Fargo musician and DJ Josh Melby discovers deep vibes on the high sea
The Arts Partnership catches up with the former "orchestra nerd" to find out more about his approach to electronic music and production.
FARGO — After traveling the world as a cruise ship musician, Josh Melby has finally docked in Fargo.
For over eight years, Melby worked as a contract bass player and manager with different bands on commercial cruise ships, an experience that expanded his musical mind to oceanic proportions.
“I’d mostly work in the evenings, and we’d dock into ports early, so I’d get a lot of free time to get off the ship and explore,” Melby says.
Born in Bismarck, Melby, who’s also a DJ, grew up in South Dakota where he started playing and studying upright bass at age 7.
“Growing up, I was always an orchestra nerd and a seriously motivated bassist,” he says. “That’s what I wanted to do, that’s what I still do.”
After graduating high school, Melby attended Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., but enrolled at Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2009 after earning scholarships for their orchestra program.
While he learned a lot in academic settings, Melby’s experience cruising the deep blue has helped define his musical style as well as his energy for exploration.
“I’ve worked with an eclectic mix of musicians: Latin quartets from Costa Rica, Canadian or Australian soloists, playing in the rock and theater bands with people from the Philippines, Eastern Europe, the UK, or people from different regions of the United States,” Melby says. “With all the cultural variety, it was both very fun and a bit challenging to adapt my personal style.”
When he decided that he wanted to have a permanent home base, Melby’s gut instinct was to move back to Fargo. He has quickly found a place for himself on the local music scene as a musician, DJ and sound technician for several local venues, while continuing work with his production company, Mojotank Music.
Here’s more about local artist Josh Melby .
Q: What do you feel you have gained most from playing music in so many different parts of the world?
A: I think my experiences playing while traveling, and being able to travel because of my skill set, have given me a more open mindset than I would have had otherwise. I’m more receptive to other ideas and concepts on how to make music, how to write it or how it should sound. As a kid, I tried to actively learn stuff by listening to music and reading books and studying methods.
Q: While traveling as a bassist, you’ve also built a production company. Can you tell us a little about that?
A: I’ve been doing production for about 15 years. At first, I dabbled a lot in really simple electronic stuff, then added hip-hop in college when I figured out that I like to sample records. When I left the Fargo area, I met a lot of musicians but not a ton of hip-hop artists. So the whole time I’ve stayed producing as part of the small business I own, Mojotank Music. I offer production services for a lot of the friends I’ve made over time. They send me the audio files, and I provide mixing, orchestration and production services for their projects.
Q: What draws you to the production process?
A: When musicians write a song, it means coming up with lyrics, stanzas that have good rhythm, figuring out what chords go with the lyrics, and that is essentially the skeleton of the song. The producer fleshes out the song with instrumentation around what’s been written. Some of the production process can be very tedious; there can be a lot of busy work, but there are so many opportunities for creativity. You take that idea and turn it into a full-sounding piece of music. You have to figure out how to make sounds work together to conjure up a specific vibe, whether it is dark and aggressive, or chill and funky. I like to explore different ideas, and sometimes it can take me a while to find something that I feel is appropriate for the song, but I think that’s where the love of the process starts to take hold.
With producing, and especially in the electronic stuff I do, I get the most fulfillment out of coming up with the small parts that make a track “swim,” as I like to call it. These would be auxiliary drum patterns, percussion loops or finding effects to move the track along. With electronic music, you need small changes over time to keep people engaged in the listening process, so I try to come up with a cool drum pattern or a sick bassline first; that’s the beefy, meat-and-potatoes part of the sound and that’s really exciting, but I like to dive deep into the details, something I like to call “ear candy.”
When everything is recorded, I mix the tracks and get them to sit in the stereo image, the left and right ears and the perceived space between the two, and put things in their proper place. Once that’s done, you create depth with things like reverb and delay. Being creative with these aspects of the mix is a really enjoyable and fun part of the process.
Q: Now that you are settled in Fargo, what’s next for you?
A: Catch me doing sound with Dempsey’s, The Aquarium and with Livewire. I’ve been playing bass with the Minnesota songwriting powerhouse duo, The Jensen Sisters, and am excited to have more gigs with them around the region. I also have a residency doing the DJ thing at the Jasper Hotel every Monday evening, as well, and I’m usually practicing beat-matching at Front Street most Thursday nights for their “Vinyl & Vino” series.
TAP partner and community content contributor Brandi Malarkey is a multi-disciplinary artist, writer, administrator and occasional hot mess. She is a collector of dead bugs and good books, and a believer that ordinary miracles and small kindnesses have the power to change the world. Learn more about Brandi on her website: www.itsallmalarkey.com.