The musical output of Dan “The Automator” Nakamura is a prodigious stack of layered hip-hop records that includes the beautiful and horrific Dr. Octagon, the first Gorillaz record, a pair of future-funk records by Deltron 3030 (who take the stage at the Fillmore this weekend), and Handsome Boy Modeling School, a group that sent up the high life, even while enjoying it. With Handsome Boy Modeling School’s penchant for fine fabrics and spirits in mind, we met with Dan to talk cloth (see his fall fabric picks interspersed below) and music as we showed him around the Bespoke Vault, and–later–Wingtip’s cigar lounge.
WINGTIP: Handsome Boy Modeling School is a parody on a certain lifestyle but you also have a genuine interest in it.
DAN THE AUTOMATOR: See, that’s the only way it can be interesting. If you’re only making fun of something it’s not really funny. Theres an absurdity to that lifestyle but the absurdity is what I’m into in a way.
WINGTIP: Were you into clothes as a kid?
AUTOMATOR: I liked clothes, but in adulthood I became more specifically interested in [them]. Everyone has hobbies. My hobby is actually food, but beyond food it’s men’s furnishings. Knives, all that stuff. I have great Laguiole sets. I always have good liquors at home. I don’t have good flatware or plates but I do always have good cufflinks, good suits, good shoes.
WINGTIP: You like the details.
AUTOMATOR: The details exactly. My lifestyle doesn’t allow me to wear it all the time, but when I do wear it I have the right stuff.
WINGTIP: Do you remember your first suit?
AUTOMATOR: Probably like one of those 8th grade graduation suits. I started getting more–not well educated about suits–but more when we did that first Handsome Boy Modeling School record, we were wearing suits. And we managed to con the record label into buying us a few pretty decent ones–nothing crazy, but we got some stuff from Germany, a Hugo Boss thing and some Armani things.
But the second Handsome Boy record, Zegna sponsored us. I got seven or eight suits, including a raw silk tuxedo. All the stuff I got from them I still wear.
WINGTIP: How did you hook up with that?
AUTOMATOR: There was a marketing company in England, and you go into this place with different floors of different stuff, like Adidas. So when we walked in there they gave us a bunch of really good pairs of sunglasses and more athletic wear. But I said, You know, we wear suits for this stuff. Zegna came back, like, “Come to our store in Beverly Hills when you’re back in the U.S.” So we went over there and they were just like, “Take it.” It was literally like some Pretty Woman shit. That was years ago but I still have a lot of that stuff. I even took their grey businessman suits–like pinstripe charcoal. They’re gorgeous, kinda straight up.
WINGTIP: Where did the Handsome Boy Modeling School idea come from?
AUTOMATOR: It’s kind of a joke. I mean of course it’s a joke–I haven’t seen anything like this [checking out a Loro Piana nailhead fabric]–There’s a TV show called Get A Life, a Chris Elliott show, and there was an episode about the Handsome Boy Modeling School, one of those back-of-the-matchbook kind of things. [Collaborator Prince Paul and I] were just talking about it on the phone, and I was sitting in Tommy Boy, and the A&R guy walked by and heard me talking about it, and said, “What is that?” I said that’s me and Paul’s new group. He said, “For real? Can I hear it?” No. “I Wanna hear it.” I said, “No I was just making stuff up. We were just having fun. It’s maybe like the Hip Hop Chemical Brothers.” He said, “Sounds good. I want to hear something. Do you have anything?” No! And then Monica Lynch the President of Tommy Boy walked in and she was like, “We’ll sign it.”
WINGTIP: So you were just at the office…
AUTOMATOR: I love this [Dormeuil] Ice stuff. This is my book. This is definitely my book.
WINGTIP: Do you have any specific style inspirations?
AUTOMATOR: I’m a big fan of Serge Gainsbourg. Not so much the clothes, but the vibe of the whole thing, the lifestyle…’60s, ’70s, French, drunk, women around.
WINGTIP: On the current Deltron 3030 tour, you’re conducting.
AUTOMATOR: Yes, on the rock shows I play keyboards and drum machines, but the orchestra shows I’m conducting.
WINGTIP: And it’s real conducting?
AUTOMATOR: Here’s the thing, any kind of show, any kind of Hollywood movie, there has to be a conductor. Now, in a traditional orchestra, the conductor also dictates the tempo, but that’s only one facet of the whole thing. I’m not dictating the tempo ’cause there are [backing tracks]–well, sometimes I am because [the song] breaks down to nothing, but I am dictating the other stuff, the swing, the movement.
WINGTIP: For Deltron’s appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” [pictured above], you were wearing a tuxedo, with tailcoats, but you kept your shirt unbuttoned, and your cuffs were undone.
AUTOMATOR: I’m a no-tie kind of guy, usually. I don’t have a particular hatred of ties, I actually like ‘em. I just always, even going out in a suit or whatever, I’m not usually wearing ties. So I just keep it that way. It’s the rebel…
WINGTIP: Where’d you get the tailcoat made?
AUTOMATOR: It’s just a cheap…you know, tour stuff. I started the tour with this incredibly gorgeous shirt and I ripped it. It was this really pretty, might have been a Zegna, tuxedo shirt. It had this stripe. One of the last shows, I think Rock The Bells L.A., I ripped it. I was really mad.
WINGTIP: Have you heard about Movember?
WINGTIP: It’s a month-long event where guys grow out their mustaches in order to raise men’s health awareness. But it made me think of Handsome Boy’s fake mustaches…
AUTOMATOR: That whole thing is like a nod to the fact that it’s stupid. I kinda stopped doing that after a while–although I do still do it once in a while [laughs].
WINGTIP: You’ll be on tour in London next month. Have you had any stuff made on Saville Row before?
AUTOMATOR: No, I have not actually. I have gone through there a little bit. It’s amazing. The only thing I haven’t done yet that I really–well, I would want to get something made there, but I also really want to get a pair of shoes made. I just can’t really justify doing it. I want to do it for the production, but it’s just so expensive. I don’t mind spending good money on shoes, but I don’t know if I can go to that next level of spending money on shoes. … I used to buy watches, but it’s a bad habit so I’m trying to stop that.
WINGTIP: I was going to ask–Even when you DJ, you’ve always got a watch on.
AUTOMATOR: Yeah, I love watches.
WINGTIP: What’s your favorite?
AUTOMATOR: To be honest, it’s boring, but the Rolexes are the best ones ’cause they just don’t break. They last through everything. This [the watch he's wearing] is more of an artisinal company. FP Journe is much nicer than a Rolex, but I wouldn’t wear it out every [day]. I wouldn’t bring it out on the road. It’s a French guy from Switzerland that makes some of the best watches in the world. You got to buy them at auctions. You can buy them new, but you have to be on his list. This one is #5 of 150, you know what I mean? It has the zodiac on the outside.
WINGTIP: Are you spinning a lot in SF these days?
AUTOMATOR: I like to spin, but I never spin. My whole thing about San Francisco is I like to live here and just be around it. I don’t want to be working all the time, [though] we’re playing a show at the Fillmore on the 23rd. I used to do 30-50 shows a year, and I cut it down to maybe 10. And I should do more–’cause records don’t sell and you have to be out more.
WINGTIP: Seems like you’re pretty comfortable on the road.
AUTOMATOR: I make the best of it. I enjoy what I do on the road. All things being equal, I’d rather do records, but all things aren’t equal right now.
WINGTIP: What do you think of the state of Hip Hop right now?
AUTOMATOR: The state of Hip Hop is not as relevant as the state of music. The state of music is bad but good: No one knows how to sell a record, no one knows how to make any money, no one even knows what the good records are. But there are good records, and because everyone who has a laptop [and] the inspiration can make a record, [no one] is being stopped. That also means there are a million shitty records [but] it’s more democratic in that sense. Right now I feel it’s the Wild West out there. Would I rather get paid more? Yeah, but money is money. The fact that you can create is more important to me.
WINGTIP: What was it like picking up on Deltron after 10 years?
AUTOMATOR: I’ve been working with [collaborator Kid] Koala all the way through. We were a little frustrated that [emcee] Del [the Funky Homosapien] wasn’t ready to do it at times, but he had a good reason. The first record was a sci-fi futuristic romp, but we realized what people gravitated towards were the messages. That’s what kept it going. So you really have to be more cognizant of what you’re saying [and] that falls more on [Del]. He took that as a duty and an obligation. It was harder for him ’cause he had to sink his teeth into it, it was a bigger undertaking than he originally thought. We’re having a great time doing it, having a great time out on the road.
WINGTIP: [re: Lepanto brandy and Butera cigar pairing]. This is nice.
AUTOMATOR: I usually do, like, the Islay Scotches, smokey and smoke, which is maybe not as interesting as this contrast.
WINGTIP: Could there be another Handsome Boy record in the future? Or is it pretty much done?
AUTOMATOR: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know. We were originally signed to Tommy Boy then we ended up on Elektra, actually, which folded. Then we ended up on Atlantic. So when the second album came out, there were a lot of problems, and things we had to address ourselves. I can take a hit, like the bad hit, and accept it. Paul had been through the business more at that point, [and was] kinda tired of the industry side of stuff. We saw things little differently when it came to how much to participate. Technically, it’s still on Atlantic. We never got dropped. But now that Atlantic has changed a lot, there are more people I know there I’d be comfortable with being at the helm of the business side of it. So I wouldn’t say “Never,” but I have no idea.
Beyond this weekend’s visit to the Fillmore and an ongoing international Deltron 3030 tour, Dan’s next album is Got A Girl, a sultry outing that pairs actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Jane Birkin stylings with Dan’s Gainsbourg appeal.
Wingtip would like to thank Dan “the Automator” Nakamura for stopping by Wingtip to talk with us. We’ve been fans of his since he was releasing flexi-discs with Bomb Magazine, and have always been intrigued by his music and fashion choices. If one of Dan’s fabric picks caught your eye, make an appointment with Bespoke and we’ll suit you up in Automator fashion.