Name: Dave Lee
Occupation: DJ, producer
Nationality: British
Recent release: Dave Lee's Produced With Love II is out via Z Records.

If you enjoyed this interview with Dave Lee and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started making music with my brother in the late 70s, we both had electric guitars, a small amp and some bongos. We overdubbed ourselves using my music centre to play the rhythm track and recorded onto his cassette player. It was just fun, though we did write songs, lyrics, come up with basic parts for the songs.

Then I did this slightly more seriously a couple of years later with a school friend, we had porta-studio, drum machine, plus he was a much better musician than me so the end result was a big improvement. My role then was mainly vocals and writing the songs. Despite the massive musical differences a lot of the process is the same now.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

Music doesn’t really make me see things, unless I’ve taken something. (laughs) It is an audio experience but when I like a song I do feel something that releases endorphins (or whatever) which make me feel good - or melancholy etc. It always has.

Whether a piece of music does this or not is completely out of my control. If an act I hate makes a song with chords or a melody that triggers these feelings within me then I have have to concede to liking it.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

A lot of development is learning. Be it new skills in terms of operating the equipment and the ever changing technology that’s come along over the last 30 years. Also working out what things your good at and where you are better collaborating or delegating. I can and have written songs on my own but the best ones were collaborations, so I know I’m probably better doing the writing with someone else - not that a good result is ever guaranteed whoever you are collaborating with.

One of the fascinating things about music is that it’s not an exact science - which means sometimes the songs you’re working on don’t turn out as well as you envisioned or expected. This is something that is inevitable and accepting that takes a while.

I guess at the start in the mid 80s I was mainly working with samples, nowadays most of the parts are originated, though samples can still be fun sometimes. I used to do loads of remixes in the 90s, it was my dream to be a remixer, now I rarely take on remixes for other labels as I don’t enjoy the pressure and quick turnarounds. I think after 30 years I know how to get the best out of myself.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

Not all my personality cones through in the music I make. My friends know me for my sense of humour, which for the most part isn’t incorporated into my music. Occasionally I let it out of the cupboard on silly stuff like “Disco Owl”.

I’m also quite political, “Man of War” was a song I managed to get some of that stuff in to.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

I still buy a lot of music and after all this time as a listener I’m hard to impress when it comes to disco, soul, house. So I try to make music I would buy and play myself.

I always give what I work on 110% but I also at the same time remember not to take myself seriously as a person.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

My main criterion with music is “is it any good?” I don’t think it matters how original or ground breaking a piece of music is as long as you enjoy hearing it and feel compelled to listen to it again and again. We all have our own opinions as to what is “cheesy” or been done to death and that is very much a perspective based on personal reference points.

I like hearing futuristic production and have enjoyed many of the new styles which have come along like Drum & Bass or more electronic sounds - which are often very different to what I produce. Is it “music for the future?” Some futuristic music sounds great when new but dates quickly, others like Kraftwerk sound as modern now as when they were first released almost 50 years ago.

One thing I am fairly sure of is a well written song with a strong melody will stand the test of time. Though I’m not sure it’s really important to me that my music is listened to in 100 years time. I’m not going to know either way.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

I’ve always used Logic software to sequence and produce on through its many phases. Also my Roland Juno 106 is something I’ve had since near the start and have always used a lot.

Though I still work with some of the same people I collaborated with 25 years ago I also make an effort to work with new musicians who give what I do their own flavour. I also try and be open to learning new things

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

I used to switch on the news in the morning but these days since Brexit, COVID, now Ukraine I find it too depressing, frustrating and biased, so that’s stopped.

I normally get up, visit the toilet for some underground peeing / teeth cleaning action. Whether I have a shower depends if I’m going to run after I drop my son off at school. I normally play with Ziggy (my son) a bit, whilst Maya (my wife) takes care of breakfast. I’ll try and get him dressed, washed and to drink something whilst we mess around.

We are almost always late for school, but I enjoy the journey chats we have about random stuff and are playing music. It’s important Ziggy hears a wide variety of music and that normally happens in the car, where thankfully I’m still in charge!! Last week we listened to 60/70s TV and movie themes. The week before we had on Kool FM drum & bass radio.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

A song normally starts with some ideas I’ve written down in the notes or hummed into my phone. There might be several ideas combined, lyrics, bassline, chords into one track.

If we take the song from my album “Let’s Do It In Style” it started with a string sample and I had the concept for a mid tempo jazzy instrumental. I worked up some drums around the sample. Rather than start with keys I got Julian Crampton, the bass player, in. I had some ideas for a bassline to go under the sample and also a few alt sections in the same key on bass. If you start with bass you tend to go a different place harmonically than if you begin with keyboards.

Kaidi was in a few weeks later and he played some chords and a few riffs over the bass, parts. Then Luca added guitar next time he came to record. I visited Matt Coopers studio who has a real piano. He replaced the midi piano and also added a few solos, which I edited between for the final one that appears on the record.

After I have all the parts recorded then the mixing / finishing process begins. This can be quite quick or very slow and depressing. Often, once I mix a tune and it all sounds clearer, I can hear that certain elements aren’t gelling. Fixing these things can sometimes be quite straight forward, altering timing, simplifying parts or on other occasions it can take many months of leaving and returning to the song, experimenting with changes whilst trying to figure out what's not sounding as good as it could.

It might be the drums, or the groove between the music and the bass or that it doesn’t lift between the sections, there’s so many things you can feel could be better. Frequently I end up completely re-writing sections, re recording all the parts etc. Obviously the “easier” ones are more fun but sometimes when you do manage to get it “right” after a long struggle it's more rewarding.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

For 90% of the studio time it takes to go from start to finish on a piece of music it’s just me working on my own. There are collaborative days when I have the musicians or singers in. Normally I’d wait until I have 3-4 songs before I get a guitarist or bass player to come and play on them. If I’m recording brass or strings I’d go to another, bigger studio to do that as my live room is too small.

I like working on my own with no distractions and I often feel I’ve achieved a lot on days I can do that but as with most people who work solo it can be a little lonely at points.

Back in the 90/00s I worked with an engineer and also had a production partner for a few years. I was thinking recently it would be nice to have a studio assistant a couple of days a week.

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

Music makes people feel good and come together, I’m not sure it needs to have more of a role than that. Of course you can use it to spread opinions or messages but music in its purest form doesn’t have lyrics. It’s just harmony and rhythm.

For me artists who have a strong emphasis on the lyrics are often less about the music. Though there are exceptions - like Gil Scott Heron

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

Only that we feel it as well as hear it. Also, music cements itself in our minds as part of our life memories of certain times, people and places.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

Unless you’ve got a very adventurous consumer, coffee needs to taste a certain way, within reason. Whereas with music there is a much less defined end product, you have far more scope to be creative.

However, as a coffee lover I do think there is an art in making a great cup and certainly with cooking. I guess music lasts longer than a meal. No matter how good it was you can only eat it once, unless you want to make it again or return to the restaurant.