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Daniel Land & The Modern Painters

Website: Daniel Land@MySpace
Latest Release: Buy Voss EP
Sound Samples Locust
The Magic In My Head
Daniel Land & The Modern Painters are something of an enigma. Virtual strangers to the music scene in their native UK, they have gained most of their recent attention and exposure from exponents of the new shoegaze scene in the United States. However with twin debut EPs shortly to be released and a tour planned for next January, they are finally ready to step out into the limelight.

Falling somewhere between the sounds of shoegaze and alt-country, their music has been described as what might have happened if Paul Simon had discovered ambient, rather than African music in the 1980’s. Yet despite what the band describe as “encouraging messages” from Ulrich Schnauss and The Apollo Heights, the band has decided to pursue the ‘classic’ alternative approach to their career by setting up their own label, booking their own tours, and recording all of their material in Daniel Land's studio The Cloisters, overlooking a churchyard in Manchester, England.

Alan Lidden tracked down band members Daniel Land, Graeme Meikle and Oisin Scarlett to talk about track titles, indecipherable lyrics and the ruralness of the British countryside, in between recording sessions at The Cloisters.

Daniel, although you’ve been in bands for five years, the only record you’ve put out previously was vocal-less, ambient material. How did the change of style come about?

DL: Well that’s true. The only records I put out before were ambient ones, without singing. But to be honest, I've been doing songs for so long now that it doesn't feel like a change of style any more. I've been making songs with Graeme for nearly six years now.

It’s all a learning curve, I feel now that this band is really the culmination of all of the different musical projects I’ve been involved in during the last decade, starting with that ambient material. All of the different things I’ve learned about texture from my ambient work, and all the different things I learned about songs from the first band, has kind of come together with The Modern Painters. At least that's the way I see it.

You’ve got two EPs coming in the near future. Could you talk a little about those?

DL: The two EPs are called Voss and Imagining October, and they’ll have separate releases over the next few months. I suppose they represent the two sides, or styles of the band. A lot of our material is very typically shoegaze or dream-pop, in the sense that we use a lot of chorus and reverb and textures and things. But then, we also appreciate really simple songwriting as well, so some of it is more stripped back, a bare bones kind of sound. It depends on what works best for each individual track. But the stripped back stuff is still very ambient, you know, it all takes place in a similar kind of acoustical space – very reverby.

A bit like the first Mojave 3 record, are you familiar with it?

DL: Yeah, a lot like that actually. I love that record – it’s kind of acoustic and ambient at the same time. It’s been an important influence on us.

GM: (Laughs) Familiar with it? I think it saved my life on two occasions.

Your track ‘The Painter’ was picked up by La Bulle Sonore for their September playlist. Is that going to be on the EP?

DL: That’ll be on the second EP, Imagining October. That’ll be released later in the year. The Voss EP is out first.

Two six track EPs is a lot of material, why not just put out an album?

DL: It’s an interesting point, I just thought the two-EP idea is so unusual; we had to go with it. I suppose it’s also a balls thing as well, I mean, it’s quite an audacious thing to do – what band in their right mind would put out two mini albums as the first statement?

But it’s getting you a lot of attention.

DL: Well yeah, thankfully, for some reason, people have seemed to appreciate that. Plus, we’ve got a few songs spare anyway – not only are we prolific, but we’re late starters as well, so we’ve got this huge untapped repertoire already!

I suppose the main reason for me is that the EP itself is a different form from an album. You get chance to include things that maybe wouldn’t fit the flow of a long player. It’s supposed to be very short and intense.

Aside from the obvious ones like My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteaus, what are your influences?

DL: I wouldn’t say My Bloody Valentine is a huge influence really. A lot of our influences aren’t necessarily shoegazers at all. For example, one of my biggest influences was doing ecstasy and going to trance clubs, and wanting to make guitar music that had that kind of emotion and euphoria in it.

OS: Yeah, I’d say our influences are pretty varied. I’ve always been into interesting chord sequences and layering of textures, guitar-wise, so Johnny Marr was an early influence, that really great combination of arpeggios and chords. I love ambient guitar stuff, but also the piano work of Satie, Debussy and so on.

DL: And Graeme’s influences are different again…

GM: …Yeah for me it started with Genesis actually, Mike Rutherford using really simple riffs. And Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead. Spiritualized’s drones. Although most recently I’ve just been trying to get my guitar to sound as good as Jeff Buckley's!

DL: But I’d say you were right about the Cocteau influence, although in terms of guitar sound I’d say Robin Guthrie’s solo work rather than the Cocteaus. He’s much more minimal these days, using very jazzy seventh chords and the like, but the actual sound of his guitar is better than ever. It makes me so jealous. (Laughs). So yeah, a big influence.

The covers seem particularly beautiful, a Cocteau influence there too?

DL: Yeah, their covers are beautiful. I remember someone recommended the Cocteaus to me when I was my teens, and I used to trawl through second-hand record shops in my hometown. I used to pick their vinyl albums out of the bins and there’d be nothing on the cover, just a few blurs and vague shapes, and then titles like “Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires”. You’d be like, ‘What does that sound like?’ (Laughs). It was such a beautiful mystery. I’d love for someone to have that effect with our stuff.

Your titles are also very lyrical.

DL: Well when I get a collection of words that I think might work as a title, that’s really when it clicks into place for me. Sometimes I carry a title around with me for years before making a piece of music that fits with it.

I thought I was a bit of a freak for doing this, but then I read an interview with Harold Budd – you know him, right? – and found out he does the same thing. It’s about the suite of ideas, the rhythm of the titles running down the page, and what they add up to. So that’s good company to be placed in at least!

A lot of the titles and the lyrics seem to be about loss and abandonment, is that a conscious theme?

DL: Yeah, it is. It’s there in the titles like ‘Lostening’. And the lyrics, yeah, - but you might not always be hearing what you think you hear…

You’ve said before that people should take advantage of not being able to decipher what you’re singing about straight off.

DL: Exactly. It’s like the classic early REM thing, or early James, or Sigur Ros. [To Ois:] What was the thing you were saying the other night?

OS: ….Well what I was saying was just about how I love how on some records like the Cocteau Twins, early R.E.M., the title suggests more about the lyrical content than the lyrics themselves. The lyrics aren’t entirely decipherable so you pick out individual lines or words which relate to the song title and paint your own picture from that…. On [REM’s] Murmur there’s a track called ‘9-9’ and it’s hard to make out what the hell Michael Stipe’s singing about but you pick up lines about ‘twisting tongues’ and ‘conversation fear’ which, for me anyway, sum up what the song’s about….

GM: Yeah, I reckon it encourages people to make up their own mind about the song when they can't hear all the words

There are some unusual touches to the records, like surf and church bells, how did that come about?

DL: Well, since I don’t really believe in using recording studios anymore, and we don’t use soundproofing or anything like that, quite often I’ll be working on something at my studio, the world will be going on outside the window, and I get to a point where I realise that the way I’ve been thinking about a track involves what’s going on outside. So I have to get a mic up there to record it.

I know I’m probably laying myself open to accusations of new age behaviour, or something like that, but I think hopefully it’s coming from a different place. It’s just another colour to throw on the canvas really, I’m surprised more people don’t do it.

Talking of nature, you’re all from rural areas, how has that affected the music that you make now?

GM: I think its made me more experimental. There wasn't that much to do in the town I grew up in so I used to listen to music all the time and get involved in any and everything musical at school. Looking back I was actually probably a better musician then than I am now because I was just always playing.

DL: I suppose it’s the ache really, the isolation. Some of the most profound memories I have from my childhood is being driven over the really, really bleak landscape of Exmoor and Dartmoor [in the South West of England] with my parents, listening to music. And the fact that my school was twenty miles away from my house, that informs how you grow up, socially speaking…. But Ois isn’t from a rural area, you know…

OS: Well no, coming from Dublin the main thing was that there was always an acute awareness of U2. They hang over the city’s music scene. Probably not so much as they would have done in the 80s but they’re often forced on bands as a benchmark of what can be achieved. That’s probably not a good thing…

Do your songs come quickly, or do you labour over them?

GM: Some are finished in minutes, but some take years. And everything between really. But that’s the place where I get off easy, I lay down my part then it’s a case of leaving poor Danny to figure out the rest!

DL: Yeah, I’d say it’s about 50/50 how it works. On some songs it’s basically me in the studio working with drum samples and playing all the instruments myself, a bit like My Bloody Valentine’s way of working, that way tends to get finished quite quickly. Other times Graeme or Ois will start with a chord pattern, we’ll lay that down, and then they’ll leave me to orchestrate it. That’s a really special way of working because there’s such a vibe in the room when the three of us are together, I have to be careful when adding stuff to it on my own not to destroy what’s so special about it. So depending on whether I’m inspired to do anything with it, it might be ready by tomorrow, or in three years time.

You’re going out on the road next January. Are you looking forward to playing live?

GM: We'll see! Looking forward to it, but ask me again in December when I know if we're ready for it!

DL: I think it’ll be fun. You see the problem is, although there’s a lot of shoegaze and dream pop bands about, at the local level you’re hard pressed to find many people that are into that kind of music – the fan base is scattered all over the world really. And so you have to kind of meet people on their level. So we’re employing the unusual tactic of playing in a lot of rural places first, just to gauge audience reactions and meet people on a one to one basis, probably having a few pints with the audience afterwards as well. It’ll be fun – even if we end up just playing to four men and their dogs in Devon…

Daniel Land & The Modern Painters Voss EP will be available as a digital download from Cruxy from 24th September (www.cruxy.com/danielland) and as a CD release from CD Baby from end of October. For more details please see the band at www.myspace.com/danielland.