Dustin Wong… where to begin. Where…To.. Begin….. Dustin plays/played a vital role in both bands Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine. Since then Dustin moves between Baltimore to Brooklyn and has been excelling in his solo works. He is much more than a musician, more than a master of the pedal. There is something unique and genius about his work, he is a genuine artist expressing original ideas and concepts. He has a hunger for knowledge that is apparent in his recordings and especially in his live shows. Not too long after the release Dustin should be hitting the road for a tour, I highly recommend catching him live. It is an experience in itself. I could really go on and on… but with a 2500 word interview below there is really no need. Read on for one of the best interviews I’ve featured on the site.
Disto- Dustin Wong
MWL: Your LP Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads comes out on February 21, 2012. Can you tell me a little about it, and how it is different from your previous solo work and work with Ponytail?
D: The process itself is pretty similar to Infinite Love, I wrote all the songs using a series of pedals laid out in front of me that I use in live performances. So it’s all self contained. I personally feel like the songs are a little bit more developed from Infinite Love. I explored the pedal more and got to know them more. The recording process itself was different as well. Infinite Love was all consisted of multi tracking and Dreams Say… was recorded live.
The difference between making music alone versus a band process is very different. The band dynamic, when it’s democratic, needs a lot of negotiation between all the band members. With playing solo, I have to conjure up the different aspects of myself; it’s a negotiation between these different aspects. I guess it is kind of like alchemy of the things that are within.
MWL: Where did you do the recording?
D: I do all my recordings at home, just going through a mixer in to my laptop. Then I mix it in Garage Band.
MWL: How did you come up with the title?
D: The title came when I played a show from DC called Hume. I spent the night at the house where Britton (the singer and leader of the band) was dog sitting. I had a dream about him that night and he was extremely mean to me. I had no idea why he would be so mean because he’s such a nice guy. Then I realized it must have been my shadow. I woke up pretty early that day and I opened up this book I was reading at the time called, “The Book of Hermes” I opened to chapter 9 and I noticed that there were tiny lower cased letters on some of the words within the chapter. I looked for references and footnotes but nothing that corresponded to those letters. When I put those words together it read, “Dreams, Say, View, Create, Shadow, Leads”.
MWL: Dreams are very interesting and provide meaning to our everyday lives. I may stand corrected but I think Hermes also said, ”All being is dual; no being is permanent.” I wonder if this has any direct correlation to his philosophies on dreaming. We do after all exist in our dreams. How does the LP reflect the title?
D: Dreams are fleeting, if you don’t catch it its back in the aether, just like sound. There is a self-erasing quality to the album. When one song goes to the next there is an effect, you might of have forgotten what was just prior to what you’re listening to at the moment. That fleetingness might reflect the movement of dreams. Not really about the dream itself but how dreams move. The shadow is something that is reflected more towards the end of the album, thus its leading this dream.
MWL: What is your process when making a new song?
D: I start with an idea that I find interesting when I’m just playing around my guitar, sometimes dry and at some times effected. Then I start building on it, just jamming out on it. When things start culminating I wonder what I could do to affect the loop itself through the delay pedal, and see if I can change the pattern. Then by building on the effected pattern once I take away the effect that is responsible for changing the pattern of the loop it feels a lot different. It’s almost like when painters use masking tape on their canvas. They apply the masking tape and they paint what they want and when they peel away the tape the canvas remains.
MWL: That’s a really interesting analogy, helps us visual folks understand. Do you do any improvising playing live, now that you’re not recording or do you stick to your most recent work?
D: I try to write as much as possible even when the album is done. Its just my practice, I love doing it so I can’t stop writing. When I write it always starts with improvisation and its just a memory of those that become the construction.
MWL: Your live shows are amazing, full of energy; do you have a favorite venue to play?
D: Thank you…! There are a few venues in Baltimore that I love playing in, Soft House and the Floristree. They are both warehouses in Baltimore, the people who run it are all amazing and the atmosphere is incredible.
MWL: What types of pedals do you use?
D: If I list them in order the pedals go, tuner, octave pedal, distortion, noise gate, delay, loop, envelope filter and delay.
MWL: Do you have a favorite song? One that means the most?
D: It might be “Evening Curves Straight” and “Toe Tore Oh.” These were songs I wrote after a tour with a few of my friends in Baltimore. A very beautiful trip, there were a lot of wonderful memories on that trip.
MWL: Can you share one of your memories?
D: We were in Arizona, and we decided to take some acid and walk around in the desert. I climbed up this hill, and there was a mountain shaped like a Buddha. When I looked at its face I could see so much suffering attaching itself to it and on the bottom I could see an alligator looking shape biting his leg, but it still sat still and it was facing west overlooking a sunset. I imagined that in time this mountain will probably be gone through erosion and entropy, ending its time here on this plane. The patience that mountain has, is really inspiring.
A Tribe of Slugs Left Me Something- Dustin Wong
MWL: How would you describe your music?
D: I guess simply, loop and layer based.
MWL: Any favorite bands or musicians you enjoy collaborating or playing with?
D: I always love collaborating with Matt Papich of Co La, I always have a wonderful time talking to him about music. He has such a different take on things and its always a pleasure to be in conversation with him. Also John Jones of Eachothers, he also plays bass in Dope Body. He is just a wonderful soul. His energy is fantastic.
MWL: Do you remember the first time you picked up an instrument, which was it?
D: I guess the first instrument I picked up would be the recorder. They gave it to everybody in first grade. I had no idea how to play it but I remember going out on the balcony of my parent’s balcony and going crazy at it around 6-7AM and getting yelled at by this guy who lived across the street.
MWL: Who are your musical and non-musical influences?
D: I really do love the musicians that I am good friends with like Co La, Eachothers, Dope Body and whole lot more. The musicians from history might consist Les Paul, Brian Wilson, Michael Rother, traditional Okinawa music, and things like that.
I really do like to read religious texts, but the book done by Thich Naht Hanh, “Old Path White Cloud” which is the story of Buddha. Probably one of my favorite books ever.
MWL: Religious texts are some of the most valuable to read, for sure. I’ve spent almost 5 years now on The Book of the Dead (Egyptian). It’s been the driving force behind just about all of my art more recently. I find the origin of religion is a primary interest, aside from exploring. What are your hobbies, what are your other interests?
D: I really do love making videos. Its my other passion that I haven’t really been able to get a consistent practice of because I’ve been mainly working on music. I love a good tea time. Brewing some nice tea with something sweet and taking a breather. Having conversations with close friends. If it expands the imagination and ideas, I’m up for anything.
MWL: Cinematography and music have a long time love affair. Sometimes my entire film editing process revolves around sound and music. Do tell me how you like your tea. Are you an Earl Grey type of guy or an Oolong type of guy?
D: I like all sorts, I’m pretty simple actually, I love a good old black tea with some milk and sugar. I do like a good oolong once in a while though, yerba matte as well. But, I find most pleasure in good black tea, whether that’s breakfast or afternoon tea.
Yuri- Dustin Wong
MWL: What are you listening to these days?? Any recommendations?
D: I’ve just been going through my collection of stuff, but heavily listening to the Paris Sisters. The are probably the most lethargic sounding girl band from the 60’s. The compilation, Bangs and Works, a collection of Chicago footwork juke music. James Ferraro’s Farside Virtual is a recent favorite. Julianna Barwick’s, The Magic Place is another one I’ve been listening to. A bit embarrassing but, Joe Hisaishi’s Ghibli soundtracks too.
MWL: What??! Nooo… There is nothing wrong with Hisaishi soundtracks! Castle in the Sky!?!! His work is epic, exactly what I was saying about music and films’ love affair. I watched Howl’s Moving Castle at least 20 times in college, I can’t imagine watching it more than once without the score. Magical. Do you have a favorite Miyazaki/Hisaishi collaboration?
D: I mean I listen to it because I love it! The Totoro soundtrack is great, I actually riffed on Totoro on one of the songs, “Toe Tore Oh”. There are other Ghibli soundtracks like, “Mimi Wo Sumaseba” which is a more obscure one. There are a couple of tracks on there that’s really great and totally weird. The stuff he was doing with Midi and symphonies were a very interesting combination.
MWL: How do you feel about the music industry as it stands today? What do you think the future of the industry holds?
D: The music industry, I have some problems with. It’s a bit cynical these days, what’s good, what’ not good, especially the bigger media groups that can make a band or destroy a band. The score system and opinions of writers are such a leading force that it actually does influence music communities. There are hierarchies, like the top ten or whatever number of that year when in reality things should be laid out horizontally, not vertically. I really don’t like competition and in art it’s not necessary. It distracts from the personal aspect of the creative process. With the recorded product, it needs to get more creative. The idea of the music object is dyeing and digital media isn’t a way for artists to make revenue these days. Everything is pretty much accessible because it’s free online. Since music is in a sense probably the most non-objective art form, since its sound, it is in the air. It’s poetic that people can attain music from the cloud of the internet.
It might just become more about service for the artists now. The obvious service that musician provide performances in spaces and people go to see them. There can be other ways as well. If a musician has other talent, they can merge that with their music. If a musician is good at ceramics he or she can provide a download code with a plate that can be eaten out of for a long time. A musician might be an excellent cook and can provide food instead of records. If musicians are thinkers they can put off a time to have tea with their fans and talk about their ideas, a private interview and it can be for a certain amount of money. Somehow these things can be merged with the work they are making. There are a lot of possibilities, the system doesn’t have to be one type, it can branch out in so many ways. Rirkrit Tiravanija made Pad Thai for people in a gallery and that was his artwork. It’s that type of idea, but it doesn’t have to be completely like that at all, his example is just a point that he was making, that it’s a possibility. It is a bit dated now but relational aesthetics is something that can definitely bring out something new in the music industry.
MWL: I think the DIY scene is a sort of an incubator/curator for relational aesthetics. There are obviously great musicians recording and working in those spaces, living, cooking, sharing and experiencing interaction and life as art. The cloud of the internet may not provide substantial revenue for artists as it now stands, but it often closes the gap between artist and fan and provides information on bands and shows. If advertising companies could go directly to the artist all parties would benefit. The advertising company pays the artists for space on their station/page while triggering their target market. This enables the consumer to continue listening to their favorite artists while both the advertising companies and musicians get paid to continue working and hopefully live a good life. Sounds nice right? At MWL we feel this is a step in the right direction. It’s definitely important for artists to take time for their fans, and for themselves. Balance is the skeleton key to all doors in life.
D: I think licensing is definitely part of it but just an aspect of the whole that could be. I think the spaces musicians live often times turn into DIY venues and a lot of amazing and magical things can happen. Doing events that promote different thought and ideas. It might also just be the problem of money, it would be wonderful if we could just exchange services for one another, a song for shelter, a concert for help with construction. Yard work for a plate of food and entertainment. Money might just need to transform it self to a physical and thought service exchange. That could be fun?
Here We Come 2012- Dustin Wong
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By: Katie McVeay| Beat-Play Ambassador New York| crookedsunshine|Music Without Labels & Beat-Play, LLC