Transcription: 0348 - Taylor Deupree

Released: January 31, 2021

Darwin: Okay. Today, I have the great opportunity to speak to somebody I've known for a long time, we used to bump into each other in mailing lists back in the day. But whose work I've been a follower of for a long time, really respect so many of the different things that he does. And so I'm really excited to be able to present Taylor Deupree. Hey man, how's it going?

Taylor Deupree: Thanks, Darwin. Thank you.

Darwin: Yeah. Why don't we start off by having you talk a little bit about what you've been up to lately?

Taylor: As in the past year?

Darwin: Yeah.

Taylor: For about 10 years now, maybe a touch less, I've really been concentrating on my job as a mastering engineer. Not more so than music or the label or anything, but since I stopped being a freelance graphic designer, I was working at a small design company in New York city for a while, and got into mastering about 10 years ago. And it's really, really taken off. It's absolutely a full-time job now and I love it. So it's my bread and butter and it takes a lot of time, and it does take time away from my own music writing, but I'm not one to release five albums a year or something, so it's not that big of a deal. I still find the time, I just have to work a little harder to find the time to do my own stuff.

And certainly spending all day in the studio working on other people's music, by the time the evening rolls around, I want to get out of here. So I do need to work hard at carving out the time for myself. But I've been, I think plenty prolific on the releasing front over the last couple of years. I guess it's been a couple of years since a solo album has come out. I had the Somi album on 12K, which I don't remember the years of these things, that might've been 2019 or 2018. I release a solo album every couple of years, is about my thing. And I actually have one coming out shortly on the Belgian label called Dau. And I'm really excited about that, it's my first solo vinyl release. They do a lot of cassettes on the label. I really love the output of the label and sent them a couple of tracks earlier last year. And that's coming out, I think now it's a little bit at the mercy of the vinyl production gods. It was slated for February or so, but now I think it's going to be more March, April.

And I have an album and a half of other materials ready for 12K, but been going back and forth on it a bit. Not quite ready yet.

Darwin: When did you release the Canoe album? That was last year, wasn't it?

Taylor: Yeah, that was pretty recently. I forgot what the release, I think that was...

Darwin: It's October, right? It says October 13th, 2020. So that's pretty recent actually.

Taylor: Yeah, that's pretty recent. I don't really call that an album, but I guess it is. It's a 20 minute piece. A single song, 20 minute piece. And when I complete something and turn in the final work, then I lose track of when the actual release date is. Then it's up to the label or whatever. But yeah, that was something that I'd worked on throughout most of the year and a couple of pieces for that series: Long Form Editions, which is an Australian imprint. Had a couple of pieces going and finally settled on that.

Darwin: It was really cool. I actually really was grooving on that. I actually used the Bandcamp app on my phone. So it was just a constant companion ear over the last few days. I really, really did appreciate that. Now, you talk about the mastering in that being a full time, it takes over your life. I do notice your name on as mastering engineer on an awful lot of work that comes out. When did you first start doing mastering?

Taylor: I actually can't necessarily call it full mastering, but back in the nineties, when I worked for Instinct Records as their art director, I was also recording on the label. And it's a small company, they knew that I obviously was doing music and had studio stuff and they'd release a lot of compilations. And someone needed to compile those compilations. And I said, "I'll do it." And they'd pay me a little on the side, apart from my design gig. And it was basically just compiling stuff from a bunch of other CDs, but then leveling it.

Taylor: And that was the main thing is getting just consistent levels, and occasionally I do an EQ tweak, if something was overly bright next to something else or whatever, but very rudimentary stuff. But important, consistent leveling is an important part of the mastering process.

Darwin: Especially for a compilation, because that could be all over the place.

Taylor: Especially for a compilation. Yeah. And so that was my first taste of it. And that was probably '94, '95.

And after I left Instinct and moved up here out of the city, I'd been increasingly interested in... I'm always interested in gear and equipment, as I get older and my career goes onward, I can get interested in higher-end equipment. And it dawned on me at one point that so much of the music that we make in our extended circle of experimental, ambient music, whatever you want to call it, is produced in the bedroom. And back when I started, it was a lot of laptops and maybe not the greatest recording environments. And I said, "Hey, maybe I can do something about this. Maybe there's something I can do." Because the sounds are so important to our genre of music. The sounds are everything, there's usually no lyrics or hooks or things like that. It's all about the sounds and the textures.

So my thinking was that, let me see what I can do for the artists on 12K or friends to try to elevate these mixes that were done in less than ideal situations on less than ideal equipment, and maybe just give them a little polish and get them running through some nice outboard equipment and stuff. And that's what led to it, just wanting to work on, especially my label stuff, but friend's stuff, and just see if I can get it to the next level, whatever that means. And it just snowballed from there into doing it for more and more people and eventually hiring an acoustic designer to design a studio.

Darwin: It was all downhill from there, right?

Taylor: Yeah, all downhill from there. But I always thought I would be good at it because it's a combination of art and technology, and both things that I really enjoy. It is a very technical job and I love the technical aspect of it and the gear and the how's and the why's. And I think people trusted me with so many years and a couple of decades of experience in music and especially this genre.

Taylor: That helped, because I don't care who sends me a song, if it's an established artist or someone on their first release, I treat every mastering job equally. My name's on these things. No one gets a special treatment that someone else doesn't get. So yeah, I love doing it, and over the last two or three years, it's become just really nonstop.

Darwin: Interesting. There's a couple of things there I want to come back to, but before we go further, one of the stock things I do in my podcasts is I talk to people about how they got to be the artists, makers, creators, developers, whoever I'm talking to, how they got to be what they are. And you actually have a very curious thing, you've dropped some nuggets here. An art background, but also wound up being an artist. And I have actually a number of questions about some of the collaborations that you worked on, because you especially were known for doing some pretty amazing collaborations. You have the label, all of this stuff, where are you coming from that this was a natural direction for you to go? What was your upbringing like? How did you first get into music? Stuff like that.

Taylor: Your first question there, where's this all coming from? I think it's pretty much coming from my parents who were both very independent, really a whole family of independent thinkers and self-motivated, self-employed. I never once saw my dad put on a suit and go to work, he always worked for himself. He had a landscaping business, he was an antique dealer, he made his own professional life. And a very good one, he was very successful. So for me, growing up as a kid - looking back on it now, maybe it just seemed like what you do. My parents weren't putting on a suit and going out at nine in the morning, getting home at five.

They were running around like crazy managing their own thing and with no set schedule. And that's the way my life is. And we have a lot of artists in our family, art lovers, music lovers. It's generally a pretty somewhat non-traditional family, I don't know if there's traditional family, but art was always encouraged in our family. And my dad got me into photography at a young age because he always had cameras around house and he was a photography lover. My cousins when I was 13 or 14, got me into new wave music, and that was the end, the beginning, that was it. I grew up listening to the Beatles and Kiss when I was much younger, but as soon as I heard synth pop, when I was 15, I said, "That's what I want to do. I want to do that." I was playing drums in the school band and I had a drum kit. I sold my drum kit and my comic book collection and brought my first synth.

Darwin: That's the true definition of growing up right there.

Taylor: Yeah. You got to sell your comic collection for something.

Darwin: That's right.

Taylor: Now I'm regretting it because I remember some of the issues that were in there and looking at the prices of them now... But I was really taken by these one or two man bands. Howard Jones. And the early first stuff I listened to was fairly lightweight, Howard Jones and Duran Duran. And that quickly moved into more esoteric things and industrial and things like that. But seeing these one or two man bands, and I had my best friend in high school had just gotten a synthesizer too. And we got together on day one and it's 1985 and started writing music and recording it on a boombox and I never stopped. I still have all those tapes, I have all the cassettes from 1985 labeled with the day we wrote the song. We'd write 15 songs on a weekend, we had two synths and the drum machine or whatever and we'd...

Darwin: You never found yourself having to recycle those cassettes? That was my problem is that I was just like, "Oh geez, I ran out of cassettes, I'm just going to overwrite this one." And I ended up losing some good stuff that way.

Taylor: I'm sure. Yeah, I'm sure we lost some good stuff. But really, that was it. When I was 15, that's what I wanted to do. I said, "I'm going to be a musician," and my parents were totally supportive. Their only stipulation was that I have to go to college. I have to get college experience, college education, something to fall back on. And that was totally fine, totally fine with that, I was looking forward to college. But I only wanted to go to one place and that was New York City. And I did not want to study music at all, I didn't want anyone to teach me how to write music.

Darwin: I was going to ask, why wouldn't you have wanted to pursue music?

Taylor: In hindsight, I wish I did maybe. Music to me was so personal. And so I looked at Berkeley college of music and some of the music colleges were performance-based, Berkeley's very much performance-based.

But I didn't want to go through four years of doing piano recitals or maybe I just didn't think that you could get a degree in weird music. Maybe now you can. And it was just so personal, it was like, "I don't want anyone to teach me how to do this." This is my passion, this is something I want to figure out myself. So I went to school for photography at NYU, and I loved photography and I still do, so that's my college degree, but every waking moment during college, I was in my dorm or apartment writing music. Since that day in 1985, just reading keyboard magazine. And the learning hasn't stopped. Completely self-taught on everything, just devouring magazines, and then websites and music forums.

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Darwin: What was your first release? Was it under Prototype's stuff?

Taylor: Yeah, my very first release was a single track. If you remember the label Rhino Records. I forgot what their thing was, but I don't know if they were a major or part of a major, but maybe they did a lot of...

Darwin: I think they did a ton of re-issues and stuff.

Taylor: Yeah, re-issues. But I have the CD downstairs and it's some techno thing or something, and I know how they found me. But anyway, it was a track on this Rhino records compilation. But that was right around the same time I'd started working with and recording for Instinct. And so the Prototype 909, in September of '93, was probably the first.

Darwin: Okay. One of the things that you're known for is doing collaborations. And when anybody looks up your name and your work, what they also see is they see an amazing list of collaborators that you've worked with, and it sounds like even going all the way back to high school, collaboration was a thing that was useful to you or was the way you preferred working. Is that still the case or has that always been the case? And what is it about con collaboration that is motivating to you?

Taylor: There's a few things. Yeah, I love collaborating and I can't say whether I like it more or less than solo work, I find them very, very different. Solo work for me is really looking inward, and collaborations for me are about documenting a time and place when it happened and who I was with. I love collaborating because I love being with my friends and I learn so much from it. You get someone into the studio and they can go to a piece of your equipment that you've had for 10 years and do something completely different with it.

Or you have a sound on a keyboard that you made and they start playing with it, and you're like, "I didn't design it to be played that way." But it's that whole fresh perspective in watching what someone else does. And it's such a learning experience, I think, for the people involved. And also on a slightly less serious, but still serious note, I'm extremely insecure when it comes to my music. I can't listen to it as soon as it's done. When I submit an album to be manufactured, the last listen to the master or whatever is the last time I listen to it for a minimum of two or three years, if not five or more.

Even when it comes out, when it comes back... In the house right now, I have test pressings for this LP coming out and I so don't want to listen to them. But I have to because the label's waiting for me to approve them. But when I listen to my music, I usually just end up hating it. And it's upsetting, because I put all this time into it and I can't even listen to it. I don't really question why I put all this time into it, what am I writing for nothing? No, but I'm just really insecure. I'll listen to it and I'll just hear the problems.

And this just came up on Twitter because someone posted something about a remix I did for the band ISAN, 10 years ago that I'd completely forgotten about. And I was like, "Oh yeah, I remember doing that remix." So I checked out the link and I listened to it and I had no recollection of writing it. I remember when they asked me to do it, but I don't remember what equipment I... Listening to it, I was like, "I don't remember how I did it." And it's only at that point can I begin to enjoy it.

Darwin: Interesting.

Taylor: Because when I listened to my music, all I hear is the process.

Darwin: What is your working process? Do you do stuff really live-oriented or do you labor over DAW. And if you do, how does that not ever happen while you're in the middle of a DAW session?

Taylor: Oh, it happens all the time. I had an album for going on two years now that's been finished to release. This was going on in the middle of last year quite a bit, I listened to it and I'd say, "Oh, it's not bad. It's not bad. I think it's ready." And then I'd get busy or something, and a couple weeks later I'd put it on again to get it ready and I'd be like, "This is absolute crap. I can't release it." And then, so I'd get upset, put it away again, and if I harp on it too long, I really start to dislike the material.

Darwin: So when you're in the heat of battle, you're not thinking about it, so you can persevere. But...

Taylor: And I love the process. I won't finish a song or continuous song if I'm not really enjoying it. And I don't know what it is, I can sit back and listen to an almost finished song, I'm like, "Oh, it's really nice. It's really nice." And then if I listen to it again a couple months later, I may hate it. Like, "What was I thinking?" And I'm not sure who to believe. Do I believe the guy who was making it or do I believe the guy who's listening to it right now? And should I even worry? Do we care about why am I worried? Am I worried because I think that no one else is going to like it? And should I care if people don't like it or not? Am I writing for me, or am I writing for you? And those kinds of things go through my head all the time. But so this was a long-winded answer, a long-winded lead-in to another reason I love collaborating: because there's someone else in the room I can blame. So if I don't like it.

Darwin: It's not just your fault.

Taylor: It's not just my fault. But in a more serious way, there's someone else there and they're liking it. So it's a little bit of reassurance that, "Okay, this is..."

Darwin: Validation.

Taylor: When you're just by yourself... Yeah. It's validation. You have no one else but yourself in whatever mood you're in that day to bounce it off of. And when there's someone else, they'll tell you if they don't like it, I'll say if I don't like it and when we're both liking it, it's validated that it's something good. And the last part is just capturing the moment. I prefer collaborating in person whenever possible. It's so easy to collaborate remotely in the last 10 years or whatever, but I much prefer having a friend fly out or something and just three or four days and hike in the woods and this and that.

Darwin: The remote collaboration isn't very satisfying some way, right?

Taylor: Yeah. And I've done plenty, and I did this last year, now the album I did with Federico Durand, under the name This Valley of Old Mountains. He's down in Argentina and I'm up here and we tried the last couple of years to get us together, but it always just fell through, and then of course in 2020 it completely fell through. So we had no real choice and that's fine. If we can't get together, then it's amazing that we are still able to collaborate, but it's much more fun in person. The album I did with my friend, Corey Fuller, who lives in Tokyo under the name Ohio was the band name, that took us four years to do because we would not do it remotely. He would come to New York and often I'd go to Tokyo enough that we have time to do it, but it did take a long time, and was better for it, I think.

Darwin: Sure, sure. Now my listeners, each one of them is going to have a collaboration that they will wish I would talk to you about. And there's no end of options, but there's one that's actually really particularly interesting to me, and that's the collaboration that goes under the name Arc. It's funny because sometimes I see it described as dark techno, but to me it just sounds like an interesting version of Berlin school electronic music. But whatever it is, and maybe it's supposed to defy genre boundaries, that's fine. I just find it really incredible, I was actually really surprised though, to hear that you were involved in it. I was a fan long before I knew it was your work. I'm curious, that's a collaboration with... I can't remember the name right now.

Taylor: With my friend Savvas.

Darwin: Yeah. And how did that get started? How did you decide on doing that kind of music? Was it just something that happened automatically, or did you specifically say, "I want to do this stuff, I want to find a collaborator that is interested in this kind of thing"? And how much was the music that you made an intention to make that music?

Taylor: It was pretty intentional. That album came out back in '96, I think, something, and the title of the album is 12K. And that was where I got the name for the label. And Savvas was a fellow recording artist on Instinct, under the name Omichron. And he and I had done enormous number of collaborations in the Instinct days. We had a weird lounge thing called Futique. And then Arc, this was slightly pre-ambient days for us. Still deep in, but on the way out of my techno days.

And Savvas and I, we'd known each other, see each other all the time, he lived in New York, we'd just write music all the time. That album was heavily influenced by Detroit techno, whether it comes across or not. I don't know, it's been a while since I've listened to it. But we were both really listening to a lot of Detroit stuff, and you mentioned the Berlin school, I think Savvas was familiar with a lot of that stuff. If you're talking about the classic Berlin schools stuff.

Darwin: Yeah. Tangerine Dream-y kind of things.

Taylor: Yeah. I'm not so familiar with that. I obviously know the bands, but never really listened to them. But I'm pretty sure Savvas did, but I can't speak exactly on that or how much that influenced it. But we actually started a record label he and I called Index Records, and we released one EP and then it stopped. And it was a really cool EP, but it had an Arc song on it, which was the first one. And then we went on to do the full length album, which I think came out on KK Records in Belgium. We wrote that in Brooklyn. I've always liked it, there's a couple songs on there that I've always really been proud of, but that was where that one came from.

Darwin: Sure. Interesting. Now, one of the things that I would say is a hallmark of your work or your body of work, your catalog, is that it's really, really varied. Your solo stuff alone takes a whole range from glitch experimental all the way to warm and oozing ambient. But your collaborations, you've done very melodic things, you've done serious techno things, you've done almost neoclassical things, I think. Again, it's hard to...

Taylor: Almost pop things as well.

Darwin: Almost pop things, right. That normally is a death knell for an artist's work. Normally the system wants to make sure that you pick a track and you stay on your track and you don't get off the track. You have spurned that as an idea. Why, first of all, are you just working on a single thing? Do you love the variety of doing lots of different things? And how do you think that it affected your career?

Taylor: I think my solo material probably sees a pretty gradual arc from the techno days to where it is now. If you line up the solo releases, you'll see a movement that probably isn't too jarring in any place, you could probably connect the dots pretty easily. And I think in that regard, we all change, our interests change and our tastes develop and ebb and flow. And I just want to write what I'm feeling at that point or what feels natural for me to write. In the early nineties, it was techno. And you get influenced by different things and the whole glitch thing and the super incredibly synthetic microsound music. And then I move out of the city into the woods and my music starts getting more acoustic. And I think there're dots to connect on that, and I think I've been doing this coming on 30 years, and I think if my record 30 years ago sounded like my record today, I think that would be a problem.

That being said, sometimes I'm jealous of artists who can do one thing and stick to it. I don't know if jealous is the right word, but people get known for a sound. The most obvious is some somebody like Autechre or Boards of Canada. Their band names that become adjectives practically.

For better or for worse, they're adjectives, they're genres in themselves.

Darwin: They're descriptors, yeah.

Taylor: And there's something to be said about that, and there's a strength in that, but I think when you've been doing it as long as I have, you have to keep moving and evolving. For a lot of reasons, my interest in technology and different equipment and instruments. Every album is a different process and that's what spawns the albums is I'm reinventing the process every time.

Darwin: I was going to ask, how often is it that a new process spurs you into working on a new release?

Taylor: Yeah, every day. All the time. I have a lot of equipment and I justify it. People talk about the benefits of having a lot of equipment or having very little equipment. I do envy those that can do so much with so little. Not to say I couldn't, but I'm so fascinated by the technology, I'm so fascinated by how a particular piece of equipment operates and makes it sound and how it can do what I want it to do, especially if it's not made for what I want it to do. So I can't be the guy with a super minimal setup, I've given up trying to do that. I dream about it, let me sell everything and have one console and one this. It's just not going to work. I know myself too well, it's just not going to work. But it does lead to variation because every album focuses on a different, small set of equipment, and that's going to lead to variation in the sound as well. And then collaborations of course are made to intentionally explore something different than what I'm doing usually. So when you talk about the varied sound of my output collaborations, that's why I want to collaborate with somebody because they're going to bring something different than what I usually do.

Darwin: Something different to the game, of course. Now let's talk a little bit about the label, 12K. You mentioned that you started a label Index and you put out one EP and then pulled the plug on that. At some point you decided that you wanted to get back into the label game again and you kicked off 12K, what was the impetus behind that?

Taylor: That was an album that I had ready called the Secret Number 12, this was probably around '96, for Silent Records in California. It was an ambient label doing some pretty, pretty cool stuff. West coast ambient label. And I had the contract with them and this was after Instinct. For some reason, I don't remember now, but the album didn't happen. We had signed contracts and everything, and the album didn't happen. So I got a little upset about that and I said, "Well, I'm just going to do it myself." I actually had a label in the late eighties and very early nineties of industrial music, cassettes in New York city. Now by label, I mean the kid in his college dorm duplicating cassettes and-

Darwin: Right. Sending them off, yeah.

Taylor: Xeroxing flyers and stuff like that. But it was something I was doing when I was a late teenager. And then having worked at Instinct records for a number of years as the art director and a one room office, one big warehouse-y room where I could hear everyone talking, and after sitting there for three or four years listening to that, you know how to run a label.

And I had a musical following at that point, so I just decided to do it myself. And I knew it wasn't going to be very big, and it was never my intention to have it be big and have employees and stuff like that. It was always just something I wanted to do by myself. So I released that album as the first 12K release and took a couple years of just releasing me and some friends and stuff like that until it worked into branching out to other artists around the world. But yeah, and doing it ever since, keeping it small.

Darwin: Was it ever big enough that you had employees?

Taylor: No.

Darwin: It seemed to have a big footprint, at least a psychic footprint.

Taylor: Yeah. That's the one thing I'm proud of is that I think the reach or the impact of the label has been far greater than the sales or the numbers or anything has ever been. And to me that's more important. I want to release great music and I want people to enjoy it, and that's the most important thing to me. It's a little tricky when you're dealing with other artist's music, because you do have to hope that you can earn them some money and stuff like that, so it's not all just reach and no sales. But all the artists on board that I work with are onboard with the concept, and it's small and I never want it to be big, just keep quiet.

Darwin: Yeah. Well, when you started the label though, that was a time when pressing CDs and shipping CDs to stores was a thing. The label world now is a completely different thing. What is the relevance of a label like 12K today?

Taylor: I think it's a curatorial role. I think more so now than even maybe five years ago, because of places like band camp, that curatorial aspect becomes... 12K we'll get a certain number of visitors or listeners or followers and have a certain mailing list size that some artists on their own may not have. And to get into that ecosystem, I think helps.

And it's not hard - anybody can be on band camp and anybody can get their music on Spotify and iTunes. But labels become trusted and I've always wanted 12K to be that way where it's just a trusted source for music that you like. If you like one thing on the label, you're probably going to like this other thing as well. So really, it's become a family for me too. The artists, we're all dear friends and kindred spirits, and if I had my way, we'd all be living on some modernist commune somewhere making music together all day long, because it really is a family for me, all these people.

Darwin: Yeah. That's a cool vibe. Unfortunately, our time is just about up, but before I let you go, there's actually something you've mentioned it a couple of times now, and I want to just talk to it specifically, you've talked a number of times about having moved "up here", which you imply that it's in the sticks somewhere. Where roughly are you and what caused you to move out of New York? New York was the place you wanted to be until apparently it wasn't.

Taylor: Until you have children. Yeah, I love New York. I've always been an East coast person, New York City, I felt that's where I needed to be to start the career that I wanted. And I was probably right there, because I ran into the head of Instinct Records at a record store and happened to have a demo in my pocket. And that's just not going to happen everywhere.

Darwin: In Poughkeepsie. Right.

Taylor: Yeah. But after 17 years in New York city, my wife and I had a two year old at the time and starting to think ahead to schools and this and that, and didn't really want to go through the New York city school mess. And at that point, I was just itching to get some space. And I grew up in a semi-rural, semi-suburban town. Nature's always a big part of my life, I just wanted to get back. My wife was getting frustrated at apartment living, we had a noisy neighbor downstairs, all that stuff. But we didn't want to be far from New York city, so we're an hour or so north, in Westchester County. And we live in a very small town of 4 or 5,000 people and a lot of trees and deer and coyotes. Took a little getting used to, but really love it. And I was always wondering how it would change my music and I think it did. I always said to myself then when I lived in Brooklyn, I was making quiet music as an escape from the noise of the city. And if I moved into the quiet, would I start making noisy music to escape the quiet of the woods? But it wasn't the case, it just went deeper.

But yeah, I couldn't live in a city again, I don't think. Having a studio separate from the house and all the things that you just can't do in the city.

Darwin: Right. Well Taylor, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to have the discussion, it was really fabulous to get a chance to talk with you and learn more about your background and stuff. I appreciate it.

Taylor: Yeah. Thank you. It was really fun for me.