Dirty And Divine (C/Z)
An interview with singer Dave Callahan
by Lex Marburger
Moonshake is a fascinating band that uses samples mixed with live instruments. Their new album, Dirty and Divine, combines rock grooves with treated samples, usually so messed with, they sound nothing like the original. Live, well… see my review of Lollapalooza last issue.
The first thing I’d like to talk about is your vocal style. I’m trying to place the sound, a sort of Wire/Fall/Gang Of Four, 80’s British Post Punk sound. What influences you vocally?
Well, I used to like that sort of thing when I was a kid… but it’s more a colloquial accent, isn’t it? So I’m bound to sound a bit like them, really. You just sing with your natural voice, don’t you? I try not to put one on, anyway. I don’t know who it could be that you’re thinking of.
It’ll probably come to me on the verge of sleep one night, and I’ll jump out of bed screaming his name (the closest I finally came was an obscure band called The Sons of Freedom). The other thing I felt when listening to the album is how much it sounds like Can. Do you have many of their albums?
Yeah, I’ve got some of their records, yeah.
It’s amazing how much it sounds like a melding of trip-hop and old Can.
I mean, the title of your band is even taken from a Can song.
Mmm, well spotted. I’d give anything now not to have a name derived from something else, but there you go. The idea’s not to ape them at all, really. I was more excited by the use of samples in hip hop. The idea was to take samples and not just use them for grooves, but for songwriting and so forth. Not just to use the music directly off the record, but to use them creatively. Fuck around with them a bit. I prefer rhythmic music as opposed to straightforward rock, so it’s bound to sound like Can. They were pretty innovative and a lot more modern-sounding, what with their use of odd times and funky grooves.
How much of the album is actually sampled?
There are some songs which are completely sampled, but we make a point to use a live band as well. They’ve all got samples on them, but they’re used in different ways, really. Hopefully, they’re blended in so you can’t tell. I don’t want to say “this is a sample.”
Where do you get the ideas for the songs?
Out of my head.
When we were listening to the album, Brian Eno’s name came up, too.
That’s funny, really. I’ve never really listened to him.
Okay… Your first album came out in ’92, before the whole trip-hop surge. Do you consider yourself an influence on that sound?
No, we didn’t influence. What we did was completely independent. In a way, we kind of missed the boat on that as well. We were just doing things other bands weren’t doing – all these things we’ve covered accidentally, so we haven’t really exploited them. We tend to do one song a certain way, and then we won’t repeat ourselves, hopefully. Yeah, it would have been nice to jump on the bandwagon, but we had already jumped off before anyone else got on! Which is a shame, really, because we probably would have been a lot richer if we’d stuck with it. But I get bored quickly.
So is the intent to make music contrary to what’s already out there?
Not necessarily contrary, but just to cover the areas that other people don’t, to reach the parts that other ears don’t reach. It’s not intentionally meant to be contrary, I just don’t see the point in doing something that sounds like anyone else. If that happens, we tend to drop it.
Is not using guitars part of that?
In a way. We have used guitars before, but when I first got a sampler in 1990, so much potential opened up that the point seemed to be to explore. Guitar has already been done by loads of people who are better than me, from Chuck Berry down to God knows who, and it seemed that there was no point in doing that. This new instrument was there and I could do something that was true to me. And that’s obviously why you get involved in a creative thing. I’m really interested in writing songs with samplers. I mean, we have grooves and so forth, but you’ll find melodies and choruses, and I think it’s kind of nice to keep a disciplined structure, rather than doing a straight trip-hop groove. And to have vocals and lyrics, a lot of people just have one or two lines and that’s it. I suppose it’s taking traditional things and putting them into this new “Sampledelic” context.
Do all your samples come from records, or do you go out into the field and record car crashes and such?
I always get there too late for the car crashes, and I don’t have a good enough microphone to catch the dripping of blood. I try to kick a bit of broken glass around, but it just doesn’t pick up. We do take a lot off old records, but I tend to take a sound and completely change it. We also sample ourselves, and I do sample noises like trains at stations, wind blowing, interesting sounds. But I never keep them as they are, they’re always played backwards, or looped in a funny way, or slowed down or sped up. . . anything to get a sound that you can’t place anywhere. I have fun doing it. The result may sound depressing, but I’m actually enjoying myself.
Although I don’t have a lyric sheet in front of me, I hear you write depressing lyrics as well…
Ech – I don’t think they are. I’m laughing most of the time. I think the sense of humor is more apparent on the new album. They’re about things that might be depressing, but I don’t find them particularly so.
I’ve heard that your favorite Movie Director is Orson Welles…
And Terry Gilliam. They’re ambitious. I like things that try to grasp more than they can. And the element of charlatanism is there as well. You can never quite get the idea whether they really mean it, or if they’re just playing with you. And they put so many ideas into one thing. It’s not passive, and they’ve got a sick sense of humor. There’s a lot of gruesome death in them, mental and physical deformities as well, and that’s rather enjoyable, isn’t it?
So, how does this affect your music?
I like the fact that I can make a record and you won’t get it all in a few sittings, you can go back and hear different things all the time. ‘Cause if I didn’t do that I’d get bored myself, and I like to think listeners want to hear different things. If people do go back, then I’ve been successful. And there is an occasional gruesome death. That’s from the car crash (laughter). If I get an expensive microphone, on the next album you’ll hear a glutinous dripping noise, and I’ll put it in off beats to the rhythm section… Seriously, I think the songs are dense, and they hopefully make you think, and thinking is entertaining. People aren’t encouraged to think, and they lack proper entertainment because of that.
What do you want them to think about?
Whatever they want to. You should question things until you die. I like music that makes people uneasy. It makes your mind work overtime.
I guess you’re not expecting immediate success by making people uncomfortable.
If I did, I’d be a bloody idiot. People like McDonald’s milkshakes, and people like Julia Roberts films, so obviously I don’t expect to be an overnight success. If I were doing what people wanted me to do, I think I should probably just get a job in a bank.