Dave Harrington Travels From the Darkside and Into Your Heart
The jazz guitarist/electronic collagist/Darkside member Dave Harrington put two separate skills to work in the crafting of his upcoming EP, Before This There Was One Heart But a Thousand Thoughts. In keeping with his preferred method of making music, he began recording improvised pieces of music, realizing at some point during the process that he was working toward something concrete. He then used the engineering prowess and electronic know-how that he's advanced since he began working with Nicolas Jaar to shape the music into something concrete and cinematic, reminiscent of the work of Phillip Glass and the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as more familiar Darkside touchstones like progressive rock and drone.
Dave Harrington's Before This There Was One Heart But a Thousand Thoughts
We talked to Harrington at Art Bar in Manhattan last month, about the EP, its recording and its influences. He was passionate, sincere and knowledgeable when talking about the art and artists that he had absorbed during the record's gestation period, in a way that torpedoed any hint of pretension. We were particularly struck by how unabashedly earnest he was about Jaar's influence on his career--Harrington played in his partner's touring band before the two formed Darkside--but also how independent and forceful he was in expressing his own ideas about music and art.
Harrington is planning on attending a show by The Knife after our conversation, so he starts off talking about them.
I've never seen a full show. I saw bits and pieces of them when we were at the same festivals. Pitchfork in Paris for ten minutes and then I saw them the last fifteen minutes at Coachella. So I know it's an old show but Im stoked. They're one of my favorite bands.
It makes sense to me that you would like them. There's something that you two groups have in common. So are you already doing a lot of press for the EP?
This is the second interview I've done. I've barely talked about it. I have no sound bytes and I'm still figuring out. You'll have to cut me off if I start rambling because I'm talking about it out loud for the first time.
So what made you decide to make an EP? To do your own thing?
Starting around the time we finished the Darkside record, I just started going through stuff I had lying around and recorded some more stuff when I was at home. At some point when we were on one of our little tours, I played for Nico in a hotel room or backstage some of the stuff I was working on. And he was like 'you should turn this into an EP.' And I was like 'that's an interesting idea.' And that got me thinking about collecting some of these ideas and honing the thing.
I know when you work with [Nicolas Jaar] directly, you guys improvise together towards a recorded record.
Yeah, it hadn't really occurred to me until I started talking about it but pretty much everything, all of the playing on the EP was improvised. So its all improvisations then I then went back and edited and processed and overdubbed. All of the playing is basically first takes that I went back and started doctoring and sculpting.
Why is someone like you, who is so interested in improvisation and performed music, making an album in the first place? What's the point if that's your preferred mode?
You're on to something with that. I'm 28 and this is the first thing I've ever put out under my own name. Everything I've done has been something that I've been leading, with the exception of Darkside, which is a total 50-50, and I haven't made any records. I have bands that just improvise and never rehearse. And I've spent years and years playing in other peoples' bands, so I've ended up on EP's and an album here and there.
It wasn't until Nico said 'You should follow this on this idea' that I said 'ok, I'm interested in doing this.' Because I got more interested in the electronic side of production. I used to be a press-record-and-let's-get-three-guys-in-a-room-and-hope-something-good-happens kind of guy. I still like doing that but as I get more interested in the production side, from doing remixes and DJing and working with friends and producing other people, then circling back into my own stuff, I thought about trying to make things neat. The EP is kind of a result of my improvisational spirit and a new interest in production.
That second being a separate editing process that's almost entirely different from the initial creation of the music.
Yeah, and its not always obvious which is which. There are things on the EP that might sound produced that are actually more improvised and vice versa. It's a very fluid thing. Stuff that sounds almost beat-based is actually less edited and more improvised on hardware, and some of the guitar pieces are hacked to bits in production.
What's amazing to me then, is that this EP is so narrative, there's so much tension and release, the whole thing makes so much cohesive sense. So it's surprising to me that there's so much improvisational spirit. Do you think of it as narrative, is there a narrative involved?
I think of it as narrative, but not as a narrative, if that makes sense. I think of it as being a journey, or somewhat cinematic though that's kind of a buzzy signifier, and now doesn't mean that much.
Yeah, I wish everyone hadn't used it to death, just because it makes such particular sense for this project. It sounds like Space Odyssey, Koyaanisqatsi.
Interesting, yeah, those are total touchstones . They weren't things that I was directly thinking about when I was making the music. But I studied film when I was in college and I sound that particular way because it's interesting to me. One of the reasons I watch so much narrative television is because I watch shows where the music is really good.
What shows do you like the music on?
One of my favorite new shows and one that I think the music is really excellent on is Hannibal. I like horror movies and suspense and thrillers and stuff. It's a good show. I also like Nathan Barr [True Blood, The Americans].
The names for the tracks on the EP are really compelling, very metaphysical. At one point in recording music do you decide upon a title?
I'll do the first hack at something, the first improvisation that'll end up being the core of the piece and I'll have an idea. And I'll kind of name it after recording that.
It wasn't like I recomposed the thing when I put it together. I would have these pieces and start locking them together, and I would see the arc. The names are mostly pulled from this little book that I had on my studio table which the title is also pulled from. It's a 17th or 18th century mystical Islamic text. I liked those titles and I like that origin, not because of any narrative or religious connection but I like the feeling of open-ended complexity of those kind of mystical ideas. Things that are small and large at the same time.
The most important part of the title is to throw some ideas up in the air with the music and not be too specific. Have it be something that as people listen to it, they can draw the lines as they see fit. I just want to make these suggestions.
Have you always titled songs like that?
I don't mind being referential in what I do.Some of the songs from my psychedelic dad-rock band are just named after Steve McQueen movies or Dario Argento films.
That's your band El Topo, or Bladerunner?
That's El Topo. Blaerunner trio is a break-off band of El Topo.
How many different kinds of groups do you play with like that?
It's kind of a set of people. A community of us. El Topo is the most coordinated band but now it's whoever's around. Bladerunner is me and some of the guys from El Topo, a sax trio. Will Epstein [of High Water] is in both of those bands, we do Bladerunner with a drummer. And I play in High Water sometimes.
And [Nicolas Jaar] doesn't seem as involved in those groups.
In those groups, no. Mostly because those projects date back before I knew Nico. We've talked about, I'm in the process of finishing an El Topo album as well and I think Nico will collaborate with me on that in a post-production kind of way.