FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Gareth Dickson

leave a comment »

Interview with Gareth Dickson.

For me recording is almost a necessary evil, writing is where the fun is but once a song is written I am always quite anxious about how I will manage to capture it on a recording.”

Gareth Dickson

Words: Mark Carry

garethdickson_web

 

Windswept beauty is immediately forged across ‘Orwell Court’ on the achingly beautiful folk lament ‘Two Halfs’. Scotland’s Gareth Dickson continues to explore deeper into mystical realms and otherworldly dimensions on his latest crowning jewel of timeless folk gems steeped in ethereal sound worlds of ambient and drone flourishes. These seven sumptuously crafted song cycles drift majestically into one’s heart and mind like the unfolding of dawn’s vast skies.

Delicate guitar tones coalesce with Dickson’s hush-like whisper on ‘Two Halfs’, casting a hypnotic spell. The returning guitar motif feels like an age-old melody unearthed from the depths of an ocean, before Vashti Bunyan’s ethereal voice – and carefully placed synths – further heightens the celestial and sublime human experience. The Glasgow-based musician has collaborated closely with folk luminary Vashti Bunyan – touring the world with Bunyan adding his distinctive guitar sound – and it’s her 2005 FatCat album ‘Lookaftering’ album that could form some reference point to Dickson’s latest sonic trajectory. For it’s not only the immense songcraft on display across ‘Orwell Court’s striking narrative but the rich textures, luminous tones and vast space in which these deeply moving songs – or closer to dense sound collages – forever inhabit.

The album’s vital pulse arrives with the duo of ‘Snag With The Language’ and ‘The Hinge of the Year’. Dream-like tapestries are weaved across the former, as gorgeous guitar patterns flicker like midnight stars before Nick Drake-esque vocals creates a brooding, cinematic atmosphere. Later, warm percussion is wonderfully added on the song’s middle section, displaying a kind of meticulous detail that feels all-too-rare in these modern times. Gradual ambient flourishes of acoustic guitar passages begins ‘The Hinge of the Year’ that belongs to the world of Brian Eno, Sweden’s Tape, Finnish duo The Gentleman Losers, Berlin’s Martyn Heyne as it does Bert Jansch, Jackson C. Frank and Nick Drake. Towards the final section, the tempo slows amidst Dickson’s singing of “snowfall” wherein the guitar instrumentation transforms into a viola de gamba (whose rhythmic pulses share the cosmic spirit of French artist Colleen).

The brooding tour-de-force ‘Red Road’ takes you down dusty roads and ghosts of memories as immaculate guitar tones and harmonica lingers in the pools of your mind. The dense, atmospheric instrumental ‘This Solid World’ serves the fitting prelude to the closing Joy Division cover ‘Atmosphere’. At every corner of ‘Orwell Court’ sublime reverie abounds. “Don’t walk away, in silence”.

‘Orwell Court’ is out now on 12K (and available in Europe via Discolexique).

http://garethdickson.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/garethdicksonmusic

gareth-dickson-3-pc-ryo-mitamura-1200x600

Interview with Gareth Dickson.

Congratulations Gareth on your sublime new record, ‘Orwell Court’. The seven sonic creations captured here inhabit an otherworldly dimension, in which the songs – more like sumptuously crafted sound collages – drift majestically into one’s heart and mind. I have always felt this way with your music and ‘Orwell Court’ prevails with that mystical, far-reaching quality that renders the songs utterly timeless. Please take me back to the recording sessions themselves and your memories of writing ‘Orwell Court’? I would love to gain an insight into the place of ‘Orwell Court’, its resonance with you and whether there was a certain moment, mood, lyric, melody that perhaps served the trigger to the inception of this batch of songs?

Gareth Dickson: Thanks Mark, very good of you to take the time to engage with the record, and I’m glad you like it! ‘The Big Lie’ was the starting point for the whole album and very much set the theme for this record. In a sense ‘Orwell Court‘ could be described loosely as a concept album, it has a constant theme which applies in some way to all of the songs – it deals with concepts such as power, the state, myth, war, mass surveillance, manipulation of language etc. These are all topics which interest me at the moment and ‘The Big Lie’ was the first musical outlet for these thoughts. The rest of the album followed from there. ‘Orwell Court’, the place, is a street near where I grew up, George Orwell recovered from TB in the hospital near my house and they named the street after him. The similar themes he deals with in ‘1984’ made the name an obvious choice for me. It’s not, however, an album of ‘protest songs’, this album is as personal as any of my previous ones, it’s a personal reaction to what I see going on around me in the world whereas previous work was a personal reaction to what was going on in my own life.

The album was written and recorded at my home in Glasgow. Initially I spent a lot of long nights drinking coffee, improvising with the guitar (usually in altered tunings and through some effects pedals), and slowly allowing ideas to form. When I’m working like this I can spend weeks and months playing every night and hoping to find something new, but only very rarely will something excite me enough that I want to keep it and build on it. When that happens it’s just a case of trying to expand upon that initial idea, or combining it with other existing ideas which are in the same tuning. I recorded the songs myself in my living room after experimenting a great deal with microphone placements and effects set ups etc.

For me recording is almost a necessary evil, writing is where the fun is but once a song is written I am always quite anxious about how I will manage to capture it on a recording. It’s kind of a question of practicing the songs enough that you can play them well but not so much that they lose feeling. It’s a tricky balance and one which you don’t always feel has gone right. And recording itself is full of trade offs, a vocal mic placement which is good for voice may not be ideal for the guitar or whatever (I always record guitar and voice at the same time). So the whole process of home recording can be a difficult one, but one which has the advantage of having more control over exactly when you record, and therefore what mood you can achieve etc.

‘Two Halfs’ is the perfect opening line; I feel the gradual light of dawn appear across the horizon as the bright, joyous melody unfolds. Vashti Bunyan’s added harmonies heighten the song even further, a gorgeous match and haven of celestial sound. Please talk me through the construction of ‘Two Halfs’ and your memories of hearing the final recorded version? The echo and reverb from the instrumentation – and vast space created as a result – is a joy to behold.

GD: ‘Two Halfs’ is essentially built on two different riffs, the opening one for the verses and the interlude in the middle where the tempo drops. Some of the various pitched drones which you can hear in the background are from the delay pedal, and there is also some synth in there which Vashti added afterwards. I sent her the track and asked if she could add something to it, I was really blown away when I first heard what she had done. Her vocals are beautiful as always and the synth part she added is great. After this there was a long process of mixing, editing and eq-ing so the track emerged slowly from there and there was no one point where I heard it for the first time.

What were the challenges or biggest difficulties posed during the making of ‘Orwell Court’? I am curious whether the words appear for you first, prior to the musical framework or is it a case of painting words on a canvas of sound? For instance, has the creative process itself changed in any significant way from previous works like ‘Quite A Way Away’ and ‘The Dance’?

GD: Initially I would say that this album came together a little more easily than any of my previous albums, because I am now used to the process and have developed certain practical skills along the way in my guitar playing and recording (even though recording still remains a difficulty, it’s maybe less so now than previously). Later on the mixing process took a lot longer than I expected, I struggled with eq and reverb levels etc as it’s such a subjective process. What sounds like a good mix one day can the next day sound muddy and unclear, this part drove me mad for a good few weeks or more. Lyrics always take a certain amount of effort for me, I feel like guitar playing is a very natural thing to do but writing lyrics definitely takes more thought. They are always added after I have written a melody on the guitar, usually the guitar melody will suggest a certain mood and I will start the lyrics from there. In the past I have written entire songs in a night (Two Trains, Like a Clock were written this way), but now I would say they are more crafted and tend to take longer. Other than this my creative process hasn’t changed at all really since I started writing.

Please take me back to your musical upbringing and your earliest musical memories? What were the first defining moments for you that made a big impression in you and soon did you realize just how significant music would play in your life? Also, what particular records and musicians made you want to develop your own unique guitar playing?

GD: My parents were both big music lovers who grew up in the 50s and 60s so mostly around the house I would have heard things like The Beatles and Elvis when I was very young. I loved listening to the charts on the radio and watching Top of the Pops just like everyone else of my generation. In my early teens I played in punk and metal bands and listened to things like Metallica, Slayer, Fugazi, Snuff, Minor Threat. I think the first time I really realised how significant music would be to me though was when I was around 19 or 20 and started listening to acoustic stuff like Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Incredible String Band.

These people were a revelation for me in terms of the depth of emotion they reached. This is when I really started playing guitar properly, practicing a lot and learning whatever I liked the sound of at that time. Not long after this I discovered electronic and ambient music – Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno. I think really what drove me to form my style initially was the desire to merge these two worlds – to have the discipline and direct connection with music that playing an instrument brings, but with the abstract and ethereal sound-world of electro. Since then I feel I have tried to incorporate many other types of music in to my own but this was the starting point. Other people who have had a big impact but not always in an obvious way would be Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett, Robert Johnson, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner…..

I love how there are meticulously crafted layers of instrumentation dotted across the record, which serves as a lovely complement to your voice & guitar. ‘Snag With The Language’ has some beautifully warm percussion added in the closing section and harmonica flows beneath ‘Red Road’. I can imagine the later stages in making ‘Orwell Court’ was a very enjoyable part of the process, when the songs are fully formed but you have the opportunity to add certain shades and textures to the songs? I personally feel the duo of ‘Snag With The Language’ and ‘The Hinge of the Year’ forms the vital pulse to ‘Orwell Court’s rich narrative (particularly the poetic prose of the latter).

GD: I also imagined that this would be the enjoyable part but it wasn’t always the case unfortunately! This was uncharted territory for me as I have never added extra instrumentation to my music before so there was a lot to learn. The main thing I learned, after a lot of experimenting, was that the overdubbed parts had to be kept extremely simple in order for them to work. I am used to being able to write what I like when I’m writing songs, but adding parts afterwards is quite a different thing. In the end I realised that anything added afterwards had to be simplified to the bare bones in order for it to work, so that took some time. But hearing these things back once I had honed them as much as I could really brought the album to life and that definitely was fun. I agree also that the two tracks you mentioned form the heart of the record in a sense, without choosing those over the rest of the album they are definitely important for the record.

The closing cover of Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ somehow fits so perfectly with the rest of the album, a song that embodies the record in many ways. I wonder did you envision this (utterly transcendent) cover version to be part of ‘Orwell Court’ from the very beginning or did this just happen in the midst of it all? I’d love to hear your memories of this particular song and the importance of Joy Division’s music in your own life?

GD: I am not actually so knowledgeable about Joy Division’s music to be honest but I have always loved this song, and of course ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. A few years ago Taylor Deupree (who runs 12k Records) asked me to record a cover version of this and the plan was for him to add some extra instrumentation and release it as a collaboration. When he heard it he decided that it worked well as a solo piece however, so we left it at that. During the recording of Orwell Court I thought that it would fit well with the rest of the album so I re-recorded it when I was recording the other songs.

You have played guitar alongside Vashti Bunyan on many tours across the world and have closely collaborated with this special soul. I would love to gain an insight into this collaboration and the experiences and deep learning you must have obtained as a result of this wonderful musical partnership?

GD: It’s been one of the defining experiences of my life, not just as a musician, and I have loved every minute of us playing together. We met in 2006 after FatCat let Vashti hear my music when she was looking for a guitarist to accompany her live. We’ve had some pretty memorable shows, from concert halls to little clubs and everything in between. We both learned a lot on the road together because we were both pretty new to touring and working with sound engineers etc, it took us a while to find our feet initially I think. Recently we’ve been playing often as a duo which is something I’ve really loved, playing with a band was great but a band has its own rhythm which is hard to break out of. With just the two of us it’s possible for Vashti to speed up or slow down or whatever and I can try to follow. Rehearsing together has always been great fun, a lot of cups of tea and catching up, and playing together without amplification, just a couple of guitars and Vashti’s voice, those for me are maybe the most special moments. I feel very lucky to have been involved with this, hard to put in to words what I’ve learned but I know that our playing together has had a deep impact on me.

Finally, in terms of the guitar set-up and the many delicate intricacies embedded deep in these guitar tapestries, can you outline your approaches to making these soundscapes and how you feel you ‘see’ music from a compositional approach point of view? There must be endless experimentations with various tunings and technical set-ups in order to generate such rich and lyrical layers of sound?

GD: On a technical level the guitar sound itself can be achieved fairly simply, I run my guitar through two effects pedals – an analogue delay (Electro Harmonix Memory Man) and a reverb (Electro Harmonix Holy Grail). There is definitely a fair bit of experimenting with altered tunings, sometimes I use existing tunings and sometimes I look for new ones myself. The Memory Man delay pedal has a really great warm and deep sound, especially the older ones, the new ones have changed and are a lot more clinical sounding. The older ones are like a musical instrument, with a lot of character. That’s all I use for the guitar sound, just these two pedals, there are no overdubbed synths or anything like that, the pedals provide any extra sound that you hear on the recording.

When I’m improvising though I’m on the look out for interesting things happening with the effects almost as much as for melodies that I like. In ‘Two Halfs’ for example, which you mentioned earlier, the effects pedals create drones of various pitches that enhance the original melody. In ‘The Solid World’ it’s the same again but with a lot more effects rolled in, the delay and reverb settings are turned up and I pick the guitar quite fast and very quietly so that almost all of the sound you hear is from the delay and reverb and not much from the guitar strings themselves. This gives the piece a kind of electronic feel but there are no synths or anything used there.

Another technique I use often is playing directly on the fret rather than just behind it as would normally be the case. This allows me to mute certain notes which gives a very different and maybe harp-like sound to the guitar, especially when combined with reverb. The main guitar part during the singing in ‘Snag With The Language’ is an example of this, and also the intro to ‘The Hinge of The Year’ which sounds quite different but is the same technique.

‘Orwell Court’ is out now on 12K (and available in Europe via Discolexique).

http://garethdickson.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/garethdicksonmusic

Written by admin

March 1, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: