You wouldn't believe it to hear them, but Dan Black, Matt Fisher and Trevor Sharpe who make up the Servant (along with guitarist Chris Burrows) used to be part of performance art collective Minty. Now making songs, as opposed to statements the Servant's songwriter Dan Black puts himself firmly in the mold of outsider demi-god with the likes of Morrissey and the Manics. While the songs are overtly pop, the lyrical content stretch being the usual confines of the 7". Designer Magazine caught up with Black to find out what makes him tick
Q: As a band, the Servant has been years in the making
from the humble beginnings of you and a computer to what we now consider
the first "real" self titled Servant album. Does it feel good to finally
see it all coming together?
A: It's been so long it wasn't like one moment you're not at a top of a mountain and then suddenly you are. And we've been so busy that's it's really hard to stop and go actually this is really good. It's great because it was kind of a dark time making the album, so now were out and were starting to gig its brilliant. I think everyone is 1000% happier as human beings than we were maybe 6 months ago.
Q: If we could go back to when we first knew you -
in the performance art collective Minty. It's something you seem to have
glossed over in your biog.
A: (Laughs) Were not denying it. In terms of an event in someone's life. In the last 10 years Minty were an unusual and good thing and i'm really glad I did. I think if we are trying to distance ourselves it's because in the Servant I write everything and in Minty I had no say in anything. I joined Minty in the past 6 months and I was basically a hired hand because their guitarist left. It was a quick education in the best and worst sides of joining a band.
I was quite young, only 20 years old, and I got to jet
off to New York and do tours round Europe. Before Minty i'd just been in
lots of little bands and suddenly I was in this band with people from the
more extreme of club culture and society in general. They were and still
are very extreme people. It gave me the confidence and taught me basically
not to give a shit. They were happy doing things that entertained themselves
and there were a lot of times when maybe it wasn't very entertaining for
anybody else, but they were happy. I have memory of things that people
Q: Even before Minty you were in dozens of bands and
it was one of those dominating factors in your life - Dan Black had to
be in band?
A: Music was something I was always doing and it just swelled up till there was no room for anything else. I came to London to study art, but it was on the pretext that me and my friends were going to try and start a band. And so we did the usual ads in Melody Maker, sat around our room saying we were in a band or playing to 2 people in the Half Moon or whatever.
The theme in general was that I was always too dominant.
I was always kind of ruining it for the people that I was in the band with.
I was just so motivated and they'd end up going to the pub and by the time
they'd got back i'd be like "I've written a song and i've written all your
parts" and of course they didn't want to play my parts. In the end I was
lucky that the advent of computers meant at the beginning of the Servant
I was able to just sit in my room and do everything.
Q: At the beginning was it a case of you knew how you
wanted it to sound in your head, but you just didn't know how to get it
A: Yeah. A lot of the way I work is trying to find something that interests me. So it's not so much Mozart walking round with a song in his head saying i've need to get this down to tape, it's more an exploratory thing. I like a lot of different types of music and a lot of what I'm doing it's almost like I'm trying to be these people or reproduce what they're doing. Most musicians when they start want to play "Kill Your Television" or whatever, they want to play their favourite songs. And i'm just honest and I carry it through. But also i want to make comments about my life and what I see and how I feel. So it's a mix of those two almost contradictory drives. I remember listening to early Missy Elliot and Timbaland, the first "Supafly" record but then also listening to Blonde on Blonde. A lot of the songs sound unusual cos i'm going "I was it to sound like Bjork, but then I also want it to sound like Eric B and Rakim" - I always end up in these off places!!!
Q: But you listen to that much music that it doesn't
sound like you're trying to recreate a specific sound.
A: Sure. Recently to be honest, especially in the live shows, we've been moving away from the electronics and towards just using the sound of guitars. I don't understand bands who set up a template for themselves and then it becomes this cross that they can't escape. The artists I like are people like Prince and The Beatles, they were never trapped by a sound, they were continually fighting what they'd just done almost. I think that's more who I am as a person, why the hell play "Shaker Maker" twenty times.
Being a teenager is about defining yourself through music.
That's the brilliant thing about music. Pop music, rock, indie, hip hop
- it's an amazing tool to discover who you are and to define yourself and
people don't realize that. Something that i'm acutely aware of is people
sit in their room and pour over these things. I like the fact that with
music people are fearless in their judgement. If you show someone a piece
of art or even a film people are like "it's not really my thing, I can't
judge it", but play anyone any kind of pop music, a hip-hop track or a
techno track they just swiftly make a judgement. I think that's brilliant.
I like the fact you can go straight into people's minds.
Q: I haven't heard the mini-albums yet, but from reports
i've heard they're two very separate soundscapes. As you were saying before
each album is the opposite of what went before
A: The mini-albums were definitely learning curves for us on how to write and make records. They're probably more experimental and more mad and off the wall, I guess there was still that Minty surreal world take on things. On this album things are a bit more serious.
Q: I guess going from a band like Minty where it was
statements over songs, to just simply writing songs
A: Yeah, totally. At the heart a lot of it is just me writing songs on an acoustic guitar. I love a good song. Great words and a great melody are the things that I have the greatest passion for, but I want to put them in interesting worlds.
Q: You've said before that you wanted a literally feel
to this album, more than "I love you baby"
A: Not in a wanky kind of way. I love words and great lyrics are such a powerful thing. Songs that take your heart. Even if it's just the sound of the words, but especially when there's something interesting going on with the words - The Smiths or David Bowie - i love lyrics when they fire an image in your mind. My biggest fear is cliché and mediocrity lyrically. I'd rather take risks and stick interesting things in the songs rather than just write about vague indie nothingness which tends to purvey the world at the moment.
Some of the lyrics on this album were written in an hour,
others were written over a year on and off. What i'm writing about our
usual subjects in life, they're just not usual subjects in pop songs. I
don't think i'm a radical thinker or anything. "Liquefy" on the record
is to some degree a love song and "I Can Walk" deals with a relationship,
but it's harder for me to consciously push that rather than the other things.
Q: But you still mix these lyrics with a real pop sensibility?
A: A melody that you want to sing out loud at the top of your voice in the shower is a great and wonderful thing. If you tie that with the lyrics and what the lyrics are saying. If you get that milkshake correct it's fairly tasty. For me mixing the two together is really hard. It takes me about 2 minutes to write a melody that I really like, but writing lyrics that I feel the same degree of passion for isn't. Also you have the rule that if you put the wrong lyric on the right melody it f**ks the melody. I'm remember Keith Richards saying he'd literally have to sit there finding the right vowel for the right point in the melody so it's a really restrictive thing.
Q: A lot of people like Morrissey and the Manics had
that love of pop music as well
A: A lot of serious music comes from a really innocent joyful love of it. The Manics being obsessed with Motown and Morrissey with 60s girl groups. Ultimately pop music is very basic animal thing and when a new pop song comes on that you like you it just happens. It can be a really guilty pleasure. Sometimes you should be eating a healthy bean and rice meal and other times you think f**k it, i'll just have a tub of ice cream...so you put on Aha or something.
Q: And I guess you've never worried about fitting in
any press scene or whatever?
A: Any band that tries to do that are doomed. Either you're Oasis or your f**king Northern Uproar. Oasis appeared and they did their thing and then 17 bands appeared who attempted to do that and all were shit. The greatest bands make genre's.
Q: And just before we go. You seem to be doing countless
shows in France. Are you doing any shows in the UK?
A: Were doing the tour in France and then some shows in Italy. I'm hoping were going to be doing some of the festivals this year, but I think we just need to get out there and convert the masses.
"The Servant" is out now on Prolifica
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