Dan Melchior Interview | Gilded Gutter
Dan Melchior has kindly answered some questions for Gilded Gutter about his new material. I also got a chance to ask him about fundraisers coming up to help cover his wife Letha’s medical fees, to see if there are any benefit shows coming up near you or, if you’re in a position to make a donation everything you need to know is below…
To my ears at least your sound evades being pinned down. As of late your songs venture further left field than say bluesy/country material found on In The Red releases, I wanted to start these questions looking at the shift in your songwriting and how you arrived at your new record ‘Excerpts’…
Well, a lot of it had to do with moving out of New York, and discovering music for myself again the way I did when I was a kid – - finding what I REALLY liked, again. I used to listen to a lot of blues growing up (Skip James/Robert Pete Williams/Robert Wilkins etc) and learnt to play the guitar by listening to that kind of stuff – so that might always show in what I play. But I always loved Can, Faust, and very damaged, ‘warts and all’ records ‘Like Flies on Sherbet’ ‘Lost Decade/Dusted in Memphis’ by Alex Chilton, the early Tav Falco things – etc. I had no idea that this was the tip of an endless underground iceberg until I started talking with people like Tom Lax (of Siltbreeze records fame) and just looking at blogs. I then began to realise that there was a world of music out there that I had missed completely – - records that flew under the radar on release for a reason! A lot of that stuff made me feel freed up to make a different kind of record. Something like ‘Semool – Essais’ or Luc Marriani’s records.
Many of your releases over the last few years have been on US labels, how did you form a relationship with French imprint SDZ Records for single ‘Red Nylon Valance’?
We toured a bit last year, because we were invited to play Primavera. I met Nicolas from SDZ in Paris when we played. I thought he did a really nice job on that record.
I wanted to ask about track “Me and JG Ballard”, as a painter I find Ballard’s work endless source of ideas especially ‘Cocaine Nights’, do you read his stuff at all? What, if anything, does he bring to your song writing?
I haven’t really read him to be honest – I just grew up in Shepperton, and he lived about 10 doors down from one of my girl friends, about 10 minutes from my house. I’m not sure I ever even saw him around. It just seemed like a funny conceit for a song. Now that I hear what he felt about Shepperton I feel some kinship with him.
I read you’re also a painter, is this true? Do you have any heroes?
Yes, I do paint. My heroes are many and varied – - JMW Turner, William Blake, Willem De Kooning, Philip Guston, James Ensor, Emil Nolde, Cy Twombly, Jack Kirby – Ray Johnson, Pierre Bonnard, Edward Hopper – - – loads more.
* Dan has a blog with some drawing, paintings and collages for sale here: http://danmelchiorartforsale.blogspot.com/
Who do you imagine listens to your music? Do you ever have an audience in mind when composing?
No, not really. I hope the spectrum is broadening. By being on facebook I know that most people who want to ‘friend’ me use Betty Page, or a groovy Frankenstein as their profile picture, so unfortunately I feel that those people are frozen in time, and imagine that I am very entrenched in something that they are nostalgic for (the 90′s early 2000′s) Hopefully there’s a younger, or at least more adventurous group of people enjoying some of the newer things. Mind you, the reaction to my new one (‘Excerpts and half speeds’) makes me feel like I’ve just wandered into some elitist gentleman’s club with a pair of y fronts on – - talk about pretentious bemusement! The write ups for the catalogues that are carrying it, are all along the lines of ‘the guy is a garage rocker, but don’t worry this is okay for you to listen to’ or ‘this primitive has stumbled upon ‘our’ music, and doesn’t completely fail, but doesn’t know what he’s doing or anything’ – - hilarious really. I think they view me as some cross between sky saxon and kasper hauser. Just goes to show every ‘scene’ is as bad as the next.
I saw you play Ryan’s Bar here in London last year, you guys faced some technical issues but I thoroughly enjoyed the set because the band persevered through until problems were solved and ended with a real bang. A lot of bands don’t cope very well with unexpected hiccups like that, is it experience that’s helps you manage this sort of thing or have you always been able to ‘roll with the punches’ as it were?
I used to have some meltdowns 15 years ago – but after a while you have to say to yourself (in such situations) ‘I am not successful. I am playing a tiny club. There isn’t even a soundman, and no one is going to even try – let’s just play anyway’
What’s the most memorable show you’ve ever played?
I don’t really think about shows much. They happen and then they are over – unless someone records it, and then you have to do your best to destroy the evidence!
What is more of a challenge writing music or writing lyrics?
In all honesty, the way I do it – neither is much of a challenge. I just let it happen. The challenge is in not repeating yourself endlessly (status quo style) – even though some ‘critics’ say that is exactly what I do do!
I’ve read you’re a writer as well, how does your approach to writing differ to penning lyrics?
Lyrics are like sketches. There’s music to back them up, and wring meaning out of them – plus you are using your own voice to impart some sense of what you feel. When the thing is just sitting there on the page, I feel the standards have to be much more exacting. I haven’t written anything really that I consider to be good enough to put out there yet. I can’t sustain the level of intensity that I’m going for. I’ve been trying to write a book for almost 10 years (intermittently) – you can hear some of it being read out over music on ‘assemblage blues’
In the biography on your website it says you’re from Chertsey? I grew up in a small village outside of London too and know all too well how hard it is pre-internet era, to find any creative scene in English suburbia– how did you get exposed to the arts living in that part of the UK?
I was born in Chertsey, and grew up in Shepperton.
I just made a bee line for London the first chance I got, and spent most of my time up there until I was old enough to move out. I have a real hate/love relationship with where I grew up. I like the land, and the quietness – but didn’t care for a lot of the aggressively/defensively narrow minded people that I went to school with. Very stifling, if you allow it to be – - but I do think you learn to develop a ‘life of the mind’ – or whatever you want to call it, in a place like that.
How do you think the internet has changed the game discovering records, books and art?
It’s made it easier – and as I said before – I like it! Complaining about the easiness of it is for elitists and snobs. May as well complain that the washing machine made washing clothes too easy, and everyone should be scrubbing their clothes on rocks by the river.
You’ve managed to sustain a long-standing successful career making music mostly under the radar, with that experience behind you, if you could go back to when you first started making records and give yourself a piece of advice what would it be?
Don’t worry about it – you aren’t going to be popular. The more interesting your stuff becomes, the less popular it will be. You are free to do whatever you like really. Oh, and there is this stuff for straightening your hair you can get from black grocery stores.
Do you revisit previous recordings? If so what’s it like listening to earlier stuff?
I hardly ever do. I’m not really embarrassed by too much of it. Sometimes I think it may be better than what I’m doing now in places – but if I listened to it twice I’d be sick of it – these are just fleeting impressions though.
Do you prefer playing or recording?
Recording! – I like actually playing, but the rest of it – - sitting in a van, eating crap food, sitting around bars for hours on end and drinking because there’s nothing else to do -is pretty awful. I have trouble with being out of my comfortable patterns.
There’s a fund set up for your wife Letha to help with hospital fees, I’d like to ask about any upcoming benefits or fundraisers that people can be directed to if they’re in a position to donate, or help spread the word, the floor is yours….
Well, as you may know the US health system is an abomination. I will not go into my frustrations in this department, as I do not wish to be political or write a 5000 word essay – but, let’s just say it is very distressing to negotiate such a system. My wife lost her insurance because she cannot work anymore – and now has to be on a state plan with a $5000 dollar deductible.
There are shows coming up, one in S.F
and we have a paypal thing set up for donations -
Her blog is here -
http://lethashappyhospitalfuntime.blogspot.com/ - – she describes here what she has to endure better than I ever could.
‘I’m full of dust and guitars’ – Syd Barrett, if you were sliced in half what would be inside?
I cannot answer this question for fear of incriminating myself! – - it would be less benign than Syd’s stuff I suspect.
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