Artist Interview: Dan The Automator Nakamura X Good Luck Dry Cleaners

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Matthew A. Eller: I am here today with the one and only Dan The Automator Nakamura and Phil Reese from Good Luck Dry Cleaners, and we are going to talk about art. So Dan, can you tell everybody briefly who you are, and what you do? 

Dan The Automator: They call me Dan The Automator. Traditionally, I’m a record producer.  I’ve done a bunch of records including Dr. Octagon, Deltron 3030, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Gorillaz… I’ve got a new single coming out in January with the Black Keys…

Matthew A. Eller: And you have a beautiful hybrid home & art gallery here in Alphabet City, NYC. Is there an official title for the spot?

Dan The Automator: No official title. It’s my house here where the new Good Luck Dry Cleaners is now located. A while back I decided that I had to have a spot in NYC because I spend too much time working here when I’m not in California.

Matthew A. Eller: Plus, if people don’t know, you are not just a record producer.  You are also a label owner who has worked with tons of street artists and designers over the past couple decades.  For instance I believe you used Pushead for The Dr. Octagon domestic releases?  Who else have you worked with?

Dan The Automator: Yes!  Pushead did Dr. Octagon. I’ve worked with Dave Choe… There’s so many covers by so many different people. The second Deltron cover was done by Alex Pardee.  The first one was done by a graphics guy named Colin Miller, who was part of that clique actually.  Oh yeah, of course, for Gorillaz we had Jamie Hewlett.

Matthew A. Eller: Thats a nice brief background so people understand that you have a pedigree in this field. It’s not like you’re just opening a gallery for the hell of it. For the last 25 years or so you’ve been working with, and collaborating with these artists. 

Dan The Automator: Exactly, I believe in art.  I come from the music side.  But I believe in art, period! I might not have the skill set to paint, but it’s not any different from a mental place experienced by a movie director, or a painter, or a musician, or even an actor, or a chef! But I should preface this by saying there’s versions of those who are truly artists, and there’s versions of those who are good at it and do work, but I tend to gravitate more towards the people who are truly artists, whether or not they’re the best artists in the world, they have that mentality.

Matthew A. Eller: With your background in street art and design its no wonder you ended up working with this guy Phil Reese of Good Luck Dry Cleaners.  Phil, quickly tell us about yourself and what you do other than dry cleaning?

Phil Reese: I do a little bit of everything. Basically it’s the culmination of how I grew up in the 90s of New York City’s underground scene.  When I say underground, I mean the pre social media days of going out with friends who were artists, musicians, bartenders, the real kind of New York nightlife where you’d go out to an after hours place when they’d get off work at four o’clock in the morning and you’d walk into an Italian restaurant that was hosting a whole bunch of interesting people.  You had to be in the know and it always struck me from a hospitality standpoint. People were very taken care of because there was a genuine appreciation for what they added to the room from a cultural and obviously from a personal standpoint. It made the unique experience what it was and that’s what I always aim for.

I’m the son of a self-taught artist/interior designer and I grew up around a lot of art, as well as playing in a punk band years ago in New York City, and just from being a kid who grew up on punk rock, and hip hop, and wanting to bring back the things that I enjoyed and cherished, and most importantly celebrating the talented people who I enjoy spending my time with.

Matthew A. Eller: So how did you and Dan link up?

Phil Reese: I actually reached out to Dan. I had met him informally at a couple shows over the years, just in passing. And I’ve always been a huge fan of Automator’s work. I’m not just trying to blow smoke because he’s right here, but I truly think he’s one of the greatest producers of all time. When you look at his range of work, there aren’t that many producers who can do as many things as Dan does so amazingly well. So when I was doing my partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue for New York Fashion Week (and producing over 30 fashion campaigns over the course of three days), and doing seven different events over the course of nine days, I wanted to make different themes, different music, different vibes, different art every single night to keep things interesting. I always make sure that a client event I’m producing is something that I’d want to go to, because ultimately I am going…ha..

When I found out that Saks wanted to do one of their events on Valentine’s Day, which is considered by many people to be the worst night in New York City due to the pressure of having to go out and spend money at restaurants that are now only offering outrageously expensive and limited pre-fixed menus, etc….so I wanted to make it extra special for people and have an invite-only free cocktail party where Dan The Automator would DJ at the Good Luck Dry Cleaners we built in the basement of Saks for Fashion Week. When I think of sexy and Valentine’s Day, I automatically think of Dan the Automator spinning. I told Dan that when I was asked who I wanted to perform, he popped in my head like a sexy Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. To me, there was no Plan B. I told Dan that I wanted him to be decked out in Gucci, playing Lovage, downtempo Handsome Boy Modeling School, Barry White, all the sexy classics…

That night when I spoke to Dan, he told me that Handsome Boy Modeling School was going to be heading back into the studio to make new music after a long hiatus. So from there, we also brought in Prince Paul and had Handsome Boy Modeling School do a surprise reunion performance at Saks Fifth Avenue during New York Fashion Week, which was a dream come true for me. And also very on brand for Handsome Boy Modeling School as it was an extremely handsome evening.

Matthew A. Eller: So let’s talk about Handsome Boy Modeling School for a second. I used to love the TV show “Get a Life”. So I know exactly where those samples were taken from. Did you hear that TV episode and go “Okay, I’m making a record about this!?”

Dan The Automator: Actually, it’s a complicatedly simple story, but basically me and Prince Paul both were fans of the show. And one day I was actually at the Tommy Boy offices, and Paul was at home, but we were on the phone talking to each other. And we were talking about Handsome Boy Modeling School and “Get a Life” and all that stuff. And then someone at Tommy Boy came in and they asked, “What are you talking about?” And my A&R guy Max Nichols walked in and also asked what we were talking about.

So I asked them “Do you know Handsome Boy Modeling School?” And when I realized they had never heard of it I told them “It’s like our new group…it’s kind of like the Hip Hop Chemical Brothers.”  Paul & myself we’re just fucking around. But Justin wanted to hear something.  But there was nothing to play him! So he walked out of the room and a couple minutes later Monica Lynch walks in and says “We’ll sign it!” And just like that Handsome Boy Modeling School was born.

Matthew A. Eller:  Which a decade or so later led to Handsome Boy Modeling School getting back together at Saks 5th Avenue. How does this turn into an art gallery?

Dan The Automator: I don’t live here in NYC full time. So there was an opportunity to do some cool art things at my place. It’s not a public thing, but for a select few that make sense, it’s a very cool place to do something. But this is not something you can just buy a ticket and see during regular business hours. It’s an exclusive space for us to showcase art to the right people.

@tonoradvany @sensewars

Matthew A. Eller: To be clear this is a complete 4 story house with back patio loaded with works of many different artists spread throughout it. Some are for sale, some are from your personal collections, and it’s all on display in different themed rooms.  Was the idea to just showcase everyone’s art and see what happens?

Dan The Automator: I think it was a combination of thoughts.  Phil has previously curated a lot of these artists and I have a particular kind of taste. So it’s more about Phil’s selections of styles which match my taste, and at the same time I’m overseeing the vibe of the overall space. Like I said, it’s a private thing and Phil gets that.

Matthew A. Eller: Speaking of Phils favorite artists you’ve got a giant JPO mural on the backside of the house, and a couple more of his pieces inside.  Who else is featured currently?

Phil Reese: Well, the interesting thing about JPO’s mural, is that Dan was very involved with the collaborative process of that mural. There were rounds of revisions, because we really wanted to make it specific to the back part of Dan’s house, which is over 28 feet high.  Something that would fit Dan’s vibe, and also something that was interesting and new.  This was the first time I had JPO paint in grayscale, which is a huge departure from his typical style, but it just works perfectly for this particular space. 

@JPOART

Besides JPO’s stunning mural, there were artists I worked closely with like Steve Wasterval, KAFKA, and Edward Acosta who painted new work for specific areas of the house and it looks absolutely incredible. We even designed Dan’s bathroom. In addition to that, you also have some of Dan’s private collection that’s not for sale, but rarely displayed. It’s a really interesting curation because it’s all about the flow of the space, and it really works towards the aesthetics of the house as at the end of the day, it’s not just an art gallery concept, but also as a place that you would want to relax, enjoy, and hang out. It truly is one of the most special and unique places in New York. That specialness when it comes to art, music, design, and fashion, mixed with the greatest people in the world, is something that Good Luck Dry Cleaners takes very seriously, and it’s also why we have the amazing support that we do on the brand side in addition to the artists. When Dan told me that he’d be coming to New York and didn’t know when he’d be back in the foreseeable future due to his touring commitments with Deltron 3030 playing shows with Wu Tang and Run The Jewels, we decided to throw a super last minute launch event. And even with literally almost no lead time, partners like City Winery, Getty Images, Brooklyn Brewery, Mijenta Tequila, and Eva’s didn’t hesitate to say yes and jump in to collaborate. It’s always a room that you’re glad to be in.

Matthew A. Eller: I can tell you first hand that moving through the space is a cohesive journey, so mission accomplished! Dan, we only have a couple of minutes left. Can you tell me one good story from the road, something funny that people would just find entertaining?

Dan The Automator: Sure, A number of years back, I was DJing at a private party for a really nice organization called Muzak. It’s arranged by Donick Carey, one of the producers of The Simpsons, that they put on in the backyard of his home. And I was playing the show there along with Tim Armstrong, Weird Al Yankovic, and a handful of other amazing people.

Anyway, I’m at his house, so it’s not anything like backstage at a concert venue, there was a huge tent in the back that had food and stuff, so I walked back there and standing there is the legend Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al’s the greatest so I go up and introduce myself and try to shake his hand, and of course he is a really nice person who tries to shake my hand back… except for one problem…he was holding a taco in each of his hands! So I did one of the worst things a fan could ever do… interrupt Al’s taco time and create a very messy situation (laughing).

@sarahseacircle

So anyway, that encounter haunted me for years, and years, but a couple weeks ago I was at the Hollywood Bowl because Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service were performing. And they’re old friends of mine, so they invited me to this party afterwards in the back of the venue and Weird Al’s was there! So I go up to Al this time and tell him “I’m really sorry about the taco thing”, which I’m sure he did not remember, but he accepts my apology and told me “we are good now” (laughing).

Matthew A. Eller: Im very relieved to hear that whole taco beef is finally over (pun intended). Well, anyway, Dan, anything else you want to push or plug before we say goodbye? 

@jpoart @mollydryman

@elleresqphoto @dan_the_a Photo by: @sarahseacircle

Dan The Automator: Follow myself, @Goodluckdrycleaners and @elleresqphoto for updates upon upcoming events at the gallery. Fun stuff coming in the new year!

All Photo’s & Text Copyright 2024 Matthew A. Eller.  Follow me on Instagram @elleresqphoto. #elleresqphoto #elleresqphotowall

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