The Art Of Dreaming Part 1
Story online since: 23.02.2012 / 18:22:55
Sunset over Tierra del Fuego. Just back from sailing to Antarctica. Spouting humpback whales, yawning leopard seals and calving glaciers in my dreams. Lamb in my guts, Mothlite in my ears. The world is such an incredible place. If you havenít yet, make sure you get out there and see some of it while youíre able.
When I first met Daniel OíSullivan a few years ago I hadnít yet heard any of his music, but I immediately liked him as a person. And so a few days later before heading out to a remote field camp to study the salmon run, I purchased three albums from groups he was active with at the time and brought them with me Ė Guapo, Aethenor, and Mothlite. I thought that if Ulver was bringing this guy into the mix, he must be worth a listen. And of course he is. In fact, heís the man. A truly multidimensional and widely-talented dude.
When you first learn about how many projects heís been involved with (Miasma & The Carousel of Headless Horses, Guapo, Aethenor, Miracle, Grumbling Fur, Ulver, & Mothlite among others), youíre impressed by the sheer number of groups but you think there has to be a quantity vs. quality issue. Fear not. This guy doesnít half-ass anything. Everything he does has direction, vision, and itís own singular identity. High-grade stuff. From weird gypsy rock to visionary Italian dream-disco, Daniel is bringing the ruckus.
And his new Mothlite album, Dark Age, set to be released in April 2012, is no exception. A bright departure from The Flax of Reverie, youíll hear it compared to some of the best lasting music that came out of the 80ís Ė Kate Bush, Tears for Fears, Talk Talk, and The Cocteau Twins. A great foundation to start with, but with repeated listens youíll find it to contain so much more, like all things of enduring quality.
Here is a chat I had with Daniel a while ago, covering a wide range of things related to his music and his life. Always a pleasure to be around, Iím as happy sitting in his studio listening to Magma and chatting away as I am watching an orca toss a penguin in the air.
-Seth Beaudreault, 12 February 2012.
You had sang just a little on the last Guapo album, a bit on The Flax of Reverie, but this new Mothlite album is definitely vocally-oriented. Has it been a big journey for you to become a frontman and vocalist?
Yeah because my voice was quite reserved before, even on ĎFlax of Reverieí, I hadnít quite let go. I remember how I felt that my voice just wasnít capable of certain things, and maybe it wasnít, maybe it comes with practice. And about becoming a frontman, Iím not particularly at ease with that, and Iíll create lots of smoke and mirrors to conceal that Ė Iím a bit conflicted when it comes to all that. But Iím conflicted generally, Iím a conflicted person.
Being in Ulver now, have you got much vocal advice from Kris?
Not really, you know thereís a big difference in the way we pronounce words. He has the Norwegian thing where they slightly Americanise their rís, and Iíve got the English thing where I say it with Englishness. Weíre quite different in the way we sing. I think our voices compliment each other, but weíve definitely got different approaches. However Kristoffer is definitely one of my favourite singers. I love his voice.
Well I dig your voice, I think itís great. It reminds me of Tears for Fears in a way, not in the particular tone or anything, but just being a lone man belting it out clearly, without any breathy throat Jack Johnson bullshit or anything.
Thatís what I like. I donít like too much affectation, like when somebody overdoes it on the vibrato or when someone sings out of their natural range all the time. I like it to come from the stomach and out, and not to think too much about it. I think itís a better platform for creating harmonies as well. If your voice is more of just a pure tone, itís preferable for layering it up. And I love Tears for Fears.
In a Mothlite performance a while ago you had this red stringy stuff around your neck - what is that thing you were adorned with?
I gathered most of these feathers, me and my housemate Serena, and she kind of put it together. Itís just feathers from all around here, and the mountains in Spain (donated by Ian Johnstone), and some red sequined fabric and these old twine belts thatíve been dyed red.
You got any bald eagle feathers on there?
Nah itís mostly guinea fowl and seagulls and you know, domestics. Itís an ongoing project, an accumulation of the creatures of the sky.
And it doesnít fall apart while youíre hot-footing around onstage?
Well occasionally I lose the odd feather Ė the ones that got away.
You had played with Isis a few years back. Now that youíve done a few headlining shows around London, whatís the crowd reaction been like in comparison?
I donít think people quite know what to expect anymore. Weíve led them up a garden of forking paths. With Isis, it was a test of our mettle, and it was a bit awkward because their fans were obviously not there to see what we do. I think people were a bit perplexed, but it was good for us, I think it was a bit of a trial by fire but we got through it.
And what about at the Supersonic Festival?
Well we were the poppiest band there, which is weird for me, as I'm usually one of the furthest afield, but I think it went well, I think we put on a good show, though itís hard to tell. I donít know how the worldís going to receive this new Mothlite record.
Mothlite. Photo credits: Kerry O'Sullivan.
Itís strange in that I canít think of who it should be marketed towards. Itís so different from the previous record, and all your other bands.
In a lot of ways itís more all-encompassing, it could attract more people, but it depends on the sort of channels it comes out through. In a way though Iíll be glad to see the back of it, because it has been a "Dark Age".
Do you have any big tour plans or little shows here and there?
Weíll tour when the recordís out. We havenít really had the opportunity to play sequentially and get real chemistry to improve as a live band. I think thatís something we need. Even with the four or five Isis gigs we noticed we were really cooking by the end. So I think the band will improve a lot after a big hefty tour Ė it certainly happened that way with Ulver. After that February MMX tour we were a much better band.
Do you think youíll head even more into the world of pop than Mothlite and Miracle?
Well, Miracle has become quite poppy. Itís just one part of the palette, one interest that I like exploring.
A lot of the songs on Dark Age grab the listener quite easily, like the rhythm of the song ĎThe Bloodí, is just killer. Itís very edible, and infectious. As well the piano basslines of ĎSomething in the Skyí and ĎSeeing in the Darkí. Most of your other bands have these really dissonant or atonal parts, parts which are difficult to listen to, and this record really gets away from that Ė itís really immediately pleasant to listen to.
Well that was definitely an intentional move, to make a slick, swish sounding record. Whether or not Iíll immediately want to throw myself into a full scale pop record, I donít know Ė maybe I will. I think Mothlite has become an outlet for whateverís going on in my life on quite a personal level, so whatever the accompaniment is, it will be something that feels appropriate. Itís the closest thing Iíve ever had to being a solo vehicle. Even with Miasma, which I created, I feel like I was fuelling a fire that was already there, and Iíd have to go into that mindset to create another Miasma record. I think it would be wrong to suddenly make a Miasma record that sounded like Lee Scratch Perry, if I just took it wherever I wanted to, but with Mothlite I feel like I can do that. Donít worry, Iím not gonna make a reggae album with Mothlite, but itís malleable, itís more chameleonic and itís a happier place to be Ė and Iím happier being there, as well.
The field recording thatís at the beginning of "Seeing In The DarkĒ Ė did you guys record that somewhere locally?
Yeah, Anttiís house was next to a school and the kids were out playing during playground time. We just stuck the mic out the window and recorded it.
There were a couple bird calls on there I was trying to identify.
Yeah! He actually lives in a semi-rough neighborhood, and we were amazed it sounded sort of idyllic Ė in the heart of Kilburn.
Obviously The Flax of Reverie had some pretty heavy influence from Talk Talkís ĎSpirit of Edení and ĎLaughing Stockí Ė Iím thinking of one song, ĎNeverbegoodwoodí in particular, and itís interesting to me that your new Mothlite album has at times more of a ĎColour of Springí type of feel, with the hooks and the bass piano riffs Ė do you love all of Talk Talkís stuff?
I do, actually. I donít listen much to their first couple of albums, but there are a few tracks from them I really like. I just admire the evolution of that band, and I think itís logical, itís easy to see as those more impressionistic ideas coming in. ĎSpirit of Edení doesnít seem that sudden to me. I donít think I would have been surprised, if I was a fan of Talk Talk when that came out, after ĎColour of Springí Ė some of the arrangements on that one are much more spaced out, much more minimalistic. ĎSpirit of Edení is just a lot more elaborate, a lot more careful Ė but definitely a demarcation point. You can really feel that it was a real conviction of Hollis to make an uncompromising record Ė to the point where they were sued by EMI for producing a willfully uncommercial album. EMI lost of course.
Miasma & The Carousel of Headless Horses. Photo courtesy of Kerry O'Sullivan.
Braying jackasses. What do you think Mark Hollis is up to these days, working on Ianís bee farm?
Hah, no Ė I wish! I donít think heís really mother natureís son. He lives in Wimbledon, I think, and a friend of mine saw him going into a delicatessen there, stocking up on his organic bits and pieces, but I donít think he roughs it in the wilderness.
Do you think heís separated from making music?
I canít imagine so. It appears that heís withdrawn from commercial music, the idea of putting out albums, but who knows Ė he might resurface. I donít believe the Wikipedia entry that says heís a retired musician Ė heís an artist and when youíre an artist you donít just stop. Heís probably at home hitting one note on his piano over and over.
Exactly. If you ran into him at the deli, would you say something?
Iíve always dreamt of running into him, Iíve actually had dreams about it. (I sound like a total stalker). I remember once being in Wimbledon Common and I thought I saw him jog past and I ran over and almost stopped this guy skidding on the gravel Ė then I realised it wasnít him and pulled away. But what I would have said, I have no idea.
Someday heíll be doing sit-ups in the park and as he comes up from one youíll be right there in his face.
Iíd have to relent to complete fanboydom, Iíd have to.
Well, youíve been a father for a while now - whatís it like?
Itís the same, but everything that previously felt significant has been eclipsed completely. Thereís this weird sense that everythingís got a bit lighter. Lightened by the fact that sheís just around.
Can you just simply tell me about the place where you grew up?
Well I grew up in Manchester originally, at least for the first 10 or 11 years of my life. Home of the Bee Gees.
And then moved to London, moved to Richmond and went to school in Wimbledon until I was 18. I donít know, what kind of info are you trying to prise out of me? Boring stuff?
Hah, no Iím just genuinely curious about the basic characteristics of the location in which you were raised.
Well, Industrial North for a while but in a strange family setup where I was kind of passed around quite a lot. So I didnít live exclusively with my mother, I kind of lived with my uncles, my aunts, my grandmother. I had a communal upbringing, to all intents and purposes. But then I got into a bit of trouble at quite a young age and got into a couple of hairy situations Ė had my stomach pumped from alcohol abuse at the age of 11. And got really badly beaten up and then I was plucked from Manchester by my uncle who was living in London. So I moved in with him and he was always a cultural point of reference for me. He introduced me to everything that was interesting to me as a kid. I would get up in the morning and he would read Greek mythology and Edgar Allan Poe. Weíd look at William Blake paintings and watch Marx Brother movies, and he was generally quite an inspiring person to be around. I watched a lot of great foreign films with him. He involved me in creative pursuits Ė like he would start by drawing a monster on a piece of paper and he would say, "OK, you come up with a character to interact with this creatureĒ so I would draw Pegasus or something flying down and it would just sprawl out from there. And anyway, then I went to University and dropped out, went back to a different University and a graduated a bit later on. I started studying literature and dropped out of that course, started playing music a lot in the interim Ė thatís when I really got heavily into working on Guapo and Miasma. And then started another course in Sound Art when I was 24 or something.
So you switched from Literature to Sound Art?
Yeah, which was probably a mistake. But I exhausted myself in Literature because I really enjoyed my A Level, I had a great English tutor and I read all the time anyway. But when it came to further analysis at degree-level I just ran out of steam, I just wanted to be on tour. Touring commitments were demanding and I had just met my girlfriend at that time who eventually became my wife and so that was kind of a distraction. A lot happened at once.
Here we will take a short break, and leave you, Daniel and Seth hanging in suspended animation for a week... take care!