It was 7 p.m. on a Saturday, and I was waiting outside of Steel Tipped Dove’s apartment/recording studio in Brooklyn, waiting to meet him for the first time. After hearing his production on Big Baby Gandhi’s most recent tape, I reached out to ask if I could see him work in the studio, but I had no idea who he was. His Twitter account offers no help. So there I was, and it started to sink in that this is pretty weird.
“What if he’s really old, like some 70-year-old man with a giant beard,” I said to Brendan, the editor for P&P who writes under the name Midas. Brendan laughed, “I hope he is.” I texted Steel Tipped Dove (I’d shorten this into an acronym, but it ends up being STD), and let him know I was outside. A few minutes later, the door opens.
Steel Tipped Dove is not a 70-year-old man with a beard. He’s a 28-year-old white guy named Joe, originally from upstate New York, and he doesn’t have a beard. He opened the door and stepped halfway out, holding the door while we introduced ourselves. We shook hands and he told us to head up the stairs; his place on the second floor to the left.
The studio, his “lab,” is the first room in a hallway that runs through the apartment. It’s a carpeted room with a couch, a closed off area for recording vocals, and a desk. On the desk, there’s a laptop, a bigger monitor, a couple of hefty speakers, a keyboard, a drum machine, and a few other little gadgets and tools. There’s also a small glass bowl, and judging by the smell in the air, it’s been used recently.
Joe sits at his desk, Brendan and I sit on the couch. I ask him what he does for a full-time job, and he explains that he tutors special needs children. It isn’t surprising. After imagining him as an old man with a beard, this kind of thing seems logical. Naturally, the next thing we start talking about is music. Joe is a self-proclaimed music nerd who listens to a little bit of everything. If he hasn’t heard something, he’s heard of it. From Def Jux to The Antlers to a bunch of underground stuff I’m unfamiliar with, his knowledge of music runs deep.
The reason I was interested in Steel Tipped Dove was mostly from his production on the Big Baby Gandhi tape. I’d heard his name before, but it was “Eulogy” and “American Experience” that grabbed me, and then his beat for T.Shirt’s “The Coolest Winter” sealed the deal.
“So how’d you end up producing for Big Baby Ghandi,” I ask. “Twitter. I reached out to him,” Joe answers. Obviously. “Joining Twitter was the best thing I ever did.” He tells me that Big Baby Gandhi has a lot of crazy production too, and that he didn’t use his hottest shit for the mixtape. He tells me that he’ll be doing more with T.Shirt. He tells me that he’s already remixed both Antlers albums but he’s not sure about releasing those. He says if he could work with any rapper it would be Danny Brown. He plays me some of his collaborations with some rappers I’d never heard of, and some that I had. He and Brendan talk about Reason, Logic, and technical producer/DJ stuff. I blacked out for that and looked around the room. A cat walked down the hallway.
Before we came, Steel Tipped Dove told us he’d make a beat while we were in the studio. He said it doesn’t take him long, and to come with an idea of a song he wants us to flip and he’d do it. “Pick anything, and don’t let me know ahead of time,” he insisted. We made a short list, including Queen, Sleigh Bells, Youth Lagoon, Ghostland Observatory, and a few others. Youth Lagoon’s “Seventeen” jumped out at him. He’d never listened to it before, but had heard of it, and when I told him it was bedroom pop, he said, “Oh cool, I love that stuff.” He played the song for 15 seconds, then nodded in approval. He loaded the track onto his computer, put his glasses on, and got to work.
Step one involved chopping up the song and assigning little pieces of the track to buttons on his drum machine. It takes less time than it does to listen to the entire track. Once the sounds are programmed into the drum set, Joe starts tapping all the pads, which immediately spit back sound bites from “Seventeen.” He gets to the chorus, “When I was seventeen my mother said to me, ‘Don’t stop imagining, the day that you do is the day that you die.'” He focuses in on these two pads—keep in mind this is the first time he’s ever heard this part of the song—and and plays the chorus through a few times by pressing one, then the other. One, then the other. One, then the other. “See, that’s cool,” he says. “Should I pitch it up or down?”
He pitches it up, then higher. Then down, then lower. Both sounded pretty cool, but Brendan and I agreed, “Down.” He sequences the second half of the chorus, pitched down, so it repeats, “The day that you do is the day that you die.” After letting that ride out for a while he adds in two clips of the keys. He toys around with drums, then settles when he finds something he likes. It has been no longer than 15 minutes since he started the beat, and he’s finished.
Joe has hundreds of beats like this one. He says the process is cathartic. He’s working on creating non-sampled production, making some music to be housed off for television use, and says he wants to get more people in his studio to come in and get custom beats. “You guys like it?” He asks this like he means it, like he doesn’t know what answer we’ll give. We tell him we do. “Thanks.” He turns it up.
Click “Next” or hit Shift+Right to hear the beat…
Steel Tipped Dove – “The Day That You Die”