Memory Tapes is the recording project for Dayve Hawk, a stay-at-home dad from the rural New Jersey pinelands. In the 2000s, Hawk fronted a Philadelphia-based band called Hail Social, who recorded two albums of new-wave-ish synth-pop for Polyvinyl Records. After retiring from performance, Hawk started posting songs under his blog under the names Weird Tapes and Memory Cassette. Eventually, those projects morphed into one public 'band,' Memory Tapes. After releasing 2009's impressive Seek Magic, Hawk followed it up in 2011 with Player Piano.
Interview: 29 June 2011
When you put out the first record the narrative of the 'anonymous' Memory Tapes was still strong. What has it been like to release this record totally removed from that?
"The thing that's always hard for me is that the real timeline of what I do is so different from the perceived timeline of what I do. This album was recorded before Seek Magic even came out. So, it's not a reaction to the first album at all. Which means that there's not much parallel between how I perceive my music and how people perceive my records."
When Seek Magic was released it seemed like there was this complete, almost wilful disinterest in your history in Hail Social. It was like people only wanted to place you in the context of 2009, the summer of chillwave.
"The nature of the internet —which is pretty much where I exist— is that people want to consolidate information in the simplest form. Often, that makes it an inaccurate form. It's weird for me to talk about Seek Magic as my debut album, and Player Piano as my 'sophomore effort.' When, in reality, I've been making music for years. The thing with Hail Social doesn't bother me, because I hated being in that band. It's fine if people don’t want to talk about it, I wasn't into it that much either."
"Because nothing ever came out the way I wanted it to. Hail Social happened at a time when I was a very different person. I had a lot of troubles, mentally, when I was younger. I was obsessed with music, always, but I had no confidence, no ability to translate anything that I liked to do outwardly, with other people. For example, all the stuff I did that came out as Memory Cassette, I made that when I was a teenager, way before Hail Social, in the '90s. But it never came out, and I never showed it to anyone, and I never let it surface. Not until years later. So, my problem with Hail Social was that I basically got talked into being in a band by some friends, and I was never really able to communicate what I wanted to in that band. I was always frustrated by our output, everything we did. I didn't feel in sync with it, so I didn't like it being what I did."
To me, there are real intense similarities between the second Hail Social record and this second Memory Tapes LP.
"I know. The parallels between the second Hail Social record and this record are definitely there. It's, in many ways, the same thing: me sitting down at a wurlitzer and writing pop songs. I guess the key difference is that this one I recorded it at home, and I could make it sound the way I wanted it to sound, whereas the other one was recorded with a band in a studio, and when I listen to it its too slick to me. It's not that it's a million miles away, I just don’t like the color it's painted in."
If Memory Cassette were your teenage archives, when was "Surfin'" recorded?
"'Surfin'' was recorded in 1998. I was a teenager. I was in high-school. My parents had a shitty old piano in the house. No one in the family played piano, so I don't know why we had it. I'd grown up playing drums and guitar, and I thought it'd be fun to learn to play the piano. So I'd sit down at it and try to learn chords. And 'Surfin'' was one of the first songs I wrote. I was obviously super into the Beach Boys at the time. Then I went and recorded it. It was this song that always just floated around. Every once in a while I’d play it for a friend, but I never tried to have a band, or play a show, or send out demos. But, years later, when I was doing the Weird Tapes stuff, I decided that I wanted to be like Prince with his protégés, and have a feminine spin-off of Weird Tapes. So I took a lot of the old things that I’d done and jiggered them up to sound more like a girl. And put them out as Memory Cassette."
How strange, or amazing, was having something you'd recorded in 1998 be embraced as this definitive summer-of-2009-sounding song?
"It was definitely strange. It's still kind of strange to me. I always feel a little bit weird whenever people talk to me about the chillwave thing, they'll give me the bullet-points of what defines chillwave. Like: 'yeah, they're people who are really into Ariel Pink...' But, in reality, that Memory Cassette stuff might have come before Ariel Pink. I have no problem with Ariel Pink or any chillwave band, but it's just one of those things where people fit you into a box, 'this is what you are,' and it's just not true. It's not the reality. That was me as a kid. It has nothing to do with 2009. Like, the spirit of that summer. It's weird."
How do you feel about being made a part of chillwave?
"It has its pluses and minuses. To a certain degree, not as many people would have paid attention to what I was doing if I couldn't be a part of some sort of catchphrase. But, on the flipside, it can be frustrating because the associations to what that catchphrase means are really strong, and if they're not actually true to what you do, then you have this feeling of the world misunderstanding your music. I remember there was that moment where someone realised the Neon Indian songs were based on Todd Rundgren samples, the Washed Out song was based on some Italo-disco record, and after that chillwave was just dudes-with-samplers. And, from that, some people would write off any chillwave producer as not being a real musician. But, I don't even use samples. The difference between perception and reality can be frustrating. The one thing about chillwave I can relate to is the idea of it as postmodern music. The idea of it as being not part of some very specific lineage of band development. I can relate to that, I can relate to it as music whose origins is disassociative, that isn't just out to replicate a specific sound of a specific time, but is informed by all music of all times."
The saddest thing is we're all stuck saying 'chillwave' now. I hate having to say it, type it, or even think it.
"If I'm honest with myself, the thing I don't like most about being called chillwave is just the name itself. It's such an awful name that no one can take it seriously, and almost by virtue of that, they can't take the artists themselves seriously. Nobody's saying: 'It's fantastic! It's so chillwave!' Everybody seems to dislike the term, yet now we're all committed to having to say it because it's stuck around."
So, when exactly were you making Player Piano?
"It's hard for me to remember. It was definitely before 2009. I think it was the summer of 2007, but I couldn't be sure. The 2000s are, for me, all a blur."
What's it like to have to patiently wait for something you recorded years ago to come out?
"It's frustrating. It's the hardest thing for me. It's a lot of the reason why I haven't ended up working with labels. I've had offers from big labels that I really respect, that I think are cool, but they'll tell me when they want to fit it onto their release schedule. If I went with certain labels, this album still wouldn't have come out; it would be released in 2012. That's too hard for me. I think I'm moving more towards self-releasing things. I'm hoping to get to the point where I can make a record and then release it the next month. So it can feel like it's more current, to me."
Does that mean you have numerous albums made post-2007 that are also awaiting release?
"I have a lot of music that's just hanging, definitely. I try to be pretty faithful to the actual timeline when I did things. I don't want to look at it like 'what would be the most successful thing to put out next?' I want to put them out in the order I made them in. I don't know what will surface next, but they’re all in different directions from what I did on Player Piano."
What's it been like playing live, trying to assemble a band, etc?
"It was tough. It's hard. I don't love playing live by any stretch. There were times where it was amazing, we played some really good shows, but we also played some really awful shows. It's hard to translate it live, because it's not band music made by a proper band. It's lone-guy-multi-tracking-a-bunch-of-instruments. And that's hard to translate live, unless you're Prince and you can put together the Revolution. I have not found my Revolution. But, the thing I've enjoyed most is that it's fun to find your peers. I personally don't know many people my age who are into music. When I go to shows, it's the only time I really feel like I'm of my sect. I don't really have a social life at all when I'm at home. I spend almost all my time with my family, and I don't live in a city. Where I live, if someone local tries to ask me what kind of music I make, I can't even explain it to them. They don't even have the frame-of-reference. So, playing a Memory Tapes show is cool, for me, to not feel like the only guy who's into doing this kind of stuff."