Interview with Dylan Henner (April 2020)
1. What are some recent inspirations?
I just came back from a trip to Sri Lanka. I’ve been working with the field recordings I took there and I’m finding endless inspiration in them. There’s a serene sense of calm there, I guess because it’s a primarily Buddhist country, where peace and meditation are part of daily life and culture. It fits really neatly with my music and the moods I like to explore.
2. It seems like your travels inform or inspire a lot of your music, perhaps more thematically than aesthetically. How do you find your travels influence your sounds?
Traveling is really important to me and my music. Especially during this difficult time when we’re all grounded, I realise just how much influence I take from other cultures and environments. I like to see music as a teller of fundamental truths about ourselves, and experiencing new places and new people is a great way to understand that.
3. Do you like to work quickly or take your time on a track?
I don’t have a process. Sometimes one and sometimes the other. It’s really exciting when new ideas flow naturally and a new track happens in a single sitting. But they’re not all like that. Some of my favourite pieces have taken months of work. My newest album A Dingo Crossing a Stream was a mix of the two - some improvised solo synthesis jams, some intricately crafted arrangements.
4. What are the signs, both internal and external, that a new track you’re working on is working for you?
This is a difficult one. Sometimes, just by repetition, a new track or idea can sound much better than it really is. You have to revisit it from lots of different perspectives to really understand its value. I suffer a lot from crises of confidence and sometimes delete hours of work because it doesn’t feel right. I think, when a piece of music says what I’m trying to say as a “composer”, then I know it’s heading in the right direction.
5. Do you listen to your own work much after it’s completed? Or is it mostly moving on to the next thing?
Almost never. I try to write music that appeals to my tastes as a listener - music I think I would enjoy if someone else had written it - but by the time I’ve spent hours composing, producing, mixing etc. I’ve exhausted my ears of it. Sometimes I can revisit after a few weeks or months, and that’s helpful for moving onto the next project. I want to be careful not to repeat myself, so I refer back to older songs then.
6. At what point during your creative process are you the most critical of your work?
There’s a “middle” stage. Towards the beginning, everything has potential, and that’s exciting. Everything could be the next “best song you’ve ever written”, it just needs to fulfil its potential. But that doesn’t always happen. And in the middle stage you start to realise that the song is tumbling out of your control and that you can’t keep it in shape. Towards the end point, if the song has made it through this critical period, you’re already too invested to undo any significant creative choices.
7. What drives you to put your work out into the world?
Wanting to make a difference. Even if it’s a tiny difference that only affects 10 people. Just wanting to contribute something that will outlive me.
8. Who is an artist whose work you have been consistently returning to longer than most other artists?
I know Japanese music is really en vogue right now, but I’m a huge fan of Geinoh Yamashirogumi
. I’ve been listening to his / their records for years. I love how percussive and rhythmic it is, despite being really tender in lots of places. And so unpredictable. Throwing so many original and unique themes and ideas together in ways you’d never expect.
9. Do you see yourself as part of any particular musical tradition or lineage?
The ongoing history of gamelan music describes every new performance as part of the same eternal music. Like an everlasting living, breathing organism that speaks here and there. I love the idea of offering my music to that same tradition. It happens to take place in a different country and within a different musical framework, but it’s just part of the world breathing in its own time.
10. Words of wisdom you like to recall in times of need?
Kurt Vonnegut: “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
Dylan Henner recently released A Dingo Crossing a Stream
on Inner Islands on March 9th on cassette and digital formats. The album is available from our Bandcamp page.