Archive: Dog Bites Back – Interview with DJ Magazine 28-08-96

Dog Bites Back
[ extract of an interview with The Black Dog ]

[The Black Dog]: “Every human is capable of feeling a whole heap of emotions, but so little contemporary music seems to address them.”

[DJ Magazine]: So can ‘Music For Adverts’ address this heap of emotions? Especially when many of the tracks are very short (the tribal ambiance of ‘Harpo’ is a mere 0:40, whereas the penultimate blipvert ‘Wot’ clocks in at just 0:34). Why is this, do you get bored easily? Or did you have to edit out one hundred other ideas to fit 20 on one album?

“The ‘short tracks’ are an attempt to show that you can have a short simple piece of music that will communicate Itself fully within 38 seconds. About the length of an average advert. Too many people stretch their Ideas out Into boring fifteen minute megamixes. I prefer not to. As David Byrne says In ‘Psycho Killer’ by Talking Heads: ‘Say something once, why say it again?’.

“On the other tip, yes, I built up a huge collection of material in the year and half of that was putting the album together. So a bit of squeezing was inevitable. I hope it’s not too obvious. And no, I don’t get bored very easily. I have the tenacity of a terrier, when I sink my teeth into something.”

Getting back to the adverts – what’s an advert without a message? Black Dog does things more subtly than, say Shake’N’Vac as all the tracks on the new album are Instrumental. So I wondered if vocalists were of interest to him and which he’d like to work with.

“There ARE some vocalists that I’d like to work with. I just hope they’ll allow me to use them out of a ‘lyrical’ content. I’ve been itching to work with Laurie Anderson for ages, as she has a unique way with the spoken word, and would prebably be up for some ‘experimentation’. And, I definitely feel I could do something constructive, beautiful even, with a female soprano. Something which would exist beyond the level of ‘lyrical content’. One singer (who shall remain nameless) threw a temper tantrum, and accused me of ‘Just using my voice as an instrument’. That’s what it is, isn’t it?”

“I’ve really no desire to write cheezy songs which appeal to cheap emotions, just for ‘the sake of it’. Call me pretentious or up my own arse, If you like, but I’ve set my sights on worthier, more lofty goals.”

So have any instrumental bands particularly inspired you? The Art of Noise maybe, The Tornadoes even?

“A bunch of people blowing a big trumpet, and slapping drums, is an instrumental band, isn’t it? People have been making sounds without words for millennia. It’s not a new phenomena. Big respect for the Art of Noise, but their rhythms were a bit rigid for my liking.”

Ambientologists will notice that there are more than a few superficial similarities?between Black Dog’s new album and classics of the experimental genre of old. So was he in any way inspired by Brian Eno’s ‘Music for Films’ series, Jarre’s ‘Music For Supermarkets’ or even Robert Fripp’s abortive ‘Music For…’ series…?

“Yes. But saying that, I also wanted to do my own thing. ‘Music for Adverts’ is about the shallow superficial existence that we are forced to live. It’s not just saying ‘how great adverts are’, or ‘please use my music to advertise your product’. Honest.”

Your album cover looks like a follow-on from Eno’s ‘Ambient’ series (in fact it’s almost identical). Is this homage?

“No, It’s more of a sideways look at…’ Brian’s a bit too much of a boff for his own good these days. Like the saying goes: ‘Nobody loves a smart arse’. I’m not out to pop his balloon, perish the thought, he’s done some very interesting stuff, but that all feels like the old Brian. His ‘Spinner’ album with Jah Wobble was fun, but I’d like to see him do something more than just be the first to ride algorithmic software composition. Mozart did that ages ago.”

“The Black Dog is saying that anyone can obfusticate anything to the point of?mysteriousness. Which made it a perfect choice for the cover. He doesn’t own the copyright on Ordinance Survey maps, ambience, or emotions expressed via synth electronics, you know.”
Recording an album called ‘Music For Adverts’ surely doesn’t mean you’re one of those people that prefers the adverts to the actual programmes?

“No, I very rarely watch TV. But when I do, the adverts generally remind me that it’s time to go and put the kettle on, relieve my bladder, or get on with my life for two minutes, until the programme I actually want to watch is resumed again. I try not to hang around and check them out.”

“You see, most adverts are attempting to sell you trashy stuff that you don’t need. Alcohol, while being dionysian, can make you behave like a complete arse, and could ruin your kidneys. Soft drinks are just sugar and water, which rot your teeth. Banks urge you to save, for a tomorrow that may never come. Cars destroy our envirenment, while giving their owners the illusion of independence. Benzine and exhaust fumes cause more cancers than smoking ever will, but every advert break has at least one car commercial in it. Sad, isn’t it?”

So you don’t have any favourite killer adverts? Leonard Rossiter for Martini and Velvet Underground on Pirelli are two of mine at least.

“Nah mate, they all suck. They’re even dodgier than a Christian fundamentalist handing out leaflets. At least you can cross the road when you see a nutter coming. In your front room, if you’re not wise to the tricks, they have you. Another consumer.”

Which products need Black Dog advert music, would you say?

“…The Sacred order of bards, ovates, and druids.
…Textured Soya Protein (It saves lives).
…Blue Rizlas.
…The Samaritans.”

So if those are the adverts that need Black Dog music, what are the films? Personally I love film soundtracks as they offer my ears sounds and textures that I wouldn’t find in any other sort of album. How ’bout you?

“[laughs] I’ve checked out a bit of classical stuff in my time, which seems to?predate ‘soundtrack music’ by a few centuries! But yeah, I know what you mean. I also check out some soundtrack albums, when I can. People HAVE said ‘yeah, soundtrack material..’ with regards to my more chilled, ambient stuff, but I feel they’ve missed the point. In their haste to stuff me into a safe musical sub-genre. Like you said… you need more ‘sounds and textures’ than is currently available on most contemporary recordings. I don’t blame you. The way I’ve looked at it is, ‘If, as an artist, you have the whole canvas available to you, why paint yourself Into a comer? Spread out, and use the space.’…”

What about ‘Short Films’, did you have any in mind when composing the LP, or was it more of an imaginary set of movie scenarios, ‘Passengers’-style?

“I had short imaginary journeys in mind when I was writing. Some to places that?I’ve actually visited, and others that I’ve only imagined. They should be open-ended enough to work for anyone. The only script was… ‘You’re on foot, alone, and carrying a ‘camera’ which can only transfer your thoughts and impressions into sound. Press Record, and see what happens’.”

What films are you into (surely the opening track ‘Dumb and Dumber’ isn’t a clue)?

“I love old black and white films, especially silent ones. If you look closely, there’s always a black dog in them too. You get three points every time you shout ‘Black Dog’, and point at the screen inanely! The ‘Dumb and Dumber’ on the album is me poking fun at a couple of ex-friends, and nothing to do with the film of the same name, which I must confess I haven’t seen. I’ve also got a soft spot for science fiction movies, and computer animated films, but who hasn’t?”

And isn’t that a hint of the ‘Mission: Impossible’ baseline In ‘Darkness’?

[cackling aboundsj “No! If anything, it’s the William Tell ‘Overture’ with attitude!”

Having remixed artists including Blondie, Bj?rk and even Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
(something on which Ken now looks back with more than a hint of embarrasment), I wondered what the attraction is in dabbling with other people’s beats and – if you had a carte blanche – who else would you like to work with?

“Yes, I really enjoy remixing. it’s nice to sometimes avoid the manic activity involved with coming up wfth a new track 100% by yourself. Bj?rk, Debbie Harry,?and Thom from Radiohead, have all had such fine voices that it was a pleasure?working with them. They were all brave enough to say ‘do what you want with it” too, which helps a lot creatively.”

“Oh, if I had a carte blanche, I think I’d like to produce rather than remix. There’s something which is very appealing about being able to spread your technique over a whole album rather than just on one or two tracks. You also get more time to interact with the band or person themselves rather than a taped version.”

How about interacting with your audience, do you have any plans to play live this year?

“Heh, I’m going to be trundling the dog out on the road to a few select venues around Europe. London is boycotted because of the sheer amount of style fascists per square metre. Sorry. The live sound now has a bass player, so it?should be storming. Well worth travelling a hundred miles to see, in my humble opinion. Live performances mean going there, and doing it, without just pressing Play on your digital muititrack. People can do that with your music at home. Bobbing around behind the mixing desk Is no longer enough either, people expect some sort of show, and I hope I can deliver it.”

Finally, some quickfire tips from Black Dog Towers. Mixmaster Morris, Bj?rk, Graham Massey are all ardent supporters of your work, but which artists would you say are not to be missed?

“Schubert, Beethoven, and Salvador Dali”.

Simple, so what’s next for The Black Dog? Singles, albums, collaborations, multimedia?

“Yep, all of those…”