connected, aside from the fact that you’re one of the creators of all three?
DG: They do have that feel but on further reflection since I mentioned that the real trilogy to me are the Dark Matter, All We Have Is Now, and Anomalies SE records, because they were all recorded over a period of a year with a very similar thought and sentiment / time flow – feeling – space and process about them, they’re joined because they are all linked into a Rose and I process, All three have songs that we’re recorded for the album of the time and have stray tracks that were later revisited and comped in for the next one and so on. Also we made all three more or less on our own, Monti is there with us as well albeit a lesser degree but mainly it’s very much about a year in time for Rose and I, we’ve allowed ourselves to go all out and embrace the downbeat, melancholic and melodic sadcore, ignoring the ‘we should cheer this up a bit’ thoughts that invade you, it’s relentless, miserable darkness is something we have embraced, it feels so warm and perfect it’s uncomfortable to come out of it. I think the S T F U and M A D records are the coming up for air elements that show the way forward and make us take on board new ideas and expression…or some shit.
MM: Is there an ongoing story or theme that runs through all three albums?
DG: Only the fuck everything else and do what you want theme. philosophy that sits with them all, as they have throughout everything I have done, they all take on their own separate personality due to the collaboration and chemistry of all involved that goes with them all. I’m only interested in working with those that have an open mind and are willing to bend and adapt in ways that all of us wouldn’t have achieved if it weren’t for the unpredictable outcome of each other’s input, I don’t enjoy deliberating over tiny bits of hiss and other things that creak n bump, in fact it’s those very things that I am interested in and those that are willing to take them onboard. Perfection is boring, explore the imperfection of something and you’ve immediately got my interest. That is the ongoing theme throughout all of the collabs in the past year.
MM: Were you concerned at all about competing with yourself by putting all three albums out at roughly the same time?
DG: No, it’s all part of the same thing, it’s all glued together and nothing is better than the last, it’s all as it should be and the fact that they exist altogether in the now is fine by me, it’s the doing and finishing that is important not the how they fare and when they drop on people. There they all are, and fuck me didn’t we do well is how I feel about it.
MM: Were you working on all three albums at the same time? If so, did it get confusing, going back and forth between the three?
DG: No each has it’s own time n space, partly to do with the attitude of everyone involved as in it’s all good however it happens, and partly because everything has allocated space and attention, you have to get the timing right but no one in all three records gives a shit about how, when, if, why or whenever it’s made, we just do it and it’s done when it’s done and released whenever we feel it’s ready. Thankfully it’s not like it once was, things have moved on, boundaries zapped, everything has opened up, anything is possible, no limits, you just have to connect with the people involved.
MM: I noticed that there’s a lot of SPC ECO music on Spotify but your latest, All We Have is Now isn’t on there yet. Will it ever be on there? Do you usually wait until things have been out for a while before putting them on there?
DG: TBH, it’s not thought out like that, certain things are up on Spotify because we thought is was a good idea at the time, I suppose we should have everything up there and everywhere but I dunno, I have an irrational loathing of all the main digital stores, so that’s why it’s all a bit this n that with all of them. Honestly WTF do I know about any of this shit, that’s why it’s probably best to leave this sort of thing to the more emotionally stable and detached from this sort of thing. It should all be up there tho, I know it but…meh, I like Bandcamp, I can up/down/as I please and we actually get paid by them more or less in the moment, it slots into the ‘all we have is now’ philosophy I’ve latched onto of late…
MM: What are your thoughts on Spotify and other streaming services in general?
DG: Irrational, unhinged, emotional, loathing…I dunno why I just get a bad vibe from them all. But I’m sure they’re all lovely really…aren’t they ? Exactly.
MM: What do you think of this comeback vinyl is making? Last year’s sales were 2 million and I just read that they’re estimating 3.5 million sales this year, which is as much as some years in the ’80’s.
DG: Vinyl will never go away because we love the tactile nature and sound of it, nothing quite like playing your cherished records on vinyl, they sound and feel different to everything else, fablets are good to, they all have their place but if you wanna chill n dig an album at home while out of your mind on your face drug of choice I always prefer the vinyl, I dig the way it spins round n round too, gathering its dust n crackles.
MM: Have you, or will you, release any of your music on vinyl?
DG: Recently yes by way of our label buddies SMR, SE’s Art Of Pop, Dark Matter and soon to be Anomalies are all on vinyl, there are plans to vinyl up All We Have Is Now and the M A D record via SMR too, not sure about S T F U atm, it’s on it’s own trajectory that one…
Since shortly after I interviewed you previously we started doing random questions at the end of all of our interviews. Here are yours:
MM: Do you, or have you, ever done any DJing?
DG: Only for the house parties at home, I dig it tho, I would like to delve in more but I dunno I can get a bit awkward n weird at unpredictable social gatherings and just want to get the fuck out of there and go home.
MM: What song is stuck in your head right now? Do you like it?
DG: Come Together by The Beatles, and yes I love it.
MM: Who’s the coolest musician you’ve ever met?
DG: Kevin Shields or Jim Reid, D’arcy Wretzky from the Pumkins is cool as fuck to.
MM: What’s the most awkward exchange you’ve ever had with another musician?
Let me think about that…
MM: Name three artists/groups people would be surprised to know that you like.
DG: Burt Bacharach. Biebs. S Club Seven ( Never Had a Dream song only )
MM: Who’s your all-time favorite music producer?
DG: George Martin or Alan Parsons for Dark Side Of The Moon. Tony Visconti is cool to tho..er, you choose, I’m good with either, no wait it’s got to be George init.
MM: Have you ever done any interviews on those crazy Japanese, or other foreign, talk shows? If so, tell us about it.
DG: Toni and I did get involved in an odd thing once in Japan but we just dipped in and quietly dipped out, it was in an underground shopping mall in the 90’s TBH I don’t know what was going on but we just slipped away after everyone realised we just looked too awkward and inappropriate. I like all the Japanese oddities anyway, the more Foreign the better in my book.
Extra special thanks to Dean for taking the time to answer all of my questions! Thanks also to Shauna Mclarnon of Shameless Promotion PR for making it happen!
Please note that you can stream full albums by the artists on Bandcamp.
S T F U:
M A D:
Official Site, which includes links to purchase on vinyl: http://spceco.com/