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1st December 2017
With Dan Patlansky's previous album, 2016's 'Introvertigo', conceptualised around his own insecurities and experiences of being "an introvert in the music industry" and "life in general", the South African guitarist/vocalist has switched to the ever-unattainable, subjectively changeable, illusory nature of 'perfection' for his new work. Set to be released early-February this year, he answered a few questions for Metal Discovery towards the end of 2017, on the subject of perfection; his decision to self-produce; his disregard for genre; and just what album he considers to have achieved 'perfection'...
METAL DISCOVERY: Loving the new album, so congrats on ‘Perfection Kills’! The album title refers to the futility and detrimental effects of attempting to achieve ‘perfection’, but do you regard yourself as a perfectionist? As a tortured perfectionist? Or do you always instinctively know and feel when there’s a natural cut-off point to sit back and be wholly satisfied with what you’ve created?
DAN: Thank you. I’ve learnt over the years when to call it a day in studio. I’ve also had a lot of experience in trying to create perfection in music and have learnt it does more harm than good. I think at heart I am a perfectionist; it’s just about knowing where perfection can exist and where it doesn’t.
(Dan Patlansky on the ever-evolving nature of his compositions)
"...songs slowly start to take a different form live, which is great for a returning audience. The album version is only the starting point for each song."
Dan Patlansky - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2017 Tobias Coetsee
Thanks to Peter Noble and Michaela Sauter at Noble PR for arranging the interview
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MD: The image on the album cover is very striking! What’s supposed to be represented here?
DAN: Thank you. It’s a different take on ‘Perfection Kills’. The concept exists in many areas of life, not just in art. So the cover shows a mother/wife whose pursuit for perfection is so strong she’s turned into a lifeless maniac; the daughter can’t breathe hence the gas mask; and the dad is just overall bleak.
MD: I gather you started writing some of the album’s songs back in 2016. Did you allow a lengthy gestation period for the songs to breathe, evolve and change over time, ahead of hitting the studio?
DAN: The song ideas I’ve been collecting since 2016, but I only had the chance to develop them into songs a few months prior to recording. It worked out well because I didn’t want to overthink the songs at all. I picked the songs based on gut feeling, which fits in with the overall concept of the album.
MD: How much of a role have bassist Clint Falconer, drummer Andy Maritz and keys guy Dean Barrett had in the creative process, in helping shape and bring your songs to life? Did compositions change in any way when jamming out the music with them, at the pre-production stage?
DAN: The concepts did change a bit when hearing the songs for the first time as a band, but not radically. I often write a bassline or keyboard part, and the boys have to refine the parts so they sound more natural to the respective instrument. I think playing with the boys is always a fantastic way to judge the tunes I’ve written at home.
MD: You recorded the album at a studio in your hometown, and it states in press blurb that you “wanted to make a different sounding record and he felt it was the right studio for his vision.” So, what felt right about Scherzo Productions? And is location important to you… i.e. would you say recording in your hometown played a role in how the overall feeling of the music transpired?
DAN: I love the recording space because it didn’t sound like a classic super dead studio space where all natural reverb has been engineered out of the room and is added on falsely in post-production. The room had a great lively sound that I was after, and a very natural tone to it. Recording so close to home was fantastic; I got to go home to the family every night instead of a hotel room, which seems to help put me into the head space I wanted to be in for the album. Also, my son was about to be born and it was important I was close by, just in case.
MD: You produced the album yourself, having used Theo Crous for the last two. Why did you decide the time was right now, to put your producer’s hat back on? Have you learnt a lot from Theo in the past? And did you feel a greater sense of autonomy in producing your own music?
DAN: I learnt so much from working with Theo. I see him as a mentor. The sound and production in my head was something I wanted to make a reality, so I thought it was best if I took over the producer role for this album. Pressure is the best word to describe the feeling but, in the same breathe, excitement - hearing back an album that’s pretty close to the one I hoped to make.
MD: The songs sound nice and organic, with a fine balance between the raw and the polished – one never compromises the other. Were you aiming for that kind of polished raw dynamic?
DAN: To be honest, all I wanted to do was make an album that I would want to buy and listen to, too. The rawness is something I’ve always loved in albums, and is a common thread that exists in all the albums I love. I wanted the album to represent who I am live, and what I sound like live. Just grateful it comes across on the record.
MD: You’re quoted as saying, “To me it feels like a band playing live in the studio which isn’t far from the truth.” What engendered that “live” sound? Did you actually record everything live, or track all instruments and vocals individually?
DAN: A bit of both. The meat of it was recorded live (drums, bass, guitars), and we overdubbed solos, keyboards and vocals. Which might be a better answer to the previous question. The reason for the live sound, besides loving the sound on recording as mentioned before, I’m just sick of people saying they love the album but it sounds so much better live.
MD: Blues seems to have progressively diversified as a genre over the years, to the point where self-proclaimed blues artists ostensibly have little affinity to traditional blues with the music they create. Which is great, to have this kind of diversification! So, do you see yourself as consciously trying to push people’s perception of blues parameters by taking the genre into new territory?
DAN: Not at all. I don’t like to see music in genres at all, because I’m massively influenced by so many different styles of music. The “Blues” has always been a massive love of mine and all of my music stems from the blues. I try to let the song lead the way in a direction instead of trying to make a record in a particular genre. So, if I have to look at it being part of a genre, I would say its renegade blues.
MD: Conversely, do you revel in sometimes embracing the tried-and-tested idioms and motifs of the genre? For example, ‘Judge a Man’ from the new album harks back to a more trad-blues sound.
DAN: I’ve always tried to pay homage to my roots on every album I’ve ever done, by putting a more trad style blues on the album. I’m still a big fan of trad blues and it was a massive part of my upbringing. It also brings the album right back to the basics for a little while.
MD: Have you ever encountered the music of Wilson T. King? He’s previously labelled his music and approach as “future blues”, and seems to despair at widespread generic stagnancy within the modern blues scene. I said of his last album: “Here we have Hendrix's attitude reborn in a guitarist who not only transcends established expectations of blues music but is, indubitably, also set to redefine the genre's parameters and what it means to be a genuinely innovative blues player in the twenty-first century.” Do you see yourself as part of a “future blues” movement in this sense; with a propensity towards genuine innovation?
DAN: It would be fantastic to be part of that innovation! But it is hard for me to make that call as I’m so close to the music. The way Mr King sees it is very similar to the way I do. Genre can be an extremely limiting concept, and I believe people should just make the music that speaks to them as a musician, whatever it might be.
MD: I guess, ultimately, there should only ever be two genres of music – music you like and music you don’t. But, do you think that being labelled as a blues musician might ever be delimiting for a potentially wider audience, for those people who might never check you out because they think they don’t like blues? Whereas, in actuality, so many non-blues aficionados could be enjoying your music free from genre expectations?
DAN: I agree wholeheartedly with the above, and always have. Often, the word “blues” scares people off because they have a false perception and have already made their minds up. I always let my ears do the deciding and take it from there.
MD: How’s the live performance experience for you, in general? Do you always get into “the zone” and feel the emotions of your music and the occasion? Are there ever any gigs where you find an auto-pilot kicks in?
DAN: I wish I could always get into the zone. It’s all a headspace thing, performing live. There are nights were the “zone” seems to be a mystical happening and the show feels like walking through syrup. My guitar tone for the most part is the deciding factor. When that’s sorted, most shows are really easy to play.
MD: At shows, are you an artist who treats recorded material as sacred where you replicate songs note for note, or do you allow yourself improv space, and approach your instrument and performance based on how any particular live experience makes you feel at any point in time?
DAN: The latter, for sure. Improvising is what makes me get up in the morning and is the heart of what I do. Without it I find it very difficult to express. When you’re in the zone there’s no better feeling, but when you’re not it can go horribly bad.
MD: Do your songs continue to evolve at shows, to the point where your inner perfectionist might be shouting out, “Shit! If only I’d recorded in that way!”?
DAN: All the time. I think it’s a good thing, though, because the songs slowly start to take a different form live, which is great for a returning audience. The album version is only the starting point for each song.
MD: You have some UK headline dates coming up in the New Year, so just what can people expect from a Dan Patlansky show?
DAN: Well, I look forward to playing all the new tunes of the new album, so a lot of them, but we will also be playing songs from previous albums. It’s going to be a very intense show, I believe, and we will always give everything we have at each show.
MD: Finally, if you could name one album where you believe ‘perfection’ has been achieved (one of your own, or another artist/band), what would it be?
DAN: For me, the closet anyone ever got was Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’. My all-time favourite record!!!