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The Sound Of Danger Mouse

Published: Tue July 08, 2008  News Feed

Danger Mouse is one of the most creative minds in the music industry right now: He formed Gnarls Barkley with Cee-Lo Green  and produced their hit albums St. Elsewhere and The Odd Couple. He produced the second Gorillaz album, 2005's Demon Days, as well as Beck's 2008 record, Modern Guilt. He has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Producer of the Year category and mashed up Jay-Z and The Beatles...and even made music for Cartoon Network!

Danger Mouse first gained attention in 2004, when his revolutionary "The Grey Album" gained great reviews and no little amount of controversy...

"The Grey Album" was a mash-up of Jay-Z's "Black Album" and The Beatles' "White Album", and was released in limited quantities to a few outlets only. However, it created a massive amount of controversy when EMI, copyright holder of The Beatles, ordered Danger Mouse and retailers carrying the album to cease distribution.

The amount of attention The Grey Album received caused EMI to act. Danger Mouse never asked permission to use The Beatles' material, and intended to produce a limited production run of 3,000 copies. Jay-Z's material, on the other hand, was commercially released in a cappella form. Although the work was copyrighted, it was released for the implicit purpose of encouraging mashups and remixes.

The album quickly became extremely popular and well-distributed over the Internet because of the surrounding publicity, and the music world quickly realized how talenteded Danger Mouse was.

In 2005, Danger Mouse produced the second Gorillaz album "Demon Days", giving Damon Albarn's side project  its biggest chart success.

Danger Mouse (left) and his Gnarls Barkley mate, Cee-Lo

As as as producing albums for alternative artists who seek a more original sound (including albums for Sparklehorse, The Rapture, Black Keys and, this year, Beck's 'Modern Guilt' album) Danger Mouse is the other half of Gnarls Barkley and produced both their albums, which were huge hits worldwide.

Danger Mouse explain what inspires him:

"Woody Allen was an auteur: he did his Thing, and that particular Thing was completely his own," he said. "That's what I decided to do with music. I want to create a director's role within music...I have to be in control of the project I'm doing. I can create different kinds of musical worlds, but the artist needs the desire to go into that world.... Musically, there is no one who has the career I want. That's why I have to use film directors as a model."

So...what sort of gear does he use? Here's a look at some of the tools he uses to unleash his creativity:

His favourite keyboards are the Korg MS-2000 and Roland Saturn 09 - both discontinued, and  both considered classics. For those who love the warmth of vintage synths, the Korg MicroKorg is a worthy successor to the MS-2000, because it features the same DSP analogue modelling system as the Korg MS-2000 and, indeed, in recent years has become somewhat of a new classic in its own right.

As for software, DM has used Digidesign Pro Tools and Apple Logic in other people's studios, but he prefers Sony Acid Pro at home. “I used to use old samplers and a lot of old drum machines and samplers, and then I made a switch years back,” DM says. “I basically use that program now in the same way I used those.”

About the Acid Pro, he says: "I started using Acid a lot because it's pretty basic. It's more about the person using it than the program itself.”

Although DM buys a new PC every year, it's not to increase his processing power. “I use very basic PCs,” he says. “I don't have any special soundcards or anything. The reason I get a new one every year is because there always winds up being some fucked-up virus or some kind of crash, or something ends up broken on it, so I wind up getting a new one all the time.”

Danger Mouse also loves his vintage E-mu SP-1200 Sampler/ Drum-Machine. The SP-1200 was THE drum machine & sampler combo of legendary status among old school rap and hip hop artists from the eighties and nineties. It is similar to today's Akai MPC samplers - it is a sampler plus drum machine.

Three of his main pieces of gear, live with Gnarls Barkley, are an Wurlitzer organ, a Korg Micro Preset and a Yamaha SHS-10 keyboard.

Other gear he's used include a Roland XP-60 keyboard and Ensoniq ASR-X sampler.

Of course, as a skilled DJ, Danger Mouse also has his favourite choice of turntables, the Technics SL-1200, Back in 2004 he did prestigious DJ sets at the Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals in the USA, and besides the Technics turntables, he also used two Pioneer CDJ-1000. Danger Mouse, even back then, confessed to be more of a studio person, and had to pick his gear carefully, to find something he could trust. "I don’t want to use computers live. I’m just so afraid of getting locked up on stage. For me, that would ruin it. I’m so young in terms of performing in front of people."

Danger Mouse Beat-Making Tips:

Though generally he tries to keep some mystery  regarding his projects and studio setup, in a 2005 interview he gave a few clues to his beat-making process.

Double up: “I'm kind of a fanatic about my drums and spend a lot of time on them,” DM says. “There's a specific way I do them almost every time, whether it's the Gorillaz record or anything, really. You want something to sound live without too much reverb or without all of them sounding the same on each track. There are no live-played drums on here, but I definitely double my kicks and snares up. I usually use more than one or two, even though it doesn't sound like it, necessarily.”

Crunchy, sandy snares on his track “Old School”: “That whole break was messed around with, and it makes it sound very much like a shaker,” DM says. “It's a way of making it sound rhythmically like there's no space in between any of the drums — and a way of hiding a lot of mess that was in the sample. If you just had a typical kick, hi-hat, snare, you'd have a lot of space in between; then, the sample would start to distract you. So on that one, there's no space. It makes [the snare] sound like it came from the same place as the samples and the drums — like one big recording.”

Really piling it on for “The Mask”: “That's a lot of crazy different drums,” DM says. “That's about four breaks in one — four parts of four different pieces. There's a kick that I got from somewhere, a drum roll, a snare … and then the pattern was just kind of one I put together. And you keep thinking it's going to actually break into something else a little bit easier to nod your head to, but it just kind of keeps the tension. It's as complicated as can be. It's probably my favorite beat on the record.”

Danger Mouse Links:

Danger Mouse Myspace Page

Gnarls Barkley Myspace Page

Remix Mag Interview

Another Remix Mag interview

DJ Times Interview

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