Interview / Dan Judd / Sorcerer

Around ten years ago, Dan Judd released a couple of albums under the alias Sorcerer. White Magic and Neon Leon both married guitar-driven Soft Rock with the Afro / Cosmic of pitched down Italo Disco. Exuding West Coast vibes of blue skies and beaches. CDs full of  “Seaside” Kosmische, linked to a Californian circle of diggers, DJs and producers, that included Adult Contemporary, Dream Chimney,  and Sentrall. Vocoder-ed songs of robotic, Blue-eyed Soul that seemed to tie into what folks like Junior Boys were doing to R&B, but also incorporate elements of 1980s Indie and Shoegaze. Mix Basic Channel`s infinite Techno Echo with Space Rock fuzz & drone lift off. Technique-era New Order, with The Smiths, and House. Arguably paving the way for the success of artists such as Seahawks, Secret Circuit and Shy Layers. 

Be With Records have pressed up both recordings as double-vinyl editions – which hit shops last Friday – and Dan kindly agreed to answer a few questions. Cue the sonic sunshine.

White Magic

Where are you based? 

My family and I live north of Berkeley, CA. In a town called El Cerrito. It’s a peaceful zone – birthplace of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Metallica had a practice place here in the early days. The music does flow from here (laughs). 

Where are you from?

I grew up in California. Santa Barbara, CA and in Oakland, CA. I’ve been shuttling back and forth over the years.

When did you start making music? What inspired you to do so?

My grandparents gave me a guitar when I was fifteen and I started taking lessons. Seeing if I liked it. I eventually found a great teacher who taught me about Chicago Blues and how Rock evolved. I was also really into the golden era East Coast Rap, and when I learned about sampling I started to track down all the classic James Brown and Meters-style stuff. It somehow inspired me to keep playing my guitar in new ways. Santa Barbara had a small music scene, and I played in all kinds of different bands. From Punk to Ska, Reggae, Experimental, and pop. 

The band that was most popular was Call And Response. We did a handful of albums and toured the UK. It was a sunshine Pop band that I wrote a lot of music for.  Originally we drew inspiration from The Free Design, Stereolab, and the Beach Boys. We had a lot of great adventures traveling around the US. We developed a family atmosphere and was a life inspiring group. Eventually we went our different ways but we all keep in touch and I still make music with Terri Loewenthal in a group called SHOCK.

When I finally discovered how to record my own music on a computer it all came rushing out of my system. Fuelled by the late 90s electronic pop like Air, WARP records, and Stereolab.

What equipment did you have then? What are your favourite pieces of gear now?  

A lot of the Sorcerer stuff was influenced by computers getting faster and the laptop recording revolution. I found a way to generate beats using an old MPC 2000, lots of dollar records, and layering guitar and synths over the grooves. A buddy dubbed me the Sorcerer, and off I went. The MPC, a record player, and an old Nord Modular formed the cornerstone of the early jams. The Nord is very flexible and you can layer up to four different voices on it. I still use these today, and my guitars, and lots of pedals. I’m always picking up new stuff as I go. Right now I like my Eventide effects pedal and the Novation Bass Station 2. I still use the MPC to get the beats going. Other things I use now are the Juno Alpha, a Korg TR rack full of ultra clean rompler sounds, and DX 100 for grainy FM tones. I’m always trying out new software and plug-ins as well. But at the end of the day I like to begin with hardware and not looking at a computer screen.

How did the Hatchback / Windsurf collaboration with Sam Grawe come about?

My friends in my band told me about a really great guy with a fresh synthesiser arsenal, and who made electronic music like me. We hit it off and started going record shopping and hanging out. We started jamming on each others things and then our stuff together just started flowing. We were traveling the same pathways and had a lot of free time to make music. We just loved doing it and there was not really a defined place for our sound yet. Windsurf as an image seemed perfect for the chords we liked to use and the graphical inspiration was perfect.

Are you still in contact with Sam? 

Yes though we don’t live in the same state now. We`re still sharing music we`re digging and inspirations. I visited him a few summers back and we got to record a song together that will be on his upcoming Hatchback release, Year of the Dragon. That was awesome and I’d love to do more, as it’s something we could probably just pick back up on as soon as we had the free space.

Did you approach the production of White Magic and Neon Leon differently? Did you set out to do something different with each album? Were they impacted by particular pieces of equipment?

They are similar in that they are collections of my strongest jams at that moment in time. I approach each song as a single on it’s own – trying to express an inspiration I am feeling, close to the moment that they are happening. In my mind it is Pop music. Sometimes I`m composing for a singer. Imagining I`m working with Janet Jackson, for example. White Magic was the sound of me learning how I could put together songs that could work in that way. Since I was always writing demos for my band on my gear, which we would then translate to live instruments. So some of them are kinda rough and awkward but looking back it adds character. Prins Thomas did a remix of Surfing At Midnight in 2007, and I was so excited as I was really into the Lindstrom and Prins Thomas releases at the time.

Neon Leon was me in a more confident mind-frame. Inspired by good feedback on White Magic, and also the technology was more ripe for the sounds I was looking for. Also the musical style was starting to solidify its identity globally.  The core musical cornerstones are Logic and the Akai MPC. All my stuff seems to be a continuation of the last batch, as I am always recording. I moved to an apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District and fed off the sights and sounds at the time. I could walk to lots of night clubs and bars and soak up inspiration for my tunes.

For all the electronics, the guitar is still the key instrument in your work. Do you compose first on guitar, or on machines?

I usually wait till later to add the guitar. I am more confident on guitar, but also it’s fun to not use it to compose, as it’s hard for me to avoid guitar cliches that I don’t necessarily want in the mix. Generally, I’ll build up a rough beat and a baseline and see what chords are flowing. When it gets more complicated than that I’m not always so successful in making something I really like.

Who are your “guitar heroes”?

I like Gabor Szabo a lot for his fluid unique style. I love Jimi Hendrix as a bold teenage years` inspiration. I like a lot of the guitar sounds you hear in `70s Rock – that clean watery phased sound that makes things sound like Prog Pop. Reggae guitar is a big inspiration. Disco guitar Funk. I like Michael Rother’s simple melodic style. I also really like the Ramones for a not overthinking things sound. Kevin Shields is huge, and Sonic Youth. I love that fluid guitar sound like Curtis Mayfield, where its rhythm and lead at the same time.

Within your music I can hear elements of Kosmische, Shoegaze and Jamaican Dub. Were / are any of these musics actually an influence?

Yes they all are inspiration. I am tapping into aspects of these eras constantly and always trying to blend them together in new ways.

For illustration – could you give me some key pieces of music that you drew inspiration from?

Michael Rother – Sonnenrad

Durutti Column – Sketch for Summer

Tom Tom Club – Genius of Love

Grace Jones – Pull Up to the Bumper

MBV – Swallow

Your music “speaks” to me of “blue skies and beaches”. An imagined, idyllic coastal drive through California. How much do surroundings influence your music? 

I’m influenced by it for sure, usually unconsciously. I grew up in and spent my whole life in California, in coastal areas. Skating, BMX, Surfing, Sunshine, I was into all of it. Also hanging out at Punk shows and being involved in a DIY scene – making fanzines and recording Punk demos onto cassette tapes. Lately, I get a lot of inspiration from riding my bike to work through Berkeley and listening to music while I go.

To my ears, your releases paved the way for those of artists such as Seahawks, Secret Circuit, and Shy Layers. Fusing “Soft Rock” with electronics. Are you aware of these artists? Can you hear echoes of what you do in their work?

Yes, those are all artists I listen to and get inspiration from. I hear the influence and identify with a lot of the music that combines a Soft Rock and electronic sound. There`s a lot of Steely Dan respect I think, and people loving the harmonies and chords of Fleetwood Mac. When you start layering these influences over finger snapping beats it’s a pretty perfect match. I’m always digging for that vibe in the stuff I listen to. I was just wishing that the band Phoenix still sounded like they did early on, like on If I Ever Feel Better.

I associate your music with that of Woolfy Vs Projections, Sentrall, and Tony Watson and Ritesh Kumar`s Adult Contemporary? Are these people friends of yours? Was there, is there, a scene, of clubs, parties and likeminded DJs / music makers? Did it / does it revolve around any clubs, record shops, DJs in particular?

Yeah, we all have a mutual admiration for what we are doing. What really kickstarted some Sorcerer tunes was a night that my friends Broker/Dealer and the Beat Broker used to promote called “Pop” in San Francisco. They played lots of melodic Techno and House – usually from the Kompakt label or Metro Area style stuff. It really sounded awesome super loud and I would usually come up with a tune the next day after going out to those nights. The early to mid-2000s. We all frequented Amoeba for the used vinyl to sample.

Which contemporary artists are you listening to?

I`m enjoying Nu Guinea`s Nuova Napoli album. Super strong on the Italian Jazz Funk style. Also a mellow Indie-Pop album by Yumi Zouma called Willowbank, that`s just crispy clean and goes down easy. I also like the DJ Sports` Modern Species record, which is all over the map, but has the excitement of a 90s electronic sound and includes some Jungle elements.  There`s a Shoegaze group from Texas called Ringo Deathstar that has some fun jams in the MBV tribute mode.

Are there any local artists, or DJs, that we should look out for?

I always check the music from my friends in the Dream Chimney family crew. The Beat Broker, Rollmottle, Project Sandro, Tridact, Mardu, Jaywar. Hatchback has that new record coming out this year too, which will be awesome. My work and family life with two young boys makes it a challenge to enjoy the nightlife currently.

In fact, there`s a new collection of Dream Chimney jams up on Bandcamp. 

You released a 12 with Universal Cave in 2016. Are there any plans to do any more with Ryan, Shawn, and Brian? 

No plans currently but they are great dudes and super easy to work with. I was really stoked that they took a chance on releasing some of my songs. They also came up with awesome label artwork.

Sorcerer Nabu Network

Last year`s Jungle Hideout was released on the Ibiza-based Real Balearic. Have you been to Ibiza?

I haven’t yet. My mother went there when she was a student, so I have a notion of it from her stories. But from a more bohemian late `60s perspective. I like to imagine a version of it in my mind. It’s really cool that the music I make can be enjoyed in that setting. The Jungle Hideout album was really fun to put together and I feel added the Sorcerer musical legacy perfectly.

Your latest release was with Dreamtime. Again are there any plans to do more with them?

Dreamtime is an awesome up and coming label who were great to work with. I’d love to work with them again as they have a great roster and have a very open mind. I was really happy with the packaging on the Dream Season E.P. as well.

Sorcerer Dream Season

Are you working on new music at the moment?

Yes, I’m always working on stuff as it’s my main creative outlet and I might go nuts if I didn’t have the means to compose. These days I`m waiting for my family to go to sleep and I work late at night – usually in a half-awake state. I read that Kevin Shields deliberately experimented with sleep deprivation during Loveless, so sometimes though it feels harsh on the body and mind – maybe it does lead to a weirdly productive creative state. I have the makings of a complete album – so I`m working on finishing up the track selection and will send it around to some folks to release.

Do you play live?

Sometimes I play live as part of SHOCK. Me on guitar and keyboards. Terri singing and playing bass. I did a live Sorcerer show for a Beat Broker record release party last Summer, playing my MPC, keyboards, and guitar. It was super fun, and I’d love to give it another shot. As soon as my life and schedule evens out.

Neon Leon

Sorcerer`s White Magic and Neon Leon, are available – finally – on vinyl, care of Be With Records. 


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