Chris, first I would like to thank you for sparing some time (again) from your obviously busy schedule. You’ve just released your second album this year and also written two band biographies on The Incredible String Band and Black Sabbath. This is also your third interview in less than a year by Progarchy with the other two by Craig Breaden to be found here:
Now I’m not normally a folk music listener but after reading a number of positive reviews of your first three albums and listening to them on numerous occasions, you’ve definitely converted me. Not only is there a special beauty to the music you write, but Craig made an important observation in an earlier interview which resonates with me deeply:
“The impulse to go long, as his folk and other prog rock predecessors might have done, is also resisted – there are few wasted notes or words. Less is more sometimes, and service here is done to Song.”
The Call is your fourth album in a very short space of time. Your first two albums evoked classic 70s folk music but your third album, Sounds of Day and Night, developed a dreamier, slightly psychedelic sound with Eastern vibes in places. There was more use of the electric guitar and the arrangements were slightly more complex. What can we expect musically from the new album?
I’m not sure how to describe the sound, because developing from album to album is more of a natural, gut thing really. I write a song and colour it in with different sounds, and keep going until I have a set of songs, say 12 or 13, to fill an album. Then I usually carry on recording and there’s a process of elimination, where new ones come in and replace the older ones, until I am happy with it from start to finish and happy with every single note. It’s really concentrated work, and I love the mixing and producing part as well. I work on it every day. And while four albums in a year and half may seem quick, to me that year and a half has felt like forever. It literally feels like ages since I did the first CD. But this new one is by far my favourite, even though I keep saying this every time. I would say the album is full of unusual sounds blending together, it definitely has a vibe to it, quite surreal maybe and for me “songs” are very important, i.e. something with a subject, an approach, a hook, a chorus and then I think about the best way to colour the song in. I like to make interesting music that surprises and hopefully takes the listener away on a nice trip. it’s hard to describe your own work without sounding like a frilly coloured fop.
Lyrically you appear to be focus upon mellow reflections on life, love and nature. Does The Call follow this path?
My lyrics are always whatever comes to me. A phrase might come up and I elaborate on that. The lyrical content on The Call seemed to follow the same path. It’s all about awareness, being aware of your life, what’s going on around you, the people who are in your life with you and understanding what they have or have not done for you, and not forgetting that. I didn’t purposely explore this as a theme; it just seems to have developed that way. It sounds pretentious to say, but it does have a theme to it; it’s about not wasting time and appreciating the things that are here now, and may not be here in the future.
What inspires you lyrically and what comes first, the music or the lyrics?
It differs really. Many songs have been written on an acoustic guitar. I find a sound or a chord and then get a melody going, and like I say, a phrase might come into my head and it goes on from there. I love getting a different chord progression or guitar sound as a starting point and then I decide what else to do. Lyrics are becoming more important though with each album. I’m not into the idea of obvious lyrics, like openly complaining about the government or work, or the plight of the everyman, and if I do ever sing about it, it isn’t blatant. Also it’s good to write about a real issue or a feeling but not ram it down the listener’s throat. It’s good that people have their own meanings and thoughts on songs. Lou Reed once said that he didn’t like to tell people what his songs were about because it might disappoint them, and they may have attached the song to something precious in their own mind. Sorry I am waffling on now…
It’s not waffle to me Chris! – I know exactly what you mean about lyrics. Lyrics resonate with people in different ways; they become very personal and sometimes finding out the real meaning from the artist himself can disappoint.
Chris, you’ve introduced Chloe Herrington on saxophone and Ricky Romain on Sitar on the new album. Guest artists appear an important ingredient to your output. How important is the collaborative process in producing the music of Dodson and Fogg?
It’s mostly important for me because I listen to a track and think ‘this might sound good with a sax here, or a sitar there.’ Sometimes I think if you’re a one man band (not like the fella that sung Rosie with the bass drum on his back) you do need character and colour from elsewhere. Celia Humphris of the folk band Trees (one of my favourite bands) appears on the new album again, and I feel her voice is very important. There was one song I wasn’t quite happy with and then she did her vocals and I loved it. So it can be really important. Coming up with the idea of the specific musician though can be quite random. I discovered Knifeworld on the internet a few months ago and loved the sax on a track, so got in touch with Kavus of that band to see if Chloe, his sax player, would be interested in playing on a track. It can be like hearing someone and then imagining them on my song. It’s a great part of it. But save for one trumpet part on Sounds of Day and Night, I was the only musician on it. So it’s not essential all the time, but I love the process of hearing what someone else has done and putting it into the song.
Chris, it’s a big understatement to say your multi-skilled! – you play so many instruments and write books on both music and surreal comedy. Do you have a first love?
Definitely music. I have played, or attempted to play at least, instruments from a really young age and always collected records as a boy. I used to dream of having a band, and I did have one with my brother and sister when I was younger and we did gigs for a while, but it fizzled out so I turned to writing, something I had also done since I was a kid. At first I got into the surreal fiction when I did the audiobooks of my stories with Rik Mayall and Charlie Chuck, but I soon found it too be quite limiting and turned back to music eventually last year, thank god, with the first Dodson and Fogg album. I didn’t expect the feedback to be so good, so I carried on and I’ve been learning more about music, releasing music and everything that comes with it. Music is definitely my main thing now and the main focus in my work and hobbies. With my music going reasonably successfully and with such a great response to it, this is the first time I have felt a proper direction, so it’s great. But I can’t take any of it too seriously, because it is still ridiculously fun!
The increasing production of music in vinyl format has attracted a lot of interest over the last few years. I read that the first album was to be released on vinyl but haven’t heard anything. Have you any more plans for vinyl releases or is the production cost too prohibitive?
Yes a company called Golden Pavilion is releasing the first album in a run of 500 next year and I will have around 50 copies available from my website, unsigned or signed, whichever is preferred. I should add though that a signed copy might add an extra value of 3 pence to the item, so I suggest the latter. I would love to have the others on vinyl too one day, and it might be possible, so fingers crossed.
You appear to be at a creative peak replete with musical ideas. What’s next on the horizon for Dodson and Fogg, a live tour, another album?
I’ve been writing more songs, but then I tend to write songs all the time now and some never get finished and others get put in a scrap folder. But for now I am going to promote The Call and start work on more tracks after that. I don’t have any other projects lined up at the minute, so I’ll think about the next D and F album. I would love to do some gigs but I haven’t found the right musicians for the gigs yet.
Once again thanks for your time Chris and good luck for the future.
For those who would like to purchase the new album “The Call” please visit Chris’s website here:
or you can purchase from Bandcamp here: