I have been aware of Alex Dingley's music for a while...
so it was cool to chat with him about the track, Not Alone in the Dark. He tells me about his lauded album, Beat the Babble, and releasing it in the U.K. through Libertino Records; what it was like travelling to the U.S. to record it - he reveals his favourite song from the album.
I ask Dingley what it was like working with Cate Le Bon on that record and what comes next; the musicians he counts as idols; whether there are going to be any gigs coming up; whether he gets time to unwind away from music - he selects a couple of new acts to get behind.
Hi, Alex. How are you? How has your week been?
Great thanks. SUNNY. I think I may have heatstroke!
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Hello. I'm Alex Dingley.
Not Alone in the Dark is out and about. I have heard the song. Can you reveal the story behind it?
Ummmm. I'm probably the last person you should ask...
I can lose track of where songs come from and my writing process can get quite convoluted before I filter it down again. I guess that one possible answer (of many to this question) is that I'd been watching a lot of Twin Peaks and went down a David Lynch YouTube rabbit hole; ending up where he was talking about his meditation and where thoughts come from; how they start off as 'a feeling' and bubble through the subconscious as garbled strands of half-formed mental data (I'm desperately paraphrasing here); being filtered by memory/experience/ego before emerging in sharp focus as an idea that can be expressed.
I had a notion of writing a song using these principles as a kind of lyrical template. Not necessarily THIS song but, in the end, the song and the idea fitted together. My theory was always that the 'feeling' of the song needed to be strong enough to carry the idea. Whether it worked or not, I guess isn't for me to say.
It is from the album, Beat the Babble. Birth Records put it out in the U.S. How come it is only now getting a U.K. release (via Libertino)?
Sometimes, we're all just drifting on the sea waiting to get caught by the right wind!
Is there a cut from the record that stands out to you?
If I Asked You to Dance. Everything was live, nothing was added; nothing was taken away. It’s just the sound of those people (Cate, Tim and myself), in that room, on that day and at that time. It's like a photograph. For this reason, I find it very evocative.
Tell me about Cate Le Bon’s involvement in the album? How did you come to meet her?
Cate and myself come from the same area of Wales. She's one of my oldest and dearest friends. She's so busy these days that doing something professionally together is the only way I get to see her.
You travelled from Wales to the West Coast of America to record it. What was that experience like? Why did that part of the world speak to you?
I felt that, if making the record was an adventure, then I'd make a better record. San Francisco was the adventure. I'd been a big fan of Kerouac, and his descriptions of California are so vivid and tangible. It was a thrill to be in the land of so many of my favourite books. We were in a place called Stinson outside San Francisco and the coastline was just jaw-dropping and so primal. I kept expecting to see a pterodactyl fly out from behind the trees.
On my day off from the studio, I went hiking through the Redwood forests, which led all the way down to Muir Woods. There were signs along the path warning you to make noise as you walked so that you wouldn't surprise a Mountain Lion out in the open – in which case, it could turn on you. I didn't take any chances and walked through this beautiful, giant; primaeval, empty forest singing nonsense at the top of my voice and clapping my hands. I passed a couple of old walkers who thought I was demented. I don't think I've ever been so happy!
There are various influences working in your music? Do you have particular musical heroes and early memories of experiencing music?
Ummmm. I dunno. For some reason, I find it hard to settle on a musical hero for any length of time. I think it's because it can be such an ephemeral medium and, possibly, gets distorted by fame more than any other art form. Today, though, it's Vivian Stanshall, Tom Waits; Graham Coxon and Euros Childs. One of my earliest childhood musical memories was listening to Lola by the Kinks and having that dawning moment of realisation about what it was on about! It felt like a rite of passage into a more adult world.
I’ve always loved music that promises to reveal some important secret to you. It gets harder to find as you get older, but it's still out there.
Do you think there will be any more material coming later in the year?
Hope so. There's an album clanking around in there somewhere. I just need to get it out.
Can we see you tour this year? What gigs do you have coming along?
The album launch is in Cardiff on 16th June. We're going to be putting some more dates together. Keep an eye out at the Libertino webpage for details as they come in.
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
Learn to speak Welsh. I go to classes. I'm getting better!
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
Oh, God! There's a question. Most of my favourite moments wouldn't mean much to anyone else. One of my happiest memories is sat in the back seat of a car with the sun coming through the window on the way to a gig, and another adventure with Ween blasting out through the stereo. All excitement and possibilities!
I'm still a sucker for those feelings of togetherness that you can get from playing music with other people. I'm very lucky to have met so many amazing people through music.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
HA HA! This is one of those 'fantasy' questions yes?! I'm afraid I'm not very good at these. I've never bought into the nostalgia gig scene. My favourite time to see an artist is just before they reach their peak; when they're still pulling up trees to get there and it's exciting for everyone. You get to see them in better, more intimate venues too. Things get so sanitised and impersonal in those big places.
My favourite new album of the last year was Baxter Dury’s Prince of Tears, so I guess I'd love to support him to hear that record live. I don't really care much about a rider (red wine/olives/pistachios/bananas for luck) - what I'd really love is to have someone drive me to the gig, set up my gear; pack me up afterwards, drive me home and break the infernal cycle of carrying amplifiers up and down stairs!
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Don't listen to anything I say: I'm the worst person to give advice.
If you asked me again, though, and really pushed me, then I'd probably say:
As far as I can tell, every doubt about your own ability, about the worth of what you do; about the point of it all has been shared by pretty much every creative person, in every creative medium throughout the whole of mankind’s creative history. Keep at it.
IN THIS PHOTO: Accü
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Accü is amazing. She’s also found a home for her new record at Libertino. We're all a bunch of mongrels, really.
Farm Hand is great, too. It's Mark from Islets’ solo project. It's really interesting stuff. His gigs are always so incongruous. I love it!
IN THIS PHOTO: Farm Hand
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I think that music probably IS the way that I unwind. I take my frustrations and pent-up aggression out on a guitar or a piano. My house is full of half-destroyed instruments. The angry sessions can be the most fertile, because your brain turns off and your subconscious takes over. Otherwise, I like to read. My favourite thing is to find an author that I like and to read everything they've done. Cate introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut last year and I've almost finished his novels. Next up are his collections and short stories.
H. Hawkline introduced me to Richard Brautigan the year before that and I did the same thing with him. Brautigan shot himself in Bolinas, which is the community next to Stinson where we recorded Beat the Babble. The people in Bolinas were known locally for being reclusive and they must have been so PISSED at a world-famous author killing himself in their town.
Now, they're known GLOBALLY for being reclusive! They keep ripping down the road signs which, at one time, must have made it a difficult place to find. I don't think it's such an issue now people have sat nav on their phones...
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Thank You! I'd like to choose Corner Shops from Cate (Le Bon) and Tim Presley's (DRINKS) Hippo Lite album
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