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 Ensemble 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