Thursday, October 29, 2015

Radio Eclectic Exclusive: New Song and Interview from Dw Dunphy

If you've read anything on this blog, probabilities are high that you've run across the name Dw Dunphy. Especially now, after that last sentence.

Anyway, he's been kind enough to grant an extended interview, plus an exclusive track. Here, for your ears only, is the Progressively-Poppy, Xylophonic-Wonder-Noted unveiling of "Erin."
Personally, I hope this someday makes it onto the B-side of the 7" of "That Never Works."

Radio Eclectic: First off, you've made two bold moves with Test Test Test (others might choose another word, but I'll go with "bold"). One, this is an instrumental album; two, you're releasing it song by song. Why release an instrumental album in this manner, now?

Dw Dunphy: Part one first: I enjoy instrumental music a lot. I had twin obsessions as a very young kid -- pop music (think Beatles, Beach Boys, ELO) and Star Wars. Every Star Wars fan knows John Williams' score inside and out. So the idea of conveying feeling through just music alone is really appealing to me. Also if you think about it, it wasn't until the late '80s when the instrumental pop track became a novelty and not "hit worthy". Until then, we welcomed instrumentals into the top 100 like any other pop song.

RE: Sure. A lot of surf music, early R&B, dance music, etc., might include one or two words at most.

Dw: Second part of it is more fractured. While I am still a huge supporter of the album as an art form -- I seldom buy singles -- I'm not in the majority. Most people aren't even buying singles now. They're streaming singles. The idea of building an album track by track, and just putting them out there, rather than storehousing until I have enough, just seems logical. And of course, I don't make a living off my music. Not even close. I mean not even within state boundaries. So my time is really stretched between a serious daily commute (2 hours in, two hours back) with work. There just isn't the same amount of time to lock in for a couple of weeks to just write and record. Wish I could! So releasing in the onesie-twosie style fits two needs: it keeps my output credible and allows me time to create and not have to wait to release.
RE: So, is there a guiding concept to Test Test Test, apart from the process? Do you have an idea of what "finished" looks like?
Dw: Test Test Test is vastly different from The Radial Night, which I spent a lot of time thinking through a logic and narrative with. That album liberally grabbed a line, a musical thread, or a theme from another song on the album and ran with it. Test Test Test may be a reaction to that. It is in every way a collection of songs linked in one way only, being no words. Test Test Test is also kind of a spiritual sequel to my first instrumental effort Gibberish. Just as Gibberish connotes nonsensical speech -- a weird title for an instrumental album -- Test Test Test would be what you say into a microphone to test for levels before you sing. Again, no singing here. I'm giving myself a conceptual wedgie, I guess.
RE: I had wondered about that. Some of your previous instrumental albums leaned fairly heavily into the cinematic approach that you mentioned (People Wearing Masks, for instance), but Test Test Test includes a liberal dose of both the John Williams influence and the pop hooks. Have you been intentional about including both influences on this particular project, or do you just naturally fall into doing both?
Dw: I drift between the two. Cohesion is usually where I'm really working hard at it, so with something like People Wearing Masks, where it is this consciously "soundtrack" kind of music, that is me buckling down with the goal and intention. On mostly everything I've put out, there will be an "orchestral" track for lack of a better description. That's probably from those days where I'm being a tad too melodramatic.
RE: As you wrassle with the conceptual wedgie (condolences, by the way; as a progressive artist, I'm sure that must come in atomic form), have you had to intentionally restrain yourself? I mean, judging from the promo video for "That Never Works," you’re clearly aware that you’re off the beaten path by releasing a hook-laden single with no lyrics. Not even a bunch of na-na-nas. Have you been tempted to release a version with lyrics, or are you committed to blocking off that option with this song?
Dw: It usually works in reverse. I'm comfortable with releasing a song without its lyrics, as an instrumental mix, but less inclined to add lyrics to a song that has gone out as instrumental. By that stage it feels like a tack-on. I don't think I could write lyrics from a standpoint of any authenticity once I've deemed the instrumental finished. The thing to remember about That Never Works is that it is kind of a structural palindrome. The opening musical phrase closes the track too, but is never referenced in the middle. The second & third repeats as fifth & sixth musical phrase and the middle bit isn't necessarily connected melodically to any of what came before. A lot of what holds it together, thankfully, is the will of the listener to see the unification of it all. Or it's because I'm not a tremendous guitarist and my lack of flash binds it together.

RE: Have you found yourself desiring a "flash" that you feel inadequate to? I'm wondering whether you ever write a song and think "I'd actually really like So-and-so to play on this or step in to produce"?
Dw: That's where it all gets gummed up. When I write, I write like me and sound like me. For example, a song like "The Icy Frozen Ocean" which is so blatantly a homage to Brian Wilson/Beach Boys still sounds like me. So in order to write these, I have to just jump in and go for it. I don't think I could structure a song and then have the objectivity to then say, you sir, go to town on this bridge. My fault is that I have adopted these musical heroes that not only blow me away, but have outdone many of their own peers. I will listen to players like Mark Knopfler, Michael Roe, David Gilmour with this mixture of fascination and envy...but most people who listen to them have those same mixed emotions.
RE: Sure.
Dw: I was listening to some Joe Jackson recently, and it is the same thing. I hear his piano-playing on a construction level and I hear what he's doing with it and it is bafflingly complex. When taken as a listening experience, devoid of my trying to reverse-engineer it, it can sound so simple and emotional. You THINK you could just get behind a keyboard and do that, but there's more happening than just a a string of triads.
RE: However you feel about letting go a little of your own work, you did step in earlier this year to produce for Mike Indest. How comfortable was that process for you? Do you recognize any change in how you produce your own work now?
Dw: Mike is an incredibly generous collaborator. He sent me his vocal and his ukelele part and I constructed everything around it. In the end, he indulged me far more than I indulged him. But I've stated on many occasions...none of these songs actually needed me. There is, somewhere, probably a "stripped-down" version of the EP in Mike's possession. Everything that is great about that recording is already there. It was a terrific experience working with him, but Mike is a perfectionist. He's very tough on himself. For me, he was happy with what I brought, but he had several occasions where he wanted to fix the vocal or rerecord it, or fix the ukelele. What I took away from that was just this incredible sense that he was trying to reach a certain level of perfection. Not that I'm not with my own, mind you. But I have, at the 30th take of a vocal when my voice has been blown out and I can't even hum along anymore, thrown up my hands and said if it's good enough for Tom Waits, it's good enough for me.
RE: I bet he's said the same thing, after the 2nd take.
Dw: Hard to say. I really expect that, among our core group of folks, any mistakes that come out on his recordings torment him especially.
RE: So, a couple of questions on how Test Test Test gets released as a physical piece. An 8-track release is in the works, yes? Do you have any history with the format, or is it the joy of seeing people’s faces when you tell them that your unfinished instrumental album is being released on 8-track?
Dw: The 8-track is happening. I sent the CD-R's off but have been warned that the company doing it is backlogged. A lot of folks are looking for that novelty effect. No audiophile is hankering to have their album on 8-track, especially...but it is fun. It's a curiosity. The CD will be, of course. That is through CD Baby so that I can also get songs onto the digital services. It's a strange disconnection, I know. While I rail against the digital formats, I also enable them and, at the same time, give Test Test Test away for free on Bandcamp. In my mind, it is about being heard more than about getting rich. My music will not get me rich, and I reconciled that a long, long time ago. But I get a thrill when I see 15 people listened to "Tsuburaya" all the way through one day. That makes me feel like what I'm doing really is a "music career" rather than a "geeky hobby." That feeling can come over the indie artist at a moment's notice. My desired format would be...If I had the committed buyers and a backer with the ability to do it, I'd like to see a couple of my albums on vinyl one day. That's probably my impossible dream at the moment.

RE: I've taken a look at the vinyl thing several times just to see what it takes to make a pressing happen. With some committed buyers, it's financially feasible, but in no way financially beneficial. Is the 8-track thing being partially funded by a label? Why 8-track rather than, say, a cassette, since lots of people still have cars or boomboxes that play cassettes?
Dw: I can do as few as ten 8-tracks, and I suspect that would be all I'd sell too. It works out. To get a record together, you have to commit to at least a run of 100. Ideally you'd presell it so the discs would already be paid for and you could break even at least. To not have buyers already in is a huge risk. If that risk is on a concept album like The Radial Night or an instrumental like Test Test Test, you've severely increased the "what the" factor that turns an audience off.
RE: Right.
Dw: So many of my decisions have to be pragmatic. I want to be that dude who builds it and they will come. But I can't and then stare at my ballfield, shouting, "Oh no, now where do I grow corn?!" So folks, go bug your favorite indie record label proprietor and tell them to license my records for LP. Thanks.
RE: Some artists are feeling around that limitation with crowd-funding campaigns. Have you thought about trying a Kickstarter campaign or a similar venture? Have there been any discussions in the Down The Line Zine Collective about pooling resources to do a release?
Dw: The folks in DTL are kind of in the same boat. We are, each of us, extremely grateful for the fans we have. They really keep us going, but we'd each need to have plenty more to make a Kickstarter work. And we'd need to have a wider reach too. It's not impossible. The 77s just did over $18,000 in a week, but they're The 77s with a small fanbase, yet considerably larger than ours. There will eventually be a Kickstarter-type platform more in line with an Etsy mindset...very small-run-oriented. Dare I say "artisanal" before I get nauseous for having said it. Something like that would be more amenable to our scale. For right now, Kickstarter's too big for our britches.
RE: Gotcha. Okay, one last, lazy question. What question do you wish you would get asked about your music, but it hasn't come up in an interview yet? I mean, you have to have expectations for something like this, right?
Dw: Hmm. I'm grateful for when people want to talk about my music, so I don't tend to take what we discuss for granted. I suppose if I have a question I'd like to hear it would be, "What do you want your music to do once it is out there?" For that, I'll answer with a couple of short anecdotes. One is in the garage of the house we lived in when I was a very small child. I had my dinky Fisher Price record player and I played the 45 of ELO's "Can't Get It Out Of My Head" over and over until the sun went down. The other time, it was a hot summer and we had a blue station wagon. Mom turned the air conditioning way up for obvious reasons. On the radio they were playing Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street." I can visualize every moment in both these scenes, and when I hear these songs all that data just flies back to me. I would be extremely gratified if someone said one of my songs did that to them. That above all else would justify the years I have put into doing this, because that would mean the music was accomplishing its intended purpose.

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