Dave Fischoff Interview
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Interviews, Music.
While Dave Fischoff is just one of many talented artists on the recently released SC100, his leanings further into the electronic in recent years allow him to stand apart from the others on Secretly Canadian’s landmark hundredth album. Current roster-mates such as Songs:Ohia, Danielson and Jens Lekman join Fischoff to celebrate the label’s accomplishment with a varied selection of covers, all from SC artists covering one another.
With The Crawl, Fischoff’s 2006 album, it seemed as though something unique and entirely untraditional had seen release through what the strong indie rock label. The album is sample-based, but not in the traditional Paul’s Boutique sense of the term; the album was created over the course of five years and is compiled entirely from thousands of samples that Fischoff found or recorded himself during that time. During this interview he discusses how the label supported his turn towards such a project, what it means to have a label such as Secretly Canadian in today’s marketplace and just what it’s like to maintain his jobs at various Chicago-based libraries.
Well, rather than vaguely asking what Secretly Canadian has meant to you and your career and expecting a long detailed response I’ll rather ask what Damien Jurado, the artist you cover on SC100, has meant to you (still expecting the long, detailed response).
Dave Fischoff: Damien and I have actually been friends for awhile – we first got to know each other back in 1999, when we spent about a month touring around the US together. We had great time playing shows and basically ended up having one long music-nerd conversation from Minneapolis to San Diego to Athens, GA to NYC. We were seriously constantly talking about music. And ever since then, whenever we see each other, it’s always, “Hey, what are you listening to?…Have you heard this yet?…Oh, you’ve gotta hear this….” We did two more tours together after that first one, one more in 1999 and another in 2003. That means that I’ve officially seen more Damien Jurado shows than any other artist on the planet and Damien has seen more Dave Fischoff shows than any other person on the planet. And all those shared bills inevitably had an effect on us – I know that my song “Blemish and a Bowl of Oranges” (from The Ox and the Rainbow) was partly inspired by an old folk song Damien used to play a lot back then called “The Butcher’s Boy.” And he told me once that listening to my album Winston Park had an impact on the way he made his album The Ghost of David.
Oh, and we also had a wrestling match once and he totally kicked my ass. That photo hidden under the tray of the SC100 CD was taken right before we went at it.
Were you able to choose the song and artist you wanted to cover and if so was Jurado’s “Abilene” your first pick?
Dave Fischoff: Secretly Canadian actually used a names-in-the-hat method to figure out who would be covering whom. So no, I didn’t get to pick Damien, but I was totally excited when I found out he was the one I’d been assigned to cover. At that point, Damien only had one album on Secretly Canadian (the SC100 project has been in the works for awhile), so I didn’t have that many songs to choose from. But yeah, I picked “Abilene” because I thought it was a great song, and because I thought I might be able to do something with it musically that was totally different from the original, but hopefully still interesting and enjoyable to listen to. That was back in 2003, when I was really starting to get into using the computer as an instrument and making entire songs with it. So what you hear with “Abilene” is one of my first computer-based song experiments – ideas that I’d refine and develop more fully by the time I started recording The Crawl.
Are there any other songs that come to mind as those which you wanted an honest attempt at?
Dave Fischoff: The label did ask us to hand in two covers for the project, so I gave them “Abilene” and a song called “Dance Hall Places,” which was Damien’s contribution to Secretly Canadian’s The Unaccompanied Voice album, which was a compilation of a bunch of artists doing a cappella songs. “Abilene” ended up being the stronger of the two, though, so that’s the one we went with.
Changing focus somewhat, in today’s music marketplace, what does it mean to have Secretly Canadian successfully release its 100th album?
Dave Fischoff: It means that they’re incredibly smart, they have very good taste, and they treat their artists really well.
I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time when they first started in Bloomington – I was still going to school at Indiana University and just starting to make my first recordings when they asked if I’d like to put out a record with them. And I think it’s quite possible that if that hadn’t happened, I might not be putting out records now. But yeah, since I’ve been with them from pretty much from the beginning, I’ve been able to watch them grow from a tiny living-room operation to the world wide indie presence that they are today. They’ve definitely had a stumble or two along the way and maybe tried out some ideas that didn’t really pan out. But they’ve always been attentive learners and are willing to switch things up and try new approaches when old methods don’t seem to be working out. And that, of course, is extremely important in the music industry today, when so many things are up in the air – new technologies, new ways of releasing music, etc. The fact that they have very good ears for picking out talent that no one else has noticed yet (Antony (Hegarty) and Jens Lekman, for example) is a huge part of it, too, of course. And the fact that they’re completely straight forward, fair and honest with all of their artists means that they’re able to keep people on board. Artists want to stick with them, and new people want to join the team.
Does a label such as Secretly Canadian hold more or less weight in today’s musical landscape than, say, 2001 when The Ox & The Rainbow was released?
Dave Fischoff: I don’t think there’s any question that the label holds more weight today than it did back in 2001. And actually, there’s a conversation I’ve been having regularly for several years now that I think does a good job of illustrating this. The first part of the conversation is usually the same: I meet someone at a party or at a bar or whatever and they ask, “Hey, so what do you do?” and I answer, “I’m a musician.” Then they ask what kind of music I make and I try to explain it to them, and then they ask if I have any CDs or anything and I say yes, and then they ask “Oh, did you put them out yourself?” And that’s when I explain that, no, I’m actually working with an indie label called Secretly Canadian. Now, back in the early days of me having this conversation, the response was usually a bit of blank stare, a polite “Oh,” or something along the lines of “That’s a funny name for a label.” But starting a couple of years ago (probably right around the time the Antony record came out), the response I’ve started getting more and more is something along the lines of “Wow, that’s awesome!” or “I love that label!” So yeah, based on my own not-quite-scientific data gathering, I’d have to say yes, being on Secretly Canadian is definitely a bigger deal now than it was several years back.
How did the label support you through the lengthy recording process of your latest album The Crawl?
Dave Fischoff: Well, like I mentioned before, Secretly Canadian has always been really artist friendly, and I think that’s totally exemplified by how they treated me when I was working on this latest album. Basically, they hooked me up with a small recording budget and then turned me loose. I’m a musician who likes to figure things out for myself and I don’t usually like to share works in progress, because I need to feel that I can trust my instincts and my judgments of what’s good or not. The label knows I like to work this way, and they totally respected it. I’d give them little updates from time to time, letting them know how I thought everything was going and what new ideas and sounds I was working with. But not a single person, including the label, heard a single note of the album until I was almost completely finished with it. They trusted me, and that’s hugely important for a good artist-label relationship.
What do you feel of Danielson covering a song from your previous effort?
Dave Fischoff: I think it’s great! I’ve been a Danielson fan for a long time, even before they were on the label, and it was a lot of fun to hear how someone else, especially Daniel Smith, would re-interpret one of my songs. His version definitely sounds more like a Danielson song than a Dave Fischoff song, and I think that’s the mark of a well-done cover.
Of the other current artists on the roster which do you look forward to working with in the future?
Dave Fischoff: I’d love to work with some of the other artists on the roster, whether it’s in the context of touring together, or even working together in a more studio-based situation. If Richard Swift wanted me to program a beat for a song he was working on, or Antony wanted me to do a remix for him, I’d definitely be into it. And I think Jens and I definitely need to get together to co-DJ a dance party sometime.
I must ask, since recording the latest album, have you kept your day job?
Dave Fischoff: Yep, I’m still working in a few different libraries in downtown Chicago throughout the week to help pay the bills. The jobs are fairly low-key, so I’m usually not too exhausted at the end of the day and I can come home and be productive with music. They’re also jobs that allow me to take time off when I need to record or tour, which is obviously essential for a musician.
How do those you work and interact with on a daily basis interpret what you do?
DF: I’ve been accused of having a bit of a perfectionist streak when it comes to my music, and I suppose I’ll admit to it. But I think that’s a good thing! Within reason, of course. I mean, I completely recognize that perfection is something that can never be achieved, but I think as an artist it’s important to set your standards as high as possible, because you’ll inevitably achieve more that way.
You haven’t had had a live show since January, what are your plans in the coming months?
Dave Fischoff: I’ve actually played a few local shows here in Chicago in past month or so, the first ones ever with a backing band. These new songs have way more sound going on than I can pull off on my own on stage, so I’ve been seeking out other musicians to perform with for the first time since I started making records. And it’s great! I’ve enlisted a bassist and a drummer so far, and hopefully I’ll be able to continue to expand the live band as resources will allow. I’d love to one day be able to perform with a string section, and maybe even add a second drummer at some point. I’d definitely like to get some touring in as well. I’m currently without a booking agent in the US, but hopefully something will come along, an opening slot on another band’s tour or something, and I’ll get to play more often with Dave Fischoff – The Band.
Is anything planned as far as a special concert, or a tour, surrounding the release of SC100?
Dave Fischoff: Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of anything like this being planned, but it’s a good idea!
Is it too early to think about your next release and if it’s not, what concepts are brewing?
Dave Fischoff: I don’t think it’s ever to early to start thinking about that! And yeah, there are definitely some ideas brewing, though who knows which direction it’ll actually end up taking. One thing I’ve been thinking about is maybe doing something that’s even more beat-oriented than The Crawl…maybe even something that’s danceable? Well see. I’ve also thought about taking a more streamlined approach to the production than I did on The Crawl. I mean, the songs on that record are sonically really dense, and I really like that, that’s what I was trying to do, but now that I’ve done that, I’m wondering if it might be interesting to streamline things a bit. Maybe focus in on a few sounds to create the songs rather than the heavily layered approach I took on The Crawl. I don’t see myself going back to the sparseness of, say, Winston Park, but it might be interesting to try to do more with less. And, now that I’ve started working with other people for the live shows, the thought has also crossed my mind to work more collaboratively on the next album as well. Maybe adding more live instrumentation to the songs, as opposed to being just computer-based. I’d also really like to try some collaborations with other people’s material – like I mentioned before, programming beats or doing remixes for other artists, or helping to produce tracks for other peoples songs. An indie rock Timbaland? We’ll see what happens…
Hypothetical situation: Secretly Canadian goes under, Jeb Bush is elected President and as a further sign of the impending Apocalypse you lose taking pleasure in music. With that being said you decide to play one last show in which you are able to share the stage with two other acts. Who would they be?
Dave Fischoff: Okay, how about this – I’m magically able to coax Jeff Mangum out of retirement for a Neutral Milk Hotel reunion and, seeing how the end is near, the evening closes with an apocalyptic dance party courtesy of Diplo.