Wonky pop, electronica, independent rock… I’m not really sure which musical mold the UK’s Dan Black fits in.
But neither does he.
“I don’t mind being in a mold,” he tells me. “But none of them feel right.”
So… what is it? “I will call it weeping robot funk,” he explains.
But that “weeping robot funk” won’t last for long. As soon as Black finds a sound, it’s time to move on to the next. Whatever is in his head at the time goes. He calls his pieces “Frankenstein’s monsters” letting his mind work as he takes each piece for what it is as it evolves.
In 2008, it was a mix of drums from Rhianna’s “Umbrella” and the lyrics to Notorious B.I.G’s “Hypnotize” thrown in with soundtrack samples from ’80s sci-fi movie Starman that sparked his mind to create “HYPNTZ” and upload it to his MySpace page. Soon enough, Black started to receive friendly feedback, which prompted him to record a music video in 2009. But the night before the recording, he got a call that changed everything. Biggie’s estate would not let Black use the lyrics to the song.
This was unsettling news to Black who was hesitant to post the song at first, but let his emotional ties take the lead. He felt the song represented who he was as an artist, and he wanted the world to know.
“Hip hop is a genre totally built upon turntable culture, samples and the placing of pre-existing music into fresh and exciting new worlds. So to then turn around and refuse that very process to someone else seems basically hypocritical to me,” he wrote on his MySpace blog when he heard the news.
Since “Umbrella” used a Garage Band track for its drums and the sci-fi movie’s soundtrack was a rerecording, he had the rights to use both. He just needed new lyrics. So returning back to the isolation he enjoys while writing, Black set out to create new lyrics, and his latest hit “Symphonies” came to be.
A spot on the Top 40 alternative chart, playtime on MTV, and appearances at SXSW and soon enough both Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits changed his dismal outlook, knowing “Symphonies” was a positive change that got him and his music the attention he was hoping for. He also released a new six-track remix of “Symphonies” on May 25, featuring Kid Cudi.
But Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t created in one night.
“I’m not the kind of musician who walks in and after two takes everyone goes ‘wow’,” he says. “I take my time and think about it more like creating a sculpture. You can keep going over it and perfecting it.”
And he isn’t the kind of musician who enjoys festivals. After playing 40 European festivals I wouldn’t be either.
“I didn’t know if I could take another field of people out of their minds,” he admits.
But a trip to the states changed his mind.
“There were loads of crowds still medicined up, but it wasn’t as frightening. It was weirdly relaxed.”
Black’s next adventure is coming back from his Paris home to tour in the Northwest and work his way through California and other stops along the way.
And then it’s back to work on the next monster.