Q & A: Delaney Davidson — 13.08.18

Delaney Davidson talks in colourful detail about being a travelling musician, collaborating with SJD and Neil Finn, inspirations and creative ideas. Plus he shares his upcoming November tour dates.

Hi Delaney, you are one of those global roaming musicians that could be anywhere. Give us a snap shot, where are you today and what are you working on?

I am sitting in Berne, Switzerland at a small table. It’s a long hot summer night, drawing out into autumn with Lunar eclipses, late night river swimming. The worry of a warming up world and the guilty feeling of enjoying it while we can. The light hangs about a metre above the floor on a long cord so it doesn’t get in my eyes. The windows are open and outside I can hear people talking, the clink of cutlery, glasses and plates and also small motor bikes buzzing around. I am looking at a little dog on wheels. I am thinking of making him a little hat with ears on it. He will be part of the film shoot for my clown section of the next installation of Magic Lightbox: Ship of Dreams. I am looking into routines and make-up, costume and setting. I am also gathering material for the screen print show I will be doing end of August, called THE END. Loosely throwing together combinations of showbiz, tarnished and out of date, Fireworks and silver screen icons. Messages of love and question marks, circus, excitement and façade. Evil boy scout etiquette and moralistic farmers sayings from Switzerland.

There will be many that think life on the road is romantic, but we imagine it can also be a lot of hard work. Can you tell us about the challenges you face and how you manage them?

Yes the road is an attractive idea. Romantic? Maybe that’s because you can project events or feelings into it. You can imagine it. When the time comes and those events arrive, the same things we thought of as desirable are somehow smudged with the tarnish of the present. Besmirched. We are tired, needing rest, love or just a coffee. It’s funny sometimes to compare the imagined thought to the actual event. They never match up. One challenge is keeping focus, because the needs of everyday life take over from the planning and scheduled things aren’t as appealing as the spontaneous. Situations present themselves. You see everything through the lens of the un-escapable present. Filtered by your mood, your context, your timing and ability to look after yourself. Sometimes you just aren’t fit for the most amazing possibility. A sense of regret that you aren’t grabbing the tiger by the tail appears. Deadlines come and go, unrelated to your estranged present state of mind.. You try to keep up, stretching time out and staying up late to stop the time zone difference from eating weeks out of your schedule, time stretches and becomes elastic. Priorities shift. Focus is a challenge. I manage by trying out a schedule that doesn’t relate to anything else. It backfires horribly sometimes, but its based on the tour mode of “live in the moment” Hungry? Eat. Tired? Sleep. And I combine this with the attempt to realize when is the right time to work and when its just a waste of time.

Congratulations on the release of your album ‘Shining Day’ which came out a few short weeks ago. You’ve been on tour to promote the new album, any road stories to share?  

Albums are strange creatures, you pour yourself into them, writing lyrics, composing music, demoing the songs, fine-tuning the songs, listening, changing a word here and there, writing intros for the songs, finding harmonies, listening, guest appearances, adding the fairy dust, mixing, listening, mastering, designing the cover, listening, track listing, more listening, negotiating label deals, templates for artwork, proofing, signing off, and then waiting till it comes out. Suddenly people are asking you about your new record and it feels like, what.. that old thing? I often say that for the artist the record passes out of the realm of like or dislike, they just can’t have that relationship with it anymore. Those days are gone. Then a friend writes you out of the blue saying that the new album is great or a nice review appears and you think wow, it really has a life of its own! I went down into Serbia, Romania and Hungary. Terrified for my life on those highways, broken trucks everywhere. Pot holes like wells, and overturned lorries on the side of the road. I was jonesing to get out of the east to Austria on a decent highway, but then I kind of missed it. Really long stretches of driving this time. Hungary to Belgium was a good one. I started talking to myself a lot.

The album features collaborations with Neil Finn and SJD and you’ve collaborated extensively in the past with the likes of Marlon Williams. You’re a veteran collaborator, what did you learn from working with Neil and Sean?

They were both great to work with. I think with Sean I saw him letting things sit naturally, trusting that they would have their own flavor without injecting them with anything extra. I always like to overspice the pot I think, and am worried that it wont leap out and grab you. He has a great patience and trust in the listener. We spent some time writing songs together earlier in 2018 and it was really interesting to see how we could write our own versions of lyrics for a song and have them both simultaneously sitting there. Intertwined and side by side. I think we can also just go in a direction without questioning it too much and are both curious about the journey and really interested in the results. It feels like a discovery process.

I was really grateful to Neil for any time he could offer me, he is a very busy fella. With Neil it feels like he is looking with a very fine tuned eye. So he is nice and clear with what he thinks works and what he thinks doesn’t work. Part of the selection process for the album was due to his feedback on the songs I was compiling. His clarity was really helpful. With him it felt like a process of taking things away and a distillation of the song to a pure form. Removing the obstacles between listener and the music, and adding the elements that were necessary to bring the songs into a strong position and a solid context. He also has a great ear for a hook and what stands out.

What creative idea is bugging you at the moment?

I have been playing around with film for a while now and since the runaway success of the Magic Lightbox I have been working to create the second version of the show. I had this idea of a German expressionist folk story with Shamanic characters from different traditional cultures. When I started to dig into the fairy tales I kept seeing these characters. Huge, dark, hairy, alien, bright contrast, dynamic. I saw this from ancient European tradition through to modern clowns and started to see that they all represented this idea of when the rules start changing and boundaries start to blur.

It really fired my imagination with connections that have fascinated me for a while: the mythological parallels between coyote/trickster and clown/jester; folk tale elements and simple stories as a means for every day reflection; how the same person can be different doorway characters that sit in two different worlds and act as a medium between them; the alien costume that makes the worlds meet. Shamanism, Witchdoctor, Tohunga.

I also got interested in the crossover between narrative and non-narrative. For storytelling this gets really interesting and you start to wonder about what people already have playing inside them when they come to your show, and how this combines with what you present.

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

I guess somehow inspiration always moves me in the personal politics direction. Watching people. How we work and how we understand ourselves or each other, how we interact. Mythologizing and rewriting our own recent history, or the history we come from. Memory changing through repetition and re-telling.

Story telling is being used today as much as ever but it's been turned against us. The essential stories of Folk Fairy tales we used to share don’t seem as prevalent anymore yet the situations between humans are essentially the same and the problems we face are old, old problems. Loneliness. Dissatisfaction. Alienation. Misunderstanding. Fear. We get fed stories 24/7. But they seem to be to distract and paralyze us and not to help us reflect or grow.

I am curious about how can we find ways to retell these old stories, helping to get some perspective on our own lives and a space to reflect on them. When I see or hear this in art it sparks me creatively and I want to push towards this understanding or help create this space. If I can present that with my own flavor then I am really very happy.

When can we see you live next?

You can see me at the Hawkes Bay Arts Fest with Ship of Dreams or on my Shining Day Release tour in November:

  • Friday 9th & Saturday 10th: Wine Cellar, Auckland
  • Sunday 11th:  Leigh Sawmill Café, Leigh
  • Friday 16th: Kiwi Hall, Featherston
  • Saturday 17th: Meow, Wellington
  • Thursday 22nd: Christchurch Art Gallery. Christchurch
  • Friday 23rd: Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru
  • Saturday 24th: Captain Cook Hotel, Dunedin

[ All images by Delaney Davidson ]