At 11am, Tone of Arc is sitting in a canoe. A canoe on a river by his house, a sprawling compound that was at one point the stomping grounds of the Grateful Dead, deep in some woods north of San Francisco.
Tone of Arc is the new moniker of Derrick Boyd, the DJ-slash-producer-slash-musician last known as Dead Seal. As Tone ofArc, Derrick is one of the newer artists on No.19 Music, the supersonic house and techno label owned by Art Department’s Jonny White. He’s maybe not so much a guy you expected to find on a canoe when he’s meant to be doing an interview ahead of his upcoming show in Bogota, but this self-described ‘nature guy’ moved in about a year ago to finish his first album for No.19.
That album is launching this summer and if his recent Shaking the Sky/No Pushers EP is anything to go by, the Tone of Arcbrand of warm, groove-ridden deep house slathered in disco and soul notes is going to strike a chord – particularly for anyone who’s caught his complex live set that sees Boyd deftly juggle records as he plays the bass guitar, guitar, and clarinet, singing alongside partner Zoe Presnick.
Tone of Arc is blowing up on underground house music radar now, the name beginning to appear on those ‘ones to watch’ lists, but Derrick has actually been producing music for a long time. Even under his former moniker as Dead Seal, he was that eternal up-and-comer, connected with labels like White’s other baby, My Favorite Robot, yet with a back catalog of some 250 tracks that were mostly unreleased.
After he returns to shore, we catch a few moments for a chat before he flies down to Bogota to play for Sneakpeak with Jonny Cruz and Lazaro Casanovato.
Just 6 months ago, you were still known as Dead Seal – why the recent name change to Tone of Arc right in the middle of your album production and gig schedule?
It was just time for a change because the music now is totally at a higher level. Jonny White, he kinda gave me the hint that it’d maybe be a good idea if I could come up with something better, even more marketable. I was totally on board because I don’t think people really understand what dead seal means – they thought it was some dying carcass on the beach. In English, there are three different seals – window seal, a plaque seal and an art seal. This [he shows off a tattoo] that’s the dead seal. It’s something I made up when I was seven, when I rewrote the English alphabet into my own hieroglyphics.
We’ve been listening to your first EP, and loving the disco and soulful vibes in Shaking The Sky and No Pushers. What’s the story behind what goes in your music?
One of my things is I don’t make music that’s dark. I make sexy music but I don’t sing about bad things anymore or bitching and complaining about how people don’t know shit. I just try to make people happy now, instead of throwing some kind ofreligious bullshit on people.
Is it really all light and goodwill?
I still make stuff a little bit dark, but imprinted with light and good messages. Words of love and good tidings and all that. <Laughs>
My music was darker yeah, I have a whole collection of some pretty evil shit .I’ve made over 250 songs, through the courseof producing since 17. I’m 32 now, so there’s a lot, I call it the Dead Seal Scrolls.
That’s a lot of music over a lot of years. Didn’t you ever feel like you wanted to release it?
I never really went so far as to think what I wanted from it. It’s not so much a hobby, more an addiction, something that makes me forget about the mundane society stuff. When I make music I would feel cleansed you know, of being angry or sad or afraid that I don’t have enough money to pay the bills or I’m not good enough. Eventually it evolved into music that was to a level I felt comfortable releasing.
Before, I just didn’t feel my music was liked the way I wanted it to be. Now it’s on tune, it’s all tight.
What sort of sounds get your music flowing?
I can’t even put a name on what favourite music I have, or my favourite artist. I actually make music more than I listen to it. I sit in the quiet and I walk around in nature a lot and then I come home and I make music. And I’d so much rather make music than listen to it. It’s kind of weird, and I’ve always been like that.
Your first Tone of Arc album is landing on No.19 soon. How did you end up hooking up with the label and Jonny White?
Damian Lazarus got a hold of my Corpus Animus album on Auralism [as Dead Seal] when he was on a road trip with Jamie Jones somewhere in South America. They happened to be stuck in the car with only one CD and it happened to be mine.
After listening to the album, Damain decided to track me down and scout me out to play a live set for him in LA. I have to say, I’d grown a lot since then and my music had changed so much – it was nothing I was really proud of, but I apparently left an impression on other people. At an afterparty we were hanging out and that was where I met Jonny White. And we ended up staying in touch.
And inking the album deal?
After I met Jonny down in LA – a year and a half ago, maybe more now – I was really fully inspired by the music that he played. I was inspired to write a certain sound that was original but yet usable and marketable for what I was going for with dance music. I played some tracks to Jonny that Art Department had inspired in me and they liked it a lot, so we shook on it and I was part of the team on No.19 since. I went home and immediately wrote Shaking A Sky. I felt like I hit my mark, From there I kept making stuff I could use with that song. Having no control over the music, I ended up making a lot more than I could bargain for.
What does that mean for that first Tone of Arc album then?
The album right now is at 20 songs and originally they wanted 13. I’ve been sending all this stuff, my artistic expressions, and Jonny’s just been loving every little piece of it. Being a dance label, I never thought No 19 would be interested in my more musical stuff, my more band-y kind of music..
But we’re going to release all of it. There’s going to be two parts, dance music and then the band-y music, split into a double CD. It’s going to be the most I’ve ever released, all in one package.
Are there any collaborations with Art Department in the works?
Yeah, we’ll definitely work on stuff together. They’ve talked a lot about doing a bunch of remixes of my music from this album. We’ll see what happens.
You’re a DJ and producer with a very musical live set. In an increasingly crowded scene, do you think it comes down to the people who create and perform their own music?
Definitely. It’s the next level. I think people are completely bored with just looking at somebody staring at a computer. It wasn’t until six years after I started producing that I started Djing, just because it was time for me to play the stuff out, get my feet wet. Nowadays everyone has Ableton Live, Traktor – they don’t even have to mix. It’s just all locked in for them. It’s even more baffling that that’s the norm.So of course I think being a live entertainer is the way forward. I’ve seen a lot more people doing it. And those people are rising very fast.
My friend recently started a night in Bogota, Colombia, and his very second booking was this rather cool dude. Interview set up by him and his company, Sneakpeak Productions – linkage here!