INTERVIEW: Francis Preve (2007)
Making the move from writing to DJing and producing may seem like an odd transition, but when you consider the career arcs of Dave Dresden, Bill Coleman, and Joe Bermudez, it starts to make more sense. As contributing editor for Keyboard magazine and writer of three books, Francis Preve covers the latest technologies. As a sound designer for Korg and Ableton, he creates the sounds that other producers use. As a producer, he has worked with circuit DJ Roland Belmares and commercial DJ Joe Bermudez. With a diverse range of styles from tech to discohouse to pop, Francis Preve is one to watch as a rising star in the electronica world set to explode on the international scene.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: Producer. Musician. Writer. Remixer. Programmer. How did you get started in the music world?
Francis Preve: My first break in the music world, as such, was in a boy band during the 80s called “Beat Goes Bang.” We had the usual label-inflicted horror stories and ultimately broke up, though we did have the dubious distinction of performing the theme song for “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead” – a cover of Tommy James’ “Dragging The Line.” That experience taught me tons of things about the music industry and made me realize that focusing on remixing and production was more in line with my musical meanderings.
After that, I took a few years off, then snagged a contract with London/ffrr records, doing remixes and production under the name 1926 Productions (with hip-hop producer Jeremy “Cochise” Ball). At London, I ended up working on remixes for Orbital (“Lush”), Utah Saints (“What Can You Do For Me”) and a hip-hop group called “Poverty.”
Then during the 90s, I took a detour through the music technology industry. I’d always been obsessed with synthesizers and sound itself, so after being approached by NemeSys (now a division of Tascam), I took the position of Program Director and helped them to develop and market their PC-based software sampler, called “GigaStudio.” After they were purchased by Tascam, I got back into music production and remixes, and here I am now.
RS: What inspired you to start producing dance music?
Francis Preve: I grew up on 80s dance music like Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and New Order. So it was sort of a natural outcome of that. I remember hearing house for the first time. Tracks like “Baby Wants To Ride,” “It’s Alright,” and “That’s The Way Love Is” and fell in love with the combination of soulfulness and technology. I was very young at the time and it all made a HUGE impression.
RS: You are definitely a proponent of pushing the boundaries of technology with music. Tell me about some of the work you’ve done with Ableton and Korg.
Francis Preve: Well, since 2004, I’ve been one of the principal sound designers for Ableton, designing a huge portion of the synth sounds, drum kits, and effects presets that ship with Live. I love that shit. Just sitting in my underwear at 2 AM, thinking “Oh this sound would be cool in a dance track” and helping musicians and producers make their own tracks.
In 2006, Korg approached me about contributing a bank of sounds for their PolySix software synth. Since I was an owner of the original analog hardware version, that was a no-brainer. They liked those sounds, so they added me to the team that developed the sounds for the MonoPoly softsynth and their flagship mondo synth, the OASYS.
It’s funny, ’cause Ableton is my favorite software company and Korg is my favorite hardware synth company. I definitely don’t take that stuff for granted. I’m very very lucky to be able to do this kind of work.
RS: In your quest to help musicians and producers, you’ve also written books and for the magazine Keyboard. Do you think writing influences your production or your production influences your writing?
Francis Preve: That’s a tough question. See, when I was growing up, I really didn’t have any resources to learn sound design, so I had to rely on Keyboard magazine – and trial-and-error – to learn the craft of creating dance music. I read every issue cover to cover multiple times, so it all came full circle when Keyboard approached me in 2000 to do reviews and write tutorials. It might sound silly or uncool, but it’s such an honor to be able to give back to the dance community by giving away my bag of tricks every month. The free software doesn’t hurt either (laughs). Basically, the two aspects – writing and production – dovetail nicely.
RS: Your most recent book “The Remixer’s Bible” is a great guide to help up and coming producers and remixers. The book focuses on Acid, Reason and Ableton Live – which begs the question, what software do you use to produce dance music and why?
Francis Preve: Generally, I use the holy trinity of electronica software: Reason, Logic, and Live. Though since version 6, Live has become my primary workhorse since it’s so fast and efficient. I can whip up the framework for a track in a few hours using nothing but Live. Of course, having all my favorite sounds in there as presets is incredibly useful too.
RS: When you are commissioned for a remix, how do you approach it? Is there a set method that you follow?
Francis Preve: There’s no real set method, as such. I’m a huge fan of house in all its forms – tech, electro, classic, deep – so I generally just listen to the vocal (if there is one) and see where it leads me. That said, I’ve been really focused lately on refining my own sound, taking more chances, rather than just phoning in a track in the “style du jour.”
As for the process itself… Like a lot of remixers, I’ll start with a basic drum groove, lay the hook or vocal over that, and let the rest of the parts come from that organically.