Red Sails and Future Music with Daniel Land, An Interview
Daniel Land is the dreampop wunderkind from London. His work spans a number of genres including his solo work, more dreampop greatness with Daniel Land and the Painters, as well as his ambient compositions under the name riverrun and much more. I interviewed Land back in 2017 and now he has been gracious enough to do some catching up on his past few years, his new album The Dream of the Red Sails, his work as riverrun, what comes next, and much more.
Hello once again Daniel and thanks for doing this. How about we start with what you have been up to since the release of In Love with A Ghost. What projects have you been involved in since then and have there been any events musically you would like to share with readers before we turn to The Dream of the Red Sails?
Well, thanks for inviting me!
I think the last time I spoke to Somewherecold I was anticipating a very busy few years, and that has definitely been the case! Since the last time we spoke, I co-produced and mixed the Swoone album Handcuffed Heart, which was released on Saint Marie Records last year. I was also commissioned by Expedia to write a generative classical composition, [https://www.expedia.co.uk/vc/the-world-in-tune/] which came out very well, and which has reignited my interest in ensemble music; some time in the next year I hope to release a new album by my semi-classical project Arber, which is a continuation of that work.
I’ve also written some music for films, released a fifty-hour piece of riverrun music, and when I’ve had some spare time, I’ve been stealthily releasing albums under a couple of secret ambient pseudonyms. But my focus has been working on a crop of new Shoegaze/Dream Pop songs, including my new album The Dream Of The Red Sails, which I guess we’ll talk about later.
Lilliput was this gigantic endeavor for a riverrun release with 50+hours of ambient track. Can you talk a bit about the process behind it and what made you want to do something that created unique listening experiences on each disc?
Ha, well, fifty hours seems like a staggering amount of music, but constructing the piece didn’t really take any longer than any other riverrun piece I’ve done, to be honest. These pieces are quite easy to make, because what I’m doing is collaging a few different musical elements from my “cuttings file” – normally little sound experiments or improvisations and things like that – and allowing them to repeat over and over again.
Let’s say I’m collaging a guitar part that’s 6 mins 47 seconds, with a piano part that’s 10 mins 20 seconds, and a recording of a thunderstorm which lasts 15 minutes 2 seconds. You would have to listen to those elements looping for a long time before the composition repeated itself exactly. With the riverrun pieces I normally set that kind of process in motion, and then just pick a promising segment.
But what I did with Lilliput was to implement that process on a much longer timescale, which is very easy to do when you’re working digitally. So, instead of three or four musical elements, there were more like thirty. And these musical elements repeated with wildly different timescales – anywhere from around 30 minutes up to around 4 hours – and have large chunks of silence built into them as well.
What transpires when you set it all running is a beautiful, organic-sounding piece of music, and this is especially apparent over longer durations – you get moments of relative calm and simplicity, silence even, and moments where everything seems to cluster together. It’s like watching the weather slowly change.
Oddly enough, the hardest part of the process was making the CDs – mixing down a fifty-hour piece of music made my laptop sweat a little! And then I had to master it, cut it into fifty slices, and burn each of them to a CD. But it was worth the effort. I never expected it to sell out so quickly – people seemed to really like the idea – which makes me think I should do something like this again.
At the very least, this year I’m hoping to make a new generation of the piece and sell a larger chunk as a digital download – ten hours’ worth, perhaps.
In former interviews, I gathered that you are definitely an artist that is affected by your environment. Can you talk about the setting you were in for The Dream of the Red Sails and how that setting influences these sets of tracks?
I’m perhaps a little too attuned to political developments in the sense that I’m constantly monitoring the news, listening to podcasts, reading books and articles and so on. One of the difficulties I had in making The Dream Of The Red Sails is that it felt like a cop-out to not really address the reality we’re living through. How are you supposed to respond to Brexit and Trump? And yet, I wouldn’t want to make a nakedly political album. I doubt I’d have the ability to do it, and in any case, overtly political lyrics almost always suck. They seem so reduced, somehow – so unambiguous.
At the same time, I’ve become very interested in the distortions of memory, and what happened with this album was that I found myself writing about nostalgia, old friendships, and old lovers. I’m not quite sure what set off the flood of reminiscences other than, perhaps, a cancer scare I had in 2017, but my reaction to the darkness of world events was a part of it as well. I just wanted to make something light, warm, soulful and meaningful. When Joni Mitchell recorded Wild Things Run Fast at the dawn of the Reagan era, she said that it was a “romantic album for unromantic times” and that’s sort of how I feel about this new record. Or, as the painter Peter Schmidt said: “One of the functions of art is to offer a more desirable reality; a model as it were, of another style of existence with its own pace and its own cultural reference”. That was on my mind a lot when I was working on this album.
When you were in the studio (home or otherwise) during the recording of The Dream of the Red Sails, would you talk a little bit about your process in getting ready to record, write, and perhaps shape songs in the studio?
I can’t remember if we talked about this last time, but the way I write songs is completely back to front. I normally have a fully-recorded and partially-mixed backing track before I even start to work on melodies or lyrics. I’m not the kind of songwriter who can sit down and sketch something out on a guitar, present it to the band, and then record it. I need some kind of mood there first, before I can get ideas for lyrics.
So, most of the album was recorded at home, where I have the luxury to record when I’m inspired. I’d put down my guitar parts, program some guide drums, and then present a semi-complete backing track to the guys in my band, who would throw on some additional textures and ideas. We might then go into a proper studio to put down some of the things I can’t do at home – loud guitars, or the drum kit, for example.
But as always with my stuff, there are quite a few things that were completed entirely at home. ‘Skindivers’ for example, I was just on a roll and didn’t want to wait – I played every instrument on that track.
I know that you have just finished a degree. How has that influenced how you approach your music?
That’s right, I finished a master’s degree in Record Production at the London College of Music last year. It’s funny – a friend of mine was ribbing me for doing a course in record production, when I had already by that point released something like eight or ten records! Hahaha.
But the course wasn’t necessarily about the technical aspects of making records. It’s an academic course, and much more focused on the growing literature around record production, what the course leader called the Musicology of Record Production. This is a body of work that looks at record production through psychological and sociological lenses, including ecological approaches to perception, embodied cognition, and the interface between culture and technology. It’s the beginnings of an exciting new academic field and I was totally engaged by it – and I’m now expecting to start a PhD in this area.
So, on the one hand, I didn’t really learn any new practical skills during the course. But on the other, it’s completely changed the way I think about music, which has been very valuable.
I usually ask artists to pick two songs on an album and then comment about their content, recording, writing, etc in order to sort of zoom in on some specifics. Can you talk more specifically about “Long Before the Weather” and “Starless”?
‘Long Before The Weather’ was one of the first things I wrote with my bandmate Gary Bruce. He brought me some guitar chords, which we recorded against a drum machine, and then he left it with me to decorate and arrange it as I saw fit. That’s one of my favourite ways of working – many of the best songs I wrote with my old Daniel Land & The Modern Painters bandmate Graeme Meikle were made that way. I probably spent about a year adding bits, letting it rest, listening again months later, subtracting and adding more, and when I was happy with the arrangement, we went in to a proper studio to add Adam Gummer’s drum parts.
‘Starless’ is the only up-tempo song on the album. I find it so hard to write happy, upbeat music! Although I do try to write a couple of fast tracks for each album, most of the time they never make it past the demo stage because they sound so phony. ‘Starless’ is one of the tracks that made it. I recorded my main guitar parts one Sunday afternoon a couple of years back, sent a demo to the band, and everyone loved it. Three of us went into a studio a few weeks later, and after I’d tinkered with it for a few months, replayed and rearranged some parts, the other two band members added their bits. It’s one of the more collaborative tracks on the album and all the better for it.
There were a number of other musicians brought in on Red Sails. Who did you bring in, what did they do, and do you enjoy the collaborative moments in recording?
So yeah, aside from the names I’ve already mentioned, we had Rob Sykes from my live band playing bass. Rob used to be in a Club AC30 band called Sleepless, and he’s got a completely different bass-playing style than me, which means there’s some nice variety across the album with some of the tones and textures.
I haven’t mentioned Brin Coleman yet, but he also plays in my live band, and his lovely keyboard playing is all over the album. Brin’s parts are the icing on the cake – I take my tracks up to his studio in Manchester when I’m close to finishing the record, knowing he’ll throw some lovely colours over what I’ve done.
Then there were my dear friends Mari Vestbø, and Stefan Pantazis. We met shortly after I moved to London in 2012, and we’ve done various bits of recording over the years. The track that became ‘Fleur du Mâle’ was an instrumental piece Stefan and I recorded a couple of years ago, when we were trying to come up with some music for Mari to sing over. It was totally inappropriate for that project, but it’s a lovely piece of music, and I’m glad I’ve finally found a home for it. Mari herself put some gorgeous backing vocals on ‘Long Before The Weather’ and ‘Alone With America’, too.
I love collaborating. I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds at the moment – I’m working with lovely, supportive people who have great ideas, and love to be involved, but who don’t mind if sometimes I end up in the driving seat and doing a whole track myself.
Let’s do a little dreaming here. If you had endless funds, what might you do in terms of music? This could be anything like start a label, build a magnificent studio, or whatever.
If I won the lottery tonight, I think the first thing I’d do would be to start paying my band a retainer! Those guys give up so much of their time to help me do my thing, for next to no money. It would be nice to pay them for their time, and off the back of that, take live performance work more seriously, i.e. put more time into it, rehearse more, tour more. That’s difficult to do when I’m basically funding everything from my part time job.
If I had unlimited funds, I would probably set up a proper label, and make sure my music was better promoted and better distributed. There are all kinds of things I can’t do at the moment – pressing my records on vinyl, touring more, playing outside the UK, hiring good PR etc. – which largely comes down to not having enough money. And then, off the back of that, I could make the label a home for some of my unsigned friends as well.
What equipment did you use on Red Sails?
Well, it’s a real guitar-focused album, so perhaps I should talk about my guitars?
The main instrument on this album was my purple Fender Jazzmaster, the J Mascis Signature edition, which I’ve been using almost exclusively since I got it in 2007. It’s quite simply the best guitar I’ve ever played, and it’s my go-to guitar in most situations. It’s all over the album. I’ve also been using a modified Squier Mustang. It’s got a different tone and circuitry to the Jazzmaster, and I used it a lot on ‘Skindivers’ and ‘Alone With America’.
When I want a totally different texture, I go to my Danelectro guitars. I’ve got a Baritone and a 12 String, both of which are completely idiosyncratic instruments. Danelectro guitars are an acquired taste, I think. They’re much more metallic sounding than Fenders. But they can take effects well.
I’m still using a lot of guitar pedals, but I’m not using chorus as much as I used to. These days I’m much more into modulation delay and vibrato. There are normally two or three types of modulation delay in my signal chain, plus reverb and vibrato, and the same old Boss Overdrive I’ve been using for years.
I record most of my guitars at home, either through my HiWatt stage amp, or a Fender Mustang digital amp. Those digital amps have a bad reputation, but the technology has improved dramatically in the last five years or so, and in a recording scenario it’s good to have an amp that can dial up ten or fifteen different tones.
Between the two amps, my various guitars, and the different kinds of microphones I’ve got, it’s easy for me to get a wide range of tones at home, which helps me avoid the kind of monotone thing you get if you’re using the same guitar and amp repeatedly across an album. And of course, I should also mention that Gary, the other guitar player in the band, has a totally different set-up in terms of amps and pedals, which means even more variety of textures across the album.
Will you be playing any of Red Sails live or on a tour? If so, when and where?
Oh, for sure! We’ve already rehearsed seven tracks off the album, and there’s another two that I can do solo, so people can expect to hear a good chunk of the new album live. But 2019 is also the tenth anniversary of the first Daniel Land & The Modern Painters album, Love Songs For The Chemical Generation, so we’re going to be playing a lot of tracks from that album as well.
At the moment we’re playing three shows in the UK: London on February 27, Bristol on February 28, and Manchester on March 3. The full details are at my website. [www.danielland.co.uk/shows] It would be good to see some people there! And of course, if anyone wants to put us on anywhere else – even outside of the UK – please do get in contact. I get so few gig offers, it’s kind of embarrassing.
What’s up musically for you in 2019? What’s coming for Daniel Land?
I want to have another song album ready as soon as possible. There are some very strong songs that didn’t make The Dream Of The Red Sails because I decided early on that they didn’t fit the mood – there’s probably eight or ten I’ve mentally bookmarked to go back to, plus some other bits and pieces I’ve been working on. Another song album in 2019? It’s possible – but then, I always underestimate how long it will take!
After that I’m not sure – I’m four songs albums into the Daniel Land project and still self-releasing, still trying to grow my audience, so I wonder whether the world really needs another Daniel Land album?! Who knows.
I remain optimistic that, one day, a track will break through, whether through being used in an advert, or a film, or something like that, and I might be able to increase my audience just a little bit. It’s all I hope for, really. But somehow, I’ll keep making music regardless.
Thanks for doing this! Cheers!
Thank you for your continued support, I’m very grateful
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