By Jordan Reisman
Dino Felipe doesn’t like to do things like other people. The Miami-born and raised experimental noise musician and collaborator has a slightly different approach to honing his craft and his creative process. But he has reasons for all of this — for why he doesn’t drive and why he forces himself to stay awake to write. BTR had a chance to speak with Felipe fresh off an all-nighter that he pulled to celebrate the release of his latest release, Rockettes, released on September 26th.
Felipe has his own idea of how a release party goes, he doesn’t exactly need the fanfare of a crowded club filled with industry heads and fawning fans. He had two friends over and they did “stuff that makes us freak out,” more specifically, “something that helps me stay up.”
His musical beginnings started in his hometown of Miami where his mother had a giant record collection and he admired them even before he even knew how to put on a record. The creation of his now musical personality started when he would play the records and “try to find weird things” which led him to the discovery of The Art of Noise, where he would “run to the corner of the house during the ‘scary song’ and then I’d run back to the living room when the scary song was over.”
Anecdotally, that started it all but as for the music he’s making now , he began 20 years ago when he picked up a guitar. As the product of a failing public school system where he lived, he dropped out of high school not necessarily to pursue music, he says, but because the teachers didn’t believe in the students.
Given all of this free time, Felipe has built up a process that is unique to himself and himself only, whether or not his body takes a toll for it is a different story.
“I don’t really know what the hell I’m going to record until I’m done or what it’s going to sound like or anything. I don’t have a planned song, like some people have that ‘gift’. Some people can have songs in their head for weeks and they can materialize it. I don’t work that way. I record until I feel like a song is done and I won’t sleep until it’s done because if I wake up the next day I might not like it,” said Felipe on his initial writing process.
This brings us to the second, unavoidable part of his writing process where Felipe’s tireless work ethic and dedication to his music shines through.
“I have a problem sleeping, mostly as of late. I wake up, like, four times a night. Referring to certain albums that I’ve done that have been induced by sleep deprivation, that was on purpose. When I did Is Sleeping in 2007, it was done on as little sleep as possible, from as little as 0-to-2-hour naps. I didn’t suffer for that, it was fun. I like delirium, I think it’s one of the most interesting highs in the world,” says Felipe.
Thirdly, after he’s deprived himself of sleep or not he has to make the decision regarding what to do with the songs.
“I don’t save a song unless I like it. That’s my method. If I don’t feel or see something with the lights off and the computer screen off I don’t save it. I’m hoping people may see or feel what I see because it looks pretty vivid to me,” said Felipe on his rigorous screening process.
Though lately, Felipe’s sleeplessness is more a product of just insomnia itself and not an experiment in creating an album. The exhaustion that used to be his muse is now a dragging anchor holding back his work. The way that Felipe creates his albums is situational, which sets him a part from that body of musicians who carve a legacy out of albums that largely sound exactly the same. He describes himself as a spider in the way that he subjects himself to different substances to see what kind of “web” he will produce. He does this because it puts him in a place where “you find stuff you’ll never find yourself recording again.”
For an artist who prides themselves on flying solo, Felipe does collaborate quite a bit though, preferably with “somebody I know, that we can communicate and instead of it being awkward.” He does like to work in a band, as he got started that way two decades ago, However, “ bands get complicated and people have to do their own thing and go their own way.”
He might not be able to be so productive if so many other people were involved, as the fragile creative tends to lose it when he stops recording.
In such away does Dino Felipe’s newest album, Rockettes, wear its naivete on its sleeve. For instance, Felipe had no idea that the real Rockettes even existed. In conjuring the title, He was actually directly referencing the Cockettes, a gay theater troupe from San Francisco, (who were, in turn… you get the idea).
“I just wanted to do a rock album based on the Cockettes,” he says blankly, and with a sense that he’s doing “rock” on his own terms. This gleeful unknowingness about this Christmas tradition sums up Felipe’s focus in a way, he’s so entrenched in his own musical world where chorus lines do not enter.
The album features dissonant tones that challenge your ears and texture that Felipe nearly wrings from his guitar like a sweat cloth. Standards power chords are nowhere to be found on Rockettes and if they’re there, Felipe juxtaposes them with his off-kilter vocal stylings. Since sleeplessness and disorientation was part of his writing M.O., it was unclear whether or not these strange sounds were intentional.
“I don’t have one (a tuner), I just do it by ear. Some songs have certain notes that I do slightly untuned. Everything that you hear is intentional. It’s not tuned to a standard E, that’s for sure. I made that E in my head,” said Felipe on his unconventional tuning strategy.
In Dino Felipe’s head, everything is as it should be to him. He’ll forgo sleep to finish a song, the Rockettes have nothing on the greatest gay chorus line ever, and the guitars are tuned his way. He doesn’t even tour much because he doesn’t know how to drive. Stepping inside Dino Filepe’s head is a strange, even disorienting experience, but the end result can be transcendent if you’re willing to make the leap.
To step inside Dino Felipe’s head and body of work, click here.
Check out the music and interview with Dino Felipe on this week’s edition of Discovery Corner on BTR.