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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Talk to the Rohan: Exclusive Q&A with Producer Rohan Tarry

It was my pleasure to have the opportunity ~ arranged via Barbara Sobel ~ to interview dance music producer (and English gentleman) Rohan Tarry. In a world that may, sometimes, seem full of "cookie cutter" music producers, Mr Tarry is a discriminating, individualistic and sometimes eclectic, frequently brilliant independent figure in the business. Ten years ago, Rohan Tarry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and he speaks frankly about it here and its impact on his musicianship. This is a remarkable interview I hope you will read and share. 

Dj Buddy Beaverhausen: Hello, Rohan and happy holidays to you and your family. Do you have any special plans for celebrating this time of year?  
Rohan Tarry: Thanks, and season's greetings to you and yours. Some quiet local family time in Bristol is the order on Xmas day. Between Xmas and New Year, it'll be catching up with some friends, then a trip to my mum's magical place on Dartmoor for some Devon family time deep in the tranquil English countryside. Oh, and Xmas coffee aplenty. Coffee where the milk and sugar is replaced with Baileys Irish Cream. Mmmm..... 

DBB: Sounds good to me. You're a life-long resident of Bristol, UK. What were your musical influences growing up there? 
RT: I grew up in Exeter (a small provincial city in SW England) but the Bristol music scene has been hugely important to me since I first lived here back in '89. The emergence of the "Bristol sound" at the turn of the '90's taking on influences from early dance music, hip-hop and reggae (i.e., Portishead + Massive Attack) ticked all the boxes for me and opened my ears to different ways of making music. 

DBB:  When did you know you wanted to work in the music industry? 
RT: I was fascinated by it at school but they steered me towards a scientific career. It wasn't till I was working as a medical biochemist in a hospital lab in the early 90's that I really thought I could give it a go. Started by playing flute with house DJ's, something I did throughout the 90's with some of the biggest names in British clubland. Doing an evening course in music tech in about '92 introduced me to using computers to make music. Back then it was an Atari ST and Cubase v.2 but I was hooked by the idea. I started my first studio kind of by accident. I found somewhere to put my home studio which happened to be in a building which included some rehearsal rooms. Before I knew it I was running a commercial studio! 

DBB: Pretty amazing! Tell us about RexKwondo and what you have on your professional plate right now that we can look forward to. 
RT: RexKwondo is a project with my long-term finest friend and hugely talented musician, Tony 'T-Bone' Psarelis. It started with us just hanging out in the studio, sharing our love of electronic influenced music from the 80's forward. Before long, we both realized that we had a lot in common musically and started writing together. It was never our intention to sound like anyone else except perhaps in touches of our influences. A particular shared love of Tears For Fears and their use of synths and more traditional instruments to craft ace songs undoubtedly had an impact. The way we write is, I think, somewhat unique in our approach to sound sources, whether it's a synth, guitar, vocals, samples (from the thousands of random records in the studio), strings or woodwind and brass. If it feels right to us we use it or play it. Okay, so it means we've never quite fitted with whatever the musical zeitgeist is but hey, being like everyone else is overrated. We've had to scale things back as MS has impacted more heavily on me which means our, at best times slow, work-rate has diminished somewhat. As a result this year we plan to release some stuff, like Kamikaze Love, that we feel got overlooked in the past but also have a number of new songs we're working on which will get an airing in '14. 

DBB: I understand that Sobel Nation recently remixed a charity record you did. Could you talk to us about that? 
RT: MS has had an increasingly detrimental effect on me in the 10 years since diagnosis. The studio is my refuge from it. Music is the finest therapy I know. When locked in and making music, the troubles of the outside world, and largely my failing health, disappear. The worst thing is that as MS has gotten hold of me, my ability to play instruments and put in the hours required to keep it running have been impaired to the point where I can no longer afford it. This came up in conversation with the charming Barbara Sobel to which she said "..I can do something about that...'" The idea to do a charity record to help support me came straight from her beautiful, caring mind. The response, and it's swiftness, frankly bowled me over! To have such great people as Coco Star (providing an ace vocal), Guru Josh Proiect and Mike Jolly onboard from the getgo is rather humbling. Tony and I have been working on a RexKwondo mix too so it should be a fabulous package

DBB: What do you think about the state of dance music today?

RT: "Dance music" has become, over the last 20 years, such a fragmented genre that is seems somewhat incongruous to talk about it as one thing. Throughout this time, it has come to be a staple of the global music scene. There is so much variety of style that it's become a raft of genres in their own right. Across the board there is good and bad, as with any music. There is now so much out there that we really rely more than ever on good DJ's with decent quality filters to help discern which deserves our attention. 

DBB: I was listening to your work with Tara Busch and Maf Lewis as Dynamo Dresden (album available at iTunes). Very soothing, beautifully composed and dreamy. Fair to say, I don't think this was produced with big room peak hour in mind. What sound or genre were you working in; who do you think would be the ideal audience for Dynamo Dresden? I see the term "trip-hop" is used on the Soundcloud page (where one can hear these marvelous tracks). And are those dolphins I hear sampled in the mix on some tracks or is it all electronic?

RT: The Dynamo Dresden album, Remember, is something I'm really proud of. Working with such a towering vocal talent as Tara Busch and the inimitable force of nature that is Maf Lewis was, mostly, a true privilege. It was always very much a post-club sound we were going for. "Trip-hop" is just the genre that had the closest fit and people like to attach such labels . We were happy to let the DJ remixers do what they're best at and provide some proper dancefloor mixes although we often toughened the sound in live performance. The "dolphin" sounds are a mixture of synth and Tara playing a theremin. 

DBB: How did RexKwondo and Dynamo Dresden get their names?

RT: Deciding on band names is always something of a challenge. In the end, I've found the only way is to go for something that rolls off the tongue nicely. Dynamo Dresden were named after an East German soccer team that Maf was a fan of. RexKwondo came after a number of poor names which I won't afflict on you. It had become rather a sticking point but one night in the studio after a couple of glasses of wine and some combustible comestibles we watched the marvelous Napoleon Dynamite and there it was. 

DBB: What was the first song you ever produced?

RT: This is a tough question as I've been at it so long! I bought a cassette 4-track at 18 which would have been my first attempts. I think only my mum has copies of that stuff which is just one more reason, of many, to always be nice to my mum! Have worked with all kinds of people over the years from Motorhead to Kylie Minogue and everything in between. Probably the best known thing is a track I produced in about 2001for a DJ friend of mine, Jean Jacques Smoothie, called "2 People." 

DBB: Rohan, thank you for your time and effort in answering these questions. Is there anything you'd like to shout out to our readers around the world that perhaps I didn't cover? Wishing you a very happy New Year!

RT: Thanks for asking me. Very excited about the forthcoming charity single. Becoming part of the Sobel Family has helped me turn '14 from what looked rather bleak into a much more potentially chirpy and bright year. Tony and I have found a way of working remotely, me in the studio in Bristol and him in London, which should help ensure there's plenty RexKwondo to come. Happy New Year to you all and may '14 bring you love and happiness by the bucket load!


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