‘I have a different approach every time’: Talking Tech with Dan Kye

While many will know New Zealand-born songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jordan Rakei under his given name, his dance floor-focused alias, Dan Kye, deserves just as much recognition.

Known for his ability to switch between roles, both logistically and sonically, while Rakei’s musical efforts take care of his soulful side, navigated by hip hop, dub and reggae, his output as Dan Kye deals with his electronic influences, touching on house and broken beat, but still retaining that soul he’s become known for through the former.

2016 saw the release of his first EP Joy, Ease Lightness, and the beginning of his long standing partnership with Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section — the label he’s returned to for his debut album, Small Moments, following a four year hiatus.  

Off the back of the release, he welcomes us into his creative studio space and shares his creative processes and approach to production.

Small Moments is out now on Rhythm Section.

What’s your musical education?

Mostly self taught, I taught myself how to produce and production is my main talent if you like. But I’ve played piano since I was like 6 years old, played guitar since I was 12 and I always used to sing around the house. I studied music in high school and then went to university to study contemporary music. But most of the learning that I’ve done has been through collaboration, learning other people’s tips and tricks and then developing and finding my own sound.

What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?

Computer, fruity loops, a little microphone USB, and an acoustic guitar, so I’d be making my beats and playing my guitar that way.

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

Probably the Motif Rack ES which is sort of like a multi-tamberal synthesiser, but a rack version where you can play like 7000 sounds in it, and that was the foundation for all my early beats. I bought that the same time as buying the MPC 2500, and also getting my iMac. It was like a triple purchase and that was the birth of my beat making career.

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?

So on the left you have the keyboard station which is my roads, you got the Grandmother synthesiser, you got the Matriarch Moogs, you got the Juno and tape delay, the Boss mixer for extra saturation, and on the computer I got some outboard gear like compressor / EQ, UAD, audio interfaces and my monitors are ATC SCM25A’s. And that’s pretty much my main setup. I’ve got a couple of guitars and bass’ but mostly it all happens with my keyboards.

Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?

The studio is in London and I share it with my friend Jim who’s a drummer, its been his space for the past five years and it’s super nice that I have a creative space where we can bounce ideas off with someone I respect.

Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

I get advice from my wife actually in terms of the design, I don’t have that kind of brain. She made it nice with rugs, plants and a table. My last studio was basically a black basement box, so I wanted to have a nice space which inspired other people when they came and visited.

What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?

It’s been an accumulation of gear over the years, like I bought stuff from Australia, I bought some new midi keyboards along the way, I sold some old keyboards and upgraded to new ones and from there just kept building and building things as I went. I think my latest purchase were my monitors, but I’m always looking to buy new equipment and new gear as I move forward in life.

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?

Yes I always want to be adding something different that influences my sound, so I think I would like to get some more drum machines and explore that sort of territory of having multiple drum machines, I would love to get into modular sythnesisers, but I’m not quite ready for that just yet, but hopefully soon! More things to be added for sure.

If money were no object what would you add?

A fazioli grand piano for sure, it’s got to be a grand piano!

You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

Probably my fender roads, it’s more of a sentimental thing, that roads – we bought it from the studio that I made my first EP at all the way in Australia and then I bought it off them when the studio closed down, put it in my room in Australia and then shipped it over to London only recently so its nice to have a bit of sentimental value and history with an instrument and I’ll probably have that hopefully for the rest of my life.

How do you condense your studio set-up for your live sets?

I don’t like to have any track, so I like to play as many things as I can live – so I got a midi synthesiser triggering two different rack modules, I’ve got my motif keyboard doing most of the sounds, and then effects units on the side, also all my band have lots of things themselves like pedals and synths too, so we’re all doing lots of things together as I couldn’t really do it all, I couldn’t do a show without each of them as we are an integral unit.

Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?

Not really, I wake up and walk my dog Marni, and then I cycle to the studio whilst listening to an audiobook, get to work at about 11am and leave at about 18:00, I just try and work efficiently but quickly, rather than staying in there till 1am faffing around. I prefer to get in there focussed and just get my ideas out as fast as possible.

What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?

I have a different approach every time, but most of the time I like to write the song acoustically, develop the ideas, over dub it, record it with a real band then over produce it, sample it and drop stuff out. However for Dan Kye a lot of it was beats driven so I start with the drums, then think of harmonic electronic elements to add and then from there the track gradually builds.

Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?

I definitely prefer the instinct of quick decisions and not dwelling, I don’t really like to spend more than a day creating the elements of a track. The hardest thing for me is actually once I’ve got a full track, finding the finer details and making it sound unique and making it sound different, rather than just a band playing a song or an electronic beat, so its actually the final stages which take a little bit longer for me, but I’m much more of an instinctive, expressive songwriter.

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

Weirdly I never get writer’s block, if I struggle writing Jordan stuff I will go on to write Dan Kye stuff an then if I struggle writing both of those then I might try and write a pop song for someone or I might just make an atmospheric piece of music. Music is just fun for me so I just try and find something else to create.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

Probably chess! I really want to be an amazing chess player – I play it online a lot. Super geeky but I want to get to a point where I can play in local competitions and be competitive with it, my goal is to get my rating up to 1800. I’m slightly below that for now… but that’s the ultimate goal.

What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your new EP, and why?

Definitely my computer, as that’s where most of my tracks were developed, second to that my Juno!

Small Moments is out now on Rhythm Section.

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