By Maurice Marion
NJ-based electronic musician Andrew D'Amico makes expansive, textural electro-pop as deepspace, merging an affection for experimentalism with a strong penchant for pop hooks. His debut release is a self-titled EP of four songs, each its own misty sound-world of impressionistic colors.
Maurice Marion: So, believe it or not, I actually saw you in the audience at Animal Collective at Irving Plaza in October!
deepspace: Oh, you did? I didn't even know you were there! Yeah, I literally saw them in Prospect Park like two months after Merriweather Post Pavilion came out and I was just dumbfounded, because it was the only electronic music that I had heard. Hearing that there was literally one of the most inspiring things that ever could have happened.
MM: How did seeing them in 2009 direct you in terms of what you wanted to accomplish in your own music?
deepspace: You know what, it was like ... Something that's special about that album, and something that I always try to do is, there has to be a balance, especially when you're performing, between acoustic elements and electronic elements because, everybody loves seeing a Boiler Room set, but, I don't know, it loses something, you know? I think what was so amazing to me about that performance was Panda Bear was playing live drums. Even when he wasn't sitting down behind the kit, he still had two toms, a ride, and a snare there, or an SPD, so he's still jumping up and down fucking slamming on these drums, while doing a loop, and it's just like, "Holy shit, they're really doing it." They're really bringing me into their performance but the music is still speaking for itself and it's clearly not been previously recorded.
MM: Your live show does that really well too. What’s your set-up? You use an SP-404, right?
deepspace: Thank you! Yeah, an SP-404. But you know, I still feel so self-conscious about the sounding-live thing, because I still feel like I'm not doing it enough. I think it’s great that I get to sing live, but part of me just always pines for a drummer.
MM: What are your thoughts with regards to laptop performance versus non-laptop hardware?
deepspace: No, no, no. I would never. I was pretty anti-electronic music until probably like, 2010. I was really late to the game. There's still that piece of me that's just like, if you have your laptop up there it's almost like you're giving up. I would rather you have an SP-555, or whatever, some bullshit little thing where, what do I want to say ... I would prefer that you click a button on a sampler, because at least you took the time to learn how to use that technology, get the right audio sample, make it quantized for that piece of equipment, and then you learn how to hook that equipment up to your other gear so that it's quantized and in sync, versus having a computer where you're just like ... It takes all the magic away, for me.
MM: What DAW do you work in primarily?
deepspace: I actually just use Logic.
MM: Nice. Yeah, their built-in VSTs can be really powerful.
deepspace: Yeah, totally! That's literally why I chose it. Also, what I love about Logic versus Pro Tools is just that you get so many more free sounds, and you can literally just open Logic and start creating immediately. I just love that.
MM: Yeah, exactly. And yet – we’ve talked about this before – there’s also creative danger in that ease of productivity because it's just so darn easy to quickly create simple grooves that aren’t actually interesting in reality.
deepspace: Yeah, it just feels lazy. It's crazy, also, where technology is going. A friend of mine, he just picked up some new Korg thing, I forget exactly what it is, it's not a Volca Beats but it has a sequencer on it, blah blah blah, and there's literally a setting on the machine to side-chain your kick to the bass. It's like… Learn how to do it! Yeah, we get that it's so popular right now and maybe in ten years it won't be so popular, but you're taking this experimentation and this learning something deeper about the communication between parts away. It's just unsatisfying.
MM: For the deepspace EP, where do you get your percussion samples? Are those things that you search for on your own, finding sample libraries, or are you primarily drawing on your DAW’s sample bank?
deepspace: In terms of drum samples, I do have a lot of downloaded kits. You got to have your 808, 909, other bullshit, sample packs. Some of my sounds are from, honestly a little bit of everything. Adrian, my roommate has an SPD that I pull off of, I have a ... What the fuck, what is this right now. It's like a little fucking guy, one sec.,. I'm actually looking for it because I forget the e-model number… Oh, yeah, the Akai XR20, really great sounds on there. Then, you have so many good plugins in Logic that you can take a boring snare sound or something and make it totally fantastic.
MM: Reverb is such an important part of your sound. What reverb plugins do you use?
deepspace: I literally use the same reverb plugin on every single track. It's a combination of the delay designer and the bass designer and Logic. They're way too good. You have way too much control, and I use them for everything. I would say there's never a naked sound that I'm like, "Oh, this has to be in, and I'm not going to touch it." No. Everything needs to be sussed into place. Although, you might have an idea for something, the way that it turns out could be totally different, and so it's a lot of experimentation.
MM: That's really interesting to hear because I feel like that's similar to the way pop producers are working nowadays, where they'll take some somewhat boring sounds and just fuck them up a bunch until they sound new, especially drum samples.
deepspace: Yeah, the percussion in pop songs is always very un-generic.
MM: Yeah, it's so easy for drum sounds to sound boring, but tracks like “Hotline Bling” and “Formation”… those drum sounds are straight-up weird.
deepspace: Yeah. I want to do more of that, but I still feel like ... I'm working on some new music now, and I'm listening to my old stuff and it's like, I don't want to give myself too much credit, but it sounds really trap-y or trap influenced to me sometimes. The three main drum elements are a really boom-y kick that's pretty bass-y, a snare that if it's not big then it's really tight, and high hats. Trap also has a lot going for it, and a lot of people really love it. I want to explore that territory more, but not necessarily with the standard trap kit. But I also think trap can sometimes be shallow, in terms of lyrics, or even in terms of… I don't know. A lot of trap songs sound the exact same because the formula is the same.
MM: Yeah, an artist like Young Thug is very fun, and Slime Season 3 and Barter 6 are amazing, but sometimes you can't tell the songs apart from each other.
deepspace: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think that trap, it has a time and place. I don't think it's going to ... It's influence has been insane in terms of making its way into the mainstream, but I definitely want to explore different aspects of that because trap can be both dance-y, it can be both chill and laid back. I think that there's a lot of room to explore within that genre or style.
MM: It’s interesting because trap seems to be a type of music that by definition uses very sparse textures, pointed synth stabs with low release time. One rarely hears some sort of lush pad beneath the mix —
deepspace: — no, yeah, exactly.
MM: — yet you make music that's all about saturating listener’s senses with intensely lush pads and sounds. It must be a challenge to capture that intense, party “#lit” trap vibe when in many ways it exists in opposition to the lush, textural sound world your music lives in.
deepspace: Yeah, exactly. I think that it's sometimes hard to integrate that because you listen to a lot of trap music and the majority of the sound spectrum, or the EQ, is awarded to the drum, and some tiny sample, and then you have a rapper over it. If you want the boom of your kick and the “whap” of the snare, you don't have a lot of room for other things in the mix, and so I think that's also part of the challenge you’re talking about, which is: How do you make all these elements and styles fit into a single package?
MM: Could you talk to me a little bit about the process of making the deepspace EP?
deepspace: It’s been in the works for a long time... I didn't see myself as an electronic musician, but I started writing these electronic songs in college, just on my loop pedal. One of the songs on the EP, New Animal, I wrote probably, oh my God, in like 2009. You could literally go to my loop pedal and find the first draft of that song. The other ones I kind of ... I was like, "Crap, I want to make an electronic album now. How can we get this together?" And the songs just kind of blossomed from that I guess. It doesn't feel like it now but as my first foray into electronic music it was a lot of experimentation. I think that I spent more time learning the ins and outs of Logic, or how my synth worked, or how I was going to get all these pieces to connect, more than the songwriting, which I had been doing already. It was more translating those skills into this new genre, this new way to express similar things.
There wasn't a lot of ... It wasn't until after I graduated college that I could talk to people about what equipment they were using, and, "Oh, what plugin did you use for this?", Or, "Oh my God, I can't believe you dropped $500 for this reverb unit." That's when I started to get more and more excited about the potential in equipment, or the potential in a certain sound, I guess.
MM: Yeah, it's hard to find ... I think you have to actively seek out — especially in New York I think — like-minded peers who want to talk about electronic music and are into electronic music, and make electronic music that isn’t just a banger in a club.
deepspace: Yeah, exactly. Oh God, dude, it fucking sucks. It sucks. There is an amazing, amazing, DIY scene in New York. That was something that when I first moved here, was totally apparent to me. On a Friday or Saturday night, you could find a random party ... You could literally walk around Bushwick just listening, and you could find some apartment party where some sick DIY bands are playing. The problem is New York is hardcore punk, alt rock, there aren't ... Occasionally, you would find something like, a RatKing, where yes they're doing rap but they also integrate this ... Sporting Life does amazing things with texture, and what we were talking about before, manipulating sounds. It's just like, not a lot of established venues in this city are willing to have fully electronic music. It's a shame, I think.
The problem that I'm facing now is that the places where people will go to see electronic music are what I'm going to call “second-tier places,” like Baby's All Right, Mercury Lounge, smaller shows at Irving Plaza. Even the Studio Webster Hall, I think you could get away with, even though that's more of a rock venue. But you already have to be on this upper echelon, or this ascent to something. You have to have some sort of internet fame or something to even book those places.
MM: Right, yeah. But the more DIY places like Silent Barn or Palisades… They hardly ever book electronic shows, and when they do, it’s usually straight-up DJ sets, not performances of original electronic music.
deepspace: One of my shows was actually at Palisades, but yeah, again, it was on a Saturday at 5 o'clock.
MM: Right, right.
deepspace: Was it my first show? Yes. Had I performed at Palisades and countless other venues with other bands in New York City? No, but they're just not willing to give you that benefit of the doubt, and I don't know, there's something about the culture here that they just don't appreciate electronic music in that way.
Also, there has to be ... I think we're going to see this in the culture soon, but there has to be a difference between a place like, or there has to be a middle ground between a place like Output and Baby's All Right where it's not just DJs, it's not just bands, but there can be like... I'm trying to think of an artist.
MM: Baths, Toro Y Moi.
deepspace: Yeah, exactly. Where do they fit in in the scene, and what venue represents that type of performance? I don't think that New York really has an open or willing group of venues to support that scene, which is really unfortunate. It sucks.
MM: It does. There's a dearth of that particular kind of ... It's either you're a DJ or you're ... The amount of times I've seen “psychedelic garage rock” as a genre tag on NYC bandcamps, on Silent Barn bills… While Silent Barn did book dreamcrusher a month ago, that’s always the exception, and honestly, it drives me crazy.
deepspace: No, I know, I know. It’s ridiculous.
MM: A lot of the garage rock that ends up being played in Brooklyn is very similar sounding. That's another issue, you know what I mean? Like, how many times can you make songs out of I-IV-V chords?
deepspace: Exactly, exactly. I'm also reaching a point where, as someone who grew up playing guitar, I'm also getting over the guitar. I think that there are still probably amazing things that you could do with the instrument, you could make sounds that I haven't heard, but in terms of the way that it's being ... I'm gonna just say, the way that it's being used in Brooklyn right now does not reflect ... I don't know, it's just ubiquitous. Everybody's playing it the same way, again they're using the I-IV-V progressions, and it's like alt rock, or some form of that. It's just boring, I don't know.
MM: Man, I couldn't agree with you more.
deepspace: Yeah. It's actually easy to talk with you because I feel like we're just on the same page about a lot things.
MM: Haha, yeah.
deepspace: We make similar music, so it's like, we understand. It’s just there isn't ... Like, Glasslands, 285 Kent, even those places that did support ... Those were the only places that supported this type of music that we're talking about, and they're gone. They don't last. What the fuck can we do? It just sucks.
MM: Yeah, it does suck. I totally agree with you. I think what needs to be done is developing a community of people who make a lot of that same kind of music, and then just playing with each other and playing shows with each other, and —
deepspace: — developing a scene around that.
MM: Yeah, having this sort of development from the ground up. I think that's sort of — maybe it's not ideal — but it's our only option and choice. There’s gotta be some way to remedy this issue.
Anyway, on the upside, you seem to be also finding other ways of doing music outside of your own project. You produced that great single by Yoke Lore called “Heavy Love” that’s been getting some attention. How did you get involved with working on that song?
deepspace: Yeah, so Yoke Lore is Ardian Galvin from Yellerkin. He's my roommate, one of my best friends from college, we've been playing music together for a long time. He's releasing four songs, I produced two of them, Heavy Love and then another one coming out soon called Safety. We just work really well together.
I think there was a point where I was like, "No, this is the music I want to make. This is what I want to be doing." You sometimes need to take that pressure off of yourself, or you need to take a step back. You can't always be doing that one thing all the time. I think I really learned how to bet like, “okay you don't have to be doing this particular thing, but you can be doing other things that contribute to this and inform this.” I think that's more of what I'm trying to explore now.
MM: The way you produced “Heavy Love,” it's very pristine and polished. What is your relationship, within your own music, to pop music?
deepspace: First of all, I love pop music. I think that there is some really, really boring pop music out there that you can tell, immediately, when you listen to the radio, oh, they just stole elements from these popular pop songs. They just wanted to make some money. Occasionally, you do get an incredible, incredible pop song. In terms of how I try to form my style, or how that influences my style, I definitely ... I don't know, it's tough. As much as I enjoy creating the weird textures and weird vocal loops, there are still forms that you have to abide by to make your point graspable.
MM: Yeah, you have to have something that hooks them in.
deepspace: Yeah, like something to have a firm footing on. Grounding. Grounding: that's a good word for it.
MM: Yeah. That's what I think Merriweather Post Pavilion does well. It's a perfect synthesis of these really abrasive, experimental textural ideas and graspable pop hooks and structures that give you this anchor that allows you to —
deepspace: Yeah, like you're on a tightrope. It's like a balancing act between pop sensibilities and doing something totally out there that no one can grasp at it, or figure it out or something. Yeah, I feel that a lot.
MM: Yeah, you have to hook them in. Even the idea of a pop “hook." It's the word. You have to “hook” them in and then hit them, abrade them with the more out there stuff, then hook them in again. It's a give-and-take.
deepspace: Yeah. Merriweather is definitely one of my favorite albums of all time, too. Yeah, we're very much on the same page. It's really funny.
MM: Yeah, this has been so fun! OK, last question: What's next? What's in the works?
deepspace: I have two songs that are about to be mixed and finished up, but they're probably still like two months out. I’ll send them to you. You’ll hear them soon for sure.
Listen to deepspace on SoundCloud.