As part of the release of Digcast X, the third installment of my NYC music series, I'm posting on each band in the podcast. We conclude with David Bronson.
Follow the link above to listen to David discuss "Watch the Sun (October Reprise)," its cool video, and some things he loves about NYC.
I know every creative person is in some ways processing their life experiences when producing art, but I have encountered few that immersed as fully as David Bronson did. His two-part album cycle, together called The Long Lost Story, is only now seeing a wide release after being worked on for at least a decade. Story is out and The Long Lost is coming soon. Even before I spoke with him, I got a sense that this music was deeply personal. You don't need to read the very fascinating conversation we had about the entire process to know that. It's all there. By going so far inside himself, he has created something that is completely steeped in rich emotional content. It's visceral and it's beautiful. It's a big reason why I listen to so much music and read so many books and watch so many films and tv shows and so on: I will never tire of that thrill that comes from understanding another person a little better and also myself.
Journey may be an overused word, but listening to Story is a journey and it was undeniably a journey for David to make it. Because he had to live it first. This largely centers upon a relationship, and not just any relationship, but that first meaningful love one experiences. A love that you completely give yourself over to, although – spoiler alert – it's a love that ultimately ceases to be reciprocated. It can take anyone awhile to come out of the ensuing spiral of confusion and anguish. What I really love about Story is that it both inhabits these moments but it is also an act of willing one's self out, of envisioning a future where this has become a part of you. It's a future where you've been hurt, yes, but you've moved on and become better for it. This record is the embodiment of the phrase "The only way out is through."
Though there are songs of relative simplicity, what I think is most striking about the songs on Story is their massiveness. There tend to be layers and layers of tracks. The words are often sung by multiple voices and there are a lot of them. And it just feels heavy. This isn't really music to put on and ignore. It's very much in a rock tradition, with the primary construction coming from the bedrock of guitar. It may be acoustic and lilting, it may electric and raging, but it almost always is what I noticed first of the instrumentation. I feel that this busier, involved production approach works for the subject matter. If it's depicting the times that David was feeling so much, the best way to mimic that is to put a lot in. And the playing is all very expressive. There are too many words that struck me to list all the examples here, but I encourage everyone to read along on the lyrics page as they listen. All of it is well-written, thought-provoking, and resonant.
I believe this record will stay with everyone who hears it for a very long time because its inspiration, its execution, and its spirit are so powerful. I am excited to hear where everything goes for David, too. His website once again is here. Like him on Facebook here and follow him on Twitter here. His YouTube channel has a bunch of great videos (the goal is for all the songs to get videos eventually). You should definitely buy his album; go here for links to ITunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and more. Check out the video for "Watch the Sun" below, too.
I didn't want to go on too much or get too specific since the interview below covers a great deal of what I thought about, responded to, and wanted to know more. David is a smart, interesting guy, and above all, he's a passionate artist. Our conversation covers a lot about everything that went into this record, some hints at where things will go next for David's music, all of the cool video things happening in conjunction with the release, and a generally deep discussion on the human experience. I know it's long, but I hope it is as enjoyable to read as it was to experience.
Steve: To start off, maybe you could tell me a little of your background as a musician.
David: Sure. I think my love of music began very early with a fascination of popular music. It was rock music in the 80s, mainstream music that was not really played in my house growing up. My mother is a musician. She always sang and played guitar and piano, but she loves classical music and the popular music of when she was younger. The 50s, less the 60s, well still the 60s but not so much rock music. She never got into that, she liked folk music a lot. So rock music always fascinated me. That's where it started. I think a lot of people are fascinated with music, it's such a natural extension of our humanity. Then when I was in fourth grade I played cello in the school band. I thought it would be fun. But I was a bit of a disciplinary problem, ironically (laughs). It's not the type of kid I was typically, but for some reason I would mess around in band rehearsal. My brother would as well, my twin brother Jeremy who still plays drums with me.
S: And he did some art, right?
D: Yes, he did the art as well. He's a visual artist and an animator and illustrator and a lot of things. But we were bad in band class and also didn't practice at all. So this symphony teacher in the 4th grade, who was, from my memories of it, not someone who would be able to tell the signs of any kind of creative or artistic ability. Just the ability of someone to regurgitate something, which I wasn't doing. So she basically told me to quit. "This isn't for you." I was like "Alright, fine," and I quit.
I didn't play for awhile until one day I had this intense yearning to play guitar. And I remember that day very clearly, being in school going "Oh my god, all I want to do is play guitar." My mom had a guitar at home, an acoustic nylon string. She always called it her folk guitar, it was a classical guitar. I couldn't wait to get home. As soon as I got home, I was like "Mom, can I dig out the guitar?" and she's like "Of course." And I just started playing it and I was so into it. Then I started taking lessons and I got my first electric, which my parents rented from the music store and then bought when it was clear I was sticking with it. I had seen it in the window. Cliche maybe, but it was this Fender Music Master, which I still have, actually. It's kind of like a Fender Jaguar.
S: Those are cool.
D: Really cool. Then in the 90s, Nirvana and all those grunge bands made those popular. It was a lower tier guitar for Fender, they were significantly cheaper to buy new than a Strat or a Telecaster or something. But the guy who had owned it before had stripped it of all of its paint and it was just natural wood. I learned that the ones they cover up and paint solid colors – they would never do this with a Sunburst model because you see the grain – a lot of times on those cheaper models they'll take three separate pieces of wood and chunk them together. That's not going to produce as quality a sound or resonance. But I didn't care, I didn't see that as a kid, I just thought it was the coolest looking thing ever. And after my mom's nylon string guitar which had this crazy high action, playing this electric guitar was like butter. So, long story long.
S: Where did you grow up?
D: In New Jersey about half an hour from here. Suburbs of New York.
S: So that's how you got started. Is this album, it's part of a two-part thing, your first recording as David Bronson?
D: It is. It took the better part of a decade to make. These two records together called The Long Lost Story is basically the story of my twenties in a sense. Probably starting at 18, even earlier. I was in bands always before that. I was in a band just about a decade ago called Ready Maker. That was with my twin brother. There were two versions of that band. When we graduated college we moved to Boston for a year and put a band together there. That was the first iteration, with two other players. Then we moved to New York City and put together a completely different band and decided to keep the name. We played for a year and a half, something like that. That was cool.
Then what happened was I started this body of material that has become The Long Lost Story. Right around the same time, my brother started at SVA in the city. He was getting kind of busy with that and I had these songs which were, are, extremely personal songs from that period of my life. There was another songwriter in the band, a very talented guy, he's a classical composer actually and has gone on to do some really interesting things in the city. He was the second songwriter in the band, he and I wrote all the songs. But being in a band is a very democratic thing. You bring songs in and it's kind of up for a group discussion to a certain extent where it goes. I decided that with these songs, once I realized it was this cohesive body of material, I really wanted to pull back and just do it myself, record it as solo record. I spoke with my brother about it and he was getting really into continuing his career in visual art at that point and getting his MFA, so we just decided we would finish that chapter and I would step away and make this record. With the intention of coming back and putting a band together, maybe people in that band or maybe another incarnation, and playing those songs as I would do it on the record.
But then that took a much longer time than I thought it would take (laughs). And I just stretched that out as I needed to work and get money for studio time. It kept evolving. The project was kind of my internal life. And it was a whole process of getting through that whole period of the end of a relationship. But it was really a big identity crisis kind of a thing. It took awhile to get through that and meanwhile I was documenting it through my writing and it grew into this big thing. I kept pushing it, like "Ok, 10 songs, that can be an album." 17 songs, when it got to around there, I was like "Shit, this is going to be a double album." Then it was two length full length records and a certain point I decided to finish one then finish the other one.
S: So you weren't making other music besides that, you weren't in any other bands?
D: Nope, that was it. I was in this project, which was my life. That's the way I wanted it, but also it was a very insular, isolated thing.
S: Did you have day jobs and work?
D: Oh yeah, I was doing all sorts of work. I got a MFA in there. I was in my young 20s and it literally took over everything in my inner world. I was working jobs just to pay for that and along the way somewhere I decided that it should be something bigger than just a rock record, of which there are millions. I don't know what it was, I got really into the idea of making it a bigger thing and I tried to figure out for a long time what could that be. At a certain point I said, "Maybe it could have film." Like a visual component. So I applied to art school, I just figured "I'll go to art school and I'll work it out and see what comes of it." I ended up going to Pratt, got an MFA. And I shot for my thesis film there. I wrote a screenplay based on the first half of the record at that point which was written. I was starting to write the second half of it.
S: The first half being what still hasn't been released?
D: Yes, that's coming out shortly, it's called The Long Lost. I wrote a feature length screenplay and shot a lot of it for my thesis film and edited it down to kind of a short film, still probably about a half hour long. And the rough cuts of those songs were the soundtrack to the movie.
S: That's very interesting.
D: It got very involved and then eventually I pulled away from that. I went through it, I did that and then it was "Ok, this is all probably somewhat of a distraction." Not a distraction, but I don't think I was actually ready to move past that story, the whole thing. I was keeping myself in it for so long. In the last handful of years, the emotional part chapter marked a bunch of years ago now. It's like I'm through that stuff, I'm in a new phase of life, I've written these songs, I'm finishing recording them. But it just takes time to finish the recording, the right combination of people to finish it with. Before you know it, I'm in a whole different chapter of my life and I've written a bunch of other records that I'm starting to demo and I'm looking to do those. Just this last year I've put the first one out, I'm now putting the second one out. Which to me is like my past.
S: What came out was stuff that had been written over a while, many years ago, but what we're hearing was it re-recorded?
D: What we're hearing, it's very interesting. I always think I have this image in my head of – you know what a palimpsest is?
S: Yeah, when you write and then it goes through…
D: Yeah, the marks through it. Like the Roman forum, you know? Where there are foundations and things break away and crumble and things get built on top of it. To a certain degree, that's how I see it because it's taken place over a long period of time. It's interesting because I stepped away from The Long Lost a couple years while I finished Story and in these last few months I've gone back to these songs that are really the history of the whole thing. For me, the beginning of the story. And it's like "Wow." It's kind of mind-blowing. I'm mixing those. Most of the vocals are things that I sang years ago.
S: So you are working with older tracks?
D: Yes, but all the way through, the entire time, I would put overdubs on and I wouldn't have certain things. For example, just the other day Godfrey Diamond who does my recording with me now and is mixing all the stuff – he's amazing – he and I just recorded the backing harmony vocals with Maria Neckam for some of these older songs that were never on. I always knew there was going to be this female harmony and counterpoint to the songs because they were all written and that was a big part of the concept, being a relationship record and having this female performer. But they never were there before. We're putting these new things on. It's a mixture. Some of the songs were recorded over a much more concentrated period and some of them longer. And there's been a subtraction too, a lot of stuff I've taken out.
S: Listening to Story, it does sound pretty cohesive. I wouldn't have realized there's maybe something from ten years ago with something that could have been done one year ago.
S: It definitely feels of a piece. And especially when you start reading the lyrics, I mean quite literally there's repetition.
D: Yeah, absolutely a lot of motif repetition. Of lyrics, of melodies, progressions even.
S: I thought it was interesting. Certainly the personal quality of it is resonant. I think that's interesting because on the one hand it's easy to sit there and think I kind of understand you and what you've gone through and I can picture it. You are specific, but it's done in such a way where I start thinking about my life, or other listeners think about what they've gone through. I think that's really cool.
D: Thanks. I don't keep that in mind, but I think it's a natural thing because all of the songs that I have been most attracted to and loved and connected with probably have that degree of generality. So I think it's a natural thing for me having intentionally or consciously or unconsciously over the years paid probably very close attention to songwriters that I respect and that touched me. To keep a degree of generality, because you want to have it be something that touches other people. I guess a lot of people use names or whatever, but yeah, it's the relatability that makes art strong I think. Or good, whatever.
S: And even if you don't get too specific, naming names, dates, places, I find it so interesting that the way stuff often becomes relatable is by a person getting as deep and specific and personal as they can. I wouldn't say "Oh, this is clearly about X and it happened on such date." But it would connect. It's an interesting phenomenon.
D: Yeah, because we all feel the same things and the same ways, which is something that we all take for granted. I haven't found it anywhere as much as here because you're among so many people yet there's always this perceived separation. People in our culture and this particular milieu, it's almost a natural thing – I was going to say practiced – to walk around with a certain bearing or to hold yourself a certain way, a lot of it is projection, but you break that down. Every time you scratch the surface and actually make some kind of connection or see some revelation about another person, it's like "Oh yeah, that's like me." We forget that. That's one of the greatest things about art. The best art, I think, just obliterates all that surface shit, all the distance. That's why we need art, I think. That's what art does.
S: Yeah, I agree. I think that's why a lot of what appeals to me does. It's like "Oh!" It helps you understand yourself.
D: Exactly! Because it's pinpointed somewhere, it's almost like it's given a name. Right. How many times was that done for me? A lot of people have asked me in interviews and stuff what records influenced this record, if any? I've been saying, which is true, Peter Gabriel's Us record, which is a relationship record, basically. And also Beck's Sea Change record. Those are the two big ones at the inception of this project, when I realized I had this massive life event happening to me that wasn't fun at the time at all and it was brutal. Everything those guys were saying, particularly that record Us, everything about it, Peter Gabriel's voice, the production.
Both of those records, they are respectively produced by Daniel Lanois and Nigel Godrich. Those guys are two of the artists I respect most in the world. They're brilliant. I've been turned onto other artist just because those guys produced them, for sure. Love their stuff. There's so much in the sound of it that hit me emotionally and it fit so perfectly. The whole combination of form content is such a beautiful, perfect match. Those are two records I think are perfect examples of that. There are a lot of them, but that's what did those for me. Those records helped me realize "Oh, this is what I'm going through. I want to document it." Why? I don't know. Not for the sake of documenting it, but because I think it'll help me ideally move past it.
S: And it did, right?
D: Oh yeah. It was my therapy. Fully. That's why I did it and that's why I did for so long. Because it really took a long time to emotionally get through that.
S: Was there ever any fear or doubt about bearing yourself and working through it and going to those places?
D: No. None. None whatsoever at all. The only question was – the whole challenge – can I express and actually communicate what I'm feeling? Which I don't know. I think I did it somewhat successfully, but it's hard to say because I'm not in the exact feeling anymore. Sometimes I get glimpses if I listen to it. I don't listen to these records frequently but now I'm listening to The Long Lost, because I'm doing the mixes. I listen to the mixes like crazy, nonstop, to get that process done. Every once in awhile, the lyric will hit me and the place I was emotionally where I wrote it, sometimes even the room I was in where I wrote it, really viscerally hits me and it's like, a very powerful kind of thing. So sometimes I do think I did it successfully. I hope I did it successfully all the way through. But again, I'm like anyone else. It's a rare occasion when you can listen a record start to finish and be in it fully, like crazy, right there the entire time. It's hard to do sometimes in life. Especially with "modern life." There's so much pulling your attention.
S: Now that you're past it, though you're also performing these songs, do you find there's anything you've seen about being beyond it when you go back? Is it hard or does it come back easily? Or you're almost performing your own self, like covering yourself in a way?
D: Yes, it does feel like that. I actually don't play very many of these songs live, I'm playing newer stuff, which is more where I'm at now or have been since then. I do play a few songs, mostly from Story. I actually don't think I've played any songs from The Long Lost in a live set yet. I probably will coming up a little because I'm hearing them a lot now and that'll spark some things.
S: And the record is coming out.
D: Yeah, although even at the album release show, I think I played two songs from the record. Just because I'd rather be playing newer stuff.
S: It's not so much about the performance as it was just making it.
D: Oh yeah, absolutely. No, the record is an incredibly personal thing. I wouldn't assume that all of my records at all will be like that. I very much have an impulse to do something completely different. Of course you as the person are a lens to a certain degree, we all have our idiosyncrasies and habits, and that's style, I think that's what that means, actually. But so it'll be recognizable in probably much of what I do, but things are different. So it is sort of covering myself but also I try, if I'm to perform it live or if I was to re-record, I've often thought it would be cool to record, maybe twenty years from now, one of these albums again. It would be a completely different thing. I arrange them for where I'm at.
S: Yeah, I think listening to it, the lyrics give you a lot and musically you do feel a lot of emotion. There are a lot of layers guitar and then there's the female voice, and it kind of gets to that turbulence or that heightened state of things. It kind of reflects this space where a lot's happening. Sometimes something clicks in real clear and sometimes it's "Oh, what's happening here?" But that's probably by intention I would think.
D: Yeah, although Godfrey tells me, "Dave, you can handle a lot more than most people." Sonically. He jokingly called me "100 Track Dave" actually (laughs). Some of these mixes I brought to him, he was like "Holy shit, I've never seen projects this big." It's weird, when I looked at it, even initially, I thought it'll be subtracted a bit, but I was just going to throw everything, all the ideas I have. But I learned there's no shortage of ideas and we have subtracted a bunch. More so on this record than the last one, in this mix process. Part of that is there was so much emotion, so I'm glad, I think it's a reflection of all that. But also I definitely feel like there's maturation now where I don't need to do that. I certainly will never need to record as much for an album as I did for these albums. I wouldn't feel the need to. I was learning how to do it. These are the first albums I produced. I arranged it all, so I was learning what it could take, what it needed, what it didn't need, all that.
S: Did you play everything on the record?
D: I played about 80%. Most of the guitars, most of the bass, except for one, maybe two songs. A lot of the synths and keyboards and then my brother played drums on everything. I brought in a handful individual players to play on the stuff that I couldn't do or wanted someone's particular style. Like a female vocalist. And a guy in my band named Robbie Seahag Mangano, who's been playing with me for a lot of years now. He does things on guitar that I can't do and he's such a phenomenal musician, so I wanted to use him as much as I could on the records. To me, whenever he's playing I hear it. He's got just unbelievable musical everything (laughs). I did that with a number of things. Pedal steel.
S: That's cool. The producer Godfrey Diamond worked with Lou Reed. How did you connect with him?
D: Robbie Seahag actually. I met him at a show that Robbie was playing at, he plays in a number of bands and projects. I forget how he knew Godfrey, but we just met after the show. Robbie had been telling me, "Oh yeah, my buddy Godfrey, he has a really studio and he's done some really great things and he's a great guy and you should work with him." And I was kind of looking for someone to mix the record, I knew I needed someone to finish the records with me. I went over to his place and we hit it off pretty much immediately. We've been working together ever since. We're going to be doing the next record together.
S: That's great. It's nice to have a good collaborator.
D: Oh yeah. I tell him very frequently he saved my life in many ways. I love that guy on many, many levels. Just musically, it's an amazing thing. You have numerous relationships in your life that come in and are great. That's one of them.
S: We could talk a little bit about some of the songs. One thing I'm curious about, especially now knowing how long it took to make some of it, what song would you say of the story changed the most from your initial vision? If any?
D: That's interesting. On Story, let me think. "Momentary," I completely rewrote the lyric. Somewhat recently, relatively speaking. "Momentary" is one of the oldest songs on the whole record. I wrote that song with my brother Jeremy in college. The chorus is the same, although the main melody is a little different. The verses completely changed because I realized they were good, but a little juvenile, not part of this record enough, so I rewrote them.
S: That's the one with the video that's animated. And it's got the lyrics, it's literal. Who drew it?
D: Yep. A guy named David Sparrshot, in England, actually. I just Googled illustrator a year and a half ago when I was thinking about having someone do stuff for the album artwork itself because my brother was so busy, I didn't know if he was going to be able to do it. But he did end up being able to, which is amazing because he's my first choice. I just kept this guy's number and told him "If we can work something, I'd love to." Then I just had this idea for doing that video. He has illustrated another one too, which will be coming out shortly, "If."
S: I know it's not always practical, but I think it's really cool when multiple songs get videos. I love music videos and it seems like it adds another dimension.
D: Yeah, absolutely. Some people, just practically speaking, only get music on YouTube. But initially, I don't know if it's some kind of shadow or ode to the whole idea of me getting an MFA to make this a film, but there's that component of film actually built into this. That's really the palimpsest. It started as songs, a record, then became this film movie that was totally jettisoned and now it's a double album doing music videos. Those are an echo of that thing. My real idea was to do a video for every single song. I have a background in film. I've done a lot and that's how I earn my money to make the record all these years, as an editor, as a shooter, I've done a lot of production. A lot of these videos I've directed or wrote or conceived or was very instrumental. They're all another iteration of the autobiography. So I do like doing videos and I like doing videos for as many as I can, if not every single one.
S: "Easier" is a pretty basic video, I can see how that's something you could have just done yourself, quickly.
D: Mmm-hmm, I did do that myself (laughs).
S: Then "Times," you probably did that as well?
D: "Times" I directed, I didn't shoot it. But that was totally my concept.
S: That was more complex.
D: Unbelievably complex to put together.
S: I think it's a great video.
D: Oh, thanks.
S: Well, I like all of them, but the cool thing about "Times," is seeing all that happen. I think that's neat, if you have a visual medium, playing around with it a little bit.
D: Totally, multiples of themselves. Which also goes along conceptually with "Times." It's about multiples and different times in life and different moods and different experiences. Same person. I wanted to echo that in the visual.
S: There's an interesting dynamic. This album makes me think about cycles and patterns and development.
S: Then it also really isolates individual moments. Some stuff is really pivotal and then some stuff is ongoing, and that's of course how life is.
D: That's like life, yeah. It's like the particle of water in the river, it's like one and together at the same time. That's how it is.
S: And the metaphor of the sun. It comes back every day, but you may only feel at it one moment.
D: Right. It is a point on the horizon, but it's always there. It's the source of everything for us.
S: We have ingrained habits and we are who we are because of how we do things, and yet at the same time, one thing can change all that too.
D: Right. Absolutely.
S: And it seems this is a record really about that. "Am I just this moment? Or am I all this stuff that's happened to me? How does it come together?"
D: Absolutely, absolutely. That's an interesting way of putting a very important aspect of it. That's cool, I like that you've attached to that aspect of it. That's definitely a part of it.
S: It's definitely a powerful record.
D: Thank you.
S: I think "The Turns" is a great video, too. I think you saw I wrote a little about it.
S: I thought that was really interesting and I don't know if what I was getting out of it was exactly what you were going for or not, but I thought there was some really cool stuff happening in it and just the way it was made. I love stuff with long shots and interesting lighting.
D: That was the second video I did right after "Times" and in a way it's the polar opposite. That is basically two continuous shots that make up 70 or 80 percent of the video. Whereas "Times" has everything composited together that was obviously shot at different times. It's the same person 4 times in a room. But, yeah "The Turns," I think of as like a river. That metaphor we used in there a lot.
S: And that's a lyric in the song about the current.
S: One of my friends in high school, he really put this to me in a really interesting way. You know, when you think you're starting to become an intellectual and you have these deep conversations, it's that age.
D: (laughs) Yeah, that's when I was listening to Rage Against the Machine.
S: So one day we were just talking about "Do I have a choice or is everything preordained?" I forget exactly how he put it but the river was a really great metaphor because you can have a current that's strong enough to push you. Say it's branching out and if you just float, you'll go down one way. But it's not so strong you can't swim to the other one. I just thought that was an interesting way to think about it. That's the kind of stuff I was reflecting on when I was listening to this, too. "How much is just the path I'm on that I have no control over? How much of it is just stuff I can make happen?" I feel like if anything it's about trying to learn how to get out of that current and how to start making it happen kind of.
D: This is very interesting to me that we're talking about this, that you brought that up, because that's something I think about all the time. And I've always thought about, actually. I took a freshman philosophy class (laughs) in college. Really the only thing I remember from that is the idea of determinism, the fate thing. That everything is predetermined, there is no free will. To this day, that's a spiral conundrum. Is it one or the other? How can you have both? I sort of think it's both, but that makes no logical sense. It logically has to be one or the other.
But I'm always thinking about that and I think you're right, there's a hopefulness or an idealism that's very present in me, always, that wants to believe there is a free will and that you do have control. But I think maybe, I'm not going to say the smarter part, maybe the more self-aware or giving over part of me, surrendering part of me, also knows that there's this thing in existence that when you do kind of let things happen, things go as they should, I guess. I'm not going to say good or the right way or better. I'm always torn between those two. Constantly. All my actions, all my thoughts, all my intent. When I wake up, I'm always torn between that dichotomy, those two mindsets. So I'm sure that's in there.
S: When you add the aspect of a relationship on top that, that's where it gets interesting.
D: Oh god, yeah (laughs).
S: If anything, aside from maybe your career or figuring out what you're going to do with your life, relationships are the most potent for "What's meant to be? What do I want?"
D: "What can I make work? Can we make it work? Can you fight for something?"
S: When you think about fate vs. free will, you have two people in a relationship, and there's those points where it stops being the same view of how it's going.
D: Right, and it's divergent.
S: Who gets to decide that and who’s right? You know?
D: And what stage or stages are the people at so that it's feasible, a good idea, or really not a good idea to stay on the same path.
S: Yeah, and knowing when something that's maybe better for you is so painful.
D: Yeah (laughs). Exactly. There's a lot of that, I guess, on the record. It's funny because I don't know.
S: Oh yeah, I feel like it is there.
S: That was a big thing I was getting out of it. It made me think about a really big relationship in my life.
D: Good. Yeah.
S: I don't think it went the way I or the other person wanted it to go. It was very great in some ways but also painful.
D: Difficult in certain ways.
S: Right. I still don't really understand it in a way.
D: And it's still a part of you. That's the last line on the record. These things become part of our river. That's it. But you just have to trust it's going to go the way you hope. I think it's a very hopeful record, personally. Both of them. The Long Lost is much darker I think because it's kind of a description of being right in the middle of the break up. The pain, the worst part of it. Story is a coming out of it. That's the way I look at it.
S: Yeah, and that's what seems to be the message of "The Turns."
S: You suddenly shift and something new happens.
D: Even in spite of you, almost.
S: Is it fair to say that this is all about one relationship?
D: Oh yeah. Well, two. Me and her and me and me. But I know what you mean.
S: With it being such a long process, I wondered if relationships you may have had subsequently had come to bear on it.
D: It's interesting. In retrospect, maybe certain lines. When I started this project, The Long Lost was me writing when that relationship was falling apart. All of Story basically was written after that. Not all, "Momentary" is an earlier song like I said. But I hear shades of all sorts of other pieces of my life in it, including subsequent relationships. I do hear, like "Oh that line is really me talking about me and actually that was something I did to this other person." Although that wasn't a conscious thing.
S: It's inevitable, right? Life is going to come in.
D: Yeah, things come in. Your experience comes in.
S: It looks like you're married now.
D: I am.
S: So it's obviously gotten past…
D: Oh yeah, it's progressed way past that. To me it's ancient history.
S: But this was at the time, the most powerful emotional moment of your life?
D: Oh yeah, ever. Of my life, to that point. Definitely. I never experienced anything like that. It was my first love. In certain ways I think it was the trauma of my life. To some degree, and certain other people have helped me look at it, this relationship kind of came up and was kind of characterized by or characterized an intense stage in my own development, emotionally and psychologically. And it just happened to take such heavy root, so deeply enmeshed with the deepest parts of me and my emotional reality, that it was very, very brutal when it ended and very shattering and self-eviscerating. And a lot of the songs, there's imagery of shattering and breaking and fragmentation. On The Long Lost and also on Story. And that all has to do with identity. The metaphor of a crumbling anything is very apt to I think a lot of moments in all of our lives.
S: It seems like another thing that comes through is the idea that, at least on Story when you're moving through it a little more, there's this awareness of "Ok, well, there's more to happen in my life." New things. But, it could happen again. You just have to accept.
D: Right, the good with the bad, it's all part of life.
S: And just trying to learn to be ok with that as you move forward. What do you think helps with that?
D: Helps with what exactly? Coming to terms with hard things?
S: Besides making this record, what was it that helped you get through?
D: Time. Time and making this record, that was it. Literally. Friends too, I have to say. People, just living and being in life. But you can't always be in life when you're in pain and it's very hard a lot of times to be present, to even experience anything joyful. But then again, it's all life. So in retrospect, you're thankful for it and happy that you had it.
S: The use of "catalyst" is a big thing that comes through. That's a word used a lot.
S: And I think that speaks to that realization you are moving forward. To think that the biggest challenge of your life is merely a catalyst to new stuff.
D: Well, that was wishful thinking at the time I wrote it. That was me being in the present looking to the future and having a hope.
S: Trying to create where you were hoping to be.
D: Absolutely. This whole record was a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. An attempt. That's why I say it's a hopeful record. I'm nothing if not idealist and at my lowest points, which lasted for years, a long time, there was this "What the fuck are you going to do?" You could kill yourself. That's what "Easier" is about, there's the line "There are two ways this can go."
S: Yes, I felt like that line was kind of comforting in a way, in the sense that "Well, it's either going to be bad or it's going to be good."
D: Exactly. That's it, that's what it is.
S: Sometimes you don't know what's going to happen, you don't have any bearing, all you see are these multiple paths, but it's knowing it's either going to get better or it's not. Even if it's going to get worse, it's almost comforting knowing that's all that can happen, in a weird way.
D: Or you can die.
S: (laughs) And really, that's not too likely.
D: Well, it's certain. Eventually.
S: I mean, the event itself or the experience itself, that won't usually kill you.
D: No, right. Exactly. And there you have the cliche of "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." It's true. It might even make you happier. If you manage to make your way through it, which you will unless you die, then it will go elsewhere. And if it's as low as it can get, it will only go up and you can believe that.
S: I don't want to shatter the mystique of what this record is about but I am a little curious about this relationship. You don't have to speak about it, it's totally up to you, but maybe just the time in your life and how long it lasted?
D: It lasted a long time.
S: I'm talking the relationship itself. Was it someone you had been with for awhile?
D: Yes. Absolutely. Emotionally, yes, and I don't know what "officially" means, but yes. I don't think I'll shatter any mystique because I would only talk about it emotionally because I think that's what is important. That's what the record is. It lasted a very long time, I think it lasted a decade or more emotionally. It's hard to say. It completely changed me as a person and it paralleled my growth as a human being. An emotional human being, a co-existing human being. What else would you like to know about that?
S: How long ago was it? It seems like there is distance from it now.
D: Oh yeah. It's hard to say. Roughly speaking I could say it's a decade ago. But that's not really accurate. It probably lasted for close to decade the actual relationship, but of course there was an evolution to that relationship and of course, that relationship still exists. It's a person who's alive in the world.
S: Do you still have any contact with that person?
D: Occasionally, yes. But not for a very, very long time. I kind of look at it like it's all formative to me and to who I am, so specifically there's any benefit of knowing details about it, which is not what you're asking, but it was a period of my life basically that I think I more or less documented with this records. Which is why I did it, I thought it deserved to be. Maybe it's egocentric, but of course it is, all art is egotistical.
S: All art kind of has to be in a way. In some ways being creative is among the most selfish things you can do.
D: Absolutely. I think about that all the time. But also it's beneficial and it gives.
S: And once it gets out it goes beyond that. It starts from this self.
D: Everything starts from the self. Isn't every person living, trying to create the best life for themselves? Isn't that what we do? Isn't that what every species, every living thing does? So isn't that natural? Even non-sentient things, right?
S: Yeah. Definitely. Getting back to the music, since I'm not as much a musical person…
D: You are a musical person. You just don't perform music.
S: True. I just wonder what was the relationship between the content and the sound? How did you arrive at the music of the record? And maybe give one concrete example of how it works for you or how you're trying to achieve that?
D: I definitely don't plan it all conceptually, which is not to say this isn't a concept record, the whole thing was conceived as one thing and I took it where it went. The most specific I can get is I try to illustrate an emotion. "The Ones" is the angry song. It's almost violent. It's one of the most vehement songs, if not the most I've written or recorded. And I wanted that. With everything, the delivery of the vocal, the amount of words in the vocal, it's fast, the tempo. And the tones. It was obvious when I played the demo for Godfrey that it was going to have a big drum sound, distorted guitars, certain things like that. Crunchy. There's got to be a certain amount of attack, too, which is an interesting word to use because it works on multiple levels. Things like that. I try to illustrate or paint moods or emotional feelings too parallel what the feeling I'm trying to describe is, which is where the lyric comes from. That's as specific as I would plan something like that.
S: What comes first for you, words or music?
D: It varies. Historically, always music. But there are a lot of exceptions to that. Most recently, I was away on a vacation. I had no guitar with me, purposely. I was thinking "I need to unplug from everything." From all the parts of my life that are literally work-related, which music is an enormous one obviously. I stupidly thought I'd just be able to relax with my wife. We were on a beach, but literally by the second day I was like "What the hell did I do? I'm going to go crazy." But I had a journal with me and you have a phone everywhere you go – that's one of the silly things of our existence right now.
So I wrote words and lyrics and I wrote melodies in my head and recorded them in my phone. I basically wrote a record in a week. 11, 12 big ideas for songs. Which I had never done before. Once or twice, every once in awhile a melody will come to me, or a phrase and I'll just work off that. A couple of the strongest songs I've ever written are written that way. But more often than not, I start with a guitar. Maybe a keyboard, but usually a guitar. And I'm just playing, seeing where it goes. I come up with a part, something really attracts me and then I develop it. Then the melody follows that and then the lyrics last.
We recorded two podcast segments. "Watch the Sun" was used, but here's some info on "If."
S: "If," maybe is one of the most dense lyrically.
D: Very possibly (laughs).
S: There are a lot of words and it's also musically pretty dense, too. I think a lot of the tracks have a lot of tracks being laid down.
D: Yes, absolutely.
S: That one, there's a lot of guitar, there's soloing and there's texture and I think you have multiple voices in it. Lot of density and it's kind of a song that's confused in a little bit of ways, wondering what's going to happen. The line that really stuck out to me probably most of all is "Since we were young, we should have been that much more trusting of ourselves." I think that's maybe is related to the whole album, when you think you were trusting and you find that it went differently. For all your trust, it wasn't what you thought.
D: That's very much related to the core of the whole thing. I think it's most related to the idea of an "end of innocence." Or a forced acknowledgement of this idealistic, romanticism that we have in a first love. The idea that we're going to break all the conventions. I know there's heartbreak and pain, but I had this very real thing of "Oh, that's not going to happen to me. I have this very intense, real love and that's not going to be my world." I took it very seriously and I tend to take a lot of things seriously, the things I care about. As I think most people do but I can't speak for anyone else.
That of course was not proven true. Once that shattering happened, that was so painful and that's what caused me to feel the need to write these records and do the whole thing. It was a pure reaction to that. That line, which you astutely picked up on, is sort of at the root of the whole thing now that I'm thinking about it. It's still holding on to this hopeful time and then later in the song it ends on the converse of that, "As we get older, let us trust ourselves." But it's recognizing it's a different aspect of that. It's a much wiser trust. The first one is still reflecting that naive, youthful thing. It's almost a child in a room stamping his foot. "We should have trusted ourselves. Everything should have been able to be perfect." It's angry. Later it's as we get older, having taken everything in, it's a much more real trust.
S: It's the transition. Or in some ways hoping to get there.
D: So much of this record is about hoping.
S: What made you decide to have so much going on musically in this track and others?
D: That's an interesting question. I think the root of it is there was a lot inside of me, emotionally. There was a lot going on and nothing was too extreme sonically. I did tone it down in the final mixes – there was more than is even there, we stripped so much away. As I'm sure anyone making music in the contemporary age is aware, Pro Tools allows you to keep doing and trying stuff, which is a bad thing I think. One of the biggest things I learned technically in music making and record making is that really you don't need all that stuff. The newer records I'm working on will reflect that. You evolve as a music maker, as an art maker. But that was my first real go at it and I think it reflects the huge musical ambition that I had as a young twenty something. I wanted to put everything. It was big feelings and it had to be a big sound to match it.
S: I think it does add to scope. It's a big record, there's a lot to think about and listen to and feel. I think it works as a statement.
D: Good, thank you.