Dallas Observer Mixtape with Adam Pickrell: J Dilla, David Bowie and More

Adam Pickrell is the epitome of a music connoisseurEXPAND
Adam Pickrell is the epitome of a music connoisseur
Wanz Dover

Adam Pickrell is a producer-DJ-musician triple threat. He made waves with his live band house experience White Lotus Society and as a session musician, he has sat in with everyone from St.Vincent to Cas Haley to John Congleton's Nighty Night. He recently also worked with Nellie Furtado. Pickrell's musical knowledge goes deep, which informs his DJ sets, runs through his fingers as a keyboardist and guides his ears as a producer. Rather than go for the dance floor, Pickrell put together a mixtape this week that goes well with a cup of espresso.

How did you get started DJing? How long have you been at it?

I first started DJing school dances in junior high. I had a mixer, a tape player, a couple CD players and a couple speakers being fed by a Pioneer stereo tuner. It was as low tech as it gets. Even then, I was happier being behind gear and not having to be as social as the rest of my classmates. This hasn’t really changed as I still am more at home making music in some form or fashion than I am standing awkwardly in a group of people being social.

How was this mix made?

This mix started as a playlist I was making for a friend’s husband who had asked me to send him some sounds that I was into currently. I decided to send him a series of small playlists that would be easier to listen to as opposed to a giant playlist of songs that he (if he is anything like me) would never get all the way through. This mix, plus some espresso, is definitely a reflection of how I’m sonically starting my mornings right now. I took the playlist and then recorded it as a mix via Serato and a couple turntables in my living room.

How did you start getting involved with Dallas DJ culture?

While I loved so much different music — hip-hop, punk, industrial, et cetera — it was house music that grabbed me as a teenager and hooked me. Like most things Dallas, our house music has a certain "stankyness" to it that other cities don’t have. This is also true with musicians. Dallas players have a thing that others across the globe try to emulate but just can’t quite find. I first heard house music when I went to a party at 15 with some friends and one of their older siblings who knew about these late night all ages raves. These weren’t the corporate, $50-a-ticket productions people call raves now; they were gatherings of people who loved dance music and its culture and would do anything to help spread it; including setting up generators illegally outside in strange places and blasting house music until well after the sun came up.

Do you remember what the party was?

The party ended up being at a now-extinct outdoor renegade venue people in town called The Smokestacks and featured a DJ who is still one of my favorites to this day: Derrick Carter. That night I heard house music and was instantly hooked by the blend of jazz, funk, disco and electronic beats that were all super present in the music ... The party I mentioned was thrown by a group of people who would inevitably play a big role in the next decade of my life both musically and culturally that called themselves the Hazy Daze Collectif (HDC). These men and women were arguably the biggest influence to the Dallas house music culture from its local inception to what it is now.

Did you know the HDC guys back then?

There were a couple years, 1996 to 1998, where at least twice a month, I would get up on Saturday mornings and go up to IGS records, a record store operated by a couple of the HDC guys and managed by Miles Morris. I was still in high school at this point but it didn’t seem to bother Miles ... He was always super patient/tolerant. He and I would listen to records and he would educate me on everything from house and soul, to dancehall reggae and even punk rock. His sets were always super soulful and took no prisoners. To this day, Miles is one of my favorite selectors/DJs.

So how did you start performing yourself?

All of those days were huge influences to me and all of the [HDC] people gave me shots at DJing, producing, playing keys, and just let a kid, and I mean kid, hang out with them when they definitely did not have to. Eventually I took my passion for house music, live music, DJing, and playing keys and co-founded a live house music band called White Lotus Society. We went on to release multiple records with different labels and played some really fun shows.

Do you have a preference between DJing and production?

I really feel like they go hand in hand. The more I produce music, the more I love to dig for tracks to DJ. Subsequently, the more I DJ, the more my production and songwriting are informed by all of the different sounds I get to share with people at my DJ gigs. I feel like my favorite producers and songwriters often have the best mixes/playlists/mixtapes to share and are the best and most informed listeners I know.

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What project do you have going on as of late?

I’ve been very fortunate over the last few years to do session work with some of my favorite artists and with some of my favorite songwriters and producers. A few years ago, producer and songwriter John Congleton called me and asked me to come in and do a keys and synth session for him on a record for St. Vincent. Since then John has brought me in on multiple sessions, including Astronautalis, whose album is releasing very soon on Side One Dummy.

How did you get connected with Congleton?

I had met John a couple times before that initial session through a very close friend and was already aware of his work from his bands (the Paper Chase and the Nighty Night) and was a huge fan of St. Vincent. This first session was partially due to being vouched for by Bobby Sparks, who played almost every bit of the synths and all of the synth bass on St. Vincent’s records and has played and toured with everyone from George Duke to Marcus Miller. Bobby was out of town on tour at the time and I was fortunate to get the call to come in.

Has he brought you in for other projects as well?

I’ve also been lucky to work with John on his upcoming album also on keys/synth/synth bass. It’s a really cool project and will be out on April 1 on Fat Possum Records. Most recently, Congleton asked me to play on a record he produced for Nelly Furtado. She and I hit it off and (at John’s recommendation) I have gotten to do some live work with her recently and am looking forward to more in the future.

Finally, I’ve been working as a producer/collaborator with an artist here in town that goes by Mucho Suavo. He’s a modular synth player and songwriter and is very talented. We should have his record finished soon and it will be out some time in 2016.

Where do you like to dig for new tracks?

A great local spot for vinyl is Josey Records. From their ownership to their staff, everyone there is great about curating a ridiculously solid inventory of good music. Online, it’s all over the place. There are so many great blogs out there; it’s really anywhere and everywhere at once. For example, if you want to get into Fela Kuti, there are so many blogs and articles online you can find about him, his music, his activism, and more.

What was the most profound musical experience you have had in the past year?

Probably it’s a tie between seeing/hearing D’Angelo play at The Bomb Factory and seeing/hearing Stevie Wonder perform Songs in the Key of Life live at AA Center. Both were amazing and incredibly inspiring. Also, when St. Vincent’s record won a Grammy last year, it was really cool to have been a part of that record as a keyboard player and to see people I admire win such a prestigious and well-deserved award.

What gigs do you have in the near future?

Every Tuesday I do a night that blends DJing with live musicians at The Standard Pour. This night, called "Ampersand," features Dana Subdurough on Vibraphone, Jonathan Merla on percussion and a revolving third chair of horn players and other musicians as well. Every Friday I’m also at Standard Pour playing funk, disco, house, edits and more. Some Saturdays, I’m at High Fives DJing as well.

1. Freddie Hubbard - Red Clay
2. Oro - Stop The War 
3. Robert Glasper - Always Shine (Feat. Lupe Fiasco and Bilal
4. David Bowie - Girl Loves Me
5. J Dilla - Two Can Win
6. Minnie Ripperton - Les Fleur
7. D'angelo & The Vanguard - Prayer
8. Gary Pacific Orchestra - Soft Wind
9. Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi - Gambling Priest 
10.Drums - Niagra
11. Ele Seculo Xx - Com Os Falcoes Reals
12. Alan Parker - Modern Mixture

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