Dakota Suite has been a really important band for me in the last 20 years, right from the first album. You’ve remained fairly unique over the years. If you had to pick one album to represent you – which one would it be?
Why thank you so much for taking the time to follow what we have been up to. That’s a tough question, right from the start I wanted to marry all my interests and meld them through what I do. I have been listening to Mingus a lot recently, and something he said in his biography really struck me. Basically he was always portrayed as a ‘jazz’ musician but he didn’t recognise himself in that term and found it too restrictive. Now don’t misunderstand me, I am not in any way comparing myself to Mingus, but I feel very similar about music as I hear in Mingus’s thoughts, that is, I love a lot of different types of music and from the beginning people always had issues with what ‘box’ we fitted into, as such we just got left by the wayside as people couldn’t move past that we weren’t ‘Americana’ or ‘singer-songwriter’…or whatever. When I started this journey I only thought I’d get the chance to make those first three EPs and I wanted to make sure it was a blend of slow pensive reflective balladeering, classically tinged instrumentals and more cinematic stuff. I have just carried on with that really, for me it’s always a very cathartic thing, and each record tells the story essentially of what is has cost me to live in that period. The one that means the most to me is generally the one I am working on right now, I rarely listen to anything I have recoded after it’s been delivered to the pressing plant. Then it’s just wistfulness and remorse about what could have been. As such it’s hard to pick one out of all of them, but for the sake of the question, I’d pick ‘Waiting for the Dawn…’ because it’s a nice blend of songs and arrangements, I like the fact that it has female vocalists on there too, and I honestly think it represents my best writing in that setting. It’s one of the reasons I have shied away from writing another ‘singing’ record as I didn’t want to do things like that record anymore, you know, bass/guitar/drums/pedal steel, that kind of thing. I didn’t want to repeat that sound again, feeling I’d taken that as far as I could really.
You’re a ‘career artist’ with a body of work (albums) that evolves over a few years. With your album count into double figures, how does it feel to be one of those artists?
You know, as I said in my first answer, I honestly never thought I’d ever get to make one album let alone this many!!! I really didn;t feel the world needed more Dakota Suite, I mean listen to Tom Waits or Bill Evans or Arvo Part or John Coltrane. The truth is already there, we don’t need paler imitations of what is already the core of any human truth I know. But…my songs are all cathartic exercises, so I never casually play any instruments for fun or any other sociable reason, my instruments exist only to get the sadness and terror out from inside me, otherwise I am wholly confident I’d be dead by now. It really is that important to me, the fact that I get feedback about what I am doing is really helpful for me as I feel so separated from the word in everyday settings, it becomes too much for me to bear. I still don’t feel what I do is necessary for others to hear, but I know I need to keep singing these songs and writing these little soundtracks to the images in my heart, for Johanna (his wife), because I need to do all I can to let her know how I feel inside. I owe her that after the price she pays for being with me. In a wider sense I am really happy with how I’ve developed as a writer and how blessed I have been to be able to work with genuine heroes of mine like Tim Mooney (who sadly died a few weeks ago…) from American Music Club and David Darling, as well as making new friends along the way like Emanuele Errante and Quentin Sirjacq, these are brothers cut from the same wood who feel pain deeply as do I, and it helps when I am working with sympathetic people cognitively and emotionally speaking, because I tend to express myself to other musicians like this, for example when I was making ‘The North Green Down’ with Emanuele, which is about the death of my sister-in-law, I said things to him like:
“Emanuele, what I need is for you to imagine that you are in a hospice seeing your loved one for the last time, yet you hide meekly behind a curtain for her strength is immense and you do not wish for her to see you weeping – now play please”.
Finally, I just feel that I know what I am doing a little bit at this point, regarding the craft and how to really strip things down to their Bill Evans style critical bits, leaving all the other things out, as Miles said, it’s knowing what NOT to play that is the important thing.
What are some of your favourite albums by other artists, ideally a mixture of stuff you’ve always liked and more recent discoveries?
Oh Jeez I always hate this. I listen to such little ‘modern’ or ‘pop’ music. I essentially listen to Jazz most of the time, or classical, both old and new. So, well, in no particular oder, this is just what I have been listening to this week, let’s see what that shows…
Charles Mingus – Ah Um
Aaron Parks – Invisible Cinema (come on make another please!!!!!)
Bernardo Sassetti – Alice (amazing soundtrack – RIP Bernardo!)
Gang Starr – Moment of Truth
Charles Aznavour – Hier Encore
Chet baker – It Could Happen to You
Cymbals – Mr. Noone Special
Charles Lloyd – The Water Is Wide
Debussy – Images I & II
Kiss – Unmasked
Strauss – Four Last Songs
Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul
Elena Karaindrou – Trojan Women
Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor
Favourite records ever? So many to mention, but this one….
Tabula rasa by arvo part…is the one I’d keep above all others.
New things, well I bought that lovely Paul Buchanan CD (shame it gets a bit samey by the end!!!). I have also been listening to the new Bertrand Burgalat CD (Toutes Directions) as I really love him. I have been an avid AA Bondy fan since the start so I got that ‘Believers’ cd, which is lovely. I am on speaking terms with the fantastic Akira Kosemura so I got his new one, Manon, which is really beautiful as is everything he does. I can’t get enough of that ‘A Winged Victory for the Sullen’ record, I know that it’s not that new, but it is for me:-) I also have been listening to the De La Mancha record a lot this year, I pushed a few labels really hard until one of them released ‘the end of music’…I know already it’s going to be the best thing I hear all year, or next. I am really liking Hanne Huckleberg with each record she makes, and ‘Featherbrain’ is just incredible. Trust me, I could go on and on and on……
2011 was a fairly remarkable year for you by any standards, with the release of 3 albums. Was that a happy accident or did you plan it that way?
Not really, it just depends on how I am feeling and how much I need to create to get through those moments. This past year has been complicated emotionally and I have been writing a LOT. The main struggle for me when I have created something is that (even though it doesn’t appear that way) I am really resistant to releasing it. I just feel the world doesn’t need more of this, it seems self indulgent and narcissistic and I just hate the way it makes me feel but the kind feedback and emotional responses I get from people really move me, it’s almost like group therapy:-). I also always have so many ideas and feel the strain of having to give in to each voice I hear inside. However having said that I have a project with Dag Rosenqvist and Machinefabriek on the go, a follow up to the ‘Inexhaustible Heart’ with Quentin, this time using only brass and wind instruments, Buko (David Buxton) and I are making a collaborative record with the Japanese band ‘Vampillia’ who are quite something, trust me. It’s a nice time creatively and I am just grateful I can do this and have this gift be inside me for me to obey. I feel I have little choice but to get the music out of me…..last night I was writing a new piece for the brass record and it was really difficult as I was constantly distracted by melody whilst trying to get to sleep. Often a song plays with you from afar revealing itself slowly, and that can be maddening! I always have a lot of stuff on the go, it’s just whether I decide to put it out for not…..sometimes things are just for me to hear and ingest!
Your forthcoming album, An Almost Silent Life, is your first vocal album in 5 years. Do you approach vocal albums differently to the instrumental works or is it the same principle?
Well that’s not strictly true, my last record ‘The Side of Her Inexhaustible Heart’ had songs with my voice on there, but sure it’s my first conventional band record in that time. For me it’s the same, sometimes things happen in my life where I need to get them out and often things are so painful or private so that I cannot or do not feel like writing words to them, sometimes I only hear brass or strings, then it’s easy. The singing thing has become less and less important to me as I don’t think I have a good voice and I find writing lyrics which balance meaning and timbre to be complicated and limiting at times. For me the creation of a song is always the same. My whole career in music I have said the same thing when asked about the songwriting ‘process’, for me it is 100% catharsis. I have a couple of lovely guitars and I NEVER play them at all for ‘pleasure’, that is I would never dream of picking it up to practice or to play a song by say the Beatles just for fun. For me the guitars and piano I have access to serve only as a means to convey pain and get something out from inside, which I know will overwhelm me if I don’t find a means of channeling it into life. On such occasions it becomes a serious issue for me, if I can’t get to an instrument I start to become quite agitated. Mainly I would say that the singing records serve as a means of communicating my sense of shame and self loathing to Johanna in a direct way. It has become every very important to me to let her know how much I love her and how sad I am that she pays such a heavy cost for loving me and keeping me alive. I am so lucky to have her, she is a lovely lovely woman and I’d hate to think of waking up without her by my side. It is really important that all these small films in my head about our day to day life are choreographed and orchestrated as I dont often say ‘i love you’ to her due to my mother being emotionally and cognitively abusive (amongst other things) so I mistrust casual statements of love, so it becomes really critical for me to create meaningful ways of showing Johanna that I love and care for her, the music is my only real offering to her where I speak directly to her from my shame behind a curtain, very gingerly.
You’ve collaborated more frequently with other artists in recent years, how is this working out for you?
Well as I said in an earlier answer, the collaboration thing is really important I think at this point. I am always really unsure as to anything I make being any good or serving any purpose, so working with others who seem to be floating in the same currents as you can be really helpful, it brings a new way of looking at things and a different energy. For example on this new record ‘An Almost Silent Life’ there are songs which are super super fragile, even for me!…to the point where my drummer (John Shepard) stops a take we are doing and says, “man I just can’t play on this, it’s so quiet and lovely with your guitar and quiet voice, and it gets to a point where you are dropping below 40 beats per minute…I just don’t think I can do this”, and I can be really sensitive about whether I can release them and then there are songs which are inspired by my love of stuff like Four Tet, I consciously tried to imagine if Kieren Hebden and I collaborated what that would sound like…..I am really proud of the result, so for me imagining such collaborations of actually taking part in them is great as I tend to be insular to the point of not using my voice for days on end or seeking out conversation or meaningful engagement with others, and I tell you, that place gets very dark and foreboding very quickly if you stay there for too long, which I have a habit of doing. I get to have relationships with people like David Darling, Emanuele Errante, Quentin Sirjacq, Machinefabriek and Nils Frahm etc and I don’t take that lightly, it’s a real privilege to be able to call on any of those guys for help. It also helps that I have had David (Buxton) in the band with me for so long, I can be very quietly dominating, my energy can be quiet but very very intimidating and David has known me for a long long time and has VERY different tastes to mine, so I will be speaking with him and be speaking of my love for a Mingus tune, and he’ll be saying how great that is but then telling me how he’s totally turned on by some obscure Swedish death metal band or some slick creamy hip hop which he loves. It’s really important to bring those other sensibilities into things and meld them to your will. Plus it does aid me that in my view David is a total genius and has so much to do with shaping the cinematic stuff around the singing stuff in particular. He is amazing at arranging brass and playing a range of instruments sympathetically.
What’s your opinion on music right now, any albums jump out at you this year?
Because of my involvement with De La Mancha I have a special love of that record and I do genuinely feel it will be the best record this ear offers us (‘The End of Music’ on Karaoke Kalk), however generally speaking I listen to so little new music as I don’t listen to radio at all, watch any TV or read any music journals I am not at all aware of what’s happening out there bar what David brings to my attention, he’s very aware of everything so I know if anything is worth me hearing he will bring it to my attention. I really like the left field home classical field with people like Ólafur Arnalds, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter and folk like that. I also really liked that Céu record ‘Caravana Sereia Bloom’ for lightness and cheeriness in the summer but mainly I have been staying with mid fifties to late sixties jazz.
Tell me about your forthcoming tour of Europe…
IF it happens that is, it’s proved to be very hard for us to get shows due to the economics of it all and we haven’t played as a regular band for quite a while so I guess we are off the radar, BUT if it does happen you’ll get a bit of everything, some solo guitar singing stuff, some band stuff, some instrumental stuff al played to a backdrop of a lovely slideshow. I am really anxious about playing because each time I play any of the songs it’s like I am reliving the emotions that caused me to write the songs, almost like post traumatic stress, I find it very painful. However if there isn’t a Euro tour there will definitely be the live release show in Leeds (in October), I hate playing in the UK particularly, nobody goes to see bands anymore and we are so culturally moribund in this country it makes me really sad when you see how Europeans embrace all forms of culture and art. Also playing to people I know will be hard but I really want my friends and family to see it one time before I stop this live thing, which will surely be the case in the next few years. It will be quiet but there will also be screaming and genuine fear on show to the audience.
What’s next for Dakota Suite?
Well as I said we have the collaboration with Japanese noise/chamber orchestra band ‘Vampillia’ coming, the brass/wind project with Quentin Sirjacq, I have the three way collaboration with Dag Rosenqvist and Machinefabriek happening as we speak and I am trying to get something going with Emanuele around cello parts with David Darling. In addition to that I was watching the danish show ‘Borgen’ last week and there was an episode on that about a state visit to Greenland, and there’s a section in there where they are looking out from the Inuit cemetery in Siorapaluk, Northwest Greenland discussing the 20% suicide rate in young men in the region, and then the tribal leader says ’they call this place Nakkartaffic – the place where they fall off’ and I just stopped the image on the mac and my heart fell and then I felt the music stir up in me and promptly started recording a piece about how that image and statement resonated within me.