Now/It's: An Interview with Body Copy (Joe Dickey)

Across the ever expanding horizon of Nashville’s musical palette, the past five years have seen exponential growth in the city’s pop scene. Granted, pop music is somewhat ubiquitous in and around town, be it country, electro, or that weird sort of LA ripoff that seems to be intravenously inserted into every transplant under the age of 25. Nevertheless, the expanding variety is good for the city’s music scene, because for every Dua Lipa/The 1975 epigone, there is a Body Copy to balance things out. Body Copy is the nom de plume of Joe Dickey, a sideman turned house producer/DJ, he’s set to release his second EP, with a sound that falls somewhere on the spectrum of Nicholas Jaar meets Andy Stott. Or in more simple terms, Body Copy’s music is really good. Nashville is relatively devoid of a consistent house, trance, bonafide electronic music presence within that aforementioned pop scene expansion, but here’s hoping the current and future iterations of Body Copy’s organic soundscaping carve out a niche so peerless it becomes a cornerstone to the scene.

Now/It’s met with Body Copy (Joe Dickey) at Steadfast Coffee in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee.

N/I - How long have you been in Nashville?

Joe - I’ve been here about four and a half years.

N/I - Where are you from originally?

Joe - Roanoke. Southwest Virginia. And then I went to school in North Carolina.

N/I - Where in North Carolina?

Joe - Greensboro. UNC-G. Went to music school there. Then I lived in Durham for a couple of years.

N/I - So then what brought you to Nashville? Just the next step in music?

Joe - Just music. I tour as a bass player for a bunch of artists.

N/I - I assume country?

Joe - Yeah. So that’s what brought me here. It’s been good. [Touring] is still kind of my bread and butter.

N/I - Sure. So, as the touring bassist who, when not touring, produces electronic music - in that relationship, which comes first?

Joe - For me, pretty much all the time that I’m home, I’m focusing on writing and producing. If I have to learn songs for a gig, I do that. But apart from that, I pretty much only focus on the electronic stuff for now.

N/I - So when you’re writing for electronic music - I like electronic music, but I don’t have the ability to create something like a Nicolas Jaar or Andy Stott or anyone like that - what does that writing process look or sound like? Do you hear a sound and figure out how to manipulate it?

Joe - I figure it’s probably different for everyone, but I’ve produced for pop artists and country stuff, and there you have a song, and it’s like “How do you make this song shine?” Whereas, the electronic stuff, you’re inventing stuff out of thin air with no idea [laughs]. Sometimes I decide I’m going to write something that’s kind of like this, or this vibe, or kind of mellow. I work in Ableton, I don’t know how familiar you are with the layout.

N/I - Rudimentarily so.

Joe - A lot of times, I’ll start out in the session view, which is where you can work out loops and clips and stuff. Most of the time, I’ll start out with drums. If I can find some drums sounds and figure out what kind of tempo I’m looking to work at. Or I’ll sample the whole thing or some other random thing. Once I have a nugget, I’ll build off of that. Then, from there - I’m still refining the process - my goal is to go from idea to execution as fast as possible and also try and make it feel natural. If you sit there and copy and paste…. In arrangement view, there’s a time and a place for that, but for me, I want it to be as hands on as possible.

N/I - Well for me, the music that you’re making does feel more organic, as opposed to someone who’s trying to sample something and “chop n screw” it. In that sense, you can kind of predict what’s happening - which isn’t to demean that process, but when you’re going about it where you can see if something grows on its own and develop out of it - that’s what makes me like electronic music. It’s something that is innately inorganic in one sense, and organic in the other. What is the typical growth process of a song? Is it idea to immediate implementation? Or a little more drawn out?

Joe - Part of my process, like I was saying, is that I’ll get something that’s hooked my ear. That’s the central that starts it all. If that happens to be a synth chord or progression or something like, I’ll build around it, and try to get a bunch of elements that can work together in different combinations. Maybe I have a variation on the first idea, then I’ll make a clip for that. But I like to get it set up where I can get a whole live pass. This is how I start to make sense of the arc of the song. I take all these elements, but I set it up where I can do it in full. A lot of those instagram videos that I do, a lot of them start like that.

N/I - The live pass, so to speak.

Joe - Right. And then I’ll improvise - planned improvisation in some sense - but at the very least, figure out where I want to start, and then like it run for six, seven minutes. Hopefully, I can react in ways that build some ups and downs, but then from there, I start to edit, because you can’t always get it right the first time. But luckily, I can just move stuff around. As long as I can get the “story” of it, I’m good. Then I’ll take passes on it with other stuff.

N/I - Overdubbing?

Joe - Exactly. So I’ll try to get drums and at least a key element with that programmed with one live pass. I like doing it that. It’s faster like that, for me. To sit there and drag and drop things just don’t appeal to me that much.

N/I - It’s more of a snowball effect versus building a Lego something. You know you have these things you have to put it, as far as the Lego approach is concerned, but then you have to stop and go back because you do have to put this in, whereas the live overdubbing, piece by piece is more feel. The beauty in that, I would imagine, is that if it just does not mesh well, you can just get rid of it.

Joe - Like if something doesn’t quite go as planned, you can drop it.

N/I - Exactly. So what are you using, gear-wise? I feel like Teenage Engineering has done a good job of getting the OP-1 in front of a more palatable lens - and I would imagine that helps when you have rock bands implementing OP-1 - and making anyone seem like an electronic musician. I know through Instagram, you are not using an OP-1, so I’d imagine you’re using something a little more legitimate?

Joe - You’re right, I don’t use an OP-1 [laughs].

N/I - That’s fair. I figure that’s one of the few immediately recognizable pieces of consumer electronic equipment, but not necessarily the true electronic musician’s preferred instrument. It’s a little more accessible, but more reductive, at least that’s my understanding.

Joe - Right. Essentially, an OP-1 is a DAW in a box. So for me, I’m using Ableton - I’m sure there are amazing things you can do with an OP-1, but I’ve just never purchased one. I messed with one once, but was confused [laughs]. It’s very…. Teenage Engineering makes it very toy-like, but when you’re trying to figure out what you’re doing, it’s a video of a guy lifting weights or something. What does that mean?

N/I - And going over things sweep by sweep can’t be all that conducive to something like an OP-1.

Joe - It’s not super intuitive. But for me, the center thing is Ableton. I use that to obviously record, but I use it to sample stuff, because it has so many tools for editing audio and midi. But I also use hardware synthesizers and drum machines, so analog stuff. I will run midi out of Ableton into the equipment. So I’m still using Ableton as the mainframe of everything. But I’ve got a handful of drum machines and synths that are my go-to’s, and then of course, any of the classic - I don’t own a 909 or an 808, but there are a lot of those types of samples. I try to tweak things, so I at least have an idea of what I’m looking for. If I’m going to mess with a sample, I know a starting place and then I’ll go from there.

N/I - So with all of this, when did it start materializing itself into Body Copy?

Joe - So I went to school for jazz music and classical stuff, so I’ve always composed and arranged in that realm, and after school, I started playing in rock and indie bands. So part of helping write songs and helping produce stuff in a collaborative effort. When I moved to Nashville - obviously, there’s a huge songwriting scene here - and it kind of comes out of when you’re not on the road or doing work, so you meet with people. I did some country songwriting and quickly realized that I hated it [laughs].

N/I - That’s something that I’ve learned through this and other things - it’s either for you or it’s not.

Joe - Exactly. So I appreciate lyrics, but that’s not my connection point with most of the music that I listen to. I’m more of a texture, rhythm sort of person. So production has always been the more appealing thing to me. So after trying to write some country songs with people, I slipped more into the pop co-writing thing. And I still kind of do that sometimes, but then from there, I kept getting frustrated when songs wouldn’t get finished. Or when you’re writing, you don’t really know what you’re writing for. So I wanted an outlet to be able to actually put stuff out when I really wanted to and just something I could do all on my own. So electronic music was the outlet. I can do it all on my own, but the fact that I can do it all in house and put it out if I want to is appealing. I wanted to grow to a point where I can - I’ll still play music for other people and enjoy it, but there are still frustrations as a side man, and you lose a little control.

N/I - I would figure that’s one of the more familiar narratives for most anybody here in town.

Joe - Right. So the goal is to have a project where I can steer the ship. Hopefully the amount of effort I’m putting in will directly come back to me in some way at some point. It’s not a fast thing….

N/I - It’s the passion project…. So with that, at what point did you decide you were going to release songs?

Joe - I guess I officially launched it, or at least called it something a year from last December. So it’s been a little bit over a year at this point. For a while, I was kind of letting the idea marinate for a while. I was writing stuff and knew I wanted to do something, but I wasn’t quite sure what. It’s always a growing process - from the very first point that I put something out to now, I’d say my lane has focused itself.

N/I - And become a little more identifiable.


Joe - I sort of decided more of the direction I want to go, which is more of the underground house, dance, techno side, but hip hop is a huge influence on me. All music is. But I’ve found people through social media who are connected to those sounds. It’s been a really good tool for testing sounds out [laughs].

N/I - For sure. That reminds me of that album by The Range from one or two years ago when he went on YouTube and found a bunch of minimally viewed videos of people “going for it” musically…. I think that might have partially been to skirt around licensing issues of a certain sort. If they have 700 views on a video, they’re not necessarily going to be upset if….

Joe - Someone samples it [laughs].

N/I - Exactly. Is it kind of like that? With social media you have unprecedented access to different sounds?

Joe - Sort of. I guess what I’m saying is when I put out videos, certain videos have gotten good reactions, so I can tell what’s vibing with people. I try to make the connection where I want to make something I want to put out, regardless of whether people like it or not, but at the same time, if those two things connect, that’s great. That’s the dream. So with this EP, some of those tracks started as those types of things.

N/I - Real time confirmation.

Joe - Right. I could go “people seem to connect with this and I like it, let’s chase it.”

N/I - So with that, you’re basically seeing data in real time, not to place it in perverse terms, but how do you connect those songs to create an EP? Where do you find the common thread?

Joe - My opinion on that, broadly, in terms of music is this - Radiohead is one of my favorite bands, you listen to any Radiohead record, there might be a sparse piano ballad versus an electro heavy song, but it still sounds like Radiohead. So my philosophy has been if you are writing as yourself, being genuine, there’s going to be a common thread. I do take into consideration, especially with tracklisting, the order. If something flows into this, then the next will flow into the other. But with this EP, there are four tracks, but two pairings. My influences are broad, so I want to include different kinds of sounds, but it’s all under the same dance music umbrella.

N/I - So it’s not necessarily “These are afrobeat and these are popcaan.”

Joe - Right. And it’s been interesting, because in this realm of electronic music, there are so many labels, and they’re such small, niche labels, focusing on very specific sounds. So in the process of promoting this record, it’s been a lot of “These two fit, but these other two don’t.” Only certain tracks fit with a certain sound. That’s a lot of what I’ve been thinking about.

N/I - Sure. I think your at a more interesting juncture than most other people no matter what genre they’re in. You’re taking initial step into once this is out, it will forever be in the listeners’ hands. I would imagine you would be a little more inclined to take what people listen to and what they respond to best in consideration for whatever the next thing is.

Joe - That’s true. Also, my writing draws a lot from what I’m listening to at the time. There’s a connection sonically between certain drum machines’ sounds. Even if the tracks are different tempos or certain mood or vibe, there are definitely key elements to whatever I’m queued into at the moment. So I think the first EP, that represents where I was and what I was listening to. They’re all little milestones.

N/I - Absolutely. They’re tableaus of a particular time. What were you listening to for this record?

Joe - There was definitely a heavy acid house influence. A lot of acid basslines. Some of the tracks are still mellow and atmospheric, which will always be a part of my sound. I like dreamy and surreal-ish stuff. That’s how I perceive it.

N/I - That’s fair. I can’t remember if I wrote it or someone else did, but “atmospheric” is probably the strongest way I could describe it. It’s not like when someone listens to Jamie xx, it’s because he sampled Gil Scot-Heron, they want to see what he does with that. Whereas with Body Copy, it’s more of a “I want to see this whole environment that Joe’s created.”

Joe - And that’s where I think the whole writing process I was describing, you’re building a little sound world and expanding that out. But I listen to a lot of…. I think a lot of that atmospheric influence comes from listening to jazz stuff, Detroit house, those sounds. And then, tracks that I perceive as “tough tracks,” not really heavy or dark tracks, but sassy tough tracks [laughs]. I don’t know how else to describe it, but in my USB for dj sets, I have a folder that just says “tough tracks.” But that would mean something different for a lot of different people. It’s like jak’n’tough tunes - lots of vocal samples. I could show you more easily than describing it.

N/I - Well I realize that asking someone who builds soundscapes, so to speak, to describe a sound is a reductive effort. Like you said, a lot of that stuff is in the moment. It’s like being a poet - you’re necessarily going to sit down and say “I’m going to describe the clouds, the sky, the trees, and the light above. It’ll all be beautiful and to the point.” It’s very much in that moment, and even if you captured it entirely, you still can’t describe it.

Joe - Exactly.

N/I - So with Nashville being Nashville - obviously, you do side man stuff - but you mentioned dj sets. Have you seen that world expand in the past two to four years?

Joe - Definitely. Part of it is probably me becoming more a part of the scene; more involved. But yeah, just over the last year, there’s been the emergence of a lot of new parties popping up. Different nights at different venues sort of stuff. There’s a demand for it. People come out to it, which is encouraging. I do think it’s a young scene here, which is interesting, because I think it brings a lot of people from different places. Like I was saying, it’s a very sub-genred world. But because the scene is very young here, everyone is at all the parties, which is cool, because I feel like people are getting exposed to different things.

N/I - Sure. It’s not like seven years ago when it was Infinity Cat, Serpents and Snakes, and they basically became warring factions, whereas recent developments in the pop realm have seen embracing of everyone, as opposed to sectioning off. There’s QDP, Housequake, Rosemary. They’re the first level, entry into that world in Nashville.

Joe - Right. It’s the mainstream beginning.

N/I - But it does endorse an inclusivity. I’ve noticed that it is a lot of the same people, like you were saying, but they could be open to whatever it is. It could be the first time Body Copy was playing and it’s not going to make any difference as if it was a Lambchop or someone.

Joe - And I think it’s a good opportunity for me and every artist in the scene, because there’s room to assert your own sound, in a way. I think because it is Nashville, and Nashville is built so much on commercial music, there’s definitely a balancing act for me. You always want people to like what you’re doing. When you’re here, people are probably going to react better to commercial music, more broadly. But a lot of what I listen to is a little more adventurous than the average pop song. I like pop music, it’s great, but that’s been part of finding my own sound - where do I want to ride that line?

N/I - Right. It’s almost like you’re trying to decide how much you want people to like you from the onset.

Joe - Because I feel like sometimes when I’m showing stuff to people here, I get self conscious, thinking “Is this pop-y enough? Are they going to get it?” but then I’ll send it to a friend in New York and then the fear is that it’s too pop-y and they reject me as a sellout. And part of it all boils down to - whatever, it’s cliche, but be yourself. Do what you want. But there’s definitely an internal battle…. Maybe not battle, that’s a little intense, but there’s always a conversation.

N/I - For sure. There’s a dichotomy.

Joe - And even thinking about dj sets. I think I just have to go in and play what I want to play. Whatever I’m excited about, hopefully that will translate to them. I’m not trying to weird anyone out. I feel like I’m building it up to be like that [laughs].

N/I - Not at all. It’s not like you’re putting out heavy grime-core or anything like that.

Joe - But I think you just have to be confident, and if you’re enjoying something, hopefully somebody else will catch onto that energy.