Hello. First of all, tell us something about you: who is behind d.notive and how did it all started?
I've been a musician ever since I was a little kid. My mother was the front-person and lead vocalist for an electronic band that had a chart-topping dance remix in the early 90's, so I've always been surrounded by synthesizers and keyboards. It wasn't until I really came of age, perhaps around 18 or 19 that I really got into synth music and became interested in synthesizers and electronic music as my mainstay. "d.notive" was something I came up with in late 2011. A few years earlier, from 2006 to about 2009, I had a "band" with a guy that I went to school with, but creative differences broke us up, so it became clear that I'd need to re-invent my workflow as a solo producer, thus "d.notive" was effectively born.
Why d.notive as title?
It's supposed to be kind of ironic. I racked my brain for a substantial amount of time after I'd made the decision to go solo as it were; I didn't feel capable of moving forward until I had a working title for what my pseudonym would be. I had the idea of taking words with a “de” prefix, and dropping the e in with a period, to make a "d." since that wouldn’t substantially alter the pronunciation of the word. The word "denotive" came to me. Because to be "denotive" means one is definitive, or that one is capable of defining or naming something, and because I couldn’t define or name myself, I thought it was appropriately ironic, and it stuck. I dropped the "de" and used a "d." and I suppose the rest is sort of history.
Even though you come from the US, your music sounds quite "european" as you bring us a pretty interpretation of what is called Synth-Pop, a classic german and british genre in my opinion. Did you listen to those bands a lot?
Oh absolutely! Even before I had my "awakening" as a teenager, stumbling across bands like Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Human League, or Erasure, I was listening to Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Back in 2006 I fell into the Futurepop and EBM scene, and discovered bands like VNV Nation and Beborn Beton, later on it was Covenant and And One… So yes, to say I listen to European acts a lot is a very accurate assessment.
Are there some albums that are decisive for your musical career?
Indeed. "Violator" by Depeche Mode was a huge game-changer for me - probably one of the single most important albums ever if you ask me. "Vienna" by Ultravox was another one that really impacted me. "Rhythm & Romance" by The System too.
As far as being decisive, it probably wasn’t until I heard the "Skull & Shark" album by Lazerhawk in late 2013, that I really started paying attention to the synthwave or retrowave scene. There was something haunting and atmospheric about that album that really forced me to re-evaluate that aesthetic. Up until I heard that album I think my only exposure to the new-retro stuff was light and airy “beach” tracks, or “dance” tracks, which I liked a lot, but "Skull & Shark" was the first time I heard someone give the aesthetic some substance. That’s what hooked me.
Your album cover remind me of the aesthetic of the movie “Back To The Future” as well as of the album “Outrun” from the French musician Kavinsky. Some of your inspiring sources perhaps?
Of course! In fact, on the album cover there’s a subtle nod to "Back to the Future" itself on the movie marquee. As a child I watched a worn-out VHS copy of "Back to the Future" probably every other day, so much so that I used to get in trouble for repeating all of Michael J. Fox’s swear-words at the tender age of five.
As for Kavinksy, I didn’t draw a ton of musical inspiration from him, but I definitely borrowed a lot of ideas as far as world-building was concerned. Kavinsky’s albums revolve around a made-up character, "Kevin Ski" who drives a possessed Ferrari. I was frustrated that so little of this story made its way into his music, so I started thinking about what the natural antithesis to Kavinsky’s character would be, and thought about a time-traveling police officer from the future. That was sort of the genesis of the Sentinel character. I wanted to make a point of infusing a lot of the story of "The Sentinel" into the album, because in my mind I was thinking: "What would be the point of having a cool backstory for your album if you’re not going to use the music to tell it?" I thought that was Kavinsky’s biggest failing, and I didn’t want to repeat it.
What is the fascination of this decade in your opinion?
In my opinion I think the fascination is two-fold:
One, I think a lot of people are fascinated with this decade because they couldn’t experience it for themselves. They’re just a little bit too young to have really been able to appreciate it for the first time. Many of the producers in this scene are in their 30’s and 20’s - at the very most, they were young children during the mid 80’s. So there is a certain nostalgia tied to having "missed out". I was born in 1986, so I missed out almost completely.
Second, looking back at the 1980’s, there was an underlying attitude of optimism and positivity when our culture reflected on technology. And I think the 80’s was the last decade we had before cynicism pervaded our cultural consciousness, before mass-communication and the connectivity of the internet caused us to question all of the messages we received through advertising and television. Personal computers and video games were brand new, and people wanted to believe that all of this technology would liberate us and make our lives infinitely more cool. Now we know better I guess.
You can be seen as a part of the so called Retrowave or Synthwave, that reanimates the old futuristic style of 80s comic and movies. Why, do you think, is there still a need to revive or reanimated this decade?
Synth music died a very artificial and premature death in my opinion. And after it was purged from the collective cultural consciousness, it became a very geeky thing to be obsessed with. This left a lot of people, especially younger people, with a strong desire to revive it, or at least re-invigorate it. The means to produce and create music have become cheaper and more readily available than ever before, and without a lot of effort one can possess some pretty passable re-creations of iconic synthesizer sounds. There is a desire to make up for lost time, and combine a lot of these old-fashioned soundscapes with modern production flourishes to breathe new life into a genre of music that was, for the most part “dead”. It’s almost like discovering a lost city and trying to rebuild it better than it was.
Somebody told me some time ago, that the best pop-music was written in the 80s, as in this time pop-music dared to be nothing but pop. Would you agree?
No, actually. I think part of what made pop music great in the 80’s was how eclectic it was. There wasn’t a singular "Top 40" sound. While there were certainly career pop producers (Stock Aitken Waterman come to mind) you also had a lot of oddball, strange hits from a wide variety of genres - New Wave, Metal, Punk, Dance Music, R&B. There were a lot of divergent soundscapes on pop radio, and I think that’s what made it interesting.
There's also some kind of innocent in early electronic-music that today is completely lost. To be honest: current mainstream-tracks are more boring than ever, aren't they?
Yes and no. Even in current mainstream Pop there are some really great tracks being put out. For example, I think "1989" by Taylor Swift was a masterpiece from start to finish… Bruno Mars’ last few singles were spectacular, and I think even Nick Jonas is doing some really cool stuff. Hell, I’m even digging Fall Out Boy these days. I don’t know if "innocence" has been lost or not. All music depends on what you bring to it, what context you put it into. If anything, if pop music of today seems less "innocent" it’s because our culture has changed and become less innocent. We’re more cynical as a society, and we filter things through that lens.
At last a little look into the future: what are your next projects?
I’ve got a few unreleased Sentinel tracks that I need to finish. They were songs that just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album. Or songs that I just didn’t have the wherewithal to prioritize over others. So that should be coming quite soon. After that, I’m loosely slated to do some music for a cyberpunk webcomic as part of an art-trade, and may also end up doing some production work for a french metal band. The big thing, of course, is gigging and playing shows. I’ll be doing a set at a convention in Baltimore in July, and I’m working on reaching out to some other acts close to where I live so I can start building relationships with local venues. I’ve got no shortage of work lined up, so it’s a good time to be a fan!
|| INTERVIEW: DANIEL DRESSLER | DATE: 07/11/17| CONTACT || READ THE ARTICLE IN GERMAN >
ARTWORK & PHOTOGRAPHY © D.NOTIVE
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