Ambient Guitarist Dave Preston's Ambient Storm
I first heard guitarist Dave Preston when he released the album, BE, in 2008. Every song had “be” in in the title, like “Be Creative”, “Be True” and “Be Hope.” There was one song on it, “Be Alive” that just captivated me with its insistent heroic repetition of the main theme. It was the kind of song that you would either fall in love with or drive you up a wall.
I’m reminded of a story from Peter Michael Hamel’s book called Through Music to the Self. He tells the story of an Indian musician who has a sarod with one string. He keeps playing the same note over and over. His wife says, “I’ve seen other musicians playing this instrument. They have many strings and move their hands across the strings and they play many notes. Why do you just play one?” To which he responds, “They are looking for the perfect note. I’ve found it.” Apparently, so has Dave Preston.
“So at the time I recorded BE, I was playing a lot of jazz and blues around Denver, just starting my guitar career,” Preston explains. “I was in my early 20s and every night it seemed like I was in this repetition pattern of playing a particular amount of notes. That seemed to not have that meaning that music used to. And in the day I just started trying to find one note again and that’s how BE came about.”
Dave Preston is sitting in my room at the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans. He’s there because his latest album, In These Storms, was nominated for a prize at the Zone Music Reporter Awards. Born in 1984, his full name is Dave Preston Amidei. He’s slender, sporting a low-growth mustache and goatee combo and wears black-rimmed glasses. Incongruously he combines a just-woke-up white t-shirt with a fedora.
“I’m a hat guy,” he confesses. “I mean I always wear hats.”
He didn’t have much in the way of equipment when he recorded that first album. Just a Shure SM-58 microphone stuck in front of his amplifier.
“Right, I mean it’s just what I had,” he says. “I never intended it to be what it was. I just did it because I had to.”
His music is based on repetition, inspired by the usual influences.
“Steve Reich, you know, Music for 18 Musicians,” he says, stating the obvious if you hear his music. “I mean music that really makes you wonder, makes you think, explores your mind and really pushes you into a new place of creating and writing. And it’s interesting because when you have that and you take that into all these different genres, and that’s when your true voice of simplifying these ideas can come out. You know.”
And then there’s Brian Eno.
“There’s a great Brian Eno quote,” he recalls. “‘There’s actually no such thing as looping, you know, if you’re recording something, then and you’re playing over and over again, it’s never actually identical.’ And that’s what I really like to do is repeat a pattern over and over again, but it’s also keep in mind that I can never actually duplicate it at its most pure form. So when I listen to music and I feel this this sense of things just repeating, this repetition over and over again, I do know that things are a little bit different every single time and there is that human element in it, so with this last album, I really like to take the things about music and music recording that can make it not so human, the looping and the copy and the pasting, and I like to incorporate the human element, which is actually being able to do those things. So really simplifying a part and just doing it.”
One of Dave Preston’s songs had a surprising second life as a pop song.
“I start playing guitar for a guy named Matt Morris, who signed Justin Timberlake’s label, Tin Man Records,” recounts Preston. “I get in Matt’s car one day to go to practice and he wrote lyrics to my song, “Be Joy”, and Justin Timberlake heard and loved it, and fell in love with the track, and produced the track, and the first time I met Justin. He came up to me and he goes you, you’re the guy that did that Be record and I said ‘yeah!’ And I smiled because I recorded that with just an SM-58.”
Morris’ version, called “Just Before the Morning,” overlays “Be Joy”‘s steadily driving guitar riffs with a prominent drum beat and pop vocals. This isn’t Dave Preston’s only brush with pop music. He’s a working musician in Denver.
“I play in like 30 different bands, so a lot of music to learn,” he chuckles.
One of those is an alt-country group he has with his wife, singer Rachel Preston Amidei.
“I’m in a band, called Dearling, actually my wife is the other singer.” He adds, “She’s incredible, she writes these awesome songs, so I get to finish that. It’s like a Chris Stapleton type of record.” Preston’s signature sound is apparent on the Dearlings song called “Proof of LIfe.” But you can really hear it on his latest solo album, In These Storms.
“It was the first album I released in five years,” says Preston. “I had a lot of personal changes and I started recording this album, and I knew there was a concept in there. And as time went on, it started revealing itself more and more that you were in the middle of these, of these storms, of these turbulent times, and there was things that needed to change, and there were things that were changing, and there was things that weren’t changing. And the album was always supposed to be about that. And it was called In These Storms and it is very dynamic.”
Dave Preston’s latest album is In These Storms.