by Kara-Lis Coverdale
Looking back over my original interview transcription, Dan Shore (Toronto/London/Port Perry producer dBiscuits) and I killed nearly 40 minutes bantering back and forth about cross-dressing, the existence of Kalamazoo, and Master P after we finally sorted out Dan’s overt — and painfully hilarious — demonstration of g-chat illiteracy. It’s pretty fair to say that modern lap-top oriented producers are pretty technologically savvy and spend a lot of time in the digital realm, so I couldn’t contain myself when he kept writing stuff like “This is weirding me out hard — I don’t know if my mic is activated or what the hell is going on…” and “How do i get my webcam kicking, like can you see me on your webcam right now???” and “Can you hear me??” while we were being hosted by what is, like, the most simple chat room in existence these days.
Conversation is never boring when Dan is around. He’s full of questions, random facts, stories, unique and esoteric observations, and is also probably one of the plain jolliest people you will ever meet. Yet while you should maybe know this in and of itself — I mention his character here distinctly because I think Dan Shore, as a personality, shines through everything he does musically as dBiscuits. The two — Dan and dBiscuits — are actually inextricable entities, and I can’t help but find it fascinating how I actually hear Dan in the music he makes.
If you keep up with The Come Up Show, I’ve mentioned this transparency in a couple reviews I’ve written of his work, mainly for his first album Biscuits & Logistics Vol. 0: The Medulla Oblongata, a sample-based collage project that oozes humor and surfs juxtaposition in funky ways. Yet figuring character into his music is seemingly a natural affect of learning the craft and techniques of production first. Dan just wrapped up a two year masters degree at UWO, and The Medulla Oblongata is sort-of the equivalent of this program’s thesis. To compliment the record, he wrote a huge-ass paper about the dynamics processing techniques he used to acquire the sounds you hear.
Neat, huh? Read the interview below to read what this always-already student of music had to say about his background, creative process, and hip-hop academia.
TCUS: Who are you?
dBiscuits: Musically? Well, I guess I am a person who is obsessed with learning about every facet of music.
TCUS: What was the first type of music you were into?
dBiscuits: I guess I would say the radio in the car and then tapes and CDs, usually form my brother, which baited the hook for me to start my own collection and years later to take up an instrument.
TCUS: What were the Port Perry radio stations you used to tune into?
dBiscuits: Thankfully the radio receivers from Toronto were strong enough to reach Port Perry, but I was real young so it was stuff that my parents played, like CHFI, CHUM, some oldies, a lot of Bobby McFerrin, The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo”, haha.
TCUS: And you play guitar.
dBiscuits: Yeah, I guess technically my first instrument was the recorder in grade 4 or something, but definitely guitar was the first instrument I took seriously. Haha, sorry recorder enthusiasts. I want to hear someone rock one out and make it sound good because I have never experienced that before.
TCUS: Most legit recorder people use the alto, but this guy swanks his soprano out.
dBiscuits: Hahaha, my life is complete. The P.A.C. at the end makes the video. I keep waiting for a cobra to slowly rise up behind him.
TCUS: Exactly. So you learnt recorder and guitar then played in some jazzay bands in highschool, no?
dBiscuits: Yeah, I always had really great music teachers. I started in the grade 7-8 jazz band and convinced the director to let me play electric guitar by reading the piano book, then I continued into highschool with a few bands.
TCUS: What was a typical highschool day in Port Perry like?
dBiscuits: Thats a really boring answer – mostly going to class and messing around with buddies on lunch hour, getting into mischief out of boredom. But a lot of my lunch hours were taken up by music practices and stuff too. I got really into this one band at the highschool, a funk/soul/R&B band by the name of The Pea Pods Blues Review which kept me really interested in music, and I always thought I wanted to work in the industry in some capacity, so I started to look through every program offered in Canada, and came across Music Administrative Studies at UWO, which was the perfect fit. Then I worked like crazy to learn Music Theory and all these additional “formal” music requirements that the faculty expected from you in the few months leading up to my audition for the program.
TCUS: And mama, you made it …
dBiscuits: Haha, just barely, but I locked ‘er down. My sister called me when I was on a school music trip to Chicago (again music) to give me the news. But I was taking the prep course and private theory lessons up until just a week before school started. I basically did two years of theory in six months. Fun!
TCUS: In retrospect, were the “formal” requirements for acceptance into the faculty a useless pain in the ass and obstacle for yourself (and presumably for other pop musicians) that is more or less a hold-over from when the academy was full of only classical musicians? Or, do you think it helped you in the long run to develop as a musician?
dBiscuits: It helped me soooo much, just to visualize music and to be able to separate each individual part in your head and then to listen to them as a whole, too. I always found it interesting but it was just hard, like classical music and calculus mixed together. I love thinking about theory as a way to learn how to dissect music note by note.
TCUS: It’s interesting you use the word dissect, since you work by taking pre-existing musics apart then using those pieces to make new musics. How do you use theory to think about and construct the music you make now using that process?
dBiscuits: Well I guess it depends and changes from track to track. I do my best to become the “eyes/ears over the shoulder” and take a step back to ask which musical elements need to be added to a track to make it complete. Sometimes I might have a similar bass line in mind from another track so I’ll come up with a version of it by listening to the recording. That transcription process is where the theory aspect comes in, but I don’t have to tell you about that.
TCUS: Yes, tell me! Do you write it down, notationally, first?
dBiscuits: Along with ear training, keyboard harmony, sight-singing and all the G.I.M. requirements [a musician’s toolbox course called General Integrated Musicianship at UWO] suck when you’re learning them, but the skills you learn are practical. I don’t write down anything notationally, definitely not. But the theory kind of lays the foundation for all of that as I see it. It’s about learning the basics to be able to not only transcribe the music, but to be able to play along in the same key with the rest of the song. All that good stuff. Some people can do all this without formal training, but theory can help explain it mathematically. I guess that’s what it is, haha.
TCUS: I think you’re saying that theory puts a name and method to intuition, and sometimes shapes it.
dBiscuits: Ya, definitely.
dBiscuits: I guess I would just call it sample-based hip-hop. I started making sample-based music a year or two before for fun, so I had about an album’s worth of stuff already before I started the project. Then when the thesis aspect came into play, I met with Dr. Jay Hodgson [aka Wormwood Jagger and author of Understanding Records] who encouraged me to pursue the direction I was already taking and he came up with a way to attach principles of Recording Practice to the project to not only improve the sound of the overall project but to also attach some emerging subjects in academia that needed more research added. So we were off to the races after that and the beatmaking went into overdrive.
TCUS: Can you elaborate on “Principles of Recording Practice?”
dBiscuits: By “principles” I really mean production techniques. We focused on a group audio processing techniques that has been termed “Advanced Dynamics Processing”. We settled on this group of techniques because they have a rich history of usage in hip-hop recordings already, especially over at least the past 10 years.
TCUS: Can you name a few of the techniques we can hear at work in Biscuits & Logistics?
dBiscuits: You can hear a lot of use of “pumping” to thicken the kickdrum and/or snare, you can hear “side-chain pumping” to similarly “unmask” the kickdrum and/or snare. Also, there a lot of “ducked delay lines” first used by dub producers in the 60s-70s. That type of neat stuff.
TCUS: So a goal of your project was to work a bunch of dynamics processing techniques into your music.
dBiscuits: Yup, absolutely!
TCUS: You wrote an essay to go along with B&L, right?
dBiscuits: Yeah, the essay documents and explains all the “advanced dynamics processing” techniques present on B&L and also discusses their existence on hip -hop recordings before this project took place.
TCUS: What is next for dBiscuits?
dBiscuits: Well, I’m graduating so I have to find a job so I can start paying rent immediately. Then once that is settled, I suppose I’ll start making beats again to put towards Biscuits & Logistics Vol. 1.
TCUS: Any final words of wisdom?
dBiscuits: Use whats at your disposal, and listen to more and more styles of music!