Brook D’Leau is a lucky son-of-a-gun. The L.A based producer gets to make soundbeds that the sexy Jack Davey lays her cyber-kinky lyrics in. The result of their sonic copulating, The Beauty In Distortion/Land of the Lost is ear candy of the sweetest variety with surprises in every note. By weaving influences from Prince to Talking heads into their hip-hop flavored punk swagger D’Leau may be responsible for the most inventive sound in recent times. Nodfactor took a moment to tap at his cerebral cortex to get some finer points on the delicate practice of aural sex.
NODFACTOR: So how did you get started in music?
BROOK:: My father is a musician. Over time, he had just collected a lot of studio equipment. Probably around the time I was 15, he showed me how to use a couple things, namely the MPC 2000, just sound modules and stuff. I already had an interest in music. I had been taking lessons in junior high for piano. I took ‘em for maybe a couple years and just kinda got disinterested. I wanted to actually create as opposed to just try to replicate and all that technique and stuff. It was cool but at the same time I just had a lot of ideas that I wanted to create. So I started doing that when I was 15 and I had actually done that for maybe three years until I met Jack. I wasn’t making music for other people, I was just making it for my own enjoyment, I enjoyed doing it. It took me a year or two to even start playing it for other people, almost three years. It might be one of my closest friends that had heard anything within that time frame. Yeah, that’s pretty much how I got started doing it and like I said, met her and then the rest is history from there.
NODFACTOR: Do you still use the MPC or have you moved on to other equipment?
BROOK: To be honest with you, I haven’t been using an MPC recently…I’ve been using Ableton a lot. I still use a lot of outboard gear as far as [mixing] and all that kind of stuff. But for drums and programming and sequencing, I just only use Ableton, Ableton Live.
BROOK: Yeah, because at this point, it’s become…Like man, they’ve made software so easy to utilize, and I pretty much have a studio in a backpack. At one point I do want to have a lot more home studio stuff, but we’ve been gone a lot and not necessarily in the studio all the time, so it’s cool to always have the ability to be creative whenever you want to be. You know, I can bring my studio to New York, we’re here now, and bring it to Philly. I can travel with my ideas and if I have an idea while I’m out on the road, I can lay it down. As much as I do love the old school stuff, you know, I have a Jupiter Six [Roland brand synthesizer] and a Juno 106 [Roland synthesizer] and all that. The only thing I don’t swear by is soft synths. I’m not really a big fan of software synthesizers.
BROOK: The thing about soft synths is that sometimes there’s latency problems and…it’s just weird. It doesn’t…It’s not fun.
NODFACTOR: So you have the Ableton on a laptop you take with you? Do you use any external triggers like an MPD or an Ozone keyboard, stuff like that or is it just straight laptop?
BROOK: I have a MIDI trigger that has pads, it’s like a keyboard. I use that.
NODFACTOR: Which one?
BROOK: It’s called the Axiom…I think it’s a 49? The Axiom 49. Yeah, to be honest with you, this is the setup I’ve had for the last 4 months. It’s been kind of evolving and changing, you know. That’s recently what I’ve been doing, because it’s the quickest and easiest thing to set up. To put into Ableton Live. I also have Pro Tools on my laptop too. I have a little interface that’s maybe 8 or 9 inches long and about 6 inches deep.And I can record vocals and I got Phantom Power and blah blah blah. It’s not really about trying to have the biggest and most elaborate things. Just about getting the ideas out. I’ve been focusing a lot more on that than all the bells and whistles.
NODFACTOR: So where are these ideas coming from, because I listened to “Private Parts” and then I listened to “Might As Well” and the melodies are so lush, and they’re fun and nothing sounds the same.
BROOK: Everything. I don’t think there’s one particular source. It comes from…I always have ideas throughout the day. I don’t try to capture every single idea I have. But for the most part, they just come from inspiration from all kinds of things. Other music I’m listening to, just experiences, just me traveling throughout the day, I’ll just have ideas swirling through my head regardless of wherever I am. That’s always been the case since I was younger. Like I said, even when I was 15, and being taught piano and whatnot, it was always that the thing, like this is cool, I know how to play, I can go to recital and play this piece, but I don’t really want to do that. I want to make my own music ‘cause I have ideas. I have ideas all the time. It’s just something that’s been there for quite some time. Now, it’s just that I can utilize it. The inspiration all comes from different sources, never one in particular.
NODFACTOR: You’re trained in playing different instruments, do you sample at all in your work?
BROOK: I haven’t sampled a lot. I’m not really against sampling, I have friends that sample. When they sample, I’m always thoroughly impressed. Two of those people being, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the GB, he actually co-produced a song for us, “Cowboys and Indians”, and then Shafiq from Sa-Ra [Creative Partners] – those are two people who I revere very highly as people who are “samplists”, if you will. The thing about it is, my dad had records and what not, but I was more interested in the sounds that the keyboards were creating. And I already had ideas in my head that I could find a lot easier by just finding them on the keyboard as opposed to looking for a sample that fit the idea. Because it’s a totally different approach when you’re sampling. You use a different part of your brain, that’s the other thing. You can’t get caught up in what you’re trying to create in your head, you have to just listen to what you have and utilize those things, you know what I mean? And eventually I kinda get more into it, my dad dropped a whole bunch of albums over at our studio and I’ve kinda been fishing through them a little bit and getting inspired and picking up little stuff here and there. I’m sure eventually I’ll get more into it.
NODFACTOR: What’s the setup like at the actual physical studio, the big studio?
BROOK: Like I said, for now, it’s just an NRV pin, which is a larger MIO mixer. It has maybe about 10 channels on it, and about 5 channels I can use for Phantom Power stuff, recording vocals, anything like that. I just use my laptop, and I have an MPC and a Roland Juno G keyboard. I have a David Smith Prophet 08 and I guess I still have some of the older stuff too. Like the Jupiter 6 Roland keyboard, a Roland Juno 106, we have an SP 12, an Oberheim DX [vintage drum machine], a few sound modules. It’s not a ton of stuff but I mean, that’s pretty much it. It’s more the synthesizers and drum machines we have as opposed to major, major recording equipment or equipment right now. The spot we have right now is really a writing space, you know, and like I said, we’ve kinda been doing a ‘bare essentials’ thing as opposed to trying to have a big setup. We’ve been utilizing Warner Brothers and other situations we have set in place for our set, or given us access to larger studios.
For now, until I’m really really rolling in the dough, I’m not quick to spend a whole ton of money on stuff. Like, I could get this and set this up in my studio to record but I could just go to some of our friends’ studios in Philly, which is what we’re doing right now, where they have access to a lot more stuff. Actually, you know, it helps, because you have other people involved who know what [they’re doing]…Because I don’t claim to know every single thing I’m doing in there. I know how to get the writing part down, and sometimes when you’re trying to get a bigger idea across, having friends that can help your idea materialize, really kinda eases the process.
NODFACTOR: When you say friends, do you mean people like ?uestlove, people of that nature?
BROOK: Yeah, ?uestlove is one person. A big person who’s been helping us recently is a guy named Khari Mateen [of the band Nouveau Riche], who did a lot of production on the last two Roots records, so he’s based in Philly. I could say he’s probably been the bigger person to step in and help us put stuff together. We just recently did a session with Craig Wells, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Craig Wells at all, but he’s kinda a big behind-the- scenes guy. He’s the kinda guy you’ve probably…I didn’t know who he was until we met him. And he’s worked with just a ton of different people: Celine Dion, The Police, Timbaland, Mika, Katy Perry. And it’s a long, long list. I think this dude’s name is Jamie Cullum…These are people who have been selling like millions of records for a while. He just recently helped us out with some production and everything like that. These are some of the people who’ve been involved, mainly from the production side.
NODFACTOR: Just to backtrack a little bit, you mentioned you don’t want to spend a lot of money in getting all your gear together. I’ve had stories from readers saying that when times got tough, they had to trade in that MPC for rent money and ended up switching to software that way…How did you come across all of your equipment, was some of it given to you, was it ‘I worked 5 jobs to…?
BROOK: Man! Piece by piece, man. Initially a lot of the stuff came from my dad, and then I started accumulating stuff on my own, just over time. It’s really just one of those kind of things…You can’t just go into the store…You can, but you don’t really know what you need until you start using it and then you say, “Oh, I might need this,” or “I might actually need this.” It’s really one of those kind of situations where over the last few years, maybe 4 or 5 years, I’ve just accumulated my own stuff, and borrowed stuff, [laughs], stuff was returned and got something smaller.
That’s why I was saying earlier, you know, this is the setup now that I have and you’re asking me what I have in the studio. But you know, 3 months ago that wasn’t the case. A year ago that wasn’t the case. And it’s not necessarily me getting more stuff, it’s just stuff that’s changing due to, you know, us trying to become more efficient. And getting our ideas down.
I know people who have a million keyboards and a million plug-ins and a million…the best pre-amps, the best outboard gear, and the best control surface, and the best this and the best that. Having the massive amounts of equipment doesn’t necessarily make for the best music. You can do more with less. And it’s really about the idea, as opposed to, oh, I used a multi-sensor this and that, and I have this software and…It’s great to have every single piece of equipment you can possibly imagine to create your music, that’s fun. But I think real creativity comes from…you don’t necessarily need all that. You got a couple keyboards, a couple drum sounds, and you just make it work.And that’s really how you test your dexterity and show what you’re truly capable of creatively.
NODFACTOR: What did you learn from one project to the next? You went from The Land of The Lost to Beauty In Distortion, now you’re working on the official Warner release. What have you learned in the studio about your own style, what you need and don’t need, what you need to do and not do, that’s made your process more efficient?
BROOK: I’ve learned that doing stuff by myself, it’s cool, it’s always great to just zone out and get those ideas out of your head when you’re in there by yourself. But it’s always great to partner up with people you respect and revere, because it’s more so about the union, of people coming together and making great stuff. As opposed to it all coming from one mind because even the people who, it did all come from one mind, you want to talk about Stevie Wonder, the Prince-s, all that kind of stuff. They were making a lot of stuff happen on their own – I can’t remember what the guys’ names were who did a lot of Stevie Wonder’s sound programming and stuff like that. It wasn’t a thing where they were playing it and writing it, but something as simple as programming a sound, that was these two guys being in there. Even Prince, working with his band mates.It might be a thing where he comes with a majority of the ideas, but then it doesn’t make sense until he gets the drummer on, and then the drummer starts playing it a certain way that he wouldn’t have imagined doing it.
So I think that’s how I’ve learned to be a lot more open to people stepping in and helping with the process. Even though, initially, I wasn’t saying that… I never was the type of person that’s not involved with other people but it is a very careful and selective process in terms of knowing what people blend well and add to our dynamic
Mainly that, and just also knowing that you kinda don’t really know anything. And sometimes having the idea of “Oh, I know what’s a hit”…It’s really kinda like you’re throwing darts, so I’m a lot more open to any idea. Because it might be something where Jack will say, let’s try this and I’m like, Ah, I don’t know, it might not work. But then again, it might work. So we try anyway. And it ends up working. Just having the mindset in the studio of ‘I don’t really know everything.’ It’s the same thing that a guy like Craig Wells, he has that same attitude, he’s definitely got a lot more records under his belt. He still is in the studio with us, talking to us as if ‘Hey, you know. I know the things I know but I don’t know everything.’ I think that’s probably one of the most important attitudes to have. Just being willing to try anything. But that’s based on a trust thing, who you have in the studio.
For more J*Davey check out their interview at The Urbandaily.com.