News Dan Wilde: ‘They’re Not All Sad Love Songs’

DIY and Dan sit down for a coffee to discuss song-writing, venues and broken bones.

Born in Cambridge, raised in Blackpool, now back down south again, Dan Wilde’s folksy tendresse is something really quite special. With recording sessions for album number two in the pipeline, DIY and Dan sat down for a coffee to discuss song-writing, venues and broken bones.

Hi Dan. First things first, when did you start playing music?
I first started when I was about 8, maybe a bit younger. I was playing the clarinet because my sister had one which she didn’t want anymore. When I got to high school I was getting into my own tastes in music as opposed to just playing what the teacher would give me, which would just be a piece of classical music. I got into some grungey stuff like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I couldn’t really play them on clarinet, so I started playing guitar. That was when I was about 11.

So, when did this acoustic singer-songwriter style emerge?
I had an acoustic a long time before I had an electric… when I first started playing guitar I just learnt other people’s songs and then learnt to sing them. But I didn’t really write songs that much. It was just a hobby, really. Then I decided that I just wanted to be a guitarist and study music just as a guitarist. For quite a while I didn’t do any singing, I just played in bands. I went to London and did a course there, then to Leeds for a jazz course, and that was all guitar, no singing. I did a little bit in my spare time, but not much. When I left uni, I was a little bit disillusioned, like “what am I going to do with this?” After that, writing songs came naturally again. I decided that was what I really liked doing.

When did you come to Cambridge?
A year ago, for personal reasons (which always means for a girl).

How does being a musician here compare to elsewhere?
Well, back in Blackpool, I found it a lot easier to make money from gigs. There were lots of pubs and things, not just in Blackpool, but the surrounding area too. They’ll pay you, like, £150 to bash out a few chords. But it was invariably a crowd who were there to get drunk and not to actually listen to the music. So, although you earned more money, it was frustrating because you felt that no one was listening. Whereas here, I tend to find more people are listening but there’s not much money going around.

What do you write about?
All sorts really… The first album was love songs… and love-gone-wrong songs. Not just from my own experience, but about friends and stuff too. That’s the main theme of the first album, I guess. The second album I’m doing now, it’s a lot broader in terms of subject-matter. It’s almost autobiographical in some ways… there are songs about moving to a new place, moving in with someone, trying to find a job. My grandfather died… there’s a song about that. And there’s also a song about how I got really annoyed at a traffic warden. It’s different in that they’re not all sad love songs.

Some have compared your nimble finger-picking technique to the likes of John Martyn. You’ve covered Bob Dylan, Suzanne Vega and Eric Bibb. Lyrically and stylistically, is this where you draw inspiration from?
All those, yes. I guess it is mostly singer-songwriters. I’ve been influenced by guys I’ve played with, like Mark Geary and friends back at home such as Ian Bailey, Seamus Mcloughlin and Jon Brindley. They’re all local musicians who are writing great music but which sadly never gets out there as much as it should. Bob Dylan is a great influence. I’ve been listening to a lot of older stuff recently like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Young… but also more recent stuff like Fionn Regan, Josh Ritter and this guy called Justin Towns Earle. I saw him at Cambridge Folk Festival and he makes real country music. He’s amazing. It’s weird because if you’re influenced by someone from Nashville, Tennessee, then you can start writing a song then all of a sudden you here a ‘twang’ or something and then you think, hang on a minute… I’m from Blackpool.

You mentioned quite a few contemporary singer-songwriters. Are there any others you presently look up to?
Yeah, loads. There’s actually quite a lot going down in Blackpool at the moment actually. It’s kind of strange. A friend of mine, Rae Morris, she’s just been signed by Universal. She’s going to be pretty big I think. And there’s Karima Francis and she’s doing quite well. This girl Steph Fraser… she’s studying in Leeds but I think she’s just got signed by Island. There’s quite a lot going on for such a small town. Then there’s Little Boots as well, she was a friend of mine. Around here, there’s Jess Morgan from Norwich. She’s really good. Will Roberts is good too.

How do you find playing live?
Every gig is so, so different. Even before the gig starts, you arrive and there’s a friendly face, or there’s not. Sometimes you get venues and stuff and they don’t make you feel that welcome right from the beginning. And in other places, they’re like “here’s your dressing room” and “can I get you some beers?” Right before the gig even starts, there are all these other things going on that do actually kind of influence the way you play I guess. If you don’t feel welcome, you can feel sort of uncomfortable. Then there’s the sound guy… I’ve learnt there are lots of different types of sound guy. They can be really helpful and do their best for you, but aren’t very good. And there are those who are both really helpful and really good. But there are also some who really can’t be bothered. That makes a massive difference. As far as nerves go, I used to get really nervous. I don’t tend to now, but sometimes I do if we’ve had a terrible sound-check, or if the crowd come in and they don’t like they’ll be particularly receptive. I could be in a room of 10 people and get nervous and then in a room of 800 and not get nervous. You never know when your nerves are going to get you. It’s a strange one.

Are there any gigs or venues which stand out in your memory?
I went over to America and there were some great venues there, likewise when I went to the Czech Republic with Mark (Geary). Here, there’s Highbarn in Essex. It’s a really big 400 year old barn and they always get a really good sound. I played at the Cambridge Folk Club the other week; that was really nice. The Golden Hind, too. The Junction 1 and 2 (in Cambridge) were great. The Sage in Gateshead was really, really nice. The Brunel Social Club in Leeds was pretty cool too.

You’re recording the new album in March. Has it got a name yet?
No, it’s untitled at the minute. I had a few ideas floating around, but I haven’t decided yet. We’re going over to Ireland to record it.

I read that Karl Odlum (who produced Fionn Regan’s Mercury-nominated debut) is on production duties. How did that come about?
I went away with Mark to the Czech Republic. At the time, I was just finishing off the first album. We were talking about that and what I enjoyed about making the album, and what I didn’t. What I thought was good, and what I thought wasn’t. And he said “after this one, what’s the plan?”. I said I was going to make another one when I could afford it. Then we started talking about his album and the production and how great the producer was. He was like “well, why don’t you record your next one with Karl”. I didn’t think I could afford him. I’m not really sure, don’t quote me on this, but I think Karl is a really great producer but he doesn’t really like the industry, so he doesn’t work for record labels or anything like that, but for independent artists. He charges less so that he can do that. It’s still not cheap, but it’s cheap for someone who’s at his level. Partly that, and the fact that my manager is in a duo called ODi and their album was produced by him as well.

You said that the new songs differ in their lyrical content, but do they differ musically as well?
It’s less folky. Less sort of English folk, more… I wouldn’t say ‘rocky’ because it’s not going to be a rocky album. It’s more uplifting. The first album was a slow record but with a few upbeat tracks in there. This one is more light-hearted but it still has some sort of depth to it. It’s hard to describe my own stuff, really.

Have many of these tracks been tried and tested live before?
Yeah, most of them. ‘Pictures’, ‘On Previous Experience’, ‘Out of Nowhere’, ‘Some Room In Your Wardrobe’, ‘Demons’, a new one whose name I don’t know yet and ‘Stepping out’. On the first trip over to Ireland, we’re only recording half the album. So, I’m recording what I think is the best half first, and then in the meantime I’ll write a few more songs and pick and choose five more when I next go out there.

Who plays with you on the album?
Dan Rogers on double bass. He’ll be playing on most of tracks apart from the solo ones. He’s coming over to Ireland too. We’re going to have a drummer and a player from ODi might do some backing vocals and possibly play some piano. Dave might play some second guitar lines. It’s more of a conventional band format compared to the first album which was lots of strings, mandolins and ukuleles and stuff.

What other plans do you have this year?
I’m doing a little tour with ODi around England. I’m doing some gigs in Ireland when I go over to record, and then Dave (Dan’s manager) is talking about doing some gigs in Germany, so that should be good. That’s probably enough for this year.

Finally –tell us something weird or improbable about yourself.
Erm… I have two metal plates in my hand. I fell over whilst playing football drunk when I was at college. It was called a spiral break. The bone won’t go back together so I have to have two metal plates holding it in place.

Nowhere by Dan Wilde

Tags: Neu

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