Sounds of Day and Night by Dodson and Fogg

ImageI remember reading an interview with Peter Buck sometime in the late 1980s, right as R.E.M. was beginning to peak, in which he insisted it was much harder to write/play slow ballad-y songs than fast pop songs.  A greater risk of dead space, more chances for messing up a tempo, less reliance on a two- or three-note riff.  I thought it was funny at the time, because I was trying to learn guitar (an instrument that confounds me to this day) and thought, shit, I can’t do anything BUT slow.  As I’ve thought about it over the years, though, and as I have put my mind to writing my own songs, I think what Buck was saying is that in the wider genre of guitar-based rock and roll, slower songs tend to be far more reliant on a vocal melody and therefore also the words, that is, real songcraft.  And real songcraft, in performance, can’t be successful if you sound like you’re rushing it or that you’re trying too hard.  Go listen to John Prine.  Spin up Joe Henry.  There is a lean restraint, a kind of patient heart.

I thought again about what Buck said as I listened to the mid-tempo pleasures afforded by Sounds of Day and Night, Dodson and Fogg’s third record.  The band is a project of Chris Wade, an independent artist whose second record, Derring Do, I reviewed on Progarchy earlier this year (https://progarchy.com/2013/02/10/steamfolk-the-derring-do-of-dodson-and-fogg/).  Wade’s Dodson and Fogg intentionally visited early 70s British folk rock on the first two records, even drafting in bona fide players from the period to help out.  The surprising thing was that a young man, working in his home studio, could so effectively evoke that period while making original music so distinctively his own.  While Dodson and Fogg continues to explore these roots on Sounds of Day and Night, the new album is a more relaxed and natural, less finessed effort that may have as much in common with Iron and Wine, Devendra Banhart, and modern American/Scots/Irish singer-songwriters, as with a romanticized past inhabited by shades of Drake, Thompson, and Denny.  Over the course of a year in which Wade has released three Dodson and Fogg records, his music has become increasingly limber.  A mandolin picker/oldtime musician/RT-loving friend of mine describes this phenomenon as the difference between learning the song and knowing the song.  I think Chris Wade increasingly knows his songs, and it’s showing.

The new album is bookended by instrumentals, parts 1 and 2 of the title track, which are only distantly related, one being an entrance and the other the door out.  I have a soft spot for this approach, something not many singer-songwriters are comfortable with, and for the melodies Wade works.  The outro also features a sitar, which, given the slow trajectory of the record towards the acoustic psychedelia of “Clocking Off,” makes a certain Harrison-esque sense.  These instrumentals set the tone for the production of the record, which, like Derring Do before it, evokes a balance of the pastoral and the urban, with acoustic guitars to the fore but electrics winding their way down the lanes, atop smart, spare, brushy drumming.  With woodwinds and brass appearing here and there, Sounds of Day and Night offers a classic folk rock listening experience within a newer framework suggesting the airier approach of the solo work of Sam Prekop or Archer Prewitt (both of Chicago’s The Sea and Cake), or the Kingsbury Manx (https://progarchy.com/tag/kingsbury-manx/).  Like most great music that inhabits a cultural continuum, there are subtle hints and quotes along the way, a bass out of Green Day (“Sounds of Day and Night”), a keyboard out of the Doors (“Night Train”), and a  British vibe that resists pinpointing but steers more towards the Kinks than Donovan.  I think the feel of the album is best encapsulated on “Hear It In The Morning Still,” a medium tempo drift, with nice vocal hook, that builds to a relaxed electric crescendo and gently rides out with a pretty groovy trumpet.

Sounds of Day and Night is an easy record to like.  It shows an independent artist building his own catalogue using his own steam, on his own schedule, doing what he wants to do without hindrance (or help, it should be noted) from a record or management company.  Chris Wade is on a progress, a trajectory that I don’t think has peaked, even with three increasingly strong albums behind him.  (I think he’s still finding confidence in his very capable voice — his tendency to double track his vocal is rarely necessary.  Plus I’d like to hear this music live with a band, because his songs have evolved into vehicles that could sustain jamming live).  But this band is in a good place:  with two solid albums behind it and the current record outdoing its predecessors, Dodson and Fogg is a musican/band/project demanding attention.

I asked Chris about the new album, recording on his own, and Dodson and Fogg’s growing reputation.

Sounds of Day and Night followed closely on the heels of Derring Do — tell us about its evolution.

Well I had started this new album right after I had finished Derring Do in January I believe. With me working at home like this, I am free to go into the office and put ideas down everyday if I feel like it, so there’s no set dates for writing and recording. This album just came together over January/ February to June, more songs came, others went that weren’t really up to scratch. Also I had left them for a couple of months and gone back, listened again and decided what else needed putting in. It was a really satisfying process for this album. I really enjoyed piecing it together.

Although trumpeter Colin Jones is present, the rest of this record is just you (or is it? are you drumming?).  Did this have an effect on your songwriting?

Actually it was the same because all these songs are written on an acoustic with my vocal, then I add bits and pieces in, and I usually sent them off to Celia Humphris (singer from folk rock band Trees) and the others and they normally choose which ones they fancy doing, Celia mostly. She picked them out on Derring Do and then sent them back to me when she had some ideas, which were always brilliant. This time I did send them off to her but she was quite busy and preoccupied with other things, which is cool, just a shame. Some of the other contributors that were lined up to appear didn’t really work out, so I decided to do more instrumentation myself. The light drumming is me also, but I’m not a massive drum fan so I kept it quiet and subtle, little taps and ride cymbals. I like that kind of percussion sound, and bongos, tambourines, things like that to accompany a song without blasting away all over it. Learned a bit more on the flute and used more keyboards to broaden the sound a bit. And also I had been ready to release it for a while, and didn’t fancy waiting around for longer. I like to get these albums out, and because people who are getting into the records know another one will be coming along soon, they are all ready for a new record. It’s cool getting to a stage where I know there are a loyal selection of people who are going to be interested in listening to my music, getting what I am doing and knowing what to expect to a certain degree. It’s bloody brilliant actually.

I feel like Sounds of Day and Night, while it still shows an influence of classic, early 70s British folk rock, has a more contemporary feel than Derring Do.  A lot more free flowing, perhaps a deeper psychedelic strain happening.  What do you think?

I think you could be right, especially about the free psychedelic elements. This must be because I handled all the instruments and was just having fun playing some weirder stuff on certain instruments, doing whatever came into my head. There were melodies coming up all the time and I was adapting them to different instruments and building full songs out of little bits of melody. It was an addictive experience, spending a day drinking coffee and shutting myself in the office all day. But there was no conscious decision at all, this was all just straight out, but it’s my personal favourite of the three records I have made so far. I also think the production is better on the new one, the mixing and the quality of it. I am very proud of the cover art that my girlfriend Linzi Napier has done. Her first exhibition is in July at Otley Togs Gallery, and the piece from this album cover is set to be the one on the main advertising banner outside the venue. Really exciting and very proud of her!

Derring Do got some attention in the British music press. How do you feel about the album’s reception?

I was overwhelmed by the reactions to it. There are publications like the CRS, a chap called James R Turner reviews my things for them and he is really complimentary to my music and a site called Pennyblack Music has a writer named Malcolm Carter and he has said some very kind things about Dodson and Fogg and he really loved Derring Do. Also Brian Watson on DPRP gave it a glowing review. For me it’s so rewarding to see how other people view my songs and how they have taken them seriously, to see what they got out of them. I like people who really get music, understand what you were doing. But I still am really surprised by all the positive reviews. I knew I had made a good album though, otherwise I wouldn’t have dared release it three months after the debut, but still I was overwhelmed by some of the comments.

What are you listening too lately?

Lately I’ve been listening to Caravan a lot, a band called Skin Alley (one of their members, Ksrysztof, played accordion on my first album), Jethro Tull, especially the Thick as a Brick album, Beatles, Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album (one of my favourites since I was about 9) and also some Tom Petty.

Are you performing live?

Not yet no. I haven’t managed to get any like minded musicians from Leeds together for shows and I definitely don’t really want to do a solo acoustic gig, There’s too much stuff on the albums that adds character that I think a  solo acoustic thing would be dull. I’d probably fall asleep on stage. But I do want to get a band together for shows one day because people keep asking me if I am playing live soon.

Last time we talked to you, we asked you about the business of getting to listeners, as an independent musician who records and markets his own music.  Have your thoughts on this changed much at all? Any label interest since the release of Derring Do?

I’ve had no label interest because I don’t think it is too common these days. An obscure cult band like this isn’t going to attract a big label and the genres people tag on it like prog folk and acid folk, don’t make it sound very commercial, not that i am interested at all in being commercial but you know what I mean. Besides I love doing it myself, all the business and promo side as well, and setting up distribution deals for abroad and sending the discs all over the place to those familiar names, it’s like living a dream, I love it. I think if someone else was in charge of my artwork, my royalties, my PRS, the promotional side, I would be a bit nervous. I like to have it all in front of me. I’ve recently discovered a band called The Tangent, when I met the band leader Andy Tillison and his partner Sally Collyer at an art gallery and got on with them. I think he is great to his fans and he and Sally have a great relationship with them, and look how big that band is. Their new record has been a massive event to many people all over the world, so you can only admire them both. I think a lot of artists could learn from that approach. People are parting with money to get your music, which is an honour, so I always email back and forth with people who are buying my albums, and have a laugh with them, because being friendly and open is so much better, and more fun,  than being up your own bottom and unapproachable. Saying that, I’m not well known at all so maybe I see it from a different side than to someone who is famous.

It’s been less than six months since I reviewed Derring Do.  Can I expect another one in October? What’s next for you?

Definitely not October, haha. I’d be knackered. Got to get some fresh air and not breathe in jostick fumes all day… for a while at least.  I think that will be it for the year, I want to take a little break from recording, get some fresh ideas and take a step back. I’ve got loads more ideas, some of them are acoustic like the first album, and some are more of a full band sound. But I want to take my time as well, get Celia back in for the next one and hopefully some other guests. Next up will be another Dodson and Fogg album, and the first album is also getting a vinyl release by a US company which I am excited about. It’s been a dream all my life to have an album on vinyl and I can’t believe I’ll be getting it. I am basically just loving this music project. I have done other stuff, audiobooks and non fiction books, but i have never had a reaction like this. it’s always moving forward and is so positive.

Is there a link to a sample/YouTube vid for readers?

This is my youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/sofaguard

There’s some free tracks up there from each of the 3 albums and a couple of videos too, one starring my father in law as odd ball cretin roaming through the woods.

[Also check out Dodson and Fogg’s webpage: http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/dodson-and-fogg.html]

Steamfolk – The Derring Do of Dodson and Fogg

ImageThere was a fairly determinate point in the British folk rock movement of the late 1960s/early 1970s where a second string, following on the heels of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, made a bid for eternity.  Trees, Mellow Candle, Mr. Fox, and the chamber folk musicians, like Nick Drake or John Martyn or Roy Harper or Michael Chapman, bent their axes in a more idyllic, often trippily electric, singer-songwriter direction, creating everything from full-out jazz improv to fairly quaint hippy platitudes.  The rarity of some of the LPs these artists produced is legend — it took the internet to demystify them, and reconnect listeners to a wellspring of achieving, often remarkable, sometimes dated, music.

As a touchstone for inspiration these records are nearly without peer, independent and uncompromising.  But having a Vashti Bunyan album in your collection and making music that you make your own is another thing.  Chris Wade, who leads the project Dodson and Fogg — as well as being a rock writer in his own right — has done that with Derring Do, the group’s second album.  Derring Do elaborates on the first, self-titled Dodson and Fogg record, while taking a leap forward lyrically and musically — the limitations of a home studio have become strengths, the writing delivering songs that fit together.  Wade has achieved this by understanding the tools he’s working with, and by having a deep respect for his inspirations while retaining his artist’s eye and ear for what does justice to his songs.  So he’s able to coax graceful backing from two of British folk rock’s great singers — Celia Humphris (Trees), and Alison O’Donnell (Mellow Candle) — while maintaining a focus and direction of his own device.

There are traces on Derring Do that listeners might find familiar, the floating-down-a-river sound of Nick Drake or James Yorkston, the pop folk of Iron and Wine, the simple melodic invention of Syd Barrett, and the more pastoral forays of T. Rex and the Kinks.  The lyrics are simple and unfussy, straightforward, working with the melodies rather than overly concerned with poetics or narrative.  Unexpected touches appear, such as really tasteful, brief guitar solos that work — there’s an ebb and flow that occasionally needs breaking, and Wade has the feel and chops to put some crunch in the right places.  There are trumpets, spare percussion, flutes, and Wade’s voice, dwelling at times in the lower registers, can range from a kind of glam-punk bite to the breathy approach that’s come to be so associated with Nick Drake.  The remarkable thing about this album, though, is that no voice dominates within each composition.  The impulse to go long, as his folk and 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 Leaves They Fall” is a video Wade put together for Derring Do, which gives a good general idea of the album’s direction

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=diKQgjmnk0I

but I think most representative (and beautiful) is “To the Sea,” with its on-fire electric outro:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fywm2bUM0D0

I caught up with Chris Wade the other day — after hearing the record, I wanted to ask him some questions, which he graciously consented to answer.  I think he tells Dodson and Fogg’s story best, plus he reminded me I need to read more Dickens.

I’ve read you spent a lot of time in your teens with a guitar and a 4-track.  That kind of intimate warmth is present on Derring Do.  It’s loose, not precise, something so tempting in our digital world.  Describe your recording process — are these home studio recordings?
Yeah, these are done in my home studio. I knew that with a simple set up, a microphone miking it all up like in the old days, it would make the record sound like it was perhaps from my favourite era of music, late 60s, early 70s. I basically start with an acoustic track, which I might double up, then do a bass track, then start on the vocals, then anything else comes in after that. On Derring Do I definitely got this down to a proper functioning way of doing it. You do need to have a plan when you’re recording and producing yourself. The great part is when other people send their things for the mix, that’s when it comes to life, especially when Celia [Humphris] sends some of her vocals over.

What’s the inspiration for the name Dodson and Fogg? (I can’t get out my head Lindisfarne’s Fog on the Tyne.)
Dodson and Fogg were two lawyers in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. I thought it had a cool ring to it and I like the fact the name has caused a bit of confusion. Some people have gone in assuming it was a duo, but it’s me really with guest musicians. I love Lindisfarne as well, funny you should mention them. I just did a piece on them for my magazine Hound Dawg and all surviving members contributed text for it. Great band.

Anyone familiar with the history of the British folk revival will recognize some of Derring Do’s contributors.  How did you come to work with Judy Dyble, Celia Humphris and Alison O’Donnell? How about Nik Turner of Hawkwind? Is that his flute I hear?
Yeah, Nik is great on the flute, he did some amazing stuff on the first album. It was a matter of emailing them to ask if they’d be interested. I’ve always thought ‘you never know until you try’ and I have been a bit of a cheeky git in the past. But Nik and Judy did their bits and emailed them across to me. But Celia is very much more involved in the whole thing. She contributes a lot of vocals and puts in a lot of time to this, so I am really grateful of that. She’s done loads of good stuff on Derring Do, given the album a real nice touch. I still can’t believe they took the time out do it and as a big fan of trees and Celia’s voice, it’s amazing to have her on the songs. her voice is stronger than ever too, she really is very very talented.

I love how you use horns (thinking here of What Goes Around and Too Bright).  Can you talk about your approach to arranging your songs?
I’m glad you like the horns. Arranging a track, I like to record what I think is a decent simple acoustic and vocal track, and then think of an instrument or a sound that may make it a little bit different, unusual, but it has to fit just right. Colin Jones, the trumpet player, did some brilliant things on the Derring Do album. He’s a nice bloke as well. I see mixing a track like doing a painting, without sounding pretentious (which i probably just have sounded) because you lay sounds on, mix them around, put them in one speaker to balance it out, turn them up, turn them down, and sometimes delete them from the mix. I love that process, I could do it all day (sometimes I have been doing that actually).

Nice lead guitar and solos – is that you, or who’s responsible? Can you tell us something about choosing your tones?
Thanks, yeah that’s me on electric guitar. I love playing the guitar, it’s always my favourite part of doing a track, writing and playing the solo. I just play naturally really, whatever I feel should come out. I use a Tanglewood SG on the albums. I mike the amp up, make sure there’s a lot of treble on the guitar and that’s basically it. A reviewer said it was shredding and a sharp sound. I like to use the electric every now and then, and not necessarily on every track, because it has more power when it comes up then. I’ve been playing since I was a kid, but I don’t think i really started understanding that sometimes less is more and that a solo should be a properly structured piece of music in itself rather than a random improvised noodle, although i do like them, just not in my own songs because I’m crap at them.

Can you describe your vocal approach (I notice on the first record you double your vocal a lot, less so on Derring Do — which I like).
I like to sing within a range that is comfortable. One thing I don’t really like is loud, high singing, because I have a low voice and if I try and go higher i sound like my balls are in a vice or being chewed by a rabid hound. So I like to keep it comfortable and also easier to listen to. No one wants to hear someone struggling with high notes, not much of a pleasant experience really. But I like the voice to sound strong and loud in the mix, so you can hopefully hear all the lyrics. The cool thing is having proper singers with you on the songs who really can use their voices, when Celia’s voice comes into the mix I sometimes have to pinch myself. It’s brilliant.

I hear a musical leap between the debut and Derring Do, which seems, musically and lyrically, far more focused.  Am I hearing right, and would you elaborate if I am?
Yeah i think there is a leap. I’m not a seasoned pro with proper writing and recording so I guess i am still learning and developing a style, which is really exciting and I’m really glad you recognised the shift in styles. I started recording Derring Do before the first one was out and knew I felt like expanding the sound a bit. When I recorded the first one I was kind of testing what I could do on this set up and a lot of it is safer in a way. With Derring Do I wanted it to sound fuller, more elaborate at points and also more varied, like an album with lots of moods, styles and shades, which is quite a progressive approach. But a lot of the time anyone recording music is just doing what they feel like doing that day and going where the song is taking them.

There’s a lot going on in these songs, threads of past and present.  Who are some of your influences, and who of your contemporaries do you follow?
I mostly love music from the 60s and 70s, but wasn’t born until 1985. I always love listening to Donovan, Jethro Tull, The Kinks, Cat Stevens, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Trees… I am not sure how they influence the music but some reviewers have heard bits of Trees, Tull, Barrett and Crimson in the music, but you never really know yourself do you? I don’t really follow modern music really, only bits and pieces, although I know I should.

How would you describe (I hate to say it, but “categorize”) your own music?
For the first album I just thought of it as a folk rock album, but found that a lot of folk sites and shows didn’t think it was pure folk enough, and then people started calling it ‘acid folk’ which was a term I didn’t know until then. I thought they were accusing me of being a spaced out acid head or something. The only thing I have in excess is malt loaf (mmm… malt loaf). But people have also called it ‘progressive folk’ which I like. it seems to work under that category i think.

You’re a busy man, a writer, musician, visual artist — what excites you most about what you do?
I’m most excited by the music now, it’s really took hold of me and I love putting the work into it. I love the fact I get to do the mix, sort out the artwork, royalties, promo, everything. If it’s your job then why not make it your proper job and put full time work into it. That’s what excites me, and also the thrill of creating something you’re really enjoying. I’ve done a mix of things, like the audiobook with the comedian Rik Mayall  but it doesn’t come near the enjoyment of making music. I don’t like having to deal with egos and awkward people who are more interested in their images than the work you’re creating. It isn’t the best way of spending your time. I have a working class ethic to it, it’s a job and you fund it and do it yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you.

On the pages of Progarchy we regularly (short-lived as we are) hear from artists who struggle to find reward for what they do.  What’s your perspective on this? Can a musician be just a musician anymore? What’s the easiest way for someone not familiar with Dodson and Fogg access your music?
Luckily for me I have quite a lot of projects that are out there, so the music is just one of my things available, if you like. I think it might be hard to survive on royalties alone these days, but then again I am really new to the “music biz” (business I mean, not poo) so I don’t really know too much about it. I’m still learning. The CDs are available from my website, where all my stuff is available, but you can also download from bandcamp and also Itunes, Amazon and all the digital stores. But the easiest way is to type in Dodson and Fogg to the Google search and the top result is my website. All the info is there.

What’s next for you?
I’ve got some promotion to do and sorting things out for the album, and also doing some articles for the next Hound Dawg magazine. After that i think I’ll start on album number three, which will be really fun!

Thanks to Chris Wade for such generous responses. Check out Dodson and Fogg’s website here:
http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/dodson-and-fogg.html

and online back issues of Chris’s Hound Dawg: http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/hound-dawg-magazine-online.html

Craig Breaden, February 2013