Tone Talk with Rachel Ana Dobken

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rachel ana dobken holding guitar on beach rocks
Photo by Danny Clinch

Self-described as “My Morning Jacket-meets-Lake Street Dive,” Asbury Park’s Rachel Ana Dobken is a talented producer and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, drums, piano, vocals) with a talent for channeling classic rock swagger and upbeat soul into her contemporary indie-rock sound. In 2018, she produced and released her first full-length album, When It Happens to You, which led to Dobken being featured as one of the “31 New Jersey bands you need to hear in 2019” by NJ.com, in addition to features by major outlets such as The Aquarian Weekly, Substream Magazine, Relix Magazine, New York Times, New Noise Magazine, and many more. She recently released a new video for her 2018 single, “Always,” which shows Dobken showcasing her musical talents as she hops between guitar and drums in a vintage roller rink.

In addition to her solo career, Dobken works closely with famed music photographer Danny Clinch (who photographed the cover art and recorded harmonica for her album) at his Transparent Gallery in Asbury Park. She regularly performs with Clinch and has sat in with national acts such as G. Love, Robert Randolph, Rayland Baxter, Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem, Grahame Lesh, Nicole Atkins, Blind Melon, Tash Neal, and more. 

Q: What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?

I have always equated tone with texture, color, emotion, feel. It can be deep and sultry. Quick and abrasive, depending on the emotions you are trying to convey. Tone elevates songs to get to the emotional levels they need to be and is an extension of the artist’s soul. It gives you even more specificity to define what you are trying to say, and where contextually you wish for the music to live. It’s not just the amp or the pedals but also the playing. Over the years, my ears have become more refined, as one would hope, so thus, my concept of tone has become more refined. I have been taught by others things about audio engineering which I have then expanded on (because I really love the process of recording and cutting a record, specifically the exploration of tones and sounds).

Q: Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?

I have a Supro Hampton that I absolutely love (thank you David Koltai forever!) and played with it all over my record. It’s also featured heavily in my “Always” video. It has three single-coil gold foil pick-ups which gives it a beefier, fuller sound, but also plays very dynamically (the guitar is sensitive and very responsive). I play out of a Blues Jr, and currently, I’ve just been using delay and overdrive live. It sort of forces me to work within the confines of getting my chops up. BUT, I have been itching to dive into the world of pedals, and am starting to scratch the surface. It is exciting. I also play a strat. I just love the feel of that guitar, it’s so user-friendly, and you know exactly what to expect. I find that if I want a more lighter, brighter, thinner sound, I’ll typically play with that.

Q: Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

For this record, when it came to guitar, everything was recorded as demos with scratch guitar and vocals. This was necessary to organize my brain. Then we practiced as a band to figure out what was necessary in regards to working out parts, what we were to track first, are we doing it live, etc. I definitely prefer tracking live and being able to capture that energy as players is definitely a bonding experience.  Two songs in particular that we did live with me on lead guitar were “Intro” and “Taking My Time,” but since I am also a drummer, most of my guitar was re-tracked after we laid down bass and drums. But with that also came the fun exploration of figuring out arrangements, parts, and tones. I like to take my time when I am in the studio exploring the different tones and textures to make sure we get the right sound. I love getting lost in the process of tracking, and making When It Happens To You was an incredibly special experience.

Q: How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

By using the same amp and pedals! I know that sounds kind of obvious, but keeping it simple, comfortable, and practicing as close to what it will be like the day of the gig is how I get this consistent. The key is to not have to think about it DAY OF, let it just flow — something I constantly have to tell myself/figure out!

Q: What does your practice consist of?

Well, I wish I did more of it. That’s certainly one thing being a crazy busy hustling solo-artist doesn’t allow for enough time for — which is to PRACTICE. I usually warm up with scales and basic finger exercises, and then I run my set. I need to get back into shedding beyond just gigs and my songs though, unfortunately, that’s been all I’ve had time for lately. But it’s time to buckle down and turn off the damn cell phone!

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?

Keep your head down and work, work, work. Put in your 10,000 hours. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, male OR female (I know, easier said than done). I have been taught you gain respect by proving your worth, and we all have the capability of doing that. I sit here and say to myself, dang I have so much more I should be doing, I need to practice more, I have so much more to learn and grow.  And that will never stop. Always be OPEN to learning. It is certainly harder for women but stay guarded and be smart (yes this is important especially when you must be vulnerable onstage) but you are strong, stay true to yourself, surround yourself with good people (men and women), and make sure you are doing this all for the right reasons. Keep yourself in check. I actually really needed to just tell myself that because, yes, it gets brutal. Yet there is something still in there saying, “Rachel, keep going!” So, my advice? BE OPEN, WORK HARD, BE HUMBLE— YOU GOT THIS GIRL!!!

Upcoming Shows:

  • August 29 in NYC: Kelley Swindall, Rachel Ana Dobken, and Radiator King @ Berlin
  • August 31 in Asbury Park, NJ: Rachel Ana Dobke @ Danny Clinch’s Transparency Gallery

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