We had the chance recently to have a quick chat with the Brooklyn-based premier purveyor of the deep funk sound, Gabriel Roth of Daptone - the man responsible for the sound of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, The Daktari's, Charles Bradley, The Budos Band, and much of Amy Winehouse's seminal 'Back To Black' recording among others. For audio highlights from the Daptone family, click on over to RBMA Radio. Anyways, here goes...
Everyone is curious... What does a typical Gabe Roth day look like? When you're not touring, of course.
Man, I haven't had a typical day since I was in elementary school. I guess I generally spend the whole day trying to balance the business part of my business with the recording part, writing music, spending time with my family, and a plethora of other projects that I can't help but to commit to. These days I usually wake up around 6:30 with my daughter. I might spend an hour or so playing with her, feeding her breakfast, and generally trying to caffeinate myself. Then I might start making phone calls while I walk the dog. I like to walk the dog with my headphones. A lot of times I'm working on songs while I walk the dog. Then around 9-ish there tends to be some conference calling with my East Coast associates - the Daptone crew and my manager, etc. I'm working on building a mixing room out in Riverside right now, so I spend some time hustling up cheap gear and wiring. Yesterday I had three hours of conference calls between my crew and our lawyer mostly dealing with distribution, Daptone's 10th Anniversary promotion, and the leaking roof at the studio, among other things... Then I spent some time with a contractor who's helping me renovate my backyard. I put a few hours into working on these string and horn arrangements I was hired to write and record this week for the band The Heavy. (They gave me three days to do ten arrangements. Not ideal.) I had some back and forth with my tape op, my wiring guy, and my Ampex tech (three different amazing dudes) on the East Coast about cheap patchbay alternatives, repairing the mixing board from the rain that leaked on it in the storm last weekend, and restoring and shipping a 440 machine out to me. Then I took my daughter to fly a kite down the street. When she took a nap I tried to catch up on a bunch of emails regarding everything from touring schedules to low budget movie synchs, to health insurance for background singers. Bought a miter saw at a pawn shop. Went to see Winnie the Pooh in the afternoon. Won a cool test oscillator for $35 on eBay. Then dinner, teeth brushing, pajamas, story-time for my girl. When she fell asleep, I went to the basement and got that miter saw going. I ended up down there sniffing saw dust till about 4:30 in the morning. Built a cool rack for the new mixing studio using some old oak shelves that came out of my pop's basement. Didn't have the right screws to get the wheels on though. I guess I'll finish that today.
Damn dude! I want to ask you about your locale. Your office has been in Bushwick [Brooklyn] for a minute now, what changes in the neighborhood have you witnessed? It used to be scary. Now there are health food stores everywhere, right?
Yeah, Bushwick has changed a lot. When we moved in there eight years ago, it was real ghetto, but it was a family neighborhood. Now you've got all these hipsters moving into weird lofts and condos and shit. Realtors told them it was "East Williamsburg". Pretty far east. Might as well call it "East New Jersey." The neighborhood is still pretty ghetto though. Difference is that you can buy $5 coffee now if you want it. Makes me want to start mugging these kids.
2012 looks like it's gonna be our busiest year ever. We're all pretty excited about the quality and depth of the release schedule right now. We're really hitting a stride.
Ha! So, onto the music... By my latest count Daptone has put out no less than 40 sevens, 22 albums, 21 CD's, and one 12". Is that correct? What's next? What does 2012 hold for the label?
As far as what's slated for release by the end of the year, we're up to about 63 45's and 25 albums! We have a lot of amazing records coming up. At the end of this year we're putting out a Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' 'Soul Time' which is an album of great tracks that are all either completely unreleased or have only been on 45's or compilations in the past. Then we're dropping an album of re-issued masters by El Rego, beautiful Afro-funk and soul music from early seventies Benin. We are dropping an instrumental version (LP only) of the Charles Bradley 'No Time for Dreaming' album as well as a relaunch of the same with some bonus tracks. Tommy (Brenneck) is planning on cutting a second Bradley album early next year to be released on his Daptone imprint Dunham Records. Next week we are going into the studio with Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings again to record another album, immediately followed by sessions to cut the Budos Band's fourth album. Last month we mixed a second album by the Menahan Street Band. At the beginning of the summer we cut the first new Sugarman 3 album in 10 years. It's a killer, but I'm not sure how soon I'm gonna have a minute to mix it. We're planning to cut a record with the Afrobeat band Antibalas in November, and we are finishing up the songwriting for a second Naomi Shelton album. There is are two acapella gospel albums from the Panola County sessions that are already mixed and ready to go: The Como Mama's, and The Walker Family. Very deep records. There are a number of 45 releases from our own artists as well as for our re-issue imprint, Ever-Soul. Possibly even an Ever-Soul compilation. I also have an entire album written for Lee Fields, but I'm not sure when we'll get to that because he's working on a new record with Truth and Soul right now and we want to give them some space. So 2012 looks like it's gonna be our busiest year ever. We're all pretty excited about the quality and depth of the release schedule right now. We're really hitting a stride. The amazing thing is that at this point they're all veteran artists. We've never had this much on tap before.
Besides Daptone stuff, what other music is in rotation for you right now?
Do you mean stuff I'm listening to?
Yeah, I don't really listen to much Daptone stuff. I get enough of that in the studio. At home, I listen to a lot of blues and early R&B. The Five Royales, Junior Parker, Little Willie John. Plus plenty of soul and gospel with a little Latin and Afrobeat sprinkled in. Nydia (Davila, of Daptone) just gave me a 45 for my birthday by the Four Puzzles that I'd been bugging her about for years. It's getting pretty worn out on my turntable right now. It's kind of cool, my daughter is not even three, but she's cool with putting on records already. Very careful. Doesn't scratch them or nothing. Knows how to turn on the amplifier and everything. I let her pick our records. I think she's just picking out the ones with bright colored covers. Either way, it's kind of a cool way to rediscover records. Beats "shuffle" on an iPod for sure.
Your "Shitty is Pretty" [PDF download] article. Incredible. Although I know you disavowed/disowned it during your lecture at RBMA. Do you have an updated philosophy now?
Man, don't get me started! I don't want to completely disavow that article. I still stick by a lot of the same philosophy. Just different practices. I still believe that 90% of the recording gear industry (and music industry) is complete bullshit. The way people fetishize gear is ridiculous. I still believe that the only gear you need is your ears and your balls. Musicians should make the sounds, not engineers. Last month I think I got the best drum sounds I've ever gotten for the new Sugarman 3 record. I did what I always do and blind A/B'ed a bunch of different mics. A friend had lent me a whole box full. Neumann's, RCA's, the whole lot. When we finally picked the winner, it turned out to be a cheapo Audix D6(?) mic that's supposed to go on the kick drum. I think it's one of those that comes in some kind of drum mic'ing pack. I almost never put a mic on the kick itself. Sounds weird to me. So I had this shitty kick drum mic hanging overhead and it beat the shit out of all the fancy mics. That's what I used for the whole drum sound. So I guess over at Daptone, to answer you briefly, shitty is still pretty.