GARETH DICKSON

INTERVIEW: GARETH DICKSN: AFTERPOP.TV (EN)

1. When and how did you become interested in the worlds of music? Is there a specific moment you remember as a milestone for this?

I first started playing guitar when I was around 11 or 12 years old I think, difficult to remember now. My cousin was a big fan of metal at the time (Anthrax, Metallica etc) and I loved the sound of the fast, distorted, rhythm guitar playing. I saved up some money from my paper round and went to the shop on my own to buy a cheap guitar. From then on and through most of my teens we played in metal or punk type bands for fun. When I became a student in my early twenties I started to listen to more acoustic based stuff, starting with Led Zeppelin who obviously have a lot of great acoustic music as well as their electric stuff, and moving on to things like Bert jansch, Nick Drake and Robert Johnson. At this point I decided to try to learn the instrument properly and really started to practice a lot and attempt to improve, still just for fun and with no intentions of doing this as a "career", until a couple of years later when I realised that this was what I really wanted to do with my life. Probably the big milestone was the emotional impact I felt when I first heard people like Nick Drake and Bert Jansch.


2. You said The Dance was recorded quickly, almost as you were writing it, in order to keep the essence of the music. Was it improvised? Do you work a lot with improvisation?

It's improvised to a degree, yes. I did have "riffs" written, and a rough structure, for these tracks. I knew that I would play one riff and then lead to another etc but I didn't have every note planned the way I did with tracks like "Harmonics" or "Two Trains". I could play both of these tracks over and over again and almost every note would be the same, they are completely pre-planned. With most of the tracks on The Dance, however, they were recorded within a few days of being written, so they were still being formed and therefore still felt fresh to me. If I played them now they would be quite different. Having said that every track I have ever written has been a result of improvisation to begin with. I don't ever start with an idea for a song, I pick up the guitar and improvise until I hear something I like and then build on it. i think most guitarist/songwriters are the same in this sense.

3. If you were ever to recommend someone to get into your music, what would be the path to follow?

I think the best place to start would be with Collected Recordings, in some ways this is the most conventional material I have. Easily accessible, I think, to most people. After that would be the new album Quite A Way Away which to me has some of the more experimental ideas developed in The Dance, but is song based and therefore reasonably accessible as well. The Dance sits on its own, separate to these two records, because there is no singing and it is a little more unusual sounding than the other ones. I have plenty of recordings on youtube which I recorded with me playing live in my room, this would also be a good place to start I guess as you can see what's going on as well as hear it.

4. Are you really that obsessed with Nick Drake? What other artists have formed you?

Not at all, not any more at least. I was very much obsessed for a time, but that was over a decade ago now. I very rarely listen to him these days, if ever. I still have a huge respect for his music and what he did, obviously, it's just that I know every note of it now so there's not a great deal left for me to get out of it. Especially as I learned a lot of his songs and performed them live for a tribute act called "Nicked Drake". I know this music inside out. Other guitarists that I listened to a lot were Davy Graham and Bert Jansch. The more ambient side of my music was influenced heavily by Brian Eno and Aphex Twin (espcially Ambient Works I and II). These were all early influences, and were the main influences behind the sound world of my music. After that I listened to a lot of classical music because my sister plays classical piano so she introduced me to a whole other world which I may never have discovered. One of her big heros, and mine too, is a pianist called Glenn Gould. He is probably my favourite musician ever to record. I also listened a lot to one particular piece of piano music played by a pianist called Sviatoslav Richter. It's the last piano sonata by Schubert, written when he was dying young, and is one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. As well as this I listen to the usual big names like Beethoven, Bach, Wagner etc. Listening to classical music has changed the way I write melody from The Dance onwards but hasn't changed my sound, which has remained more or less the same from the beginning. I also love a lot of old blues music which is often very badly recorded, this probably made me worry less about the sound quality of recordings and concentrate more on ideas. A little bit of hiss or whatever doesn't bother me at all, I actually like it.

5. In what ways is using folk/acoustic music a new way to create ambient music??

For me the two things became merged simply because these were my two big musical interests at the time. I love the craft and practical side of playing an instrument, and the emotional impact which a song can be capable of, but I also love the abstract and otherworldly nature of electronic/ambient music, so to me it seemed natural to want to combine these elements in my own music. All art I think is really just recombining existing ideas and forms, and hopefully eventually forming your own style in doing so. Whenever I hear something in music that I love I always wonder how I can incorporate it in to my own playing. The guitar seems to be very well suited to playing different styles because it is capable of producing many different sounds. For example you can play with the flesh of your thumb to produce a softer sound, or with nails to create a brighter sound, or mute strings to shorten the notes, or retune to allow open strings to ring out etc. All these things, combined with effects such as reverb and delay, allow a guitarist to recreate the sound you hear in ambient music. Brian Eno used guitar with reverb in some of his recordings, so I guess the idea goes back to him if not before. John Martyn also used effects but in quite a different way I think.

6. Delicacy is a word that is thrown around a lot, although few artists can achieve it. Is it a premeditated approach to songwriting, or does it "just happen"?

It's definitely not something I aim for. In some ways I have actually been striving to be more rhythmic and upbeat and less fragile over the last two records, although I guess that is something different from being delicate. I feel like I can consciously choose to steer the direction of my music to a small degree, but essentially music for me is something which happens subconsciously. So I couldn't decide tomorrow to write in a particular way, or it would more than likely fail.

7. What about the work of Robbie Basho, John Fahey, Derek Bailey and all those guitarists who have transformed the way we listen to a guitar? Are they a big influence on you? Why have chosen the path of the six string instrument?

Strangely enough I am only just getting round to checking out John Fahey having been told about him by friends for years, same goes for Robbie Basho. I have heard little bits of John Fahey along the way but never spent any time with it until now. I actually watched a dvd of his 1978 concert in Hamburg just last week and I'm very intrigued by it. It will take me some time to get to know this music properly but I definitely intend to. I also watched a youtube video of Robbie Basho for the first time recently and feel the same way about his music, I would love to get to know it properly. The thing that struck me most about Basho was his amazing voice actually, more than the guitar playing, but that's just on one listen. For me the guitar isn't so important, I think you can take just as much from any great musician no matter what they play, for example John Coltrane, Glenn Gould, Robert Johnson are all fantastic musicians and it's not really important to me what they play. I play guitar now mainly because it's the instrument I know best and is therefore the easiest for me to express ideas with. Again it's an instrument which is very well suited to solo musicians because it is capable of harmony and not just melody, ie you can play chords and many notes at the same time whereas the vast majority of instruments can play only one note at a time (all woodwind, brass etc). Really the only western instruments on which you can easily play chords, and alternating melodies and bass lines etc, are the piano, the harp and the guitar, all the rest mainly play one note at a time (although I know violinist and cellists will disagree, but I only mean as a general rule).

8. Let's talk about multi-sensorial experiences. Do you think of your work as having strong visual components? What would be the ideal setting to listen to it?

I don't actually. I am completely non visual in relation to music. Whether I'm listening to music or playing it I have no visual experience at all. Music for me is entirely about emotion, or thought or something, I'm not even sure myself. It's an interesting question though and one which I'd like to ask a lot of musicians. Some people I ask are like me, others I know are very visual.

I would say the best place to listen to my music would be in bed at night, that's where I like to listen to music in general. I guess it's the most comfortable place with the least distractions.

9. Are you satisfied with the work you have released up until now? What are the fields still worth exploring?

Difficult question to answer, and in a way the reply will vary depending on what state of mind I'm in at the time of asking. I know the faults of my music better than anyone, but then over the years I have come to accept that anything anyone creates has faults and that perfection never exists in the mind of the person who has created it. Sometimes we experience another person's work of art and consider it to be perfect, or close to perfection, but I'm sure that in every case the artist will have completed the work and have been frustrated at some part of it not working out properly. The further I get from my own work the more likely I am to be happy with it. I can assess it in a more balanced way after a few years have passed and I have forgotten what my frustrations were when I completed it.

I'm not sure what I have left to explore in this field, that's something I'll need to think about and experiment with in the coming months.

10. What happens next? "Pink Moon" or "Fives Leaves Left"?

Ha ha, good question. Of those two I think Pink Moon is by far the better album, and is actually one of the best things about Nick Drake, that he continually improved. I don't think he would have improved so much if he had had more success. I think very often the artists who improve the most are ones who don't have much recognition and have to work harder and harder to achieve it. Also, successful touring musicians spend so much time playing the same things over and over, night after night, and sitting in the back of vans traveling etc that they don't have the necessary time to experiment and think.

As for what happens next, I've just finished an album which means that I really want to try to start over in some way. I know that I don't want to repeat myself but I don't know yet where I want to go next. I'll have to listen to a lot of new music and just go back to experimenting and messing around for a while before I try anything else. This is one of the difficulties of being a musician I suppose, that you can never imagine at all what the next song will sound like. If you could you would just go and write it.
Gareth Dickson