Dichotomy on Nocturnal: We think more in tones than instruments

Photo by Tricia Whitney
Some albums hypnotize in the truest sense of the word. Minneapolis duo, Dichotomy, made up of Alex Kauffman and Joe Laurin, negotiate this dreamy sea with their debut album, Nocturnal. The band has culled and assembled a selection of songs that shape an album so deep and smooth, the listener will sink slowly into it without realizing it.

Gimme Noise spoke with the duo to get the story behind how the project formed and what went into making Nocturnal before the release Wednesday evening at Honey.

How long have you two known each other? How did this project evolve?

Alex: The project evolved pretty slowly. We met as freshmen roommates in 2004 and began writing music together in 2006. We started out more "rock" with electric guitar and piano. We were really into improvisation at the beginning. We'd jam for hours every day. Joe would sometimes freestyle rap over my guitar riffs. We had Garageband on Joe's mac, where we learned how to sequence drums. We always thought we needed a drummer. We hadn't really bought into the whole "making beats" thing yet, so we kept feeling like our music was incomplete without other members. We were in the mindset where everything we recorded had to be re-produced live by a performer. We were trying to be a "rock band" in the traditional sense.

Joe: Around '08 or so, we formed a hip-hop group called Trick Shuffle with our friend JmaC. The three of us made the beats together with me and JmaC trading off rapping verses over the top. The project didn't last long, but was a really good learning experience. We learned a lot about producing music on our own, and how to record full-sounding music without a full band.

Eventually we realized we didn't need a drummer. We had reached the point where a single drum set couldn't produce all the sounds we wanted to make. Between sampling and MIDI instruments, there were so many incredible sounds that we could make that weren't possible by playing with just guitar, bass, and drums. Alex also started using the electric violin to make new sounds. The violin is really fun to work with, because it's like a synthesizer in its own right. We also realized that we were strongest as a duo. We jammed together for so long that it just became intuitive.

Alex: Then in 2010, I started playing electric guitar with Toussaint Morrison and The Blend. Joe and I still made beats and instrumentals on our own time. We put out a couple EPs during that time. A couple members of The Blend moved to California in late 2011, so we started focusing on Dichotomy full-time. I started booking shows and we got a good response from people. We were very patient with this project It seemed like the time was right because we now had live performance experience to go along with our production experience.

How did the fusion of electric and orchestral music come together?

Once we started to focus on instrumental music, we knew we needed to do more than just
write an 8-bar hip-hop beat and call it an instrumental piece. We needed our music to stand on its own to the point where people weren't sitting there wondering when the lyrics would come in. We want listeners to feel the drama and narrative of the music. We had a lot of beats that sounded good when they had verses over them, but were pretty boring by themselves. They kind of just stayed in one place. To create stand alone instrumental music, we needed to change our approach. Our idea was to approach our music in the same way that a classical composer would. Our music stopped being "beats without vocals" and become simply music.

We take the best bits from our favorite music and get them to play on the same playground. We love the bumping bass of hip-hop so we wanted that. We love strings and the stories they can tell with their melodies, so we wanted that on reserve too. We keep piano involved. We like electronic tones, so we incorporate that in the form of synths and electric violin. We like urgent, pounding drums. We have a soft spot for bluesy guitar. Sometimes we like to sample. We have pretty much any sound we want with the keyboard.

We try to think more in tones, rather than instruments. We find tones that work best for the song we are working on. If the tones for a given song are all synths, then we end up with a more electronic sounding track. If the tones are more organic and string-like, then it sounds more orchestral. If the tones are electric guitar, it's going to sound a little more like rock music. If it's got a little synth and bass here, a little electric violin there, then it's going to have more of a unique, hybrid sound.

That being said, our goal is not to force it. We don't sit down with the goal of creating a hodge-podge of different genres. We sit down with the goal of making music that we want to hear. Knowing how to play different genres allows us to get the sound we want.

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