Handsome Dan

Dan "The Automator" Nakamura loves hip-hop -- but he loves music more

"And you know what, I can't blame him," he continues. "The truth of the matter is, I like to make records. I don't want to do shows as much as I want to make records. It wasn't like the end of the world for me. Instead of touring, I got to go produce a bunch of records."

Thornton may not have appreciated his newfound alternative audience, but Nakamura was more than happy to take on a different style of music. His work with Dr. Octagon led to production gigs with Cornershop and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, among others. After years of working with hip-hop artists, Nakamura found that rock bands were more amenable to trying new things, working with new sounds. Hip-hop, for Nakamura, will always be his first love. But that doesn't mean he doesn't want to see other people.

"They're like, 'Let's see how far we can take it. Let's try this. Let's try that,'" Nakamura says, referring to his recent work with rock groups. "To me, that just makes it a lot more fun. The truth of the matter is, I love making hip-hop records. I would make them all the time. But there isn't a lot of bands willing to go that route, so I find myself making more alternative records. I'm doing an album now with Del tha Funkee Homosapien, and he's willing to go out there, and we're having fun. But, you know, at the same time, when I'm producing Jon Spencer or Cornershop or something, they'll let you go out there from the beginning."

Dan the man: Dan "The Automator" lives large as half of the Handsome Boy Modeling School.
Dan the man: Dan "The Automator" lives large as half of the Handsome Boy Modeling School.

Nakamura's willingness to go out there, as well as his eclectic circle of friends, is obvious on So...How's Your Girl?Featuring contributions by Mike D, Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, Sean Lennon, Money Mark, DJ Shadow, Alec Empire, Spain's Josh Haden, and Father Guido Sarducci, among many others, the disc is a beautiful garbage heap of 40 years of music, piled high with everything from old-school hip-hop (the duo liberally samples from Paul's former band, Stetsasonic) and blaxploitation horns ("Holy Calamity [Bear Witness II]," easily the best of a good bunch) to gauzy trip-hop (the lush "The Truth") and prolonged bursts of static (Empire's unwelcome intrusion on "Megaton B-Boy 2000").

Like most of the projects Prince Paul and Nakamura have worked on, it's hard to take in all at once. Familiar samples are toppled by unrecognizable sounds, and it's all covered by more layers than old Bomb Squad productions, complete with wailing sirens and a Flavor Flav sample. More than anything else, it's a tribute to the early days of hip-hop, when there were no record deals, only mix tapes made by DJs. Nakamura cringes when he thinks of those early days, how something so revolutionary could sound so ordinary 20 years later. But he agrees that Prince Paul is the perfect person with whom to reinvent that time. After all, Paul was in one of the few early hip-hop groups Nakamura can still listen to and enjoy, without benefit of nostalgia.

"You listen to those records now, and you go, 'Whodini? You know what, they're not really that great,'" Nakamura says, laughing. "I don't mean to say that in a mean way. The reason I had such high reverence for them at the time was because they were one of three rap records out. On the other hand, I'll listen to an old Stet record -- like 'Sally' and some of that stuff -- and I'll be like, 'That's pretty darn good. It's not amazing, but it's pretty darn good.' They were kind of onto something."

It's hard to tell what Nakamura is onto, once you figure out the concept behind the Handsome Boy Modeling School project. And perhaps the most intriguing part of So...How's Your Girl?is that the disc is more or less a tribute to the comedy of Chris Elliott. The pair borrowed their name from an episode of Elliott's late, great Fox-TV sitcom Get a Life, and that show, along with Elliott's underappreciated film Cabin Boy, appears in one form or another throughout. Nakamura even uses a Cabin Boyreferenceas the name of his publishing company, Sharkman Music.

"The third season [of Get a Life] didn't even run on the West Coast, and it was probably one of the best shows on television," Nakamura says, grousing about it almost a decade later. "Maybe he was too advanced for his time. Maybe it was never meant to be. It was just a little too much for people."

Of course, the same could be said of Nakamura and his music. He doesn't really have much of an explanation for his music, only that he knows what he's looking for when he hears it. At the moment, he's working with Prince Paul again, as well as Dust Brother Mike Simpson on a collaboration called The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. He knows that the result will be affected by the fact that all three live in different cities, and he's excited by that prospect. That's what inspires him about music. Simple as that.

"I'll tell you something," he says conspiratorially. "I'm not like the programming master. I mean, I've worked with Shadow, and he's the programming master." He laughs. "But, you know, I learned how to do what I need to do several years ago, and now it's more about making the cool sounds. Inspiration is where you find it. If you spend a lot of time on the beach, you'll probably come out with the beach in your music. Or if you're in New York and it's really hectic, you come up with more hectic music or angry or something. Music is where you find it."

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