Dan Walker is a sonic craftsman. As owner and head sound engineer at Submarine Studio in Bushwick, Dan weds creativity to technical knowhow on the mixing board. But that’s just the latest chapter in Dan’s story: he spent years raging on the road as a DJ and punk rocker, watched Brooklyn go from warehouse party to cute hipster kingdom, dove into Vipassana meditation with a passion, and rescued a very special street cat named Le Chat.
CONVICTS caught up with Dan and got his word on the changing neighborhood, his meditation practice, his years on the road, and the joy of nerding out in the studio.
How’s it going, Dan? To start, can you tell us where you’re from originally?
I grew up in the outer western suburbs of Sydney, Australia.
How did you make your way around the world to Brooklyn?
As a young kid, during my teenage years, I was playing in a punk band and spent some time in Sydney, spent some time in the snow fields in Australia, and then moved to the Gold Coast. I met a lot of good friends and there’s a good music scene up there. When I got to the Gold Coast, there were a lot of bands. I really enjoyed playing with as many bands as possible, and as many instruments as possible and just having a ball with that. Then I ended up in London, in the UK, and then from there moved to the States, Philly and then Brooklyn. So that’s the story in a nutshell.
How long have you had The Submarine going here?
The Submarine, in this building? I’ve been here for four and a half years. Going on five years.
Talk a bit about Brooklyn. I’m sure you’ve seen some wild changes over the last decade?
I’ve never seen a place change so dramatically in such a short time. It’s really been quite fascinating to watch that take place. Upsetting in some ways, but amazing in others. I can’t necessarily say whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a life thing, things just change and they’re continuously going to.
Talk about back in the day, playing in Brooklyn with The Death Set.
I feel blessed for that era, playing those warehouse shows. That era really had a sort of spark and when you’re in a moment like that, you feel a rawness and urgency. It was just such a great vibe. Now, I find myself sitting here saying, ‘Oh it’s changed a lot and this and that.’ But I’m not out as much as I was. It’s still out there and it’s still happening.
So you played in The Death Set, amongst other bands…can you tell us about the transition from playing music to producing music?
I’d played in bands for years, but it wasn’t until in my early twenties that I was drawn towards recording and production. I was always fascinated with the recording side of things, but found it quite intimidating. Computers at the time were just coming into the framework. And I had no idea how to really operate them, so I did go to a music college for a year just to get my head around that. That paved the way for me to get to a point where I knew what I was doing enough to carry on and work out the rest for myself.
Do you see sound engineering as creative occupation, or a technical one?
It’s a combination of both. There’s a technical aspect that I had to get my head around before I could incorporate the creative side. It’s interesting: when computers became more predominant in production, I found it was a battle to keep ahold of that creative aspect. At times you would go down a rabbit hole into the technical side of things and the creativity would be compromised in a way. I’ve found that it’s a challenge keeping those two areas in check and keeping those two balanced.
For someone who has zero idea about sound engineering, what do you do in here on a daily basis?
I’ve found myself taking on multiple roles. I don’t necessarily specialize in one area. I approach the studio as a recording engineer-I’ll record bands and I’ll record artists, vocalists, etcetera-and then there’s a production side of it where I’ll produce people’s ideas and music. I’ll also write music for myself and for other people. I’m also a mix engineer and a mastering engineer.
Do you enjoy wearing so many hats in the recording studio?
Running a business in New York, it can be helpful to get involved with as many aspects of your craft as possible. I’ve found it to be a hindrance at times, because one minute you’re really heavily involved in one aspect of the process, you’re getting your chops really tight with this aspect, then you bounce to something else. Then you have to get into a different headspace, cause each aspect of the recording process-recording, production, mastering-all use different parts of your brain. So, it’s helpful but it can upset the balance sometimes.
Back to your own musical career, can you talk a bit about touring with bands and where that led you?
First, I moved to the U.K. so that I could work as a DJ and a producer. I got signed on a small indie label over there and was touring as a DJ for a time, and on occasion touring with the Death Set. I came over to the states around 2007 and toured with the Death Set multiple times around the States and Europe. Now I definitely have moments of nostalgia about being on the road. The element of freedom and that ability to see so much of the world I found really, really awesome, and inspiring. So, touring was great, it was awesome. There’s a variety of insane stories I could share about making trouble, but I don’t know if it’s fit for kids.
Hear that. Any advice for kids about getting out of the hometown and going on tour?
Don’t stagnate. Don’t think about things too much. If you have an idea about what you want to achieve, what you want to do in life, do it right now. Don’t wait. Time, life and time sneak by really quickly. If there’s something you feel in your heart has to be done, just do it now and by any means necessary. If that means leaving the country, leave the country.
You played mostly with punk and electronic bands. Why did you go down that path? Do you see an overlap in those two scenes?
The roots of those scenes share the same energy. They share a common sense of unity and something that was really new and filled with a raw energy. As I was growing up, the rave scene was coming up as well. That underground vibe, throwing illegal raves and stuff, really appealed to me at the time. Now, as far as writing music and creating music, the lines are blurred. Genres are mashing all the time: electronic is popping up in indie and vice versa. It’s not as defined as it was back in the day.
Were you meditating while you were on the road?
When I left Australia and started touring my lifestyle got more challenging in that respect. There was no place for meditation, no headspace or time for it. But I knew when the time was right I would come back to it. I wasn’t sure when that would be, but I guess that time hit, and I went back.
How has it been re-integrating meditation into your life after those years away?
I was somewhat apprehensive because I was still in a vortex of trying to work things out. I went back after ten years, and it was a really difficult sit. They’re all difficult in their own ways, but this was was extremely difficult. And it made me realize, that if anything, how much baggage and how much madness I had accumulated over those ten years. That there was a whole new set of mental impurities I had to cut through and weigh through and eradicate. So I went back last year and am slowly getting back into it, finding a groove with it. I’m at a point in my life where I’m actually integrating it into my life effectively and beginning to feel like it’s a positive change.
What drew you into meditation in the first place?
Well, I first came across Vipassana meditation in 2000. What I found so inspiring was that it was a sober experience, it was a personal experience. The answers that I was looking for were suddenly becoming real.
For someone that doesn’t know anything about Vipassana, can you describe the actual practice?
Sure, well Vipassana is an insight meditation. You sit and start with a point of focus which, initially, is the breath. You focus on the breath entering and leaving the nostrils, and pinpoint all your focus on the sensation of the breath, and observing the sensation. It’s about observing and being balanced and aware and equanimous with what you’re experiencing.
What change does meditation bring to your mindset?
Say I’m in a situation where I might blindly react to something with anger. Now instead of reacting, I’m just observing the process. I find my reaction time to things that bring negativity to my life are shortened. There’s a difference in the way that I approach situations that would normally drag me into a place of negativity and anger, the dark places that human beings became accustomed to as normal. It’s the reaction that you change through meditation, by simply observing and not becoming so involved in experience. On that level it’s allowed me to become more focused and aware of my surroundings, my environment, myself and other people.
Have you noticed a change in your work as a result of your practice?
My work day is more streamlined and a little more efficient. I’m not getting tangled up in the mind content so it allows me to stay focused. I’ve noticed a difference in the way I approach not just my work, but every aspect of my day to day.
What is the ultimate goal for meditative practice?
We all suffer. The idea of meditation is to slowly and eventually come out of that suffering and discover the truth, the actual truth that is inside us. You start to understand that physical sensations and mental content are impermanent. They’re not forever. These are constantly changing phenomena. Nothing is ever still. By simply just observing that reality, you begin to get to a deeper understanding of what we are and the mind-matter phenomenon that is essentially the construct of this universe.
We’ll finish on an easy one. What does your ideal day look like these days?
My ideal day? My ideal day is coming to the studio and having a schedule of mixing music, I’m really enjoying mixing right now. I just love coming here and just love geeking out on how good I can get things to sound.