One of the premises of this column is that everyone has a story to tell. Recently I was chatting with the bartender at Toasted Walnut and was surprised to find that she is actually a Grammy-credited music engineer, who’s working at the bar as she works on growing her own record label.
PGN: Where are you from?
DY: All over the place. I was born in Sayer, a little town in Pennsylvania, and then when I was 3 months old the family moved to California. I was there until my parents split when I was 6 and then we lived in Northern PA, Tioga County, Quakertown, all over Philly, Pittsburgh, Florida and Jersey. But I tell people I’m from Pennsylvania.
PGN: Are you from a military family?
DY: [Laughs] No, everyone asks that. Just a product of divorce, multiple times.
PGN: Favorite song as a child?
DY: I grew up on Michael Jackson like most people from that time period. As a teen, I started getting into the grunge scene — that was the early ’90s. Then I was into the rave scene and later I expanded my horizon and started listening to anything and everything.
PGN: What did you want to be when you grew up?
DY: When I was really little, I wanted to be an oceanographer until I found out how deep they go into the ocean, which was terrifying. Then I wanted to be an astronaut until I realized how far they had to travel. Then I entered teenage-land and I wanted to be a rock star. Later, as things unfolded, I realized that I wasn’t going to be a rock star but I was able to find other passions within the music field. I’m actually becoming the person I never thought I could be and yet I’m still the same person I always was. If that makes sense.
PGN: Tell me a little about it.
DY: I was working with a lot of other people in different bands but by the time I was 24, I was done … done with people, done with annoying bands. I know I’m good at producing and I’m good at engineering; I’m going to pursue that and see what happens. I went to New York City and started pursuing a profession working with people like Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Esperanza Spalding, Björk and even classical musicians like Yoyo Ma. I got two Grammy credits while I was in New York, though it wasn’t until I was back in Philly for two years that I found out that a few projects that I’d worked on had won Grammys. That was pretty cool.
PGN: Indeed! What was your role?
DY: When Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist, I was basically the second engineer on the album that got her the award. I was assisting the engineer but we worked pretty evenly on the project. He did all the mixing and recording but I did most of the technical work, cleaning up all the pops and clicks and stuff.
PGN: Explain that in laymen’s terms. I’m picturing you at one of those giant boards with all the knobs on it.
PGN: So do you really know what all of the knobs and toggles do?
DY: [Laughs] Yes! For the most part, they tend to duplicate each other so if you know what one means, you’re going to know what they all mean across the board. So yes, at this point in life I’d better know what they all mean. It’s all about signal flow.
PGN: Signal flow?
DY: Yes, it’s the most important part of all when you’re on the technical side. It’s kind of like, if you have a problem, how you work to fix it. So if you’re setting up a mic or anything and it’s not working, instead of freaking out and trying all these things in between, you start where it starts. You start at the outlet or with a mic. You think, OK, that works, and you follow the signal through its paths until you find the problem. In engineering, it’s one of the most important concepts to grasp.
PGN: I hosted karaoke and would freak out when someone would think it was cute to “drop the mic” after singing.
DY: No one would do that around me. I’d kill them!
PGN: Anything else that bugs you?
DY: I have one artist who has a habit of taking the cord from the headphones and twisting it around his finger when he’s recording. It’s strenuous on the cord and I keep trying to tell him we’ll have to replace the cord if he continues to do it. And he says, “I can’t help it, I’ve always done it.”
PGN: You need to get him some rosary beads, or maybe a fidget spinner.
DY: Right! That’s a good idea.
PGN: What was one of your best experiences in the studio?
DY: Most of my past experiences in New York were good. One of the best times was at Thanksgiving in 2008. I was in a studio with Lucie Arnaz, Lucille Ball’s daughter. We were in the studio with her for a whole week working on her “Latin Roots” album. That was a really cool experience because my mom really loved “I Love Lucy.” We used to watch it together and there I was sitting in a room with her daughter. It was pretty cool. Now, I’d say the coolest thing is that I have my own label and it’s finally at a point where I’m starting to make money from what I love to do. Just because you get the Grammy credits, it doesn’t mean you’re making the Grammy money.
PGN: I know that drill. I was on a local TV show five days a week and still made more money tending bar.
DY: Yeah, I’ve always done a little of this and that: bartending, whatever was needed. Thankfully because of Denise here at Toasted Walnut, in addition to bartending, she’s let me start DJing and putting on different event nights. It’s a great opportunity for me to do new things.
PGN: That must be satisfying.
DY: Definitely; I love being in a position to make other people’s dreams come true. I’m 36 now and there are people who are 21, 22, just getting started just like I was. They have no idea of what to do or where to go and there are a lot of people who will take advantage of it. It’s a nice feeling to know that I’m trustworthy and honest in all that I do so I can lead them in the right direction.
PGN: Who’s the biggest diva you’ve worked with?
DY: I never think about that. I just always have a good time. Well, then again when I was in New York, we’d work long hours and it was usually the managers of the stars who were obnoxious to work with. I remember one time we had one guy — he was actually on “American Idol” — and as it got late he fell asleep. As an engineer, you’re not supposed to give any creative input; just do your job and keep your ideas to yourself. It’s not your dollar and if you have an idea that the artist thinks they like and you spend two hours on it, the next day when they decide they hate it, you’re going to get blamed and possibly charged for the time. But back to the manager guy … We’d been working all night while he nodded off in the chair. About 9 in the morning he woke up and was being a real dick. I had to be like, “Dude! We’ve been working on this for 12 hours. Give me a break.”
PGN: Yeah, I’ve found that it’s usually not the stars but the people around them that are problematic.
DY: True, but you can get some real knucklehead artists too, folks who come in hours late and don’t give a damn. [One guy] was a real jerk; he was late, he wasted everyone’s time and then didn’t want to pay for his studio time. He banged chicks in the control room and at the same time would display a picture of his son and talk about how he was a man of God. He was annoying.
PGN: What’s the name of your production company?
DY: It’s Nice Rack Records, LLC. That comes from a rack of gear, not a rack of tits! It’s from a school project when we were putting all the gear in a studio and I drew a diagram so everyone could see how it should be set up and everyone kept commenting, “Oh, those are nice racks.” The phrase stuck with me and 10 years later when I started my business, I took the name. I also trademarked the phrase, “Music is our hero,” which is our motto. My team is called “The Cape Squad.” We have a whole hero theme going because music, for me at least — with the energy and focus it takes to create it — saves me from getting in trouble.
PGN: So you have your own studio and everything?
DY: Yes, I own all the equipment and we do a lot of vocal recording, mixing, mastering and we can even do live tracking as well. I’m all about working with the artist and being as pocket-friendly as possible. I’m not about squeezing every dime out of someone. I just want to figure out what’s best for the music and how we can get it done.
PGN: That’s beautiful. How long have you been at Toasted Walnut?
DY: I started here the third week it was open. Denise and I go back to Sisters days. She told me about trying to find a new place and last November she said, “This is it, it’s going to happen.” It’s nice because she’s letting me put on some open-mic nights, I’m deejaying now and soon I’ll be bringing in some cool live performers on Sundays for “Live on Walnut.” I’m really excited about it.
PGN: You moved around a lot. Where were you when you came out?
DY: Let’s see, that would have been back in 1912. [Laughs] Just kidding, it was a real process for me. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness so I was super-religiously raised, but luckily at 14, my mom said, “You can do what you want, you don’t have to follow this religion if you don’t want.” At about 17 I started realizing, Chicks are hot! And I started hanging posters of girls on my wall. That’s when I started comprehending thoughts and feelings that I’d had at 10 but just didn’t know what to do with. I had to un-brainwash myself from all the religious stuff I’d been fed for so many years. I did a lot of experimenting for a long time trying to find out who I was and who I wanted to be and be with.
PGN: If I recall, the Jehovahs aren’t particularly music-friendly.
DY: They’re not particularly world-friendly. I mean, most of my family are still Witnesses and I love them, but organized religion is not my thing. They don’t celebrate any holidays, they don’t celebrate birthdays, they only date within their congregation and of course homosexuality is taboo. They’re very sheltered and secluded and that’s how I grew up. Though when we moved to California — that’s when my parents split up; we moved back east with my mother and spent summers on the West Coast with my dad — that’s when music really came into my life and was my saving grace. That’s why I feel, even now, that music is my hero. It’s so important to me. That’s why I own that sentence.
PGN: I can see why it would mean so much to you.
DY: Yeah, the Jehovahs don’t like anything associated with the outside world. They don’t do politics, they don’t vote, nothing that has to do with the world at large.
PGN: I recently read in someone’s biography — and I can’t remember whose — that they don’t believe in the military because God is the only one they will fight for. The person was saying that when he was in jail, he made friends with a lot of Jehovahs who were conscientious objectors.
DY: Yup, no military, no blood transfusions or organ donating, nothing. They’re hardcore.
PGN: So what is your coming-out story?
DY: I don’t think I ever had a coming-out moment. I think they all kind of knew. I guess the first time I ever made out with a chick was when I was 18. It was the first time I had a real chick crush and went after it. But she told me I was a psycho, so that didn’t work out!
PGN: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s not a good start. So tell me a little about what’s new or happening here at Toasted Walnut.
DY: Well, Eagles fans should come here to watch the game; we have our wall of 70-inch big-screen TVs to watch the game. We always have a great happy hour with $3 drinks and beer, and Tuesday nights we do “Tequila, Tacos and Trivia.” We have karaoke night on Thursdays and Friday and Saturday are our dance-party nights. Nov. 11 is going to be a big party with go-go girls and Jell-O shots and a prize giveaway every hour. We have a great Sunday brunch now with $3 classic mimosas, and a cool build-your-own Bloody Mary bar. There’s a yellow cart loaded with everything from steak to shrimp to olives, cheese, pepperoni. You can pick which liquor you want, decide if you want it spicy or not, with salt rim, Old Bay rim, you name it. It’s really popular.
PGN: And what do you enjoy about working there?
DY: I love the people I work with and the atmosphere. I love all of us on the fringe of life coming together in a peaceful party. There’s not a lot of uptight vibes here. It’s always a good time and because of the way Denise runs things, it’s a clean bar, efficient and well-run. There’s no nonsense tolerated here. We just have fun.
PGN: Other than music, what do you do when you’re away from here?
DY: Ha. Other than music? Hang out with my girlfriend and our cats. We have three of them: Babes, Pops and Moms.
PGN: Have you ever been in a parade?
DY: Pride 2016 I rocked out with the Toasted Walnut crew in the parade. That was a lot of fun. I look forward to next year’s.
PGN: Most people have a favorite story or experience that they like to share. What’s yours?
DY: Back in December 2010, I was just chillin’ watching the Grammy nomination show. Next thing you know, an album I worked on for Esperanza Spalding, “Chamber Music Society,” was up on the screen for Best New Artist. I was blown away I had my first Grammy nomination under my belt. And she ended up winning the award at the Grammys.
For more information about Nice Rack, visit https://www.nicerackllc.com. For more information about Toasted Walnut, visit www.toastedwalnut.com.