LOCAL INTERVIEW: Richard Dawson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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While Richard Dawson’s claim that he’s “incredibly unproductive and very lazy, I’d like to be honest with you about that, I spent most of this summer lying down”, the last eighteen months has seen a remarkable amount of activity. The Glass Trunk, his powerful, personal contribution to the Half Memory project, was critically acclaimed, a career game changer. Stewart Lee even tipped it as his ‘leftfield album of the year’. He also released Hen-Oggled, an album of fiery, telepathic free expression with kindred spirit Rhodri Davies, as well as touring constantly and serving time as a member of sludge doom outfit Khünnt. And now there’s Nothing Important, the first fruits of his new deal with Domino imprint Weird World, a tremendous record which is already taking him into the world of magazine covers and radio interviews.

The Weird World deal feels like the culmination of everything Dawson has been working towards (“it’s all going well so far, they’re good people” he says) and Nothing Important feels like the right album at the right time. Consisting of two lengthy songs bookended by instrumentals, the album has an intense, immediate feel that belies its recording process. “It’s composites of lots of live takes, but the idea was to make it as live as possible. The ideal thing, in your mind, before you’ve ever been in a studio, is to do it all in one take, but even with a fairly straightforward song it doesn’t work like that: you concentrate in a different way, you hear every little note, especially with these songs which are much more complex – not just structurally but lyrically. So we did the guitar tracks first, and it’s just a case of going through, doing a few passes of each, stopping if something was wrong and dropping back in. Sam [Grant, from Blank Studios] is a real whizz at piecing it together, he’s a real ninja with all the tools, capturing the takes with the most heart or spirit in them, which are often the ones with the wrong notes, and then when we’ve got a whole guitar take we do the same process over again with the singing.”

Both the songs – Vile Stuff (which starts as a story about a school trip gone wrong) and Nothing Important (a truly heartbreaking song about memory and loss) – are intense and personal, somehow finding meaning and resonance (spirituality, even) in everyday objects and unsettling, often amusing, memories. I wondered if they were extrapolations from the truth or taken from his imagination? “Both – it can be both. With Vile Stuff, I did go on a school trip to Featherstone Castle, but the idea that someone would get airlifted from the castle to hospital is silly, it’s only a few miles… but it happened, because it’s in the song. You might need to change an object, or exaggerate how bad a wound was. You might change a little scratch to a full blown gash, you know, or you might a change a rendezvous in a pantry – a quick kiss – to full blown head on the school field. Sometimes it’s the case that objects that are so specific to you and so unusual, but sometimes it’s really common objects, like Toby Jugs on the mantelpiece full of curtain hooks, everyone had those jugs, even if they weren’t full of hooks but pins, or thimbles, or foreign money.”

 

Richard Dawson

 

During a particularly well-received performance at this year’s Supernormal Festival, I overheard a woman nearby mutter to her companion, “he’s obviously a really good guitarist, so why does he make such a racket?” Perhaps mistakenly, I related this to Dawson, who initially baulked at the comment but eventually came round to it, in the process demonstrating quite how thoughtful and open he is about his art. “I don’t see it as a racket… she had a fixed idea about what something should be, and that’s not good. I can understand that people find it noisy, it’s an abrasive sound – and the singing as well – that’s fair enough, but to question why I do it, well, why would somebody make a bland fucking four chord song and dedicate it to David Cameron? But compare what I do to other musicians and it’s very genteel… I don’t care that she didn’t like it – I get that, I couldn’t give a shit – but the distinction is that she said ‘WHY does he make a racket?’… actually, it’s a really good question, I’m just coming round to it. ‘Why does he make a racket, why does he play in the way he does?’ – I guess every musician should be asking themselves that question, ‘why do I play this way, why am I going in this direction, what am I trying to say and what am I trying to achieve’. So maybe she was way ahead of us… I’ve changed my mind about it all and I’d like to officially say that’s a good question.”

As for what comes next, “I’ve been practising for the next album and I now know the shape of it and what I want to do, I’m excited about it, it’s going to be a big album. I won’t tell you too much. It’s going to be very personal, more personal than the Glass Trunk album. I always thought that was a very political thing, and I think that got missed, but I still think it has life in it and people will pick up on those things. The next one is going to be a mixture of more direct and more foggy!”

Like all his albums, the next album will retain a degree of symmetry in its structure. “I like symmetry, you know? I really believe that contradiction is at the heart of things, or seeming contradiction anyway… that seemingly opposing forces are actually one and the same, and necessary for each other… to let go of something you really need to embrace it, and to embrace you’ve really got to let it go, you know?”

Nothing Important is released by Weird World/Domino Recordings on 3rd November. 

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