Dave Mackay is a pianist, composer, producer and music director from Leicestershire, England. He attended the Royal College of Music Junior Department in London for six years before moving to Boston, Massachusetts to continue studying at the renowned Berklee College of Music as a scholarship student. He completed his degree in Contemporary Writing & Production in 2012 and is now pursuing a diverse career of performing, writing, producing and directing in New York City. He is the leader of Dave Mackay Group, a band consisting of JP Bouvet, Aman Khosla, and Antoine Katz. Dave Mackay Group (DMG) is a progressive, instrumental band based in New York City. Combining delicate piano melodies, heavy guitars, gritty synth lines and dynamic drum solos, they are known for their distinctive sound, energetic live performances and larger-than-life productions.
Formed in 2010, the band consists of Dave Mackay (piano, synth), Aman Khosla (guitar), Antoine Katz (bass) and JP Bouvet (drums). With each band member representing a different country (UK, India, France and USA), collectively they have worked on stage and in the studio with many influential and highly respected musicians in the industry such as Bobby McFerrin, Randy Brecker, Matt Halpern, Mike Johnston, Patti Austin, Siedah Garrett and Patrice Rushen. The band has released two albums “” and “”. In recent years, Dave has worked on stage and in the studio with a number of the music industry’s top artists including 10-time Grammy Award winner, Bobby McFerrin, Top 40 Singer and Music Director, Patrice Rushen (Janet Jackson), Grammy winning producer Fran Cathcart (Les Paul, Joss Stone, Sting) and award-winning producer Chris Leon (Leona Lewis, Hoodie Allen). As a sideman, he has toured and recorded throughout Europe and across the US, including performances at Rockwood Music Hall, NY; The Cabooze, MN; Cadogan Hall, London; Westminster Abbey, London and appearances at the London Jazz Festival, City of London Festival, London Thames Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
We sat down with Dave to discuss how the group formed, his experience at Berklee, his influences, and what is in store for the rest of 2014. Enjoy!
Entertwine: Can you tell us a bit about the band and about how you all met and began performing and writing music together?
Dave Mackay: We met in Boston while studying at Berklee College of Music. I started writing seriously during my first year there and decided it was time to put my own band together. I met Aman and JP in my first week at Berklee and had been playing with them both separately for a while before DMG formed. Finding the right bass player was a little trickier; I didn’t actually meet Antoine until about a year later, but the dynamic between the group really starting feeling good when he joined us. At first, we just played shows at Berklee; being an international student has its downsides, one of which is not being able to play outside of college until after you graduate. It gave us time to grow though and by the time we left Boston in 2013, we had a lot of music ready to release.
ET: What inspired you to create the Dave Mackay Group as a solely instrumental project?
DM: I think at the time when this whole idea was born, I was very heavily interested in exploring my instrument and that naturally led me to want to make instrumental music. I had grown up listening to this piano trio called e.s.t (Esbjörn Svensson Trio) and really wanted to take what they did to the next level; they always stood out to me as one of the only piano driven groups who were making really melodic music. So that really defined my goals – I wanted to make piano music with simple, powerful melodies while still creating something that a musician would find interesting.
ET: Can you tell us about some of the differences between your albums “What We Become” & “Flood”?
DM: Listening back to them both now, I feel like they represent two completely different incarnations of myself. As time goes by and my interests change, I find myself writing simpler musical ideas and focusing more on the way things feel, rather than trying to be ‘interesting’. “What We Become” sounds like the 19-year old I was when I wrote it: studying music at Berklee, surrounded by other people who care about cool chord changes and odd meters and so on. “Flood” sounds like the 22-year old me who had left college, moved to New York and didn’t care about that stuff any more, but just wanted to express some emotions. As a result, “Flood” has so much more meaning to me – each of the three parts represents a significant time in my life during which I grew and changed a lot: ‘Check Your Belonging’ is where I started, ‘Flood’ is the moment of change and ‘Fearless’ is where I’ve ended up. I think it’s a transitional album, though, as the material I’m writing now is sounding very different once again.
ET: What was it like studying in Boston at Berklee College of Music? What about studying at Royal College of Music Junior Department in London?
DM: Both were amazing experiences. I used to travel 100 miles back and forth to London every Saturday morning for an intensive day of music lessons at RCMJD, while still going to regular school during the week. It’s a classical college so I studied Prokofiev and Liszt, and I played in orchestras and chamber choirs, and I sat in music theory classes wondering how studying figured bass would ever translate into a useful life skill. Classical music may not have been for me in the end, but I was fortunate to have a phenomenal piano teacher who encouraged me to develop my own voice and play my original music in all the college competitions. I didn’t know it at the time, but this encouragement was crucial to me wanting to pursue my own music as a career. I was also a part of the first ever jazz/fusion ensemble at the college. My friends and I wanted to get together and play this kind of music, so we asked for a group to be set up as part of our weekly lessons. That was the great thing about this place – if there was something you wanted to learn, they could make it happen. The absolute best thing about the program is that there’s no qualification at the end of it, so you’re not spending your time accumulating credits to be handed a piece of paper that doesn’t really mean anything; you’re spending your time honing your craft and learning how to make music – it’s the perfect environment to explore and grow.
Berklee was a whole different story. When I moved to the US, I finally found myself surrounded by like-minded people who were chasing the same dream as me and who were absolutely dedicated to making it happen. People say this all the time, but I have to repeat it because it’s so true: Berklee isn’t about the classes, it’s about the people you meet while you’re there and all the other stuff you do outside of your degree. Before I went there I had never used Pro Tools, never been in a real recording studio, never directed a rehearsal and I didn’t even know what a Hammond Organ was. Now these things are a huge part of my life, but I learned about all of them from playing in bands and recording songs with my friends, not from sitting in a classroom. I firmly believe that the arts cannot be taught in a classroom environment – while there are some things you can study, most of what I have learnt over the years has been from one-on-one mentorship, individual practice, and being around people who you can share the journey with. That’s what makes Berklee special – it’s the meeting point of the world’s most dedicated students of contemporary music.
ET: You provide sheet music in a store on your website; would you say that this is to encourage listeners to learn as well as listen to your music, to make it more of an experience? Are each of the instruments’ parts transcribed?
DM: Absolutely. It’s a piano player thing really – most of us grow up reading at the instrument and thus sheet music is a big part of our world. When I was growing up, I always wanted sheet music to my favorite songs so I could learn to play them. Now that I’m writing my own music, I’d like for it to be accessible to people who learn that way. It’s really encouraging to see people post YouTube covers, too; knowing that someone likes the music enough to learn it is a really good feeling. And yes, all the instruments are transcribed from the records and laid out in a score format so a full band can learn the music.
ET: Being that your sound is more outside the ‘norm’, how do your writing sessions differ from bands that follow a ‘regular’ song structure?
DM: Part of what makes this band exciting to me is that the four of us have entirely different musical interests and our day-to-day work as musicians is also completely different. Aman is a rock guy and works mainly on his own music; Antoine is more of an R&B guy and plays for a lot of singer-songwriters in the city; JP is kind of a fusion guy and does a lot of educational stuff and then there’s me with this classical background doing my own music and working as a writer and music director for other projects. The four of us don’t really fit together musically, so the writing process has to work in a very particular way for us to sound like a cohesive unit. The core content of the music (melodies, chords, and rhythmic ideas) comes from me sitting at a piano or working in Pro Tools and demoing up my ideas. I try not to go too far if I’m making a demo though because then I bring it to the band and let them do their thing with it. Allowing those guys to shape their own parts in their own way means that all four of us end up sounding like ourselves at our instruments, rather than me having three ‘session musicians’ playing exactly what I tell them to. It’s a very different result and personally I think it makes for more interesting music.
ET: What have been some of your favorite venues to play in New York City? What can you tell us about the NYC music scene?
DM: We’ve actually played more shows on the road than we have in New York at this point; I’ve been writing a lot since I moved here. The music scene here is amazing, and whenever you need some inspiration or a reality check that you’re actually just a very small fish in a very big ocean, there are so many incredible bands (and venues) to check out. I find myself at Rockwood Music Hall and Arlene’s Grocery a lot – the Lower East Side has a really great vibe.
ET: Can you tell us about your first tour of the United States that you completed just last fall?
DM: The tour was a real life changing experience for me. Aside from discovering that there’s pretty much no other combination of people I’d rather be stuck in a car with for 2 weeks, I realized that traveling and playing music is exactly what I want to be doing with my life. We played shows in all the major cities between New York and Minneapolis with a few clinics at music stores and performing arts high schools too. There were some big highs – like playing to a room full of young musicians who knew our songs and made us feel like total rock stars – and there were some big lows – like heading to a pizza place before one of the gigs and being told by the waitress that we should get out of town before we get mugged like the last band she served. That’s what a first tour is all about: the ups are big, the downs are big, and the whole experience at the end of the day is rich and unforgettable. We can’t wait to get on the road again – all four of us love traveling and we realized on this tour that we also really love teaching clinics. I think that will be a big part of our next trip.
ET: Who are some of your biggest musical influences? Why do these particular artists, composers, or bands inspire you?
DM: This list may be surprising considering the music I make but my biggest influences are mainly pop/rock singers/acts including Michael Jackson, Devin Townsend, Sting, Muse, Jeff Buckley, Toto, Audioslave, as well as some wildcards like Bobby McFerrin and the British indie-rock band Guillemots. Honestly, I’m most inspired by the people around me though – I’m fortunate to have an amazing group of unbelievably talented friends who are all trying to work harder than each other because they are so passionate about making their art. That’s what gets me motivated to sit and push through all the frustrating creative barriers; knowing that my buddies are right there with me facing the same challenge.
ET: What was it like filming the music videos for ‘Fearless’, ‘Clusion’, and ‘Check Your Belonging’, among others, during the recording of those songs?
DM: I like to get cameras up whenever we’re in the studio, just to capture the experience so we can relive it one day – not necessarily to make a music video. We had some great footage from our session at Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, NY when we recorded “What We Become”, so it felt like a good idea to make something of it. I do all the editing work in Final Cut Pro and it makes for a nice change of pace after doing all this music stuff. I wanted to take the videos a step further and have moving cameras for “Flood”, so I got my friend Tanya Ghosh involved. She does all our photography and design work and she’s an absolute legend. It’s nice to be able to work on your music with your closest friends – everything ends up feeling really special when you’re done.
Software Plug-in of Choice? SoundToys Decapitator
Favorite piece of Studio Gear? Lately I’ve really been digging the Universal Audio Apollo. The UAD plugins sound amazing!
Keyboard of Choice? The Nord Stage. Without a doubt, the best sounding keyboard I’ve ever played.
Favorite Cities? Boston, Chicago, Melbourne, London – I like cities with lots of open space.
Snack of Choice? Any Cadbury’s chocolate. I am a Brit after all!