Searching For Godriguez

DRIVING along the winding road of the NSW south coast there is break after break of near perfect swell nestled in golden pockets of sand.

It’s an ordinary weekday and the water is lined with surfers for kilometres. Each town is filled with weatherboard houses and shack-like cafes teetering on the edge of sea change gentrification. This is the last place I expected to find one of Australia’s most talented and respected hip-hop producers.

I am on my way to the home of producer Dave Rodriguez (aka Godriguez), who’s been hiding away here in Coledale, about 20 kilometres north of Wollongong, for the past 12 months.

I first heard his name in 2015 when listening to Sampa the Great’s debut release, The Great Mixtape. The beats that carried Sampa’s lyrics fused an eclectic soundscape of sampling, glitchy guitar hooks and off beat rhythms – it was unlike anything I had ever heard.

Sampa’s incisive lyrics and refreshing flow coupled with Dave’s off-kilter hip hop earned them a spot supporting Kendrick Lamar on his Australian tour and propelled Sampa onto the global stage.

Since then Godriguez has put out an extensive list of mixtapes on his Soundcloud and has played with the likes of Hiatus Kaiyote at the Somerset House in London.

Although having played with some of the biggest names in jazz and hip-hop, I have always been intrigued by how little-known Godriguez has remained. The more I wanted to find about him, the more the mystery grew.

It was only very recently that I managed to find a Facebook page for his music and up until last year Godriguez had no official releases since working with Sampa in 2015. (He’s since released a 35-minute selection culled down from over six hours worth of beats, created over four years.)

This elusiveness and separation from the music scene is something that is becoming increasingly rare in an age where self-promotion has almost become a necessary part of being a successful artist.

In October 2017 Dave released the debut LP for his live band project GODTET. I believe it’s one of the most important contemporary jazz releases to come out of Australia in a long time. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how quickly the vinyl release sold out – so he does have a following after all.

Even Dave himself was taken aback by the packed crowds that gathered week after week throughout the recent GODTET residency in Sydney.

“We were playing weird stuff with weird bands, and it made me realise people do really want to listen to stuff that they can bite their teeth into.”

•••

I ARRIVE on Dave’s street flanked on either side by verdant sea cliffs and holiday-home mansions.

The humble weatherboard shack with his number on it seems to be the last of the original houses on this street.

The front door is open and I can see stacks of guitar cases, pedalboards and drum hardware. I yell out with no response – it feels as though the house is empty. I walk along the veranda to the back of the house and yell again. This time I am answered by a welcoming voice below me: “Yo! Let yourself in…I’m just feeding the chooks.”

Moving here a few years ago to be closer to nature and escape the toxicity of the city, Dave’s house is a paradisiacal surf shack. You can see the lines of waves from the living room, and below the timber veranda is a lush green garden lined with palm trees and a small creek. Dave greets me with the biggest, most welcoming smile I have ever seen.

Let’s start from the beginning. Why ‘God’?

I don’t know, I think it was initially just a bad pun on Rodriguez but then after a while, it was like, “Go on. Admit it to yourself. It’s a bit of a G up, an alter ego”. It was just more cooler name than Rodriguez. But then, then I thought about it, I was like, “Man, maybe I thought that so that it would get me hype or something.” But at the time, I definitely wouldn’t have admitted it.

Where did you start making music?

Canberra, I guess. So I was born in Spain and then moved to Canberra when I was 13 and I think it was a mixture of this guy in class showing me this Vans Warped compilation. So that ’90s punk thing was really the first thing that got me into music. Although my parents never listen to music, my dad’s a full cultural academic where he’s like, “This book’s important and these CDs …” but he never listened to them.

So he had this shoebox of like Charlie Parker, Hendrix, Bob Marley. And I was just bored going through the cupboard at the bottom of the house with the family videos and old tapes and there was just this shoebox. I remember hearing, particularly the Parker stuff, and just being like, “Fuck”.

The first time I feel I really did my music was when I started producing beats about four years ago. It’s pretty recent, really, the making beats thing.

"When I was a kid, playing along to Frenzal Rhomb ... got me high, gave me a buzz, released chemicals in my fucking brain."

Did you transition from being into punk into jazz or were you into both at the same?

It was the same time. I guess I left the punk because when I finished school, I was like, “I want to go to jazz school.” So by then I was deep in jazzland and everything else sucked. I stayed there for all of jazz school and it wasn’t until a few years afterwards I was like, “Oh, I can like other music, too.”

You were born in Spain?

Yeah, Dad’s Spanish and Mum’s from Tasmania.  

So how has your cultural background influenced your music?

It’s definitely clearly influenced me a lot in how I am as a person, and I’d like to think that my music is reflective of how I am as a person. Even if people are unaware of it subconsciously it comes through just how someone is as a person in the way they play or perform. People say there are Spanish-sounding guitars in my songs, but I don’t know. I’ve never really studied or tried to play flamenco or much of that stuff. I’ve listened to heaps of it.

Because I am so genuinely 50/50 two cultures it’s somehow allowed me to be just a bit more open to shit in general and I find that helps in art and creativity rather than having one perspective or one exposure. There’s not a clear definitive cultural influence, but it’s more the effect of having a bicultural life.

How did you end up in this house in Coledale?

I was in inner-Western Sydney forever and then stuff was just getting too expensive so I moved into this shitty warehouse and just nothing was lining up. It was a cheap warehouse, it was all I could really afford. No windows – it was the worst shit ever. And within a few weeks it just spiralled me into a depression. There was lots going down at the same time and then this place came up. I went from oxygen deprivation for six weeks – it was bad, I was literally getting sick, it was crazy – to moving here. It was somehow serendipitous, moving here and that juxtaposition.

Was there a tie between you getting into producing beats and also moving down here?

No. That was the last house before the warehouse. That was where I started making beats. And I just punched it for two years exclusively. It was weird. I remember I just moved into that place and I got Ableton and magically, all these guitar gigs just stopped and I just had all this time. So I just went hard on that for two years straight and from that came all the Sampa stuff and it was all I did. I didn’t really do anything else. And then I moved down here.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you met Sampa, and how that Sampa The Great project came about?

Yeah. So, I was running this hip-hop jam where I would just book a band and the band would jam. It would be improv and there would be a guest MC, and then just other MCs would get up. It was pretty fresh and she [Sampa] came along and was obviously amazing. We were like, “Let’s jam”, and we did and it was really good time. [We] just hung out, made some music.

Did you use that improv when making The Great Mixtape?

Only in the sense that pretty much everything was like, “Here’s a beat”, and then yeah, she’d just write to it real quick so it was really organic…

Was there a reason why you guys split ways?

She just moved onto the next album, the next chapter, the next setup, the next segment of her journey.

When you write with GODTET, is there that free flowing jam like you had with Sampa?

Yeah, that first record was all that. This next one is as well, but we’ve been playing stuff over samples, loops that I control with my foot from a computer while we play. There is the same organic improvisation. It’s definitely a huge part of my music. Even now when I make beats, I feel like I’m in that organic, reactive flow. I’ve never felt very good often whenever I’ve made music where I’ve either sat down or written from a preconceived idea.

What do you think the major difference is between producing beats on your own and working with other people?

It’s everything because you get to lose yourself – you get to go deep in your own crazy mind. It’s just you and your fucking weird fantasyland you take your mind and headspace that you are in. Whereas as soon as you’re with other people it has to be shared. You have to be reacting. Otherwise what the fuck are you doing? You might as well be doing it by yourself. Beautiful shit comes from that too, but just as much beautiful shit comes from you being in your own megalomaniac world where you get to decide exactly what happens.

The thing about working with other people is you cop their energy and their ideas and it makes you do other fresh shit that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You know? That’s the beauty. I think it’s silly to deny that other people have fresh ideas to give you or a song.

Do you have a preference?

No. I love both. Yeah. They’re just different.

"Things like supporting Kendrick Lamar were never as cool as a whole lot of other beautiful gigs I've done with my mates in the corner of a bar."

So you just recently released Volume One of Godriguez. That was a small selection of over six hours worth of music. Is there a gap between you creating music and you releasing music?

I guess in that official sense but also, no. I definitely try to put very little thought in it because I don’t want my energy elsewhere. It’s more because I’ve always just put most of my music up on Soundcloud straight away, right? So, as far as I’m concerned it’s there. It’s done. But it’s more of an official re-release. To release a thing it’s about keeping people up to date. It’s to make it clear and accessible for people.

I guess that stuff is kind of annoying because everyone would like to share it with everyone. I don’t know a single musician that wouldn’t rather just put everything out online. It’s also kind of good because it makes you have a filter. Like, four weeks down the track be like, “Oh, that’s not that good, is it?” And you’re like, “Oh, lucky I didn’t put that out there”.

Do you pay much attention to how songs are responded to? Does it influence the music you’re trying to create?

No, but It’s interesting, always interesting. Just what I was saying before, as soon as I apply any preconception to what I’m trying to create, it just gets messy. Falling out of the zone where it’s organic and genuine and as soon as any preconceived or conscious decisions are being made it just gets whack somehow. But that’s just how I am. Other people are really good at that and that’s a whole other thing that creates other bonuses – a very finely crafted structure of a journey of a song with insane detail. I’m not so much interested in that.

Whereas if you are interested in all those subtle, long structure things where people love to work on a thing heaps and heaps for months, then that’s cool and you get different style. There is beauty in both.

Do you think moving down here has helped create organic/stream of consciousness approach?

It’s helped maintain it. Just stuff aligned when I started making beats at that old house where somehow, everything was free. I had a lot of time. I didn’t have other stuff and I just could commit and so I was in that world. And then coming here has definitely allowed me to stay true to that. It wasn’t something that I creatively understood before that. Before that, I was still just like, “If I get really good at guitar, it means I make good music, right?” No, it does not – the two are unrelated.

And I come down here and I’m stoked that I was able to keep that zen-ness about making music. I don’t know why it would’ve been harder somewhere else in town but I feel it would’ve.

So by moving down here, out of the city. Do you feel that you are separating yourself from the music scene? How do you feel about the idea of a “scene”, and how has that influenced not only your music but music in general?

I guess any scene is going to influence you. It’s just your context but not necessarily your artistic scene. I guess you are going to be influenced but also, you shouldn’t necessarily. It can be good for getting hyped by good stuff or supporting each other.

People shouldn’t worry about pressure to sound like X, Y, Z within a certain scene. Isolation is an interesting thing for influencing a sound and a context in a scene. Places like Wollongong definitely have that slight isolation so it comes up with fresh creative shit. Also kids can run around in paradise here and they are more separate from the rat race full stop. Whether it be here or Fremantle or even Brisbane to an extent. So, I do feel like where you are affects things.

I definitely don’t feel disconnected [from Sydney]. I’m there three days a week working, doing gigs or whatever. However Sydney is really hard because it’s so expensive, so all the musicians have to do all these other gigs that aren’t their music. In Melbourne, you can do that and that’s why Melbourne just is ahead of the game. Any place is going have the good shit, it is just as good everywhere. It’s just, there might be smaller numbers of it. And it might be harder for them. Which does affect either the quality or the amount of their produce or art.

Are you tempted at all to move back to a city at all?

No, but I definitely need to be close. I couldn’t be much more than an hour or two drive away because to be a muso you need a large population base to support your stupid job. I wanted to and I want to and I am getting a bit of income from just writing tunes at home but, I’m definitely not in that 0.01 percent that can sit at home and write music and earn enough to live.

And what are your thoughts on promoting yourself as an artist?

Yeah, that’s a drag. I feel that I’ve just recently made that boring little leap into making social media slightly fun. I think that lasted two weeks and now it’s back to shit.

Do you think that’s a distraction for a lot of upcoming artists?

Yeah, it’s dumb. You should embrace it positively and make it an expression of you and your art form. I don’t work like that and that’s fine. Some people do and if you do, all power to you and you should use that positively to communicate to people. I don’t know if I was too old but that joke doesn’t work with me. [Laughs] It’s just also that reality shit. That’s not important. A scene in a positive sense can be important but what the actual “scene” is doing is not important. That’s probably the main thing about moving down here that helped, is it keeps in check what’s real. What actually fucking matters. Nature is real, not much else.

How would you encapsulate your sound, if you are talking genre?

It’s tough and it’s funny but [pauses] “Jazz in 2018.” As much as everyone hates any label. If I was made to, I’d like to say jazz 2018. I’d like to say jazz 2020 but, you know. Realistically, it’s now. When that GODTET record came out, the label guy was asked “Hey, we need one genre so that I can upload this onto iTunes, I need at least one category. It won’t let me upload otherwise. Dave, give me a category.”

I was thinking of all the options and I realised “Holy shit. It’s jazz”. It’s crazy. I don’t know why that’s crazy but it’s fucking crazy because there’s no “spang, spang a lang, spang a lang”. There’s no two fives, like jazz chord progressions. It’s just crazy how I went hard with that entire jazz school thing, had a reaction against it, and then this first record I put out is a jazz record. That’s what I was saying about creative process. I don’t want to think at all about what I’m doing. And then once I’ve pooed it out, I’m like, “Oh, that’s what it is.” And it was fully jazz.

I never thought, “I’m trying not to make jazz.” I was just making music, and never in a thousand years would I have thought that what I actually ended up making was what jazz is. But also, fuck what jazz is and fuck what a label is.

There’s definitely a rise of a neo soul and future jazz scene which is almost merging into mainstream music. Do you think you’re a part of that?

I’d really like to think so. It’s cool seeing that rise. I reckon any cultural movement whether it be artistic or ideological is a product of context. For anyone to be like, “I invented that. Me.” It’s like, “Fuck off.” You’re a product of your parents, of your parent’s parents: where they move, where they were, where you were. And so, it’s really cool seeing and I feel like it is a generational thing … [Pianist/producer Robert] Glasper is probably the prominent champion of it. He’s definitely slightly older and then there’s the next flow of musicians.

The point is, whether you’re from Melbourne or London, you connect with each other’s music. You identify with it. It’s like, “Oh, these are feelings and sensations that I try and get to or I have had and I can feel in your music”, and that’s why I feel that is jazz 2018.

Artists like Yussef Kamaal, for example to Hiatus Kaiyote to 30/70. That’s jazz now. Sure it’s got a backbeat or whatever and there’s no spang a lange spang a lange and there’s vocals on a bunch of it, but if jazz is instrumentalists that just go hard on the instruments, with harmony and a variety music and cultures, and then you play in a relatively open context that to me is automatically going to be jazz. It doesn’t have to be “spang spang a lang”.

What are you looking to get out of being a musician?

It’s finding that zone. It’s the high. It’s disconnecting from conscious thought. It’s from leaving your body, it’s forgetting about you’re not even aware of yourself. It’s that ethereal thing. I mean, who knows. I guess also, the bottom line is, also the fun one. When I was a kid, playing along to Frenzal Rhomb … got me high, gave me a buzz, released chemicals in my fucking brain. That’s why.

So as long as you’re getting that connection from music is there any other way that you can measure success of yourself or your music?

None and I feel it’s really important to – just like with anything in life – try and up yourself and be like, “Look at all the good music times you’ve been having”, to keep you going. Because it’s definitely heaps of ups and downs and also it’s easy to get down. Because your highs get harder to hit…

But things like supporting Kendrick Lamar were never as cool as a whole lot of other beautiful gigs I’ve done with my mates in the corner of a bar. You know what I mean? But I feel like just like with anything in life, if you just try and do that whole gratitude [thing], then it’s gonna help a lot more. It’s funny though because I just got nominated for a Freedman award, it’s like the jazz award and you get fucking 40 grand if you win it. It’s cool.

And it’s a nod. It tells you that you’ve been doing it good, long and hard … I was glad I could tell that to my mum so mum could be like, “Ah, something I can hold onto”, rather than for myself. It’s funny. How do I express to my mum how I’m going musically?

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