By Robin Ogden
Dallas Campbell is probably the biggest hardware enthusiast I know, and has curated a mind blowing collection of synthesisers, drum machines, signal processors and musical curiosities. I recently sat down with him for a chat about his production processes, all things analog, and a retrospective look at Origin Seeds. This is the second installment of ‘Off The Grid’ artist on artist interviews for Synthetix.FM, so if you’re a producer interested in contributing to this series, as either interviewer or interviewee, or want to share a chat between yourself and a synth-pal, please get in touch with either myself or Rick Shithouse!
For more information on Dallas Campbell:
For more information on OGRE:
Robin (OGRE): So, you’ve just dropped Oases, which is an utterly fantastic full length analog tour de force - what’s currently going on in the world of Dallas Campbell?
Dallas Campbell: Hey thanks dude! It felt like it took me forever to finish it. I had planned on taking like a month off and not thinking about any music, but I started working on this other project about a day into my break [laughs]. So I'm currently doing lots and lots of sampling.
Robin: I always find I get like a post-album depression, and then eventually start on something else.
Dallas: [Laughs]. Yeah I'm always thinking, ‘I can't wait to do nothing for like three months!’ Theres always something that pulls me back in after a day. Other than that, I'm just lurking on eBay and fiddling around with my kids.
Robin: You showed me some of the new drum machines you've just picked up. I take it they're part of what's being sampled at the moment, in addition to the digital cricket sound you were just telling me about before we started this chat?
Dallas: Well, I had already gotten into a deep obsession over the old school preset drummers before this came along. A lot of the sound and feel of Oases comes from those drum boxes. [Laughs] that digital cricket would make one heck of a guiro!
Robin: I guess they really open up with mods that let them talk to other gear. And each other! You really bring a lot of musical ideas out of those old grooveboxes, especially as they have preset patterns.
Dallas: Yeah, they’re mostly presets, but the beauty comes with mixing and matching them all. Also, I've been having them modded and worked on to fit into what I'm doing. It’s an entire other thing to get obsessed over. Generally I have a mix of analog drummers going with digital ones, plus samples too. It’s fun to get them all working together.
Robin:. I remember us chatting a while back when you were doing Pagoda about restricting choices and picking a hardware pallette as a means to stimulate creativity, and not getting too bogged down - something I’ve definitely subscribed to recently. What’s your workflow usually like?
Dallas: My workflow is usually a mess [laughs]. I have way too much stuff that I want to use and not enough inputs. So in the past I’ve recorded everything one thing at a time mostly. On Oases, I started recording more things live, and I kinda want to keep going in that direction. So, I guess my workflow is always changing.
Robin: I always think there’s a really live element to you music, and we’re both self confessed noodlers [laughs]. It's a wonderful thing really - that balance between sequencing and live playing.
Dallas: Pagoda happened because I was sick of dealing with songs that had like 50 tracks of synths, like in Origin Seeds. I'm thinking about pagoda 2 because i have the same sick feeling after finishing oases. I did much more live in Oases. I'm sure the noodling is annoying to most but I can't help myself. Pagoda was done with lots and lots of CV controlling filters and whatnot. Oases was much more free, I barely used any midi or CV controlling at all really. It’s just me noodling around while I have my morning coffee mostly.
Robin: Man, the gear listing for Oases is seriously impressive. Do you find that certain synths lend themselves more easily to certain musical ideas, like springboards almost?
Dallas: I think so, I've found that if i start a song with the Pro One as the center piece, it’s much different than say the SH101. Something about the sound I guess sends me in a certain direction. On Oases, much of the feel of certain songs had to do with the drum patterns. Songs like ‘Kief’ and ‘Forest’. Those were started with a CR68 and the Pro One synced together. If I'm wanting a 70’s smooth lead, the Pro One is the top choice for that. Love that thing. There’s soul in those old machines.
Robin: There really is. They all have so much character. A waveform on one is completely different to another, and two identical synths can sound completely different. I was chatting about this earlier today funnily enough. I guess this kind of comes back to the creativity through limitations thing again - certain things lend themselves better to certain ideas. All synths seem to be individuals, they all have a story to tell in one way or other.
Dallas: Oh I totally agree, they all have their own personality. I love limiting myself to using one for a while because you can really get to know it. You get a feel of what it can really do well. That’s why I feel like I have to have so many [laughs]. They all do one thing really, really well usually.
Robin: I don't think I've ever asked you this actually - when did the synth bug bite?
Dallas: In the late 90’s maybe? I started making electronic stuff after I heard that Boards of Canada album Music Has The Right To Children. I think I had some plugins at first. Rebirth and Reaktor maybe? Something like that. Soon after that I bought a Nord Lead, a DW8000, and a couple of Bass Stations. Oh, I had a Sidstation early on too. I miss that one!
Robin: I was noodling on the Bass Station earlier.
Dallas: You have the rack or the keys?
Robin: Rackmount to save space. It filled the last RU. I think it was a fairly good choice. The sync section on it's pretty cool!
Dallas: Nice thats what I had too. I didn't know a damn thing about anything back then. But yeah that’s a sweet synth. I remember I used to use it to control my Moog Rogue.
Robin: That's probably a better use for it in a lot of ways [laughs].
Dallas: Ah heck any synth can sound good if you just run it through delay.
Robin: And judicious reverb [laughs]! You use quite a few sync lead bits in your music actually. It seems to be something most retro-synth people shy away from, or at least I think so anyway. I think the 303 gave it a bad rep in some ways.
Dallas: You know I do a lot of that with layering, modulating so there’s always fun things going on and modulating the pulse width and whatnot.
Robin: I’ve lots I really want to ask you about last year’s Origin Seeds, which is one of my all time favourite synth albums. I’ve got it on in the background now. It’s genuinely hard for me to single out any one track as they all offer so much musically. It’s very much an experience for me, much like Oases actually.
Dallas: Damn man, thanks, that one was a bear to finish as well. I think a lot of the feel of that one was because I recorded the songs in two separate time periods. The kinda poppy disco stuff I wrote first. Then I took a few month break and decided to finish it, but I didn't want to write more songs like that, so that’s when I wrote stuff like ‘Indica’ and ‘Sativa’. At the end I had to go through and make it all work and make sense.
Robin: It's all really cohesive though, so I wouldn't have guessed.
Dallas: I think it worked in my favor because I really had to work on making it feel like they fit together. I reworked a lot of the songs and replayed parts. It made me take my time and really dissect what I had. I probably should have the same sort of session with each project, but its hard to really stop and take that time.
Robin: It does explore a lot of genres actually, spanning everything from Tangerine inspired Berlin bits to, as you say, lots of disco pop ideas. ‘Cygnus Operation’ is a straight up banger though. I love the vocoding in your songs.
Dallas: [Laughs] vocoding is such a guilty pleasure. James Bowen made that ‘Cygnus Operation’ song though, it’s garbage without his solo.
Robin: The guitar in it is utterly deadly.
Dallas: I know, that was the first time i had ever heard him play too.
Robin: Wow. Hell of a premiere! I remember reading somewhere that vocoders were originally designed for encoding spy messages, or at least repurposed for spy stuff. Don't suppose yours is early 20th century vintage [laughs]?
Dallas: Wow, send me that article! I had no idea. My main vocoder is a Roland SYC350. I usually pump my Juno 60’s square wave through it. Origin Seeds I'm thinking actually was done with a Korg DVP1 through a Dimension D.
Robin: Does the Dimension D feature a lot? I've been wanting to give one a whirl for a while.
Dallas: Well it has four settings: wide, really wide, super wide, and space!
Dallas: [Laughs] not really, but yeah it just has four settings, and everything on Origin Seeds pretty much was run through it. I was more selective on Oases and Pagoda. You know, that Sound Toys plugin isn't all that different from the Dimension D, but obviously the real thing is the best.
Robin: Sound Toys make some excellent stuff. I used their new vocal processing thing on a project quite recently. Formant shifting to the max!
Dallas: I haven't had a chance to use it yet, but I made sure to snag it when it was free!
Robin: Yeah, it's pretty damned amazing! It's been making sound design a breeze. Though I've actually ended up using it on some drums.
Dallas: Nice! That’s badass. I wanna hear that! I need more time in the day to do everything I want to do!
Robin: Would I be wrong in thinking there's a concept behind your releases, and your musical ethos in general?
Dallas: Yeah, usually I'm working with a concept in mind when I really get going in a project. There’s usually a time period where I'm just making noises. I love that time period [laughs]. Just experimenting with new ideas and trying different combinations of gear and whatnot. Then I’ll usually start to get a feel of what i want to do which eventually becomes a concept.
Robin: I'll spend pretty much every spare minute when I'm not actively working on something programming patches or recording samples. It speeds everything up for when you're ready to start making. Do you take inspiration from films and things? I don't know if I'm right in saying this, but ‘Green Sea and the Spice’ had something Dune about it, in addition to a killer live bass groove and really nice vocal call and responses.
Dallas: Yeah, I mean I grew up in the 80’s. I'm sure that stuff is hardwired into my brain. Heck it’s probably why I like synths and stuff. I will do things like looking at certain images or watching certain films while I'm noodling to kinda steer me in that direction. And thanks! Bass is such a fun thing. My wife did a damn good job on that song. You're the man when it comes to sampling and working with digital and MIDI though. I’ve told you before, I have no clue how to make the sounds that you come up with!
Robin: You’re too kind dude! Your family make a few cameos in your music, I think it's great.
Dallas: [laughs] Yeah I'm a cheesy dad! I probably wouldn't be making these jams without them!
Robin: I love that track a lot.
Dallas: Thanks dude! I love listening to your tunes when I have to go do something. It makes it feel like a Bond mission just taking the garbage out.
Robin: Cheers man, I appreciate it! I have to ask - is there one, piece of kit you really could not live without or bear to part with? I know that’s a horrendously unfair question to ask on the spot, but this is one of the few occasions where I can [laughs]. Actually, I’ll rephrase that: if you could take one musical thing to a desert island, which has a mysterious and infinite power supply, what would it be?
Dallas: Crap, do I have a DAW on the island?
Robin: Let's say yes. But no plugins...probably.
Dallas: [Laughs] Okay no problem there! Let me look around a sec.
Robin: You're also allowed a Kenton or similar. This hypothetical island's getting better all the time!
Dallas: Oh well hold the boat that changes things. You know honestly I'm gonna have to say the Pro One. I can do any analog drum sound with it, it has a sequencer, and filter control with a kenton. You could have endless music with it. [Laughs] I could get a lot done on this island! What would you take?
Robin: I'm thinking I might actually be boring and take a guitar. Then regret that decision for the rest of my solitary existence…
Dallas: Lone man with a guitar.
Robin: My beard would get even longer, but at least I'd have the music!
Dallas: Oh man yeah huge beard. [Laughter] what if you broke a string? Do you have to make your own? I'm pretty sure an island is a bad place to keep a synth too!
Robin: Man I didn't think of that. I should've taken a sampler or something…
Dallas: Oh fuck. That’s the right answer. We failed! [Laughter].
Robin: Anyway [laughs], any shout outs you'd like to give?
Dallas: I’d like to thank you for asking me to do this and for making all the sweet tunes! And thanks to Rick and Synthetix.FM for having me!
Robin: You're very welcome dude! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, and the splendid music, I really appreciate it!
(Many thanks to OGRE and Dallas for rockin this Off The Grid so hard! Be sure to check out OGRE's previous edition of Off The Grid with Protector 101 here if you missed it. If you're interested in doing an Off The Grid with OGRE please contact me via the contact form on this page, or OGRE via the links at the beginning of the article - RS)