As a sideman, keyboardist, and vocalist, Dave Schulz has toured the world with artists stretching from Ryan Cabrera, Bo Diddley, and the Goo Goo Dolls to ’80s new wavers like the English Beat, General Public, and Berlin. But as a frontman and solo artist, Schulz has worked diligently on the west coast building a reputation as one of the shining talents on the scene. Among his other accomplishments, in 2005, the L.A. Music Awards nominated him for “Male Vocalist of the Year,” and Schulz has built a local following that feels almost like family to him. His latest solo pop album, Connect, features luminaries such as Daniel Lanois, Tony Levin, and Bernard Fowler, giving Schulz’s music gravitas to vault it beyond the local scene. Keyboard sat down with the talented Schulz to find out more about the man and his music.
How would you describe your own music?
I like so many different styles of music, which can be maddening when trying to make a “cohesive” pop record. I don’t like limits. Duke Ellington once said there are only two kinds of music: good and bad. I should hope mine falls into the first category. . . .
Who do you think you sound like?
Peter Gabriel meets Todd Rundgren, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Thomas Dolby, Trevor Horn, Coldplay, Pink Floyd, and then some. I like to write hypnotic melodies with strong changes; these guys all know how to do that very well.
What was your musical background growing up?
At age 13, I started taking classical and jazz lessons simultaneously from two great teachers in Buffalo, New York: James Deiotte and George Jones. They totally kicked my ass right from the start. Apparently, I learned very quickly which, I realize now, was attributed to my father being the pianist and conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic at the time. Osmosis, maybe?
Do you play by ear, sight read, or both?
I’m definitely an “ear” guy. Playing in so many stylistically diverse bands really honed that skill. I try to play as much classical music as I can to strengthen my sight reading. It’s tough to admit there’s always gonna be a four-year-old Japanese kid that can sight read better than me. . . .
What’s your practice regimen like?
My practice regimen is living and breathing music 24-seven. I can’t say I practice enough in the “formal” sense.
What did you wish you had spent more time learning when you were young?
George Gershwin. My father used to play Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F like it was nobody’s business. I didn’t realize at the time how incredible those compositions were. That’s on my “need to play” list. New Orleans ragtime as well.
Who or what inspired you to play keyboards?
The real buzz came from a Devo record called Duty Now For the Future that my sister bought me when I was in sixth grade. I was totally mesmerized by their sound, and became completely obsessed with everything they put out. There was also a local guy by the name of David Kane from a band called Electroman, which I later ended up playing in as well. He was the keyboard player, and the coolest looking guy in the band. Very encouraging.
What records did you grow up on that influenced your keyboard playing and career?
My Spanish Heart from Chick Corea was a big influence as well as Heavy Weather by Weather Report, and Romantic Warrior by Return to Forever. Herbie Hancock’s Quartet was huge. Wired by Jeff Beck. Just about everything by Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, and Todd Rundgren as well.
What keyboards and pianos did you have growing up? What was your first keyboard you bought?
I grew up with my father’s upright piano in the sunroom. He would play and teach piano lessons. The first keyboard I personally owned was an old Ace Tone TOP-3 organ with five awful sounds on it. It was killer! I used it in the first band I was ever allowed to play in, called Lame Excuse, with two other guys named Dave. Classic. The first synth I ever owned was the Roland D-10 that my mom bought me in eighth grade. That was the start of a long list of keyboards that hasn’t ended since.
What are your inspirations for songwriting and lyrics?
I tend to prefer lyrics that inspire imagination upon the listener rather than a literal meaning. “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” by the Beatles can mean a million different things to a million different people.
How did you choose the keyboards in your current stage rig? How have they worked for you and how have you modified them or their sounds?
I use an Open Labs MiKo with a Yamaha Motif ES or a Nord Stage as a controller. I use primarily VSTs, which are then split and layered across the MiKo itself and the controller. It’s a combination of NI Komplete 5, IK Miroslav Philharmonik, Spectrasonics Omnisphere, and GForce Minimonsta and Mtron. I’m in love with these sounds, which are ever-changing. I would love to use a MIDI-capable Rhodes as a controller, red of course. I might have to look into that!
What was your best gig experience?
Going from playing for 100 people at a bar in Buffalo, New York, to 60,000 at Woodstock with the Goo Goo Dolls. Lets just say it was eye-opening. I was sold for life.
What’s the biggest thing that’s gone wrong while you’ve been onstage and how did you deal with it?
One time, I slipped on some beer at a Goo Goo Dolls show in Utah while playing the tambourine, in front of 20,000 people. My right knee popped out and I had to be lifted off the stage by the crew. They gave me a pain killer and propped me up on a stool with my leg up just in time for the B-3 solo on “Slide.” Total Spinal Tap moment.
What are your newest projects?
I just finished my first solo rock pop record entitled Connect with some amazing guest musicians including Daniel Lanois, Tony Levin, Mike Porcaro, Sal Marquez, Remi Kabaka, Robin Dimaggio, Randy Cooke, and Bernard Fowler, to name a few. It has been an incredibly humbling experience to work with these people.
I also just finished a record by my other band, the Smart Set [myspace .com/the smartsetband], with Rick Torres [of Supreme Beings of Leisure] and some other supremely talented folks. I’m very proud of this one. Think Massive Attack meets Portishead with some Dusty Springfield thrown in. Very fun stuff! [As of publication] I’m also working on a new Berlin record for 2009. Terri Nunn is the coolest chick. Very professional. I love working with her.
The Dave Schulz Dossier
Words of wisdom: Back up your hard drive!
Top musical guilty pleasure: VSTs, as opposed to the real instruments. I don’t see a problem with any technology as long as it’s being used creatively. Also, [the TV show] Curb Your Enthusiasm. Great theme song!
Most underrated keyboard player: Peter Gabriel, Todd Rundgren, and Benmont Tench. These guys get maximum emotional effect out of very few notes. How can one not be in awe of that?
Favorite artists we’ve probably never heard of: My sister Gretchen [myspace .com/gretchenschulz]. She’s an incredible vocalist and songwriter who is my main inspiration. Also Hensley [hensleymusic .com], a great artist with a great message. I play keys in his band from time to time.
Top five favorite keyboard songs: “Here Comes the Flood” by Peter Gabriel. This is my favorite example of achieving maximum emotional effect with very few notes. Bring some tissues. “Airwaves” by Thomas Dolby. A perfect pop song and hauntingly beautiful piano melody that has never left my head. “Love is the Answer” by Todd Rundgren. One of the best piano intros ever written in a pop song. Todd perfected the power of the simple triad put to the most interesting use. “Tempted” by Squeeze. Some of my favorite chord changes in pop music. This one may sound simple, but I assure you its not. Paul Carrack is fantastic on this. “Beautiful World” by Devo. Their masterpiece, in my opinion. One simple synth riff put to maximum punch in this classic satirical rant, which is more potent today than ever. The video is incredible.