Studio Apartment #8: Kevin Earl Taylor (“The Dungeon”)

Posted by on November 26, 2013

 kevin with goat

Studio Apartment is Jon Bernson‘s effort to document the interaction between musicians and their recording spaces. Jon is the prolific multimedia artist behind Exray’sWindow TwinsTHEMAYSRay’s Vast Basement and numerous soundtracks for theater and film.

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Kevin Earl Taylor is known to most of the world as a painter who portrays the telepathic rituals of the animal kingdom with masterful insight. Those of us who live in the Bay Area also have endless opportunities to see his musical performances, most of which allude to the extreme natures in our own species. Whether he’s performing the brutal tones of Death Cheetah, or the hypnotic underwater currents of Odes, Kevin taps into states of being that many species could call their own.

 

You’ve made a lot of different music under a bunch of different names. Could you give us an overview of your various groups before we dive into things?

Currently, I’m focused on 2 projects. Death Cheetah is basically dark audio that leans toward electro-metal, or what I call “Terri-Fi.” Odes is my solo guitar project, which encompasses the more tranquil music I write. Before moving to San Francisco in 2006, I made all sorts of music with my friends in Charleston, S.C. There were a number of projects: La Calle, Matter and FLK, being the most noteworthy. Additionally, I’ve got boxes and hard drives full of sessions, 4-track tapes, reel to reels, mini-discs and even micro cassette dating back to 1996 or so.


performing with mask

Describe your basic working situation down in The Dungeon. Any neighbor/roommate constraints? Creative bonuses? Tell us the story of how you ‘acquired’ the space.

For years the storage space in the car port downstairs was just that — a storage space. A couple months ago, I decided to sneak in there, clear it out and turn it into an additional painting studio. As the renovations progressed, I became even more excited about turning it into a place where I could keep my music equipment set up at all times, which is exactly what it has become. Now I can go down there in my slip ons at any hour and geek out like the night owl I’ve always been. It’s pretty tight and incredibly raw, but just perfect for orchestrating dirges of doom and destruction.

dungeon straight on

My only constraint is that I have to use headphones, but that’s not too much of a problem since a lot of the composing/experimenting I do is recorded direct/line-in. Not to mention, it really is the best way to make my ears bleed.

Describe the basic layout of your room/studio.

floorplan

It centers around a console that I designed and had fabricated by a fellow friend/artist, Conrad Meyers. It breaks down into a manageable box, but houses a mixer, synthesizer, a chain of pedals and other gadgetry. It’s my live rig, but it works great for recording as well. I’ve got everything running through the mixer so that when a channel pans left it goes direct but when panned right, that signal runs through a loop pedal as well as other delay, pitch shifters, etc… I’ve also got my dinosaur G5 set up to record and archive what happens down there.

the wooden box

I bought a lot of loop tapes a few years ago and for that reason, I keep my battery powered 4 track set up as well. Over in the corner, I’ve got a tasty casio set up in case I have a guest drop in. I’ve built some shelves and customized chord paths to make it efficient and tidy. There’s a pipe that drips water that I keep a custom fit pan under and empty it every so often and I’ve got a dehumidifier running 24/7. It’s really pretty ridiculous, but I wouldn’t change much about it, honestly.

What is the main program or device you use to record?

Mac G5 running Ableton Live.

Ableton Session Screenshot

How linked is your recording process with your writing process? Explain how they interact.

Most of my ideas begin as improvisations. Usually I stumble on something when I’m just messing around. Once that initial exploration is dissected, I’ll take a loop or segment and import it into Ableton. Then I build a piece around that loose idea. I’m constantly reinterpreting old ideas as well. I’ve got recordings on cassettes from 10 years ago that have wound up in my current repertoire. The other night I went down into The Dungeon and when I powered everything up, one of the loop pedals was generating a buzzing pulse. One thing led to another and now that pulse is the basis to one of the darkest and heaviest pieces I’ve made in a while.

4 track

You’re an accomplished visual artist, as well as a musician. Can you talk about how these two mediums vie for attention in your life?

I try as hard as I can to keep them separate. Since moving to California, I’ve reserved music as my recreation, to provide an escape from the regimen my art career demands. Occasionally, however, the various creative mediums fuse. I’m becoming more and more interested in the idea of bringing sound and video into my exhibitions. For years, I couldn’t find an overlapping relationship between my music and art, until recently, when I had the thought that I could create sonic landscapes that would act as field recordings taken from within my paintings.

migration dissentegration

At my recent show in Portland I created a structure and embedded speakers within the form. The sound was an ongoing playlist of compositions recorded in my living room with a loop pedal and Casio MT-60 keyboard. Lastly, I mixed in various environmental recordings, which took me to a place somewhere between civilization and nature, which is what many of my paintings explore.

Talk about your process of making the music you’re working on right now.

Most of the stuff comes out of selecting, recreating and refining choice parts from various improvised explorations. Other times, I start by creating a drum beat in Reason, or by using a loop I’ve produced or created. This serves as my foundation, which then informs a series of explorations atop that wireframe. Often this will begin with a guitar part or a keyboard bassline. As the song develops, loops get chopped, resized and transposed. Other parts are added and the process continues as such. I have hours of material stored as Ableton sessions that all need arranging. The real miracle is when I set aside some time to dig into the archives in order to complete the arduous task of editing and eventually giving purpose to one of my bastard children.

 

 

pink mic

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Do you draw inspiration from other mediums besides music and visual art? Why is this important to your process?

I get ideas from everywhere, but ironically, I draw less inspiration from people’s music or art than I do from other stuff. I’m more inspired by things I see on the sidewalk or through a window.  My music, especially, gets most of it’s inspiration from the creative process itself.

Describe a favorite item of hardware or software and why it is important to your recordings.

I hate to say it because I’ve got so much beautiful analog equipment, but these days Ableton is crucial to my writing/recording process. I’ve used it for years and it really does turn audio into silly putty. I’ve become somewhat addicted, and without it, a lot of my music would have to be completely reconstructed in order to exist. I’ve recorded plenty on my 4-track, done all kinds of experimenting with all kinds of equipment, used Logic, Pro Tools, Garage Band and most anything else you can think of, but Ableton brings the best of all these worlds together in one application.

Funny Story: When I was living over in Germany last year, the creator of Ableton came to my open studio party and spoke to me about my work. He really liked several paintings. Unfortunately, I didn’t even know he was with Ableton until he was gone. It’s probably better that way because I probably would have talked his ear off about it rather than him talking my ear off about my work!

the quitar

Also, I want to give a shout out to my beloved Casio midi guitar (above) and these PZM microphones. They’re great for recording and I have a lot of fun threading them through my guitar strings.

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Can you share a song or release that you’d consider a strong example of where you’re at right now?

It’s also an exciting time because recently, I met Mike Dooling and we’ve been infusing him into Death Cheetah. My intention has always been to rely on the computer less and less for live performances, and Mike is making that a reality by killing it on the drums.  He’s a multi instrumentalist as well, with a similar perspective, so we’ve been exploring all kinds of territory. Here’s a clip from our Clarion Alley show last week in San Francisco:

death cheetah band practice

For further listening, I keep this page on my website pretty fresh.

[For this installment of Studio Apartment our lead image appears courtesy of photographer Steve Pomberg.]