INTERVIEW: Dave Stafford of pureambient

Dave Stafford

Dave Stafford


AUTOreverse #14, Summer 2011
DAVE STAFFORD
of PUREAMBIENT.com
Intrviewed by
Ian C Stewart

DID YOU MISS AUTOreverse?
Maybe…. but I’ll aim better next time!

HA!
Well… only when you are away – we all miss you, Ian, when you are away.

However, now that you are back – well, to be honest, no, because you are here. But, when you weren’t here – and I think this is what you are getting at with this question – yes, I did miss you. Tremendously.

And I missed AUTOreverse, too, which I think works really well in the land of Facebook – a great way to collaborate and share and hang out. I’ve watched AUTO go from your first hand-made-at-Kinko’s paper mags to Yahoo and now finally, where we can share links and media with aplomb – Facebook.

Why not? pureambient.com has been on a parallel and similar journey..

So here we are.

TRICKY QUESTION FIRST: TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT THIS ALBUM THAT NO ONE ELSE KNOWS.
Hmmm – well, there are two albums, so you will get two answers:

“Gone Native” – while we know from early press that this is to be a rock album, what isn’t generally known is, that for a guy who has spent the last 22 years mainly as an ambient looping guitarist – well, “Gone Native” is a rock album, but what you don’t know and won’t know until you’ve heard the whole thing, is that it also ROCKS. And it rocks hard. It’s all about guitars, bass and drums – and mellotrons. And more guitars. And, halfway through the session – guitar synthesizer too. So it’s going to be a monster – I promise. About as far away from ambient as King Crimson at their most powerful. So that is a clue as well.

“Sky Full Of Stars” – we know this is an ambient record, which is very nearly complete, unfortunately, there have been delays – but, what is not known is that this will be the first ever Dave Stafford record anywhere, from day one forward, that has absolutely not one note of GUITAR on it. It’s made ENTIRELY with the M-Tron mellotron software – which, by the way, rules. As a guitarist, it’s a strange and odd sensation to have made a record with no guitar on it whatsoever! But there it is.

WHERE/HOW/WHEN DID YOU RECORD YOUR LATEST THING, IF THAT’S WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT?
My latest thing – that would be last night, I recorded a series of videos, and got one nice take, a brand new track, a brand new improv, using the Roland GR-55 guitar synth in “classical mode” (that’s my own imaginary mode) – I played the guitar synth equivalent of a woodwind trio – flute, oboe, clarinet – in loop format, with live soloing on top, stopping half way through to let the loop just play out, turning it backwards three quarters of the way through, and ending it suddenly into a nice “breeze” reverb. Instant video.

DAVE STAFFORD – SYNCHRONY

This is part of an ongoing series that I have committed myself to, beginning in May 2011, the creation of guitar and guitar synth demos, which gives me the opportunity to create a lot of brand new work that I can nearly instantly share via both a YouTube video AND a limited time MP3 download on the website. I’ve made, I don’t know, nearly 20 tracks over the past 3 months, 6 of which have a related video on the new pureambientHD channel.

In this way, I become more and more familiar and comfortable with the instrument, plus, I can begin (and honestly, with an instrument this powerful and capable, these 20 demos are seriously, the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the GR-55 CAN do…) to create a new musical vocabulary for myself, to go along with my standard electric guitar repertoire.

At the same time, it gives me a chance to demonstrate both visually and via sound, what can be done with this remarkable instrument. A fair number of the pieces I have recorded, as well, will eventually be incorporated into album collections – meaning that I am potentially actually working concurrently on four or five albums – not just the two.

That’s the latest piece then, recorded yesterday, July 16, 2011, rendered and uploaded and now available both at www.pureambient.com and also on YouTube on the new pureambientHD channel.

IF THAT’S NOT WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT, THEN WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
That remains to be seen. It depends really, on what the interviewer asks me next.

IS THIS WORK INDICATIVE OF YOUR OTHER RELEASES?
This particular work is not indicative of my other releases, but that is purely by chance. I would call the piece that I did yesterday, which is entitled “Synchrony”, by the way, I would call it “classical ambient”. I’ve only done a very few loops or musical sketches in this genre to date. A similar sketch is what began me working on my first ever full on classical composition, which has been in progress for the past few months and is about 90% complete.

That is a long form piece, a serious piece of classical music with a serious title (“Concerto No. 1 In E minor for Oboe & Guitar”) but that piece was actually borne out of one of these “ambient classical loops” that “Synchrony” is an example of.

My other releases would fall more generally into the two categories “rock” (for “Gone Native”) and “ambient” (for “Sky Full Of Stars”).

OVER THE YEARS I’VE NOTICED THAT YOUR WORK HAS A CERTAIN … (INSERT
PROVOCATIVE-SOUNDING WORD HERE)…. HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT THAT?

At first, it was a desire to sound … different from every other riffing, heavy, blues-guitar influenced rock star. Over time though, you find certain sounds, and approaches, that resonate with you, you work harder on those, you refine them, until they become “your” unique sound. For me, that’s probably three things: the energy bow, large reverberant rooms, and looping, looping and more looping.

It’s not something I would claim was part of a big plan, it occurred slowly, organically, over time, until now, when I pick up the guitar, I just…”know” what sounds to select, what notes to play, how to create the atmosphere I am hearing in my head – all of it. When I am fortunate.

Part of it is absolutely experience, 20 years ago, I could loop, but not with the consistency or finesse of the loops I’ve done in the last five years, or particularly, the last few years – where I have not only the experience going for me, but also the gear – I have the RIGHT tools now, to get the sounds that I hear in my head.

I think for any creative musician, that’s probably what it boils down to – you need the tools, and the experience, to get the sound you are hearing in your head out and recorded. If you do not have one or both of those, it’s more difficult and frustrating.

Eventually…with a lot of hard work, and a million and one different configurations of gear and signal paths…eventually, it starts to sound right, and you just “know” what works (and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t).

So it really is a combination of factors: not just good gear, not just experience, but also hard work, patience, and you have to be willing sometimes to record for a whole day and get NOTHING, and then another whole day – and then, it all “clicks” and suddenly you are getting good takes – part of it too, is being “in practice”, and being ready when that opportunity knocks – play that impossible riff, go for the incredibly difficult slide up, whammy THAT note down – you just go for it.

WHERE CAN PEEPS FIND YOUR MUSIC ONLINE TO PURCHASE OR WHATEVER?
There are several different possibilities here:

The new pureambient store features nearly 300 downloadable objects, albums, EPs and a large selection of individual tracks, from ambient on up – that’s at www.pureambient.com/zencart

In order to give people a chance to hear the music before they think about what they might want to download, the website, http://www.pureambient.com, is loaded with short samples of tracks, which you can find on the individual discography pages for every artist. So to hear what Bindlestiff sounds like, select “Discography” from the main menu and then “Bindlestiff Discography”. The highlighted tracks, within each album description, are MP3 samples that you can play to your heart’s content – the idea being that this allows you to get a feel for each record, so you can decide which ones you prefer.

The third method, also on the website, at www.pureambient.com on the “News” page, we feature several full length, current pieces in various styles, some active, some ambient – all free to download for a limited time. The pieces available for download from the “News” page are all high quality 320 kbps MP3 files, which we replenish regularly, rotating out the older pieces and replacing them with new ones.

So for example, “Synchrony”, which will hopefully be released tonight on both YouTube and the pureambient “News” page, will be available on the news page for about six to eight weeks, and then it will be retired as several new pieces will have hopefully taken its place by then.

The final avenue, alluded to above, is of course YouTube, there are actually two channels – a legacy channel that contains historical videos, search for the “pureambient17” channel to view that content; and the brand new “pureambientHD” channel which gives you simultaneous with the audio download on the news page, the HD video version of the track.

We undertook the work of completely rebuilding the website from scratch, building and populating the pureambient store, and more recently, setting up the pureambientHD channel on YouTube so we can present video content as well – this work has taken something like two years to complete, but at the end of it all, we finally have the availability and some choice of samples, formats, and download options – pureambient has moved into the 21st century at last !

One thing I should say about the redesigned website and store – is that they themselves are as ambient as possible; they are cool, sparse, not busy – there are, and never will be, any adverts of any kind, no “adsense” no “Google adwords” (whatever the heck THOSE are anyway) – it’s just about MUSIC. A place you can go, listen to some ambient loops and songs, and relax. We worked hard to make the site a peaceful, enjoyable experience, and hope that you find it to be – when most of the Internet has gone a bit…crazy, with flashing banners and Flash animation – pureambient has stayed with our original design philosophy – let the site be about the MUSIC.

So that is what we have done.

WHAT SERVICES DO YOU USE FOR PEOPLE TO DOWNLOAD YER STUFF, AND DO YOU LIKE IT?
We decided that it was time to do things right, so we have our own dedicated, hosted website, and we used a high quality open source storefront, zencart, to create and populate the pureambient store. My business and musical partner, Ken Mistove, does all the technical work, he set up the interface with PayPal, did all the commerce enablement and so on, while I learned how to use the catalogue building tools, and created all the MP3 content, set up the catalogue framework, and then populated it with the last 20 years worth of my work.

So we are not using any special web services to deliver our downloads – all the MP3 files are hosted on our own website, and downloads are set up and controlled through the very flexible Zencart administration module.

SHOULD I USE IT?
Absolutely, if you want to set up a store, and you have content that you want to make available via download, Zencart is the program for you. It’s very configurable, it’s easy to add and remove products, it has a lot of additional functionality and tools that make setting up a store simple – all you need is a well organised catalogue of items to download, and a lot of time! You can’t complain about the price, and Zencart, for us, has been a dream to use. Get it, use it, do it now!

WHERE DO YOU FIND THE ENERGY TO KEEP CREATING AFTER ALL THIS TIME?
Ah, I didn’t see that one coming. I think something happened good to me when I turned 50, I realised that I had reached a certain point – maybe it was that C major scale I played at my last Guitar Craft and then hearing RF turn to me and say “now THAT is showing off” – and ever since then, I have created more music, and now video, and I seem to have more energy for it, than perhaps I ever did before in my life.

The problem isn’t so much energy, I have enough energy. The problem is TIME. I currently have…two albums on the go (or is it five?), with mixes in all different states; a new classical piece 90% done; a Bindlestiff album to begin; a new Dozey Lumps live album to assess; more guitar synth demos to make; more videos to make; the ongoing promotion of pureambient.com; the ongoing work on the pureambient store; and remembering of course the recording of new material…so what I really could use is more hours in the day please.

Seriously, this is a good question. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I didn’t have the gear, I didn’t have the years of experience, I never had the right combination of tools, skills and luck to actually truly get down onto tape (and it WAS tape back then) what was in my head.

When I turned 50, I realised that I should sort that out – so I did. I made radical improvements to my guitar kit, I worked hard, and now, I realise, I DO have everything I need, and I mean everything (although with gear, well, I always want MORE…) I need, so I can go in, plug in, sit down, hit record – and play.

It ALL works now. Currently I have three discrete signal paths, for guitar synth; guitar and stompboxes, and a myriad of re-routing possibilities that allow me to alternate between, or combine, any or all of these set-ups. So I am in a guitarist’s heaven – Path A – GR-55. Path B – POD X3 Live and Roland RC-50 looper. Path C – Stompbox chain. All routed in the end through the Roland RC-50 looper, but also, now, at the mixing desk, are available to ALL THREE set-ups, are the Oberheim Echoplex Pro looper, and my beloved Digitech TSR-24S 24-Bit reverb.

So to be able to have those two classic 90s devices available ON TOP of any or all of my three signal chains…well, you can see why now, after considerable time and effort – things are STARTING to sound good.

Or so I hope 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
All the things I listed above that I am not finding the time to complete. I will complete them, one by one. My first target is to continue to provide the free audio and video content, and to share that, to hopefully then allow people to explore the back catalogue on the website and enjoy not just the current music, but ALL the music that has come out of pureambient over the years.

Next, I will finish that long-awaited ambient album, since it’s nearly complete.

Thirdly, I want to complete the new classical piece, and in fact, I am seriously thinking about doing more – it was an absolute shock to the system to find that I could compose a piece of classical music, using all real classical instrument sounds, from the fretboard of a modified Stratocaster. A piece of music that sounds authentic with utterly convincing instrument sounds.

When you eventually hear this piece, then you will know what I am talking about. I found, for example, that I am quite adept at the oboe sound, and in fact, in the Concerto, I play an oboe solo that is simply the quickest, most fluid, most beautiful GUITAR solo I have ever played – but, it SOUNDS like an oboe. Composing this piece, weaving classical guitar in with a full woodwind quartet and adding in pipe organs and pianos and a massed string section in the final part – what an experience!

I’ve played rock music, I’ve played a lot of ambient music, but this piece is completely different from anything I have ever done, so it would be my hope to look at classical as my “third” main genre – so I do plan to devote more time to that, perhaps even attempting an entire classical album – made with the guitar synth, of course 

DAVE STAFFORD – LIVE 2009

So – ambient, rock, and latterly – classical – that’s what I have been working on, and as far as what’s next – well, those three, for certain, but who knows?

You’ve never heard my scat jazz singing patch on the GR-55, which when I use it, always ends up with me playing THE worst, most horrible jazz you have ever heard, but, it makes me laugh. Even stranger than “playing” an oboe, playing a small group of human voices from the fretboard is a truly remarkable, but weird, experience.

If I could come up with a serious piece that uses that patch, I would, but so far, every attempt just ends up with me rolling about the floor laughing at the extreme silliness of bad jazz played with synthetic human voices.

Which might make a good album title.

Not sure I want to add jazz to the mix – I don’t have the skill to play good jazz, and I don’t want to burden the world with more bad jazz. So that one stays in the can!

thanks you, Dave!

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