Artist Interviews

Q&A: Dave Depper

By | Published on Tuesday 16 August 2011

Dave Depper

A one-time member of The Decemberists, and prolific artist-on-loan to an array of other Portland-based acts, Dave Depper’s debut full-length solo venture was to re-record Paul McCartney’s 1971 album ‘Ram’ in just 30 days. Holding intensive, sometimes overnight sessions in his bedroom studio, Depper played all instruments featured on the LP himself, recruiting local singer Joan Hiller to supply Linda McCartney’s original vocal parts.

Entitled ‘The Ram Project’, the finished product is due for release on 22 Aug via City Slang, with lead track ‘Too Many People’ available as a free download here on SoundCloud.

Having taken advantage of Dave’s generosity, we asked that him to reflect on his labour of ‘Ram’ love, as steered by our ever seaworthy Same Six Questions.

Q1 How did you start out making music?
My father was and still is a very gifted classical pianist. When I was quite small, like so many other children, I was forced to take piano lessons. And like so many other children, I detested them. However, my parents raised me on a steady diet of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, etc and before long I was inspired to pick up the guitar as well. Though I spent a couple of years in university studying music composition and performance, I didn’t really begin pursuing music seriously until I moved to Portland. The music scene here is so overwhelming, inspiring and inviting that I quickly fell into the right crowd and began playing with bands.

Q2 What inspired your latest album?
I’d been playing with bands here in Portland for a number of years and feeling quite good about it. But over the last couple of years I’d felt a nagging dissatisfaction with the fact that I hadn’t recorded an album of my own, nor did I have any idea of how to technically do it. Recording ‘Ram’ was an intellectual exercise in taking on a massive project and seeing it through, as well as a crash course in how to record an album in my bedroom and still have it sound OK! Also, I love ‘Ram’. I think it’s a masterpiece, and not recognised as so often enough.

Q3 What process do you go through in creating a track?
The first step was picking the order in which to cover each song. As I started out with limited technical ability with regard to recording, I started easy with songs like ‘Heart Of The Country’ and ‘Dear Boy’, which only featured a limited number of instruments. As I went along and learned, I was able to tackle more ambitious songs, culminating in technically overwhelming tracks such as ‘Back Seat Of My Car’ and ‘Long Haired Lady’.

Once I picked a track, I’d have to identify all of the individual parts and figure out what order in which to perform them. Since I was playing them all myself, I’d have to first set up a metronome track and then pick an instrument that more or less formed the backbone of the song. For instance, electric guitar is certainly the most prominent rhythm track on ‘Eat At Home’, whereas piano forms the backbone of ‘Back Seat Of My Car’. I’d record those first, meaning I’d have a guide to lay the other tracks over. Typically, I’d do drums next, which was a very tedious process as I only had one microphone and one input, so I decided to record every drum track one drum at a time. The drums would take hours and hours – I would always dread that part of it.

Things like bass and keyboards were typically quite easy. The most difficult part by far was the vocals, because 1. I’d never really sung lead vocals before and 2. Paul McCartney, in case you didn’t know, has an astonishing singing voice. Doing justice to his vocal performances was extremely difficult, if not impossible. There’s also a number of technically challenging guitar solos on the record – I certainly became a better guitarist during this process.

Q4 Which artists influence your work?
Well, with ‘The Ram Project’, the only influence was, obviously, Paul McCartney, and nobody else (except maybe Linda too). In terms of people who influence my work outside of the scope of this project, I’d say Air, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Television, early Genesis, and the many talented folks I’m lucky enough to collaborate with in the city of Portland.

Q5 What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?
I hope that this record inspires you to investigate Paul McCartney’s solo work and his records with Wings. There’s some bad stuff, to be sure, but the good stuff is incredibly good and often ignored. Dig deep!

Q6 What are your ambitions for your latest album, and for the future?
Well, my ambitions for the project were initially quite personal, and not meant for public consumption. I feel incredibly lucky that a couple of record labels have shown interest in this project and helped it get out to the world. In that sense, my initial ambitions were met and then some! However, now that it’s out there, I would absolutely love it if somehow Paul McCartney was made aware of this project and got in touch with me. I’d love to just sit and talk with him about music for an hour! If anybody reading this happens to know him, drop him a line, will you?

As for the future, I’m working on a record of my own original material and a couple of collaborative records with Portland artists I admire. I hope to finish those up this year. I also just joined one of my favourite bands, The Fruit Bats, and will be touring with them as a keyboardist/guitarist all over the place this fall to support their new record, ‘Tripper’. I’ve certainly got my hands full right now!