Hugs and Kisses 66: Q&A With Herman Dune's David-Ivar
This week, two installments of Hugs and Kisses from Mr. Everett True, author of Nirvana: The Biography (da Capo Press)—another book about one of the most overrated bands of the Nineties.
This week: David-Ivar talks about Herman Dune’s new album Next Year In Zion
We were driving through a forest, on the way to Jolly’s Lookout. There was music softly playing on the stereo—a wash of acoustic guitars, gentle laments and sensurround percussion. It suited our mood: a flicker of orange and red among the dappled green, the deceptive curves and churned-up tarmac. The mood in the car was quietened, reflective: three of our company had just come direct from a record industry conference and we were looking for some relief. So, without much interruption, we listened to the easy, graceful, Leonard Cohen and Jonathan Richman inflections of the male singer’s voice, the odd splash of brass and abrasion of guitar, the easy call-and-response of the female backing singers…No one mentioned it, it wasn’t like record industry music, there to be listened to with a view to maybe seeing how many units it could shift, haircuts it could inspire—it was for our own private listening pleasure.
It was the new album from Herman Dune—their first since the departure of founder member André (brother to singer/guitarist David-Ivar, who's since changed his name to Stanley Brink) sometime around the release of 2006’s Giant. Afterwards, one of my companions—the CEO of a large US record label—wanted to know who’d been playing during our trip through the woods. I didn’t want to tell him. I didn’t want to destroy the magic.
Who were you listening to while recording Next Year In Zion?
There was a bunch of records, indeed…The Dixie Cups' Chapel Of Love, Bob Dylan's Planet Waves, Chuck Berry's One Dozen Berrys, Harry Belafonte Midnight Special, The Beatles' Rubber Soul, The Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground, The Doors' LA Woman, Bob Dylan John Wesley Harding, The Rolling Stones' Black And Blue, Harry Belafonte's Sings Calypso, The Doors' Morrison Hotel, Chuck Berry's Berry’s On Top, and a lot more…
What are you referring to, specifically, when you reference Zion in the title?
Zion is a word I often read, in the Psalms or in the Prophets, referring to the Land Of Israel, when the Jews were in Exile. I heard it in the prayers of Yom Kippur, when Jews around the world pray to come back to their land. The Return Home here is considered impossible without a Miracle, or Extraordinary circumstances. I hear "Next Year In Zion" here as, "Next Year when everything will be different and better." I also heard it in many songs of Jamaican Music, when the Poet refers to the home land, Ethiopia, borrowing and making his the very names of the places of Israel’s Exile, Zion and Babylon. The Mormons use it too, we just played Utah and they call their Home Land Zion.
Now, my answer to the question is, in the song "Next Year In Zion" (that gave us the album title), I sing about the end of a friendship, and how sometimes it is impossible to go back to what two friends were before, when a line is crossed. "Next Year In Zion" is a way for me to say, in the song: "We’ll be friends again when/If everything is different" or "We’ll be friends again in Extraordinary Circumstances." It’s a sad thing to say, but there’s still some hope in there. I also really liked to use the word Zion and sort of rhyme with it.
How has the band dynamic changed between this and the previous album?
This album really felt like a first album, in a way that a short time before going to record it, I didn’t know what I was going to do, if the band was going to be playing at all in the future…I was writing songs alone, in California, and they were not meant to be a particular record, or even a record. I wrote a lot of songs, and was writing without the intention of delivering a new Herman Düne album, as I didn’t know if I wanted a new Herman Düne right now. I was enjoying to not have to follow someone else's pace now that André didn’t play with us anymore, I didn’t need to worry about whether he wanted to go back into a studio or not.
And then the need to record, with Néman [percussionist, and other half of Herman Düne], came to me. The need to have a neat band gathered in a studio, with fine musicians that wouldn’t need to be cued about chord changes and things, who could play along to my songs and enjoy it. Néman and I really thought of the best musicians we knew, and asked them to play on the record, and they said yes. From then on it was relatively easy.
What is [guest guitarist] David Tattersall [from The Wave Pictures] like to record with?
David is a fantastic guitar-player who cares about songwriting. It’s great to play with him because he can pull out the best guitar solos but still cares more about your song than his performance.
All the songs seem to be constructed a particular way—in storyteller mode. Is this deliberate?
It’s funny that you say so. I thought that was what I had done, but nobody asked me so far…well, yes…This batch of songs is really what I call ‘songs of the pen and paper,’ songs written in my little notebook, one very independent from the other, as again, I wasn’t trying to write an album here, but each song was written separately, like a little story. I thought of a book of songs, with illustrations, at first, I don’t know…
We can hear Leonard Cohen ["My Home Is Now"], for sure…
I love him, I saw him play for the first time this year and he was fantastic. I love him and his writing and his music. I guess the use of The Babyskins [Herman Düne’s female singing troupe] is what make people think about him most when it comes to our music. I love his use of female vocals in songs, and I love the Shangri-La’s and the Dixie Cups and I think he did too when he recorded girls singing his lyrics…He’s fantastic.
And Muddy Waters…
Well, Muddy Waters is a fantastic writer, for sure. I had his songs on repeat during our previous tour, he has the gift of the punch-line, for sure, and always picks great bands.
How do you decide what to leave out musically?
Musically—I don’t want the songs to seem to be too long. It’s a problem when I write a lot of lyrics. I don’t know, honestly, the musicians were so good this time that I didn’t feel like there was a need to cut through the songs or anything. I enjoyed listening to the songs already in the studio, so I figured it was alright.
How do you decide what songs to leave out?
I choose the songs I think could be on an album together. As I said, I wrote a bunch of songs, and I sort of had to pick some of them that could be on an album together. Sometimes I need Néman to tell me what beat goes well with another or something. My ideal selection of songs would be to have 10 songs that I want to release as singles. I tried to have this for this album.
Have you heard the Stanley Brinks album?
I really like the Velvet Underground, with or without John Cale, I love the Beatles, and I really hope that people care as less as I do about these bands’ personal relationships, about me and André. We both have records out. They can listen to both, and our records together are still available. So if people want, they can still listen to us together, and if they want, they can listen to our new songs…
What’s your favourite place right now?
My favourite place right now, as since the first time I set a foot there, is New York City, I love it with all my heart.