Memory Tapes - Dayve Hawk interview
Hiding in the laundry room, Nicola Meighan drags Memory Tapes out to talk about New Jersey, the Cocteau Twins, and his daughter’s no BS policy
Spike Jonze and Portishead may be beating his door down, but euphoric New Jersey melodist Dayve Hawk – aka Memory Tapes – isn’t home. ‘I’m in the laundry room of my in-laws,’ he shrugs. Presumably he’s mainlining dream-pop, post-punk, classic rock and ambient works? Maybe plotting a remix like those he’s unleashed on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Michael Jackson and Britney? ‘My daughter is running round singing behind me.’
Hawk is full of surprises. Witness his evolution from co-founder of Philadelphian rockers Hail Social to shoegaze-disco hero of the blogosphere. Or his quiet emission of ‘Bicycle’, a tropical electro revelation, that became one of last year’s best-loved tunes. Or his claim that it’s all kind of down to the Cocteau Twins.
‘I wrote a kind of fan letter to [Cocteaus’ label] Bella Union when I was young, which grew into a correspondence and eventually a possible label-artist relationship,’ he remembers. ‘It fell through, but was the first kind of “making it” experience I had, and was the beginning of my realisation that I have a very conflicted attitude about succeeding as a musician. I was as relieved as I was disappointed when it didn’t come together.’
Hawk may be indifferent to the fortunes of rock, but his indomitable arias have other plans: the nagging guitar nostalgia and synth-pop bombast of his ecstatic debut album, Seek Magic, suggests that success will smoke him out. From sci-fi house hosannas (‘Stop Talking’) and electro-funk devotionals (‘Green Knight’) to gyroscopic laser-pop (‘Graphics’) and gamelan carnivals (‘Pink Stones’), Hawk’s inaugural outing as Memory Tapes unifies his prior guises Memory Cassette (gentle, pitch-shifting, cosmic rock) and Weird Tapes (sample-laden instrumental dance) into one cohesive – if kaleidoscopic – whole.
Memory Tapes’ vivid, roving pop landscapes – signposted by the likes of Daft Punk, New Order, Aphex Twin and My Bloody Valentine – are weirdly familiar, yet blatantly alien. (The latter is due in no small part to Hawk’s otherworldly vocals, which in several quarters had him pegged as a woman). Is his music impelled by a sense of location? Is Seek Magic – as it seems to be – a scrapbook of postcards from, (and maybe to), New Jersey?
‘I think, at least with this record, there was a lot of reference to the area I’m from, or at least the way it used to be,’ he agrees. ‘I tend to write from images more than literal ideas, so I think that gives things a sense of place. And I try to make things visual so maybe the listener will imagine a place or scenario and then interpret that, rather than writing [extensive lyrics] to say something directly.’ (This explains why, to these ears in any case, ‘Swimming Field’ sounds like a love song to Grangemouth, birthplace of Cocteau Twins). ‘I like interpretation and ambiguity to be a part of things,’ he nods.
It’s a strategy that’s bagged him many fans, including celluloid super-dude Spike Jonze, who championed our reticent protagonist on his blog, and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, who was introduced to Memory Tapes’ debut twelve-inch, ‘Bicycle’, by its remixers (and fellow devotees) The Horrors.
Despite his admirers, Hawk keeps quiet company, and remains a self-professed stay-at-home dad. Does his daughter help him hone his craft? ‘Kids are good at pointing out what a load of bullshit most things are’.
Stereo, Glasgow, Fri 12 Mar.