Watching David Pattillo (who goes by the moniker “Strange Majik”) perform makes you want to fist bump to the tune of rebellion and replace your bedroom door with beaded curtains. Exuding bona fide rock n’roll from his music to his attitude to his shoes, my good friend continues to add to his arsenal of skills by releasing a record called Lights On featuring a coterie of talented singers and rappers that begun to fester after a walk home from his Nolita studio. Ever since I met him at a Rolling Stones tribute show in Bowery a few years ago, I’ve been captivated by his energy and crippled by jealousy of his long, luscious locks. WHAT IS YOUR SECRET, DAVID? What otherworldly oil do you use to make your hair shine like a brand new solar panel?! But I digress! In addition to fronting rock n’roll group The Dead Exes, the Emmy-nominated producer and musician has teamed up with a slew of fresh New York City talent to produce a 10-track record that transcends genre from an array of decades. I sat down to have a conversation with my buddy and it went a little something like this:
I’m into the reggae meets hip-hop vibe this record has. How did you come to make this sound? Did you know what you wanted it to sound like when you started making this record?
That’s cool you hear that Greg! I had done a couple reggae infused remixes for The Casket Girls and Nicole Atkins and was obsessing with a Lee Scratch Perry documentary. My song “Workingman” was originally a straighter reggae feel but once I threw that “Fame” guitar in there I felt like I was breaking new ground. I love what Lee Scratch Perry brought to reggae and his metaphysical connection to the musical process. Marley united Jamaica’s political divergence with music and message and “Workingman” is my protest song to the corporatizing of America.
Tell me more about that fateful night walking home from your Nolita studio that served as the inception of Lights On.
I had recorded “Country Road” and “Love On High” and was feeling pretty good about the direction of the record. One night after mixing I passed Arlene’s Grocery and was taken by a multicultural crowd hanging outside, which was different than the usual Lower East Side scene. I went in for a beer with no idea that I would stumble upon such a fertile creative crew. People were packed in and a guy was rapping on stage with an eight piece band. It was a massive jam—totally improvised, he was freestyling, and the singers were making up hooks on the spot. I came for several weeks and finally asked some of the talent to come over to the studio and collab with me. In time I recorded Melanie Charles, Kennedy, Phase One, and Eli Black, and the record took a whole new turn.
Now, I first met you as the lead singer of The Dead Exs (and have ever since been a loyal fan girl). You embody bona fide NYC rock n’roll—how do you think you’ve evolved and how do you think the energy you have as the lead singer of a rock n’roll band transferred to this album?
Well thank you! My intention with The Dead Exs was to play the blues but living in the EV for years punk is in your blood…so that’s what goes to tape. Both Wylie Wirth and I connected that way. I guess that lends an air of authenticity to the records.
For all my life, I’ve never shied away from diverting to the jam and pushing the norm. The music for me is hiding in those recesses. Lights On is all about me finding my groove and reporting my personal world perspective. I gave up the slide guitar for the bass on this record. It’s my meditation, vegan, reiki, spirit-infused record. It’s 70’s funk and 80’s soul. It’s my commentary on what’s happened to old New York, to our country, our tech heavy lifestyles, and the social media fallout. The selfie is truly Pandora’s Box.
I’ve been to your studio a few times. It has this distinct ambiance; it sort of matches the sonic personality of Lights On. How important is your creative environment to you?
You think so?! Nice! Solitude is probably the most important factor. Spending a lot of time alone and finding the space within the space. I’ve had feng shui consultations here from the amazing Georgie Ayala, and I burn a lot of Nag Champa and do a lot of meditation. Hanging on the wall is a yantra that comes from Amma’s ashram in India. I’m some kind of hippie I guess. A hippie punk….Doc Marten’s and floppy hats indeed.
From Beck to Deltron 3030, there are several roots that stem from this record. How has this record created its own space in the current genre soundscape it belongs in? Do you think it has transcended the boundaries of genre?
I don’t know if the dumbing down of culture and “gentrification” of music has coincided but it kind of feels that way. The trend of anti-intellectualism is growing more than ever in the United States and it’s built in to our education system. We no longer breed intellectuals we breed worker bees and worker bees need compartments to put things in the hive. Music now has these cute little boxes and bands are making music to fit in them. There are many exceptions, but it’s become the rule. Comparatively if you look at any design out there, it’s pretty clear. Can you really tell a Mercedes, from an Acura, from a Hyundai these days? A few weeks back I rented a car, went to the grocery, and when I came out put the keys in the wrong vehicle. If you drive it you can tell the quality, but from the outside it’s all vanilla bean gene.
You’re in the studio producing and also fronting a rock n’roll band—how does being a performer give you an advantage as a producer and vice versa?
I think any good producer senses true grit. A performer needs tools to get past the thoughts. It helps to know the difference and to access that connection where u can. Singers get too inside themselves. God knows I do too. A great producer/player will bring out the performance that an engineer can’t. It’s all about comfort levels and getting in the zone. My studio has a simple living room kind of vibe. That helps as well.
You want to capture the temporal quality of the NYC culture, especially with “Livin’ It.” Tell me more about that. How do you want this record to capture said quality?
I suppose you mean in the earthy vs. spiritual sense? I love what Eckhart Tolle has done and am a big fan of The Power Of Now. It’s an easy read that extrapolates the wisdom of ancient spirituality and restates it relevant to our times. When I approached Eli Black about the “in the moment” lyric concept we were at a deli ordering vegan wraps. I wanted to bridge living in the moment with eating right and getting your diet together, and his urban perspective was unique and invaluable.
Do you think you’ll revisit The Dead Exs, and if so, what will be different this time?
Well strangely enough as soon as I put out “Lights On” my solo blues demand has gone way up! When I perform solo I do all the Dead Exs material so it’s alive and well. Most likely I will do a record like this… just me, my acoustic, and my foot. Makes sense since I’ve had size 13 since eighth grade. If I wasn’t falling over my feet I was trying to find shoes that didn’t make me look like a clown. Now that I use my foot as a bass drum it all makes sense. Next record after that would bring Wylie back on drums and involve a full band, horn section, and make the whole sound more groovy Muscle Shoals.
How does Lights On correlate with today’s social, cultural, and political impetus? It has this 60’s rebel vibe to it, something that wants to provoke action—did you intend for it to sound this way?
Thank you Greg for being so on it! I love that you understand where I am coming from. So many reviewers have been so focused on the sound and style. You really get it. I’ve been turned down by rock blogs who heard the rappers and said no thanks. The rap blogs heard the rock and no reply. Despite our connected culture we seem to be less connected. What would Martin Luther King say is he was alive today? The revolution starts from within and until we change our energy our world will not change. I do believe in demonstration and I have marched with Occupy, Climate Change, and with Black Lives Matter. I believe we are ALL united as the 99%. We are the burgeoning economic underclass. The true root of the issues is deeply ingrained in our social system and our over reliance on the almighty dollar as the savior. I know that police brutality exists and am all too aware of the racially profiled sting operations that NY cops run. Read Matt Taibbi’s mind-blowing book “The Divide.” It’s all there. But none of these issues are any different than what Gandhi faced against the British rule of India. He brought a nation together armed with non-violence and the truth…. all dressed in a loincloth. The more we promote separation the less we thrive. We are all one and we need to remind ourselves of that every day. If I can be so bold to say it, “Lights On” in it’s own little way is uniting musical genres and bringing worlds together. I think you will see a lot more records like this in the future.
What tricks do you have up your sleep? Any future majik you can tell me about?!
I was going to ask you the same thing! I think it might be hire Greg Mania as my press agent. “Lights On” is out on Vinyl with Plane Groovy UK. The Family Majik is playing the Northside Festival and Color Me Bushwick in June, which we are really excited about. I’ll be doing a bunch of solo shows coming up…details on The Dead Exs webpage. And of course, Tuesday nights I’ll be playing the blues at Belle Reve with my new sidekick gogo babe Velvetina Taylor. All that and an appearance in the new “Humans of New York” feature film due out next year.
Words: Greg Mania; Photo: Ky Digregorio; Location: Belle Reve