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Pat Mahoney On DFA, Vinyl, and the Revolutionary Power of New Technology

Featured

Pat Mahoney On DFA, Vinyl, and the Revolutionary Power of New Technology

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Pat Mahoney and Dennis McNany are old pros. As members of the DFA Records inner circle, the two were around during the influential dance imprint’s founding and experienced the rise of LCD Soundsystem (Mahoney was their drummer), and the shift from analogue from the front lines. After many years of friendship, the two collaborated on a remix of Battles’ “My Machines” in 2012 under the name Museum of Love. Two years and a few singles later, the duo released their self-titled debut album earlier this month. We chatted with Mahoney about the DFA family, his love for vinyl, and the revolutionary power of new technology.

You’ve known Dennis for a while. How did the two of you first meet?
We met because Dennis was engineering and assisting at the recording studio that James Murphy founded called Plantain, in Manhattan. It must have been about 1999. I had been friends with James for a long time and wasn’t actually working on any musical projects at the time- I just dropped in to say hi and hang out. Dennis was his assistant. He worked on a bunch of records at the very beginning, right before DFA started, which was maybe 2000 or 2001 [Wikipedia says 2001]. I’ve known him ever since. We never had the opportunity to work together until the last couple of years, but this has been a really fruitful partnership.

Why do you think it took so long for you guys to collaborate?
I was on the road for almost ten years with LCD.  We’d hang out at bars when I was back in town, so we were always buds, then when LCD folded up he asked me to do a drum session with him in a little rehearsal space. I played drums for him and thought that was that but then he came back a few hours later, said it was cool and asked me if I wanted to make something out of it. So we started on that very casually and then we got asked to do a remix for Battles. I’d never produced on my own so that ended up being really satisfying and musically interesting to me so we just decided to keep going.

How did you come up with the name?
Naming things is really difficult. Not for everybody, but for both of us it was a really big commitment. There a lot of things kicking around and half of them were tongue in cheek. I was with my wife listening to Daniel Johnston and that song came on. I knew the song before but I’d never really dug into it. It clicked with me so I proposed it to Dennis and it sort of stuck.

Rather than creating straightforward club music, it seems like you guys have focused on more measured songwriting. Where did that impulse come from?
Partly from it being a new partnership. Dennis is a producer in his own right and a songwriter, but I’ve always been a collaborator with songwriters. I’ve made a lot of records with other people but I’ve never done it on my own. We wanted to just leave it really open-ended: if it turned into dance tracks that was fine, but we didn’t have any really set ideas about what we wanted. We wanted to experiment and not worry about everything being 125 bpm and working in a club. What started coming out a lot early on was songs, so we decided to make a band rather than just be two producers cranking out dance music.

Both of you guys seem to be heavily involved in the technical side of making music. What would you say have been the biggest technological advances in your time as a musician?
Without a doubt, it’s the ease of use and the affordability of digital recording. We have gone from the last holdouts of recording to tape and editing on tape to making records in your living room. That’s huge. That was not possible 15 years ago, or it was only beginning to be possible. Now you don’t need a particularly fancy computer. You can do it on iPads, you can probably do it on your phone. It’s killed commercial studios, which I think have a big place in music. We did most of tracking except for drums in Dennis’ living room but we mixed in a proper studio and that was really important. The fact that we even create at home is a huge step forward though. It democratizes the whole process.

You’re also releasing a special edition vinyl for the album and you’ve posted videos about the vinyl-making process. Do you think that vinyl still has an important place in this democratized world?
I think it certainly does. It’s definitely my preferred format. I understand that lot of people don’t consume music in the same way but I like to have the object in my hand. A digital file seems so ephemeral and I believe it sounds nicer than digital files, plus I like the whole ritual of putting records on. It drives my wife crazy. She’s like “you have to get up every fifteen or twenty minutes and turn the record around”. It’s no big deal- it’s not that hard!

Speaking of physical objects, you guys made customized stampers for the Never Let It End 12”. What’s the coolest band merch you’ve ever encountered?
I’ve always loved the PiL metal box record. That was the first super-deluxe bit of merch I ever saw. It comes in what’s almost a film cannister. I lived in Providence, RI, in the ‘90s and there was a lot of DIY recordmaking and postermaking and stuff, so it’s always been something that I’ve liked and wanted to do.

You released the album and singles through DFA, as well as effectively meeting through it. What’s the vibe like at the label?
The label is just a tiny office with two guys and an intern. The label itself doesn’t have a vibe but it represents very long-term friendships for a lot of us, like Juan [Maclean], Marcus [Lambkin, aka Shit Robot], Nancy [Whang] and Hot Chip and people that have been my close personal friends for the past ten years. It’s always been a family kind of thing, like we’re a little gang. It was very important for us to put the record out on DFA because it felt like our natural home.

So many guys on the label, from you to James Murphy to Shit Robot, seem to be rocking beards these days. Is that a DFA thing?
I’ve had a beard for ages. It started by being on tour and not looking after personal hygiene for a while. I still wore deodorant but I would stop shaving and just let my hair grow long, because when you’re out on the road for six to eight weeks, it’s a super weird place. I think it’s just one of those things that happens once a century. A hundred years ago everyone had beards and then they stopped and now they’re back.

After releasing the record, what’s next for you guys?
We’re booking some short runs in the US right now and trying to rehearse our band. We have two other people help us out with the live show, one of whom is Matt Shaw, who helped make the record. He’s James’ assistant engineer and also a musician. He’s playing some keyboards. My friend Guy Licata is playing drums. It’s a real band.

Finally, in the Monotronic video you guys are playing racquetball. Would you say that Museum of Love is a sporty band?
I think that was the irony because we’re probably the least sporty band in the universe. Our main competitive sports are smoking cigarettes and eating hamburgers and drinking wine.