Features

Draw Tippy: The Interview

by Jason Warburg

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Dave Pachence is the singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist behind Draw Tippy. A DIY artist in the truest sense -- he played every instrument on the album, which was recorded in his New York City bedroom -- he has more recently had the surreal experience of hearing his music plastered across the international airwaves courtesy of MTV. The music is a frothy mix of acerbic punk-pop and the smartest '80s club music made since, well, the '80s. Dave and I caught up via e-mail recently.

 

Daily Vault: So. You made an album in your bedroom and now snippets from it are showing up all over MTV. Just how mind-blowing *is* that?

Dave Pachence: When The Real World's production company first contacted me, I thought one of my friends was playing a practical joke on me. When I started signing contracts though, it hit me-- my little bedroom project was going to be on national TV! The first time they used a song in The Inferno 2, I had goose bumps. If you could see my bedroom studio you'd laugh. NYC apartments aren't known for their spaciousness to begin with but my studio is up in my loft where the ceilings are only as tall as I am. If I wear shoes or a baseball cap I literally scrape my head on the ceiling up there. I turned my closet into a make-shift vocal booth but I couldn't even use nice headphones because they wouldn't clear the ceiling! Plus, it's nine million degrees up there and I had to keep all the windows closed and fans off so the mic wouldn't pick up the noise. Let's just say I sang the tracks in very little clothing. I shouldn't really be telling you all of this, it's not very glamorous but the point is, with a little resourcefulness and a lot of hard work anybody can make a professional sounding CD in their home and maybe even get it on something major like The Real World.

 

[Clearing mind of image of Dave singing in his boxers... or less...] Draw Tippy feels in places like a head-on collision between modern punk-pop and every great '80s dance band. I'd love to hear more about the artistic backstory behind this disc. Who would you say were your major musical influences going into it?

….yeah it wasn't pretty but I guess you have to suffer for your art! As far as influences go, I was born and raised in a small town in Pennsylvania so I was pretty sheltered musically. Luckily I had "cool" aunts, an older brother and out-of-town relatives that turned me on to the good stuff. I bet I was the only eleven-year-old in my town who liked Joe Jackson, Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs! After this eclectic foundation, I stumbled on to Punk and New Wave. While all the kids at school were listening to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden I was into The Descendants, Bad Brains, Agent Orange and Husker Du. I think these bands are where I got my pop-punk influence from, versus newer bands like Green Day and Blink-182. Misdirected angst and bad skater-punk hairstyles were fine, but at the same time, I couldn't help but be influenced by this new thing called MTV. The Vapors, Missing Persons, Talk Talk, Duran Duran, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and The Cars all won me over with their sound, look and memorable videos. So it's a huge mix of classic songwriters, melodic skate punk and synth-driven MTV heroes. I hope you can hear a little of all this in the CD.

 

How long has the album been in the works? Was it always your intent to record it solo?

I'd been playing music my whole life but never wrote any songs. It wasn't until I wrote a song about how bad my songs were that I really started to record. My song "Decide" was the first song I ever wrote and recorded. At first I had no intention of doing anything "real" with the music. I just thought I'd make some fun songs for my friends, but the more songs I made, the more people encouraged me to try and get them out there. I put out a four-song EP and later re-did them and added them to nine new ones for the fourteen track full length. Making the CD was a long and tedious process. I was a guitar player, not a recording engineer, so some songs took months to perfect. I always wanted to do the whole thing by myself for two reasons: One, I knew nobody would be able to put up with me, and two, I wanted the freedom to experiment and doing that in a real recording studio would cost way too much.

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The great part about "Decide" is its frankness... most musical artiste types would never come right out and admit "I wrote this song / So you can decide if you want me tonight"! Draw Tippy also has a futuristic/sci-fi theme running through the lyrics that's in keeping with the reliance on electronics (e.g. "Armageddon Girl," "I Robot"). Are you a sci-fi fan? Any fave shows/movies you'd like to tip your hat to? Or did that just seem to fit with the music?

Well, I don't take myself too seriously. How many dudes out there who play an instrument have tried to use their skills to impress the ladies? Every last one of them, for better or worse! The sci-fi thing is a combination of my love of analog synthesizers and wanting to have a unique thread to tie the songs together. These vintage analogs sound so amazing and look so retro-futuristic. They kind of symbolize my sound…old and new mixed together. I'm a bigger fan of Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, Kraftwerk, Klaus Nomi and Devo than actual sci-fi. The concept of spacemen bringing you music you've never heard before is just campy fun. I think music today needs a little more of that. Everybody is so angry or heavy or political. Like I said, I don't take myself too seriously.

 

...which reminds me of one of my favorite songs on this disc, "Oscillate." First you set the scene with the lyrics, sung over a little synth wash, then the guitar and backbeat gang up and slam the song into the big chorus of... "oscillate." It's a great combination of super-punchy music with an uber-geeky term -- how did that one come together?

"Oscillate" was one of those songs that scared me when I was making it. I thought it was almost too weird. I knew people would either love it or hate it and that's why I put it first. It's a test. If you don't like "Oscillate" you probably won't like Draw Tippy in general.

As far as the concept goes, I knew I wanted to shine a light on the NYC club scene, so the dance music "feel" actually grew out of there. I had to add the guitars just so people didn't think I was trying to make a real dance song! It's all sort of tongue-in-cheek. The title came from the "oscillator" section on my analog synths. Plus, the girl can't make her mind up about the boy, so she's mentally oscillating. Plus it obviously means "dancing." Plus it's a slight tribute to The Smiths ("Oscillate Wildly"). If you're only going to have one word in the chorus, it better have like 52 levels of meaning!

Now that I've lived with it for so long, I hope some DJ will remix it and turn it into a club anthem. As sarcastic as it is, it's still a sweet little love story with a good beat.

 

That would be very cool. The other song here that made me smile in a big way was "I'll Wait." To me it -- among other things -- really illustrates one of the many cultural shifts of the past 20 years. In the classic '80s teen flick Say Anything (which the song borrows a key scene from), John Cusack's character was seen as a lovable, if extremely determined, romantic... if he tried the same stuff now, he'd get arrested for stalking! Your thoughts on this one?

Yeah, today, poor Lloyd Dobler would get arrested for trespassing, stalking, noise violations and maybe even usage rights from Peter Gabriel. He'd also have a restraining order against him, have to attend court-ordered counseling and there'd be an E Channel Fashion Police segment on him regarding the trenchcoat. He was willing to do what he had to, to get the girl back. Misdemeanors aside, I think people today are too afraid of being corny or looking foolish.

That's why Say Anything is one of my favorite movies ever. It's also another little test on the CD. (Along with the band name itself) I like to play people that song and see if they smile after the second verse. If they do, I instantly know how old they are or if they're "plugged in" to '80s pop culture. If not, it's fun explaining things to them. I know there are a whole bunch of younger fans out there who have no clue what I'm talking about in that verse or where the band name comes from. I did that on purpose because I think the discovery process helps you connect with the band more. I remember when I found out that in the beginning of Rush's "YYZ" the beats are actually the letters "Y" "Y" "Z" in Morse code and those letters are the transmitter code for the Toronto Airport! It blew my young mind.

 

Damn. I had no idea about the Rush thing! You learn something new every day in this business. As for the band name, I won't ask you to give that one up for free. So, what's this I hear about live shows for Draw Tippy? How's that going to work?

"Draw Tippy live" has been very difficult to get going. Forming an original band in NYC is very hard and even harder when most songs are filled with two, three, and sometimes four part harmonies. Luckily, my younger brother Allen lives in the city and he's a great singer and bass player. We've been playing together since we were little, so we have great musical chemistry. I actually have all the synth parts sequenced on my laptop because I would never bring those antiques to a gig. I then send a click track to a real drummer and everything locks up. So it's basically a trio with a laptop filling in the gaps. I don't feel weird about using backing tracks because I played all the parts originally anyway and most people know that. Plus the laptop adds a little futuristic feel to the performance. We just started practicing with a new drummer and I hope to be playing out in NYC in the fall.

 

I like the laptop angle... it fits with the techno undercurrents of the music. So the album is out there, MTV loves it, you're putting together a live act... what else is going on? A distribution deal? Soundtrack licensing? Label interest? And do you have any advice to share with other DIY musicians based on your experiences thus far?

Well, in retrospect I'm finding that making an entire CD by myself was actually the easy part! Now I've become a full-time marketing guy. It really is a whole different ballgame but takes just as much patience, creativity and cash. I'm trying to get the songs into more shows, indie movies and commercials. Somebody said recently that licensing is the new radio, and that's so true.

I don't have to tell anybody that the music biz is really messed up right now. Before, it was so easy to know what you wanted: A major record deal. Now, I'm not so sure. I think it's really important to have as much ammunition in place before you start shopping to anybody. They want to see that you have the drive to do it yourself and that you come pre-packaged with a fan base, a web presence, merch sales, radio play, etc. It's a smart plan of attack because either way, you HAVE to have those things. If a label picks you up, great, if not, you've established a strong foundation for a DIY career. Another thing I advise is using the Web to its full advantage. There are so many sites that enable DIY bands to sell, promote and spread their music to the world. I think Draw Tippy is available at over 20 online retailers and I've made more money from downloads than selling physical CDs.

The last thing I advise is to know who your target fans are and look for unique ways to reach them. Like, if you're doing dance music, why not give CDs to local hair salons? They'll love the free music and the club-hopping patrons will want to know who the artist is.

Overall, I want everybody out there who is crammed in some tiny studio, to know that it IS possible to do this! Make sure your songs are great, make sure you're ready for some frustrating and hard work and make sure you know who your fans are and how to reach them. Without them, you'll always be some guy standing in your closet singing songs in your underwear!

 

Good advice. As we head into the home stretch here, I have to refer back to my review of Draw Tippy and get at the truth behind to the assumption I tossed out there, based on the many and diverse influences evident on your disc. Just how big *is* your music collection?

Well I definitely have several hundred CDs, but the variety is more impressive than the quantity I guess. You'll find Scritti Politti sitting next to Minor Threat sitting next to Ween. I also have several thousand songs stored digitally, which take up much less physical space in the apartment. Downloads are the future!

 

[Editor's note: Many thanks to Dave Pachence for visiting with us. You can visit with him -- and purchase copies of Draw Tippy -- at www.drawtippy.net.]



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