Interview: Kyle Bobby Dunn


How long have you been working on the new record?

Not very long. The recording process started last spring/summer. There are some themes on it that are re-workings of things that I was doing years and years ago – perhaps when I was 13 or 14.

Is there any reason as to why the re-workings are only surfacing now?

They were originally for really bad films that I was putting together when I was young, but when I started working on new material last summer they just floated up and I grabbed what I could. They just seemed to stick with what I was working on.

How does the composition process work? Is it easy for you to gauge how the end results will sound based on your initial workings with the material?

I tried to do what feels right, and follow where I feel the instruments can take me. Everything on the new record is pretty simple, as you’re just hearing straight guitar and organ. There’s no pre-meditation – it’s just a symbiotic relationship between the instrument and me. It can go up or down. There are some great days and some really awful days.

It seems as though the instrument processing is quite minimal on this new record. Was that a conscious move?

I think so, yeah. I really wanted to just pour a lot more of myself into it.  Before I was working with restrictions in terms of space and recording methods, and working with others tends to stifle things too. I wanted it to have more of a personal note, and as a result, I think some of the works do have this quietness or sparseness. It was all home recording, and every track was recorded in the same spot in my living quarters.

Is there a particular time or place that works best for you when writing your music?

Well as I said, the new record was all recorded in one small area. I think it just came out of my time spent at home over the course of several months, dwelling on memories and ideas.

What about listening? Is there a method or environment that works best?

I try lots of different atmospheres and places. Over several weeks, or months, or a couple of years in the case of A Young Person’s Guide…, I’ll just wander around with a song and see how it feels in certain places. Now I live in New York City and it’s really weird to listen to something quiet. I tend to go to weird spots to listen to it, to get a better sense of where I was going with something. But for this record, the best place for me to go to re-cap and re-listen is on this really weird street on which I live.

Have there been tracks that have only clicked into place for you once you’ve heard them in a certain environment?

Absolutely. But that’s just me.

Do you intend to take this album live?

Yeah. I actually played in a church space close to where I live last week, and played one of the pieces on there. It was just fantastic – I don’t think I’ve played such a nice, vast space before that is so complimentary to my sound. Playing in there made me wish that I’d recorded the pieces in there – it’d just give them more life and energy.

So is that something you’ll look in the future?

I’d love to. It’s been my dream. I’ve been listening to church music, choral music and classical music recorded in churches to try and figure out a way to record and engineer one of my records in a nice church space.

Have church and choral music been major influences on your reverb-heavy sound?

Yeah. I think it comes out quite fully on Ways of Meaning. I started really getting into it when I was 13/14. I went to a Catholic school when I was really young, and a lot of time was spent in church – some of that church music still haunts me in very mixed ways.

And you started writing music in school, is that right?

In Junior High School I started writing music on a home piano I had, but it wasn’t until High School that I actually began recording it and taking it more seriously.

And how did it sound in comparison to your music now?

Different, hopefully. But I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t think I’ve changed that much since then, which is kind of sad and strange at the same time. I’d like to think that I’ve advanced more in terms of sound – I’ve been thinking about sound and space more, and I think that the two are so important with my music. I’m constantly trying to integrate the two to work together. Space has especially become more of a factor. I’ve tried to pay closer attention to it.

How has this greater interaction with space materialized on the new record?

It’s weird, because I’ve got the confines of a relatively small space when I’m recording, and through the computer and technology I’m trying to make a space that’s there, but still interesting to listen to. But I’m leaning towards acoustic space and I want to start recording in more open large spaces.

Do you currently have the technically expertise to decipher how that would work best for your music?

I’ve always wanted to record a really good outdoor or church recording – it’s just a matter of having the proper tools and engineering skills. I feel more comfortable recording in my head and my space, so I think that once I take it out to one of these spaces it might lose an essence of some kind.

Would you relish the challenge of that?

There’s a kind of pressure. That comes out in my live performances too; I’m out in this foreign space, and I feel as though I don’t have full control over it. When I’ve played with some of my string ensembles, they make it difficult to control the environment, or the unfolding of my music. So the same goes for recording in open space.

How easy is it to collaborate and convey your ideas to other people?

It’s a mixed thing. Since I’ve lived in New York, I’ve met people who really like it and really gravitate towards my ideas. Then there are people that are kind of robotic and sterile to it. I like returning to some of the people that I feel good working with. I look for a personal connection more than musical understanding with my collaborators – if somebody just has a feeling…sometimes if I’m sitting with them and we’re having musical conversations, we don’t really have to say much. It’s just something felt between the two of us or whomever I’m working with.

So do you think you could work with another artist in a collaborative environment?

I’ve thought about it, and I’ve said before that I find it really hard to split a vision. For some reason it’s just easier for me to focus on my own self-absorbed visions. But I’m working on some pop tracks with my brother this year, and making a more folk-based recording with an old friend of mine in Canada. There’s one woman who plays strings with me a lot – Erika Dicker – who has suggested that we collaborate in a less self-involved way, and it’s just really hard for me. I feel like there’s a real contrived element to it. It’s just me and my neuroses with my music.

I can understand that in terms of keeping your music pure.

Yeah. It’s just about my personal outpour competing with having to make a recording. Like…as though you’ve got to force music for some reason. I feel that that’s way too prevalent in our musical culture; people want to put stuff together to make it interesting, or put something out for the sake of it, and there are a lot of musical concoctions that seem false to me. You really know when you feel something pure and true, and I just try and record those moments. They might not apply to anybody else, but because it’s so personal I find it really funny when people are writing or talking about my music. But it’s reflective of other things too – in particular, I felt this recording was a big reflection of what’s going on in terms of the world and the economy. That’s all in there.

How does that differ to previous records? Do they also have a worldwide scope, as well as focusing on your own personal thoughts?

Everything I’ve done up to this point is ultra-personal, and I have no idea how it could apply to anyone else. But maybe I’m trying to step out of my ideas with this recording, and perhaps that’s felt in some of the pieces. Things I was doing several years ago were extremely reflective of personal issues and probably only affected me and me alone.

Do you retain any awareness of your audience when you’re creating music?

I definitely don’t think about how it’s going to affect an audience. Sometimes I have pieces of work that are named after people I’ve known in my past, or songs about people I’ve disconnected with…and so obviously I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these people or places. But I’m certainly never thinking what a critical reaction might be to my work.

Going back to your “pop” recordings with your brother. What’s it like recording stuff outside of your stylistic comfort zone?

It’s just entirely different for me. I feel a bit ridiculous, and I’m just trying to have a good time with it. I mean, I still listen to music for the purpose of having a good time – I get the impression that, musically, I can sometimes come across as a “non-music” kind of guy, but there’s still some pop music that I really enjoy. Recording this kind of music can be personal and fun too, but it’s just such a different experience and a different mode of operating. I don’t know if I could do it for as long as certain people have been. I give a lot of acknowledgement to pop artists and bands that have been working on stuff for so long, as it seems so incredible to me.

Do you see your own music (under Kyle Bobby Dunn) having a finite lifespan, or could you go on playing it indefinitely?

Well I’ve been playing live for ten years now, and I can’t help but notice that the music has changed slightly over the years. I think that playing my work live is quite strange, in the sense that it’s really hard to do. I don’t like to be cliché when I play, in having this big visual spectacle and projections and things; it’s such a self-involved thing, and I really can’t imagine the audience going the places I’m going with it. It’s incredibly weird. One of the things I dislike most is playing live.

Because of the exposure your music is under?

Yeah. It’s got nothing to do with thinking I’m “too cool” or above it – it’s just that there’s a predictability and pressure in performing, so that it just becomes the same. I can’t remember the last really exciting show that I saw. There’s just something really stagnant about it – you sit there for half an hour, you play for half an hour…I just feel that I rarely have a good time or feel good afterwards. Although, I felt really good after playing the church a couple of weeks back. The atmosphere and sound was just spot on – I couldn’t have asked for a better place to play in.

For someone like myself, who has a real difficulty playing live, it’s just about finding the right space. I’d enjoy it more if spaces were a little more interesting or more exclusive to the music, as opposed to playing the same rock club that everybody plays or whatever.

How do you keep playing live if you don’t enjoy it?

Well I could say the same about music – why do I keep returning to it? It’s just a really personal thing. I seldom feel very much achievement in a lot of what I do, music aside. Returning to music is the equivalent of returning to a place that you like, or re-watching a good movie. It’s just a way of pouring out my ideas or feelings about something. It’s a growth process – I’m not trying to get anywhere with it, or change the boundaries of music in any way. It’s just purely a reflection on self and people and age and time.

I’ve been doing music for such a long time as I feel like it’s the only thing I can do. I’ve tried other forms of expression such as painting and film, but for some reason sound feels like the most fascinating – sound can have its own words, veins and blood.

Is there a sense of relief or release in creating your music?

I think most musicians would say that there is. You know, it’s about “taming the beast” or “exorcising the demon”. For me though, sometimes it’s just like a resurrection of something. Bringing forth the past or a totally different side of myself. It’s not so much as a release as a re-visitation of sorts. I guess there’s a sense of exercise or energy about playing something like rock music, but with my music it’s just like a dwelling – a meditation on certain things or thoughts.

Do you still connect with music you made several years ago? How does it hold up when you put years between yourself and the music?

Obviously I have stuff lying around that never worked out. It’s so tricky with quiet music…it can go awry or sour so easily. When I do have something released or published, I make sure that it’s as honest as it can be, and that I love it and still will love it years down the line. I think I do for the most part. A lot of musicians say that they don’t listen to the stuff they make after it’s been released, but I’ll still re-listen to things that I’ve done from years ago. It brings a sense of comfort, like re-visiting a nice place or memory.

Well I suppose that if you’re creating this music for yourself…if you can’t listen to it, who can?

Well yeah. There are some musicians that seem uptight about having to re-listen to recorded output, and it doesn’t strike them as something normal that they would do.

Perhaps some musicians feel that it’s counter-productive to re-visit ideas and thoughts that they consciously wanted to get out of their system.

I guess so. Everybody has their own take on what they create. I think it’s funny how some people consciously listen to a record for years and years…it’s almost the same thing I guess. When I have a special piece of mine that I’ve released, it should be something that I want to re-visit and remember.

And finally, what’s coming up in the immediate future?

Ways Of Meaning is coming out in May. And then I feel like I should get on the road and tour – I’ve never done a US tour before. At the end of the year I have another release out on Low Point in England.