cult hero since his work with Kool Keith on 1996's
Dr. Octagonecologyst, producer Dan "the Automator"
Nakamura is a prominent figure in the alternative hip
hop scene, and an integral part of some of its most revered
albums including those released by Handsome Boy Modeling
School and Deltron 3030. Last year, Nakamura gained mainstream
visibility with the success of Gorillaz and its single
"Clint Eastwood." The Automator followed with LovageMusic
to Make Love to Your Old Lady By (75 Ark Records 2001)
last fall, a Serge Gainsbourg-inspired affair featuring
the vocals of Jennifer Charles and Faith No More's Mike
Patton. In February, he released Wanna Buy a Monkey?:
a Mixtape Session, a collection of songs Automator
has produced or just happens to like. With a solo LP slated
for sometime this year, two projects he has recently worked
on are poised to make him one of the more celebrated producers
in musicex-Rage against the Machine frontman Zack
de la Rocha's solo debut and some tracks for Beck's new
album. I spoke with Dan the Automator earlier this year
via e-mail to talk about alternative rap and more of his
Youre considered one of the more celebrated members
of the alternative hip hop scene. Does it bother you that
youre not as accepted in traditional rap circles?
I think that the state of hip hop is pretty boring right
now, so what I do is a little different from that. Because
of this, my stuff doesnt always fit with whats
current. That being said, most of the cutting edge artists
will work with me and a lot of the other interesting artists
have told me they are into it. I mean as far as traditional
artists, Ive worked with some of the most traditional,
like Brand Nubian, Del, Bambaata, De la Soul, Redman,
Black Rob, J live, Beasties, etc.
Keith disavowed Dr. Octagon reportedly for the
reason that it was not "straightforward rap" and Del tha
Funkee Homosapien has made similar comments. Does it bother
you at all that the rap world seems to resist innovation?
Or that it is so hard for your production to be accepted
in the mainstream rap world, especially when what you
are doing is of higher quality than most of what is called
hip hop, like say Nelly or Ja Rule?
is Keith. As recent as last year, he was still calling
to see if I would do another Octagon. I think the sudden
exposure to the alternative crowd shocked him. I have
an ongoing relationship with Del and we fully expect to
do another Deltron record in a year or two when weve
built up more things to say. Id like to think that
rap is actually interesting, when looked at in smaller
sections. The biggest hits by Jay Z, DMX, Wu, Eminem,
even the new P. Diddy, are all topping the charts with
some really innovative ideas. I dont want to just
dismiss them because they are popularremember we
used to have Hammer topping the charts. As far as success
vs. people like Nelly, its not like their audiences
would suddenly be buying my records if they didnt
exist; so instead I think that maybe even though it isnt
my type of hip hop, it is exposing someone to hip hop
who may eventually grow into other types of hip hop
does "straightforward rap" mean? Does Kool Keith mean
in a commercial sense? Does that bother you at all? Any
great artistic change has been anything but straightforward.
guess commercial to him is represented by his current
Spankmaster. I do what I do. I mean
"Clint Eastwood" could have been on the Deltron record.
All of a sudden its a hit; who knows why?
that regard, do you feel vindicated by the commercial
success of the Gorillaz at all?
glad it was successful. Ive been doing the same
type of music for my whole career and to achieve commercial
success wasnt as important to me as making great
records (and selling enough to at least make a living).
I am glad though.
isnt quite the history, but the disparity between
quality and the mainstream in hip hop reminds me of the
divide in country musicNashville and the underground.
Would you agree?
dont follow modern country, so I wouldnt know,
but I do see the parallels with older county, when it
was outlaw vs. the more commercial stuff that followed.
you consciously seek to make a connection to the original
sources of rap?
have had many people inspire me over the years and I have
a sort of reverence for them. When given the opportunity,
I enjoy meeting them and sometimes working with them.
what do you like to listen to? Who do you consider your
peers? Who would you pay money to see?
but modern jazz and modern country. Everyone making music
is a peer and I would pay money to see anyone new and
interestingcurrently Sigur Ros and Zero 7.
does your classical training affect your music?
dont know exactly, but classical music is more linear
where pop is more recurrent. I started with classical
really early, so Im sure it affects my sensibilities,
but to what extent, I dont know.
who made you want to make hip hop?
just love hip hop. Pretty much since "Rapper's Delight."
Turntables and DJing were my first loves in music as I
was forced to play violin and it wasnt my own choice
to do that (Im thankful I did though).
the producer in hip hop more influential or more involved
in a respective artist's music than in other types of
music like say rock? When you work on something like Dr.
Octagon, how much are you contributing? Do you draw
from a lot of sources? Your music certainly sounds multi-dimensional.
Most of what is called hip hop seems so inclusive and
incestuous. As a producer, how responsible are you for
the finished product. The little touches like the guitar
on "3030" or the harpsichord on "Memory Loss" seem to
make all the difference. Is that the type of thing you
come up with?
typically I do all the music or at least collaborate throughout
the whole process. In Octagon and Deltron for example,
I do virtually all the music.
you draw inspiration from great producers of the past
like Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, or George Martin?
Sounds is very important to memore than Sgt.
Peppers. But Joe Meek, Martin, Wilson, James
Brown, Phil Spector, Ike Turner, Allen Toussaint, and
a whole host of others are all very inspiring to me.
recent release Nathaniel Merriweather presents
Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By sets
the vocals of Mike Patton (previously of Faith No More)
and Jennifer Charles against jazz beats, horns and piano.
How did you hook up with Patton and Charles for the album?
Did you have them both in mind from the onset?
just wanted to make a love record. Mike and Jennifer came
later, but I was really happy with the combo, and tailored
things to make a good fit with their styles.
was listening to an interview you did on Dotmusic.com
where you mentioned the importance of Serge Gainsbourg.
What role does his music play in this album?
Gainsbourg had a great sense of music and humor when he
made his records. He had a certain wit that we tried to
follow when we made this record.
Lovage and Handsome Boy Modeling School
explore "the player" motif while also poking fun at it.
Do you think much of hip-hop lacks a sense of humor about
your albums have featured MCs (Del, Kool Keith). How was
this album different for you as a writer/producer?
am pretty used to producing singers at this point (Cornershop,
Jon Spencer, Damon Albarn, Roisin Murphy [moloko], Cibo
Matto, Sean Lennon, Josh Hayden [Spain], MoneyMark, etc.).
challenges have you met featuring vocalists as opposed
is an adventure and I learn a lot from each experience.
Its all just music, except for the fact that its
more important to keep it more in key when working with
has been a commercially successful album. What doors has
that project opened up for you as a producer? Have you
been approached with any projects as a result of your
work on that album?
seems like theres a project for everyone. What I
mean by that is that different people approach me after
each record. Oddly enough one of the first after this
one was Redman.
worked with a diverse group of artists. Is there anybody
you will be working with again? If you had a choice to
work with anybody right now, who would it be?
everyone. I like ongoing relationships. As far as new
people, there are lots and lots of talented people I enjoy,
but I think there are chemistry issues that have to be
resolved before just blindly going into a project.