by Keith Valcourt
Like New Order? Depeche Mode or their less popular cousin band Camouflage? How about early Nine Inch Nails without all the screaming? Of course you do. That is why you need to know about the Washington, DC based musical collective known as Data Recovery Project or DRP for short. Led by synth head C.P. Kush (Keyboards and Vocals) and featuring Daniel Hill (of Yellow Tie Guy fame) on additional vocals, keys and guitar, the duo play danceable retro pop through a series of programmed beats and keyboard riffs. Lyrically they are affected and reflective about the world around them. Providing a dark danceable soundtrack for these dystopian times. I caught up with CP at home in D.C. to input some data into the machine and discuss influences, vibing and a made-up character called “Safety Bear.”
Q: Is your last name really Kush?
A: It really is and has always been.
Q: How important is cannabis to the music you make?
A: (Laughs) It is not a descriptor or part of the band’s identity. It is just my last name. Growing up people didn’t really notice my last name. In the last 10 years it has become a thing. We’re not a jam band or something of that nature. If we were then the name might fit better.
Q: Is Data Recovery Project a one-man band? Or something like Yaz and Blaqk Audio?
A: It’s more of something like Nine Inch Nails. I’m the chief songwriter and principal creative element. Because I am the primary vocalist too, it’s much more like a Nine Inch Nails. Then there is a rotating cast of characters in the studio and when I play live. Of them, Daniel Hill is the number one person who does the vocals with me in the studio.
Q: People who worked with Trent (Reznor) in Nine Inch Nails say he was nasty to work for.
A: Working with me is much more fun. (Laughs)
Q: Are you the Chris Lowe/Vince Clark of this band?
A: No because I sing. But YAZ would be the ultimate touchstone for Data Recovery Project. Electronic music with gutsy vocals and subject matter. It’s not “Clean” electronic music. It’s dirtier and messier than that. It’s more layered and not that thin sounding exact and clean. We’re more howling rootsy stuff on top of electronic layers.
Q: How did you and Daniel come to collaborate?
A: I met him hosting an open mic. I was just starting to write songs but I’m not really a musician in the traditional sense. The main instrument I play is a drum machine with a guitar neck. I liked my songs but needed help to get it all together and make it make sense. I asked Daniel to help me out because he is a multi-instrumentalist who sings like an angel. He’s easy to collaborate with because he does whatever it is that I can’t do. And do it well. It’s been very helpful to have those extra facets.
Q: If the band is a duo, then why is there mention of a third member named Stanley online? Who is Stanley?
A: Stanley has changed over time. (Laughs) Not only do we have a rotating cast of musicians that come through and play with me we also have characters come through. Stanley was a guy who was abandoned in outer space. Currently, the character that I am is called “Safety Bear.” You can see him on the back of our third E.P. “Safety Bear” shows up and gives bad advice to everyone. In COVID he showed up and gave the worst advice to everyone.
Q: Did you play during COVID?
A: I was lucky. I was playing in DC every weekend. Outside as part of an outdoor court concert that was held weekly by a local DJ. “Safety Bear” was born in that. Amidst all the craziness of what everyone was going through it added some levity.
When DRP’s second EP came out (EP-02), it was the beginning of COVID, and our release party (and everyone else’s) was cancelled. Friends of mine in Key West got a bunch of the drag artists from the 801 Cabaret on Duval Street to lip-synch to the song, “Where You Are?” From the EP. I cut it together — and it is super-fun, kinda trashy — and compellingly DIY. At the same time, I was seriously moved by their willingness to help us make a video at that time.
*Check out that video below:
Q: Does “Safety Bear” have a costume?
A: He does. He wears ears and generally is dressed in reflective clothing. He is basically a child who was raised to eb terrified by everything in the world. And eh suddenly finds himself without his helicopter parents. Safety Bear is full of super anxious energy.
Q: When you become Safety Bear are you then allowed to explore other musical directions you can’t do as C.P. Kush?
A: Yes, that is when we do covers and explore the music that has influenced Data Recovery Project. Safety Bear sings “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats. We do “Victim Of Love” by Erasure and a mashup of “Good Times” by Chic and “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen.
Q: Besides YAZ, Pet Shop Boys and Nine Inch Nails who else do you count among your influence?
A: Pet Shop Boys are our demographic but not so much an influence. The number one influence is Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Which was once described as “Kiss Meets The Village People.” That’s what we are. And of course Erasure and Depeche Mode are in the mix.
Q: Speaking of Erasure, you covered their song and they reacted?
A: We did a cover of “Victim Of Love” and put it out there. They heard it and put a link to it in their newsletter. Then I got to meet them when they played 9:30 Club. It was super exciting. There have been emails back and forth on occasion. It’s been nice to have that kind of support from a band that is so influential to what we are doing.
Q: How accepting has the D.C. scene been to your music?
A: The people who hear it love it. We get a very good response whenever we can play live. We are a unique entity in this town because we are not playing blues-based classic rock. Which is what a lot of smaller venues in this town are geared towards. You would hope a small music venue would have a wide taste and enthusiasm to support different types of music. But… We’ve been building our access to those places. Occasionally we are running into people who book those places that get what we are doing and see it as the possibility of getting another constituency that might bring people into their venue. But it takes work. Also because I am writing originals it is a harder way to go. The bars just want everyone to drink their beers and sing “Closing Time” (by Semisonic) for the thousandth time.
Q: When you do a show what percentage of the music is live?
A: When we play live everything is broken down into stems. That allows us to control things based on the sound. We can manipulate and trigger the stems and there is always at least one instrument that I’m playing live into the drum machine pads like a keyboard. The vocals are also always live.
Q: What are the best gigs for Data Recovery Project?
A: Our best gigs have been in places that have street traffic nor people moving through the bar. In those places, where people are moving through, we can get them to stand and stay. It is good for us. And good for the bar. We recently played something called “Porch Fest.” Eighty-five bands played in D.C. on various outside porches. There were so many people dancing in the street for our show it became a safety hazard. The organizer of “Porch Fest” came up, took the microphone, and told everyone they had to clear the street. The police were at both ends of the street. There were eighty-five bands but D.R.P was the one that shut down “Porch Fest.”
Q: If you could tour and open for one Eighties band who would it be?
A: Erasure will be coming back around with their new album. There will be an email sent.
Q: Based on the music you make do you ever wish you had been doing it in the eighties?
A: I wish I had started doing music earlier. The band is to rescue and relive the music of the eighties. We make high-energy electronic bassline-driven dance music. As I grew up, I stopped hearing that and wanted to bring back music with those elements and influence.
Q: What is your song “Feed It” about?
A: That was from the second EP. It’s moody and simple. Just an eight-bar loop that we have different pieces of. We turn it on and off with the drum machine. It mixes two things. The idea of returning home and not fitting in. Not vibing. Returning to a place you thought you knew and having it be different. But then it was also commentary about what was happing politically at the time. If people aren’t vibing on the micro level, then how can it happen on the macro level? It’s like having the whole Pink Floyd album “The Wall” in three minutes.
Q: You recently released your third EP. How has the music evolved from when you first started?
A: The song structures are getting more complicated and contemporary. I’m able to handle the technology more and incorporate it into what I do. It is still very retro wave. It takes us recording the song to take a step forward into what the sound is going to become. Every single EP we’ve done there has been a noticeable step forward in terms of skills and songwriting.
Q: What kind of gear do you use in studio?
A: When I’m writing songs I do it on a drum machine that is on an eternal loop. All my songs are Built up from the drum and bass grooves. They are not chord-driven songs. D.R.P. will never do anything that won’t make you move. It’s not head music. You must be able to shake it to it when you hear it. Then we add elements and mix the elements by taking them always and sometimes bringing them back. I use vintage stuff. Not vintage hardware. Vintage software. There is a software package called RMX from Spectrasonics. Our songs are built from that on the percussion level. Sadly, that software is going away.
Q: What do you do for a living when not making music?
A: I am a consultant. Like everyone is here in Washington, D.C. That is the yin and yang of my life. The job can be less than nourishing creatively but that is why I make music. I’m a music obsessive. I spend all my free time surrounded by music. Going deeper and deeper in the music I grew up with. Now I am making my own music. I know by doing this band I won’t die with any regrets.
Q: What is next for the band?
A: In a month Daniel and I are going back down to Key West, Florida to work on D.R.P.’s fourth EP We are working with the great producer Ian Shaw on his houseboat where he has a floating studio. Ian did the last Nick Heyward (of Haircut 100 fame) record. It will be out later in 2021.
“So Heavy” from DRP’s 03 EP has been added to our Alchemical Weekly Spotify Playlist so stop on by and have a listen to this and more great music featured on the site!
Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More
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