Originally hailing from the coastal town of Bridport, but now based in London, Douglas Dare is the latest exponent of Erased Tapes. He arrives bearing an immense emotional capacity and virtuosic ivory-tinkling prowess, able to craft the heaviest and deepest feelings with only sporadic piano. Dare honed his craft at university, meeting a cadre of musicians who inspired him top pursue a career in the sonic arts – he in fact still works with some of them on his music – though it’s probably his music tutor mother who we have to thank for his initial interest in music.
To be filed next to James Blake on your record shelf, Dare simultaneously summons fragility and almighty clout in an experimental way on his cut ‘Lungful’. There are moments of neo-classical instrumentation, and his use of dynamics is a force to be reckoned with. Crunching, off-kilter percussion is a beautifully jarring juxtaposition that just lifts the track to a whole new level. Rather than being a solo ballad, it’s a thick dollop of art-pop with jerky beats and lush melodies.
Dare is on the cusp of releasing Seven Hours, his debut EP. Before the hubbub and commotion gets properly underway, we have a talk with him about its conception, his love of England and Bridport’s music scene.
How did you find your way towards music?
I grew up in a tiny town by the coast with my farmer Dad and piano teacher Mum. I think I started taking an interest in composing when I was about 14, after years of hearing my Mum teaching in our house. When I was in secondary school I only ever use to play for other people but secretly I wanted to be the lead singer… maybe not that secretly. It wasn’t until I started University in Liverpool that I began writing songs.
What’s your favourite thing about music?
Escapism. When I’m listening to music I’m with it all the way, every lyric and every hit. I love how it takes me away. Music is the best way I’ve found to express myself, and the creative process is utterly cathartic.
Is there anything you’ve set out to do with the project?
Not particularly. Not yet that is. My only objective right now is to realise an album of work that I’m really proud of and will set me on a path to write many more.
How are Liverpool and Bridport in terms of local scenes?
People have this expectation that Liverpool’s music scene will be one of the best in the country but I found, like many other places, it depends on who is around at the time, and one thing I’ve noticed is that good music fuels good music. Bridport is tiny but the art scene is pretty fantastic for such a small place. There’s not really a scene for bands starting out but there are some great bigger venues to return to if things go well.
Do you think there’s any significant differences from the more famous locations like London or Manchester?
Only that there are less people to create in smaller places. Again, it depends on time and who else is creating; I was completely inspired by PJ Harvey who lived only up the road from me, and who knows, I may inspire someone to create and some sort of kinetic creative energy may take off. Bridport could be the new Liverpool or Manchester… never thought I’d say that!
You’ve said before about creating the lyrics from poems you’ve written. Why do you do it this way?
I want the lyrics to work independently of the music; it’s important to me that both parts are really strong and writing poems came from starting from the lyrics up.
You’ve been composing music for a long time already. How have you evolved as a musician/songwriter?
Listening back to early ideas, years ago, I laugh and cringe. Now I have much more control and feel I’m developing a much more acute way of getting ideas across. I’m also always trying to simplify, I like it when musical ideas and lyrics are strong and often taking things back to the bare meaning helps. I look forward to evolving as an artist and no doubt I’ll look back on this first EP in twenty years and laugh and cringe once more.
What was the first song you wrote like?
It was on guitar. It was painfully simple. I remember the high E string had snapped off so that made it easier. It was pretty much a Radiohead rip-off but I actually quite like it.
You have your debut EP coming up for release in a few weeks. How do you feel about it?
I’m so excited for people to hear it! I’m very proud of it but at the same time, I see it as a step towards the album, so it’s kind of a subtle introduction. I’m looking forward to what people make of it.
How did you write and record the tracks that feature on it?
The songs were written using various instruments including piano, guitar, Casio keyboard and autoharp but all translated back to the piano. We (my drummer Fabian Prynn and I) recorded the songs in his home using a tape recorder, and Fabian did a lot of improvised percussion. I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Do you have a favourite moment on the EP?
Two moments: ‘Lungful’, when the bass creeps in for the first time, it’s beautiful, and ‘Flames’, when the trombone sound played in using the keyboard plays this dirty note at the end, I love the harmony there.
What can we expect from the EP?
Four songs played on piano with some unusual percussion, singing and hopefully, some words to relate to in some way.
‘Lungful’ has already been released. What’s the story behind it?
The meaning I leave up to the listener to decide, but the song itself came from wanting to write something without traditional structure. I don’t even know the timing of the song and me and Fabian play it differently every time.
Who/what influences your compositions?
People, news and history often influence me. People are crazy. I love it. I love England, there are some especially crazy characters here. I don’t necessarily write about ‘crazy people’ but they remind me about the vast spectrum of human emotion and show me that we are so overwhelmed by emotion and we’re obsessed with trying to explain them. This is a constant inspiration.
Who are your favourite pianists?
Thom Yorke uses the instrument so effectively, he never overdoes it. He can play one note in the left and one in the right and it’s completely enough. I love Chilly Gonzales’ control and dynamic and when PJ Harvey brought out White Chalk I fell in love with her root position chords throughout – that way of playing is huge influence on me now.
You went to university to study music – has that been useful for your career so far? Or has it not had much impact?
What we learnt is neither here nor there, but the people I met has made a huge impact. Firstly, I don’t know if I’d be writing songs if it wasn’t for hearing my classmates perform their songs. Secondly, I recorded the EP with Fabian, who I met at University and everyone that’s ever been in my band I also met there. It has definitely gotten me where I am today in one way or another.
What would you recommend to recent graduates of music (or creative courses in general)? What advice do you have for students trying to ‘make it’ as musicians?
Concentrate on your craft and not ticking the boxes.
What’s a Douglas Dare show like?
It depends if you’re at a solo one or a band show. Solo you can expect intimate arrangements of the songs with some awkward chat in-between, and with Fabian you can expect something heavier and you may even want to move a bit… there’s also less awkward chat ’cause I don’t want to embarrass Fab too much.
What’s been your favourite show so far?
Supporting Ólafur Arnalds at St John’s in Hackney. The room was packed the sun was filtering through the windows and the acoustic were incredible. I loved it! My EP trailer was filmed at that gig.
Do you have anything lined up for the EP release as a celebration?
I’m planning a very intimate release show on the 30th September in this tiny chapel in Bethnal Green. Just me on an upright piano, completely acoustic. There’s room for just 40 people, at a squeeze. I think it’s going to be really special and memorable. Then we’ll be having a bigger release celebration in November with full band. Cant wait!
Douglas’ EP Seven Hours is released on 30 September on Erased Tapes. He plays London’s St. Margaret’s House Chapel on 30 September (very limited tickets available here), and returns to Village Underground on 1 November.