Friday, July 20, 2007

The Plaza of the Mind Interview with Producer David Newfeld!

One night in 1994, while hanging out at my girlfriend’s house, two of her old high school friends showed up. One of them was an affable young man I had met on a couple of occasions when he had visited our school a few years earlier. He was studying broadcasting and worked at his campus radio station. He said he had wondered if I had heard of this really cool new record: Producers for Bob - Bob’s Media Ecology ². He pulled a copy of it out of his backpack and told me to check it out. I thanked him and put it in my own backpack where it sat, forgotten, for a few weeks

I used to enjoy driving around West Michigan in my 1983 Oldsmobile Omega Brougham. I would frequently take the drive from University to Lake Michigan in the dead of night, sometimes with friends, most of the time alone. I remember feeling an enormous melancholy one night, I had drank alone and was feeling smothered in my small room a so I grabbed my backpack, hoping to get some writing or sketching done by the beach. I was tired of all of the music in my car and as I was rummaging through my bag I came across the Producers for Bob tape.

I put it in the tape deck and I didn’t stop listening to it for months. I hesitated to take it out of my car but I needed to in order to make a copy of it for my room. It was easily one of the coolest records I had ever heard.

Regular visitors to this site will know that I have been enthralled by the works of Paramedia Ecologist Bob Dobbs. I did a long form interview with him a few months ago which I found to be quite exciting due to my love for his Bob’s Media Ecology ².

I felt, however, that this was only one side of the coin. I had always wondered about the person who had set Bob's words to the amazingly atmospheric chords and beats. Luckily Bob was able to put me into contact with the other side - David Newfeld - the Producer for Bob.

Mr. Newfeld was gracious enough to participate in an interview for the Plaza of the Mind during the relocation of his studio back in April.

[The Plaza of the Mind quotes appear in Bold-type, Mr. Newfeld’s in normal-type]

The earliest examples of your work I know of are the Bob's Media Ecology records. [You are the Producer for Bob] When did you first get into music production?

When I was a teenager I would play with tape recorders, then went into journalism, then macintosh computers started happening along with MIDI in the late 80's, so I started doing computer based music.

Could you give a brief overview of your career?

I started mainly doing dance oriented music, then the Bob records and McLuhan album. Following that a more publically inactive period where I was working on different projects here and there. By the later 90's I started recording and producing independent bands, and by '99 had set up my own proper recording studio in downtown Toronto that I'm presently vacating after eight years. It was here that I started working with more well known people and began encountering critical success. In 2002 I started working with Broken Social Scene and things really blew up for them and myself in a pretty big way. More recently I've worked with a band
from Mexico called Chikita Violenta, they've recently released their full length in Mexico and it's been really well received. Also, just recently worked with the legendary Welsh band Super Furry Animals on their next full length that's coming out in August of this year. There's other projects on the go, including my own stuff and others, like Los Campesinos, a new band from Cardiff that's wonderfully shabby and catchy and youthful. We have some singles we've done and plan to do a full length in August of this year.

Right now I'm busy setting up a new studio. I've bought an old Anglican church with a separate seven bedroom parsonage in the Prince Edward County area in Eastern Ontario. It's going to be quite a place when it's done. It's massive compared to what I've been renting in Toronto.

Greg Duffell told me you founded the International Connection with Bob Marshall - could you describe those days?

I don't want to take credit for 'founding' the International Connection, 'cause ultimately that's the brainchild of Bob. Let's just say as news director at the station, I was Bob's biggest fan and supporter and was very inspired by his sources and by his personal intellect and humourous style.

What musicians or artists have inspired your music?

The usual suspects: Beatles, Zeppelin, Stooges, Bowie, Zappa, movie soundtracks, disco and dance music, hip hop, etc.

BME Squared is easily one of my favorite records of all time - how did you go about putting together all of the samples, etc?

That's wicked, you're the first person that's thought that, most people don't even know such an album exists. I basically culled through cassettes of Bob's radio show, picked out the stuff I thought could be understood by anyone and weaved it together with midi music I'd generated for the record.

It was time consuming but fun and I had financial backing from Nelson Thall, so I was able to devote alot of time for a four month period to put it together.

What projects are you working on currently?

I'm working on setting up a new studio and moving out of my existing one. I'll be working shortly with a local Toronto artist named Shawn Hewitt. Plus, I'm in the summer months scheduled to work with The Flying Klezmer Band, they're very seasoned players and doing a genre different to what I've been working in previously. It should be a nice change of pace in
terms of no huge walls of electric guitars and pounding drums, which I do like as well. Plus, Los Campesinos in August and September are scheduled in. I still have to deliver a solo record, my project is called The Brink of Everything. I've a fair bit of stuff down already, it's a collaboration between me and different individual artists, some well known, some not

You recorded a Marshall McLuhan record as well. When did you first get into the works of McLuhan?

Bob and Nelson turned me on to McLuhan, so in the mid 80's I started getting expose to his mastermind genius works.

What is your favorite style of architecture?

I like the Victorian era stuff with traces of Gothic thrown in. Lots of detailed brickwork, pretty gardens and foliage, tudor glass with oval tops on windows, gables, porches, detailed trimwork. Lots of rooms jutting out from the main structure, lots of windows. The stuff looks cool as it ages, crumbles and gets overgrown with trees and greenery. Basically, a brick based mansion with fieldstone and limestone mortar from about 1860 with secret rooms and multiple passages is very intriguing and exciting in my books.

I assume that you worked on the Media Ecology Trilogy [[BME1 - BME2 -Medium is the Message] that's what I'm calling it - hope you don't mind] mostly by yourself as opposed to the current set up you now have with live muscians - do you ever miss the solitude of the electronic composition medium?

Yeah, for sure, it requires a lot more tact and patience and sublimation of one's self to produce other folks. My best work, from my view, is almost always when I'm alone and unfettered; that applies to when I'm working with bands as well, invariably, I like what I'm able to add to their music when I"m on my own. I prefer to mix that way as well, it's sometimes tough to mix when other people are in the room projecting their own expectations, etc. into the air. Sometimes I can't get around not having the band in the room, and so I'll work that way as well, but solitude is where it's at for sure.

[Yet] I don't want to totally imply I don't like working with other people. That's a massive part of the recording process. It's been quite fun and fulfilling interacting with the different musicians and singers. Songwriting also benefits when it's collaborative, cause you're bouncing off someone else, so it's stimulating both parties. I do prefer to have space to hash things out on a technical production level alone or maybe with one or two people closely connected to a particular project, where there's a chilled out, patient atmosphere. I do find when no one's in the room, my focus is better since my 'other people' concerns aren't occurring.

Which of your works have you been the most satisfied with?

Probably Bob's Media Ecology vol. 1 .........As far as stuff I've produced, I'm still really happy with Stars and Suns off of Broken Social Scene You Forgot it in People. Pacific Theme off that same record is pretty cool too.

You seemed to gravitate toward an arguably eccentric crowd [Dobbs, Thall, etc.] early in your career. I have found that these are the only kind of people that really bring something special into my life. What was it like working with those guys?

I was lucky to have met both of them. They gave me alot of freedom to do my own thing and Nelson was very encouraging and gave me thoughtful feedback throughout the process as I fed him the work in progress. It was a pretty cool period of my life. Bob was fine too, but he doesn't care much about CD's in general, so he in effect was very hands off and detached.

I am from Michigan, and visited Toronto a number of times growing up. During my teenage years I watched a lot of Cronenberg and then got turned on to Atom Egoyan and Don McKellar. I honeymooned in Nova Scotia. I guess I have a hard-on for Canada. Is this just a grass is greener thing or is there truly something special about that neighbor to my north that my country somehow lacks?

I'm not sure, maybe it's just a generally affluent, socially liberal, easy to deal with place and most everyone rolls with that flow. We're certainly have our flaws, it's no utopia, but it's pretty excellent as far as earth and human history goes.

If you could re-produce any album - which would it be? For me, I would like to redo the Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! record because even though I am a fan of Brian Eno, I felt that that record kind of steered away from the original flavor of the band's early four-track stuff and took it to a place somewhat less representative.

As time goes on I'm not sure if I'd want to re-produce any record, I'm content to savour all the brilliant productions that already exist and continue to wow me, like Waldo De Los Rios, hits by the Four Seasons, the Stranglers, the list is just endless. I'm a big Devo fan by the way, they're fucking brilliant. I love the sound of their later album called 'Oh No, it's Devo'.

In preparing for this interview I did a Google image search on you and I found this picture of you having been beaten up by the police!

I was sorry to read about that and even more troubled by the picture. [I guess that's not so much a question as a statement..]

Yeah, that was a weird experience, they actually have in effect apologized and in about 7 weeks I'll receive about $70,000 cdn from them for being put through this. Basically, I sued them for false arrest and excessive force and they told me a couple weeks ago that they'd give me a nice chunk of money to drop my case. I plan to write a press release about it shortly regarding this victory, so that when my name is googled, my victory will be ever so sweet!