Smile Politely

With great pedals comes great responsibility

Free time is sacred in this day and age. It is so often abused, lost to endless social media scrolling, wasted on staring at glowing rectangles. Fortunately for you, dear screen-gazing reader, local musician Bryce Hays knows how to use his free time better than you and I. The Withershins guitarist spends his free hours making trip hop ambient music as Dr Responsible, straddling the line between solid, discernable guitar riffs and spaced out ambient drone sounds, looped together gracefully on his new tape Dryads. I got a cup of coffee and had a chat with Hays to get some insight on just what is going on in this recording.

Smile Politely: Did you start playing in bands first or start with solo stuff?

Bryce Hays: I started playing in bands first, basically with Withershins here and the solo stuff came later just out of me messing around in my bedroom in my free time. But to directly answer the question, Withershins first, and I play in the Marathon Guitarkestra.

SP: What instruments and equiptment do you use for Dr Responsible?

Hays: Mostly guitar, and I have a keyboard that I use occasionally for synthesizer tones but mostly for drum sounds. Normally most of the sounds come from guitar, and I would loop it and add layers of drums, stuff like that with the keyboard. However, recently I’ve started experimenting with pre-producing beats and stuff on the computer and had that kind of synchronized with the loop pedal I have to all stay in time, so that’s something I’m going to be trying new for the first time at the show this weekend.

SP: Any samples on the recording?

Hays: Mostly no. There was one sample — there’s a cello part on one track on the record that sort of happened by accident. I was already finished with most of the songs I had written and that was sort of an improvised track I just did kind of all in one take while recording, and then while playing it back we had another track that I didn’t use turned up by accident and it had a cello part from a previous recording and it happened to be in key and in the same time as what I had played. It worked out really well, so we did end up sampling that.

SP: What influences play into this music?

Hays: I listen to a lot of guitar based music but I also listen to a lot of hip hop too, and that’s sort of where I feel most comfortable in terms of rhythm and beat, sort of down tempo, hip hop type vibe, so that’s really where that side of it comes from.

SP: Who is ((Husband Material))?

Hays: That is the guy who recorded my tape. It’s sort of his performance and musical moniker. He likes to keep a level of anonymity to his work so I guess that’s the most I will really say about it. But he’s performing Saturday night at the show.

SP: Are you excited for the show?

Hays: Yeah, totally pumped. Some of my favorite musicians are going to be playing tonight. Luke Bergkoetter who plays drums in Withershins with me is doing a solo thing. I’ve never seen him perform solo before so I’m really curious about that. Marathon is playing, who is one of my favorite artists to play with, a friend for a while, does like ambient, drone type stuff. My friend Jeremiah is playing, who lived here for a long time, now up in Chicago, does modular synthesizer stuff, and ((Husband Material)), who I’ve never seen live before but I really dig his tapes.

SP: Is Champaign-Urbana a good place for noise and ambient music? What makes it like that?

Hays: To be honest, I think it is, personally. I play with, for example, the Marathon Guitarkestra, and I play with a group of people who all seem to support and be into this sort of stuff. I enjoy playing here, and I enjoy being at shows here. I’m admittedly kind of a hermit. I don’t make it out to shows as often as I maybe would like to or should, but when I do I always feel like there’s a total strong sense of support and community.

SP: Can you talk about this history of the Dr Responsible project?

Hays: I started playing, 5, maybe even 6 years ago now. I was living with a couple friends of mine, Chad Knowles being one of them, and he lent me an 8 track recorder and I just started messing around with that in the basement, in all my free time. I was only working part time back then; I didn’t have a lot going on so I just spent all my free time recording and looping things. It sort of evolved from there. It started out as fairly simple loops that I would play. I didn’t even really do beats with them, back then, at least live, I hadn’t really figured out how to do all that yet.

SP: Is there any aspect the new recording you really want people to takeaway, or know about?

Hays: This release has been a long time coming. It’s sort of…I don’t wanna say “all over the place” because it’s not, I do feel it is cohesive, but there’s three different sections on the tape that were all written at completely different times in my life. The second two tracks, the two that share a title, “Confrontations,” they are the oldest songs on the tape. They were written about four years ago now. The rest were written at various times over the past two years.

Everything I write is always evolving. The tracks on this tape will sound completely different when I play them a year from now. I do try and rehearse it really well for the actual performance but every time I’m preparing for a performance I’m always improvising a little bit on what I did before. I’m kind of a bit of a perfectionist in a way; a song’s never done to me. I’m always thinking of ways I can make it better or at least different.

SP: Would you ever add a live drummer? That would be sweet.

Hays: Totally, I’ve thought about it a lot, it’s just the reason that Dr Responsible exists is because it’s what I do in my free time when I’m just at home. I’ve always been really interested in adding a live drummer element, I just haven’t really found the time and motivation to do that yet, I suppose. And also, I do want to continue to do primarily loop based stuff and incorporate backing tracks, So I’ve kind of run into a problem I’ve had playing with live drummers in the past, when I first started the band, and it can be hard unless we have a really good monitor situation, to stay together because my loop is locked in and it’s easy, if the drummer cannot hear my amp very well for there to be some drift and to get lost a little bit. Which can work sometimes in a cool way, but in general not a great idea.

SP: Do you feel like you play similar riffs in Dr Responsible as you do in Withershins?

Hays: It’s hard to say because I’m not good at categorizing things, in general, anywhere in my life, not just musically. I listen to a lot of different styles of music, I suppose, and I try and pull things from everywhere. I’m not a horribly skilled musician so while I listen to a lot of jazz, I try and fake-incorporate jazz elements but I’m by no means a jazz guitarist. I don’t have that level of skill. That takes a lot of dedication that I have not put forth yet.

But really I love sounds in general. Not even necessarily just music, just sounds. I try and pull little bits from things I like from whatever I hear, even if it’s the sound of a door slamming or ice cracking I think, “Oh that sounds cool, I would like to use that somehow” or try and replicate it with a guitar or whatever I have at my disposal.

SP: What is your method for doing that sort of thing?

Hays: Usually my method is I just play. A lot of times without any pedals or anything on, I’ll just start playing and then if I stumble across something that I think sounds interesting or cool or that I like, I’ll record it and then I’ll play it back and try and play over it. Usually the more abstract sounds I incorporate comes later after I’ve developed the meat of a song. Then I’ll add elements from things I hear.

SP: What sort of things?

Hays: I don’t know, sometimes it gets lost too. For example on the opening track of the album, it starts out with a very atmospheric, almost ambient synthesizer part, then maybe 30 or 40 seconds into the song, there’s a slow fade in of this rhythmic “dadadadadada” pulse underneath. On the record it’s made with a bass drum repeating very quickly and slowly fading in. That originally came from the sound of a diesel engine idling. I heard that and I heard some electronic hum behind it and I thought that buzzy, drony electronic sound with that diesel engine just made this moment for me, so that’s sort of what I try to incorporate.

Catch Dr Responsible along with Jeremiah Fisher, Marathon, ((Husband Material)) and Luke R. Bergkoetter at the Dryads Record Release Party Saturday at Mike N Molly’s.

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