Current Release: D.Dan's Summerpup EP is out via his own Summerpup imprint.
Recommendations: My Own Private Idaho, directed by Gus Van Sant; Los Angeles by Flying Lotus
If you enjoyed this interview with D.Dan, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, and soundcloud for recent updates, personal insights and much more music.
When did you start writing/producing 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 producing and writing music around the age of thirteen. I wanted to sketch and record ideas down on guitar, bass, and drum kit from playing in post-hardcore and psych-rock bands.
I was lucky that the bandmate’s dad had a copy of Logic Pro with an extra license available, so I installed it out of sheer curiosity. However, shortly after installing the copy and trying to record some stuff, I was quickly frustrated by the quality of my drum recordings since I only had one Shure SM57 mic and a one channel Apogee interface. I would need a lot more equipment than I could afford at the time! Microphones, preamps, multichannel audio interface, etc.
At the same time, I was just beginning to explore the whole world of electronic music and club culture via Russian forums like Funkysouls and blogspots. I discovered artists like Flying Lotus, Shigeto, Pearson Sound, LTJ Bukem, and was inspired by how these artists combined funky rhythms, swing, and samples that sound like a human drummer, but were programmed and sculpted in software.
Once I started experimenting with programming drums on the computer and get full control of the tone, I quickly became a bit obsessed with the whole thing!
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I definitely felt a lot more external pressures in the beginning, how I thought I should be doing things or how things should sound. It was diﬃcult to finish tracks with this mindset that I was still excited about by the end. I realized these pressures were sucking out the honesty and joy from my creative decisions.
At this point, I started D.Dan as a side-project - a sort of experiment. I wanted a completely blank canvas to just throw paint without any pressure, structure, or expectations, just purely for my own enjoyment. In those first weeks of starting this ‘experiment,’ I had some kind of breakthrough. I was making two or three tracks every day, whereas before it would take me months to finish one track.
To my complete surprise, many of those tracks got some wider attention on Soundcloud. I really don’t know how people found the profile or tracks, but I could feel that people were really excited when listening to them, just as I was excited and having fun while producing them.
It sounds simple when said like this, but it’s not always the easiest to implement in practice especially in the beginning. The whole process taught me a lot, the value in letting go, trusting myself, finding joy in happy accidents. I’ve just run with it since then.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I always found it diﬃcult to neatly define what my “identity” is. I never fit perfectly into any one category, or could easily say where I call home. I’m “Korean” and “American”, but I’m also not fully either of those things. I always felt caught in some kind of liminal existence. Perhaps my music is reflective of this.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The main challenge in the beginning was not to overthink things and to be vulnerable. Now, I’d say it is to maintain a certain sense of innocence in the process.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments / tools / equipment over the years?
Over the years, my studio has centered around gradual upgrades to my speakers and acoustic environment. I’ve bought and sold a fair amount of hardware - synths, drum machines, eurorack, etc. But my quickest workflow was always centered around Ableton, with the recent addition of hardware rack processing.
I will sometimes record tracks as all-hardware live jams as a refreshing exercise to get away from the computer screen, but I just can’t give up the total flexibility that software offers in the bigger picture.
Fundamentally, the amount of attention I put into the quality of the monitoring chain, acoustic environment, and coziness of my space is what I get out in the fluidity of my ideas. Right now, I'm excited to get into my current studio to even just listen to my favorite tracks across all genres. The clarity, cohesion and physicality often gives me goosebumps, which I find really inspiring and a great basis to start making noise :)
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
A nice monitoring system in an acoustically treated space without looming fear of upsetting neighbors.
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?
I don’t usually enjoy to collaborate on producing electronic music directly. It really has to be a specific personal and artistic connection for me to feel comfortable with it - same goes for B2Bs.
I do however love to have listening sessions or workshops between friends where we can exchange ideas and learn from each other, mix records, listen to our newest productions or sketches, share stories, in a more spontaneous and immediate way.
Aside from this, maybe a jam session on instruments like guitar, bass and drums!
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
The main thing that’s important for me is to give myself time to really wake up, eat breakfast, and maybe play NY Times Crossword or Spelling Bee before I do anything else. Aside from that, I don’t have a fixed schedule on a day to day basis, as the balance of my work between producing, DJing, and mix engineering is constantly in flux. I like that every day is different.
While music is a huge part of my life, I’ve found it important to carve space with close friends and myself to enjoy things completely unrelated to music or the club scene.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Being present … in everyday life. And all the self-work and self-care that requires.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Definitely. What I find interesting is that if a song has the power to heal, then it also has the potential to encapsulate and reflect pain.
A personal example is with a “A Sea Of Love” by Huerco S - I listened to this song a lot during a very difficult period of upheaval in my life. I could always depend on it for comfort, and I always felt understood, unlike any other song in that moment. Now that I’ve moved on from this chapter, it is impossible for me to listen to it anymore. It’s physically painful, like ripping open an old wound.
In the bigger picture, I see dance music having enormous potential for healing and helping people feel authentic in their own bodies in ways that are blocked and suppressed in everyday life. The lessons in communication, connection and intimacy I’ve learned from dance music are things I’ve been able to integrate into my life outside the dance floor with much positive and therapeutic effect.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist? What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
The way I approach things, I don’t really believe in art for the sake of art. I also don’t believe in the notion of “separating art from the artist”.
I’m not saying that every piece of art needs to have an explicit outward political slogan, but I think it’s important to understand and respect where things come from. There will always be a historical and sociopolitical subtext in any art form that you can’t just wash away, not acknowledge, or not let inform your practices.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I guess only the music can tell? :)