18 years on, Dominic Harris has re-emerged with his follow-up to his 1997 debut album. Enlisting the help of a diverse array of local musicians from Oi Polloi, Aberfeldy, Clean George IV, and Badgewearer, ‘Woodland Casual’ is finally available, and in a way tells the story of the gap between releases. Betty Mayonnaise had her curiousity piqued sufficiently to quiz Dominic on his past, present, and future…
1. it’s been a bit of a gap between album one and album two – how has trying to release a record in Scotland changed in that period, in your experience?
Releasing a record anywhere has changed in that the internet wasn’t really around when we released our first records. I think now that you have iTunes, Spotify etc it’s much easier for bands to release recordings. I personally have always loved vinyl. I remember using four syringes of blood that Tom Worthington of Bosque Records took from my arm to mix in an inkpad and then stamping an apple-half on the cover of each record for our first single ‘Victoria’ – a run of 500. It’s that kind of aesthetic that I think struggles to survive in a digital age.
2. What are your ambitions for this new record?
My ambitions for the record? I grew up in a small village and was always amazed when bands made it through to my known world. I want to get to people who don’t necessarily have their finger on the pulse. We are in the process of renting an ice-cream van to play our music as a jingle as we drive around lowland villages.
3. Who are your biggest musical influences (yep it’s a cliche BM knows)?
My musical influences? I played baroque music as a child – sent away on a scholarship to hone my skills on the oboe and recorders. The form most influential in my life: the sonata, with its different movements and kaleidoscopic narratives. I love The Beggar’s Opera and taught myself piano through it. Songs like ‘Night-watchman’ and ‘Janitor’ are inspired by its themes. I also am very influenced by the musical rhythms of poetry: the tortuous narratives of the metaphysics like Donne and Marvell, the unsparing eye of Larkin, the visceral beauty of Hughes.
Bands I grew up to and were seminal for me never affected my music: The Go-Betweens and The Chameleons have stayed with me but do not influence my writing.
My biggest musical influences? The band I play with. They bring a panoply of different styles, references and influences to bear on the songs I write. Massively talented. They generally have a free rein when it comes to what they play.
4. What is the strangest gig you have ever played?
The strangest gig? Being arrested by the police en masse (five musicians, a dancer and two shade-wearing faux bouncers) for performing on the roof of Ladbrokes on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh. I don’t think they were going to arrest us until they saw me coming down a 30ft ladder with a generator on my shoulders. At the police station they searched us and I was mortified that they discovered that I was wearing a bra. I tried to explain that it was to unsettle the audience… They kept us for the maximum six hours and the Procurator Fiscal banned us from appearing on rooftops for seven years.
5. Are any of the songs on the album autobiographical, e.g. ‘The Nightwatchman’?
All of the songs are based on personal experience. But I would say that they have autobiographical elements. For example: ‘Swansong’ is written around the idea of anger – an anger that is variously pent-up and released. I have witnessed and experienced anger and yet it becomes something more when you reach the chorus, which is about death – the death of the performer as he/she performs for the last time as well as the death that is violence’s ultimate consequence – “This is your swan-song”.
I would say that all the biographical elements are influenced by recurring themes. ‘Scarecrow’ is loosely about my difficult relationship with my mother, but it is also more than that – paralysis, disconnection, redundancy. I find that one of the most resonant states for delivering vocal lines used to be anger but is now much more tender and that’s part of growing up isn’t it?
6. BM understands that you live in Edinburgh. What is the most annoying thing about Edinburgh?
The most annoying thing about Edinburgh is the unending townscape of Georgian terracing to be found in the New Town. Unpunctuated by vandalism. Monumentally dull and mercilessly patriarchal. Ugh!
7. Which venue do you most harbour dreams of playing?
I would love to play at Easter Road – perhaps a home game against Rangers. Whenever I go to see them I imagine being wheeled out on a stage at half time. I have often wondered what it would be like to be heckled by thousands of people in unison.
8. Do you use the following: Facebook, Twitter, a typewriter, a quill?
Facebook. An old typewriter. We use the typewriter as an instrument as well. I was lucky enough to hang out with John Cage in Berlin when he came to inspect some altered typewriters round the corner from my house on Kollwitz Platz in Prenzlauer Berg. Brilliant. I handwrote all my essays at college and I still write by hand. The album cover is festooned with hand-written lyrics.
9. The musical backing on the album is superb. BM is not sure who comprises the live band at gigs – can you enlighten us?
The band is made up of the core musicians of Aberfeldy. I met them at Scotland’s only squat – the Autonomous Workers Center (Broughton St, Edinburgh). A sharp thorn in the side of Edinburgh Council until we were evicted. Riley (vocals, guitar) and brother Murray Briggs (drums) both played in Oi Polloi, and Ken McIntosh (bass) played in Space Monkey Mafia.
10. Lastly, what other live action can we expect from DWL in 2015?
Live action? We are touring extensively in Holland and the UK in February. We are also doing a canal cruise from Falkirk to Edinburgh with Lone Pigeon (April 14th-18th) playing gigs which involve guest appearances by ornithologists etc; a gig in Edinburgh prison, and a picnic at the Antonine Wall.
Woodland Casual is out now on Tenement Records.