Gareth Dickson – “The drone of the pipes is something that’s seeped in to my music: I’m aware of it now years after beginning to form my playing style”

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Nick Cave, Plastikman and Cocteau Twins: this three LPs one after the other (I suppose by chance) somehow suggest me a connection to your music. When I first discovered you, my mind brought me to some kind of ‘dark and strange’ songwriting, a new wave attitude, but also a structure of sounds that is not far from electronic music, like the minimal beats and melodies of ‘Sheet one’ by Richie Hawtin…

That’s funny those three are together, and yes your description of my music is definitely something I can relate to. I was and am a big fan of electronic musicians like Plastikman, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin etc. I remember hearing that Plastikman LP at a friend’s house probably around the late 90s or early 2000s and loving it. For me the electronic music revolution was massive. I know that it started way earlier than the artists I just mentioned but they were among the real pioneers in music for the period in which I was listening to a lot of music and forming ideas about it. I’ve definitely attempted to bring something of that soundworld and aesthetic in to my own music. I love the craft and direct connection that comes from playing a physical instrument, such as guitar, but I also love the abstract soundworlds possible with electronic music. I wanted to try to take the best from both worlds. Cocteau Twins are another great band, this time I came to them quite late so I don’t think they had much of an impact on my style but they’re a band I love, and they’re also from Scotland! Nick Cave I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of as yet, many people have told me that I have to see him live to really get what he does, so far I’ve not had the chance to do that but if it comes up I’ll give it a shot.

Nice to see you underlining that Cocteau Twins are Scottish. I saw you playing live  and you sort of apologised about your Scottish accent. At which degree you think your music is influenced by your origins? I don’t know from where exactly you come from (and I’m curious about), but I relate Scotland to nature, wide spaces, cold see and black lakes. In some way, the reverberating sound of your guitar is quite evocative of such places (for me)…

It’s an interesting observation definitely. I certainly feel very Scottish (although my grandparents are from all over the place: Poland, Ireland, England and Scotland) and I connect very strongly with Scottish music. My brother played drums for years in a traditional pipe band and I used to love going to watch them play. The sound of a marching pipe band coming along the street still nearly knocks me over now, it’s one of my favourite sounds on earth. It’s extremely powerful and emotional. I think the drone of the pipes is something that’s seeped in to my music, not consciously but I’m aware of it now years after beginning to form my playing style. I also love the songs and poetry of Robert Burns, our national poet. So there is definitely a Scottish element to my music for these reasons. But I grew up in a small town near Glasgow, one of the largest cities in the UK, so not exactly in the rolling hills or the countryside. But we had access to nature within five minutes walk so not exactly inner city London either.

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I see… and it seems that you love to collaborate with people like the great Vashti Bunyan, another one whose art is strictly connected to nature [I discovered her work years ago when she took part in a Piano Magic (amazing) song.] …and you hold a bunch of birches in the cover of “Orwell Court”!

I definitely have loved the collaboration with Vashti, and feel very fortunate for it. It’s been an amazing journey. And yes her work is very much connected to nature, especially at the beginning with the “Diamond Day” album. That album was written when she was very much living in nature and so I guess she was reflecting her surroundings back then.

The cover of “Orwell Court” really came about by chance. I was having some photos taken to help promote the album and the photographer asked me to grab a few props. I’d just finished making an animated video for “The Big Lie” and so I had these sticks still lying around. I held them for a photo and we ended up using it for the album cover. I liked the “back to nature” look as it had something almost apocalyptic about it, like this is how we’ll all end up in the future once technology has come full circle or something.

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I’m always amazed by the other non-musical stuff I see in the photos… why those three nice owls sitting on the amplifier?

Good question! My girlfriend bought me them as a kind of joke, but I love them as objects. The reason for the owls really is that they are highly symbolic animals, and I spent a bit of time being interested in some of the symbolism to be found in the world. For example why is there an owl shape in the grounds of the US Capitol Building when viewed from above? Why does the Pope’s Audience Hall at the Vatican look exactly like a snake head, complete with fangs? Why did the Republican Party turn the stars on their logo upside down around the time of George W. Bush? Inverting a symbol normally being taken to give it the opposite meaning. I don’t have any real answers, just questions really. It may be the tip of an iceberg worth exploring, it may equally be a red herring. I’m interested in that kind of thing but really I’m much more interested in power in general, how it operates, what it actually does – specifically with regard to how we are manipulated and deceived about many things – rather than the symbolism it uses.

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Ok, so this brings to another subject, the books I see. For instance, the Sartre book “Existentialism is a Humanism”: lovely stuff. I was really into “La Nausée” many years ago. Pretty heavy book. Are you a fan of French existentialism, that inspired in the past many known musicians (above all, Roberth Smith and Tuxedomoon for “L’etranger” by Camus)?

I wish I could talk more about that but it’s not my book and I haven’t read it yet. Unfortunately, although I definitely plan to. I read a lot of Schopenhauer who is also apparently a favourite among artists through the years, and a lot of Nietzsche, but never Sartre. Are you a fan then? I definitely want to read “Nausea”, I think I started it once and then drifted off! That says much more about me than the book though, I’m sure it’s great. And I’m definitely a fan of Robert Smith. I read “La Peste” by Camus which I loved, a great metaphor for the power of human denial, among other things, and in many ways it relates to and influences some of the themes in “Orwell Court”.

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Based around the acoustic guitar, Gareth Dickson’s songs employ analogue delay and reverb in an attempt to recreate the sound world of modern ambient/electro as well as referencing some of the well known fingerpickers of the past. Sometimes entirely instrumental, sometimes with sparing vocals, always with the idea of exploring and finding new possibilities for an age old instrument.
Dickson has toured extensively as Vashti Bunyan’s longtime guitarist and collaborator. He has also recorded with Juana Molina and Max Richter among others.

Gareth Dickson - PHOTO by Ryo Mitamura.jpgPhoto by Ryo Mitamura.

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