We back…Dirty Art Club in the house, y’all.
In 2011, Charlotte, North Carolina’s Dirty Art Club started out as a one off, a way to help a friend, who had recently published a book. Heavy Starch was the name of that book, and it was also the name of Dirty Art Club’s first album, a beat tape to celebrate their friend’s publication. Since that time, Dirty Art Club has evolved from a duo, to the solo project of the aural chemist who now creates sound tapestries under that name.
Since 2011, Dirty Art Club has released five full length albums, including the latest, Gardens. The music is intricately detailed, a pastiche of many sounds and styles, stripped, cut and looped, then molded together to create a unique and beautiful sound. Dirty Art Club’s songs can be atmospheric, or fanciful, and full of humor, with stacked vocal loops and swelling keyboards, sudden changes in tone, style or melodic configuration, and a lightness that belies the intensity required to compose the individual album tracks which form a Dirty Art Club record.
Gardens, released at the beginning of the summer, is a gorgeous LP, sun washed, with gentle loops, pulsating keyboards and ambient vocals. Put on your headphones, twist in those ear buds, sit back and let the sounds of Dirty Art Club melt your brain.
This interview has been lightly edited for publication. Photo of Dirty Art Club courtesy of Dirty Art Club.
Backseat Mafia: What inspired you to create music? What inspires you every day?
Dirty Art Club: Music is the first thing I can remember. I was raised by my dad, who played music, so I started piano when I was 3 and went from there. I’m inspired daily by people who created the music which inspired me.
BSM: If someone asked you to describe the Dirty Art Club sound, how would you describe it, in one sentence?
DAC: I don’t know how to describe the sound. I just make beats. People are going to hear it in their own way and I can’t define that.
BSM: Where is your favorite or usual place to work/create? Studio? Home studio? Specific room in the place where you live?
DAC: Honestly, I work a lot from bed. Sometimes I’ll sit on the floor. I don’t have a desk or a setup or whatever. Sometimes I just get stuck where I’m at and won’t move for a couple hours to a couple days. I used to sit outside all night on the back stairs of a building I stayed in. I was pretty bad on pills and was just trying to get through each day back then. A few times there were shootings in the parking lot and on the street by the building, but I was too high to react and too consumed with the music to go inside. It wasn’t my business and I wanted to smoke and be outside, so I kept my head down and continued the work. Cops hardly showed up to that neighborhood so I wasn’t worried about having to deal with them. I don’t know. One morning I sat on a roof in NY while it was snowing because I couldn’t smoke in the apartment but I couldn’t take a break. I zipped myself up inside a goose down jacket with my computer and worked for about an hour until it started blizzarding and my chair was sliding down the roof. I just end up where I’m at if I’m feeling something, regardless of how comfortable or uncomfortable it is.
BSM: Is your music sample based? Are you a crate digger? If so, where is your favorite place to dig? Favorite shop? What was your greatest find? If you don’t crate dig, what do you use as sources for samples?
DAC: It’s sample based. Occasionally, I’ll play instruments if I want to add something that I can’t find in the sample collection. I used to go to a place called Manifest Discs to get records. I ended up becoming friends with a few people who worked there and they’d put aside rare/obscure stuff for me to check out because I spent so much time in that place. I’d hang out in the back and listen to whatever they held for me because I didn’t have money to buy records I wasn’t going to use. That was really big for me (thanks Pat, Terrence, Joe). The store eventually put a couple portable turntables out front for people. I find a lot of stuff online, but I like going to a shop when I have the opportunity. I’m not a purist in any sense, so I’m cool with whatever.
BSM: What is your preferred music production software? Do you use live instrumentation?
DAC: I use Ableton. I use live instrumentation if I feel like the beat needs it. I try to mix instrumentation to sound like it’s part of the main sample, if there is one. ‘Sugar’ from Basement Seance is mostly instrumentation with a couple samples.
BSM: What is your favorite piece of audio gear/instrument and why?
DAC: The computer, I guess. It’s the the main source for me. I used to live with a friend who collects vintage synths and the ‘72 ARP Odyssey was my favorite. Used it on a few beats.
BSM: What is the one non-musical item that you must have with you when you are working/creating?
DAC: Probably cigs (trying to quit).
BSM: What track or album are you most proud of? Why? Is there a story behind the creation of the track or album?
DAC: I’m not proud of anything, though I like how Gardens turned out compared to previous albums.
BSM: Do you have a favorite artist, or an artist who’s work you admire, in any medium?
DAC: I don’t have a favorite, although I probably listen to more Madlib than anyone else when it comes to beats.
BSM: Favorite music to listen to when relaxing, chilling or driving? Pick one activity and the music you enjoy listening to while doing it.
DAC: I really don’t do any of those things a whole lot, but if I’m trying to relax I’ll listen to 60’s-70’s jazz or soul.
BSM: How long did it take for you to create your new album, Gardens?
DAC: It’s a mixture of beats I made anywhere from about 5 years ago, to shit I made more recently. So, I guess 5 years, on and off. Cumulatively, 2 years?
BSM: Your music seems intricate and meticulously constructed. Can you please take one track from Gardens, and break down the process for creating the track? (Without giving away any secrets.)
DAC: Thank you. Yeah I do some things to add texture and use various sounds to help take samples where I want them to go, aesthetically. I’ll use “Technicolor” for this (track 14 on the album) – I started by cutting parts of the sample into 1 bar loops and arranging them until I found a chord arrangement that fit the vibe I was going for. After the pattern repeats a couple times, I drop in a 2 bar loop as a sort of bridge to build a different feeling, making the return to the minor chord from the original pattern hit the ear differently. Then I added a sparse kick drum and a couple hi hats per bar that play off the drums already in the sample. Next I took some ghost sounds from a 70’s B horror flick, tuned them and ran them throughout the song to add to the mood, along with another noise from the same source, with delay and heavy feedback on it. I added a couple vocal samples of Lennox talking shit in Belly (1998 film), put some effects on specific parts of the beat, mixed it and was done. I ended up adding an interlude at the end using an old documentary about parapsychology- rearranged the monologue and used a lot of vocal effects. That’s the gist, although that sounds more technical than it feels. It’s just a feeling that you run with and see if it turns into something palpable, or whatever you want it to turn into.
BSM: Who created the Spotify canvases for Gardens? (They’re beautiful.) Your album covers are also beautiful, especially Basement Seance and Gardens. Who did the art work for those?
DAC: James Dybvig did the canvas. Really talented. So is Bryan Olson, who did the collage work for the albums mentioned. I just give him an idea or we start with something he’s already got going that fits the sound, he finds (more) images which bring it to life and we go back and forth on placement, tone, etc.
BSM: In 2011, you released your first full length project, Heavy Starch. What, if anything, has changed in the way you create music, in the years since that release?
DAC: Heavy Starch is an art book that a friend, Marcus Kiser, was working on about 10 years ago. He asked me and Madwreck (formerly in DAC) if we’d compile some stuff to create a beat tape to accompany the book. We took some old beats, made a couple new ones and put them together to make the album. We decided to put it out, so we came up with the name ‘Dirty Art Club’ as a joke, referencing some of the contrived sounding names musicians were giving themselves around that time. I guess the irony is, we never thought people would actually listen to our stuff and now I’m stuck with the name. Anyway, after Heavy Starch, we wanted to do something different while trying to stay in the same lane. We wanted beats to feel more like songs and pull from unusual sample sources. Wanted to mix them differently and use more subdued drum sounds. That’s where Hexes and Vermilion came from. After Madwreck left, I started working on Basement Seance and tried to follow the same path with a few changes. A couple beats on that album are his, or are collaborations that we’d already started on together. He’s still very much involved in some way or form with everything I’ve done musically, to date.
BSM: The names of the songs on your albums are often funny, or oblique, or even whimsical. (I’m thinking about “American Death Express,” which feels like the state of the US now – you were prescient – “Ultraviolet Chandelier,” “Planet Xanax,” or “LSDemons.” Is there any relationship between “Nongshim” and the Korean food company??!) What is the process for naming the songs on your albums? Can you pick one track and explain how you came up with the title for the song?
DAC: Yeah, the track names are based on anything from the vibe they give off (Ultraviolet Chandelier), to what I was going through while making them (Planet Xanax), to an inside joke (LSDemons), to something sentimental about someone a song is dedicated to (Daysleeper, which was based on a hotel door magnet an ex stole and had in her house), etc.. My friend brought me some Nongshim noodles when I was sick while mixing a beat and I’d never had that brand before. I ate them all week and named the beat after them. American Death Express has samples of Jim Jones speaking to the people he deceived on the day he influenced them to take their lives. America was built on deception, genocide, greed, capitalism, etc.; so playing off a credit card company name seemed about right.
BSM: Have you produced any songs for, or collaborated with, hip hop artists? If not, is there a hip hop artist you would like to work with?
DAC: That’s how I started – growing up making beats for friends. I made four rap albums before the instrumental thing started in 2010. Me and my boy Sh!tty are finishing up an album with some features I really like. I wanted to work with him and a few other people on that album, so that’s getting done. Still a few people I’d like to work with, though. We’ll see what happens.
BSM: Shout-outs? New music on the way? Upcoming collaborations? What’s next for Dirty Art Club? Surviving 2020?
DAC: Shoutout to my grandma Judy (RIP), Madwreck, Marcus Kiser, the Gelnett family and all of my friends who’ve kept me from dying in a gutter somewhere, everyone who supports the music (thank you), God/Universe and whatnot… HARD DRUG with Sh!tty coming soon, new beat tape coming soon… I’m surviving 2020 like any other year. Probably sleeping more, though.
And we outta here…peace, peace, peace…
Connect with Dirty Art Club on Bandcamp:
Purchase a physical copy of Dirty Art Club’s new album, Gardens, here:
Dirty Art Club on Spotify: