Interview // Fyfe Dangerfield

After two fantastic albums with regular band Guillemots, most of your standard indie frontmen might take a year or two out to bathe in luxury. Not Fyfe Dangerfield, having released his first solo album Fly Yellow Moon in January, supporting Corinne Bailey Rae on her recent UK tour and about to record a third Guillemots album, he’s been staying productive to keep his creative talents flowing and continually diversify ideas. Speaking to him recently about the album, he was confident for the future and still excited by his “geeky” approach to music.

Daniel Willis: It’s been two months since ‘Fly Yellow Moon was released now and obviously you’d been writing and recording before that. How does it feel to be a solo artist these days, is the process treating you welll?
Fyfe Dangerfield: I don’t really think about it to be honest, I’m still busy with Guillemots and getting ready to do the new record so I’ve just been taking the odd week out to do some gigs. Most of the solo stuff was done last year so it’s kind of over and done with in my head.

DW: I’d have to say that this record sounds a lot more relaxed, a bit sunnier and an easier tempo than Guillemots. Is that perhaps reflective of how you went about recording it?
FD: Yeah, to a degree. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve done by myself which hasn’t been released and I think it’s just the type of song I write when I’m away from the band. It was a very fun recording session to write little bits and go through it with the producer [Adam Noble] and have the opportunity to play around a bit.

DW: Did you take the opportunity to control the music a bit more and play all the instruments as you can do?
FD: Yeah it’s funny doing a record like that because it feels like a bit of a luxury being in there by yourself, like recording demos in your basement at home. We had a few people in, a couple of drummers and such, but I had a bit more time to just get in the studio and do whatever I wanted this time.

DW: Most of the songs you write form a kind of collection of stories and ideas which have quite strong links between them and follow through quite well. Do you try and create situations like that to write about or use more of your own life for inspiration?
FD: I don’t tend to create characters or anything, I don’t really write in that way. I tend to come at things from the musical angle so I’ll create something and come up with an idea or some lyrics to fit into that. Sometimes you will find yourself out somewhere imagining a scenario you haven’t been in or a person that you’re not. I don’t always feel like I’m there singing about me but you’re always singing from part of yourself even if that isn’t the person that everyone knows.

DW: With the first Guillemots album [Through The Windowpane] and a couple of the earlier EPs, and some tracks in this album, you’re quite used to using a lot imagery, specifically with the tide and the sun appearing quite a lot…
FD: Yeah…I’m trying to get out of that! I’ve been writing some of the new songs and trying to stop myself but I suppose you just get used to it and it just seems to come out.

DW: Are they things you associate with a certain type of song?
FD: I don’t know really, I suppose the songs where they appear tend to be quite…soaring really and they’re the kind of images which go with that.

DW: You’ve always had quite a nice mix between the pleasant pop songs and those more emotional, intense ballad-type songs. Is there an element of restraint which goes into that and retaining that balance?
FD: I think certainly for me, I could sit down and write a melancholy ballad every day of my life! I’d get a bit boring though eventually, you know, so I think with more up-tempo things I have to make myself sit down and right them a bit more and sometimes you have to try and push yourself in new directions.

DW: Partly because of your distinct style and voice I think you’re becoming a bit more recognisable to people who haven’t been introduced to you before. Songs like ‘Made Up Love Song #43’ and ‘When You Walk In The Room’ are getting more airplay and attention these days, do you feel more cemented into the public’s knowledge of British music?
FD: Well it’s hard to say, you never really know how many people out there like you and I think this record’s sold a lot less than the others but that doesn’t always mean anything. I don’t know really, it’s not something I’ve thought about really, you like to think there’s people at home who know who you are and what you do.

DW: I vaguely imagine you as a British Ryan Adams, someone who’s not hugely well known in mainstream circles but who a lot of others appreciate as a talented musician and songwriter. Do you have any ambitions to be in people’s affections that way?
FD: I’m probably the British Bryan Adams actually! I’d love to have a huge hit but, you know, you can only write what you write. I like to think I could write a big pop song and maybe I’ve come close at times. Again though, there’s lots and lots of things I want to do, writing songs is only about 50% of what I really want to do in music. I’ve written a few things for orchestra and I want to do stuff for films so I’ve got to work on that and try out electronic things as well. There’s all kind of things that I like so as long I have time to get on with them I feel like I’m doing well.

DW: It’s interesting you mention the electronic thing, I remembered emailing you when I was sat listening to an early version of Through The Windowpane about five or six years ago asking what reverb effect you were using on the keyboard. Is experimentation like that still important for you?
FD: Oh, that kind of duh-drrrrrr sound? I remember that! The Boss DD-3! Yeah that’s the kind of geeky side of music I suppose but that’s the part that I’m at home with, that’s the fun part for me. I was saying to someone before that writing songs, as much as I love it, is a kind of work for me. The thing that feels like playtime for me is being at the stage of adding sounds, when you have all the basics and you can try all the flourishes, that’s the stuff I really get off on. Then, like you said with my record I was a bit more relaxed and really just wanted to focus back on writing and I wanted it to sound very traditional and not retro but I wasn’t too bothered about it being too original. I was happy with how it sounded and apart from that it didn’t bother me whereas with Guillemots I’m always wanting to sound really original and I think that’s very true of our next record.

DW: I think that definitely comes across with the Guillemots records with a bit more musical intricacy and experimentation, and they can be taken wrongly to be quite indulgent at times. I remember a couple of reviews referring to ‘Sao Paulo’ a couple of years ago as twelve minutes of rubbish…
FD: Well yeah but it just depends what you’re in to! Some people think a rich chocolate cake is indulgent and I love it ha, erm, but it’s quite a weird argument I think. If you’re living in a world when so many people are dying and there’s those trying to be doctors and teachers and really achieve something then to be sat here messing about with sounds and making music is indulgent anyway. I’ve always thought it’s a slightly silly argument but then having said that I suppose it does go on for ten minutes. All I know is that making a track like ‘Sao Paulo’ was one of the biggest buzzes of my life and we had a whole orchestra on it and there’s people who like it.

DW: To be honest, as good as everything else you’ve done is, I think it is the occasional track like that which will stand the test of time and in 10 or 20 years if people are looking back then that’s the thing which will separate Guillemots.
FD: Yeah and I’d love that to happen. I mean, I’m aware that we’ve never been a particularly cool band and our first record was the kind of thing hipsters would talk about but we quickly lost that niche. We seem to exist on the peripheries of things; we’re not edgy enough for the hipster people but then we’re not quite straight enough for the mainstream. So yeah, I would love it if people are still listening in 10 or 20 years and I think that’s all you can really hope for. And I want to keep getting better but then you can only be doing what you want to at the time, I waited five years to get the first Guillemots record out and when I got into the studio this time I really just wanted to record those songs.

DW: So the Guillemots record is on its way to being recorded now?
FD: Yeah it’s been written and will be recorded this year so come out next year probably. We’ve spending time trying to get it sounding really original so we’ll want to spend the right amount of time in the studio as well.

DW: And are you comfortable with where you’re at right now, balanced between the band and your own solo projects?
FD: Well this was never planned to be a big record or a big tour so I’ve been taking weeks out to go with the band then back on the tour with Corinne Bailey Rae so it’s been fun. I’m really excited about the stuff that’s being going on with the band and just planning things for the future really.

Fly Yellow Moon is out now on Polydor Records.