Name: Daniel Lee (AKA Lee Paradise)
Current Release: The Fink on Telephone Explosion
Recommendations: 40 Year Old Version by Radha Blank. It’s the most honest and alive film that I’ve seen in a long time and tackles issues of what it means to be an artist, what it means to be a Black artist, humility, selling out, being proud, instinct, and New York and Hip Hop. The soundtrack is perfection, and it led me to the music of Courtney Bryan, a talented contemporary jazz composer / Charles Mingus album Mingus Plays Piano when I am walking or at my job gardening. It’s thoughtful, pensive and beautiful. For a while I marvelled at how he could write these through-composed pieces with no repeated motifs. Eventually I realized that the entire album is improvised! I especially love the first song Myself When I Am Real. Very conducive to reflection, patience and solidifying values and movement / And theWorst Behaviour Records label out of New York. Their compilations are really dope, a combination of club music running from juke to bass to club to footwork and jungle.
If you enjoy this interview with Lee Paradise you can find out more about his work and buy music on his Bandcamp page.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My parents were (and still are) really sweet about music, so I have a lot to be thankful for in that regard. My mom is a German lady who is a fan of classical and avant-garde music, and she would take me to hear strange electro-acoustic music at Toronto’s Music Gallery when I was young, she played me classical music, and enrol me in music classes.
My father is from Suriname, and he would play percussive Surinamese records with a bouncy beat. I utilise variations of this bounce in my music today, and I think that is why I gravitate towards making rhythmically propulsive music most often.
I also spent countless hours with my friend Nathan Tenney devouring pop music of all kinds in the 80s and early 90s. Rap, energy-dance stuff, Bruce Springsteen, and pop music from various eras.
When I entered high school, I lost interest in acoustic instruments for the most part and gravitated towards 90s hip hop and jungle, learning to mix and scratch vinyl from my friend Stafford at the time. My friend Ben Clarke taught me Fruity Loops and sampling, and my life really changed from there. Having access to curating/creating all the parts of the music really became a life-long obsession, composition and production. My relationship with it ebbs and flows, and it requires constant re-exploration, but definitely the sonic quality, timbre, and “what makes that song sound like it does, and trying to figure out how it makes me feel like that” have always been the most fascinating to me, regardless of the type or genre of music.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
For me, originality happens when I hear something and try to emulate it but do not really achieve it. So, it ends up being my own, in a way. Or when amalgamating various influences into one cohesive vibe.
I have unabashedly emulated so much music. When I started off that is all I did, making bad hip-hop beats as a teen and then “indie” records later. I feel like I have cultivated a somewhat more personal style at this point, even though the genre can vary due to my musical ADD. There are some connecting themes throughout, rhythmically, melodically, and production-wise. Probably most of the best songs that I have written were directly inspired by a piece of music, or a producer/artist, or wanting to recreate a particular feeling that another song invoked in me.
There is also a competitive aspect sometimes, to make something as a kind of challenge, prove it to myself that I can do it.
Some people have very overt, innate personalities in their art. Others have to find it through a patchwork of influences, and they become the quilt which holds them all together. I fall into the latter category, still always learning how to discover my voice, trying on different hats, in my day-to-day journey as well. It really comes down to trusting oneself and one’s instincts. I stumble into songs, see where they take me, and usually write and record/produce them simultaneously. I am getting better at naturally following my flow. Getting older is helping me settle into myself more too.
As far as influences, mostly it is about the vibe. Joe Meek was a big influence in his sonic palette and experimentation. Dub reggae like Scientist and King Tubby, post-punk like Flying Lizards. New York hip hop producers from the 80s & 90s, Alchemist, Miami bass music and Detroit and Chicago house and techno, DIY recordings like early Guided by Voices, 4-track recordings. Daphne Oram, and also top-40 Pop music on the radio. I guess now that I think about it, I love artists who produce as well, who are into creating a sonic palette and world first and foremost. Not necessarily the most complex pieces in terms of music theory, but rather the curiosity in studio wizardry and vibe-creation (regardless of the budget).
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Generally, learning the technological tools that I work with is always the main challenge for me, and learning theory and how to play instruments better and develop ideas less simplistically. Truth be told I am kind of lazy when it comes to practicing, and mostly follow my whim. I also like to work quickly, so having my tools be available to record is especially important.
A lot of the challenge is mental as well, the past few years have been about analysing my relationship to music creation, psychologically and emotionally. I have been questioning my motives for making art: Is it an ego thing? Am I using it to make up for a lack in another area of my life? Why make art if it has all been done before? What is the drive to create if not Ambition, combatting Depression, or expressing volatile emotions? The connection between art, livelihood, and commerce? Thankfully, I feel really excited and grateful right now, and privileged. I make music because it is fun for me, and therapeutic. I do not question it anymore, I am just thankful to be able to have this outlet and dare I say, friend. I consider it a vital and necessary part of my life, like sleep, eating the right food, getting exercise, maintaining friendships. Hopefully, the records can make someone feel something, or even help get them through life’s monotony for a minute or inspire some reflection or positive action.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was a PC computer, turntables, and Fruity Loops. These would keep me occupied for interminable amounts of time. That got me by for a few years, until I moved to Logic and started recording real instruments.
These days I have a fun little home studio with some coloured mood lighting. For Lee Paradise stuff I love my Yamaha CS-5 mono analog synth, it is a little tank. I just acquired a Yamaha TG-55 rack synth which will keep me busy for the winter trying to badly emulate my favourite 80s records from Japan. I also use bass, guitar, soft synths, and old drum samples from vinyl, and a Roland MC-505.
I fell in love with Korg ESX-1 for making dance music (120-180bpm), it is quite easy to access the state of flow on that machine and the notion of Time disappears, so it’s very therapeutic. It is my little sports car, where I can quickly compose beats, and sometimes play them with my other group Phedre (with April Aliermo).
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I use the computer as a composition tool, to record and organize ideas, produce on, mix, etc. At times I feel resentful relying on it so much. I’ve been wondering whether I should switch out and turn off completely and move to a screen-less recording mechanism. Until then, however, it is what I move quickest on and that is of utmost importance to me when coming up with ideas. I am not a virtuoso player, so I love programming, looping, manipulating recordings. Technology is enmeshed in my process and delight, and I prefer the studio more than live performance, generally. I have respect for the players out there who can wail on their instruments and have done their 20,000 hours, though.
I like how electronic gear all has its own workflow and personality, and how everyone uses the gear in slightly different ways, has their own tricks. When you get to know a piece of gear well enough it honestly becomes a very intimate communicative give-and-take relationship. It is quite beautiful, complete with compromise, call and response, arguments, stubbornness, and working within boundaries.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Logic became my sketchpad, chalkboard, collage, glue stick and scissors. I record, move stuff around, play with effects, endlessly tweak sounds. I have regressed in my production knowledge but perhaps that contributes to my sonic personality, if I could say that I have one.
The Korg ESX-1 sampler/sequencer has made a huge impact on me and I do consider us best friends. Maybe even a side-partner.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
In production and composition, I love putting a lot of the pieces together by myself. I’m a control freak like that, admittedly, and sometimes I find communicating and social skills rather challenging. I ask friends to play on them too and play live. I have also made many records with my partner April who I play with in Phedre and used to play with in Tonkapuma (a punk duo) and Hooded Fang (a 4-piece band).
The current Lee Paradise live band consist of myself, Jonathan Pappo on drums and Michael Butler on Yamaha CS-5, and they also played on the recordings. I am not historically a person who likes to “jam” but in my discovery of hardware sequencers and samplers I have found collaborative improvising in that realm to be really rewarding. I recently had an online collab with my friend Airick/Doldrums, sending files back n forth, and it was nice.
Something that doesn’t happen very often, but that I do enjoy, is playing on other people’s music. I recently played some bass for my good pal and inspiration Scott Hardware. That was a rewarding and challenging experience, and very fun.