DEAR READER – Interview

Es fühlt sich an, als wäre eine halbe Ewigkeit ins Land gegangen, seitdem wir zum ersten Mal auf die südafrikanische Indie-Band Dear Reader und ihr Debütalbum ‘Replace Why With Funny‘ hingewiesen haben. Und so hat sich auch viel getan bei der Band: das Quartett, das zuvor im Kern aus dem Duo Cherilyn MacNeil und Darryl Torr bestand, ist zu einem ein-Frau-Projekt zusammengeschrumpft und hat sich zeitgleich auch örtlich verändert, musiziert man doch mittlerweile in Berlin. Grund genug für uns die sympathische Frontfrau zu ihrem mittlerweile dritten Bedroomdisco Interview (das letzte Interview gibt es hier zu lesen) zu bitten – dem wohl letzten in englischer Sprache geführten…

1.) Band facts

Name: Dear Reader
Band members: Cherilyn MacNeil
Founding year: 2008
Residence: Berlin
Current album: Idealistic Animals

2.) Questionnaire:

It’s been two years since our last interview and we imagine much has happened?
I guess you could say so, yes. Most notably, I parted ways with the other founding member of Dear Reader, my good friend Darryl Torr. And I relocated from Johannesburg to Berlin. Then i wrote and recorded a new record, and the aftermath of that is playing itself out now, as i type… 🙂

You’ve left your home South Africa and moved to Berlin – for what reasons?
Many reasons… because there is more for me to do over here than there is over there, in terms of my work. the market for alternative pop music sung in english is very small in south africa. Because i really wanted to get out of Johannesburg, and be somewhere new, immerse myself in a new culture. Berlin because City Slang is based here, because i had already made some friends here, because i was able to get a visa to live in germany as a self-employed musician (no small feat), because it is amazing to live in an affordable city when you have an artist’s income…

How is your German now that you’ve already lived some time in Germany?
Mein Deutsch ist ziemlich gut geworden. Ich lerne immer noch. Ich war am Anfang hier in Berlin bei einer Private Sprachschule. Ich kann jetzt viel verstehen, und mich ziemlich gut ausdruecken. Mein Grammatik ist aber nicht so gut. Ich will sehr gutes Deutsch, aber jetzt muss ich wirklich Mühe geben um weiter zu kommen…

– Also with the move came a split between you and your former Dear Reader band member Darryl, who had been a great influence to the last record. How come and did he have any contribution to ‘Idealistic Animals’ in the end?
There were a number of contributing factors to Darryl and I splitting up (please note, we were not romantically involved, just musical partners). For one, I was moving here, and he has a successful career and business producing music for bands in South Africa. He’s just built a lovely new studio, and will be getting married soon. Also, in the end, it was just time for a change. We are interested in different things, have different focuses, and were veering in different directions. We are still good friends, and I look forward to seeing him this December when i fly home for Christmas.

In the end, Darryl was not involved in the new record at all. It was a clean cut we made. Of course i miss him, and doing it without him also showed me all the things he does so well. But i learnt a lot during the process. Before, we were always working in biggish studios, with really good equipment – hi-fi recordings. This new record was made more like a home recording – recorded mostly with simple, cheap equipment, in people’s homes and rehearsal spaces. I was a lot more hands on, and did part of the engineering, the editing, sat in on all the mixing… it was a really growing experience for me. I wanted to try lo-fi, and now i know better the strengths and weaknesses of both ways.

– On your last tour you said that on the new record the live band (Michael + Jean-Louise) should have a greater influence on the new songs, so that it would get more of a band-record. How did it end out with the new circumstances?
Michael also parted ways with Dear Reader, because he didn’t want to be spending so much time overseas, and suffered a great deal from homesickness when we were on the road. I miss him very much. JL was involved in the record from Johannesburg. She sent through viola and vocal parts, many of which she wrote herself. We had a lot of collaborators on this record. A lot of people lent their beautiful talents and ideas to the project. The band I am touring with currently were all involved in the recording, and it’s cool, to have done that ‘together’ (we weren’t all recording together in one room at one time). I wouldn’t say it was really like a band recording together. Brent and I still really held the reins on the project. But we’ll see what grows out of this new set of circumstances…

– Could you tell a bit about about the production process of “Idealistic Animals”? How long did it take, where did it happen, what were the difficulties, how did you prepare for it? What was the best, what the worst moment? Most told anecdote?
i wrote and demo’d most of the material for ‘Idealistic Animals’ in my bedroom in Rixdorf. It was a pretty dark time for me, I was unhappy, and the record comes from a very personal, internal space. I don’t feel it was really much influenced by external factors, i feel i could have written it anywhere.

Then, Brent and I went to Leipzig to start recording at our live sound engineer (Fritz Brueckner)’s rehearsal/recording/living space. It was December, snowy. We camped out in that space for 2 weeks and barely left. At the start there was no hot water, just a small hot plate in the ‘kitchen’ (Things got more and more comfortable day by day). We set up a bunch of instruments – guitars of all kinds, a bunch of synths, drums, organ, vibraphone etc., and then we basically jammed over the demo’s I had made – the skeletons of the songs, and fleshed them out with layer after layer. Lots of people came to visit, and added layers. Often, Brent wouldn’t even let them listen to the track before recording their first take (so as to preserve the freshness of their first impressions).

Then, after christmas, i flew out to Portland, where Brent lives, and we recorded some more layers with some more friends. But mostly, we spent 3 weeks sifting through all the material, editing. There were a ton of ideas. Too many ideas. It was a process somewhat like mosaic – finding pieces we like, seeing where they fit. In the end it was sometimes a painful process as well, of having to say goodbye to parts we loved, because the songs were just too dense.

Then we went to John Askew’s studio (Scenic Burrows) and he mixed it – well, we mixed it. Brent and I were in there too, every step of the way. Often Brent was behind the controls. I was involved in terms of decision making. We slept very little. I would say on average we worked 14 hour days. Near the end, once or twice, we worked all night, stealing naps on the sofa, sleeping in our winter coats. We had a very firm deadline – my return flight to Berlin, and i think that is always really important. It forces one to let go. Otherwise one never might.

One of my favorite moments during recording was working with a Shape Note choir in Portland. They have a really distinct singing style, and ever since meeting them i have been a little obsessed with Shape Note music. (It’s the oldest american music there is, sung in 4 parts). When we listened back to KITE (Soon We’ll Light Up) after having recorded the choir parts, i burst into tears because i was so happy with it.

Worst moment… Brent and I went for a walk, with our ipods, listening to the mixes, taking notes. We walked through Portland, there was an open gallery night, lots of people in the streets. We were walking into places and looking at the art while we listened. Then, at some point on the way back, Brent realized he had lost his notes. There was no way we would find them – just a folded up piece of paper – amongst all the chaos. He was really crushed. He had had so much clarity, and felt like it was all lost. That was really awful.

– As a constant you did again work with Brent Knopf as producer on the record – how would you describe his way of working as a producer? What influence did he have on the record?
I think i’ve covered some of this above. Brent has a very unique way of working. He is interested in catching inspired performances, special moments. Of course though, when you’re not prepared, and you don’t know what you’re supposed to be performing before you begin, you do not play something from start to finish without mistakes. Everything on the record has been cut together, like a mosaic. That really is the best way to explain it. Brent had a strong influence on both records we’ve made together. He plays a lot of instruments on them, sings, his fingerprints are everywhere. On this record he really encouraged me to be more strong about what i want, (i struggle to know and to assert what i want) and to also try jamming out parts, to be more fearless and reckless. I have a long way to go on these fronts, but i feel like i grew a lot during this process.

– “CAMEL (Not Black Or White But Camel)” is one of our favorite songs – can you tell us what it is about, how it was done and if there is a story behind it?
The song is about bumping into an ex, some time after you’ve broken up. It is based on a real experience, but exaggerated.

The camel-coloured smoke coat he’s wearing… i guess it’s describing that feeling of ‘we were so close, we were so intimate, knew each other so well, and now you feel like a stranger to me, someone i barely know’. i think we all know this feeling. it’s such a strange phenomenon.

A moment that sticks out during the recording of this song is recording the vocals on the instrumental interlude that comes at the beginning and again at the end. I was really ill in Leipzig, could barely speak, and Brent was doing one of his fun things – making a choir of himself, by loop-recording the section over and over and singing over himself, with lots of different harmonies and vocal styles. Then he asked me to do one, and i really didn’t want to, because i could barely squeak a note out, and tend to be afraid of recording when i have no idea what i’m supposed to sing (go figure!) But he really pushed me, and i started singing the ‘shalala’s’. they just came out. And my voice sounded really weird, because i was ill. And i can really hear it, so clearly, every time i listen to the song. But somehow it’s cool. And it is a great moment for me, because those ‘shalala’s’ came out, even though i was so afraid and reluctant.

– At which point did you come up with the animal-metaphors, what did you want to achieve with them?
The album title and animal song-titles only came at the end. I didn’t set out to make a ‘concept record’. But once i had all the material in front of me, i noticed subtle themes running through everything, and the song ‘Idealistic Animals’ really seemed to sum it up very well. I actually started writing that song a really long time ago, while we were mixing ‘Replace Why’, and back then i thought, i would really like to name an album after this song. I had forgotten that for a long time… Then, once i had decided to name the album ‘Idealistic Animals’, brent actually said, hey, we’ve got a ‘Mole’ already – why not name the songs after animals (See, his fingerprints are everywhere!) And I really loved that idea. It was really clear to me that ‘Idealistic Animals’ the song, was MAN, humanity. One of the ideas i had been thinking a lot about was the animalness of humans, how we are much more like animals than we are different to them. And so it was obvious to me that man should be one of the animals. And then, i chose animals to represent each song. Not always logically, often intuitively. The system is not very consistent. For example, BEAR is called that because the song is set in Berlin, and Berlin is a bear. But for lots of other songs, i was looking for animals that somehow embodied the spirit of the song. It’s kind of abstract, not poignant, and should be taken with a big pinch of salt. In the end, it’s just fun, to have a zoo on the back of my record.

– At which point did you know that the record is finished?
It’s never really finished. As i said, we had a really strict deadline to meet, and we worked right up until the last minute. And then it was really a case of, well, that’s it. What it is now is what it will be. Without this painful cut-off, i could probably work on something indefinitely, and it would never be finished, and i would never release anything. The whole process involves me detaching myself from the work, accepting that i have to let it go, even though it’s imperfect. I never feel a sense of satisfaction, like ‘this is exactly what i wanted to make. it is right’. That never happens. I never listen to my own music once it’s finished. I am really self-critical. Once in a while i might hear something of my own work, after a long time not hearing it, and have a wave of objectivity, and think ‘hey, that’s pretty cool’. But mostly i just find fault.

– Which development do you see in your music and songwriting from “Replace Why With Funny” to “Idealistic Animals”?
I feel like my song writing is a bit more grown-up (even though i’m still such a kid compared to most of my peers, and probably will always retain that element of naivety). I guess i feel like my ideas are less predictable than they were, my song-structures more unusual. I feel like i’ve grown. But none of this was really tried for. I guess it is just exactly like growing older. I have had more experiences, have heard more, done more, written more, played more. The process of song-writing remains for me something pure, something natural, like giving birth. It feels like something that happens to me, rather than something i do. And i never want that feeling of ease to go away. I have always written songs just for me, and that remains the case in that moment when i am writing a song. Only afterwards, do i consider the people who might listen to the songs later.

– In what situations do you write songs/lyrics? Which themes do inspire you to write songs?
A continuation from above i guess… songs come to me, and i feel like i just channel them out, that they come from somewhere else. Many people say that, so, i know i am not alone there. But at the same time of course, they are something that comes from me. Like i’m having little babies. My songs are driven by my emotional state, by things in my gut that i just need to express somehow, and music is my ‘how’. Often they are based on my personal experiences, which are just a starting point, and are then exaggerated. Other times the songs are fictional, but still based on my own emotions. I express my feelings through true or fictional stories, and usually the music is just a boat, to carry the words. Music is not really important to me, not like the words are. i don’t think a lot about music. but i love music, because it is like magic, because it can connect to the parts of us deep down that we’ve hidden under layers and layers of bullshit.

– What are your next plans?
I am flying home for a month in December, to see my family, and to play shows in South Africa. Then in January we are touring Europe, and hopefully we will continue to do that into 2012, and hopefully play some festivals in the summer. I also want to start working on something(s) new, though what it will be has yet to take shape…

– What are you doing if your not making music?
I spend a lot of time doing a lot of admin-y, practical stuff to do with being in a band. A lot of organizing, managing things, and well, yeah, i guess people don’t often think about that part of doing music as your job. I spend a lot more time doing that stuff than i do playing my interments, or writing songs.

Otherwise, what do i do… i love to read, i love to swim, i love to be outdoors, in nature, i like to go dancing with my friends, i like going to dress-up parties, i like going to the cinema, or curling up with a good movie at home, i like cooking, i really like eating (hehe)… man, this list is boring. i really should take up a non-music-related hobby…

– What did you learn in 2011 up to know?
Oh wow. Um… I’ve learnt that it really is easy to turn your back on possibly good experiences, because of fear of future pain, and i really don’t want to do that. So I am trying to be on the lookout for times when i am saying ‘no’ to things, just as a default reaction, and thinking about why i’m saying ‘no’, and whether i should actually be saying ‘yes’.

– Your Top 3 records of 2011 up to know? Why?
I haven’t really listened to any music for the last 2 years. Really, truthfully. What have i listened to… i listened to the new ‘The National’ album a couple of times. That might have been last year though. It is beautiful. Gut-wrenching. I really like Micachu and the Shapes. I’ve listened to their album a few times too. Tuneyards, what i’ve heard of that record is incredible. She is wonderful. I know it sounds crazy, but for some reason i have had absolutely no desire to listen to music for a long time now. Perhaps this will change soon…

– Which song would fit to your actual situation?
i really don’t know how to answer this question. Sorry.

– Which song makes you dance independent of your situation?
‘You Can Call Me Al’, by Paul Simon

– How would your “Bedroomdisco” look like?
It would be a room filled with metal objects. Floor to ceiling with trinkets made of steel. And the there would be white lights, bouncing off all the shiny surfaces. But the floor would be bouncy, and we’d all be going for it with all we’ve got, looking like we’re possessed, and nobody would impale themselves accidentally on a fork.

– Who did fill out this questionnaire?

Dear Reader – Monkey (Go Home Now) – Acoustic version from City Slang on Vimeo.

Foto © by Marcus Maschwitz


Bedroomdisco-Gründer, Redaktions-Chef, Hans in allen Gassen, Golden Leaves Festival Booker, Sammler, Fanboy, Exil-Darmstädter Wahl-Hamburger & happy kid, stuck with the heart of a sad punk - spreading love for great music since '08!

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