After almost 30 years of silence (except for a 2014 compilation made by Sonar Kollèktiv) we finally have been able to interview Daniel Grau, who, despite all these years without any new material under his name, never stopped working on his music as well as with other artists. Against all odds, immerse in a country that continues to get worse, Mr. Grau works in his home studio every morning. This year, with El Palmas Music’s support, he decided to release a totally new album, as the stubborn artisan he still is, just to keep alive his voice and his dialog with his own sound, because this practice also is keeping himself alive.
Tell us something about your new work
Most of this album is Disco music, but I wanted to do it with a substance. I like things to have a specific kind of logic, an emotional coherence. For example, a song opens a cycle in the first section, which evolves to a second one, and then comes back creating a third one, and everything is building a climax in order to get to a special feeling… this is something that I always liked and I did in my previous records for more than 45 years, I keep finding this process invigorating.
How do you like to work? You previously organize all your project or do you just hit ‘record’ and start playing?
Is a mixture of different elements, there’s no fixed way. But I can assure to you: whatever I do, I feel it deeply, especially when I’m composing. Music is a communicational and universal language, you know, whatever you feel when you write, is going to be transmitted to whoever is listening. If you feel bored… the listener will be bored too. On the contrary, if you compose with a genuine emotion, a real motivation, the listener is going to feel it as well, even if he or she doesn’t want to. This is the essence of good music. I disagree with those sort of superficial songs that are being made nowadays.
Do you think that current pop music is full of superficial mechanisms and shows have no effort to communicate?
That is correct. There’s so many people that “make music” that is no such thing, they grab a bunch of fragments from certain software and they kind of assemble a song. Generally they don’t even play any musical instrument… everything you hear in my work is played by me.
There is a very human dynamic in all of your music
Thank you very much, I’m glad you appreciate it.
It is very noticeable, I feel you are trying to tell us something. Was this noticed when you released your first records? How was the reception in Venezuela at the time?
I remember the first single I released on the radio, “Dejando volar el pensamiento” in 1974. From the first day it reached #1 place of the most wanted songs. I have been lucky after all, because even though I’ve never made much money, when I actually needed it (that time when my wife got ill, may she rest in peace) I had enough to take care of her so she always had everything.
Was that your biggest hit?
No. It was “El tren del espacio”. I remember when I released it… you would turn on the radio and there was my song, we changed radio stations and it was always my song playing [laughs]. I think I was way ahead of my time in my country, it was like I created a 20-years in the future song, way before that wave emerged.
I think that is one of the virtues of your work, it feels timeless.
If you listen to some songs like “Atlantis” on a good sound system you realize it is great quality stuff, very impressive, and was made more than 30 years ago. Today I have a lot of experience as a sound engineer, I’ve been working in sound studios for more than 45 years. In fact, I even developed my own EQ software. Perhaps the things I have done will disappear with me, perhaps they will go on after I’m gone and will become my legacy.
You have the opportunity to continue now
True. And that is great. Even though there will always be people who don’t appreciate, the musician’s work remains there, it’s a way to be remembered, who they were, how they sounded like, the music they made will always be there ready to be listened to. In a way, that idea makes me feel satisfied with my work over the years.
We’re glad you’re focused in making more music. As a sound engineer, do you come up with a type of sound that you want to achieve or is melody your main goal?
There are different ways, so many that there are some songs I don’t even remember how I started them, because the moment they come up in my head I can already listen to the ending… however, there are others that I do remember, for example one in particular I composed with my steel-string Ovation guitar. I was formerly a guitarist, but I don’t play it anymore. The guitars you’ll hear in the new songs are samples I did from that guitar.
Do you like this guitar for something in particular?
It was my grandfather’s and he passed it along to my father. Then my father passed it along to me and I played it for years. Then I sampled it.
Note by note?
Not only that. I’ve taken 3 samples for each fret in order to vary with colour tones.
I see your expressive ‘palette’ includes much more than the musical aspect, it also includes your studio, you like to play with it.
Especially when I’m interested in certain frequency range.
Studios were always a key factor in your work? Can you tell us some anecdote you remember about it?
Of course, I can tell you a picturesque one. When I released “Dejando volar el pensamiento”, I worked at Discomoda, but that song was recorded at Estudio Fidelis. The team at Discomoda were a little mad about it, “Why didn’t you record it here?” they told me. “Well, because I did it at Fidelis” I said [laughs]. The truth is Fidelis was a better studio, they had Studer tape recorders, which is the best of the best. Discomoda had Scullys. We used to record in ampex 456 tape which was the standard at the time, optimum material.
Tell us about the record industry in Venezuela at that time, how was it?
It was huge, you would find everything you wanted. I worked with excellent artists, both in Fidelis as in Discomoda.
Do you remember how many records you did?
A lot, maybe 60. I worked for many artists. In some records simply as a sound engineer, in some as a collaborator and in others as a producer.
Concerning Venezuela’s current political situation, many people get curious about artists like you, whose productive years where part of the country’s golden age, almost unreal compared to the present time. Music lovers are interested, tracing your footsteps, they want to know more about you, who you are, what do you do nowadays.
Yeah… I have gotten lazy lately, but 3 months ago I started working everyday, composing little songs just for me, I like to express what is in my soul and my mind. I put it on YouTube… soon I was receiving all kinds of nice messages, people giving me blessings, and things that made me think “I haven’t wasted my time and life has a meaning”
Did you ever give a concert or live presentation?
Never. That requires having musicians, rehearsals, all the proper procedures. I’ve never wanted to work as a live engineer neither. I belong in the studio.
So, how come the “Daniel Grau’s Orchestra” from your first records was formed?
That orchestra had only one man in it.
It was you all the time?
Some songs required violins, for example, so I would hire some musicians. With brass… the same thing.
Also happened with that female backing chorus in your iconic songs…
Yes. One of those voices, the most important one, was my wife’s. In “Con el cielo en tus ojos”, which was played a lot on the radio, she was there… [sighs] it has been a long way, brother. Many experiences… some were beautiful and some not so much… but that’s the road life had prepared for me.
Why did you stop making records?
See, up until that point Palacio de la Música had paid for all my productions, they paid for the studio and for the session musicians, if they were needed. From the 8th record on they decided not to continue with the investment. Plain and simple. As I said, I have good memories but I also have some bad ones, because those guys never paid me my royalties during 35 years. On the other hand, publicity and promotion, at that time (I don’t know if that happened in other countries) was very simple, I used to go to the radio station with my new song in a little 7 ½ tape that had copied myself at home. I made a lot of friends, DJs, radio hosts… they didn’t have any problem playing it because the listeners liked my songs, so it worked. I wasn’t forced to pay anything. But things degenerated with time and some ‘smart’ guys began to ask for big amounts of money to the extent that the only artists able to reach radio broadcasting where the ones with big companies willing to pay for that.
Back to your sound… do you remember the moment you decided “these are going to be the ingredients of my sound”?
Now that you put it that way, I think my song “Atlantis” is the golden age of my sound. I hope you can listen to it in high quality. That song sounds incredible despite the fact that it has more than 35 years now. It was made here, downstairs, in my home studio, even though it is very modest -a little room I prepared with fiberglass treatment-, I have recorded many artists here. In other studios like Fidelis I barely worked for my first record. I was already recording in my own studio at the time.
Your new album is a 100% your studio
Absolutely. Even the instruments were sampled there.
From your experience, what do you think a song must have to captivate a listener
Even though there are many points of view, it must have an essence, a message, a heart, an emotion. Inside a recording studio, when you’re making good music, you experience very intense emotions. Recently I recorded a Rudy Marquez album. Us both were very pleased with the results. It is good because Sonografica immediately bought it. When we were recording the vocals, that guy was so moved… and so was I! Every song requires that, it shouldn’t be something so cold, perfect and exact, that is bullshit, you need to be exited. When the vocalist sings he has to feel it in his bones, that kind of stuff is what makes you cry.
A music that communicates a feeling, right?
Totally. That’s the essence of good music. The rest is technicism and human stupidity.
Do you think the present times need more of that type of music?
Without a doubt. Remember how great bands like Chicago or Blood, Sweat & Tears sounded?… The only ‘recent’ group I like is AC/DC. They’re so good. I mean, you hear any of those bands today and you still like them… And, of course, The Beatles. They are first class.
Yeah, they established the basis of modern production
They changed the world, brother. If you hear isolated tracks, the bass, the guitars… how they harmonized guitars with bass… you realize that those guys were like from another dimension. They changed the world, simple as that.