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Two On The Mic: “Pachyman in Dub”

For this third edition of  “Two On The Mic,” I got on the phone with my very good friend Pachy Garcia, who has recently released an insanely good Dub record entitled “Pachyman In Dub.”

This was a special interview for me and one that I was really happy to do. I’ve known Pachy since 2013, when he miraculously responded to a Craig’s List add The Expanders placed, back in the days when we were constantly searching for a keyboard player, and did a short tour with us. We get into that story near the end of this interview.

Pachy explains, among other things, how he was able to create such a great record despite having no band, no studio, and no real recording experience. We nerd out (maybe a little too much) about Dub mixing, and discuss the series of Dub videos Pachy made that led to the creation of this record.

I highly recommend cuing up the album and letting it play while you read this article. After all, it’s Dub! No distracting vocalists trying to tell stories and shit. Reading-music at it’s most murderous. Enjoy!

All photos by Anna Aguirre. Pachyman album art layout and design by Christine Fraguela.


Devin: Pachy! I love the record man. And I love the record cover! So dope.

PachyMan: Thank you! That was Christine [Pachy’s wife] who made it. I kind of wanted to go for a Dancehall classic. I was really stoked on the classic Yellowman cover, and was like I want to do something like that.

Devin: Well you nailed it. That’s totally what it is. The font and the frame and everything.

PachyMan: Thank you!

Devin: So this new album “Pachyman In Dub” kind of came out of nowhere and hit me by surprise! It’s a rough, heavy-sounding Dub record in the spirit of 70s Aggrovators/King Tubby and 80s Roots Radics/Scientist productions. Can you talk about what the process for making this album was like? What equipment did you use, who were the musicians (I think a lot of it was you?)?

PachyMan: When I started working on this record I didn’t have that much equipment. I don’t have a pro studio or anything. I just kind of gathered equipment for a couple of years. You know, when you first got me into the Tascam 388 I bought it, but I didn’t know how to use it.


Tascam 388 Tape Recorder.

So I started just collecting cheap stuff, or stuff that I found around at random musical thrift stores, just trying to get my hands on whatever I thought I needed at the moment. And like every time I saw an old microphone for like $20 I would pick it up. So I was basically really bare-bones with it. But since I do everything on my own, I record every instrument one-by-one, I don’t really need that many things either. Like I don’t need a live room with panels for separation or anything. I just needed to figure out something that worked in a technologically-savvy way, and also for it to be easy to do on my own. But I also wanted the old aesthetic of those records that I grew up listening to you know? Like, [in my listening] I hardly ever stray further than 1985 or 1986 unless it’s digital dancehall stuff. And honestly, looking back on it, a lot of this equipment was not the best equipment either, similar to how it was back in those old studios in Jamaica. I mean, Channel One was a pretty well-put together studio, but other studios like Randy’s weren’t, you know, like the best fucking studios. They didn’t have the best recording equipment either. So I always thought that there has to be something else that comes into it, like having a good ear for example. So yeah, the recording equipment I had was kind of limited to a couple of old microphones that I have. It was actually Micah of Zion Love Sound who told me early on, if you find any old cheap microphones, pick them up. The cheaper the better.  You could get some cool sounds from it. And so stuff like that was what I used. I didn’t have, I still don’t have, many things. I don’t even have a compressor or a limiter or anything like that.

Devin: Oh wow.

PachyMan: Well, I have one compressor. It doesn’t work that well but I kind of dialed it in. It’s like a one-channel home studio small really cheap compressor. But yeah, the recording process for me really has a lot to do with the computer. It’s the nature of the beast. I record everything on my own so doing that to tape would be very hard. So I made it easier on myself, and I record into Ableton.

Devin: And do you go through the tape-machine and into the computer?

PachyMan: No. I do it directly to the computer, to a click track as well. I make sure that I groove a little bit still on the metronome. And then I record everything, and I EQ everything. I kind of treat each microphone on it’s own, and scope the EQ of each microphone to make things fit together in a sound aesthetic that I’m ok with. And I do that with every instrument. I’m giving you the long version.

Devin: That’s good!

PachyMan: Then I run things through the tape-machine and reduce everything from 16 tracks down to 4 tracks. And the reason I reduce everything to 4 tracks is that when I bought my Tascam 388, I didn’t realize that they were fucking me over, and the machine was actually not in working condition.

Devin: Oh Jesus.

PachyMan: Yeah. The guy even brought it to my work. He was like I’ll bring it to you, don’t even worry. And I was like, oh tight, perfect, I don’t even have to drive to you. And so of course the machine was busted. A bunch of channels didn’t work. Of the 8 channels it had, 4 actually recorded correctly.

Devin: Sick.

PachyMan: And it took me about a year to come to understand that, because again, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just learned by trial-and-error and like Youtube videos and shit. So I would take those 8 to 10 to 12 tracks, and I would reduce them to 4 tracks that would usually be drums/percussion, bass, skanks, and 1 channel for melodies or vocals or extra percussion or whatever. And then that I would run to the tape machine, to the Tascam 388. And going into tape gave everything a nice quality.

Devin: So it was instrument to digital to tape, yes?

PachyMan: Yeah. And then I would do the actual dub mixing from the tape machine back to digital because I don’t have another external recorder. If I could mix from tape to another tape machine I would do that, but I don’t have that at the moment. And what I learned about dumping into the tape machine was that actually running through every channel, the preamps, that’s what really makes it. That electricity that goes through those preamps, every channel individually, it gives it more space. Everything falls into place together.  And like, then I suddenly understood the technical concept of head-room way better when I was working onto tape and onto those preamps. The machine would make the tracks breathe. There was more space between everything, and everything would kind of fit together instead of just being all lumped digitally together. And then from the tape machine, using effects in and out like reverbs and delay as they would use back in the day, I would do a live dub mix. That’s how it is. You hit play, and you hit record on the other side, and the mix that comes through your hands, that’s it. Like, if you want to change anything, you have to do it all over again. So take after take after take. Which you know makes me appreciate the masterful skills of Scientist and King Tubby and all those guys that were doing that shit.

Devin: So in terms of grouping, I know you kind of said this already, but did you have all the skank instruments like guitar and organ and piano all on one track, or did they all have their own channels?

PachyMan: Yeah. When it was grouped together towards the tape machine going down to 4 tracks it was the piano, the organ and the guitar skanks on one channel. And that grouping I learned by just listening to Dub records. Because every time they would come in, they would come in all together. And for years I would be like I think those must be all on one channel.

Devin: Yeah, I feel that’s like a little secret weapon. Like just doing that right there will give your mix, especially if you’re doing Dub, so much authenticity. To me it’s a red flag when I’m listening to more modern Dub and it’s a bass & drum segment, and then all of a sudden you hear one thin skank guitar come in for a second. It’s like, wait a minute, something doesn’t sound right here. And then I realized it was that that never used to happen on old Dub records, and that I was missing the fatness of organ and piano and guitar and even the second guitar on that same channel as well, all at once.

PachyMan: Definitely. I feel like listening to Dub Specialist, which I guess was Coxsonne Dodd’s Dub project or Dub pseudonym or whatever, he did a couple of those out of the box things, but it was tastefully done. Like a Studio One kind of thing where just the guitar would come in, but it would sound like it was coming out of a wooden fucking box. But yeah, most of the time they were all together.

Devin: Right. And it’s true that back then there were not necessarily these rules that nerds like us kind of retroactively apply to the mixing process. If those guys had done things some other different way it probably would have still sounded dope. But the fact is that they did what they could with what they had, and it resulted in a specific sound, and since that specific sound is what people like you and I grew up listening to, that’s the sound we try to learn how recreate. It’s all subjective really.

PachyMan: Exactly. And you know, King Tubby set the standard with the way he did things. I’ve recently been looking at pictures of that King Tubby mixing board, and it’s tiny. So he had to group things together. And it sounds more powerful when you do that anyway.

Devin: I think so too. And then also, and you can tell me if I’m right or wrong about this ‘cuz I’ve only done really minimal mixing myself, but grouping instruments together makes creating the actual live Dub mix a little easier right?

PachyMan: Oh definitely. Instead of having to move three faders at a time you just move one. And that leaves your other fingers available to move other faders. So you can get a little more creative.

Devin: Ok, moving on…did you set out from the start to make a Dub record, or were some of these riddims originally created to have vocals or what?

PachyMan: I guess it was from the start really that this was meant to be a Dub album. I always wanted to work with singers, but I don’t really know that many people that are down for it. So I started on my own and just took it from there. But I also feel like not many people are doing what used to be done all the time, which is the engineer also being the artist. Like the engineer is the artist and this artist is presenting to you music instead of vocals. Even though vocals are dope and I want to have vocals happening. I’m actually trying to learn how to write, like, in more of a Jamaican-style so that I can do my own things and be like what would I want to hear on this? Like maybe a toasting style like Big Youth style or something. And you know, part of the reason for the all-dub format was that I didn’t know how to record vocals. Even though it seems like the most simple thing, it’s very important to know how to make your vocals sound good. And I feel like I’ve tried to record vocals for other projects that I’ve had in the past, and I’ve always been like meh, they just don’t fit in right. So I was like, you know what, I’m not even gonna think about vocals, I’m just gonna figure out, like…I was still in the vibe of like, I need to learn how to record better bass sounds before I do vocals. So it took me a while. Now I kind of figured it out.

Devin: Nice. Well, it’s cool that you now have a stockpile of good riddims and the album is getting some hype because I think that’s probably one of the best ways to attract some vocalists, you know? So if you meet a good vocalist now that you want to work with, it’s not like some hypothetical thing where you propose recording some riddims and writing some music together, but instead it’s like, here’s my Spotify link, pick any riddims that stand out to you and write some songs, you know?

PachyMan: Exactly. I talked to Johnnygo Figure when he was over here and told him I wanted to do some stuff with him, and he was down to do it. I still have to do some stuff with you too.

Devin: I really want to! I was listening to your tunes and was already writing down riddims I would like to write vocals to. Not to mention I would love to come play guitar on some stuff.

PachyMan: Hell Yeah!

Devin: Dope. Can you talk about the Dub Videos? That was a big part of the record right?

PachyMan: Definitely. The engagement with people via the posts made me understand what I was doing. Because I was seeing how people would respond to it. So, the whole thing started as a Dub Video. I had been working on other types of music for over a year. And meanwhile I was always listening to reggae on my downtime during those particular sessions. And I was like, I’m gonna record a Dub song, fuck it. I had a Saturday off and I was like, I’m gonna record a song, and I’m gonna take a video of it too. And I recorded everything that day, did the video while I was recording, and edited the video. And the reception was so good. I got texts all day about the video. And I was like, wow, I guess I’m gonna keep doing these dub videos. It became a documentation process of the recording of the record. From that first video, my friend at the record label reached out and asked for more.

Devin: Can you describe what the videos are for people who haven’t seen them?

PachyMan: The videos are me basically playing every instrument to a Jamaican style riddim that I wrote, and I’m also engineering the dub mix. I’m dubbing out what I played. A friend of mine put it as, he plays every instrument to ultimately play the mixing board. And that’s basically what it is.

Devin: And where can people find these videos?

PachyMan: On my instagram. Which is @pachy_. Also on facebook at Facebook.com/pachyman. And soundcloud. And every Saturday I post one.

Devin: Oh you’re still posting them? New ones?

PachyMan: I started up again two weeks ago. It’s a new season. Of Dub videos.

Devin: Ha! So like all new riddims and stuff?

PachyMan: All new riddims, yeah.

Devin: Wow. That’s a great concept man, ‘cuz in theory with the way you’re doing it, you’ve just got never ending dub albums that can come out.

PachyMan: Exactly!

Devin: Do you have a favorite track on the record?

PachyMan: I…really…like…I mean, damn man, that’s a tough question. Ok, so there’s a track called “Coming Home.” That riddim is based on the “Queen Of The Minstrels” riddim. Which is one of my favorite riddims of all time, hands down. That chord progression, minor chord to minor chord, really, that riddim just always talks to me. And so “Coming Home” has kind of a special story to it too. My mom was going through a bunch of health issues, chemo, and when I started recording the Dub Videos, I was like, I have to go home [to Puerto Rico] and visit mom ‘cuz she’s going through chemo. And I was going to record a video before I went so I could post it that Saturday, when I was doing the whole Saturday video posting thing. And my wife told me I should take a video at the beach at home, and I was like cool, and I did, and that ended up being the single for the album. But when I was in Puerto Rico, I brought my computer because I was gonna work on all this shit over there. And in my house, my mom has this piano which is where I started learning music. Even though I started with guitar as a kid, that was where I learned how to play piano, on that piano in my house which belongs to my mom. She was the first one who showed me, like, what a “D” chord was and shit like that. So when I went home, I set up my computer on top of my piano, NO MICROPHONE, because I FORGOT to bring my interface, and I just fucking set my computer on top of the piano…and mind you, this piano has been a half micro-step out of tune all my life. Even when we tried to tune it, the piano tuner guy was like, we can’t tune this. It’s gonna fucking break all the strings. The humidity destroys every instrument in Puerto Rico. And so I recorded the skank for “Coming Home” on that piano, and took a little video of it as well. And I had to digitally pitch the fucking piano, or the track, I don’t remember what I did first…I don’t remember if I digitally tuned the piano, or if I re-tuned every other instrument to match the piano. OH! And, I recorded the piano skanks first, before drums, before anything.

Devin: Oh wow.

PachyMan: So when I got back to L.A., I just listened to the piano skanks and recorded the whole fucking thing. And it ended up being one of my favorite riddims that I’ve ever worked on, cuz when I recorded the piano and the skanks and the one-drop beat, I felt that, at the moment I recorded it, it was like a milestone. Because it was like the closest I’d come to getting that original Jamaican fucking classic Studio One sound. From nothing. From recording like bootleg-ass style. Like, the worst method of recording. And of course I EQ’d and mixed and edited and stuff, but when I finished, I was like, this sounds authentic! And it’s still one of the songs that I always put on. When I listen to the record back, I always have to go through that song, ‘cuz not only is it minor-to-minor and an emotional song, it also has this backstory to it as well. So “Coming Home” is like my jam on the record.

Devin: I like how there’s kind of a theme for this record, which is you just proceeding with what you have and being determined to make a great album no matter what. I could really learn a lot from that. I always start out with that intention, but without fail get in my own way. You on the other hand have an entire heavy-hitting album to show for your efforts. Also, the story about you putting your computer on the piano to record without a mic reminds me of this time that I was called to do some vocals for a producer, and at that time I had no interface at all and was like, I’m just gonna use the built-in internal mic on my laptop, and if they say something I’ll tell them what I did and ask if they want me to re-do them. But they never said anything and the vocals made it onto the track, and it ended up being a pretty big song, and no one ever knew.

PachyMan: Really?!

Devin: Yeah. I actually have always liked the internal mic on Mac laptops.

PachyMan: Yeah dude, I’ve captured some dope shit with the internal microphone. And with the iPhone, actually.

Devin: Dude, yes. I use GarageBand on the iPhone a lot. If I’m writing a song I’ll use it and record the tune using the phone mic just to get the idea down, and a lot of times I’m like, fuck, this is the acoustic album right here. I don’t know why I’m bothering to record something else.

PachyMan: Ha!

Devin: So, you did every instrument on the record?

PachyMan: Yep, I did everything.

Devin: So what: drums, bass, two guitars, piano and organ, and percussion?

PachyMan: Yeah. There’s very minimal percussion, but there is some.

Devin: Crazy man. It’s crazy because to me it doesn’t sound like an album that was recorded one by one. You did a really good job of making it sound like a cohesive band.

PachyMan: Thank you. It took me a while to figure that out. I also feel like using the tape machine made everything work. As I said earlier, everything got its space.

Devin: When did you start recording it? How long did the whole process take?

PachyMan: It was like the 2nd of January [2019] or something. The first video I posted, that was when I first started recording. It was like the first Saturday of 2019.

Devin: That’s amazing man. Just as somebody who, like every recording project that I’ve ever been part of that was my own thing, whether it was Expanders or doing this acoustic thing I’m doing now, it just fucking takes forever. And EVERY time I go into it saying, “This time that’s not gonna happen. I’ve learned a lot and it’s not gonna take forever.” And EVERY fucking time it takes 4 years. So props to you for getting it all done in like 6 months or whatever it was.

PachyMan: 3 months really. ‘Cuz I recorded from January to March, and it got released in July.

Devin: That’s amazing.

PachyMan: Remember, I’m my own boss. I do everything. I call all the shots, I do every instrument. So it’s like I don’t have to organize anything.

Devin: Right, but there’s a downside to that too, and props to you for avoiding it, which is that when you are your own boss, there’s no one around to tell you, dude it sounds fine, you don’t need to fucking do it again, you know what I mean?

PachyMan: Exactly. Something that was helpful was that I got a deadline from the label. I realized that if I was gonna do this I had to do it fast or I was gonna lose my window. I didn’t want to lose this opportunity.

Devin: Ok, I always like asking people this. How did you get into Jamaican music? Both as a fan, and as a performer/studio-guy.

PachyMan: Well, I grew up in Puerto Rico, which is an island in the Caribbean, very close to Jamaica, so Reggae is a big thing in Puerto Rico, on the radio and shit. And Cultura Profética was the band that was my gateway Reggae. They were and still are a very popular band in Latin America, but in Puerto Rico they’re huge. And when I was in high school I was like anti-Reggae. I was punk-as-fuck. But Cultura Profética played a show and put out a live record of that concert, and it was played on the radio. There was a medley of the first record. The first whole record has a 17 minute medley where they play the bulk of every song. There was one that always stuck out to me because it had a Moog synthesizer in it and I thought it sounded sick. A friend lent me the CD, and that was my gateway into it. From then I went to Dub directly. I don’t know how I got into Dub, but I just heard it once and was like, holy shit this is psychedelic music straight up. This is music from the future. This is music from space. And I started playing Reggae when I had stopped playing guitar. I started going to concerts and I was like, man, the piano player! That’s where it’s at!

Devin: Hahaha!

PachyMan: And my friends were jamming. They had a little lockout space in my friend’s grandma’s dance studio, and they would go and jam all the time. And I was like, damn, there’s nobody playing keyboards. But there was a keyboard there. So they showed me the basic triad skank and were like, just play this! That’s basically how it started. And from there I took it really serious, and went and studied piano in college. Meanwhile I was playing in Reggae bands, and Jazz bands and Funk bands and whatever.

Devin: And didn’t you play with Cultura Profética for a little bit?

PachyMan: Yeah. When I moved to Los Angeles, my first year here, their organ player was going back and forth from Argentina to Puerto Rico because he was having a kid. They were about to play their first show in Europe, at Rototum Reggae Sunsplash, and they needed an organ player. And my friend called me up and was like hey, we really need an organ player for these shows, would you be down if we fly you out? I was like, fuck yeah, I’m a musician because of your fucking band. Of course I’m down. So I had the opportunity and the blessing of playing with Cultura for their first ever European shows. It was crazy.

Devin: I think I met you right after that.

PachyMan: Yep. Through Craig’s List! That still blows my mind.

Devin: It blows my mind too. We made that add so specific. We had talked about that for a while, doing a Craig’s List add, and we were like, we’re gonna get all kinds of wack-ass people. And so we decided let’s just make it super specific, and if no one responds no one responds. So I think we said something like “no festival reggae sounds, you have to listen to this and this and this,” and thought no one would respond. And then you hit us up and said, yeah, that’s my shit.

PachyMan: So hilarious. It was like my third month in Los Angeles or something. Crazy.

Devin: Here’s my last question. If you were stuck on a deserted island, and you could bring the entire catalogue of only one of the following producers, would you pick King Tubby, Lee Perry, or Scientist? And caveat, you can only bring their Dub catalogue, so you can’t cheat and choose Lee Perry because of all his vocal productions.

PachyMan: Right. Uh, just the Dub catalogue? King Tubby for sure.

Devin: Nice.

PachyMan: And I love all of them. Scientist was the original reason why I started this whole project too. Scientist was like True North for me. But King Tubby is the Dub Master. He’s the one.


Pachyman In Dub is available on all digital outlets. There are also, as of this writing, a handful of vinyl pressings left which you can order here. The second Pachyman album is finished and awaiting a release date, so be on the lookout for that soon!

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Editor
Devin spent almost 20 years as singer and songwriter for L.A. based roots-reggae band The Expanders. During that time he helped write/record/release 4 records, backed numerous veteran Jamaican artists at performances throughout California, and toured across the U.S. and Europe. He is also an experienced record selector and collector of Jamaican vinyl. Devin now splits his time between recording/performing solo acoustic reggae, playing guitar for veteran SoCal groups Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Lions, and Hepcat, and editing reggae news for Rootfire.net. You can follow him at @manlikedevin

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