An Interview with David Thomas Broughton

Ahead of his show at Clwb Ifor Bach on Sept 23rd and a forthcoming documentary about him, we chatted with the intensely talented David Thomas Broughton

With David Thomas Broughton, it was fascination-at-first-listen. The fluctuating, meandering spirals of Ever Rotating Sky caught me in a trance and it’s not completely implausible that I’ve been hypnotised into a state of awe ever since. It is often his spontaneity, his unconventional stage antics and the peculiar beauty of his music that catches the attention of his audiences though. Having not yet seen him live, I’m at a loss as to what to expect at Clwb Ifor Bach later this month, but I’ve heard tales of upturned chairs, a personal attack alarm making an unlikely debut in duet, and various fruit and vegetables incorporated into his performances. All to be ascertained from this is that the show will be a heady cocktail of the strange and spectacular. Prior to his upcoming show with Juice Vocal Collective in Cardiff, I ask him about the documentary currently in the works about him, music in South Korea, and the appeal of the Log Lady.

As part of the upcoming Documentary about you, the film makers asked you to prepare a set from scratch for End of the Road festival – leaving you alone with a variety of instruments in a room for 2 days. Were you content with the outcome and the audiences reaction?
It was an interesting thing to actually put a process in place. I’m usually resigned to the fact that stage fright, or whatever it is that happens to me, means any plans and ideas I build up prior to a show are lost as my mind goes blank. However, as much as I attempted to build ideas to form a set for the festival, things played out in the only way it seems they are able to. All plans and new song ideas that had developed during the previous weekend vanished as I stepped on stage. And despite being able to reel off some of the more memorable songs from my latest record, the show is always a process of recalling fragments of ideas and stumbling through assembling sounds from what I have provided myself on stage. As such, I can’t say anything about differing audience responses or whether I was content with it. A show is never something I am totally happy with because of the circumstances explained above.

How have you felt about the documentary so far? 
It is flattering and strange. I still find it funny how much of a response I have had to my music and performance. And I’m impressed by the director’s dedication. There had been an idea around for some time to document the perception of what I do, as it is often cause for some disagreement as to its worth as music or art, as to whether I am a fraud or not. I do something I enjoy, and have found a platform to sing, but also tackle any other idea of performance or expression I feel like trying or feel is in need of release. It is not something I like to analyse, and in this respect I’m not necessarily keen to hear what people have to say about it. But I know some people are keen to discuss it.

Has anything in the documentary interviews surprised you? Has it changed your perception of what people think of you or how you view your own music?
As I’m not really involved I don’t know what’s being said. Greg has not revealed anything to me as he’s keen on it being a surprise, should I watch the whole thing. I know that some people like what I do, or that’s what I hear, as the people who hate it probably don’t go up to people to lambast them to their faces. I know there’s dislike out there too though as people are looking for different things from a performer, I know this because there are things I like that others don’t and things I don’t like that others do.

Have you found your approach to spontaneity, particularly in performances, has changed (or do you expect it to change) in regards to your recent collaboration with Juice Vocal Ensemble?
There is definitely an added awareness of others and a need to give them space that sometimes reigns in my wandering. But I have been lucky to work with people who are happy to take on spontaneity and react to me doing exactly what I always do. To some extent it can provide me an added prompt or stimulus to take a show somewhere it wouldn’t normally have gone, other times I kind of forget other people are adding their textures. It’s a funny thing, but I often have no consciousness of what is actually happening. And it takes some time or people’s post-show analysis to bring to mind what actually occurred during the set.

For much of the record – sliding the same way – it’s a much more structured affair and actual parts have developed which we will be trying to stick to, especially on the short a capella tracks, but it adds a nice pull back to centre a set. Despite trying to fix some of these tracks down the juice girls have the great enthusiasm and ability to join me on wildly different journeys using the songs as a base… We’ll just see what happens.

You’ve said before that your stage antics arise from boredom and a desire to explore the space and possibilities of your performance. Do you find yourself wanting to push expectations more and more as you become increasingly accustomed to the stage?
I do want to keep trying new things for my own entertainment, but I do also see a need to rely on recurring themes. Out of a pragmatism, giving me some fallbacks, and out of a recognition that giving a little of what is expected is good for audiences. Familiarity is not a bad thing, as it taps into emotion through sparking realisation as memories or shared life experience. To place this alongside surprises and spontaneity involving the space reinforces a shared experience in that moment. My mood and physical state also affects things. Obviously I’ll be lazy when tired, or less inclined to be nice if I’m angry. But the most tense shows often expose the rawest emotion and inspire more debate or introspection.

Have you performed in South Korea at all? How do audiences there receive you?
There is a different approach in the main, starting with technical ability, which makes it feel more of a challenge. But yes, I’ve done a few shows, and with somewhat limited audience for the small underground or alternative scene I’ve managed to peek into so far I have had good reception. The only thing is not being able to express the Englishness of the show, so any humour is not recognised so easily. They sense a general emotion of melancholy and sadness in the songs and tone of music. Some appreciate the process I put on show. But Korean culture tends to mean that they can’t really be negative so they politely say it was good even if they didn’t think so.

Why does imagery of birds, insects and the like feature so heavily In artwork for your albums and merchandise?
It is what I am interested in, it’s what I respond to in the world. I draw what I like or what I’m surrounded by. My attention is drawn to these things. I like to draw and I like detail. It often distracts and annoys me to think I can make out detail in things I can often drift off trying to just observe the world around me. Maybe there is also a recognition of the organic and natural as related to the how I have made music without being conscious of pre-planned structure (although there is structure there).

I noticed way back on Facebook you said “I wish every episode of my life had a log lady introduction” – do you find yourself wanting to incorporate aspects of film, music, art into your life to expand your performance into the everyday?
There will remain a separation between my everyday life and my performance, but there is no doubt that everyday life is what inspires art, film, music in general. I am a fan of misdirection or misinterpretation, so the log lady’s cryptic take of future events are my kind of funny, perplexing and sometimes cerebral. But, no, bringing my performance into the everyday is not what I want. But bringing the everyday into performance is surely a widespread and welcome procedure?

Is there a new record in the works of your own music?
Sure, we’ve mastered a massive recording session I completed over a few years exchanging mixes and new parts over the internet between me in Korea and a producer in France. We had sessions players come and add parts and I managed to pull in favours for guest singers and players and spoken word, contributions by email from Scotland, Bristol, Texas, London or me going round with iPad to capture their part. It’s quite a lot of music so let’s see what we can get out in 2015.

 

All photos by Sarah Dorman

Song At Midnight

I know nothing about Chinese history. Well, not nothing actually, it’s just that nothing that I do know about it is connected to anything else I do know about it and all of the details are fuzzy. So, basically nothing.

One of the downsides of this is that I found it quite hard to place what was happening in Song at Midnight. That, coupled with not ever having seen or been told the story of The Phantom of the Opera on which the film is loosely based makes for some pretty difficult stuff when attempting to understand what is important and what is not.

Part of Chapter’s Electric Shadows, a season of film programmed by the British Film Institute (BFI), Song at Midnight represents the earliest of examples of Chinese cinema. More importantly though – especially given the topic of the film itself – Song at Midnight is also the first full-sound production of the the Phantom myth.

It is hard to comment on what is so obviously a classic for many reasons. But the use of cinematography in this production is really quite wonderful.

For example, the way that a camera pans across a body of water and then up to a path where people are walking is a technique that seems way out of its time. Additionally, the scenes where Song Danping escapes from a crowd who are chasing him with torches are sublime – multiple shots overlaid on each other to give the impression of a much larger crowd.

Although as I have already mentioned, I am no expert in adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s story, even I can tell that there are several special elements to Director Weibang Ma-Xu’s version.

First and foremost, Song Danping the man who sings a song every midnight to his love – who he appears to live across the street from – is a monster not because of a birth defect, but because he was attacked by the local don (who happens to think that Song Danping is not quite feudal son-in-law material) and his henchmen. After a nitric acid attack, Song is subject to facial melting. Of course, this has the effect of making us really sympathise with a man who’s actually super nice referring to lots of people in the subtitles (more on that later) as ‘pal’ or ‘perfect pal.’ This is different to other interpretations of the gothic story which pitch the Phantom as a man to be feared.

Secondly, there is a really political history happening throughout this film. As it turns out, Song has already spent a large amount of his life in tragedy. Having changed identity once because he was a revolutionary fighter, he hides for years so that no-one will try to execute him. Then he assumes the identity of Song Danping who has a wonderful voice. Even the opera in which Song appears in flashbacks is a political one entitled ‘BLOOD’ – which compares the hero to an early period Robespierre of the French Revolution.

While the film itself was a very entertaining and compelling account of what 1930s Chinese attitudes to women, art and politics were, the most entertaining thing about this version of the film was the translation of the Chinese. Or rather, not the translation, but the errors in translation which appear so frequently.

Of course, no one will blame a translator for losing some of the sense of the original when it is translated into English – a language so utterly far removed from Chinese – but there are many instances in this reel where hilarious mishaps have occurred. For example, during a very serious conversation between Song Danping and the modern day hero of the story Sun Xiaoou, Song reveals that during his last ten years of torment, he has spent time: “Changing BLOOD and writing new material” which somehow places him next to an indie kid with a garage band rather than the enigmatic Phantom.

But really, these errors only add to the charm and entertainment that watching a film set in a place and time that have no relation to my own life whatsoever brings.

Electric Shadows continues all month at Chapter.

Pyramid Scheme and the Cardiff literary scene

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Recently, the literary scene in Cardiff has undergone something of a renaissance.

Traditionally Cardiff is a boring place for writing: most of the names you could list under the title of young writing are well past the proper age bracket. Many of the institutions you would be forced to label as avant garde are strictly apres garde these days.

So it’s pretty refreshing to see that there’s new blossom on a rugged old tree.

Take for example, Parthian books who are proving to be a formidable talent finding force. With the appointment of Susie Wild as an editor at the firm a little while ago, the company seems to have found its feet again.

Most notably, the publication of Dan Tyte’s Half Plus Seven earlier this year and their encouraging level of support for new literary voices such as Richard Owain Roberts (a Plastik contributor) whose debut collection All The Places We Lived will be published by Parthian early next year.

Perhaps more exciting are the quality grassroots events that are happening in the city for the first time in years. Take as an example Pyramid Scheme which takes place at Kings Road Studios this week organised by Tyte and Roberts.

“We wanted to put together something that felt relevant and spoke to us as writers and citizens of Cardiff, but was outward looking too. Pyramid Scheme seems essential, a great product,” the pair said. “It’s a fresh take on the usual warm wine and stale conversation of most literary nights. The Kings Road Artist Studios will add an air of creativity a cut above the normal reading spaces of chain bookstores.”

Joined by a host of new authors and also some new writers, Pyramid Scheme will demonstrate that a page has truly been turned in Cardiff literary life.

Also reading:

  • Joao Morais

  • Guillaume Morissette (New Tab, Vehicule Press) live from Montreal, Quebec

  • with music by Summer Ghost

  • Pyramid Scheme, 19h August 28 2014, Kings Road Artist Studios, Pontcanna CF11 9DF

    Green Man Gallery

    In the first bit of our look back on a stunning Green Man weekend – one full of  a stellar lineup reflecting the pagan poise and childlike joy the festival has come to represent, we present our favourite snaps of a weekend littered with photographic memories. Be sure to come back on Monday for a full festival review, including extended reviews of Neutral Milk Hotel & East India Youth and a look back at the Last Laugh stage.

    For now, enjoy these – click on a photo for the large slideshow.

    Green Man Interview: John Mouse

    John Mouse Album

    Q: It’s been quite a few years since the last album, how have things changed for you as an artist since then, and has having a lot of time affected the new record a lot and what you wrote about?

    Its been four years since we released the last record, but not all that time was spent writing music. I have a F/T job, I’ve been studying for a PGCE, I am a husband and a father of 2 kids. I like to play football and cricket so it doesn’t really give much time to do music. But saying that lots of things happen in four years. A lot of the album is about being a parent, which is probably the biggest change in my life while writing the album.

    Q: On the kickstarter page for the album, you said you wrote a lot of songs – more than 150 to get to the point where crocfingers and you thought it was good to go. Were you writing specifically for a certain idea you had of what the album would be or did the themes develop gradually?

    I was just desperate to release another record after humber dogger forties, and just kept sending them every idea for a song that I had to the point of alienation. The large majority really were crap. Crocfingers kept telling me this, and telling me that I needed to write an album that was cohesive. It’s still musically diverse but I think it works as a whole.

    Q: How has releasing it thanks to Kickstarter varied from other releases – Do you think the tight knit music scene in Cardiff helped that?

    Well it means we don’t loose as much money as we do on other releases. We still loose money, but not as much. We sell about 200 copies. What kickstarter did was get people to buy advance copies, which was great. It meant we could pay for a plugger, leading to lots of airplay for our single. We really appreciate everyone who pledged, it means that we could see who was supporting us. As regards to the scene you mention. I would say around a 1/3 of the pledgers I know socially. I have always intentionality steered clear of a “music scene”. I don’t want to mix my social network with the music I do. My last band were London based, and my new band are from the valleys.

    Q: There’s a really great melancholy and nostalgia on the 1st single not often done that well about Sport or Football in particular – what are your early memories of Football, and also has being a kid growing up in a smaller town influenced your writing a lot?

    That song mentions my early memories. It was about going down the park whatever the weather, and playing football. Trees were goalposts and defenders, you had to play around them. You would get moved around the park so you didn’t ruin the grass too much. Sometimes you played on “pitches” that didn’t have any tree defenders. I played football the most though at a very early age, like from 4 about 9 with a guy called Stuart Smith, and he would just shoot at me all the time, and I would just dive around saving everything. I loved being a goalkeeper, and then did that until I realised I was never going to be tall enough. I played for boysclubs and stuff but nothing better than those early games of FA knockout with 5 kids or 20 players on each team. The parks were the best places to play, but it didn’t matter if you couldn’t play there. School yards, old tip sites anywhere. A lot of the album is about looking back at being a kid since having my own. The song was inspired by bumping into Stuart in the park we would play football and we were both pushing our young babies. I don’t live there, so I was on a nostalgia trip at that time, and him being there just made it even more nostalgic. It’s hard not to look back when you are a new parent.

    Q: I Was a Goalkeeper is a kind of a microcosm of the whole album thematically, so how come the LP’s title ending up changing from that to what it is?

    Three reasons. For internet purposes. Having the lead single and the album with the same name seemed like a bad idea. Cause we wanted to get away from IWAGK being a “World Cup song” which it isn’t. It’s not really about football or the World Cup. and Cause The Death of John MOuse sounds good.

    Q: I’ve tried to connect the dots but I just can’t – where did the title Robbie Savage come from?

    It’s a misheard line. Crocfingers thought that the line “Macho Man Randy Savage” was “Macho Man Robbie Savage” So it was called Robbie Savage.

    Q: You get compared to a lot more bands and artists than most (The Strokes baffled me a bit!), were there stand out influences that informed this LP in particular?

    Yeah, that always happens. Well it was wrote over a long period of time. So these are the artists I was listening too the most over this period. Malcolm Middleton, Aiden Moffat, Jonny Cash, Bill Callaghan, Tindersticks, Prince Edward Island, Nick Cave, Silver Jews, The Smiths & The Vaccines.

    Q: When I’ve seen you live it’s always been a pretty upbeat, funny and naked-ish affair, how will the more downbeat and sombre songs fit into you playing live?

    It’s still upbeat but the sombre number, it’s only Robbie Savage, will cut through the middle of the set and give people a break from the loud noise. I have a new band and they are pretty loud!

    Q: As a whole the album really reminds me of the Bills Wells & Aidan Moffat Everything’s Getting Older with the melancholic and nostalgic tone but there’s also some shifts in pace and more upbeat stuff which give colour to the overall feel in a really nice way and feel true to life, were there albums or even books that informed that?

    Kind of like the earlier question. I don’t really listen to much music. I don’t have that much time. It’s mostly in the car on the way to and back from work, and cause I can’t be arsed to change the cd’s I tend to listen to things over and over and over. I think I listed to the Bill Callaghan “Sometimes I wish I were an eagle” for about a year non stop. Then yes that Bill Wells/Moffat album was on loop for some time too. I like music with words. Words are the most important thing to me, and the delivery of them. Prince Edward Island are a huge influence too. I write with Phil from the band. He pretty much does all the music. I send him songs, and he makes them happen. So you would probably have to speak to him about what influences him The books I was reading probably influenced the way I write them too. Bukowski & Vonnegut are great fun.

    Green Man Interview: East India Youth

    East India Youth Headlined the Walled Garden Stage at Green Man 2014, Saturday night.

    Ever since I saw East India Youth, or William Doyle as his Mum calls him, support Wild Beasts in Bristol’s 02 Academy earlier this year, the inclination to interview him was fortified very sturdily in my head. Having seen the hype about his album Total Strife Forever in gushing reviews on respected fountains of musical knowledge such as Drowned in Sound & The Quietus, I’d listened to some of his work, notably the cathartic house influenced euphoria of ‘Heaven, Too Long’ without ever fully throwing myself into experiencing the album. More fool me, because witnessing it live committed the breadth and ambition of TSF to my mind and I’ve been utterly hooked ever since. In just a 30 minute set, the density of musical ideas was almost baffling. It is really rare to have so many moments of musical revelation, of exhiliration at such well thought out creative brilliance unfolding – on what is ostensibly a debut. Despite being packed with a variety of genres, emotional tones and working at several paces, there are thematic arcs which emerge.

    Amongst the droney, almost industrial electronic sounds, neo-classicist motifs build the album into more than the sum of its parts, locating the human amongst the digital noise. It’s what makes the standout moments so transcendent – when Doyle sings “find new love, dripping down your soul” in the harmonic chorus of ‘Dripping Down’, it is so vital as the albums moments of lyrical and musical clarity are beautifully momentary – set against extended, almost overwhelming musical motifs. Aiming to work out what brought about such a brilliant record, I asked Will for his thoughts on the records influences, his approach to playing it live and what’s next.

    EIY_kenichi_500

    Q: Just for anyone who doesn’t know, could you say about the circumstances that led to you making Total Strife Forever and how it fed into the feel of the album?
    My life was at a crossroads. I’d decided it was the end of my previous band that I’d spent 3 years being involved with and I had a massive backlog of more electronic inclined stuff that I felt more emotionally invested in. Everything was in a huge state of flux around me at this time, both positively and negatively, and the music I was making was a definite reaction to this. Bringing what I had on my hard drive together, stuff I’d been recording for 2 years, and realising that I nearly had a whole album already was a huge revelation and brought with it a great sense of achievement. TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER, to me, feels like it explores both the anguish of the time it was made in but also the feeling of freedom and empowerment of having made it.

    Q: For people going to Green Man who’ve maybe not heard the whole album, can you explain the influences and sound behind the more ‘neo-classical/electro’ stuff that forms much of it?
    It’s quite a stylistically scatty album. It doesn’t sit in one place for too long. I suppose because it took about 3 years to make that it ended up being that way. There are more instrumental tracks than there are vocals which might be a jarring mix for some people. The album moves through minimalist and neo-classical, to techno, krautrock, synth-pop.

    Q: Even though there’s a lot of ideas and genres on TSF, they do seem to tie together somehow – Aside from the Total Strife Forever songs, was there any overall theme or idea that emerged as you were making the album?
    I don’t really know if there was. There’s a certain atmosphere in my mind when I look back on the album, but I think that’s all been retrospectively formed. I guess there’s certain emotions that come through on the whole thing, a feeling of isolation, but also euphoria crops up quite a bit too. It wasn’t my intention to make a concept album or anything, but there was a certain degree of work put into the sequencing of the tracks to make sure there was some thread to hang onto in light of all the erratic shifts going on over the course of it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wL_JE_ksh8

    Q: I was really pleased when I saw you reference Age of Adz as one of your favourite albums – is there something similar in the full-on almost overwhelming nature of the music and emotion on that record that you wanted to invest in TSF in your own way?
    Absolutely. It was a huge influence on the album. It’s one of the most intensely emotional albums I’ve heard in recent years. I loved the almost ridiculous grandiosity of the arrangements. I definitely wanted that to be something that came across in the sound of my album. The way I always thought about it was that sometimes your emotions are these imperceptibly massive things to you, but really, in the grand scheme of everything and everyone around you, you and and your emotions are so small. That dichotomy is something I feel like is explored on Age of Adz, and a few other albums like it. This little voice versus this huge feeling.

    Q: What did you mean when you said you had to work against your instinct whilst making the album – was that to get yourself in the right songwriting headspace to get down ideas?
    I’d just been so used to being ‘a songwriter’ for a few years leading up to this that I’d started to develop conventions that I would rest upon and that I would use to take lazy routes out of creative problems. One of the main examples of working against my instinct was the removal of vocals or the need to sing over every shred of music made. That simple subtraction created entirely more emotional results both in the lack of singing but also the carefully selected moments where it was necessary.

    Q: Was it similar when you started to perform it live – did it seem like a natural thing to perform it for you?
    Christ, no. I had to rethink everything I knew about performing. It’s been a really interesting challenge developing the live show and my approach to performing this. I think I’ve worked out how to play TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER live now. It’s going to be time to move on and redesign the entire thing again next year. I’m happy with the almost austere look of everything on stage at the moment, but I’m starting to feel shackled by my table I play on. Standing behind it was a defence mechanism when I started EIY, but I’m longing to be free of it now that my confidence has grown.

    Q: Has playing more headline sets and festival sets to bigger crowds allowed you to develop the show as you wanted – in terms of sound and visuals?

    You learn what makes people tick I suppose. But actually it’s been the support slots that have allowed me to really know how it works. Playing to someone else’s audience is always harder and if you manage to make a connection with someone who has never heard or seen you before then it is those moments that you should analyse. What draws the stranger or the neutral person in? What turns them away

    Q:It was interesting when you said you may just turn your keyboard off and wander over to see Mercury Rev at Green Man, because TSF and Deserter Songs are two albums I’d love to see performed in full. I was listening to Deserter Songs Instrumental versions and it actually made me think instrumental and especially electronic albums often work better when bands play albums in full, which I guess is closer to what you do live. Is showing the album as a whole important when you play live and were there any moments seeing people play live that influenced how you chose to?

    If you see your album as a whole body of work in itself and not just a collection of songs that make up a whole, then I think it’s important that you preserve that the best you can. I play my album in a different order live because I’m aware that the dynamics of a live show are wildly different to listening at home with your headphones on. Having said that, I’ve seen very few, if any ‘play your album through’ shows that I’ve been impressed with. The Flaming Lips playing ‘The Soft Bulletin’ was something I was really looking forward to, but it was a massive disappointment. They should have played it start to finish without much talking in between. Wayne Coyne jabbering on in between each song is not how I listen to that album and it ruined the flow of something that I think is near perfect. So in a weird way, I suppose that show influenced me in a strange way. I try to shut the fuck up and get on with it. There’s plenty of time to talk and reflect afterwards but while the show is going on, I want to create an atmosphere and space that I will try to keep unbroken for the duration. It’s a shame I’m going to miss Mercury Rev as they’re playing at the same time as me. I’d be really interested to see how they handle that one. It’s a beautiful album.

    Q: How is new stuff coming together – has it been harder to get in a singular mindset as I imagine you might’ve been when making TSF?
    I’ve had less accumulative time to make the next album but weirdly I’m nearly finished with it. I think after I’d finished the mastering of TSF and it was a sealed deal, a finished packaged, then the flood gates opened and I was straight into sifting through my massive bank of ideas that I’d been making since I finished the initial tracking and mixing of TSF. I won’t say too much about what I’m working on now but I’m very excited for it. If it all goes to plan it’s going to provide another great year for me.

    Q: It’s a generic question I know, but been as there’s a particularly strong lineup at Green Man this year, is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing (Mercury Rev sadness aside)?
    I Break Horses. I really love their last album that came out this year and I don’t think it got the due attention it deserved. Would love to see how they play it live. Caribou. I only saw Caribou for the first time this year, after years of being  a fan. It was absolutely mind blowing so there’s no way I’m going to miss that. I might try to watch The War on Drugs if I’m not needed backstage before my set. ‘Under The Pressure’ is one of my favourite songs of the year so it’d be nice to see that in the setting of Green Man. That’s all off the top of my head but I’m really excited for the whole experience generally. It’s one of only two festivals I’m camping at this year (Beacons was the other. 10/10 for that one) so I’m going to make sure I see as much as possible.