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Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Young

Time Has Told Me: Dennis Young

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“…you become one with this sound and I think I’ve experienced that a few times and that’s really quite an amazing feeling when you have that.”

—Dennis Young

 Words: Mark Carry

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Dennis Young is best known as the marimba player and percussionist for the legendary New York group Liquid Liquid, a trend-setting, shape-shifting early 1980’s post-punk band whose timeless rhythmic, beat-driven (and incidentally guitar-less) explorations continue to inspire bands of today. In truth, Liquid Liquid never fit into the No Wave movement of the time across the New York underground or moreover the noise scene that followed a short time later. Utilizing immaculate instrumentation of marimba, percussion, bass and vocals, its group’s members would become one with the music, creating utterly timeless gems such as ‘Optimo’, ‘Cavern’ and ‘Scraper’ across a series of essential singles and ep’s – and over the years – some vital re-issues housed by Domino and Mo Wax (originally released on legendary imprint  99 Records).

During the mid-80’s, Young was busy, in between playing the legendary clubs of New York, the gifted musician undertook his own solo explorations from his home studio in Jersey. Young released a plethora of solo recordings from ‘Old Dog: New Tricks’ to ‘Reel To Real’ and ‘Synthesis’ encompassing electronic, jazz, krautrock, folk, African and a myriad of other influences etched across the sonic tapestry.

Earlier this year, the beloved Edinburgh independent label Athens Of The North lovingly assembled a new compilation of Young’s career spanning solo recordings, entitled ‘Primitive Substance’. This is a record that showcases the uncanny musical abilities of the multi-instrumentalist and composer, beginning from ’87 right up to 2004. The title-track is a stunning jazz odyssey with added textures of colourful trumpet and melodic bass guitar lines. ‘Berlin’s irresistible synthesizer groove feels as if it could loop forever such is its divine spell.

The endless nuances, textures and intricate patterns can be found deep in the music’s flow. The avant pop sphere of ‘Somerset Hills’ is filled with sumptuous pop hooks and celestial harmonies.One of the compilation’s highlights is the achingly beautiful lament ‘Forgiveness’: Young sings on the opening verse, “Hold me/Help me carry on”. A song to soothe the darkest depths of pain. The retrospective’s nine genre-bending explorations carves out a kaleidoscopic, visionary oeuvre of enchanting sounds.

‘Primitive Substance’ is out now on Athens Of The North.

https://aotns.bandcamp.com/album/primitive-substance

 

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Interview with Dennis Young.

Firstly, can you discuss the new compilation ‘Primitive Substance’ which came out recently on Athens Of The North?

Dennis Young: I got in touch with Athens Of The North and they were excited about this; it’s basically a compilation of more the songs I did over the years: starting from 1987 all the way up to 2004. So after Liquid Liquid disbanded I continued on recording music – all different types of music – and this is kind of like more the songs I did in world music, jazz, alternative dance beat type of music on this recording. So I compiled the best songs I had and then Athens Of The North put it out so I’m really excited about how it turned out.

It’s precisely all the styles you hear all across the compilation where you get the sense that there’s just so many ideas and elements that goes into each song.

DY: I never did the same record twice – I always try to do something different on each recording and a lot of those songs are out of print right now or there’s some unreleased music on there also. I always try to do something with each record different and there was a point in time when I had a lot of keyboards and sequencers and drum machines and so I was doing a lot of programming that way. There was no computer on any of those songs: there was a sequencer and recording.

Do you have memories of composing and performing ‘Primitive Substance’ – the piece itself – because it’s an amazing jazz track?

DY: That was done in a studio; I never recorded that live. Basically it was about a really amazing recording session: I was doing a record ‘Old Dog: New Tricks’, I was working on the record and the engineer said “I know a really good bass player and a really good trumpet player” and I said “Great, bring them down” because the song needed something added to what I had. So this bass player came down and he was Gerry Carboy, a really amazing jazz bass player and he also had a homemade bass that was made for him specifically as you can hear on the record and he had such a great sound. And then the trumpet player, Michael Gribbrook just came in and he did those parts on one take: he had a flugelhorn and he had a trumpet and it was just a magical session, it just happened really amazingly how it all came together.

My current highlight is the amazing ballad ‘Forgiveness’, the vocals and lyrics in particular are really quite something.

DY:  Yeah that’s one of my favourite songs on the whole compilation – that was a special song. That one came together also really well. David Axelrod –not the famous one but a local friend of mine who I’ve done music with on other types of projects – he came in and did this really amazing bassline on that also: I mean that really just put it over the top and it’s such an emotional bassline on there and really he tied the whole song in there together. Those mixes were done, at that time it was all done on analog tape so the mixes were really just we had to set it up on the board and after the mix was done, that was it: it was gone, you didn’t save it back then. And so who I worked with at the time in the studio really did a great job getting those mixes good.

Can you describe the Gabriel Farm Studios in Princeton which was run by your collaborator Andy Gomory (particularly on your earlier solo records)?

DY: Andy Gomory I found on a local ad in a music paper – I was looking to mix my first record: it was the electronic record that I did called ‘Concepts’ and by chance Andy had a studio and I called him up and said I wanted to do some mixing with this first record. And I went there and we blew because he played keyboards and he had this DMX drum machine and after we did mixing, we started playing together and we started jamming. Andy is a really amazing musician: he did some great programming on those drum machines and he was a really fine keyboardist.

You were a huge part of Liquid Liquid, I’m sure you must have strong memories of pursuing your solo path when the band disbanded?

DY: I was doing solo music at home when the band was still happening, I was exploring electronic music at home at that time, even when the band was happening. I had a reel-to-reel at that point – in fact there is a record out called ‘Reel To Real’ on Staubgold that’s all 2-track live reel-to-reel recordings I did basically when the band was going on at that point [’82-‘83]. So I was basically doing my own music still even when Liquid Liquid was happening, I mean we were playing a lot but I still had a lot of time for my own explorations of music.

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You must have particularly fond memories of New York and this whole vibrant music scene happening during that time?

DY: It was amazing, the clubs were really happening. At that time you didn’t have cell phones, you didn’t have everything online so people came out to hear music. And we would play at these really top clubs in the city, I mean we were on 99 Records – and we were very lucky to get on 99 – and we were playing some of the top clubs. And then when The White Lines and Cavern hit and we even played the huge disco place the Roxy, the Funhouse, Paradise Garage and we had that experience. So it was pretty amazing, we never thought we’d be involved with a lot of the big dance clubs because we were basically an alternative type of group: it was very rhythm oriented, we relied on the beat and rhythm and so it was an exciting time- we were at the right place at the right time.

I can imagine those jams with the band – you must have realized you were onto something very early on?

DY: Oh Yeah. I played with these guys before Liquid Liquid in The Idiot Orchestra. I met Richard McGuire in college and we had a jam back then that was really exciting and we gelled and there was a drummer involved. But then I played four shows with The Idiot Orchestra (which Richard was in as well as Scott Hartley from Liquid Liquid) so we even gelled then. So that was the foundation of this and when we started playing it was this amazing chemistry we all had and made it unique.

I presume you played drums from a very young age?

DY: That was my first instrument as a teenager was the drums. So I was playing in a lot of covers bands in high school and that kind of thing – I was really a drummer and I wanted to be a professional drummer when I was a teenager, that was my real goal. I never thought it would sidetrack to a marimba player and percussion and doing all this electronic music so it was a surprise to me because as a kid I really wanted to be a drummer – that was my real instrument that I loved as a kid.

I wonder in your teenage years were there certain bands or albums or live shows too in New York that really made you want to pursue music?

DY: I think back then we had a really great recordstore by us that got a lot of imports in – they were called Cut-outs at the time and I would get records like a lot of prog rock stuff like things from Can and Neu! and all types of stuff. And so I was getting exposed even at high school and early college on some of these really progressive type of music. I was very impressed by Bill Bruford and King Crimson was a big influence on me –  that type of music. So I was listening to a lot of that in highschool and into college but I had access to a recordstore there that would all this amazing cut-outs for two dollars: all this amazing from over in Europe and in Germany and England so that really opened my eyes to different ways the music can be influenced by.

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A collection like this with ‘Primitive Substance’ you’re someone who has made so much music across different sounds and styles, is it almost a challenge to pick out bits and pieces from a large library of so many different sounds?

DY: It is a challenge. It was a challenge with each record to find a new synthesizer to buy, a new sound to find especially ‘Old Dog: New Tricks’which is an accumulation of everything because it has so much on it: so many instruments, so many unique players: that record really is the last one I did which has ‘Primitive Substance’ and ‘Forgiveness’ and a couple of other really good tracks. I still have copies but like I said these are getting harder and harder to get because they’re limited runs that I did. But thanks to Athens Of The North and Bureau B and these other labels that I’ve been working with, people are able to hear this music for the first time mostly because a lot of people haven’t heard a lot of this stuff.

With the whole technological advances of today and things are changing quite quickly with music and so on, what is your perspective on the music path now as opposed to back in the mid-80’s?

DY: Back then everything was recorded on tape: I went through a number of different tape formats, you had the reel-to-reel, the porto studio, the DAT. I think now it’s too easy to get music perfectly these days with a computer. I use a computer to edit but I don’t use any sounds off of a computer as much but it makes it too easy make things sound really good. Back then it was a challenge to get the music right and it was all done with sequencers and actual playing. I think now, it’s still a challenge but it makes it more easier to make music and there’s so much out there now, there’s just a flood of stuff, you can’t keep up with so many bands and names, it’s just hard to keep up.

I love how you have an array of guests that just do their thing and add certain textures to your songs. I get the impression that must always be an exciting thing for you to invite certain people over and things like that?

DY: Oh absolutely. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the ‘Shadow’ record that I did: it was a singer-songwriter record that I did after ‘Old Dog: New Tricks’. I was able to get a classical violinist to come down to the studio and record some amazing parts so these people really add to the puzzle of a song. So the finished song has somebody else’s playing on it and I let the musician play what they feel, I don’t dictate usually what they do on these songs so I’ve been very lucky to get really good musicians to play on the songs and to add really great parts.

I’d be curious to know about your set-up in the studio. Do you find that you have a certain routine or way of laying things out or does it change with the different records?

DY: I think with a lot of the records especially electronic I would have to get a sound that to me feels like it could go somewhere – either it’s the beat or the texture of the sound, especially with a lot of electronic music. And the same with the later stages where a lot of it started on a keyboard or a drum machine together, it was just the feel that I had that I felt would work. And then from there it would build up, I would add the additional instruments, the singing, the vocals – the vocals always came after the music on all the songs that you hear, especially on ‘Primitive Substance’, that was always the last thing that I added. Nothing ever developed with just the lyrics first, that was always after the music but it was like a feel that I had from the instruments and so I thought, well maybe this might turn into a song.

Would you have an earliest memory of playing the drums and the special reaction you had?

DY: I don’t know about the drumset as much but maybe with the Liquid Liquid band, our first few shows where we really excited an audience and everything gelled, it’s quite a feeling when the band reaches this level where you’re more than the individual parts, you become one with this sound and I think I’ve experienced that a few times and that’s really quite an amazing feeling when you have that. I might have experienced that as a drummer but I think more with the band I felt that.

‘Primitive Substance’ is out now on Athens Of The North.

https://aotns.bandcamp.com/album/primitive-substance

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July 2, 2019 at 11:17 am

Mixtape: Fractured Air – June 2019

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This month’s mixtape opens with the peerless, beloved Austin-based songwriter Bill Callahan and his hugely anticipated “Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest” (Drag City), the breathtaking twenty-song opus and follow-up to 2013’s “Dream River”. June’s mix also features: the wonderful Nashville-based composer Eve Maret with her scintillating “No More Running” full length; more beautiful bittersweet folk pop creations from Welsh songwriter and musician Cate Le Bon (from her Mexican Summer-debut ‘Reward’). Other essential 2019 releases include the peerless Irish songwriter Maria Somerville (‘All My People’ remains our favourite of the year); Cork-born and Berlin-based producer ELLLL’s latest ‘Glisten’ EP (released via the Barcelona imprint Paralaxe Editions) and Earthen Sea’s sophomore full-length for the ever-dependable Kranky label.

Dazzling re-issues from Liquid Liquid’s Dennis Young (via Scottish imprint Athens Of The North); Julie Coker’s musical career retrospective showcasing the Nigerian queen of television’s formidable songbook; and Portland, Oregon’s Little Axe compilation of Andean party music from the central sierra of Peru.

 

 

 

Fractured Air – June 2019

01. Bill Callahan‘Shepherd’s Welcome’ (Drag City)
02. Ditto‘Pop’ (Ditto Records)
03. Cate Le Bon‘Here It Comes Again’ (Mexican Summer)
04. G.S. Schray‘District Lizards’ (Last Resort)
05. S. Maharba‘For Someone’ (Cleaning Tapes)
06. Felicia Atkinson‘Shirley to Shirley’ (Sheltered Press)
07. Earthen Sea‘A blank slate’ (Kranky)
08. Nina Simone‘Tomorrow (We Will Meet Once More)’ (Colpix Records)
09. Aldous Harding‘Treasure’ (4AD)
10. Los Solitarios Del Ande‘Mi Pachito A Muerto’ (Little Axe Records)
11. Hailu Mergia & Dahlak Band‘Sintayehu’ (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
12. Julie Coker ‘Ere Yon’ (Kalita Records)
13. White Fence – ‘Fog City’ (Drag City)
14. Dennis Young‘Berlin’ (Athens Of The North)
15. Dylan Moon ‘Song For Jerry’ (RVNG Intl)
16. Eve Maret‘Pink Ray’ (Banana Tapes)
17. ELLLL‘Ride’ (Paralaxe Editions)
18. Fly Pan Am ‘Distance Dealer’ (Constellation)
19. Stereolab‘Diagonals’ (Duophonic Ultra High Frequency Disks)
20. Sons Of Kemet‘My Queen Is Anna Julia Cooper’ (Impulse!)
21. Maria Somerville‘Brighter Days’ (Self-released)
22. Giuliano Sorgini ‘Notte Nella Savana’ (Four Flies Records)
23. The Langley Schools Music Project ‘In My Room’ (Bar/None Records)

Mixtape: Fractured Air – April 2019

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April saw a host of essential new releases surface into the stratosphere. Fixity’s latest full-length ‘No Man Can Tell’ – and second for the ever-dependable Cork-based Penske Recordings imprint – is another stellar sonic journey showcasing deep musical telepathy at each and every turn from a cast of Irish and international musicians.

The eagerly awaited return of Leafcutter John’s new Border Community record ‘Yes! Come Parade With Us’, whose sumptuous sound worlds contains the UK composer’s trusted modular synth and a plethora of field recordings. In addition, guest drummers Tom Skinny (Sons Of Kemet) and John’s Polar Bear bandmate Seb Rochford.

Canadian cellist and composer Justin Wright’s debut album ‘Music for Staying Warm’ is an artistic creation of staggering beauty and wonder. Liquid Liquid luminary Dennis Young’s solo record ‘Primitive Substance’ is a vital document from the solo artist’s post-Liquid Liquid career.

 

 

Fractured Air – April 2019

01. Students of the Salonica Quaker Girl’s School“Dance of Jerissos (lerissos)” (Sublime Frequencies)
02. Ariwo“Ireme” (Manana Records)
03. The Comet Is Coming“Birth Of Creation” (Impulse!)
04. Kate Tempest“Tunnel Vision” (Lex Records)
05. Naive Ted“Blood & Guts” (Unscene Music)
06. Hype Williams“Hype Williams Meets Shangaan Electro” (Honest Jon’s)
07. Dean Blunt“And Ill Show U Heaven If U Let Me” (Hippos In Tanks)
08. The Rationals “Glowin’” (Night Time Stories Ltd)
09. Fixity“Woo” (Penske Recordings)
10. Crevice“In Heart” (Fort Evil Fruit)
11. Carla dal Forno“Fever Walk” (Kallista Records)
12. Josef K “It’s Kinda Funny” (LTM Recordings)
13. Leafcutter John“This Way Out” (Border Community)
14. MorMor“Outside” (Self-released)
15. This Mortal Coil“The Lacemaker” (4AD)
16. Tim Hecker“Step Away From Konoyo” (Kranky)
17. Heather Woods Broderick – “I Try” (Western Vinyl)
18. Justin Wright“Harmonic Loops – Playground Swings” (First Terrace Records)
19. Gigi Masin“The Word Love” (Music From Memory)
20. Anna Peaker“Helicidae” (Alter)
21. Maria Somerville“Dreaming” (Self-released)
22. Raymond Scott“Portofino 1” (Basta)
23. Ingus Bauskenieks“Lidojums Uz Sauli” (Stroom)
24. Prins Thomas“Feel The Love” (Smalltown Supersound)
25. Daedelus “It’s Madness” (Nosaj Thing Remix) (Magical Properties)
26. Four Tet“Teenage Birdsong” (Text Records)
27. Dennis Young“Forgiveness” (Athens Of The North)
28. Ishmael Ensemble“First Light” (Severn Songs)