Home Cooking In the Dining Room.
Story by Lauren Gordon. Image by G.W. Miller III.Walk into producer David Gaines’ Northeast livingroom and you are greeted with nothing but a rolled up rug, a stepladder and a paint-splattered wooden floor. There isn’t a stitch of furniture. Enter the kitchen and you won’t find a table or chairs.
Gaines’ dining room, however, is adorned with an elaborate set up of impressive equipment – dancehall-size speakers, a keyboard, microphone, guitars and an editing station. And on many nights, it’s packed with talented musicians.
“Thank God my wife gets it, man, and isn’t on me about the house,” jokes Gaines. “She understands what I do, what we do.”
Tonight, James Morris sits at the keyboard in the unlikely studio space known as the Dining Room Studio, improvising a smooth tune. Tanqueray Hayward, a patient care tech and medical instructor, saunters up to the mic.
She inches her mouth close to the windscreen and unleashes an indescribable flow – a freestyle song filled with gospel fury and bluesy influences. Her powerhouse voice fills the room.
Gaines and Idris Davis, a longtime friend and collaborator, whisper to each other while standing nearby with their arms folded. Suddenly, they burst into laughter.
“Ya’ll are makin’ fun of me,” Hayward delivers in her sing-song, gospel style, not missing a beat. “But that’s OK ‘cause I’ll keep doing my thing.”
Laughter erupts again and Hayward continues singing, a broad smile across her face.
“You gotta’ have thick skin, girl,” Davis playfully remarks.
Their jesting isn’t a sign of disrespect. It’s just part of the magic of the Dining Room Studio, where the crew recently launched their latest project: Mister Mann Frisby and David Gaines present …
The collective will release a new song every month throughout 2011. The project, which is the brainchild of Frisby, Gaines, Davis and Morris, features a variety of genres, local talent, original lyrics and genuine heartfelt music.
The first song, The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Me, sung by Christian Moffitt, was released in January.
“This is the first time I am taking my songwriting seriously,” says Frisby a journalist and author who is the sole lyricist for the project. “I just met Dave last year and we really clicked. He had all of this music. I had all of these lyrics. So we just worked it together.”
Frisby, a South Philadelphia native, began his writing career as a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News. He then self- published an urban crime novel, which led to other book projects including a motivational book for teenagers. This project is another way Frisby is reaching out to his community – by getting artists who deserve to be heard a chance to record.
They aren’t sampling music. They play real instruments. And there’s no remastering. The result is pure music from pure Philadelphia talent.
“In Philadelphia, you better be able to back up what you say,” states Gaines. “If you say you play an instrument, you better be able to play it.”
As a child, Gaines’ father would take him to the record store to purchase an album every Thursday – payday. Young Gaines became engrossed in records, listening to them over and over again until it got to the point when he wanted to do nothing but make music.
Gaines, who has produced music with many artists, including DJ Jazzy Jeff, wasn’t an overnight success. He worked behind the scenes for many years.
“I was a studio rat,” he proudly proclaims. “I would be there from 8, 9 o’clock in the morning. We’d be there when no one else was there working on anything. The studio ran all night long so I tried to be there as much as I could.”
In 2007, Gaines launched the Dining Room Studio.
Davis began his music career at Roman Catholic High School. Getting kicked out of his business law class became boring so he switched to band class. Since then, Davis has worked with famous artists like Robin Thicke, Kindred the Family Soul and Anthony Hamilton.
Morris started playing piano at age 3. He’s written screenplays and is currently studying under Gaines to perfect his production skills.
“Anybody who has done anything great has studied under somebody,” states Morris. “I need to be learning from people who have done it. I hang around with people who are doing things I want to do.”
For Morris, music is his bread and butter, his soul. He plays the church circuit as well as collaborating on albums but claims he’s never wanted to succeed at any project more than this.
For the members of the project and anyone lucky enough to partake in the familial, creative atmosphere of the Dining Room Studio, a great song begins with a handshake and a conversation.
“We do things really different,” asserts Davis. “We let the music become what it’s supposed to become and we don’t force it.”
Though they have produced for big names in the music industry, the Dining Room Studio team believes in giving relatively unknown vocalists like Hayward and Moffitt an opportunity to become a part of something bigger than themselves.
“I don’t need the money to do this,” admits Moffitt. “I’d do it regardless. It is what I love, what I need to do.”
That passion and the thrill of creating drives everyone involved in the project.
“We don’t have 100, 200 years on Earth to make this right,” Morris offers. “We only have a few years. So why not stop being distracted and go ahead and do what you need to do? We wanna come original. We wanna be able to pick something out of the air because that is how legacies are made.”
This night was spent mostly talking about ideas rather than recording, so the crew calls it quits early. It’s barely midnight. As Gaines escorts his crew out, he snickers at the time.
“This is one of the earlier nights for us,” he says.
Morris knows there is work to do, however, and he seems reluctant to leave. He wants every song to be perfect.
“Pshh, I might have lost some sleep over this one,” Morris mumbles.
There will be many more nights of working until the sun rises as the team continues the project.