‘I have to be mentally free’: Talking Tech with Paula Tape

Since her debut production outing in 2018 on Patrick Holland’s Beaubien Quest, Milan-based Chilean Paula Tape has worked tirelessly on refining her sound and approach.

Having already established herself as a tasteful selector and radio host (get yourself acquainted with her Astral Jam residency on Worldwide FM), this year has seen her pull her focus back to releases, sharing her distinct tropical-tinged take on Italo and house through releases for Alzaya Records and more recently on Rhythm Section with her Astroturismo EP.

Separately to her individual work, she makes up part of the Tempo Dischi collective which launched in 2019. Concerning themselves with dance music from 80s Italy, the platform has showcased reissues of cosmic, disco and Afro sounds, including records from Steel Mind, Logic System and Alexander Robotnick.

As the buzz around her new EP continues, we chatted to her about her humble home studio, her approach to production and the importance of freeing her mind from external factors when creating.

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

When I started making music I was playing with local bands in my hometown of Santiago in Chile. I was playing drums and just had my drum kit at home. If I recall my very first experience with a DAW or electronic instrument it was when I bought a crappy M-Audio sound card and started doing some beats in my bedroom in Chile.

What was the first serious piece you bought?

Maybe I still haven’t bought THE serious piece yet! But I reckon when I bought the Roland TR8S I added a piece very useful to my production set up and that let me open new options in my creation process.

What is your musical education?

I’m a self-taught musician. I always tried to study and learn as much as practicing. When I was younger I always dreamt about studying music but my college studies in fashion design always kept me very busy and when I had free-time I dedicated it to playing around.

Nowadays I am still studying, in these days I’m really into “The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook” by Bobby Owsinski because the sound aesthetics game excites me. I wanted to know more about techniques as I’ve become more obsessed than before about mixing my music in the studio.

Thanks for taking some photos in your studio. Could you give us a little tour of the main components?

My home studio is very DIY. You can see some of the gear I use in the pics.
The very magical place where I can play, edit and use serious pieces is the Robot Studio. I will be always thankful to the Modular Project guys, Alberto and Alex, for letting me rent the studio and helping me.

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

My home studio is in Milano. That’s where I work alone, I write, compose and develop all my ideas. The above-mentioned Robot Studio is in Monza, nearly 20km from Milan city centre.

Was there a method in the way you designed it and did you give it any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

I have a concept in my brain about the dream studio I may have one day. Right now my home studio is a safe corner of my house, white walls and furniture and full of plants. My basic rule is everything must be extremely clean and in order…

The material disorder leads me to mind disorder, so taking good care of the environment helps me a lot to have my brain free of “pollution”. In that way I feel comfortable to work and create.

What has been your method for creating this study? Was it a gradual build-up or a bulk purchase? Any key inspiration to put it together?

The thing is I started to buy essential things to produce since I came to live in Europe. Before leaving Chile I sold everything that I owned there. When in Milano I was lucky enough to have been gifted new Technics and my husband had a CDJ booth and a pair of original NS-10M. We kind of joined the DJ studio with the production studio when I bought a Focusrite Scarlett and HS8 speakers (we kept the NS-10M no worries) and then the rest followed. So I would say this is still a gradual build-up.

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

Development is important, at the moment my idea is to renew the soundcard and screens. The change would be mainly to improve quality and comfort.

If money weren’t an issue, what would you add?

Prophet 5, Prophet X, Congas, Telecaster Guitar.

You must have a very precious equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

I don’t have precious equipment.

Before heading to the studio, is there anything you do to get ready or get into the right mental space?

Yes, I strongly believe that when I go to the studio to mix, record or edit some music I have to be mentally free. It’s not about not feeling the pressure because that is impossible to me, but I refer to being free from emotional issues and stress coming from outer world. Also I notice that when I listen to music freely, I mean any genre of music, in the days before going to the studio my body feels better and I flow more easily.

What is your creative approach when you are in the studio? Do you enter with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?

Both. I normally record ideas on my phone while around so sometimes I get there with a clear idea or sometimes I have just a guideline in my mind and I go with the flow. For example the tracks included in my latest EP Astroturismo are all based on a riff or sound idea and then I played around the very original concept.

Are you someone to work with on a track until all the creases are removed, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling on anything too much?

I am more impulsive and I always prefer the first version but I am learning to understand the evolution of the creation. I am a perfectionist but I don’t like dwelling on anything too much so I try to be precise from the beginning, to avoid back and forth.

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

I think it’s useless to pressure yourself – I think music, like sports, needs training. You may train yourself to approach the darkest moment, even if you don’t succeed at least you are trying to do it. You may train yourself to hold steady.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

The regeneration of nature. I think it is uncontrollable and it is a great source of inspiration, the organic and natural flow of things. Music in general excites me and inspires me – it is a perfect alchemy, it is magic. The arts in general, street phenomena, museums, movies, documentaries about characters in history, music, etc. The Sea, the universe, the hidden, the power to travel, a good bottle of red wine (Chilean).

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

The Roland D-50 and the Roland JV 1080 because I did almost everything with those synths. A distinctive sound is derived from the entire drum kit.

What else is on the horizon this year that excites you?

Firstly I am excited to play around and give the longest life as possible to Astroturismo. I hope to have the chance to go back to South America and play there also (according to how the pandemic situation will evolve).

I look forward to the release on Planet Trip and release number six of the Tempo Dischi series that will be a reissue of a crazy record from 1988.
Not to forget there will be two more remixes by me coming out in the next months.

Photo credit: Robot Studio, Paula’s home 

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