Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with Dave Aju

Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with Dave Aju

I’m pretty much obsessed with Spotify. I love listening to an artist that I am familiar with only to discover new names that I have never heard before. That is what happened here. My buddy Eric actually turned me on to this guy. He sent me a track on Spotify and told me to take a listen. He does that from time to time, and usually knows what styles I dig. For this artist, I wasn’t familiar with his work. I had never heard of the artist. So I started to listen to tracks like “Until Then” and “Caller #7”. (“Caller #7” is one of his best tracks!) I pretty much fell in love with the sound. It’s house, but it’s also got a little groove thrown in the mix. Words like “funky” would be a good word to explain the sound. Anyway, I did some research on the artist and reached out to him for an interview. He was eager to be involved, and I was excited to learn more about his motivations. Oh, and he has played Smart Bar in Chicago. That’s one of my favorite venues in the Midwest! Anyway, I will stop talking. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce Dave Aju.

My buddy Eric just introduced me to you. I am VERY impressed. How long have you been producing?

Thanks, man. I’ve been dabbling with music production for about thirteen years, but only started focussing on it more seriously and full-time about five years ago.

You are from San Francisco. Is the bridge red or orange? I was there a few years ago… and it looked orange to me!

Yeah, it is kind of a red-orange really… when the fog clears and the sun hits it directly you can see the “golden”.

Tell me a little bit more about Open Wide.

It was my debut artist album, and was made using only samples of my voice and mouth.

Speaking of Open Wide, what the heck is Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik?

It’s like the German version of the GRAMMY Awards, but maybe more like how the Golden Globes Awards are vs the Oscars; less a popularity contest more an acknowledgment of achievement from industry heads, etc.

You have a ton of releases. Do you have a favorite?

That probably changes depending on the day and my mood, but my newest album Heirlooms is a nice set, I think.

You recently played Smart Bar in Chicago. I LOVE that room. Have you played the Windy City before?

Yeah, Smart Bar is amazing… such a classic venue. I have played in Chicago before, but only private events.

Who does all of your album artwork?

For Open Wide and most EPs it was a collab between myself and Leo Butler aka Peanut Butler from the label’s graphic side, for Heirlooms it was done by Alland Byallo, a super-talented dude from SF also, now living in Berlin.

You have a very eclectic feel to your music. Where do you draw inspiration from when you sit down to produce a track?

I can’t help it, I love so much different music. When I sit down, or stand – I’m like Hemingway sometimes, to produce a track, the only thing I try to draw from is the moment and let the sounds take shape and determine the feeling.

Your real name is Marc Barrite. Where did Dave Aju come from?

Yeah, my full name is Marc David Barrite; Dave Aju was an alias I came up with years ago that stuck. It’s actually a joke, really. It’s a spoonerism of deja vu; I first heard it on a song called “Geembo’s Theme” by The Arsonists, a hip-hop group from Brooklyn.

Tell me about your relationship with Circus Company.

The Circus Company is based in Paris, but has ties to SF as one of the managers studied out here at one point, so we met here and just hit it off, and kept the relationship going… seeing eye to eye still after so many years and geographic distance is great.

What is the best concert you have ever been to?

Ooh, tough one… I have to cop out with a five-way tie between the first time my dad took me to see Miles Davis. He had Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette up there with him; Pharoah Sanders solo at Grace Cathedral, straight chills; Freestyle Fellowship at Justice League, the masters; Erykah Badu right after the first Amerykah release, and Radiohead during their OK Computer/Kid A period.

You must like tequila… you have a track on your latest album called “Mr. Reposado”. What is your favorite tequila?

Yeah, it’s my drug of choice. I have many favorites for many reasons – my dad’s was Herradura, my extended fam’s Patron, Don Julio always a classic, but for me right now it’s all about Chinaco Reposado. She’s the one the song is about.

Your lyrics are really creative and often quite unique. Who writes all of your lyrics?

Thanks! I bet my parents would be glad to know the English literature degree I received is being used somehow; I love to write, and first got my chops as an MC in hip-hop groups around high school years.

How did you get hooked up with MAGNET MUSIK?

I was in the market for a European agent, and once I realized asking peers was dead end (10 artist, 10 opinions), I started asking promoters, the folks that have to work with the agents, and a majority said MAGNET MUSIK. Luckily I was is in a position where I had a choice and they accepted.

I haven’t seen you live… yet. What can fans expect from a live performance?

For my live sets, I basically rework tracks from my studio sessions and back catalogue and perform the vocals live.

I can’t read it… but tell me more about the tequila breakdown featured in Groove Magazine.

Ah, it basically breaks down the importance of finding 100% agave tequila from the Jalisco region of Mexico for authenticity, then goes into the qualities of three picks, like the ones mentioned above. It’s a segment where they ask artists to nerd out on something that isn’t related to music.

What are some of the best clubs in San Fran?

222 Hyde, The End Up, Monarch, Public Works, to name a few open now; some of the best nights were at now-defunct spots like the Compound and Acme Warehouse though.

Who are some of your favorite DJs?

Theo Parrish, Premier, Pete Rock, J Rocc, Mike Huckaby, Harvey, Koze, Zip, Herbert, Kenny Dope, and Mr Scruff.

What is the biggest crowd you have ever played for?

Hmm, maybe at one of the Piknic Elektronic parties, 3-4000 people…

There are some good clubs here in Phoenix. You should come play. What do I have to do to get you to the Valley?

Cool. Blast Issac Hayes’ version of “By The Time I Get Phoenix” loud enough to hear from SF? Have folks get in touch!

When you remix a track, do you need to get permission from the original artist?

I’ve never done a remix that wasn’t commissioned by the original artist/label; edits are a different story.

What is your favorite part about being a producer? What do you enjoy about creating something that was once an idea in your head?

Seeing that translation take place, or not, is what keeps it interesting… how close or how far the final product is from the original thoughts and ideas.

Listening to Heirlooms, it starts out… well, it starts out creepy. I love it. But then it picks up and gets more house by the end of the release. When you sit down to do an album like this, is that on purpose, or does it just come out when producing the tracks?

Well, as the tracks are produced, the album sequence is not a thought yet; then when the final track listing is compiled the order is decided, and in this case I ran it the way I tend to DJ, since the theme of the album is my roots, so it starts with some honest upfront messages, following by some trippy and increasingly deeper stuff, then back into some upbeat vocal-oriented stuff to lift it again, then end straight from the heart.

What would you be doing if you were not producing beats?

Not sure. Maybe teaching kids how to, or cooking, or running a tequila bar somewhere…

From Alcatraz to the Golden Gate Bridge, there are tons of tourist traps in San Fran. Do you ever get overwhelmed living in a city filled with travelers?

Yeah, it can get a little hectic sometimes. But to be honest, the daytime tourists at spots like that are not an issue compared to the hordes of folks who come into town on weekend nights to get hammered and act a fool all over town.

Scuba is affiliated with Liaison. Are you familiar with his work?

Yeah, he and his label Hotflush have released some really cool music.

Have you ever performed overseas?

Yeah, I travel abroad often. It’s the only way to survive financially. The budget for artists in general is much higher in Europe and other parts of the world like Japan, than it is in the US; we just don’t have the same values here, unless you have corporate money backing you of course, that’s a whole other story…

The title for Heirlooms has a deeper meaning. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Yeah, as mentioned it’s a tribute to my roots, especially things passed down to me from my late father. He was also a musician and I inherited several of his instruments, band recordings, and records, which I used for all the sounds on the album. Beyond that, the theme includes other roots like DJing – it’s a more DJ-friendly album, and the more genre-specific roots that define my place in current music like underground hip-hop, deep house, detroit techno, latin jazz, modern soul, etc.

What’s next for Dave Aju?

To just keep on doing this… have a few new projects in the works, and some exciting band collaborations too.

Thank you so much for doing this. I know my buddy Eric is excited to read this! In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.

Why not?