SXSW Interview: Dan Black
by Yvette Travillian
One of the things that I liked most about this year’s SXSW was the noticeable mix of music genres which has clearly expanded since its birth in 1987. Music has become more of a colorful collage of experimentation and SXSW properly represented this new era of creativeness by showcasing some of the artists who fit distinctly into this mode.
Meet Dan Black: a prolific musician reppin’ Paris via London and someone to keep a serious eye on in 2010. His ability to successfully fuse genres like hip hop, pop and alternative has caught the ear of many here in the US, including that of Kid Cudi. And although Dan was a newbie to SXSW, he was easily able to handle the plethora of performances, interviews and partying like a true vet – a feat that’s not easy when you’re pretty much running on fumes.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Dan at Austin’s Moonshine Restaurant to talk about his bubbling music career, the power of the internet and some of the unusual sights one may come across while hanging out in Austin, Texas:
Dan is this your first time coming to SXSW and what brought you here?
It is my first time and what brought me here was the myth, the legend that is SXSW – it lured me across the world.
Tell me about your performing experience so far. Have you been getting a positive vibe from your audience and has your trip across the world been worth it?
Absolutely! Well, I hope my reading of the crowd has been correct, but they seem to be having a good time. I know I was. So at least one person was having a good time at the show. I’ve done a lot of shows though, so they are all kind of blurring into one now. One of the guys in my crew was talking about one of my performances and I was like ‘what are you talking about, I don’t remember that at all.’ So yeah, there’s been a lot of running around.
Have you had the opportunity to tour in the US often?
Well my record came out [in the US] a month ago, so I just started recently spending a lot of time here. So it’s still all kind of new, fresh, dazzling and wild.
So a question I’m dying to know: How did you get the idea to mash-up Biggie’s “Hypnotize” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and create the song “HYPNTZ”?
So I used to be in lots of bands before I went free and solo and I would come into studio sessions like, ‘why don’t we try this?’, and it would be things that were more alternative. I remember one time playing “Drop it Like it’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg and saying how amazing it was, but some of the members of my band were not getting it. So when I sat down to write my solo stuff one of the first things I thought is how there’s a lot of things I like that are very far apart; things from the hip hop world but also things from more of the dreamy side, like the Cocteau Twins. So I wanted to see if I could make music that could mix these things and put them together as an experiment, so I chopped up the Smiths and put Missy Elliott underneath it to see if it could work. So yeah, I did a bunch of them and one happened to be the drums from Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, strings from this 80’s sci-fi film called Starman and I took the lyrics from Biggie’s “Hypnotize” – wrote a melody to it and stuck it on my Myspace page.
How was “HYPNTZ” received here in the US versus overseas?
It’s sort of universal. Lots of people seemed to really like it. I put it out first to say something to the people who knew me from the bands I was in before in Europe, just to say I’m doing something different now – get used to it. And it sort of drew in more people from outside of my ‘original world.’
So it introduced you to a whole new fan base?
Absolutely. The thing that I quite like about what I do so far is that I haven’t really got a consistent fan base and it’s really very diverse. I think I’m kind of like most people nowadays; if you look in their iPods they’ve got everything – Radiohead, T.I, they’ve got a bit of Britney Spears and MGMT. Everyone has quite a diverse mix of music. When I was a kid, it was either you’re a goth, punk or hip hop kid – it was much more tribal and now it’s becoming a lot more messy and for me, a lot more fun and I think what I do is quite reflective of that.
Since we’re on the subject of hip hop: what led to your collaboration with Kid Cudi (on the “Symphonies” remix) – did he approach you after hearing some of the hip hop inspired songs you worked on or did you approach him?.
Yeah, he did a great job. And it was through a mutual friend who played him some of my stuff. It was really quick but he just connected to it, he really liked “Symphonies” in particular, so he asked our friend if I could send him the instrumental. It was really modern; I emailed it to him and two days later he emailed it back to me with the stuff he recorded. I loved it and from there it was done; it was really quick, simple and… super fortuitous.
Wow, so it was all through the internet? The power that thing has.
Yes, thank you once again internet.
So who are some of the bands you’ve had a chance to check out since being here at SXSW?
Let’s see, well I have seen a couple. Neon Indian, which was very good. I saw Washed Out who I really liked. And obviously one of the fun things is the endless strange and unusual randomness that you just find on the streets. People hustling. Like I saw two girls and one of them had an electric guitar on her lap and she had a lot of different metal objects and, like, hairbrushes which she was banging against the guitar. My friend said it sounded like an alien eating toast. Then she had a friend who was covered in tattoos doing this half-sexy/half-frightening snake kind of dance. We were driving but we literally stopped on the street to watch this and it was a fascinating yet almost frightening thing to see.
Wow. That’s SXSW for ya. You never know what you’re going to see. So do you think you would want to come back in 2011 and do this all again?
Well my first aim was to just physically get through it and not to die. Which so far has gone well. Although I still have a day and a half to go. But I would love to come back. Absolutely. When I first arrived here I was a little unsure but it’s a very unique event. There are lots of festivals in Europe which are a bit more, well there is kind of this hidden bubbling , sort of aggressive violence. Just because there are so many people in the same place. But here, even though everyone is working really hard and partying really hard, somehow everyone still seems to stay quite relaxed which makes it really unique.
To peep more of Dan Black’s videos, tour info or to purchase his new album ((Un)) go to www.danblacksound.com. And if you were unable to catch him at SXSW, check out one of his live performances of “Symphonies” via VEVO below.