with David Galas
February 18, 2007
Way back in QRD #1 we interviewed David as half of Lycia. It is thirteen years later & ten years since he left Lycia & now he has out his first release in that time, so I was glad to have an excuse to catch up with him about what he has been up to for the past decade.
QRD Ė If people say your music is a cross between two bands, what bands do you want them to say?
David Ė I would say Lycia and Swans. But there could also be many other variations. Iíve heard people suggest Lycia, Pink Floyd, Acidbath, and even Alice in Chains.
QRD Ė What became of the Snowblind stuff you were working on throughout the 1990ís? Did any of it get incorporated into The Cataclysm?
David Ė I just recently had a chance to hear a lot of my Snowblind material that survived being destroyed by a blown up water heater. (Note: I suggest not having a studio and water heater share the same room. Bad things will occur.) After listening to it, it sounds amateurish compared to The Cataclysm. Nothing ever came of that music; I really consider it music that helped me evolve into what I am now. None of that material made it to The Cataclysm either.
QRD Ė What do you see as your dominant instrument?
David Ė My main instrument is piano. I probably feel more confident playing piano over guitars. I feel guilty because, in reality Iím a very sub-par musician. I need to practice much more.
QRD Ė The Cataclysm kinda pushes the length of a single CD to capacity; do you think it wouldíve been longer without the mechanical constraints of production?
David Ė Actually, no. I used every bit of material that I had from the 5 years of working on it. I really didnít have anything else to squeeze in there. Plus I think at around 73 minutes Iím already pushing peoples attention span. Although, in retrospect, I had a couple songs start too close together, I wish I had added more space in between.
QRD Ė How do you see the role of albums shifting with places like iTunes being more geared towards selling singles?
David Ė I think it serves its purpose for bands that write singles. I havenít put any songs up on iTunes yet. Mainly because The Cataclysm works as a whole, rather than a collection of single songs. I think iTunes is a great conduit in which to sell singles, rare tracks, and bonus material. But I also thing there is a time and purpose for full-length cdís and vinyl.
QRD Ė How much of your music is live recording & how much is programmed (e.g. drums, strings, guitars)?
David Ė Actually, very little was programmed. When I record into the computer, I treat it as a tape recorder. I think this is probably because I grew up recording on tape. Even when I record synth parts into the sequencer, I treat the sequencer as a tape recorder, rather than copying/paste step recording like others may do. I feel that the more live/human it is, the more dynamic the entire recording will be. All the guitars, bass parts, and keyboards were all played live. As for drums, I would play the drums live from my midi-controller, and then go back to fix mistakes. Iíve learned that programming drums really causes things to be sterile and robotic. Unless youíre doing strictly electronic music, there is no need to step record/loop drums that are ultra quantized to the 1 millionth resolution. It just doesnít sound natural. Hopefully Iíll have real drums on the second or third release. I just need to buy them.
QRD Ė What did you use for making your drum patterns?
David Ė My fingers. I have the entire drum set laid out over a series of keys on my 88-note controller. I put on headphones and play the set with my fingers. Iíll play it over about 100 times until I find something that sounds natural and fits with the music. So for instance Iíll be playing the ride cymbal/hi-hat, bass drum and snare on my right hand. Iíll be playing bass drum and snare on my left hand. Iíll play the fills as well. Then once Iíve recorded the midi data, Iíll go back and nudge some of my mistakes, sometimes take out fills and whatnot. Iíll add the cymbals in last. Nearly all of the drums in The Cataclysm are not quantized. After I have the drums complete, Iíll actually transfer the drums sounds into their own audio tracks. So Iíll mute everything except for the hi-hat and record it as itís own audio track and so fourth until I have like 10 tracks of drums. I donít like to have a bunch of virtual tracks running taking up processing power. But I save the data, so I could go back and make corrections if I wanted to.
QRD Ė What would be your ideal band set-up for touring?
David Ė Ideally. I would have a real drummer, a keyboardist, two guitar players, one bass guitar, and myself. To get the layered sound and to pull off half the music on the cd would require that many musicians. When you break it down, for instance in one song I have 2 acoustic guitars, 2-3 main guitars, an e-bowed guitar, a bass guitar, keyboards, and drums.
QRD Ė Whatís the biggest difference you find in writing music for collaboration like you did in Lycia & writing stuff completely yourself?
David Ė In Lycia, Mike VanPortfleet would bring the main guitar parts and maybe drums. I would sit down and work out the bass guitar, keyboard parts and possibly drums. Then give it back to him to figure out vocals. With my solo work, it takes much longer to hammer out a piece. Itís more interesting working with VanPortfleet because heíll write parts that I didnít expect and the entire song changes. In The Burning Circle I wrote my bass lines to move away from obvious notes, this would create a much more dynamic movement. With solo work, I think sometimes itís more typical of what to expect.
QRD Ė So I think early on you were in Cathaus in the early 1990ís & then Lycia & Bleak & doing your Snowblind project. What have you been doing these past few years as musical outlets?
David Ė I worked briefly with a group in 1999 called The Zero Hour, I played guitar. It was a trio. Mainly alternative rock. Quite a bit different than what I do now. Other than that, really nothing. Iíve focused mainly on my solo material. Iíve been very unproductive actually. If there was a way that I could be financially able to not work and focus on music, there would be much more material... and probably a tour.
QRD Ė Why did you decide to record under your own name instead of a project title?
David Ė It just worked better that way. I tried coming up with names, and it just sounded pretentious. I decided it would be better to just have my name. VanPortfleet did the same with his ambient solo release. I thought it was very appropriate. I do have a project sitting in the back of my head called The Petting Zoo which is solo work, but much more experimental.
QRD Ė What do you feel you learned most about music &/or the music business from being in Lycia?
David Ė Itís very important to not stop working on music. You need to jump right in and keep going no matter what. Leaving Lycia in 1996 was a huge mistake. Not only did it effect my career, but I feel it caused problems with Lycia as well. Basically, the music business is easy. First, you need to be honest with yourself about your music. If your music is shit, then no one will care. You need to treat it like a business; you need to dedicate every minute to it. I keep asking myself if something is going to be relevant to what Iím doing or not. Be prepared for success when it happens; because if youíre not, you will not survive very long. I certainly was not ready for Lyciaís success at the time. I would say itís 50% music and 50% PR. Tour, tour, tour, tour. Touring did more for Lycia in 1 year than 5 years of sitting in the studio. That sounds hypocritical of me, but itís true. You must be ready to give up everything. If youíre not ready to do that, then you shouldnít do it at all. Youíll get what you put in. Itís very true. I see lots of bands, doing the whole gothic/vampire thing, they look beautiful, great aesthetics, they look larger than life and make the scene... but their music is absolute crap. You can look great on stage and have great pictures of yourselves, but nothing is going to happen if your music is just weak imitations of Marilyn Manson, Sisters of Mercy or another growling black-metal band. Itís all been played out before for the last 20 years. I go to many of the MySpace sites and check out a lot of bands, and I donít mean to be rude, but these bands spend more at Hot Topic than they do on their work. It fucking bores me to death. I hardly listen to gothic music anymore because of it. In fact, Iíve been listening to stoner metal lately, because itís less bullshit. So like I said, you need to be honest with yourself about music. Take a step back and look at yourself. The music business isnít that complicated. You get your shit together, work hard at it. Spend at least eight hours a day focusing on it. Another important thing is getting out. I had a friend of mine that was in a band, they played all the same bars and clubs in the same little town for 5 years. They were actually quite good, but stagnated because of their fear to move beyond their comfort zones. In the end they all broke up and got jobs.
QRD Ė PC or Mac & why?
David Ė Right now I produce on a PC. Cubase actually. The reason why Iím using a PC is purely financial. I canít afford a new Macintosh. To be honest, in a perfect studio setting, Iíd have both. A PC to run virtual synths, samplers and the Mac to do the recording and some processing. I actually prefer both outboard and plug-in processing. I have a Lexicon that I run out for reverb still. They both have their qualities. I enjoy the polished Macintosh feel, but that comes at a price. The PC, though less reliable sometimes, can perform very well. Typically, people use the same PC they play video games with to produce music. This is something you donít want to do. Itís important to have a dedicated PC for music production only. I originally started using Macintosh back in Lycia days, but it just became too expensive. In the end, itís whatever works best for the person using the computer. I donít think one is more optimal than the other. The most important part is learning to use your tools. I recorded The Cataclysm in my bedroom. I didnít have $20,000 in gear. Iím using Radio Shack cables and a $200 audio card. The technology we have today for our computers, blows away the gear that some of our favorite music was produced on 10-15 years ago. So with that, there is no reason why a person cannot create something amazing with todayís technology.
QRD Ė You were a pretty early adopter of digital recording. What drew you to it & what do you think have been the big improvements so far & what do you think is the next big improvement to come?
David Ė I started with digital recording back in 1993. I had Soundtools for editing, and then Deck 2.0 came out and allowed me to have 4 tracks of digital audio. The difference between analog and digital (even back then) was shocking. Being able to record a guitar track and have it output exactly without having to add any eq was amazing. It cleaned up recordings quite a bit. With DAW recording I really liked the idea that I could actually see the waveform, grab it and manipulate it. It was the dawn of an entirely new way to record music, and I wanted to adopt it early on. The ability to edit the physical waveforms, as compared with analog tape editing was amazing. When I recorded Cold (Lycia) I synched my computer to the Tascam 688 to have a total of 11 tracks, this is why Cold sounds so much better than The Burning Circle. I started recording on an 8-track analog cassette, which cost me $3,300 back in 1988. Now for that much money you can have a 24 track digital non-linear recording system, which wouldíve cost over a million dollars back in 1988. The biggest improvement has been the ability to have an amazing amount of production power available on just one computer. Because of technology and the processing power of home computers, we now have virtual synths, samplers, and effects running all in the same computer. People now have tools that they would normally never be able to afford in the past. The next big improvement? Iíd like to see more control boards. Large mixing boards that are well integrated with the DAW being used. I hate working on a mouse/keyboard. I want a large console in front of me. I donít want to skip through several windows to change an eq setting. I want to reach over and turn a pot or move a slider. Iíd like to see more affordable large control boards. Everything else is just small significant improvements... like better plug-ins, etc. Itís a very exciting time to be an audio engineer/producer.... Itís almost overkill.
QRD Ė Whatís your recording set-up?
David Ė Computer - P4 3.0 GHz, 2 gigs ram,
420 gigs of HD space. Echo Audio Gina-20 card, XP pro running Cubase
QRD Ė Whatís your favorite piece of musical equipment?
David Ė Takamine 12 string. Becuase I write most of my music on it first.
QRD Ė When youíre working on a song, what comes first, the beat or the bass line or lyrics or guitar?
David Ė 12 string guitar. I start working on the chords first. Usually starting with the verse chord progressions, from there Iíll work on the rest. After the chords and structure of the song are complete, Iíll add the electric guitars, then bass, drums, then additional guitars, e-bow, keyboards, and last lyrics and vocals.
QRD Ė I believe this is your first work with your own lyrics, were you timid about singing & writing words or did it all just seem to come together?
David Ė Vocals are my weakest attribute in music. Iím not a singer. So I spent a long time trying to get the vocals down perfect. I had to stop listening to music while working on the vocals so I could approach the vocals without any preset ideas in my mind. Actually during the vocal sessions, I drank quite a bit of Kubler 53 Absinthe, it helped me relax and gather my thoughts very well. In fact, Iíd say most of the surreal imagery came from drinking that stuff. With the vocals, Iíd start out with the main melody, then track 2 or 3 more vocals tracks harmonizing over the main. I didnít use Auto-Tune or any other kind of harmonizer plug-in for my vocals. Itís actually easier than I thought.
QRD Ė If I remember correctly, your dad had a bit of a musical background. How did that effect your relationship with music?
David Ė Actually both my parents were. My mother is a piano teacher, and my father played multiple instruments. I was surrounded with music and equipment my whole life. I started playing piano at 3. I think the older I became, the more that I realized that the only thing I can do somewhat well is music. Thereís no point in trying get away from it. I studied and played many different instruments, studied theory and composition in college. But I think the most important thing, is surrounding myself with music, writing on a continual basis.
QRD Ė Anything else?
David Ė Well, Iím working on re-mixing
and re-mastering the Bleak cd. Iím working on the next couple of
solo releases. In addition, Iím working on a collection of ambient
music... like a box set or something, exploring various styles of ambient
music. Iíd like to get into soundtrack work. I suggest when
listening to The Cataclysm that you remove any distractions
from yourself. Turn off the lights, lay down and focus on it.
Itís made to be experienced like a movie.