Q&A: Memory Tapes’ Dayve Hawk On Grace/Confusion, Aggressive Fans, And The Perils Of Trusting Your Better Judgment
This week Dayve Hawk — aka Memory Tapes — will unleash his third proper full-length, Grace/Confusion, on the world. We’ve already offered up a stream of the record and a fairly contentious Deconstruction of “Memory Tapes And Life Beyond Chillwave” (if you wanna call that a life), so now we have an actual conversation with the man himself. I called Hawk up at home a couple of weeks ago to discuss the making of his new record. I’d heard that Hawk was a shy and generally reticent interview subject, but what followed was a really lovely conversation with someone who happens to take his work very seriously and who has, apparently, gotten a lot of shit for it. Regardless of what you think about chillwave as a thing — or how much you did or did not like Player Piano — I’d encourage you to give the new Memory Tapes a fresh listen regardless. Even though the record arrives just as we prepare to wish a fond adieu to 2012, it still easily grabs a spot as one of my favorite records of this year.
STEREOGUM: Did you tour a fair amount for the last record?
HAWK: For me I toured a fair amount, but that means I barely toured at all. I went to Europe for about a week and I did the East coast and I did the West coast, but I think all told I probably toured maybe a month and a half or two months total for the entire thing. For me that’s a lot, but for everybody else, it’s nothing.
STEREOGUM: How was that experience for you? Do you enjoy it? Was it weird?
HAWK: It was probably the best experience I’ve had, touring-wise. The best thing about it was it was the first time I took bands out with me for support, and particularly in Europe I took Air France, which turned out to be their last tour, but I really really like those guys and it was just a lot of fun to hang out with them. So that was a positive experience and I had more of a full band than I’d had previously, which was good because as much as I make electronic music, I come from more of a musician background, so I liked playing in a band. It was a weird tour at the same time, because I was touring on a record that I think confused a lot of people. But the shows were actually the one time where you had that confirmation that there were people who liked what I was doing, despite the way the press was going.
STEREOGUM: That’s interesting — were you surprised by the reaction to that record? Does stuff like that weigh heavily on you or do you just sort of go about your business?
HAWK: I wasn’t surprised. I expected it, to be honest. I had a running joke about how low my Pitchfork score was going to be. I knew that it wasn’t what people wanted me to do at all, and that was fine in a lot of ways. That was the point of it. But I think that some of the reactions were so aggressively negative, I was a little bit taken aback. I had a lot of not so-much critical reviews, but just stuff that kids would say. There were a lot of people accusing me of selling out, which kind of blew my mind because I don’t know how you define “selling out” for an artist like me that’s basically unknown. It’s kind of crazy to make that accusation. Maybe if I was selling millions of records and everyone knew who I was, but it’s pretty much the opposite of that. It seems like kind of an immature accusation, just because it’s more song-y than the first record. At this point I’ve gotten used to how reactionary people tend to be, especially on the Internet, so I sort of just take it in stride.
STEREOGUM: I don’t remember people reacting that vehemently about it, but then again…I tend to ignore that kind of stuff.
HAWK: I get a weirdly disproportionate amount of aggression for a relatively unknown artist. I get a lot of hate mail and aggressive fans at shows — it kind of blows my mind.
STEREOGUM: That’s so bizarre. Why? Why you?
HAWK: I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that I’ve always been the kind of kid who just got fucked with in high school and all that shit. There’s something about me that people just want to attack. I’ve played shows and people have made their way backstage like, “What the fuck, man, you didn’t play this song and why’d you play for so short,” just a lot of people who are angry that I didn’t do what they thought I was going to do.
STEREOGUM: I can imagine my teenage self being like that, but I was such a nerd that I can’t imagine myself being that aggressive with somebody or having the nerve to confront them about a set list.
HAWK: That’s the whole thing. For me, I may not like what somebody does, but the whole culture of the Internet and like writing somebody a letter saying, “you let me down,” that’s really lost on me. I can’t ever imagine feeling the need to do that.
STEREOGUM: Unfortunately as someone who writes a lot of things that are on the Internet, I routinely observe that the psychology of Internet commentary always skews towards the negative. Very few people have the impulse to be like, “That was great and I’m gonna say so!,” which is such a bummer about the Internet. I try never to look at those things, because if there are five things and one of them’s bad, I tend to remember the bad one. Having had that negative experience with the last record, does that affect the way you think about what you make next?
HAWK: It does. Not so much in the sense that I want to answer the criticism. It more just affects my general outlook on what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, things like that. When I made my first record, Seek Magic, that was the kind of perfect thing where no one knew anything about me and I was just doing what I wanted to do and I really had no expectations of anything as it came out. It was really positive but there was a lot of frustration for me, being grouped into whatever bullshit that was going on that year, and having all these things applied to me that weren’t really applicable — being considered to be a decade younger than I am, coming from a lot of influences that I’ve never even heard of. You kind of feel like you lose your identity just as you’re putting it out there, and part of making Player Piano was a desire to skew pretty far left of where I was, but kind of after taking that turn I felt like it was mildly immature, like I tried to hard to shake something off that I didn’t need to. Also it made me question a lot what people wanted from me or what people thought I was. I guess I got into a head-trippy place. I was just confused about what I was doing, why I was doing it. I also went through the whole thing of getting A&R’d to death, meeting everyone at every record label and having a lot of shitty meetings and getting a bad taste in my mouth about what I was doing. And I just decided going into this record that I felt so confused in so many different directions that the way I would say the method behind doing the Memory Tapes records for me — I feel like I definitely make records. It’s more about the type of record I make than what I say in the song. The idea was to make almost like a Prague record, like the kind of record that somebody would make if they were deep in cocaine hubris. Like they’d lost the judgment and they didn’t when to edit things or stop things. They didn’t know how much was too much. And I like the idea of trying to make a record like that, but rather than be an expression of “watch me noodle” it would be an expression of feeling lost or not having the best judgment at the moment. I felt like if I made that record it would be a way to shake off the state of mind I was in then. So that was a general starting point, and then the end result is the end result.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting, I have these conversations with people a lot about how a record comes together and sometimes there is this guiding principal in your mind about how you’re doing it, and sometimes that guiding principle reveals itself to you in the process. Did you feel like your feelings about it changed as you went deeper into making it?
HAWK: I think in the beginning, the starting point was feeling like…I always look at what I just did and think “okay, this is what I just did, what do I want to do now?” And I was looking at Player Piano, and I’m not ashamed of that record by any stretch of the imagination, but anything I do I’m going to question what should I have done or what could I have done. The one thing I felt with that record is that I had put too many limitations on myself — that I had defined myself too much by not letting myself use electronic drums, by not making any dance music, just trying too hard not to make it electronic. I felt like I was being petulant or something and I didn’t want to do that. That was the starting point was to shake off all those limitations. Whereas with Seek Magic, when I made a record with really no concern for what genre it was going to fit into, I felt liberated. At this point it just felt confusing to me. I felt like I didn’t know where to go, and that was when the idea manifested to just make a record as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, just let the record be sprawling. It’s not like I abandoned it. Once I got down to work, I let things roll along, but then I tried to rein them in and find some sense in all of the confusion, and that was the running theme of the record.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense. Some of the tracks on the new record are quite long, but there are still only six tracks. In your mind it may feel like this crazy thing, but it still feels like a very succinct statement….at least to me.
HAWK: The sprawling, off-base idea was the starting point. It’s almost like you just let it out and then you try to pull it together. That’s the whole point of the duality of the title of the record. I felt like I’d been defining myself as what I didn’t do, so this time I wanted to just do whatever and then try to pull it together into something coherent. So it’s about both. It’s not just a sprawling record, it’s a sprawling record tied up in a bow.
STEREOGUM: All of those feelings you had about the second record are kind of classic “second-record/sophomore album” kinds of problems. It’s funny how that happens. It’s such a…
STEREOGUM: Ha! Yes, I guess so. People often say, “I had my whole life to make my first record and then I had six months to make my second one.” No matter what kind of art you make, whether it’s books or whatever, following up a debut is tricky. It fucks with people’s heads. It’s hard to get around it.
HAWK: It wasn’t even just making the record, it was experiences I had just becoming someone that people were aware of. One of the running themes with what I do is I tend to always be coming from a place of shitty self-loathing and I’m always trying to question, “Why am I doing this? Am I doing this for the right reason or am I just fucking things up again?” and I’ll tend to do a lot of things against my better judgment because I don’t trust my better judgment. But you do that long enough and you tend to be like, “I should’ve trusted my better judgment.” I didn’t want to go to SXSW and I shouldn’t have gone to SXSW. That’s not my kind of thing. I didn’t want to go and I went because I didn’t want to go, and I went and agreed to do whatever fashion shoot for FADER or Dazed and Confused, and I hated that so much, and I don’t think either magazine used it because I was such a brat about it. And I should never have done that, because not wanting to do it is a good reason not to do it.
STEREOGUM: People always ask me who was the meanest person you interviewed or who was awful. It’s people’s favorite thing to ask me about what I do for a living. And to be honest I have rarely ever had someone just be mean for the sake of being mean. Usually it’s just difficult because people are uncomfortable or shy….unless I’m interviewing bands from the UK who are just total brats who think they are Keith Richards because they have one record and fashion people love them. It’s people like that who are assholes because they don’t want to be made to feel like they’re doing something they don’t want to do. And I’m like, if you don’t want to do the interview, don’t do it, but if you are going to agree to do it, then don’t be a dick.
HAWK: And that makes perfect sense. It’s kind of like my relationship to playing live. If someone asks me if I want to play live, the answer is no. But you start to feel guilty because there’s all these kids who like your record, and that’s positive, and they want to see you play, and if you don’t, people tend to think that it’s because you don’t appreciate that they’re buying your record and you don’t give a fuck. But that’s not the case with me at all. It’s very very hard for me to get on stage, but you can’t get that across because people don’t know you and they can’t understand that. I don’t regret playing live, but some of the things I’ve done to stop being so shy, stop being so hesitant about things, I regret because you know what I can be shy, that’s never going to change.
STEREOGUM: I’m assuming that the studio is your preferred lair.
HAWK: ([Laughs]) Yes, if that could be all I did…
STEREOGUM: Do you have a regular way of working?
HAWK: At this point I guess I do. Typically I think I make my records in a much more old-fashioned way than people assume. I’m not a kid who got a computer and got into music. I grew up playing. I was a drummer and then I started guitar. I grew up in a pretty rural town. I didn’t know any other musicians, so I couldn’t be in bands. When I got older and met kids from Philly, they had all grown up being in punk bands, but I didn’t have that experience so what I ended up doing was just learning to record, learning a bunch of different instruments. For me I still just write songs on the guitar or piano and I just sit down and record them. I just get deeper and deeper into the studio aspect of it, and the songs get more complicated and pulled in different directions, but the starting point is usually pretty generic just sitting there writing a song on a guitar.
STEREOGUM: That’s interesting. People might assume from the vibe on the record that that wasn’t the case.
HAWK: Yeah, most people I meet assume I’m a guy who starts out with samples, and when I tell people it’s all me, they’re always confused by that. Which I understand because the records don’t sound like rock records. But they’re not made in that way. I’m actually really shitty with computers. I’m not real good at sequencing. I don’t have any of that kind of shit.
STEREOGUM: How long was the process of making this record? When did you start?
HAWK: It was probably about a year, but I didn’t work on it constantly. I had sort of a crazy year because I had a baby. That ate into my life a lot, and we had a lot of drama. I was sick in the beginning of the year and my drummer got arrested, there was all kinds of shit going on. I worked on it for a year, but I didn’t work on it for a year. I’m not sure how many man hours actually went into it, but I feel like I work for a pretty long time on things, but if I’m honest with myself, most of it is wasted time obsessing neurotically over things that no one notices ever.
STEREOGUM: Do you also mix and master everything?
HAWK: Yeah, I do everything, which I’m starting to realize isn’t normally the case. I’ve met a lot of home-recordist type bands on tour, and they’re like “so and so mixed my record” and I’m like “oh shit, you can do that? I’ve been doing the whole fucking thing.” That’s why everything sounds like garbage most of the time.
STEREOGUM: There’s a case to be made for both things. I think it’s refreshing to let someone come in and see how they would mix a record. But I kind of love the idea, maybe just because I’m a control freak, of doing everything myself.
HAWK: I am a control freak. As soon as I have to do something with other people I’m like, “this can’t be like that,” and that’s probably never going to change.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned when the first record came out, people had all these assumptions about you that were incorrect. A lot of people probably don’t realize that you have this whole history of playing in other bands before you did this. There’s something to be said for being anonymous, but it’s also nice to disabuse people of those notions too.
HAWK: Both things obviously have their appeal. When people first became aware of Memory Tapes, people made a big huff about me being an enigma or whatever, and I went out of my way to disavow that. But that wasn’t so much because I wanted people to know who I was. What I really wanted was anonymity — but I don’t think you can have it. I think that with the Internet, people will find out who you are. You will see pictures of yourself, you will see your history up there whether you want it or not. So I’d rather clarify “this is who I am, this is what I do” because you’re not going to let me just be “you have no fucking idea.” But even if you make that effort, by and large, people don’t know. I still feel like whatever I do gets perceived through the chill-wave whatever. People are like “I don’t care what you say, you’re obsessed with Ariel Pink.” To a certain degree, going out of your way to try to inform people doesn’t get you that far really, because people have to want to know.
STEREOGUM: What will the next year be like for you? Will you play shows for this next record?
HAWK: Yeah, I think I’m going to play some shows in January and more into the year. I’m already working on the next record, so I’m hoping that will come out fairly quickly. I really don’t like the whole protracted promotional thing of putting out an album. I rushed them to put this album out as fast as I could and everybody’s annoyed with me because it’s coming out in December, which apparently is the worst time to put out a record, just because I didn’t want to wait till next year. So hopefully just do some shows and have another record out by the spring.
STEREOGUM: Have you started to figure out visuals for this record? Will you be making videos?
HAWK: I believe there’s a video getting made for the first single. It’s been really difficult because the songs are so long, so I’ve had to go back and edit, which is frustrating for me. It’s hard for me with the video thing, because with the second record, a video this kid Eric made for me for “Yes I Know” was kid of like this perfect situation of just being a fan who made a video, and it turned out really good and did really well. It’s been hard for me to go back to the thing of “lets hire more people to make other video.” I kind of feel like “well that was as good as it could possibly go, let’s not make videos,” but people like videos. So there will be videos, but I’m not super involved. I’m not a visual kind of person. I’m almost exclusively interested in music.
STEREOGUM: Do you still get requests from people to do production work or remix work?
HAWK: Yeah. I do a lot of remixes. I actually stopped for a little while because it was just getting to be all that I ever did, and I don’t invest as much into it as making my own records, but it still takes time. Some kids gave me shit about Player Piano, like “this took you two years?” and I’m like “I did like forty remixes in the past two years.” That’s a lot of music. I’ve talked to different people about production things like that. It’s always something harder for me to pull together because I’m not super great at realizing other people’s visions. It’s something I’d do more of if I had the opportunity, but it’d have to be the right person. Or I’d have to be pretty open-minded. I’m not sure I could just go in and make a club hit for somebody.
Grace/Confusion is out now via Carpark.