INTERVIEW BY CHRIS ZALDUA
Sometimes particular musicians just nail a vibe. David Grunzweig, aka Tape Ghost and half of the duo Night Sea, has simply nailed a vibe. I first heard Night Sea years ago, when he and his production partner Johan Ismael were producing their earliest work. Even then, I could immediately tell they were onto something: Deep, rich, undulating dubby tones and barely-there beats, the kind of music you disappear into.
Night Sea released their first album earlier this year, Still, on lauded Canadian label Silent Season, which sold out within weeks. Not long before that, Grunzweig began to appear as Tape Ghost, a solo project which incorporates a clubbier flavor than the deep crystalline ambience of Night Sea.
The dancefloor-friendly sounds of Tape Ghost found a home on As You Like It’s record label — first a remix on Christina Chatfield’s new EP and soon a full record of his own. To celebrate, he contributed the latest edition of the AYLI podcast, a mix full of groove-forward dub techno.
CZ: Tell me where you’re from and how you landed in the Bay Area.
DG: I grew up for a few years in the Bay Area, when I was 10 my family moved to Spokane, Washington where we lived till I graduated high school. I ended up back in the Bay Area 8 years ago for college and moved to SF in 2016. Last year I moved across the bay to my new spot in Oakland and I’ve been enjoying getting to know the East Bay more this year.
CZ: What’s your musical background? Did you play any instruments or involve yourself in music before you started making electronic music?
DG: Before getting into electronic music, I was a guitar player. I started playing in high school and focused mostly on classical guitar before shifting my focus to jazz in college. While in college I played in a band, we played mostly covers and wrote some originals, our sound was inspired by the music of Roy Ayers, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Bad Bad Not Good. I was playing in a jazz combo on the side as well, spending a lot of time listening to artists like Joe Henderson, Pharoah Sanders, and Wayne Shorter.
CZ: And speaking of electronic music, how’d you discover it, and what brought you to rave culture? What got you hooked?
DG: When I was in school, I was taking courses on recording technology and working in the campus studio. In that space, I learned about all the possibilities that electronics offered in music and started playing around with some music making software. At that time I was interested in rap production because of the soul and jazz sampling, but eventually I was introduced to some of the early Chicago House and Detroit Techno artists. One of my first raves I went to was Robert Hood at Monarch back in 2016, the energy of the night was incredible and from there I was hooked. I started going to shows every weekend, pre and post partying with friends, DJing on the random equipment we could find, and spending entire weekends together sleeping on one another’s couches and floors.
CZ: When did you start producing your own work? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you began Night Sea before you started producing solo work. What brought you and Johan together? And I’m curious how the dynamic changes when you’re producing music by yourself vs. as Night Sea. Where does Night Sea end and Tape Ghost begin?
DG: I met Johan in 2016 through a mutual friend. We started working together immediately after meeting based out of a shared love of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Voices From the Lake’s album. Working with Johan is basically just hanging out with my best friend. When the work is challenging, he’s the source of patience and intention in the project, he brings out a more methodical and meditative side of me that is essential when making slowly paced music. Night Sea was my only project for a while but the focus of that project has always been ambient leaning and it wasn’t really the right place for me to explore a dance-floor oriented sound. So in 2017 I started DJing alone more regularly, which eventually led towards writing live sets and producing on my own as well. There isn’t much tension between the two spaces for me, Johan and I are good at listening to each other and compromising, which leads to unexpected results for both of us that neither could create individually.
CZ: Tell me about your AYLI podcast. How’d you put it together? Is there a theme or concept behind the mix?
DG: I recorded this set after taking a few months off of listening to club music during the summer. I was living with my family for a bit and didn’t have access to any equipment so I used that time to just relax and disconnect. Coming back into listening to club music after that break was fun, I found that I was more interested in a lighter and more playful sound than I was playing before. Without the dramatic lighting and atmosphere of a club space, playing mind-bending techno records at home felt a bit odd. I wanted to explore a dub techno sound with this set. It’s one of my favorite sub-genres but I feel it can sound a bit too loungy, like the smooth jazz of the techno world, so I went for something that I felt was showcasing the more bouncy and groovy side of the genre.
CZ: What’s next for Tape Ghost and/or Night Sea? Are you working on new material, and/or do you have anything coming up you can share news about?
DG: For Tape Ghost, I have a remix of a Christina Chatfield track coming out on her upcoming EP on AYLI Recordings. Sometime mid next year I’ll have my own EP released on AYLI Recordings as well, which will feature 4 original tracks with a minimal techno feel. For Night Sea, we took a break from producing after releasing our album Still on Silent Season earlier this year and are just starting to get back into our weekly studio routine. We bought some microphones so I think things are going to get a lot more concrète in the future for us.
CZ: On that note, how has the pandemic affected your music habits — both listening and production? Do you engage with music differently today than you did last year? Is it changing the kind of music you produce or your creative process?
DG: There have been periods of feeling totally saved by music emotionally (thank you Laaraji!) and periods of thinking “how the hell is spending my time doing this helping anyone or anything in this shitshow?” Listening wise, I took a break from club music for a while, I think it made me too sad to listen to dance music while sitting alone at home. Lately I’ve been finding space for it again, I was able to borrow a second turntable from a friend and started to teach myself vinyl mixing. That experience has been a wonderful way to reconnect with my music and I’m looking forward to a new era blurting out “I play vinyl” in every conversation. On the ambient side, I’m listening to things with way less structure and narrative, it seems natural to do so during a time when things are so out of control.
CZ: Last but not least, tell me about some new (or old) music you’re digging. What are you listening to lately?
DG: My favorite album from this year has been “Disruptions of Form” by Echium. An older album that I fell in love with this year is “Perpetual” by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Iluha, and Taylor Deupree. Other than that I’m listening to a lot of fun disco records at home because it’s hard to be bleak while that’s playing in the background. Highly recommend Finis Henderson’s 1983 album on Motown or Willie Bobo’s “Always There” for that.