Exclusive: Producer Dave Pezzner Talks Mixtapes and Mics Inside of Monkeys

There’s a jovial bent to Dave Pezzner’s demeanor. The Seattle producer possesses a rare brand of affability: the ability to translate a light, slap-happy approach into driving tech-house.

Pezzner rocketed to underground popularity as one half of Jacob London (along with Bob Hansen), releasing on squid:recordings, Viva Recordings, and a Hydrogenated Funk EP on Carlos DaSilva’s eatHouse label. Nissan commissioned them to create music for a commercial following the release of 2003’s Casual Bingo on record label giant Classic, and they have since released a bevy of soulful sonic gems. Dave currently tours the world on his own, and at times, with the aid of Bob and a talking sock monkey.

In anticipation of a recent set at Montréal’s Mutek Festival, Sara Jayne Crow talked to Dave about Thingamagoops, mixtapes, the Taco Time Fanclub, and, of course, the doctored sock monkey.

Flavorwire: So. Let’s start with the sock monkey.

Dave Pezzner: (Laughs)

FW: You have a sock monkey with a microphone in its butt and red eyes that light up when you talk through it. It’s phenomenal. How was it that the sock monkey came to be part of your performances with Bob Hansen as Jacon London?

DP: Well the sock monkey is strictly for the Jacob London shows. The Pezzner show is not quite as elaborate. When Bob and I decided to perform live for the first time at the Decibel Festival [in Seattle] four years ago, we had about eight months to plan for the performance. We started with brainstorming and coming up with ideas as to how we were going to attack this show, and we started looking online at toys and different things we could bring into the performance that weren’t your typical laptop and MIDI controller live setup.

EP: Something to kinda lighten the mood?

DP: Yeah, yeah… yeah. And so we looked at Thingamagoops. We also looked at voice-changing bullhorns that have a trigger you can pull with different settings that make you sound like a robot when you talk through it.

EP: Kind of like a vocoder?

DP: Yeah. So we found one for like fifteen bucks. One day, [music producer] Matt Corwine came over, and we were talking about our live show and using this bullhorn thing, and Matt said, “I can put audio outputs into this if you want.” And we were like, “Yeah, give it to him!” A couple months later, Matt’s like, “Okay! I’m done! Here it is!” He kept the mic intact and wired it into the anus of the sock monkey! And the bullhorn lit up when you talked into it, so Matt wired the monkey so the eyes light up red when you talk into its butt.

EP: That’s quite a gift (laughing). So you used this contraption for your first live performance at Seattle’s Decibel Fest in 2005? And you had your first solo live performance at Decibel last year, as well, right?

DP: Yeah. I didn’t really do anything different for my solo show. I took the Jacob London template and used it… so I owe a lot of what I do to Bob, as well.

EP: What’s the template?

DP: The framework that’s in Ableton Live. We have it set up in eight tracks that are routed to an array of effects via MIDI controllers. It’s a system Bob and I both worked together to come up with for the last three years. For our first Decibel performance, we hadn’t yet perfected our system… it took a lot of live shows to get it to where the template stays the same, and we can just pull music out and put new music in, and it always works. We take eight tracks and insert them into this shell.

EP: What’s your full setup when you play, aside from the software?

DP: Tonight, it’s really stripped down. There is no sock monkey, and no MPC. I’ve got all my songs broken up into eight tracks, two Beringer BCF 2000 MIDI controllers…

EP: Why those?

DP: The faders are the main attraction. There are eight faders, and there’s eight knobs and 16 buttons. They’re all set up in rows like channel strips, like you’d find on a mixer, and those can be set up to work exactly like a mixer. During live shows, I can trigger a kick drum on one channel, or send the kick drum to an array of different effects, or filter it down.

EP: So you’ve been performing with Bob as Jacob London for a long time. And there was a prior incarnation of Jacob London… is that right?

DP: Vitus Dance!

EP: Yeah! Where did the name come from?

DP: The name St. Vitus Dance is a disease that attacks the nervous system and makes people twitch out. I think we actually looked pretty long and hard to come up with that name. Bob and I met each other in junior high. We’ve been friends since we were 12. In high school, we wanted to start a band. I used to go to his house after school, and we’d mess around with music… We were getting really into this rave sound that was starting to come up: Eon and Church of Ecstasy and all that shit. We’d try to mimic that using his gear… So we’d get the demo done, and I would bring it to my friends over at Taco Time, where I was working, and ask them what they thought. They were like, “It sounds so good!” and I was like, “This is my band!”

EP: How did you go from the Taco Time Fanclub to releasing records?

DP: Well, after high school, we upgraded our equipment a bit. In 1998, Carlos da Silva, who had a record store in Seattle and a label called Eat House, wanted to release a track. The label funding his label gave us a contract which basically said that they were going to own our name, likeness, and everything related to Vitus Dance. We didn’t want them to own our name… it was our first record! We decided that just for that record, we’d change our name, and see how it went. We brainstormed for awhile, and settled on the name Jacob London, who is a music attorney in Seattle. We figured that was a name that was untouchable. We figured, “It’s a music attorney’s name! You can’t own that!”

EP: Did you ever meet the attorney Jacob London?

DP: He’s my lawyer! He is! He helped me negotiate my deal with Freerange (laughing).

EP: What did he say the first time he heard of the name?

DP: He said, “How can Jacob London turn down Jacob London?” (Laughing)

EP: Awesome! So what year did you meet up with Jon Lemmon and release the albums on Viva Recordings?

DP: We started working with Viva in 2000. Jon brought us on to A & R a sister label which we called squid:records that had a bit more of a left field direction from what Viva was doing. The idea was that we would make Jacob London tracks, and then bring on other artists for mixes. Our first album was called Jacob London vs. Jacob London. They were tracks I created by myself, and Bob created by himself, and then we remixed one another. We also had great remixers like Tony Senghore and Random Factor. After Viva stopped releasing music we found a new home with Classic, which is Derrick Carter and Luke Solomon’s label.

EP: How did you come to collaborate with Classic?

DP: Just like anybody else. I sent them a demo via mail with a very heartfelt, handwritten letter telling them how much I loved their label. It was very humble. They sat on them for a few months. I figured, “Just another unanswered demo.” And then out of the blue, I get an email from Luke Solomon. At that time, I didn’t even know who Luke Solomon was. The email said, “Tracks rock. Waiting to hear from DC.” And that’s all it said! I was like, “Who are you?” (Laughing)

EP: What are you working on now?

DP: I quit my day job as a receptionist a year and a half ago with the intention of moving on to the music business, doing whatever I could to earn a living in music. My first efforts were through composing music for ads and games. But the work was pretty hard to come by so I started making house tracks, and began sending my demos to Jamie “Jimpster” [at Freerange], and he signed those tracks pretty much immediately. After my wedding last summer I was pretty hard up for cash and decided to reach out to Om Records and Freerange for remix work. I picked up a few spec projects, delivered them as fast as I could, and they’ve bought every one of them. It pulled me right up out of this little debt situation that I had. Ever since then, I just haven’t stopped. Music is my career now.

EP: What else?

DP: In early June, Om is releasing an EP called The Pezzner Mixes, which is a release of other people’s tracks that I remixed. I have an EP coming out on a London label called Urbantorque called Logan that has a little bit of a synth-y, progressive vibe to it. It’s a little different from what people are used to hearing from me but still deep and hypnotic. I’ve been doing a lot of remix work, and I’ll also be working on my full-length this summer.