Welcome to the second installment of Talk Tuesdays, where I post a conversation with an artist or someone affiliated with the electronic music industry for your viewing pleasure.
A crisp breeze drifts through the bustling streets of Berkeley, California. Its path, meandering along the boulevards lined with souvenir stores and sushi restaurants, makes its way to us through the door of the donut shop. “It’s kinda cold, do you wanna dip?” asks the deep voice across from me.
“In a bit,” I respond. I had just been enjoying an afternoon snack with Charlie Davis. Known to many as one half of Dripmob, a duo of local, up-and-coming music producers represented by Way Less Effort, his identity as a college student is clear to me. He certainly looks the part: he leans back, revealing the extent of his shiny, emerald green zip-up, tan chinos, and a black baseball cap. In between bites of his freshly glazed pastry, he shares his experience at the University of California.
“I’ve been here all my life,” the now 21-year-old senior reflects. It’s true- he grew up in the East Bay, attended Berkeley High School with his Dripmob partner Manolis Suega, and transferred to Cal for college. He’s eaten at the best pizza places – Cheeseboard, if you’re curious- and walked all along Shattuck Ave. He goes on, explaining that although the campus is mixed with eclecticism that creates a diverse, booming community, he has visions in mind that go beyond the borders of this historically hippie town. He explains, “I want to check out LA.” Understandably so- the music scene down in Southern California is booming.
That’s not Charlie’s only interest, though. Trained in the field of cognitive science, his ambitions appear as varied as the interdisciplinary field itself. I met him in October of 2015, and back then, he was still sorting through interests. Now, catching up nearly four months later, design is his main career focus. In fact, he has already applied for several summer internships, “to get set up there,” before he returns to finish one last semester in the fall. “I’m trying to get involved in different projects with people in California, and in other places around the world. I’m looking to do more shows and work with more artists and vocalists,” he states.
“And what about music, do you see yourself doing that all your life?” I question, sipping my milk tea. He pauses before he says, “Yeah that’d be dope. But I need to have a strong foundation so that I can continue to make the music I love.”
This sentiment hints at the struggle so many of us college students moonlighting in the music industry have. The master narrative of our society dictates that we follow the “safe” path along higher education to affluence and security, and yet, our musical aspirations sometimes nudge us in the opposite direction. But it seems Charlie has found the equilibrium necessary to survive in this competitive world, where a piece of paper can make all the difference in the interview room.
His pragmatic philosophy contrasts the vibe of the beats he creates. Upon first listening to them, I felt I was taking a voyage into this alternate reality where I’m some shroomed-up alchemist putting my feet up after a long day in the garden. Tracks such as “DAMELO” and “6 in the Morning” transfer me to that world the most. I describe the subdued synths and syncopated beats as “ethereal,” while Charlie uses the word “ambient” sometimes, but often “[leaves] it up to other people to describe it.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s unlike anything else out there right now. Not big room EDM to empower the drunk masses, not exactly tracks for guests at your house party to grind to, but something inherently more intimate. It’s for the listener alone, almost customized for a trip into their subconscious.
It’s a place Charlie seems to visit a lot.
Back at his apartment, we settle in front of the amplified speakers propped on his desk. After a couple requests from me, he pulls up Logic Pro, Apple’s production software (DAW). His Macbook is silver, smooth, and very much out of storage space. “I might have just deleted all of my songs,” he says casually as his gaze flits around the screen. His calm response to a situation that would have driven me mad impacts me. It’s a behavior I’ve seen time and time again throughout our day together: an incessant stream of questions from me, nonchalant answers from him.
But it’s not just in conversation where his personality reveals itself. As he starts to bang around on the keyboard piano, his face fixed on the creation of little blocks that symbolize notes on the program, I see that his production mirrors the tranquility of his speech. He builds the piece methodically, track by track, as if his intuition whispers in his ear which buttons to press. First, the basic underlying beat. Then, a beat on top of that, followed by synth work. Vocals come next (he has a sample pack of Busta whispers). And the entire time, though his body bobs to the rhythm, his face does not betray any emotion. Even when I ask if he ever gets frustrated going over the same four bars, over and over till the progression is perfect for him, he pauses before saying “a little.”
This goes on for a bit: him finessing every detail, me watching with a mix of exasperation and awe. After all, I’ve just started fumbling around on this program and he’s working it like he’s its master. I want some tips, anything that’ll make me feel like less of a fool in comparison. Finally, I blurt out: “so where does this inspiration come from?”
He replies, “I don’t know. It just does.”
In short, my day with Charlie gave me a glimpse of a producer hard at work, creating bass-meets-techno music with every click of a finger. But more than that, it brought me face-to-face with anxieties that lie deep below the surface: how to navigate a world that stacks the odds against musicians, create content that is relevant and meaningful, and define one’s own success with those two concerns in mind. Only when we confront the troubles that plague us and look to the experiences of others for guidance can we free ourselves to what matters at the end of the day: music, plain and simple.