“Have Tunes, Will Travel”
I recently had the opportunity to interview legendary producer Dylan Lane, aka Ill Gates. What followed was not an interview, but an hour long conversation with someone deeply passionate about their art and their journey to create it. This is part one of a three part series covering a range of topics and allowing a glimpse into one of the most brilliant minds in music.
We start off talking about his most recent album release ‘Terminally Ill’, an album that spirited him all over the globe in its creation.
‘Terminally Ill’ is part one of a two, potentially three album series that is all travel themed. I was traveling around the world when I made all of this music and a great deal of the collaborations were done while I was traveling and staying with different people. Pretty much the whole album was made at other people’s studios and in other people’s houses so it was a bit of a journey to do it, both physically and just learning all these different rooms and different people’s ways of working, but I feel like it came out pretty nice and I’m a better person for the challenge. Every single one of those tracks has a story or an idea behind it.
‘Shine’ was written in the same trip as ‘Bali Fish’ which is coming out on the next album. Masia One, she’s an MC collaborator friend of mine going back to my first album as Ill Gates, she had set up a gig for me in Singapore and basically. I don’t know how she did this because Singapore is a very restrictive country legally, but she somehow got a government grant to throw a graffiti and electronic/hip hop party under a bridge. After that, she suggested we go to Bali and write music, so we went to Bali and rented a villa and stayed there for a week writing music. That was really, really fun.
From there I traveled to Australia, and while I was there I made a couple of tracks at a retreat called ‘Paradise One’. The track ‘Paradise Won’ is actually a play on words based off of that retreat. They had music workshops with musicians from all over the world. On the second day, there were two workshops by Dub FX and Hugo the Poet. I went to their workshops and afterwards I was like “Hey guys, I made this beat in my workshop and it would be really cool if you guys did some vocals for it.” They said they were cool with it and that I could use it for whatever I wanted BUT I had to do a rap verse as well, otherwise no deal. So on a bet, after taking one rap workshop, I rapped on the second half of ‘Paradise Won’.
The second track on the album ‘Is You Is’ was actually a collaboration with some of my students. I made that at the studio I work at sometimes in New York. They all drove out from Philly, New Jersey, all over really, and we all hung out and made that tune. Most of the track was written in one go but the sample for it is from my dad’s vinyl collection. I got him a USB turntable for Christmas a few years back and this year he surprised me with like 80 gigs (GB) of old records and I figured out how to extract the vocals from the instrumentals. The original vocal actually comes from an old Louis Jordan record and separating out the vocals was definitely a bit of a challenge.
I also had the opportunity to work at the Red Bull Studio in Cape Town, South Africa. They actually made a mini documentary on the making of that track.
I’m blown away by the depth of each experience he recounts to me, and after a brief pause I make a comment on how all of his adventures must make for much more memorable music.
Yeah, I try and sample from the environment a lot too while I’m making them [tracks]. On the track ‘Nitro’ with Tigran Mimosa , we actually wrote that at like 3 AM in a hotel room after Burning Man. I ran into him at the bowling alley at the Grand Sierra Hotel after The Burn and we started partying and we did some shots and stuff; it was fun but we were like “ You know, let’s go do a tune, fuck it.” and we went up to his hotel room and started that track at like, 3 in the morning.
We got the basic idea of the track hammered out and then he came over to my house about a month later to finish it. He sat down and busted out the nitrous oxide cracker and I was like, “Uh oh, here we go”. So during the drop on that track there is a gas escaping noise and that’s actually me taking a balloon of nitrous. The main vocal is Tigran, but the pitch shift in his voice is a result in the difference in densities between the nitrous and the surrounding oxygen, so that change in pitch you hear is an actual organic sound. You can also hear some high pitched “tinks” and that’s from me jingling a handful of nitrous canisters. I definitely don’t condone nitrous oxide use and it’s not something that I do often, but it’s a part of the story of the track and I’m sure when I get tired of playing that track out at every show I’ll still get a chuckle out of those sounds.
On ‘More Tea’, I actually had a fan hit me up. He said he was a “tea traveller” and told me that he’d love to send me some tea from China. I said “Okayyy, why not?” so he sent me some tea from China. Afterwards, he contacted me again asking how I liked the tea and such, and he invited me to meet up if I ever was in Asia. I happened to be heading to Australia, and that’s when the ‘No Sleep ‘Til Tokyo’ tour was born.
Basically, my girl and I, we went to Australia and then took a renegade trip up to Taiwan, Thailand, and Laos, eventually ending up in Tokyo. When we were up in Taiwan, Nathan set us up on a tour all around Taiwan going around drinking tea and just enjoying ourselves. On this tour, he told me of his vision to open up an “Urban Teahouse Remix Project”. He imagined that people in the west could really benefit from the more informal type of tea ceremony and that there was a lot of really interesting music coming out of Asia and essentially he’d have an “east meets west” sort of bridge between the cultures.
He knew this Taiwanese producer named Alex Peng who had this giant archive of tapes from the nineties with recordings of tea farmers and people singing in languages that no one speaks anymore. We asked him if we could use these in this Urban Teahouse Remix Project and he agreed, but told us we had to promote Taiwanese culture and tea drinking. Those were the only stipulations. Nathan ended up flying us out to Austin a year later and we made the track. The whole experience was really amazing.
‘Terminally Ill is available to stream on SoundCloud, among other platforms. Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series, in which we cover teaching and mentoring in the music community as well as on working and touring with the legendary Seattle musician, KJ Sawka.