Taylor Deupree: Fifteen Questions

Taylor Deupree About Collaboration, Friends, Story and Place.

Name: Taylor Deupree
Nationality: American
Occupation: Producer, sound artist, composer, mastering engineer, label founder at 12k
Current release:Skal_Ghost, Taylor Deupree’s collaboration with Arovane aka Uwe Zahn is out November 4th 2022 via 12k.

[Read our Arovane interview]

If you enjoyed this interview with Taylor Deupree and would like to know more, visit his official website or his accounts on Instagram, and twitter. He also has a dedicated website for his mastering services

To keep reading, we recommend our earlier Taylor Deupree interview, in which he expands on a wider range of topics. 

Over the course of his career, Taylor Deupree has collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian, Richard Chartier, Frank Bretschneider, Kenneth Kirschner.

For many artists, a solitary phase of creative development precedes collaborative work. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your first collaborations? 

It’s a bit hazy to map. 

My first music project ever was a duo with my best friend in high school when I was 15. We both got synthesizers and immediately started to record through keyboard amps across the room into a boombox. Through high school I worked with a couple of friends and it wasn’t until college years that I started to really work on solo material. 

I think these early years of partnerships and collaborations were important and the reason I cherish collaborations now.  

Tell me a bit about your current instruments and tools, please. In which way do they support creative exchange and collaborations with others? Are there obstacles and what are potential solutions towards making collaborations easier?   

For quite a few years now I’ve really shied away from software synths and processing. Having mostly a hardware-based setup means I can’t simply exchange DAW sessions with a collaborator but must record everything as audio first … which is totally fine, but it does dictate a certain workflow. 

With Uwe [Zahn, aka Arovane] we did initiate this project on the C15 synthesizer from NonLinear Labs. It’s a hardware synth, but we both own one and were able to easily exchange patches and load them into our respective machines. I find in general, though, everyone seems to have fairly idiosyncratic workflows, setups and gear so there really is no one-way to approach any project. 

I do really enjoy the mixing process though and with a nice analogue console in the studio I like to finish up the projects with a mix here.  

What were some of your earliest collaborations? How do you look back on them with hindsight?   

The aforementioned high school collaborations as as early as it gets and I really cherish those times and recordings. 

We have many, many recordings on cassette tapes, all very well organized and labeled by date. It is music that I don’t think anyone will ever hear and I want to keep it that way. Not that it’s terrible … of course, some is quite naive, but it is so intensely formative for me it doesn’t matter how “good” the material is … it was all about learning. 

Starting with two synthesizers and a boombox and moving and learning, piece by piece through 4-tracks, MIDI, sequencers, DAT machines … as the technology unfolded we followed along and learned it all by ourselves by reading magazines (pre-internet) and immersing ourselves in it. 

I am fairly amazed that for 35 years I have pretty literally spent every day of my life obsessing over music creation.   

Besides the aforementioned early collaborations, can you talk about one particular collaboration that was important for you? Why did it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?  

I think the collaboration I did with a few fellow 12k artists, the first Between album (with Simon Scott, Marcus Fischer, Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date) is really the blueprint and perfect example of a collaboration for me. It has the three most important ingredients: friends, story and place. 

This was an impromptu recording session on a free day in Kyoto among five friends in a very old ryokan (an old japanese inn) full of character and history. I think we all vividly remember the day. Having left our equipment set up from the previous night’s concert we invited any audience members to come back and hang out while we recorded and we proceeded to make a very sensitive longform recording with all of us very carefully listening to each other. 

That night we brought the recording upstairs, set it in the middle of the room, laid on the tatami and listened to the results. We immediately knew we had somethig special. It was a time shared by friends, amidst a tour already filled with memories and will forever cement that day in our heads. 

All collaborations should strive for this, in my opinion.  

What are some of the things you learned from your collaborations over the years? 

Collaborations for me, at the core, are learning experiences. The chance to work with another artists who, naturally, will approach writing and creating differently from me. 

I especially love it when artists are in my studio using my own equipment in new ways that never occurred to me. The chance to break from our solo-artist habits and embrace new perspectives is very important.  

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration? 

I am extremely hard on myself when it comes to my music, very critical. As a result, I cannot ever listen to my own music because I will only hear the flaws. It takes maybe 2-5 years before I can listen to my own work after its release. This is the amount of time it takes me to forget the specifics of how I made it and to be able to engage with it more as a “listener.” 

However, with collaborations I don’t feel this way nearly as much because there is already another opinion in the room when its being created. Someone else to say “this is good” so it makes me feel more confident about the work.  

In terms of expressing myself I think solo works, by nature, are more personal and more reflective of my identity. Collaborations are supposed to be about sharing and creating a new identity. I always use the idea when working with someone of: 1 + 1 = 3. You want two people to come together and make something that’s not just a sum of their two parts, but something different entirely … if possible! 

It’s a goal, sometimes more successful than others.  

There are many potential models for collaboration, from live performances and jamming via producing in the same room together up to file sharing. Which of these do you prefer – and why?

Always prefer in the same room. It is the most personal, interactive and inspiring … And it’s a time to hang out, geek out and be with friends! 

Of course, this is not always possible, especially during the pandemic, so sometimes you have to do it by exchanging files. I’m working on a project now where we’re recording via software called Audiomovers while we meet over a zoom call between New York and Italy. It has worked out pretty well. Live performance is perhaps my least favorite just because I much prefer the control and precise sound of a studio environment. 

Uwe and I were unable to get together in person for this new album because of travel restrictions. But it is also wonderful that we do have the option to work with people remotely. If this is the only option then it is better than nothing! 

However, we vowed to make our next album together in person.  

Is there typically a planning phase for your collaborations? If so, what happens in this phase and how does it contribute to the results?   

Yes, I should say most collaborations start with a concept and planning. It’s important for focus. 

Sometimes the inspiration comes from a particular instrument or set of instruments, such as this work with Uwe and the C15 synthesizer, or sometimes there is a particular production technique that is the centerpiece. Marcus Fischer and I often work exclusively with tape loops, for example. Cameron Webb (Seaworthy) and I based our project (Wood, Winter, Hollow(12k)) on a hike in the woods.  

Of course, these are only guiding points and an initial place to jump off from. It’s always important to remain open and flexible because more often than not the processes change as you go, but as long as you can at least set up enough structure at first to not get lost in the sea of too many possibilities.  

What tend to be the best collaborations in your opinion – those with artists you have a lot in common with or those where you have more differences? What happens when another musician take you outside of your comfort zone?  

I think generally artists I have a lot of common with tend to produce smoother, or at least easier, collaborations. That being said, I really do love working with vocalists, such as I’ve done with S. Carey or various remixes. Because I am a terrible singer so it gives me an opportunity to work with this instrument that I don’t get a chance to work with on my own. 

But even in these cases the artists and I always have plenty in common. I think it would be quite difficult to work with someone you have a lot of differences with. Musical differences often equate to personality differences and it’s all about personality and how you get along and interact in the intimate and often stressful place of a recording studio!  

Some artists feel as though the creative process should not be a democratic one. What are your thoughts on the interaction with other musicians, the need for compromise and the decision making process?    

I’ve never had any issues with decision making or compromising. Both have happened and always for the sake of the album integrity. I’m not precious about any of my music or sounds or instrumentation. 

If it’s not working I’d hope my collaborator would speak up and tell me. There’s no point in harming an album for the sake of ego.  

What’s your take on cross-over collaborations between different genres?  

It can be difficult, but it’s so rewarding. I make a really specific kind of music so when I get a chance to work with a musician outside my circle, such as my work with S. Carey, it opens up a lot of freedom for me. I love to work with drums and vocals, instruments I don’t often (or ever) use in my own work. 

Of course, all parties of the collaboration have to be adventurous enough to work outside their comfort zone. Accept the strangeness of experimental music or the structure of pop music. But… exciting things can happen!  

In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?   

I much prefer collaborative live performance as I am not a big fan of performing live anyway … having someone else up there to do half the work takes a lot of stress off of me. 

Everyone I’ve played live with has been in a sufficiently similar headspace that the wordless communication feels natural. It is really all about listening and not getting in each other’s way. 

Probably the most difficult, but very successful, live collaborations I’ve done are those with the Japanese singer/songwriter Ichiko Aoba. She sings and plays acoustic guitar and has so much more inherent musical talent than I do. 

Because of the nature of my performance rigs, sound processing and such it is difficult for me to follow her playing musically. I cannot always specify or follow exact scales or chords that she is playing so when we have performed together it is often her following what I do because she has the advantage of being 100% control of every note with her voice or guitar … so she has the ability to follow along to my strange loops and things. 

We have performed together a number of times and it is always quite special because we come from fairly different musical genres.  

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you as part of a collaboration? In which way is it different between your solo work and collaborations?

It’s easy for me to get in a state of mine to work collaboratively, especially in person, because the energy is there and we’re among friends, and the clock is often ticking! So you just do it … you get the work done. 

Working solo, for better or worse, has no time limits or deadlines. I can take 3 years to make a record. It’s also a bit more difficult to get in the headspace with solo work because I can be more easily distracted or set back by personal matters, family life, etc.  

Collaborating with one’s heroes can be a thrill or a cause for panic. Do you have any practical experience with this and what was it like? 

I can say working with someone like David Sylvian whose music guided me through my teenage years in the 80s has been thrilling and maybe at first a little bit of a panic. But I have spent time with David in a recording studio and even my own kitchen and and found the panic quickly went away as I realize we are both just artists trying to do the best we can. 

Same goes for someone like Sakamoto who is really such a gentle person and there was never any feeling that I was lesser or didn’t deserve to be in a room with him. I find we all look at each other as equals even if they have obviously had far greater successes than I have. Everyone has something interesting to bring to the table and I find I can even teach these veterans something new or at least have something exciting to offer them. 

There is really no end to learning or exploring in music. I find it completely limitless in the best way possible.