Mocky on Collaboration

The LA-based musical humanist reveals why working together sparks some of his best work

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Well known for his collaborations with Gonzales, Feist, Jamie Lidell, Peaches, Kelela and Puppetmastaz, Canadian-born, LA-based Dominic Giancarlo Salole, AKA Mocky, is an artist with a reputation for eclectic songs, humour and blending musical depth with a pop sensibility. Although he is mostly known for his pop and electronic albums and wildy entertaining live shows, he is also a multi-instrumentalist, drummer, producer and songwriter. In this excerpt from his recent interview with RBMA Radio, Mocky talks about the importance of collaboration.

Mocky - Weather Any Storm

When I play music with other people, I have this mental image in my head of a mixing board. I basically put the imaginary mix fader of my instrument super low, almost on zero. Then if someone is singing, I put the singer on high. Everyone is on a sliding scale.

The point is, when you’re playing with people, don’t listen to yourself. Listen to them. In fact, you don’t need to listen to yourself. They got that covered. They’re listening to what you’re doing. It’s just like a conversation. If you’re just talking and talking and not listening, I think you’re missing some of this element of humanity. That goes into the music. If people can hear levels of depth within it, then I think you’re doing something.

Growing up, the thing that appealed to me about music was the sense of tribe in a community. With the other people, other musicians, you necessarily develop a sense of community because you have to have each other’s back if you’re going to go play a song in front of your elementary school or if you’re going to go play a gig or whatever the case may be. I think as I progressed through this lifetime, I start to see more and more clearly these patterns that I’ve reenacted in my musical life. One of them seems to clearly be that the sense of community has always been the thing that drew me to being a musician, even if it’s taken me this long to realize it.

Gonzales, Feist, Jamie Lidell, Mocky - Multiply

I was in bands all through high school, writing and collaborating and playing gigs. From a very young age, pretty much all the friends that I hold dear and look back through various eras of my life, they’re all musicians. It’s the strongest bond I’ve ever had. In terms of the real genesis of a crew, I’d have to say Toronto with what we call the Canadian crew. That’s myself, [Chilly] Gonzales, Peaches, Feist, Taylor Savvy. There’s more. Everybody knows who they are. That is, in a nutshell, this Canadian crew posse. We all came up and were all a little too freaky for the normal Canadian scene at that time, hence the moving to Europe and the whole scene that started to develop in the early 2000s. It was just, for me, not thinkable to be another guy from Canada playing guitar. It was much more interesting what Aphex Twin was doing, or rap music. The in-between Bryan Adams Canadian version was not going to happen.

We all banded together and supported each other in our careers, took on crazy names, and became each other’s cheerleaders. In fact, the conversations behind the scene between us go on to this day, in terms of getting a folder of the new so-and-so’s album: “Hey, you know what, I think it’s great. Maybe you need to write some more.” Which is a really hard thing to say to somebody. We can say that to each other.

Maybe there are fresh ways we can think about how to collaborate that don’t involve just doing what’s convenient.

It’s about having a team around you of people that you trust. You at least have sounding boards and that’s what the Canadian crew has always been to each other. Any Feist, Peaches, Gonzales album that comes out, I’ve already heard it a year before. Same for me. We help each other that way. It’s a beautiful thing.

If music is the product of 20 people forwarding MP3’s around and never being in the same room, I think we lose a little too much of what has been the life of music for the last 20,000 years. That’s nothing against pop music or using modern tools to make music. That’s what has made music all along. The saxophone was a new instrument 100 years ago. It’s to say, maybe there are new, fresh ways we can think about how to collaborate with each other that don’t involve just doing what’s convenient and doing something that maybe under other circumstances be mediocre, but because it’s done fast, then that means it’s a great piece of music. I feel like sometimes when I turn on modern radio today, I get this sense of what I call manufactured emotions.

Mocky - Living in the Snow

Let’s say it’s 30 of what they call these days in the industry “top liners,” which is a word that I never needed to learn. Teams of people go about writing “a song” on top of a preexisting beat. That works for me in many genres. That’s hip hop. That makes sense for hip hop and certain types of music where it’s all about that. In hip hop, there’s lyricism that has existed before that moment of throwing it on the beat. Whether it’s a freestyle or whatever, it’s still bringing something human to the table. 50% of what you’re hearing is this experience. It’s more like folk music.

When it comes to pop music, suddenly you have 20 writers creating this epic chorus, but the problem I have with that is I feel alienated by it because I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that feeling. I don’t know if anybody has ever felt that feeling because the instruments playing it are robots. Not only that, they’ve been edited and pushed to the limit. The lyrics that are being sung are created by consensus, much like a new Marvel blockbuster. Is that a real story or is that just CGI? My ears are just tired of the musical CGI.

By Mocky on August 19, 2015

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