Experimental U.S. producer McPullish has impressed and frightened listeners with his sent from another dimension dub productions. His latest album Black Metal White Reggae, released in 2013, is packed with odd song structures and strange sonic adventures. Reggaemani caught up with this highly individual producer to learn more about his latest album, the art of dub mixing and how the scorching summer of 2011 inspired him.
“Austin is considered to be the music capital of Texas and there are several reggae bands here. We have a festival called Wildfire Reggae and Arts, and the Austin Reggae Festival annually. Popular reggae artists like Luciano, Israel Vibration, Don Carlos and Roots Radics have performed at those two events,” explains McPullish, who also runs the label Charlie’s Records, and continues:
“Our label and local sound crew puts on Charlie’s Dub Corner, a sound system party playing primarily dub and reggae for three days during Austin Reggae Festival every year. It’s one of the few events of this type in Texas and most Texans have little exposure to this music, other than Bob Marley and stereotypes they really don’t know much about reggae. Once exposed to the music we find that many people love it.”
Dubbing without a clue
When McPullish was growing up he was fascinated by music and sound. Together with his brother and some friends he made thousands of recordings throughout his teenage years with several basement bands and solo projects. But none were too serious and at the time he was mostly into punk, rock, hip-hop, electronic music and noise.
“Listening back now, some of these mixes were dub experiments. We were manipulating recorded sounds live on tape, remixing, playing effects like instruments, before I had ever heard the original Jamaican dub, so I was practicing dub mixing techniques for years before I had ever heard it called dub,” he says.
Learned from the masters
McPullish learned a lot from his brother, including how to work in a studio. He has also learned the craft from working with dub champions like UK’s Mad Professor and Canada’s Ryan Moore from Twilight Circus. But also from a pioneering Jamaican deejay.
“Working with General Smiley was great. He shared stories from the golden era of Jamaican reggae, recording at Studio One, King Tubby’s, early dancehall in Jamaica and firsthand knowledge of the originators of dub. Listening to hours upon hours of the Jamaican and UK dub classics has also made a strong impression,” he says, and continues to explain why he has focused on dub:
“Dub infected my brain years ago and rewired areas responsible for certain musical activities. Doctors told me there is little to no chance my mixes will return to normal. Effects from dub exposure appear to be permanent. For myself and others with this condition dubbing is a must.”
Breaking down barriers
Dub – experimental and the more straightforward kind – is McPullish’s main focus, even though he also sometimes takes a swing at roots-oriented reggae.
He didn’t discover dub and reggae until his twenties and his recordings usually tear down sonic barriers and explore new audio territories.
“As far as sound I like to just get into it and see where the music goes,” he says.
But he is unwilling to describe his sound.
“I prefer to let people listen without many descriptions. Hopefully it’s a sound that is worth getting immersed in,” he explains, and continues to describe his mixing style:
“I’m a guy who still loves music after mixing thousands of tunes, and very willing to experiment. I like to dance, move around a bit while mixing, depending on the song. Not super technical but can nerd out on the tech side, always learning.”
In love with real sound
Like many other reggae producers McPullish is an avid user of vintage analogue gear and in the press releases describing his output it’s usually a sentence or two about which equipment that was used during the recording.
“I mainly work with analogue gear as it’s the best sounding gear I have access to and I have fallen in love with real sounds too much to settle for digital emulations, for the most part. I have not come across a computer interface or controller that appeals to me as far as mixing live in real time,” he explains, and adds:
“From my perspective the mixing console is an instrument to be played live, especially in regards to dub. I’m not a gear snob. I use modern analog gear, cheap old effects and digital stuff also. At the end of the day they are all tools and useful in different ways. Hardware units are the best dub tools for me. We currently record using a combination of PC and tape.”
On his latest album Black Metal White Reggae, as well as on his latest riddim, Shepherd, he used a TEAC A-3440 4 track tape machine for recording drums, bass and guitar. Afterwards the recordings were bounced into a program called Reaper on a PC for editing and additional overdubs.
Black Metal White Reggae is a bizarre album title, both for a metal album and for a reggae album. Reggae and metal luckily enough hardly meet musically and don’t match at all. Musically, metal has nothing to do with the music presented on the album.
“At the time I was thinking about colors and how they relate to music. I was also thinking about stereotypes and genres, people labeling music based on the complexion or perceived race of musicians. The title came to me while working on songs that turned into this album,” he says and adds:
“The phrase Black Metal White Reggae invokes a feeling more than a direct meaning to me. It’s open to interpretation.”
Studio was a sauna
The album was released in November 2012, but was mostly recorded during a particularly hot Texan summer in 2011. The unrelenting warmth that year made world news and it also inspired McPullish when in his recordings.
“We had planted a nice backyard garden in the spring, but it got so hot and dry over the summer months that almost all plant life in our area died. Huge cracks, holes in the ground opened up in our yard. There were severe water shortages and wildfires in nearby areas. It was a bleak summer in Texas,” he explains, and concludes:
“This all happened during the time I was writing and recording Black Metal White Reggae, the atmosphere of impending doom and face-melting temperatures is part of the vibe of that album. There were some days I was working on that music in my previous location and our air conditioning unit could not keep up with the heat coming from outside plus heat from a bunch of analog gear and myself in a small room. So I would turn the A/C off and mix as long as I could stand to be in the room, probably lost a few pounds while mixing that record. I should have been booking the studio as a sauna on those days.”