Never Mind The Bollocks – Ela Orleans interviews Dan melchior

a drawing by Mr Melchior

Being self centered and quite shy when it comes to the dialog with other artists I admire, my way is to passively wait until circumstances build the opportunity to meet. I don’t do anything, but wait and feed on dreams and good luck. I met a ton of fantastic artists who just came to me through the power of my admiration I suppose or desperate need of reassurance that what I do is OK. Making a coherent signal of interest is a huge step for me as I can’t help feeling that my musical heroes, (including those I met in person), are too cool for school.

For the last few months I have been working on a new release consisting of remixes of my previously released work done by artists I admire.. I had a good reason to reach out here. With no much surprise I heard bunch of “NOs”, which (for whatever reason) were a big blow to my ego. During that time I became very interested in the case of Dan Melchior’s wife – Letha Rodman Melchior. I followed her struggle with cancer chronicled on her blog and described in many posts made by a few of my fellow artist friends on Facebook. Coincidentally Dan sent me a brief message over FB simply expressing his admiration for my record “Lost”. We started a brief dialog over Facebook, which soon was followed by the plan of artistic collaboration. I had a chance to chat with Letha, who is now one of my most inspiring female heroes. I forgot all the “cool police” nonsense and started my “privileged era” of having an opportunity to exchange artistic ideas, collaborate and also complain about the state of the musical journalism and principals. Talking to Dan helped me to get out of my own little world of insecurities for a moment and possibly find myself helpful…

Was your father happy to hear you riffing Buzzcocks on his acoustic guitar?

My father didn’t hear me playing ‘esp’ on his guitar, and if he had, he would’ve felt the need to correct me in some way, and take all the fun out of it (although he could hardly play himself) – - I never got any encouragement for doing music at home – and still don’t. The studied indifference (verging on pathological indifference) is heavy and all encompassing, but I have learnt not to give a shit!
I think it is good to do things despite the reactions of others and not to act like a begging dog looking for crumbs.

You mentioned in one of your interviews that your mom wanted you to be a painter. The thing is you are the painter so do you think this comes from pure fear of (generally speaking) rock’n'roll? I get that from my parents all the time.

Yes. She can’t stand my music – and actually doesn’t really like my art either. She would like me to have followed a career in commercial art – - design, something which I was never interested in – - not because I’m snobby about it, but because it doesn’t allow for the kind of ‘mistakes’ I mentioned earlier. I also find it quite easy to turn out this kind of thing (cartoons/logos – etc) and find it unsatisfying. My mum doesn’t understand this at all. I think she imagined I would be successful – maybe even wealthy!

We are the same age. I remember my first visit to London in my early twenties and how blown away I was by dub, jungle and all heavy bass blasting on the streets of Portobello Road etc. I think it still has a huge impact on how I want to sound. I wonder if you could elaborate on the influence the sound of London had on you?

Yes, I think London – - the feel of it, the attitude of the people, the violent sort of energy – (I could just make an endless list of qualities, positive and negative) have influenced me more than anything. Reggae, soul, early hip hop, jazz, blues, weird old records in photocopied sleeves – it was all easy to find, and there was always someone around to tell you about stuff.
I grew up in the suburbs (Shepperton) – but the first chance I got I was up in London all the time – - looking for excitement (the people I grew up with were happy with the pub at the end of the road)
I think ATV (Alternative television) may be the band that most sums up London (or my fantasy of London) for me – - it’s like anything can happen in their music, and they won’t allow anything to hold them back – - particularly lack of ability. It’s just about having open ears. I hope my music has some of the same quality.

Were you “political” when in England?

I was (and am) political to the extent of being against any kind of very right wing ‘me’ politics – - which have always seemed to me to pander to the base instincts of people. They appeal to people who have never known hardship, as there is always an idea amongst these people that if any kind of ‘socialist’ ideas take hold, they will lose all their money. It is just greed based really isn’t it?

Or fear of death… Are you political now?

No change really.

After my 7 years residency in New York, which deepened my aversion towards any right wing government, I feel that UK’s social system is almost utopian and more socialist than Poland’s for example. Do you miss it?

Well, you make a good point about NY (I lived there 6 years) – - the US is more or less intrinsically right wing (or at least conservative), as the people themselves (not the landed gentry, or millionaire minority) are opposed to social programs, to help their own poor. It took me a long time to grasp the fact that many Americans do not want nationalised healthcare or taxes on rich people as they feel that at some point they will become rich, and then this will mean them having to pay for those too lazy to work, to live. This, I suppose, is the dark shadow of the American dream. You aspire to be like the people who have too much. You feel that having too much, that gorging yourself, and running up endless credit is your birthright – - and now we see what has happened to the world as a result. We got close to another depression. The weirdest thing for me, is the fact that this is coupled with extreme Christianity (doesn’t the bible speak endlessly of helping the meek and poor?) – so that you have poor people, who go to church every Sunday, and are read passages about the meek inheriting the earth, helping the poor and needy etc, voting against any tax (however miniscule) that will help someone else not to live in fear of getting ill.

This is of course very personal to me, as my wife has cancer, and we have had to beg for help from our musician friends to pay for her treatment. I am extremely grateful to these people – but I cannot help feeling that it should not be necessary for them to have to do this in the richest country in the world! None of the people I hang around with hold these views, and would all welcome nationalised health care – - -it’s just the large majority of people seem to be either satisfied with the status quo, or just plain terrified of change. It would take another depression to bring real change of this kind in the USA I think.

Would you consider coming back to old continent?

I would love to come back, but it is hard to work out how we can manage it – with exchange rates, etc.

Would you say that anger plays a big role in your music?

Yes, I suppose it does. It plays a big role in my life! – -I’m not sure I was happy about being sprung from the womb. I would like to be less angry. It’s not always that constructive.

For me pros and cons of being a solo artist are straight forward but I am interested in your view on collective production of the record as oppose to sporadic tie-free jamming.

I have been in bands (one for 4 years) and on the whole I found it very difficult. The thing is, I can hear my songs pretty much fully formed when I write them, so the work is just in filling in the blanks. In the old days I used to make little cassette tapes of all the parts (drums patted out on my thighs etc) – - if you get a band together, and this is the way you work, you are basically just telling people what you want them to play – - this is not satisfying for them, and they (on the whole) will not be happy with this situation in the long run. You can of course go another way, and genuinely collaborate- – but to me that is better done in short spurts, so that the interaction/interplay is not repeated over and over again, until it falls into predictable patterns. At least, when you do it alone, you can be brutal with yourself without hurting anyone else’s feelings.

I can’t agree more. When it comes to music, would you call yourself a control freak?

Yes.

I find myself rhythmically challenged and loops for me serve as the less monotonous form of a metronome. What comes first to you: rhythm or melody?

They usually come at once. A melody played rhythmically – usually on acoustic guitar. But recently things have been taking some pretty different turns. Building loops out of field recordings – ham fisted piano workouts, pot and pan rhythms – etc. The record on Kye is quite a bit more adventurous.

I just wondered about your practice as a painter… and how expressionist aesthetic of your paintings is informed by the musical taste?

It all comes from the same place. With painting (or my better ones) I try to erase all traces of my habitual patterns of mark making/drawing – and basically leave myself with a painting, which is a collection of mistakes, or uncontrolled marks that connect in unexpected ways to create an image I hadn’t set out to make.
I am only just beginning to get anywhere near this with music- – allowing things to happen. I want to do it more.

When I hear the word prolific, I often don’t understand what it is supposed to be? A compliment? If you were a chef you would make tons of dishes a day and nobody would call it prolific. According to most reviewers, you are prolific. What does it mean to you?

I think it is mainly meant as an insult. I think doing a lot of something is very suspicious to people who struggle endlessly to do a small amount of something.
I think it ties in with the idea that anything good must be sweated and laboured over endlessly (tweaked and perfected etc, etc) to be valid. The whole structure that’s been imposed on recorded music for the last 70 years or so (the studio, the video, the tour – which, of course is collapsing) has left people with this ridiculous mentality that encourages bestowing anything that doesn’t sound like it was recorded at abbey road with the tag (which disqualifies it from the realms of seriousness, just like the dreaded word ‘garage’) ‘lo – fi’
Hearing myself described as a ‘lo-fi garage artist’ is a bit like being called ‘a failure who shouldn’t leave his house’ – - adding ‘prolific’ to this cocktail, is just a way of adding insult to injury. ‘and he didn’t even furrow his brow a lot, or call in a focus group’

I laugh when people call my music experimental even though I never experiment. I know exactly what I am doing. Lo-fi is my tag too although I use quite sophisticated software. And yes… “prolificness”… how does it affect your development as an artist.

If you work a lot you work through phases comparatively quickly. You may get into a phase where you like certain sounds on your vocals, or where you are obsessed with a certain artist you are (to some degree) trying to ape – - but it passes when you produce work in a certain vein quickly, as you can hear that you’re repeating yourself when there isn’t this huge period of laying back and contemplating your achievements. Of course I’m just talking about myself here – Ty Segall may just be putting out a record a week for fun.

Can you see your future musical direction(s)?

Well, I have a record coming out on Kye (Graham Lambkin’s label) in Jan/Feb that has no ‘songs’ on it at all. No words, just some vocal drones and instrumental pieces -
then there are a few stragglers, (releases that have been a long time in the works, and would probably be described as ‘lo-fi garage medway rock’ by the gang at ruff trade) and late in the year there will be an LP on Northern Spy, with a host of contributors (of which you will be one!) that alternates between more or less abstract sound pieces, and acoustic songs.

I can’t wait to get my hands on it!!! Thank you Dan!

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Please consider donating to Letha’s cancer fund.

. Letha’s blog. http://soundcloud.com/dan-melchior. Dan Melchior – Art For Sale 
. http://www.danmelchior.net/

another drawing by Mr Melchior