It's the day after the storm, a perfect weather, but we are still vibrating, unsure of what to do, so we do what's best, we improvise. I am deliberately capturing his tension on my camera, he is channelling it into his rough fingers that run through the paper of a perfect cigarette he just made. I wonder how can somebody who loves the mess so much be so precise about such tiny details.
That's what I noticed him doing on stage, no matter how chaotic it may get, his fingers will always hit the right chords. I wonder how this really balanced chaos can impact Sever, it feels again like the right thing to do, I feel proud.
My body recognizes him, my mind seems to remember him since a long time, just my eyes are seeing him for the very first time in this delicate and fickle perspective; I don't want to define him, I want to know him. I want to know him all over again.
Nina: It's really hard to me to start from somewhere with you, but as we are both somehow anxious people, let's get rid of the bad things first. When and why did you stop playing in your life? For how long? Can you talk about that period?
Daniel: It was after Sheen, my last band broke up. It wasn't immediately afterwards, it was a few months later that and I was playing in a wedding band, just for money basically. After a little while I realised that wasn't what I wanted to do and it kinda hit me at that point that Sheen was over. I was fairly convinced that I'd never do anything quite like that again in my life. I've lost some of the satisfaction of playing in a way, 'cause I've convinced myself that it was all down hill from there. So I stopped playing for something like two years, I sort of considered it an early retirement; when anyone asked me to join their band I would say that. I thought from then that I would enjoy music more from the spectator's perspective or as a journalistic perspective, because I was still writing some reviews.
After a year or so it wasn't enough anymore. I would still enjoy watching gigs, I would go to see local bands, or new bands on stage and initially I felt relieved that I wasn't going through that again, that I wasn't building up all that hope, because if I didn't have hopes I wouldn't have fears, and if I didn't dream it wouldn't turn into a nightmare. Then eventually I had this sort of itch that I wasn't doing what I was meant to do, what I was best at.
Of course it sucks when it goes wrong, it really does, when you achieve so much, but I think that was my mistake, thinking about it in these terms as if it's all building towards something. Once I let go of that attitude, I learned to love playing again.
So when I started speaking to Charles (a.n. Vyk Non's singer) about playing together, one of our first drunken conversations, I was basically vaguely shouting about how I didn't really want to have an aim to get a label or to get anywhere in particular, that if we were to start making music together it had to be on our own terms, for our own enjoyment.
N: Would you get back there? I mean, not playing music.
D: No, I'll never put it down again. Not playing music, after it being everything I lived for and studied for, left me sort of numb. I really didn't care about myself much when I wasn't playing... Not to say that I was unhappy during that time, or anything like that. I still enjoyed my life in many ways, but there was a really, really, really big part missing. I guess I didn't have a sense of purpose when I wasn't playing and it felt a little bit like accepting that the best of my life was already over. I noticed and I still notice that I would start sentences with the phrase “I used to” all the time, and I still do it now. I was existing for the sake of existing, nothing wrong with that, but when you've had something in your life that's so meaningful, then it just leaves you feeling a little bit empty, pointless and ultimately self-destructive. I just kinda hated myself, really, not actively, more looking in the mirror and just being disappointed.
N: Was it painful?
D: Sometimes. Mostly it was nothing.
N: Do you think it's hard to write when there is a complete absence of harsh or, according to the society, negative emotions?
D: No, not necessarily for me [rolling a cigarette, of course]. So, if I'm in a good mood and I wanna write some music my good mood is just my active emotion, but there is everything always going on at the same time; if I want to tap in to the little bit of sadness that's somewhere in the back of my mind, then I can, but if I'm writing I find the music often takes its own sort of shape, it takes on its own emotional character.
N: So, would you write just out of complete happiness?
D: I could do it, but I wouldn't like it. I don't know about “happy”, happy is too straight forward. There is the aspects of happiness, it could be a bright summer day and the sun is burning hot and everything feels so free and light and perfect, I think that could be just as strong as melancholy is in music.
N: Wouldn't that be boring?
D: Well, for someone who doesn't write lyrics... ehm, no!
N: The projects you are part of tell a lot about your multiform yet really defined personality. What did you love about Sheen? What is that you like about Vyk Non? How do you feel when you are on your own, do you ever play just for yourself?
D: To start with, Sheen is something that I'll always be really proud of. I feel really privileged to have been part of that, part of a collective of six people who contributed pretty much equally, in a band with two lyricists, two absolute poets. It felt larger than life and together on stage with the six of us was to feel unbeatable, undefeatable. There was all this pain, suffering and self-destruction that went into creating. And a lot of happiness as well, because at the end of it we were six great friends. I'm just glad that we managed to have our shit just about together long enough to create what we did and play the shows that we did. I'm not heartbroken anymore that it's over, it's been a long time and I never wonder what could have been if we carried on, because it was not an option. I think it stopped at the right time.
With Vyk Non, on the other hand, I feel so at home musically. It's a really free space in mind in a band with three other extremely inspiring musicians. I remember seeing Dressmaker, Charles's other band, during my period when I wasn't playing music, and I guess that's when I first started thinking again that maybe I wasn't as retired as I though, because I was watching Charles on stage and thinking “If I were ever in a band again, I wanna be in a band with someone like that, someone who is not limited on stage”. And to now be in a band with him is actually a really incredible and inspiring experience.
When we first started talking about the project it was and remains a very free space of ideas. This year that we've been going we developed a sound that is distinctly the four of us, but at the same time we would push each other's limits. Our philosophy is that a song is never finished.
I guess this is where my heart belongs musically, because as a performer and writer I really just want to make a big fucking noise!
N: I know that studying music gives a certain freedom to unsettle the rules and use them in the way that you prefer. But what happens when there is a complete absence of rules in first place? Can you try and imagine yourself in that position for a moment? I am talking about pure intuition.
D: I suppose it's hard for me to put myself in that position now, because when I write music I at least think it's intuition. What usually happens is that I get a tune in my head or a rhythm and then I translate it into an instrument that I know better than the back of my hand. What I don't know is how much of what I hear in my head is influenced by the rules that I've been taught over the years. I think in my case the intuition and musical knowledge are kind of one and the same. For instance, me and you were writing a song last night and you had a vocal melody and I didn't really think of which chords to put together underneath that, but I know the instrument well enough that once I start it becomes an automatic process.
It's true that knowing the rules does sometimes give you the way to break them, but at the same time I think it'd be a narrow minded musician to take the rule book as a gospel.
N: How do you get inspired? You just wait for the feeling to arise or you sit down and start playing until something comes out?
D: It's a lot of things. I rarely write by myself or for myself. When I do, it's kind of its own inspiration and impulse. So I might get home from work and I would think to myself “I need an instrument in my hand right now”. It's like being hungry, it comes like a need. So at that point, when I pick up an instrument, there is usually a reason for it. It could be my mood, something that I had in my head but I was not aware of. Usually it's just the only thing that I know I need to do in that moment.
The fastest root to inspiration is in collaborating, writing together with band mates or other musicians. I think I know why that is! It's because of the way I like to visualize music as a conversation between instruments. If I have some sort of a relationship with the person, writing is talking to them without words, the instruments would communicate something of our personalities.
N: What pushed you to say yes to be a part of Sever? It sounds like something completely different from what you feel like in your life right now...
D: When you sort of described Sever, kind of an indie-folk project, and then you showed me the songs as they were being finished, that description didn't do it justice for me. It's again that kind of experience music, it's non standard, it comes from a place of intuition and you can hear that in the music.
N: Because I cannot play the guitar!
D: But you got Diego creating the arrangements for ideas that come from this extremely pure place! What that leads to is something unrefined in a way that at some points in the song it's almost quite hard to tell what's actually going on, it doesn't feel tied to structure, it doesn't feel tied to conventional wisdom behind playing chords. Of course when you actually start playing the music, when I started playing the songs, parts of it started to make sense to me, I was like “hold on a minute, this makes perfect musical sense, it's bizarre, but it makes sense”. Playing the songs all together as a group still had that effect, I didn't know if it would still sound that way from the recording to the rehearsal room, but it does. The way the songs are played cannot be separated from how they've been created. Pure intuition, that for me from a listening perspective as a musician got me to switch off that analytical part of my brain; it's the kind of music for me that doesn't create for me the same state as the noise music does, but it does have that transportative powers and it takes you to a different mind set. It's an enveloping experience.
Your voice has a lot to do with that... But it's like putting words to music that only music can describe.
N: And what do you think of love relationships in a band? Let it be a five people or a duo band... And how do you think a couple may influence the rest of the band?
D: There are so many examples through the history of music of a love relationship eather being the heart and soul of a band or completely destroying it. Or the relationship destroying itself and inspiring some of the greatest music ever.
I think it's something that when you embark upon you have to be extremely aware that if you are in a band of more components than just the two of you, you take on the responsibility not for your own relationship only. Out of professionalism and respect you need to realise that there are other people who will be effected by your personal shit. I think that when it comes to that kind of situation you should bring your dramas into the writing room and leave them outside the practice room door.
As far as duo bands go I think that's a whole different sort of animal. The band lives and dies on the relationship. That's not to say that the relationship has to be going well for the band to be going well, quite the opposite actually sometimes. In many ways I think that the relationships within bands can only amplify something that is already gonna be there, because in many ways a band is like a relationship involving more moving parts.
N: How do you feel about it? About being involved.
D: From my perspective I understand my responsibility, I know you understand yours. And as I said bring your drama into the writing room and leave it outside the practice room.
N: Oh well! Thank you for your time, Daniel!
D: My pleasure!