The wayward troubadour has given Dazed Digital an exclusive on the video for his latest single and talks to us about vast deserts and minimalist art
Marfa, Texas forms the backdrop of Dan Michaelson’s latest album, 'Sudden Fiction'. Best known as the location for 70s artist, Donald Judd’s gargantuan art foundations, Marfa has also featured in 'No Country for Old Men' and 'There Will Be Blood'. The reductionist experience of staying in a desolate town has consolidated Michaelson’s particularly immersive style. Vast empty spaces, flash fiction reading and Michaelson’s rich croaking baritone all form his ensemble of evocative songs.
Dazed Digital: Your songs detail those delicately fraught moments that most couples will recognise. Are things getting any easier in that department?
Dan Michaelson: Does it ever get easier? I'm checking in with myself and having those internal debates. That's why I end up with a love song of sorts. With the happy times, there's no song there for me. The moments where it’s not working, I seem to have a better vocabulary for. It's not ideal, but it comes naturally to me.
DD: It’s just over a year since the last album, 'Shakes' and you’re about to release 'Sudden Fiction'. Are you a prolific writer, or is it dependent upon circumstances?
Dan Michaelson: I'm not prolific but not lazy. There's long periods of dormancy where nothings coming out, just building. I used to worry I was empty and that would paralyse me and perpetuate the time between writing. Now I sit it out until the time is right. Then I can write a handful of respectable songs in a short period. Of course, the circumstances have to be there too.
DD: Has the music has evolved since 'Shakes'?
Dan Michaelson: It's devolved, but in a good way. I'm slowly retiring, an instrument at a time until there's nothing left. 'Shakes' was my first attempt at focusing on the raw materials. It was also the first time I produced myself. I wanted to take that further with this record, and was inspired to do so by being in a (very literally) sparser environment.
DD: If 'Shakes' was sparse sounding, 'Sudden Fiction' is positively minimalist. Was the focus on lyrics?
Dan Michaelson: It’s testing the songs, and myself. I'm always focusing on lyrics but this time the music's doing more too. Most people immediately react to drums and bass in a song. I've taken them away. What? This is stupid. The words are going to have to connect. I just don't like bad lyrics. They make me uncomfortable.
DD: What was in Marfa, other than vast desert and minimalist art?
Dan Michaelson: It's a huge understatement to say that Judd left his mark on Marfa. It pretty much exists because of his commitment to the area. His decision to settle there, house his work and the work of others there, and the Chinati Foundation's work to continue his legacy has sustained a beautiful place. It’s a mecca to his minimalist ideals and you feel that everywhere. It’s not the only defining characteristic.
There's an amazing sense of community amongst people that doesn't jar with staring out at nothing as far as the eye can see. You step out and look further than you can actually see, then walk the other way and find yourself in a coffee shop that’s similar to what I know in London. I'm trying to describe something I can only think about in pictures. Hopefully the record achieves that.
DD: The video for your single, 'Breaking Falls' is more balloon porn visual than the standard ‘band in studio’ fare. Incongruous, much. Or, mainly enjoying yourself?
Dan Michaelson: If you find yourself listening to me, it’s probably too much to ask to look at me simultaneously. Why not look at some girls blowing up and popping balloons instead? What harm can it do?
'Sudden Fiction' is released by Edition/s on November 7th. In addition to CD, the album is available on limited edition vinyl with a choice of two covers. Fifty copies of either can be pre-ordered at HERE
Text by Paul Davies