Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Artist Interview: Dustin Swinney


Photo: Royce Jackson Wagner


There is an exciting polarity to Dustin Swinney's music that is both decadent and minimal. He is a talented singer and you can hear the focus and sincerity in his voice. I look forward to seeing what's next for him. Be sure to check out his Soundcloud page (http://soundcloud.com/swinneyswinney) and watch out for upcoming events. Thank you for the conversation Dustin!


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To get things started could you tell us where you are from and what drew you to creating music?

I was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and I was raised in a small town an hour outside of Nashville, Tennessee called Waverly. My Dad was a tour manager and studio assistant in the late 70’s/early 80’s in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and he was obsessed with music. I can’t remember a time growing up where music wasn’t being played or listened to. I was certainly a weird attention starved little kid and singing was a way to get adults to notice me; once I realized that there was no turning back.



How do you go about writing a song? Do you write the lyrics first or does that come later?

I am always writing in my journal and sometimes I will pull lyrics from there. Other times I will record a melody on my phone and match lyrics to the melody at a later date. If I’m working with producers I am often sent a full/fleshed out track and the melody will be inspired by their music. When I’m producing I will come up with a simple beat, or synth line, and free style over it; fleshing out the details as I go along. I’ve learned there isn’t a method to my madness and I try to let songs form as naturally as possible.


Do you go through a period of frustration with each project or does it unfold pretty naturally?

For me, if a song or project doesn’t unfold naturally I know it’s time to walk away for a while. The songs I’ve written I love most have happened organically. Granted, some songs require a little more attention than others, but if the core of a song doesn’t happen naturally then I know it isn’t going to work. Some tracks sit on my computer for months before I revisit them. Often times my best work happens after I’ve spent some time away from the original idea.


What do you think of the music scene in Portland?

I think the music scene in Portland is a myth. There are a lot of cool bands and artists in Portland, but as far as a “scene” goes I don’t think there is one…


Does playing music effect how you listen to music? Do you ever get burnt out on listening after you spend a lot of time arranging your own music?

Definitely. Listening to music can be a bit overwhelming especially if I’m finishing up an idea; I get too caught up in the details of how things are mixed. Subconsciously I go through spells where I don’t listen to music for weeks on end in order to clear space in my head.


Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

Not really, I usually focus on not embarrassing myself.


Has anything crazy happened at your live shows?

I played an intimate show at a tea lounge with Sophont, and this couple sitting front and center kept offering their very rude opinions to us in between songs. It got to a point where I asked them to leave.  Recently, I was playing a house show and this very drunk “dude bro” asked me, in the middle of a song, if he could free style. Looking back I should have let him because I’m certain he would have embarrassed himself. It’s not easy getting up on stage and performing for strangers. I don’t expect everyone to like my music, but keep your opinions to yourself or leave.



It seems like you had a really productive collaboration with Gavin Neves of HXXS. Was that a one off, or is there more in the works?

Gavin is amazing and uber talented. Not only is he one of my dearest friends, he is one of my favorite collaborators. I hope to always work and collaborate with him in some capacity. There are still two or three songs I haven’t released yet. I plan on releasing everything we worked on as an EP before the end of the year and you will be able to download that via my bandcamp:http://swinney.bandcamp.com My ultimate goal is to do a small cassette release of the EP, but I’m not sure if that will come to fruition or not.


Is there going to be any new Sophont material as well?

Hopefully. Mike and I would like to release an album at some point. We’ve demoed around 20 songs over the past couple of years. We’ve recently narrowed down the list to 10 songs. Mike and I have had a crazy year personally and it’s been difficult to schedule a time to get those songs finished. I hope we get a chance to get the material completed because I think we’ve come up with some really cool and vibe-y songs.


What sort of electronic gear do you use? 

I’ve only recently begun producing my own music. I have a long list of things that I want to buy and learn how to use, but I’m currently using an Arturia key step and Studio One; I’m starting simple.


If you had your pick of any synthesizer or piece of gear that has ever been made, what would you chose? Would you keep it or sell it?

There are sooo many things I wish I had… Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1, Roland GAIA SH-01 Synthesizer, etc. etc. I would absolutely keep them and continue to add to the collection. When I was a kid, I had a Casio Rapman Keyboard with scratch disk, voice effector, and microphone; I would give anything to still have it.


For most of my life I have been pretty dismissive of mainstream pop music, but I find your appreciation of it to be really endearing. Do you like it for the glamour and surface appeal or is it something beyond that? What do you take away from pop music?

For me pop music goes far beyond the glamour and surface appeal… I get the dismissiveness of mainstream pop music because most of it is generic crap. However, I think pop music is an underrated art form that doesn’t get enough credit. It is extremely difficult to write and produce pop music and while there is a tried and true formula it’s what can be done with that formula that interests me. With that being said I think pop music has shifted so much over the years. Most of the time I’m not even sure what qualifies as pop music and what doesn’t. To me someone like Jessy Lanza writes and produces great pop music, but someone that listens to top 40 pop would completely disagree with me.



Could you share your expertise and give us five pop songs that are worth listening to?

I’m going to stick with 5 songs that have been released in 2016. I could get advanced and dive deep into the 80’s, 90’s, and early 00’s but that’s a whole other article.
1. Terror Jr. “Come First”
2. Ariana Grande “Touch It” or “Into You” (really anything on Dangerous Woman – it’s a really well done pop album)
3. Anhoni “Watch Me”
4. Beck “Wow”
5. ABRA “Pull Up”



What sort of role does playing music have in your life? Is there joy in it? Necessity? 

Music is everything to me. Music is something I try to work on every day in some form. I find myself getting very frustrated if I’m not working on music.



Do you work in other artistic mediums than music? If so does it give you some sort of balance?

I was a visual artist before I ever started making music and it’s very much an important aspect of my creative process. I usually listen to what my mind wants to do as far as creativity is concerned. Some days working on a painting or drawing appeals to me more than working on music. As long as I’m creating every day I usually feel pretty balanced.



Do you have any grand plans for the future or are you just going to see how it goes?

At this point I’m concentrating on producing my own music; I hope to evolve and become completely self-sufficient. Eventually I’d like to make art and music full time but what that means exactly I’m not sure. Like every artist/musician I want to reach as many people as possible through my work, but the tricky part is figuring out how to make that happen. In the meantime I’m going to stay focused and keep working.



Any upcoming projects or shows?

I have no shows planned currently. It was important for me to perform the material I worked on with Gavin, but I don’t see myself playing another show until I figure out how to play my new music live. I’d also like to incorporate more performance art into my set as well. I have a lot of ideas on how to improve my live show and I hope to work on those ideas over the next couple of months. As far as upcoming projects are concerned, I hope to release a collection of self-produced songs by the end of summer. In the meantime, I have a lot of collaborations in the works. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of electronic, dance, and hip-hop producers and I’ll be featured on some of their tracks over the next couple of months.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Vega




Alan Vega was wild eyed, dangerous, and cool. He never pandered to the crowd or tried to win their affection. He was not Elvis Presley and he was not Iggy Pop, but he hollowed out a space that was all his own. His lyrics are fascinating and different than anything else. He knew the past and he knew the future. The music that he created remains a high water mark in an area that no one else even knew existed.  The due of Suicide is often seen as a product of their environment in late 1970s New York, but they are more than just a snapshot of animals in their natural habitat. They are artists who made deliberate choices and deserve to have an audience that explores their entire catalogue. Alan Vega and Suicide represent what can occur when you cease to let the expectations of others guide you creatively. He lived and died as we all will, but was not tethered to the same framework that guides most lives and artistic choices.




Monday, June 6, 2016



I keep returning to this video of Frank Tovey. I think that it is a very special performance and love how he responds to having to lip-sync the lyrics. His actions could easily be seen as a protest for being in the position in the first place, but maybe there is more to it. He seems tuned in to something in way that transforms a boring mimed performance into something powerful and hilarious. I'm sure that everyone involved were pissed off at him, but he carried the performance and made it real in the only way that he could. I think it is perfect.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fat White Family Live in Portland, OR.



Fat White Family takes the stage unceremoniously, but even as the band mills around and soundchecks there is something about them that hints at the energy they possess. Not showmanship, but rather an underlying sense of belonging in that space. When they launch into their set singer Lias Saoudi dives into his performance headlong. Usually the act of vocalizing involves a certain level of balance where the voice hovers along and is hopefully pleasing on some level. With Saoudi, it is more about falling at top speed. He seems to be pressed against the limits of what his voice and body are capable of, and it is thrilling to see. Meanwhile, guitarist and primary musical arranger Saul Adamczewski is one of those rare musicians that can nudge a nearly unpalatable collage of sound into something fascinating without glossing it over too much.
The band is a live force that barrels along while being simultaneously pulled apart from within. It feels unhealthy and a little self indulgent, but also represents something familiar and human. It is like a chattering subconscious energy, but never seems to wallow or become overly depressing. I left feeling reconnected rather than emotionally drained or exhausted as I often am after a concert. There is a manic energy at a Fat White Family show and you can tell that the band are completely invested in taking the performance to some strange elevated place.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Artist Interview: Mick Harvey





When I first heard the song "Red Right Hand" 20 years ago I was 15 years old living in Missoula, Montana. It was a gateway into the music of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and eventually The Birthday Party, Crime and the City Solution, PJ Harvey, Rowland S. Howard, Anita Lane, and the solo work of Mick Harvey. To this day I am fascinated by this vast network of artists and more often than not, Mick Harvey's involvement is the common thread. His presence is a far reaching and underlying current that among other things serves as an important documentation of a music scene or movement. When listening to Harvey's solo records, there is a dimensional quality that seems to suggest a physical environment. This can be traced to his collaborative work as well, providing other musicians with a productive atmosphere in which to interact and thrive. Combined with Nick Cave's intensity and narrative style of songwriting, this sense of place was instrumental in the telling of a complete story. On the albums of Rowland S. Howard in which Mick Harvey was involved, we are given the most intimate existing recordings and clear portrait of Howard as a solo artist. The same could be said for his collaboration with Anita Lane which yielded some of the only existing flashes of this talented songwriter. Harvey's style of creating gives evidence of a musician who has an instinct for moving in a forward direction and elevating whatever project he is working on without over-handling it. Since leaving The Bad Seeds in 2009, Harvey has released two solo albums, recorded and toured with Einsturzende Neubautens' Alexander Hacke for their project, "The Ministry of Wolves", and collaborated extensively with PJ Harvey on her albums Let England Shake, and The Hope Six Demolition Project. A massive thank you to Mr. Harvey for agreeing to this interview and for offering some insight into his process.


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Some of your past collaborations are with people who seem to possess a sort of unhinged wild creativity but perhaps not the ability to fully realize it. How do you help channel this in a constructive way?

I just work on their ideas with them. All such creativity, or most of it, finds its course eventually. I suppose on some level I have helped realize a lot of creative work which may otherwise not have seen the light of day but it’s hard to work out which or how they would have been without me. It’s also possible I have straightened out some more eccentric presentations in the past but I would hope not. I like to allow the extremities to flourish and perhaps certain people choose to work with me because they know this will be the case.

There is a perception that you were a grounding force in The Birthday Party and Bad Seeds. Did this give you a stronger sense of your role in the bands? Did it ever impede upon your own creativity?

My role in both bands grew quite unexpectedly. At first I was just playing guitar in The Birthday Party and writing the occasional piece of music. As time went by and we wanted more artistic control over the production of our recordings I had a stronger role to play as it seems I have a reasonably good ear. Then I gradually took over management responsibilities and in the end was writing much of the music for Nick’s lyrics. None of these things were in any master plan of mine - they just happened over the course of the years. Once the Bad Seeds began I suppose I just fell into similar roles with the
production and management but less so with writing the music. Nick seemed to want to guide the direction the music was taking after The Birthday Party and that was fine with me. All those new responsibilities had come to me by default. I’m quite happy to just be involved in playing and arranging the music.

When working with Rowland S. Howard or Blixa Bargeld, people might understandably assume that the more experimental parts of a song were their contribution. Was this usually the case? Are there musically unconventional elements that people would be surprised to know that you are responsible for?

Of course. In fact, even when people find out who is playing which guitar part in The Birthday Party they are surprised. I mean, there are usually 2 guitars on most songs up to and including Junkyard. Sometimes I’m playing some other instrument and after Junkyard I moved to the drums but I have the feeling people listen to old Birthday Party albums and assume Rowland is playing all the guitar parts, which is not the case. As for general unconventional elements……you’d have to point them out to me one by one and have me identify them. I suspect these are also the product of collaboration in most instances.

Anita Lane had a unique voice in the scene and her solo albums are fantastic but she is still largely unknown. From an outside perspective her artistic trajectory could be compared with that of Nico's solo work and involvement with the Velvet Underground. Do you think that those
albums will ever generate a greater swell of interest?

It would be nice if her work had more recognition but she is her own worst enemy in that regard as she has absolutely no interest in promoting her work or having any public profile. Sadly, this affects the level of awareness around an artist and their work. I’m still hopeful of reissuing ‘Sex O’Clock’ and perhaps such a reissue would generate new interest and awareness. It can always happen.

Is the reception of an audience a consideration when you are working on a song or is it counterproductive to think about it?

It rarely comes into my thinking or that of people I am working with as far as I am aware. There are occasions where it might cross one’s mind but I suspect that would be more disturbing than informative. To be honest I have no idea what people like about my music and never really have so I can keep on creating in a state of blissful ignorance. I know what I like about it so I just follow that.

When working with another artist, do you find it important to have your style or influence identifiable in the result of the collaboration?

It’s almost always there - it’s hard to stop it getting in there. I’m not a slick professional session musician.

What effect did having an audience present for the creation of PJ Harvey's latest album have? Was there ever a sense that you were performing during the recording process?

I think it made us focus more on what we were doing. And, yes, sometimes there was an awareness the audience was there which made the whole situation have some connection with a performance.

What are some of the typical things that you have to overcome in order to complete a song? Is it different each time or do you always encounter similar obstacles?

Mostly one hopes the music just falls together in a natural way and has that immediacy that makes music so beautiful and intangible. This actually happens quite a lot in my world. Sometimes one struggles to make a song what it should be - in those cases it can be any of hundreds of things which create the problem. Oftentimes it’s worth the struggle, sometimes not.

Your solo albums are fantastic. Is there a greater sense of freedom when you are working on a solo project?

No, I feel much the same as on any project except I’m only answerable to myself which can be challenging.

On "One Mans Treasure" your cover of "Mother of Earth" following "Bethelridge" is very moving and effective as a sequence. Does a lot of thought go into how the songs on an album relate to each other? Is the track order important?

Absolutely. Much time is spent on sequencing an album. These days much of that work is lost as people make their own playlists or just have a few individual songs. I still put a lot of work into it and continue to assume people will listen to the album I have put together even if it’s not on vinyl.

Do you have routines that you go through to stay practiced up on your instruments or is it ingrained at this point?

I agree with Ginger Baker on this point. I never practice, I just play. However, when one is playing a lot one’s playing gets better and one continues to learn, always, about everything.


Do you enjoy challenging yourself with difficult things to play? Does repetitive practice or playing the same song ever get tedious?

I only challenge myself with difficult things to play if I need to play them. I don’t consider music a sporting event. Repetitive practice and playing the same songs over and over can become tedious, or perhaps tedious is too harsh a word. If I like the song in the first place it’s probably more a case of becoming less interesting over time.

Are there any songs that you could listen to or play every day and never get sick of?

La Bamba.

It is sometimes said about musicians that they do it because they don't have any choice. Do you believe this? Could you have chosen a different path?

It’s probably true of some musicians but to put it another way it may be more a case of them being unemployable in any other field. I feel I could have done many different things. In fact I have always asserted I ended up in music by accident and maybe whatever I ended up specializing in would have been by accident. I may yet move on to making films. That possibility is certainly in my head again - more than it has been since the 80s.