With over 200 Q&As under his belt, Shaw will be interviewing underground bands from around the world for Thrills, bringing his unique blend of wit, music knowledge and light hearted sarcasm to the blog. If you like his writing, check out his musical projects: Richard Rose, GOGGS, and Ex-Cult.
ISSUE 03: PACHYMAN
Los Angeles musician Pachy Garcia has been making worldwide waves with the roots reggae he began making in his basement studio in 2019 under the name Pachyman. We caught up with Pachy to talk about his new album The Return Of Pachyman and to learn more about this master of vintage vibes and positive energy.
CS: Who is Pachyman and what does he do?
PM: Pachyman is the alter ego of Pachy Garcia, a multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer in self training. I’m influenced by decades of being obsessed with old Jamaican reggae records, particularly King Tubby, Scientist, and the whole dub exploration that they did back in the early 70’s. I’m born and raised in Puerto Rico and reggae is a very relatable music that revolves around the Caribbean. Growing up around that stuff, I got into reggae after getting into punk music. In a way they really relate to each other because of how political and anti-status quo they both are.
What interested me in dub music was how engineers became the artists. They were doing these explorations with the technology they had available at the time, and they made music that sounded really futuristic. It was futuristic but also recorded so raw and at the source, which made it seem like this music from outer space. Like dance music from outer space, but also very spiritual and mystical, and also entertaining.
When did you decide to start making dub music on your own?
I guess I started making it on my own around 2019, but I moved to LA in 2012 to have a scenario change. I was interested in other types of music like Kraut rock and experimental and ambient stuff and all this different stuff that was happening in LA. I had played in reggae bands in Puerto Rico for like ten years as a keyboardist. I also played bass in an experimental rock band in Puerto Rico, and when I moved to LA with my friend Marcos I started to learn how to play drums for our band Prettiest Eyes.
In 2019 I started acquiring pieces of gear little by little. I would get cheap microphones from the used section of Guitar Center, and I was always on the lookout for tape machines. Then I started recording myself and trying to figure out that classic dub sound.
How many different instruments do you play on the new album?
I play bass, drums, keyboards, and guitars. I also had a couple of friends play lead guitars on one of the songs, and another friend played trombone on a track. The organ was mostly a Hammond M3 but also a Roland VK-5, the synth was a Roland SH01a, and the bass I used was a Fender Musicmaster from 1975. I mixed the album with a Tascam 388 onto a Fostex M80 tape machine and I also used Ableton Live for all the recordings. I’ve been playing that bass for the past decade or so and that thing has been on all of my records and will continue to be on all of my records because I love the way that shit sounds.
Would you say that you approach dub music from a more indie/underground background? Because to me it seems like you’ve taken what you know from other music scenes and applied it to this type of music.
Definitely. My music definitely has a DIY ethos to it. Something I’ve learned is that you don’t need the fanciest equipment to make a solid record. I’m learning as I go, all this shit is in my basement, which I don’t even know if I insulated right. I would look at photos of people in studios and try to figure it out that way. So definitely it’s a testament to that approach. Like, I don’t think this could have happened in a proper studio. Because I needed time to fine tune, and I found out that grabbing that sound really comes from the source.
Also, all of these Jamaican cats actually had really nice studios, at least Studio One in the 50’s and 60’s had top studio equipment. Nowadays you can have that same setup and it really doesn’t capture the magic the same. I don’t know why, but it feels like how those records were made can’t be duplicated again. It’s hard to achieve that old sound, and I think I’ve had better luck achieving it in my basement rather than going into a multimillion dollar studio.
What is the Dub Club and how did it influence your music?
So when I left Puerto Rico, I’m going from the Caribbean to this massive city in the desert where everyone is constantly hustling and working. The farther I am from home I realize the more I need a place just to go and listen to reggae to maintain my ties to the Caribbean. And, because I grew up listening to reggae records, I never get tired of this music.
My girlfriend at the time who is now my wife was already living in LA for college, and she’s like “Yo I found this club that happens every Wednesday and they play dope reggae and there’s a bunch of Rastas on stage fighting over the microphone, it’s fucking wild.”
So the first Wednesday that I lived in LA I was at Dub Club, listening to these insane records on a massive sound system. The selectors were deep too, these guys were collectors and playing shit I’ve never heard before, so in a way it was like a relearning of dub music. That became my Wednesday ritual, and it’s still happening, I’m actually playing it for the first time this month.
How does being from Puerto Rico influence your music?
I spent most of my life in Puerto Rico playing in bands, so it ties in with everything. I went to music school in Puerto Rico and my mom had a piano in my house growing up. My brother got me into record collecting and so my upbringing was very musical. I played guitars in cover bands and that led to playing in punk bands. I got obsessed with music, I would go to school in the daytime, work in the afternoons and then go to practice or a gig. I would play in whatever project I could, playing with funk bands in restaurants or ambient shows with friends, I was kinda dipping into everything and absorbing everything.
Now that you’ve been in Los Angeles a while, how does the city influence your music?
LA was a huge gamechanger because there was so many pockets of different scenes that don’t really filter into each other because they are so big. I learned about the culture of record digging in LA, because everyone listened to the most eclectic shit. If anything, I had to reassess everything I was doing because everyone had such good fucking taste. I looked at music differently when I moved to LA, and it was kind of a weird re-learning of music again. It destroyed my ego and I had to start at zero. I also left everything in Puerto Rico, so I had to start all over again and meet new people, and it took me at least two years to make friends and find my place.
I realized I could learn so much from this place and I’m still learning to this day. I could have never achieved this Pachy Man thing in Puerto Rico, because the accessibility to cheap microphones and tape machines doesn’t exist there. If it wasn’t for this chapter in my life I would have never done this project.
Speaking of LA, can you tell me more about your song “Sunset Sound.” That track has a very LA vibe to it, I think it’s one of my favorites on the album.
That’s one of my favorites too. Before I was doing Pachy Man I got really into vaporwave and 80’s smooth jazz, and I started producing stuff like that when I opened my little studio. I was trying to do that shit for a while and then decided to do the reggae thing. I uploaded a video to my Instagram and it took off so I was like “ok, vaporwave is on pause.”
When I started writing this record I had recently acquired this Hammond organ, and was obsessed with the tones I was getting from it. In this journey with Pachyman I was like “I wonder if I could create this weird vaporwave fusion shit,” like a fusion of soul, jazz and reggae. I didn’t even know Sunset Sound was a famous studio when I named the song, but yeah, its some very LA shit.
You’ve said before that you wanted this album to serve as a positive light in the world during a pretty dark time, can you talk more about that?
This project started with a series of videos, and when the pandemic started I had a shit ton of time. I had the studio, but it felt like a really shitty moment to be locked indoors. Not only the pandemic but all these racial issues were coming to light, along with the administration that we had at the time fueling the fire. So everything just sucked. Anytime you got online it was like ok great someone else is a conspiracy theorist, someone else is a racist, and it was just demoralizing.
So I decided to make these chill, lovely songs for people to just vibe to. Things weren’t getting better, so I just wanted to make a record to make people smile. The other thing about this type of music is you can just put on the record and forget about it. You don’t have to be in a certain state of mind, you can just put it on and be ok. It’s a vibe record.
How would you say the dub scene is different than the indie/psych scene that you belong to with your band Prettiest Eyes?
It’s very different. I’m purposefully pushing for my demographic to be like the indie/psych scene. It’s really different in the sense that there is maybe more good taste in the indie / psych scene, there’s more room to push the envelope when it comes to creative stuff. I think there’s too much pop influence in modern reggae and dub music, and it’s too safe.
Ultimately, I want my project to be like the non-reggae listeners reggae album. I want to make non-reggae listeners into reggae listeners, that’s why I always stay in the 65-85 era of reggae because to me that’s the golden age and they set the standard there. I wanna present that era to listeners who haven’t heard it before and be like: “check this out, this can still happen today.”
Lets talk about the song “El Benson” a little bit.
Well I always try to make a point when I collaborate with friends to put them into the forefront of the collaboration. I do that by naming the song after the guy I collaborated with, and I took that idea from the Skatalites. Benson Pagan is a guy I’ve known forever, and I used to play in reggae bands with him back in the day. I grew up playing with him and he’s always been a very good jazz player but also a dreadlock Rasta guy. He’s got this really unique style and he happened to be in LA with his band. His other homie Carlos Mercader who plays rhythm on the track was also in town and so I said let’s link up because I want to write something in your playing style. I wanted to take his style into east side story, Art Laboe style shit but also add the synthesizer and take it into Kool and the Gang territory, and the result was one of my favorite songs on the record.
Would you ever write a diss track? I feel like it can be done even in this style of music.
I don’t think I could. But there are songs like “Destroy the Empire” and that explores how I feel coming from a colony of the United States. I couldn’t write a diss track to someone personal, I just don’t like talking shit to people.
Fair enough, you’re just too nice a guy. What’s next for Pachy Man?
I’m still developing the live dub set, and I’m gonna do Europe in February, but other than that I’m just gonna get back into writing. I wanna take what I learned about the reception of this album and try to make a better one.