Interview with Chris Wade
Chris Wade is a Leeds-based musician, writer and illustrator - and were that not enough to occupy his time, he’s also the force behind progressive folk-rock project Dodson and Fogg. The self-titled first album was followed in 2013 by ‘Derring-Do’ which was recently reviewed by FolkWords.
FW: So is ‘Derring-Do’ folk rock, psyche folk or is it something else?
CW: It’s so simple - music has an essence whether it’s totally contemporary, a modern take on old music or an exact reproduction of traditional music. The point is that it’s music and it doesn’t have to fit perfectly into any category. From my point of view it’s also perfectly acceptable for music to live across any number of genres – folk, rock, blues, whatever – it doesn’t matter. The more labels you add the more restrictions seem to get put in place. My philosophy is simple - I make the sort of music I like. The influences are my life and experiences. They make my music what it is. How other people see that is entirely up to them.
FW: Well we agree on that point. Where did the influence for Dodson and Fogg come from?
CW: There are numerous roots in there, some that go back into the sixties and seventies. I’ve always played guitar and messed around with music but I never seriously concentrated on writing music until last year. Until then I’d been writing fiction and non-fiction books and audio books.
I suppose the sound comes from music my dad used to listen to and I grew up with that. The music I really like is from the sixties and seventies. I think in many ways that music has become part of my psyche. People have asked me if this album is deliberately a ‘retro sound’ from a specific period. That’s simply not true at all. This music is just what came out when I started to write music. It’s a natural progression really but I suppose if someone has to dissect it, the most I can say is it’s a collection of influences down the years that have come together in my head.
FW: So you didn’t sit down to write a seventies-based folk rock psychedelia album?
CW: No not at all. It’s more of an ‘organic thing’. The music is the music I write, not an attempt to re-create anything. That is what a lot of people don’t understand. I’ve variously heard this album called ‘an exercise in re-creating the seventies’ or an ‘attempt to conjure up old-hippie feelings’. That’s just not true.
FW: ‘Derring Do’ has a laid back feel - peace and tranquillity - perhaps that’s one reason?
CW: When I hear you say that it’s flattering because although none of those influences were conscious it’s interesting that they have somehow come through. I’m pleased it has those feelings. I suppose it is half natural and half experience. It’s where you are with your life. I think that how you’re living at any time influences your music. If you’re happy and you have things in control then you write differently than if your life is in chaos. That’s why I’m pleased that the album has a feeling of peace and tranquillity, it’s where I am right now.
FW: Were the songs written in sequence or edited to achieve the integrated whole?
CW: The first one is a really old song that I wrote years ago but I’ve messed around with the lyrics for this album so it’s kind of new (ish). A couple of others are older too, but most are only a few months old. I wanted the album to sound like a single entity rather than chopping it into individual songs.
When I write a song I like to record it the same day – I want songs to feel fresh. Some of my acoustic backtracks I’ll record once to get a feel for them, listen and then generally lay the track down in one hit. Once I have that, I like to add accents to my songs in the way of guitar or flute breaks. And in the process I always look to find solos that engage with short interesting passages rather than long meandering pieces. I don’t just want to add any old solo to the base track. I like attention to detail.
FW: This album arrived pretty close on the heels of the first one.
CW: That’s true, I write a lot and have this urge to keep on delivering the output. While the first album was coming together I was already writing some of the songs for this one. In fact, while I was waiting for Nik Turner and Celia Humphris to come back with their input I was still writing new material.
FW: So Nik and Celia are not with you when you record?
CW: No not at all. I send them the base track and they add their input over the top. Originally, I thought of Celia when I was listening to Trees so I gave her a call and she was happy to help. She added some tracks in her studio and sent them back to me. That’s when it becomes magical - Celia came back with some great melodies. I contacted Nik out of the blue and he agreed to take part. Nik has added touches that I would never have considered.
I don’t think it’s particularly necessary that all the musicians have to be in the same studio at the same time. If you’ve recorded your part well and you deal with great musicians then working remotely is a good way to do things and it’s a lot cheaper.
FW: So you have the base track, the songs, parts from other musicians, what’s next?
CW: From the start Celia had done such good work and mixed the vocals so well that I just laid her work onto the base track without editing. Even with a simple song she came back with different voices and layers. That approach added so much to the depth of the songs and the way they relate to each other. That’s one of the reasons it’s hard to slice this album up into individual songs, each one relates to the previous one and then to the next. The multilayered approach always intrigues me. I like to hear a lot going on in my songs. Even so, I still like simple albums that sound as if the artist is in the room with you.
FW: Have you ever thought of moving Dodson and Fogg into a live environment?
CW: I’ve played in live bands but never really enjoyed playing live. That’s one point. Another issue is re-creating the Dodson and Fogg sound in a live environment. I could maybe do a solo show in some stripped down form but these are studio albums and to create one of them ‘live’ could be a step too far. Perhaps, but probably not!
FW: How do you react when ‘Derring Do’ is called a concept album?
CW: No problem with that at all. Some of my favourite albums are concept albums. Sometimes such albums can turn into something that’s overblown, which is possibly why people occasionally have a problem with the term ‘concept album’. If the concept here is regarded as progressive folk rock then I guess that’s what it is.
FW: How do the lyrics for your songs come together?
CW: That’s a mixed bag. Sometimes I come up with a title and think ‘I must find words to fit that’ sometimes I’ll hear a chord structure and that prompts the words. I don’t really read music so I have to see how the music flows and the words just do the same thing. It’s probably true to say that the words and the music usually just arrive. If I try to force something and I don’t ‘feel’ what I’m doing it’s just like plodding along and churning stuff out. I want to be inspired and energised by what I do.
FW: Songwriting – is that something you feel 'compelled' to do?
CW: When I started writing music it just flowed. It was like opening floodgates and just letting it happen. It became something I loved. Now I can’t go a day without doing that particular ‘something I love’ – that’s sitting down in the studio and working with ideas.
FW: Your songs include narrative and ‘hypnotic chants’ is that deliberate?
CW: Lyrics tell the story of the song or they become part of the music. Sometimes there’s a character story or the influence of a character that creates a story, sometimes the lyrics are part of the music with the voices becoming instruments. The point is that narrative lyric or not, the music has to work on multiple levels.
All the best music works on many levels. You can listen many times and still not hear everything that’s going on. You can listen through headphones to cut out all other sounds and sometimes unexpectedly you notice something you haven’t heard before. Could you do that with pop music? I don’t think so. For me it’s all about what moves you or what your head tunes into.
FW: Do you find music categorisation by genre restrictive?
CW: As I said earlier, it’s music and it doesn’t have to fit perfectly into any category. I suppose it’s a lot to do with marketing isn’t it. In some cases it’s all about finding a genre to fit your image. The pop world thrives on constantly dividing bands and musicians into categories so an audience can decide to belong to one group of fans or another.
The bands that I like are those you can’t really categorise, those that flow across many genres. Jethro Tull for example, are regarded by many people in America as a heavy rock band – equally they’ve been labelled progressive or even folk rock. With music, as with many other art forms, the minute you start to use description as restriction you confine what’s possible.
FW: Social networks and online channels do they help or hinder music?
CW: If it wasn’t for the web I wouldn’t be doing Dodson and Fogg so I suppose I would say that they help. The web certainly enables people to put their music out there for a potential audience to hear. I suppose it also opens up channels for musicians to hear music from all parts of the world across nations, cultures and influences.
It’s also a hindrance in a way – because within a week of the second album coming out it was appearing on sites like Torrentz with people sharing it for free. You don’t want to appear like a spoilsport or too officious so you ask – ‘Please take it down it’s not fair to share it’ and explain why you’re asking. Generally, I’ve had a positive response each time I’ve asked. Then again, you have to be realistic if people want to get music for free then it’s pretty easy to do so. I think it’s fair to ask but if you get a negative response you can adopt a ‘so what’ attitude.
The interesting thing is I’ve sold loads more CDs than downloads, immeasurably more in fact. Perhaps the people that tune into this music like the physical product - the CD itself and the cover art
FW: Does cover artwork still carry weight with an audience?
CW: Yes, I think that it does. Downloads have nothing to compare with the CD artwork. The cover or the inserts usually tell you about the band and the music. With a download all you’ve got is the track.
FW: So what should we expect next from Dodson and Fogg?
CW: Interestingly, the next one will be more of a concept album. I’m working on themes that explore 'night'. There are different stories going on in the night, different perspectives, stories have different outcomes from the daytime. I’m in the middle of that right now.
FW: Is Dodson and Fogg long-term or will it fade away as something else takes your time?
CW: Dodson and Fogg has a lot of mileage left in it. It’s just so enjoyable and I am so into the music and its creation I feel no impulse to change or stop. Besides, I’ve had so much positive feedback that I can’t see it fading away just yet.
FW: Thanks Chris.
© FolkWords - 2013