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While the 2022 Grammy Awards have been delayed, reorganized, and finally relocated, one thing has always been clear: Take A Daytrip cannot be stopped. The prolific, hyper-talented duo of Denzel Baptiste and David Biral are up for two Grammy Awards as they continue to push music in incredible new directions.

Take a Daytrip is nominated for:

Record of the Year:
Montero (Call Me By Your Name), by Lil Nas X

Song of the Year:
“Industry Baby” by Lil Nas X featuring Jack Harlow

Since meeting in college at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Take A Daytrip have become one of the most sought-after hitmaking juggernauts in the hip-hop and R&B worlds. The duo first charted with Sheck Wes’ breakout hit “Mo Bamba.” Their unmistakably open-sounding, artist-first approach to songwriting and producing has since been heard (alongside their tagline “Daytrip took it to ten”) on “Panini” and “Rodeo” by Lil Nas X, “Legends” by Juice Wrld, and “The Scotts” by Travis Scott and Kid Cudi.

Take A Daytrip with Synths

Denzel (left) and David (right) with their stable of synths. Back to front then left to right: Mellotron M4000D; Minimoog Voyager; Arturia MatrixBrute; Nord Stage; Sequential Prophet-X and Prophet ’08; Moog Sub Phatty, One, and Subsequent 25; Sequential OB-6 and Prophet-6.

What early experiences got you into music, and what was your point of entry into studio production?

David Biral: I started playing piano in kindergarten. My parents threw me at a musical instrument as one does with a kid that age, but I stuck with it. I did a lot of jazz and classical training growing up, but I didn’t start producing until I met Denzel. I’d say I didn’t feel comfortable until I was maybe 20 years old, which is when we really started messing around with synths. Our friend Mel DeBarge had a studio in SoHo he let us use, and there were a bunch of keyboards there.

Denzel Baptiste: I started in church, which is where I first learned music theory. The music director at my church, Noel Goring, is also an R&B producer who has done a bunch of big projects. He taught me Logic and the production side of things initially. From there, similar to David, I was in a jazz band that would gig around the town I was living in.

David Biral: I started playing piano in kindergarten. My parents threw me at a musical instrument as one does with a kid that age, but I stuck with it. I did a lot of jazz and classical training growing up, but I didn’t start producing until I met Denzel. I’d say I didn’t feel comfortable until I was maybe 20 years old, which is when we really started messing around with synths. Our friend Mel DeBarge had a studio in SoHo he let us use, and there were a bunch of keyboards there.

Denzel Baptiste: I started in church, which is where I first learned music theory. The music director at my church, Noel Goring, is also an R&B producer who has done a bunch of big projects. He taught me Logic and the production side of things initially. From there, similar to David, I was in a jazz band that would gig around the town I was living in.

Denzel holds a vintage Roland TR-909 drum machine while David carries a customized Roland Juno-106.

Technology now lets a lot of producers and musicians work on feel and intuition over theory. Would you say the traditional training gave you any advantages?

David: Oh, definitely. At this point, we barely even need to make eye contact to know exactly where the other person is going to go when we’re jamming.

Denzel: From the improvisation side, that’s how we’re able to go back and forth really quickly just coming up with parts. Having Mel’s studio was perfect because we could both be playing keyboards at the same time. That’s where we first found the strengths we have in common. Often, David would play progressions and I’d play the bass part.

David: The advantage that gives a producer is, a lot of people might not realize how fast things need to happen when you’re working with a major artist.

Denzel: So, music theory enhances that speed element of coming up with a hook or a melody, setting the key, pressing Record, and making it all happen in one fluid motion.

How about influences? Are there any that a casual listener might be surprised to learn you have? 

David: Our biggest mutual influence, which we really bonded over in college, is the French electronic duo Justice. Their first album, Cross, has a lot of Gospel references like organs, but the synth-heavy sounds on it were so interesting that we just geeked out over them when we were 18 years old. When we finally got access to synths ourselves, we really channeled that influence and put our own spin on it.

Denzel: From there, the family tree of French house and the whole Ed Banger Records scene was huge for us. So are movie composers, especially Hans Zimmer.

David: I hope no one would be surprised to learn anything about us [laughs], but we were also fascinated by Nirvana and grunge in general.

 

You said you often need to work quickly. What was a memorable time Auto-Tune helped you do that? 

David: We made “Mo Bamba” in about 30 minutes total once Sheck Wes came into the studio. When he arrived, the beat was about 80 percent finished. He heard it and he just wanted to get going. Whenever we’re recording vocals, we have Auto-Tune running and on the playback in the artist’s headphones. His vocal was one take all the way through, with no edits. Everything had to be perfect, and Auto-Tune was probably the most important plug-in in that song.

 

That’s interesting because the song sounds pretty minimalist, like it barely has any processing at all.

Denzel: One thing specifically is that the second note in Sheck’s vocal line is intentionally out of the key, a half-step above the root note. Auto-Tune ensured that note was spot on. If we didn’t do that, the song wouldn’t have come out the way it did in a single take.

David: A lot of what goes on with us happens before the artist even shows up. When they do, the producers’ role is more about controlling the environment. It’s a psychological game at that point, to put the artist in the best headspace that helps them give the best performance in the moment. You’re trying to catch that lightning in a bottle. So, with Auto-Tune on the playback, we might turn the retune speed up to let them be freer with melodies and just sing what they’re feeling or turn it down if they’re feeling confident tonally and want to experiment more.

Denzel: Auto-Tune is sort of like the extra person in the room, making sure the artist is comfortable and everything is going smoothly.

 

“Panini” by Lil Nas X is just fantastic. How did this process play out on that track?

Denzel: “Panini” was our first time working with Lil Nas X. Now, he can sing, but when you meet a new artist for the first time, you know even small things can throw off their confidence. You want to enhance that feeling of all being in this together. We had Auto-Tune on the playback, and I think this was one of our first times also using Auto-Key, which made things even quicker. It detects the key, and we don’t even have to think about it. He went into the booth and from there it was boom, boom, boom.

David: One magical moment in that session was that at one point he just started whistling the melody. We heard it through the Auto-Tune and it just sounded crazy good. People were like, “What synth patch is that? Is that from Omnisphere or something?” Nope, just Lil Nas whistling through Auto-Tune. That became the whistle you hear at the beginning of the song. 

 

Do you ever use Auto-Tune or other Antares plug-ins on instrument tracks?

David: We play keys primarily, but suppose there’s a bass guitar part that has an intonation issue because the artist was moving at that fast pace and Denz just picked up the bass and played. We’ll use Auto-Tune to correct that harmonic “rub.”

Denzel: We use AVOX Harmony Engine pretty frequently to get cool textures and pull out extra harmonics. Even if it’s on the subtle side, it helps us see how much musical interest we can get out of, say, a single hook.

We always like to come back to the question of Auto-Tune haters. The folks who say that if you can’t sing perfectly without it, you should do something else entirely. How do you respond to them?

David: I prefer not to respond to them at all! [Laughs.] Look, at the end of the day there are so many people who are leaders of their own art form. There are incredible singers, the Adeles and Frank Oceans of the world. Then you have artists we don’t look at that way, but they’re still gifted performers who craft great narratives and deliver incredible records. Auto-Tune is not a “cheat code” to deliver someone else’s art. It’s a tool to deliver your own art. Think of it this way: Would you tell your daughter that she can’t follow her dream of being a performer just because she doesn’t have an Adele-level voice?

Denzel: Ultimately, I think Auto-Tune also pushes the culture forward. Now that it exists, you have to be that much better of a writer and producer to stand out above the crop of people who all have the same toolkit you do. It causes you to develop other strengths. This has changed the face of music over the past couple of decades.

David: The impetus of any type of innovation and progress is, use the tools to break the rules!

David Biral (left) and Denzel Baptiste (right) are Take A Daytrip.

David Biral (left) and Denzel Baptiste (right) are Take A Daytrip.