TSOFDs: Hi Alex. This album you’re promoting, ‘Beat The Babble’, actually first came out in 2016. Why the re-release?
AD: Hi TSOFDs! Personally, I’d describe it as a ‘UK physical release’, rather then a ‘re-release’, but the global availability of music through the scattergun lens of the internet has blurred the lines there slightly! Beat the Babble originally came out in the USA on Tim Presley’s Birth Records. It felt amazing to have a record out in the States but, as it so often does, reality came along and kicked the doors in! Promoters were telling us that they couldn’t push the record in America, and we were trying to sell vinyl in the UK as a (horribly expensive) US import. It took a while to find a home for the record this side of the Atlantic, but eventually we found a safe berth with Libertino Records.
TSOFDs: Gotcha. You worked with Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley on this record. Can you tell us about the kind of input they had? How did it change the way you work or your overall sound?
AD: Ah, it was just huge. I asked Cate to produce the record for me and the first influence she had was to change my mentality of what could be achieved. I was toying with the idea of recording on a 4-track in a New York basement, or renting a house in Alaska, or making field recordings driving a caravan across America. Anything to make it an adventure.
Getting out of my comfort zone was the one thing I really cared about. I was also self-financing the recording, so a BIG question was what I could afford to do. She convinced me to book a proper studio, and showed me that there’s funding for the arts out there that you can apply for if you need to make these things happen and believe in them enough to go through all of the paperwork. In the meantime, she and Tim had released the first Drinks record, ‘Hermits on Holiday’, which was one of my favourite LPs of that year, so when she offered to bring Tim along to co-produce it was like being asked to make a record with your favourite band. When does that ever happen?!
The songs on Beat The Babble were mine, but in terms of recording ‘tracks’, we worked collaboratively, democratically, and tried to take creatively bold decisions. I left them to their own devices as far as they would let me and the sessions rolled forward under their own momentum. It was a dream of a record to make. Cate brings a wonderful poise and otherworldly aesthetic to everything she does. All her work is under the surface, whilst Tim bubbles and swings like an untethered hosepipe. They combine wonderfully.
Samur Khouja also deserves a lot of credit for the sound. He engineered the session and mixed the tracks in real time, which adds to the record’s intimacy. My wife Swci Delic made the cover art in the next room as she listened to us record. Everything was self-contained, and every creative decision influenced the next one. It was an album made on gut instinct. It’s like a photograph of that time for me. I’m very fond of it.
TSOFDs: Do you feel like recording in such a wildly different location as California made the record sound markedly different to how it would have sounded if you’d recorded it in Wales with the same people? How much can a change of environment affect what happens?
AD: Absolutely! Environment has a massive effect, and if it doesn’t then you’re making a record based on what you’ve remembered, or what you’ve practiced, or what you think it should be like. That’s a photocopy of a record. It’s taxidermy. What’s the point in that? You need to be switched on, and be in the now, and your surroundings MUST seep into the recordings. Of course, the effect for us was more pronounced as we were writing the album rather then just recording it. California focused me in a way that I’d have struggled to have achieved in Wales, where you’re always a phone call or text message away from sinking back into a feedback loop of domestic responsibility. Out there I could be selfish. It was exciting!
TSOFDs: We’d love to hear more about where you come from in Wales. What was it like growing up in terms of access to music, playing gigs, meeting other people into the same kind of thing as you?
AD: I come from a village called Llansteffan, which is just outside Carmarthen. Dylan Thomas’ Boathouse is just across the Tâf from us, and Fern Hill is just up the road. It’s the sort of place that gets left to its own devices, and where you make your own entertainment. Touring bands never really played anywhere near us, but there was a strong Welsh language music scene, and lots of people who threw themselves into music with passion and idealism. Gigs were really wild and chaotic, and quite drunken!
Gorkies went to school in town. When I started school, they had just left to represent West Wales at Britpop. They inspired a lot of people and left field bands were springing up everywhere, so it didn’t feel hard to meet like-minded people. It was a really exciting time and place to be growing up.
TSOFDs: Sounds an absolutely magical place. You mention how inspiring Gorkies were – it’d be great if you could tell us about how you write and perhaps inspire some of our readers. Do you find songs come easily to you or is it quite a painful process? How does a song tend to start – with a lyric or a melody?
AD: It’s only a painful process if I have a deadline. If I HAVE to write something then it’s like pulling teeth to me. I try to avoid this by always having something on the boil. It’s quite hard to describe my process, as it’s something I don’t really want to understand myself. It usually starts as a stream of consciousnesses (or subconsciousness), nothing, nothing, nothing, then a hook, or a melody will jump out and demand to have more attention lavished upon it.
I’ll try to give it some kind of ‘form’ then I’ll add it to my pile of half finished songs and ignore it. I hate finishing songs. I enjoy the sense of potential that a song has until it’s finished.
Once I have a recording session booked, I’ll arrange all of these half finished snippets around me and try to piece them together into songs. Nothing is finished at this point, so the possibilities are still endless – which is exciting! There’s a lot of ripping up and starting again. Sometimes nothing will survive. Sometimes a snatch of melody will jump to a different song entirely. Sometimes three songs will become one, sometimes one song will split into two. The lyrics are usually finished five minutes before the vocals are recorded. Et voilà! Easy?
TSOFDs: Haha. Fascinating. You’re obviously promoted as a solo artist but how much of what the listener hears on your records is you? Do you play all of the instruments or are there times when you seek out different people who you know can offer something different?
AD: I was in a band for years, where you fight for input, and lose more battles then you win, so when I went solo I had this greed to do everything. I was THAT kid, in THAT sweet shop!
Since those early days I’ve swung back the other way. Music at its heart is about people, and for that reason you need to open yourself up and trust people, and let them in. The trick obviously, is to find the right people…
In regards to Beat The Babble, I’m at the centre of it, but there’s so much more going on than just me. Cate and Tim found the holes in the songs and plugged them, and much of how they did so is a mystery to me, which I love! That’s the beauty of human collaboration at its purest level. There’s real magic in it.
TSOFDs: What about outside your immediate circle of collaborators? Can you pinpoint any artists that have had a specific influence on the way you sound?
AD: I learnt how to play guitar from a ‘Definitely Maybe’ tab book. I’ve spent all the years since trying to unlearn those guitar shapes and string bends, but there’s some powerful muscle memory there! I can still hear Definitely Maybe in everything I do, even if nobody else can.
When I was younger, music was all about trying to sound like the bands you loved. Now, the opposite is true for me. If I feel myself going too close to something I admire then I back away from it. I just love songs, and melodies, and lyrics, and rhythms and the craft and puzzle of putting them all together, and giving them that spark of life. I admire anyone who finds new ground to tread, lyrically or musically, or who treads the old ground so well that it sounds new.
TSOFDs: You are one of a number of interesting artists to emerge from Wales in recent years. We’ve mentioned Cate Le Bon obviously but Gwenno also springs to mind. Is there anyone back in Carmarthenshire you’d urge our readers to take note of that perhaps hasn’t received the credit their work warrants?
AD: Thank you. You can come again! You should look out for Accü. Like Cate and Gwenno, she radiates creativity, and does so in her own intelligent and idiosyncratic way.
TSOFDs: Thanks for the tip! What’s on the horizon in terms of gigs – where can people see/hear you perform songs from Beat The Babble?
AD: We’re launching the record at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff on June 16th. Gruff at Libertino Records is then looking at putting together a run of gigs as part of a label package tour. There’ll be more information via the label’s website as it comes through so watch this space as they say!
TSOFDs: Excellent. Look out for that UK gig goers and if anyone fancies writing a review and sending it our way we’d be happy to consider publishing it. What about after that? We’d imagine since the initial release in 2016 that you’ve been working on a fair bit of newer material since then – any plans to hit us with a quick follow-up?
AD: As I write this I’m sat atop a huge pile of half finished songs, scribbled lyrics and ideas waiting to be resolved! It’s a huge jigsaw and there’s no picture on the box. It could be anything. I want to get into the studio later in the year to sort it all out!
TSOFDs: Ace. Please keep us posted on any future releases. And thanks so much for giving us such a big chunk of your time for this interview. It’s been very illuminating. We’re really buzzing to have stumbled upon this record as we missed it the first time round – best of luck with it all.
AD: Ah thank you! That’s very kind of you! I’m very glad you found it!
Find out more about Alex Dingley and ‘Beat The Babble’ here.