SCV Interview w/ Dustin Wong of Thrill Jockey Records
Born in Hawaii, raised in Japan and now residing in Baltimore, Maryland, loop pedal specialist and innovative guitarist Dustin Wong is now preparing the release of his second long player on New York independent label Thrill Jockey Records. Founded by Bettina Richards, one of Atlantic Records A&R’s, Thrill Jockey Records has been around since the early 90′s and has run strong into the new millennium with releases by Future Islands, Barn Owl, Wooden Shjips, Glenn Jones, Boredoms, Trans Am, Ponktiak, The Eternals, All Natural, Tortoise and a list that extends far beyond explanation. The label has constantly evolved since its inception and this year we find an arsenal of new and old artists to the label launching brand new material for the world to feel. Their catalog runs over 300 releases when accounting everything and Dustin Wong has fit right in at home with the label in the last few years. To define the label by genre would be pointless and would take away from the overall expansion of sound the label has covered.
Dustin Wong’s second full length, Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads, showcases this young guitarist letting loose with his family of pedals to show how detailed and dynamic the world his sound goes. It’s hard to fathom the intricate spaces of sound he achieves around his advanced style of sheeted layering, especially when you see it in live form. With any guitar player that is this self contained in live presentation and studio output, we were very intrigued by the reasons that make Dustin Wong who he is. We were very happy to make contact with Dustin earlier this week and t have the chance to send him some questions for this interview. Dustin Wong has released the first official video to promote this album for the new year and the timing felt perfect to reach out to Dustin. The video has been constructed in a very unique way and has been included at the bottom of this article for viewing pleasure, we really hope you take the time to check it out on top of this interview. Dustin Wong is ground breaking to us at SCV and is someone we will be following for a very long time. Enjoy this dialogue created over the last few days with one of our new favorite guitar players. Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads is now available for pre-order and has been pressed on high grade double vinyl, cd and digital formats. Definitely grab a copy of the first run from Thrill Jockey before they sale out.
Hello Dustin, thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to answer our questions. We are really excited about your second full length release with Thrill Jockey Records “Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads”. You have stated that with your first record tracking for each layer was done separately where as with the new album coming out you have done everything in live takes with the inclusion of a vast amount of loops. Did it feel more natural with the loops and doing all live and do you see yourself sticking with this process for future albums?
Dustin: Thanks so much! I’m excited for this release as well. I definitely want to keep going with this is the type of recording process. Recording it the way I perform is just a very natural way of getting it documented. Recording it at home there are compromises, like the equipment I’m using and the recording software I’m using. I would love to experiment more with space in the future, stereo mics in a room and mixing different parts of the room to get a more interesting picture of the room I’m performing in. When I recorded this album, I had to work with virtual space, with reverb effects to create a space for the recording. As an idea it’s interesting to me, but I would like to try to document a real space for the next record.
With the amount of precision it takes to pull off loops the way you do, how long did it take before you felt comfortable enough to present this live and now on your latest full length?
Dustin: With new song ideas I try to slip it in when I play shows just so I can get a better feeling. When there are people watching and listening it definitely changes the experience of the sounds. I’ve heard something about the editor Walter Murch that he used to put little cutouts of silhouetted people in front of his editing monitor, just so he can get a feeling. For the full length it took a long time to put all the songs together as a body of work. I had a lot of songs that i cut out just to make the journey feel more efficient and smooth. I had the whole structure and I sat on it for another long period of time before I recorded it, for many reasons. I thought about it and when it felt like it was time, I decided to document the music as a whole. Precision is definitely a tough one, I still have trouble getting it right, even if the audience doesn’t notice, I notice it and I try to practice as much as possible so that I can present it to the audience in a complete way.
When composing with the type of experimental deviation towards the norm that your guitar sheets create, do you fully realize the layers before they happen and find what you need to create that sound or does each successive layer present an opportunity to expand into something new from performance to performance?
Dustin: Yes, its the melody that presents the opportunities. The first sheet allows so many different possibilities. As it builds more and more the idea becomes more focused and becomes its own thing. When ideas build up to become its own thing, for me its done and I move onto the next, for me each song/idea is the extension of what was prior. Like that game when you have a phrase and you pass it down through a string of people at the end it becomes a different phrase. The strings of ideas slightly mutate from one to the next.
You released your first official music video for the new LP “Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads” on the track Diagonally Talking Echoes. The video is phenomenal and is very original in our opinions, who all had a hand in creating the video and how important do you feel the visual presentation of music videos is to the process of your new album giving birth and finding it’s way into the public?
Dustin: Thank you! My dad helped me shoot some of the footage of me floating in the water and me jumping up on the water. Everything else I shot it myself. The animation in the beginning of the video was something I made using a bunch of tissue papers. I would get a bunch of sheets of them and would paint on top with water colors and I scanned each sheet so you get these color expansions. I studied film and video in college so it was really great to get back into this medium. I always enjoy this process, it is similar to the way I approach music and paint. The visual interpretation is important but for me, the listener’s visual interpretation that happens in the mind is a lot more interesting to me. The video is just my interpretation and that is all. It could be interpreted in so many other ways. Don’t get me wrong, I think its great it can reach a lot of people!
In the press notes we got from Thrill Jockey for this new video, it had another announcement that really blew my mind. It regarded your Say Your Dream, Create a Sound” project. I love this idea of allowing people to record themselves speaking about a significant dream and selecting your favorites and creating music to them. I have never heard of an idea like this and I am really intrigued as to what is to come from this. Did a series of dreams you have spark this idea or did the origins of this idea come from another place?
Dustin: I think I dream as much as any other person. There are times where I wouldn’t dream at all, and then there are times where I would have dreams all the time. Some are mundane and some are fantastic. The title for the album came from a time when I had a dream when I was in DC. I played a show with Hume who are my friends in DC. I spent the night at a house where Britton (the singer of Hume) was dog sitting. I had a dream about him that night and he was really mean to me, which is really strange because he is a really nice guy. In the dream he dragged me around different rooms by my collar, very violently. When I woke up I realized that it wasn’t him and it was my shadow. I was reading the book of Hermes at the time so I opened that up. I flipped to chapter 9 and saw there were tiny alphabets next to the words in the text that didn’t reference to any index or other references. I noticed the first word that had the letter “a” in lower case was dreams. When I put all the lower cased letters together it said, dreams say view create shadow leads. I thought it was wonderful. I have been having some interesting dreams recently too and have been writing them down. out of curiosity I thought it would be a neat idea to get people to submit some dreams and collaborate. To reflect the mood, it can be this imageless film that can tickle the listeners imagination. I really do love Jung and reading “Man and His Symbols” was very influential. I didn’t want to interpret people’s dreams, I just want to go along with it.
Do you see yourself pressing this as a release down with a nice size liner book that contains all the dreams in written form that correspond to the tracks you created?
Dustin: I’m not sure if it’ll be release, but it will definitely be available online. I think the dreamers narration will be enough to convey. I think it maybe appropriate that it hangs out in the digital cloud rather than an object.
You will have the honor in performing in Brooklyn, New York with Akron/Family in late January and Hospitality in early February. What are some of your records from these groups and what types of other tours do you have planned in support of the new record coming out?
Dustin: The one record I own from Akron Family is, Akron/Family & Angels of Light. I really enjoy that record a lot. I don’t own a record from Hospitality…sorry! I’ll be touring to sxsw this march, a tour in Japan in April and a tour in Europe this May. For now that is the schedule.
As you are very close to releasing “Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads”, what were some of the biggest challenges to the recording of the album that you feel have made you a stronger musician from the experience of it all?
Dustin: The biggest challenge, it might be patience? I feel like I had to wait a while before I could actually record it. There were a lot of changes in my life at the time, so rather it being about music, it became more about how I was living. It’s all connected you know? The approach to music and the approach to life. That connection could be directly connected or loosely connected.
With guitar players, there is always a very different way each one approaches gear, pedals and so forth. Do you have a preference with companies and exact arrangements of your gear and pedals or can you work with anything thrown at you?
Dustin: When you are working with effects or pedals, especially when its a number of them it becomes very crucial what comes before and after, because each one effects the other. When using pedals, artists are essentially creating their own factory machine. To me my set up is very orthodox, and its as efficient as it can be, if it gets scrambled up i wouldn’t be able to play the songs i’ve written. The pedals as a whole is a tool and an instrument. I got to learn each pedal very well, I’m not really the type where I buy 5 pedals at once. I get one every few months or once a year. I have a relationship with each one and together they are kind of a family unit. Each one has a vital function. The tuner keeps things in check so the machine runs efficiently, the octave pedal is responsible for timbre/texture of the notes, the distortion pedal is also responsible for timbre/texture but adds a different color, the noise gate makes sure there aren’t any excess (it trims the strings that hang out on the textile), the delay determines the pattern/tempo, the loop pedal is responsible for replication, the synth way is kind of a pinch hitter but is very important to change the color of the loop as a whole, and the last delay can change the pattern the first delay pedal determined. So this family has a twin, two delay pedal children. I guess the loop pedal would be the mother. I wonder who the father is, i have a feeling, if he’s a strict one, it would have to be the tuner.
With your dad lending his helping hand towards your video, how have your parents supported the growth of your creative side?
Dustin: My mother and father were both art students back in the day. My mom did photography and made some pretty funky photos of models with spandex and dynamic make up. My dad actually studied sculpture and film too. My dad was pretty experimental back in the 70′s and 80′s and made some pretty interesting work; that definitely had an influence. An example of his work in the 80′s: http://youtu.be/Y07Dr-tKvBw Apparently he sampled some of my voice for the music that was used for this piece.
Do you see yourself working closer towards film as you expand more as a musician and release more albums?
Dustin: Sure! That would be really amazing, its definitely one of my other passions but right now since I’m focusing on music its harder to make the time, since its a lot more time consuming for me to make a video piece than music in itself.
Who have been some of your most inspiring musicians growing up?
Dustin: I grew up listening to The Ventures a lot. They were a huge influence to me and music in Japan. They were really interesting because their melodies really spoke to the Japanese people. Especially the song Pipeline sounds like traditional Japanese music from the northern region called, “Tsugaru Jyamisen”. I really appreciated them being so universal, but to them they were just making surf music. That misunderstanding or nonchalant approach is very inspiring.
You have toured in so many places in this world already, with your tour hitting Japan and Europe this spring, what are some of the activities you will be getting into during your time schedule outside of the shows themselves?
Dustin: I’ll probably working on more music and taking my time drinking tea with my friends. My favorite people time are when I’m there with them one on one having a lovely conversation.
Thanks for your time Dustin, we really hope you enjoy your travels and we hope the best for you on the release of your new record “Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads”. Take care and thanks again for your time, means so much!
Dustin Wong and Thrill Jockey will be releasing Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads in record stores on February 21, 2012. The CD version contains a 4 panel mini-LP gatefold package and the vinyl is just as stunning. 2012 is here and stellar music is already coming in left and right, can’t wait to hold this vinyl in my hands! Pre-order Dustin Wong’s newest full length Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads on Double LP and CD from Thrill Jockey Records. Now for that video we promised in the beginning of this article for Dustin Wong’s ‘Diagonally Talking Echo’ off Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads.‘Diagonally Talking Echo’ by Dustin Wong