At one point a few years ago, I was out playing three or four gigs a week. Then I got a job at Columbia College, and suddenly my main income was not made up of many small gigs throughout the year. I had time for a hobby, which is part of how I got so into fishing. When my sole source of income came from one-off gigs, I needed to pound the pavement and get more work! No time for non-musical hobbies.
Since my first non-gigging job at Columbia, I’ve moved on to another non-gigging job, working as tech support for ChartCapture. It’s a great job, I work from home, and it leaves me plenty of time to pursue other interests. Fishing, wood carving, video games, kayaking, cooking, and of course music; these are all things I like to do in my spare time. Now that I suddenly have so many hobbies, my musical output has been considerably less. I don’t mind; I enjoy the variety of activities.
…But I’m still making music, albiet slower than before. (Check out “Disk Too Slow” from January- in case you missed it)
Today I’m “releasing” an album that’s been a long time coming; I started by recording drums in the garage on January 11, and the final mixdown of the last track was done early this morning. Never have I spent so much time on a project! Many of the albums on my website were created in the course of a week or two (the Christmas albums for instance). I worked on this album off and on for seven months, and now it’s time to share it with the world. Or at least you!
Lately (the past year or so) I’ve been listening to a lot of dub music. Not to be confused with dubstep which is a completely different type of music. Dub is basically reggae, but instead of focusing on songs and lyrics it focuses on the production, effects, the bassline, and generally being weird. At least that’s my take on the style. The genre developed to get more mileage out of recorded reggae tracks. Using the same instrumental tracks, resourceful Jamaican producers created completely new pieces of music with existing sounds.
Sound familiar? Those dudes were some of the first to create music in this way. They also used the studio as an instrument unto itself; that is now the norm, but back in the 70’s it was groundbreaking.
When I first started listening to dub artists like King Tubby and The Scientist, I immediately fell in love with all the weird things they did with a mixer. Their extensive use of spring reverb and delay, awkwardly muting the vocal tracks and highlighting the deep sub-basslines, various tracks interspersed with random “beeps” from the test oscillators built in to many old-school mixing consoles… I love it all. It’s a little strange and very groovy.
Generally if I like something I want to do it myself. Case in point: pretty much everything I do. I like fishing so I make lures. I like food so I learn to make it myself. Most of the music I’ve made is a response to stuff I heard and really liked. and this is no different.
Although the focus in this type of music is the production- the overall sound- you can’t manipulate sounds if you don’t have any. I’m lucky to know many great musicians, and even some that are willing to play on an album like this that will generate $0 of income for them. (Or me, since I’m not charging for the music.)
Garrett McGinn delivered some knee-shaking, booty-knocking basslines to me via Dropbox; his low-end rumbling holds many of these tracks together. The bassline is the foundation for this kind of music, and Garrett’s contribution is essential to staying true to the style. Anthony Bracco and I met for an hour in the MFA Lab at Columbia College- I believe he laid down 7 tracks in the 60 free minutes he had… It’s a testament to his high level of groovemanship we were able to record so much music in so little time! Without his guitar skanks (“skank” is the technical term for those awesome upbeat guitar strokes) this album would be much lamer. My longtime buddy Benje Daneman was kind enough to send me trumpet tracks, again via Dropbox; when I laid them in with the other tracks, I knew there was something special. And José Ricuarte, who happened to be sitting in the lab while I was doing some mixing, was nice enough to play some congas for a few tracks. I’m not even sure he knew I was recording when he played along, but I kept his sounds and they ended up in the final mix.
The remainder of the sounds were created by me, mostly at my house on a variety of instruments. I recorded the drums in my garage, with an unusually sparse set of microphones (out of necessity, as I only have two microphones and a speaker I rewired into a sub-kick microphone). An SM57 on the snare, a Røde NT1 above the hihat, my speaker-turned-microphone on the bass drum, and a single borrowed AKG414c as a mono room mic. Come to think of it, I didn’t actually use any of that mic- the drums you hear were recorded with those other three mics.
The saxophones, melodica, glockenspiel, pandeiro, shakers, guiro, and claves were recorded right in front of my computer into my Røde NT1. My collection of Korg Monotrons filled out most of the beeps and bloops heard on the album; the intro to “Chill Dub” is entirely Monotrons. My vintage 1970’s Electrovoice spring reverb, amplified with tube preamps, provides the reverb for all the tracks; my Monotron Delay is the sole source of the delay effect (most weirdly used on “More Cowbell Dub”. A few years back I purchased an old electric bass from eBay for $40; that can be heard on a variety of tracks. I’ve never changed the strings just so I can keep that “old string dub sound.” I like how it sounds, why change it? Accompanying Anthony’s expertly-performed guitar licks is my best impression of an electric guitar player. Thanks to studio trickery it sounds like I can play guitar!
The only MIDI used in the creation of the entire album can be heard at the end of “Tighten Up,” my cover of The Black Keys’ amazing tune. I broke down and used Ableton Live’s Operator synth; I created the patch from scratch and played it in the solo on my tiny Akai LPK25. This was a first for me, as almost all of my previous musical output is primarily MIDI-controlled.
The album features a mix of new originals, a few covers, and an old Chris Beckstrom original. Stepper Dub, More Cowbell Dub, One Drop Dub, and Rocksteady Dub are new originals written specifically for this project. Shuck and Jive is a tune I wrote back in undergrad that keeps popping up in many of my live gigs and studio projects. Lujon is my absolute favorite Henry Mancini composition; definitely check out the original. Chill Dub is my dub cover of “Chill” from “Dr. Mario,” composed by Hirokazu Tanaka… because you always need a videogame cover. Tighten Up is one of my all-time favorite tracks, written and recorded by The Black Keys. (The original has a great video too! Go watch it now. I’ll still be here when you come back)
All that said, take a listen; I hope you dig it.
You can stream the whole thing right here, check it out at my Bandcamp site, and even download the whole thing (for free) if you’re so inclined.
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THE DUB DROPBOX ALL-STARS:
Chris Beckstrom – drums, bass, electric guitar, saxophones, melodica, monotrons, organ, electric piano, percussion, glockenspiel, synthesizer, upright piano, spring reverb, production
Anthony Bracco – electric guitar
Garrett McGinn – electric bass
Benje Daneman – trumpet
José Ricuarte – congas
who played on what?
1) Stepper Dub – GMcG: bass / AB: gtr / CB: sax, drums, keys, etc.
2) Lujon – AB: gtr / CB: bass, sax, keys, drums, other stuff
3) Chill Dub – AB: gtr / CB: bass, monotrons, keys, drums, the rest
4) More Cowbell Dub – BD: tpt solo / JR: congas / CB: bass, drums, keys, melodica, etc.
5) One Drop Dub – GMcG: bass / AB: gtr / BD: tpt / CB: melodica, drums, keys, sax, the rest
6) Rocksteady Dub – GMcG: bass / AB: gtr / BD: tpt / CB: drums, melodica, organ, sax, other stuff you hear
7) Tighten Up – AB: gtr / CB: organ, drums, bass, synth solo, etc.
8) Shuck and Jive – AB: gtr, gtr solo / BD: tpt / CB: bass, drums, keys, the rest