AX: How’d you get into music production?
Jeff: Kind of a gradual thing – I’ve played guitar, written songs, been in bands etc. since I was in middle school. I started DJing house/techno in high school and moved into production with computers to compliment that. When I got started I was just sampling records and making edit tracks. Then I spent several years as the production guy for Bad Fathers and encountered all kinds of different aspects of production. I started incorporating my own writing and capturing that of others. Singers, rappers, live instruments, making albums, making tracks for live situations, translating computer-based tracks into a live band setting…all sorts of shit. That’s also when I met Cox.
AX: How did Silk Duck come about?
Justin: With Bad Fathers we were writing a lot of songs that we thought would be fun to play live. Those songs kept getting faster and louder and rockier. And they were fun to play. I did though, and I think everyone did, want to listen to and make some more down-tempo electronic tracks. We’d all be in the van listening to Sade, and then we’d go play a set of spazzed out punk-rap. And Jeff and I always talked about doing acoustic shows with intenso love songs. I mean, imagine walking into a coffee shop open mic and seeing Dolores O’Riordan doing “Daffodil Lament.” You’d lose your shit. Everyone there would. So, Silk Duck started from wanting to see those kinds of shows, and from wanting to hear those kinds of songs.
AX: What’s your collaborative process like? How do you guys work while being geographically separated, with one of you (Jeff) on the west coast and the other in Iowa City?
Jeff: Usually one of us will bring a partially formed idea to work on – sometimes he’s written a guitar part with vocals and I’ll translate that to synths. Sometimes he’ll write lyrics to a beat I’m working on. Just depends… as far as the distance/location factor – we’re just kind of figuring that out – technology certainly breaks down a lot of the barriers.
Justin: When we all lived together, with the other band, Jeff would be in the living room with a synth line and some drums, just getting started on a beat, and we’d already be mobbing him like “Oooh! That’s hot!! What about this?!” So some of the Silk Duck stuff was written together, like that, and some through email. A lot of the time we start with emotions or phrases and a high-hat.
AX: I understand you’re starting to write some lyrics, Jeff. How’s that composition process going?
Jeff: I’ve kind of always been a simple hook writer. I wrote and sang for a band when I was quite a bit younger. I’ve toyed with it off and on over the years and when I have something to say or some melody hits me I put it on one medium or another, usually just my phone’s voice recorder. Writing feels like something that either all comes out at once or takes months and months to develop and edit. It often feels like an unfinished business to me.
AX: Justin, I know you’ve been admitted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, to study poetry, so, as far as creative process goes, how do you discern what is for the ear and what is for the page?
Justin: The page is for the ear, and the eye, and the guts. “The Horse You Rode In On” was first heard in a reading voice. It’s an homage to a poem by Suzanne Buffam (from The Irrationalist):
Fuck you and the horse you rode in on
Is often just another way of saying come back.
My response was:
The Horse You Rode In On
You pale in comparison.
Later, when Jeff and I were having a recording day, he played the beat that became the song “The Horse You Rode In On.” I was looking through a folder, I saw the poem and heard it with the beat, with the melody, in one of my mid-range vocals. So, in this case, something I read became something I sang.
AX: What’s it been like doing this project artistically, and what’s the end goal with Silk Duck?
Justin: It feels healthy. We learn a lot from making and sharing these tracks. There’s a lot of pleasure in the physical process of recording. I like stacking vocals, listening to them, doing doubles, listening to them.
We have a few tracks waiting to be recorded, so that’s next, getting in the same room for a few days. We have a collaboration forthcoming with filmmaker Josh Yates (thisisyates.com). Jeff is finishing up school and I am about to start again, so I think for now Silk Duck will mostly be Jeff and I making tracks and putting them up on Soundcloud.
- Jake Lancaster