Interview: Droid Daughter
I remember the first time that I heard Philadelphia-based, electronic producer Droid Daughter‘s music. It was with his Mesoamber album, in late 2013, when Myc Ripley retweeted a link to it. The album art is what prompted me to click the link and take a listen. Then, before I knew it, I went through the whole project, and was a total fan. I hit download, and moved on to listen to his other works. Yup, this dude is dope!
Since then, I’ve been following him on Twitter, as well as following his music progress (although, I haven’t posted much about what he’s been up to since then, on here — my bad). That said, I was honored when he sent me an advance copy of his forthcoming album, titled Auxera, and wanted to talk about it. After giving it a thorough listen, several times, we began the interview. I learned a lot about him–personally and as a producer–such as his childhood hobbies, his musical influences, his favorite video games, what equipment/software he uses to create, the core inspiration behind Auxera, deeper explanations into the songs, and more. Check out my interview with him below.
Tiffology: Hello! Introduce yourself.
Droid Daughter: Hey there. My name is Connor, but I hide behind Droid Daughter – some people call me ‘DD’.
Why the alias Droid Daughter?
The speculations are always too entertaining for me to reveal the reasoning behind it. Fought myself on changing it, like, four times now?
What were some of your early childhood hobbies? Who were your early musical influences?
As a kid, I remember laying down on skateboards with my little brother and rolling down the hill of a street we lived on. We watched a lot of Rocket Power. My dad had a Casio keyboard that I would write little songs on fairly often. Towards the end of elementary school, there was a lot of Playstation 2. It was Crash Bandicoot 2 and Dark Cloud all day.
When I started actually writing my own music, my biggest influences were your basic punk bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, some other band about Biscuits, HÃ¼sker DÃ¼. That evolved into stoner rock, then bands like Primus and early Incubus. I stuck with Incubus because of their willingness to do different things, disappear for a few years, and do it again.
What about now, who are some of your current musical influences, and why?
After I found Ann Arbor label Ghostly International, I consider my aural V card collected. Shigeto is my favorite artist on the label. He’s always been able to convey very complex emotions through his music while still clearly basking in the fun that experimentation and playing your own instruments provides. There’s always Flylo though. I could write papers on the guy. I’m huge on artists being able to convey emotions. Every time I listen to his music, I’m looking for more and there is always more to be found, whether it be another sample or synth I hadn’t heard before, or a harmony that I never let myself notice because I was focusing elsewhere. Lately, my biggest influences have been Aeroc, the newest Aphex Twin, Bugseed, Take, and Eric Lau.
How would you describe your creative process, from idea to completion?
There are two ways. One is significantly longer than the other.
1: It starts with a solid week or two of hating every idea I come up with. I save them, let them sit. I’ll get really invested in a few video games (lately it’s been Half Life 2 and Katamari Forever), focus more on my graphic design, and watch a lot of movies. After realizing that I’ve spent a solid week playing video games, I’ll try to give the music another shot. I’ll get a few tracks down, maybe even finish one or two. Once I start hating everything again, the cycle starts over until I feel I have a solid album’s worth of material finished.
2: When I’m making beats, I’ll start with the sample most of the time. I go out one night and dig through some crates for a bit. I used to record every record I bought, both sides, start to finish. That takes up so much time though. Now I skim through, occasionally letting it play out when it’s especially beautiful. I’ll compose some drums over the sample – which at this point is almost always heavily chopped and effected – record bass lines, synth melodies, ambient effects, whatever, and wrap it up. Usually takes anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours once I decide on a sample.
Whatâ€™s the ideal atmosphere you like to be in when producing?
Natural light is so key. When I go through long bouts of producing in my basement with no natural light, I start to not want to make music. When I play around in my living room with the skylights or my bedroom during the day, my workflow is unstoppable. It’s also very easy to get things done when you’re by yourself.
What is your favorite sound?
Toss up between the sound Crash Bandicoot makes when jumps on the caged-crates and the reggae air horn, to be honest.
What do you use to create your music?
I’m running Ableton Live on my iMac in the studio and my Macbook when I’m elsewhere. When it’s convenient, I use the Ohm64 controller to speed up my workflow in Live. I’ve been using the MS-20 Mini synthesizer and the Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano for my bass lines and melodies for years now. I just recently picked up the Teenage Instruments OP-1 and I am beyond in love with it. When I play live, I’ve been running my sets off of the Roland Sp-404sx. It’s so easy to play shows when you eliminate the laptop. People also stop asking if they can make requests when they see that you’re only piece of equipment is this fat rectangle with a glowy circle on it.
Where did the title “Auxera” come from? Also, before we get into some individual tracks, can you tell me about the overall idea/inspiration for this album?
Auxera is a lil word I made up. Auxiliary Era. Everyone today is all about just being there for the ride. “Yo I got you when you need me man!” Nobody wants to make anything happen, they’re waiting for somebody to make the move so they can attach themselves to it.
The first songs I knew were going to be on a new album were made around this time last year. For me, this album started out as a desire for independence and became more or less a bridge to it.
Now, describe Auxera in one tweet (140 characters or less).
It starts with pretty voices guiding you into lonely hole. Once you’re there, it’s your place to make the best of it.
You have a multitude of styles on this album and, upon my very first listen, it was unpredictable! I liked that. For example, let’s start off with the first song–“The Shaman of Warminster”. It starts off very eerie in sound, kind of sci-fi meets electronic wackiness meets 8-bit. The drum style is what really surprised me. Before I knew it, the song shifts from having some mellow, heart-beating kicks, to a boom bap rhythm, and then into an erratic, drum-n-bass territory. What can you tell me about this track? Also, who is LOG Arhythm and what was their contribution to this one?
This track was my favorite to make. LOG_arhythm is my homie Logan who makes chiptune music down in Philly. He came over one night and we just put this track together piece by piece until it formed what you’re hearing. Anything that sounds like it may have come from a Gameboy, Logan contributed, and also was actually made with a Gameboy. The beginning is almost entirely composed by Logan. As it reaches the middle of the song, we’re at a solid 50/50 point in contributions. I take over the song right after the drum-n-bass part ends.
“Baby’s First Existential Experience” is light and spacey, but drum-heavy, too. It features Whip Angels talking over the beat, loosely describing human existence. Tell me about the concept of this song, and Whip Angels’ part on it? Did she come up with what was said first, and you created a beat around it… or vice versa, the beat was laid out, and she supplied the script?
This was one of those early tracks that gave way to the rest of the album. I was in a pretty dark place and the name is kind of a jab at that. The instrumental was finished about 2 months before I sent it to Jenna (The Whip Angels). I love her music and especially the place her art comes from. I knew I wanted her to provide some vocals to a track on my album, I just wasn’t sure which. I sent it her way and she sent it right back with her lyrics. I love it.
I think Fishdoll’s dreamy vocals on “She’s Always Tired” really makes the song. This is a song that I want to play during my downtime, when I am relaxing, or when I’m about to crawl into bed. I love the combination of her soft vocals and the airy percussion, mixed with an uptempo drum pattern, which is layered over a much slower drum layer. Whew! It’s like, she’s always tired, but her thoughts are racing and keeping her awake. I’m feeling it! What can you tell me about this song?
Fishdoll is amazing. She’s an unbelievably talented girl and I have to thank my friend Thatcher (Sports Coach, Holm.) for introducing me to her and actually suggesting she sing on this song. It was a rather bland instrumental until she graced it with those vocals. Lil bonus yung exclusive ‘did you know?’ for CrayonBeats – the part in the middle where she’s singing in Chinese – it translates to “She cannot stop”. Funny you draw the connection that “she” still can’t find the peace to sleep.
There are 3 Shaman tracks: “The Shaman of Warminster”, “The Shaman of Maplewood”, and “The Shaman of Yonkers”. Why did you name these as such and what is their connection (if any)? Also, since we already talked about the first, talk to me about the creation of the other two.
The Shaman tracks were all of the tracks that I collaborated with my close friends on and the locations are where they all currently reside. Warminster is mine and Logan’s hometown. Maplewood is where Blaise Palmer is from, and my homie Pevensie is schooling up in Yonkers. The Shaman of Maplewood was similar to The Shaman of Warminster in that Blaise and I just sat down and worked on it until it reached a point that I could take over. Shout out to LOZ: The Windwaker. The Shaman of Yonkers was a Pevensie track that he so kindly allowed me to finish.
“Poplar”, featuring BEXAH, is another one of my favorites. It’s so groovy, and makes me feel like I’m either underwater, or floating in the clouds. Tell me about working with BEXAH, and creating this lovely song that seems to be about love and letting go.
This is one of my favorite points in the album, kinda shifts directions here. Working with BEXAH was a lovely experience. It was this past summer. She came through the studio, which at the time was my bedroom closet, knocked out the vocals and we got some sushi. One of my favorite days in recent history. The lyrics she wrote are very real. From what I gather, it tells a story of being pushed aside, questioning the love, and realizing it’s just not her thing anymore. People go through that all the time, but you only hear the results of it, never the thought process during. That’s what’s real.
What I like about all your records, is that, aside from weaving together such superb sounds, you’re really good at choosing vocalists to shine over your songs. Most of them I’ve never heard of, so then I go looking for more of their music. But yeah, there has never been a vocal feature that I didn’t really enjoy over your production. That said, how do/did you find these talented people? Are they usually friends of yours already, or what?
My most consistent collaborators have been Kate Kushin and BEXAH. Kate’s been a friend for quite some time and after she started to really seriously pursue music, I jumped on the opportunity to work together. BEXAH I met in late 2013 right after I put out Mesoamber. Since then we’ve been trying to do as much as we can together and I may or may not be producing a solo album for her ;). They’re all usually close friends or I’ve discovered them through mutual music friends. I love putting on these vocalists because a lot of people may not necessarily vibe with MY music, but their talent is undeniable so they still get the pass.
When I listen to “Memory Preserver”, I immediately feel this sexy, sensual connection to it and it makes my body move to the romantic rhythm. I picture this being the soundtrack to some incredibly beautiful, contemporary/jazz dance, and I love listening to it. I wish it were a bit longer. Where was your mindset at when creating this piece? What memory does it preserve for you?
This track was named long before it was created. One of my jobs is transferring homie video tapes to DVD so it’s just a more literal title for my job. I finished this track a few days after the day BEXAH came to record for Poplar. I’d say if it preserved any memory, it’d be going to this scenic overlook called Goat Hill with a few friends that week.
I really like the flow of “Water Gap”. It starts out really serene, for about 50 seconds, and quickly climbs into a chaotic expansion of sounds and excitable energy–mild thumping drums, block claps, tinkering noises, a synth line that progressively gets louder, rapid hi-hats, and all the layers just come together for a pleasing tune. A horn sounds off, right before dipping back into the peaceful groove that it started with. I feel like this beat paints a personal, maybe emotional, story about a rough time and pushing through it. I could be very wrong, but that’s what I feel when I listen to this one. Was there a certain feeling or situation that you were trying to capture with this production?
When I’m feeling awful about things, I go to the Delaware River Water Gap area to think and be alone. At night, you only hear the river rushing against rocks and random bugs. You’re close enough to towns to feel like people are nearby, but far enough where cars don’t really drive by. The track isn’t really tied to any specific experience, but more of a reflection of what that experience is like for me. It begins slow, quickly picks up steam as I delve deeper and deeper into my inner feels, and then I get overwhelmed. When times get hard like that, I eventually can just laugh at it and move on. That’s where the reggae air horn comes in. Makes me laugh every time I hear it no matter what.
“Where Ever You May Be” is one of those songs that I could listen to on repeat and not get sick of (there are many of those on this record). It’s a breezy tune that’s wonderfully layered with beautiful sounds of the outside world, alongside head-nodding drums, gentle waves of percussion, and echoed strings. It makes me zone out, and I love beats like this. I read something you wrote on Facebook, regarding a teacher you had–and who had greatly inspired your music–having recently disappeared and then turned up dead; may he rest in peace. I feel like this song might have been one you produced during his whereabouts. If so, can you please describe to me your feelings during its creation? If not, what inspired it and what emotions connected to this song?
Yeah, the two tracks “Peace In Death” and “Where Ever You May Be” are deeply connected to him. His name was Christopher Tully. He would critique the earliest Droid Daughter music when I was in his class and to this day, when I’m making edits to songs, sometimes something will stick out to me and I’ll hear it get pointed out in his voice. This album is for him and everyone who helped me through that time, especially my girlfriend. A few of them are even featured on the album so it just feels right that way. To make these two songs it took a few hours of reading through old journals I wrote in his class and just remembering any time we spent together. With that fresh in my mind, I just let what I was feeling create itself.
People who fuse 8-bit video game sounds into their beats, and make it sound GOOD, will always get repeat plays from me. “Rich Homie Dran” is fun and cool, with the shaky snares and piano notes, and with the heavy, thunderous bass bumping from my speakers… whew! Dope! I think I might throw this one on my phone for a ringtone, too. Tell me about the title–who is Dran? Is he secretly related to Rich Homie Quan? Who, by the way, I’m unfamiliar with, but Google brought up all of his stuff when I searched the title.
Dran is a boss turned ally (spoilers) in a game called Dark Cloud. I’ve been replaying it a lot lately and I wanted my boy Dran to have a place on the album. I pronounce Dran to rhyme with Quan, so it just made sense to me. I might make you an album of ringtones though.
Was that one as fun to make as it sounds?
Talk to me about “Cho Cho San”. Was it named after the Japanese restaurant in California? If so, why did you feel the need to name it after a sushi spot? Also, what is your favorite dish from there?
I wish it was the Cho Cho San from California. It’s actually the Cho Cho San from North Wales, PA. /yawn. I made this track in early 2013 after a sushi date. I usually keep it real with any variation of a spicy shrimp roll.
“Back To Sleep” can follow “She’s Always Tired”, in that it can be the tune I listen to when I’m drifting into sleep, on my way to dreamland. It’s so soothing, with hushed tones and minimal layers of strings, light finger snaps, and a woodwind instrument (perhaps). Can you provide your insight on this one?
This was made a few weeks after Cho Cho San. I hadn’t been sleeping that much at all and it was originally called “No Sleep”. I tightened it up and renamed it this past summer. It’s meant to be exactly what it is to you. Soothing and spacious enough to let you think about whatever it is you think about before you fall asleep.
“Lucid+” is the final track, and it’s big in electronic sound and movement, with a lot of layers carefully pieced together. With this being the last one, what do you hope people gather from it? More importantly, what was the imagery you wanted to paint for this album?
This track holds some of the most meaning to me. I hope that it gives listeners the feeling that they’re able to tackle whatever they want to in life, and by the end of the song you’re reminded that despite your confidence, courage, or whatever – it still comes at a price.
I have synesthesia, so a lot of my music is made to please more than just your ears. When I hear these songs, it’s easy for me to get lost in the soundscapes I imagine them in. I don’t want to say that there is a specific picture to be seen, but to me, it goes back and forth between my favorite spots at the Water Gap and laying on a rock in Central Park at night.
When making this album, were you a severe critic of yourself? If so, have you always been that way?
At times. It’s easy to get that way when I’m the only person hearing these songs. I didn’t want a lot of people to hear this music like I usually do. I wanted it to be a very personal journey that I could own. The price was not knowing how it would be received and having an overly critical view of how it might be received. Once you accept that none of that shit even matters, you start to really love what you’ve done.
Past, present, and future — what has been, is, and will be the purpose of your music?
It has and always will be about making people think. I want people to be able to enjoy some of my music in a live setting, but ultimately, if I haven’t gotten you to question what these songs mean or how these songs resonate with you I’ve failed.
What was your favorite track (or more than one, if needed) to make, and why?
“Peace In Death”. It happened so quick that I didn’t even realize how much I’d stepped outside my comfort zone.
Was there a song that was hard to make, maybe because of the emotion tied to it or something?
Lucid+ was hard once I realized how specific my vision was getting with it. I needed to find ways to convey specific statements I wanted to make with music. Usually, it just comes out and later I’m like “oh right, that was about this.”
When did/does the album drop, and where can people get it?
March 17th! I’m releasing this independently on my Bandcamp. There will be a release party on March 14th, at 1984 in Wilmington, Delaware.
If you ever received a self-destructing memo, what would you want it to say?
“What color is this dress?”
What is the most generous thing someone has ever done for you?
Let me be a vulnerable mess of a human being in their apartment for four days straight.
What are 3 essential music accessories for you?
Pocket Piano, OP-1, SP-404.
What is the #1 junk food that you just can’t ever refuse?
Wawa coffee roll 4 life.
Pretend that you are an action movie hero. What is your weapon, and what is the line you scream when you defeat your arch enemy?
Gucci belt buckle throwing stars. “Oh. You thot I was playin’…?” but this will be built up by the antagonist continually calling my love interest a thot, so there’s obviously plenty of payoff from that line.
Let’s play two truths and a lie. Tell me two things that are true, and one thing that is a lie, but don’t let us know what’s what.
I’ve lived in Turkey, I can give the beat down to anyone in SSB as Jigglypuff, I worked at Applebee’s for a whole year.
[divider]FINAL WORDS & CONNECT[/divider]
Many thanks to Droid Daughter for talking to me about his album! Be sure to look out for Auxera next Tuesday, on MARCH 17TH. And, if you’re in Wilmington, Delaware, hit up that release party at 1984.