G. Stuart Dahlquist: Working on Music Kept Us Sane


Stuart Dahlquist has been providing a steady supply of heavenly drone under his Asva moniker for a decade. Now, when the situation has grown darker, he reacted in two ways: going towards light with Dama/Libra and revisiting his past doom metal explorations (Sunn O))), Burning Witch) with The Poisoned Glass, as honest, modest and interesting as ever.

G. Stuart DahlquistDisclaimer: This interview was originally published in Spike, the alternative music section of magazine Spark. With their kind permission we present the original version: for the benefit of Stuart’s English-speaking fans or just about anyone who appreciates deep, unique, and powerful music – and minds.

The music you have composed under the Asva banner (and The Poisoned Glass, too, from what we can tell) is very personal. How do you approach the moment when such an intimate outcome is to be shared with complete strangers?
It can be pretty nerve wracking. Usually the arrangements as recorded are a bit beyond what a normally aspirated three or four piece band can pull off so when rehearsals take place we have to discern the primary driving force behind the music we’re working with and focus on developing those primary elements. The whittling down can have great effect on whether or not the music will retain that core emotional impact… sometimes I think it takes things to a deeper place, sometimes the music becomes more visceral; sometimes you’ve made a poor choice, it sucks, and you rethink it.  It’s hard to guess how anyone will react, or if they’ll react at all.

You have closely collaborated with Randall Dunn on the Asva releases, and in an interview we did with him he mentioned how important these releases were for him also. What is the basis of the understanding between the two of you?
I haven’t heard from Randall in a long time! Randall was a key element in the making of the first four Asva releases and I learned a great deal about working in the studio environment with him.

What happened to Asva after Presences of Absences? Did it function as a band at any point?
Not as a band that plays out, no. Toby and Greg really made that album the jewel it became and I’d be hard pressed to try and follow it up with a different line up. Toby is keeping very busy with his music of course, and Greg- although I haven’t talked with him in some time- is becoming a producer of note and his focus is on the production/recording side of music making. These days I still write music that seems appropriate for Asva and I’ll release something every now and then. I’ve done a bit with a vocalist/multi-instrumentalist  called Val Dorr; there’s also a person called Gerard Le Vot who I’ve thought of working with quite a lot and will be visiting while in Paris. If it happens to click with someone I’m quite sure Asva will make another LP. 

You are often remembered for your association with Burning Witch. Why did the band quit? It seems that afterwards the members were playing together anyway.
Burning Witch never really broke up, we just sort of wandered away. I don’t think any of us thought about it much, none of us left heartbroken or pissed off, it just petered out. We’re all still friends, still musicians, and basically trust each others musical decisions so sure, we’ll work together if it feels right.

Do you concentrate on one project only or are you able to work on several at the same time?
I prefer to work on a variety of projects but will focus on whatever seems the priority. For the last year or so with exception of a Dama/Libra tour and a couple of Asva comp releases I’ve been almost entirely dedicated to The Poisoned Glass. It seems as though that will be the focus for the next six months at least. I would like to record a follow up to 10 Swords before the year is out and will put my energy towards that ultimate goal.

Could you tell us more about your connection with the world of film soundtracks?
I wish there was more to tell… I love scoring for film but haven’t been asked to do anything for a little while now. Putting music to image and image to music is a real pleasure and the best stuff I’ve ever come up with has as its origin an emotional state tied to a visual/image of some kind; once those ingredients are there the music flows very easily. Creating music is a very cathartic experience for me, its never been a matter of routine or forced exercise. When that door opens I’ll step through.

G. Stuart Dahlquist…Metal as a genre usually lacks in any sense of humour. Do you think one can experience equally deep emotions via both funny and so-called serious music?
Sure. All the robes, makeup, corpse paint, potato shaped guitars, cowboy hats… It’s all kind of funny, or I think it is anyway. But what would be the point if it wasn’t fun? I love to rock out just as much as I love deep listening. Even the most stoic musician gets something out of playing, simple release maybe, I don’t know. We all have our reasons for being who we are and going about life however we so choose; it’s a hell of a lot easier to live happily if one has a sense of humour buried somewhere in that guarded cloak of mystique. So yeah… Assuming some people consider me a ‘serious music’ person let me assure you that there are rooms full of funny in my world. I suspect it’s the same for just about everybody who’s serious about anything.

You have mentioned the sacred music composer Arvo Pärt (who is an Orthodox Christian) as a major interest/influence. Would you agree there is a religion/spiritual/mystical drive in Asva or Dama/Libra or do you have a more appropriate name for that mixture of awe, celebration, reverence, seriousness, intensity present in your music?
With Asva not so much spiritual/religious although the influence Arvo Part has had on the music of Asva, particularly within the composition and even the production of Presences Of Absences is very pronounced. I had become completely infatuated with his choral work (I still am) and we tried as best we could to share some of that otherworldly atmosphere. It was difficult of course, working in a basement instead of a cathedral, and capturing that openness in such a claustrophobic environment wasn’t possible. It became a matter of asking how to best utilize the tools and space that were at our disposal and creating a sound that was possible for us to make. P of A is the most successful of the Asva recordings to my ear because of that open soundscape.
Dama/Libra on the other hand is an incredibly spiritual endeavour largely because Joel RL Phelps is as deeply spiritual a person as I’ve ever met. He’s a great musician, skilled at composition, lyrically has serious poetic depth through his personal experiences (Experiences that some people might describe as hell)… Joel is a treasure. When we began working on Claw neither of us had any real plan or intention, it just seemed to keep happening in spite of our personal difficulties, which at the time were pretty dramatic; he was facing deportation and I was (and still am) consumed with my wife’s health and care. Working on that music kept us both sane I think, it was positive, nurturing, a driving force in our lives when we needed it most.

Can you comment on the role of emotion vs. (aesthetic) intention in your composition?
Intention plays only a very minor role when I’m initially working on a track. It’s only after I’ve more or less figured out what the music is appropriate for that I’ll start tailoring it to fit within a particular aesthetic. The Poisoned Glass is a very good example of this… Most of the tracks on 10 Swords were written in a completely different context, without intent of a ‘home’. They began as simple meditations played quietly on organ, a lot of noodling around with easy patterns and the recorder running. I had remixed ‘Silent Vigil’ and the song had become a whole new beast under re-examination. It was at that point I thought of asking Edgy if he’d like to expand TPG. He agreed we should work towards an actual ‘thing’ and I began re-cutting the sketches with him in mind, really juicing up my bass tone and saturating the organs. This isn’t an approach I normally take and since you mentioned Randall Dunn it brings to mind that intention/emotion was one of the things he and I sometimes would clash over. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a difference in the way we go about our work. I think a combination of the two, leaning towards the emotional, is a good method (at least from my perspective) of going about making music, from both creative and technical standpoints.

Did you choose organ with respect to its sacred music connotations? According to what criteria do you select instruments – are you specifically focusing on “slow” ones? Would you be interested e.g. in writing for clarinet or even for a chamber ensemble? What about synthesizers etc.?
Organ was something that came as a lucky find in a thrift store. I’d found a very nice Wurlitzer organ with a Leslie 47 speaker- I think I paid less than $200- and figured the speaker was worth something. I did nothing with it for months and then one day plugged it in and was blown away by that tone. As my interest in how to utilize organ became more pronounced I discovered (certainly not the first) some similarity that organ potentially has with Gregorian chant (which I’ve loved since I was a kid) and went from there. I’m not a good organist by any stretch and keep the movements slow partly because technically I’m pretty inept, but also because of those amazing sounds that can keep going literally almost forever. It doesn’t take a lot of notes to make me happy, it just takes one note with the right sound.
As far as composing for acoustic instruments that anticipate more movement I suppose I would like that opportunity. Synthesizers are something I’d like to try someday but currently  have little interest in. 

G. Stuart DahlquistYou have collaborated closely with three distinctive vocalists (Toby Driver, Edgy, Joel Phelps). Can you compare these experiences? Have you been in a situation when you had to cut down the (comparatively catchy) vocals because your own music (often subtle, understated) was overwhelmed?
Jessika Kinney, Holly Johnson (vocalist of Asva for some time), and Mike Henderson (who plays with Dahlquist in Brokaw) should also be mentioned here. I’ve been lucky to have worked with some incredible vocalists, each of them distinctive and completely original in their approach. It’s impossible for me to compare one to another; they are all wonderful, dedicated, insanely talented individuals, each of whom brought so much to the table it has been frequently overwhelming in the best way possible.
It has been only very rarely (if ever?) that I’ve cut down a vocal track; I’m much more open to removing or altering instrumental parts to make room for the vocal and have done this many times. 

Recently, you were supposed to play a special set with Toby Driver. Is there another collaboration coming?
No plans for collaboration anytime soon. I sure wish we could have done that NYC show together… He and Nick Hudson would make a fine duet I think and we’d have worked towards that eventuality. 

On your collaborative album with Philippe Petite, there is quite an assortment of guests – Jarboe (ex-Swans), Edward Ka-Spel (of The Legendary Pink Dots) etc. How did it come into being?
Philippe had everything to do with inviting the additional performers on board of Empires Should Burn. That record and Philippe surprised me quite a lot. Every time I’d send a new track off to Philippe he’d send it back with not only his input but also the work of a vocalist (or in the case of Bryan Lewis Saunders performance artist) completely out of the blue. Well almost completely out of the blue, I did have some contact with Jarboe prior but Philippe put it together. It was an amazing thing to watch him and his magnetic ability to draw people in. Philippe is an amazing guy, fearless… I would have been far to intimidated to ever ask these people to contribute. 

In interviews you seem like a recluse who mostly keeps to his family and his music. Where do you actually live – downtown, suburbs, country? Do you participate in Seattle’s cultural life? Any stunning concerts lately?
I live in a suburb north of Seattle. We are not wealthy by any means and found we couldn’t afford to live in Seattle with rents being super inflated by the tech industry (Amazon primarily). We found a house with a big yard and garage that’s large enough to accommodate  my church organs and studio, for about a third of what we’d have paid in the city.
I’d like to invest more effort checking into and taking part in the Seattle art/music scene but personal circumstances don’t often allow for it. I really enjoy the moments I have with the people I’m lucky enough to meet and work with… Seattle continues to surprise me. There’s a hell of a lot of good people, a lot of creative energy lurking here.

Music of The Poisoned Glass is darker and more aggressive that virtually anything since your Burning Witch/Sunn O))) days. Does this reflect a stylistic return to that period or are there other reasons? (At some points you mentioned in interviews that your music very much reflects your own life…) In what other ways does PG differ from your other work?
The time is good for me to do something a little darker and sonically heavier than in the recent past. A lot of this is reflective of my family, and serious health issues that I feel quite helpless in combatting. It’s like a scream I guess. 

Why did you choose a Bauhaus film to go with your new song?
Like quite a few things I just stumbled into it. Das Triadische Ballett was something I found while looking for vintage ballet footage to use as a visual for our song Toil And Trouble. I knew the song would fit well with some slower dance movement and had tried setting it to a variety of old ballet films and some contemporary modern dance as well. I had never seen anything like Oskar Schlemmer’s work and was totally blown away by it. The meter is very close to Toil And Trouble, enough so that it lined up (to my thinking anyway) with virtually no manipulation. I hope people will take the time to watch the entire ballet… It’s really incredible.

G. Stuart DahlquistCan you tell us something more about your equipment - both in studio and on tour. Why did you decide for these types of amplifiers and the respective bass guitar?
I’ve been playing the same Gibson bass and Acoustic amplifiers for a long time now. They interact very well together and are versatile enough to work in many situations. From doom to gospel, a great set up. 

What would you say is your criteria for success?
Sticking to your ideals, and finally fitting that square peg in a round hole.

PS: The Poisoned Glass live 17.4.2016 in Prague

Vložit komentář

Zkus tohle