Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards have an excellent new album out right now. We managed to catch up with Dan for a few words on his busy life, which includes working on film scores as well as recording and touring.
You first made music with Absentee. How did you come to go solo and form The Coastguards?
I felt I’d gone as far as I could go with Absentee, We made two albums that I loved but by the time we made our third record I’d started repeating myself and didn’t know where to take it next.. So I didn’t take it anywhere. I left it and started again. It’s good to re establish your identity as it tends to get easily swallowed up if you don’t keep an eye on it.
Who are your main musical and songwriting influences?
As a younger man, it was Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed that sent me down a certain road.. those two in particular seemed to do a lot with the raw materials they had, and it inspired me to find a way to something with what I had. Later down the line, I got obsessed with Chess Records and the soul artists of that period.. Etta James, Carla Thomas.. all of them. Eventually I found classical music, particularly the more minimal sounds.. Philip Glass, John Cage, John Taverner and the likes.. I think my excitement for this kind of music comes from knowing I could never do it myself, It seems like magic to me to see orchestras playing. That said, I hope you can hear a little of all these things in my records.
We rather liked your recently released album Blindspot. How did you come to put that together?
I started work on Blindspot pretty quickly after Sudden Fiction was released. I was keen to make a counterpoint record that would sit in the same timezone as the previous one, that they shared a time line. Also, after having made a record as sparse as Sudden Fiction, I’d got my excitement back for making something more expansive sounding.
There is a very different tone from your last album, Sudden Fiction, which was very sparse. What does the more expansive musical backing mean?
I guess it means I like both of those sounds, one always makes you crave the other. I think that’s a good thing.
The lead single, Sheets, is a tender romantic tale. Is it based on a real situation?
Everything I write is based in reality but then I take it as far from that as it needs to go to become a song. To try to conjure that feeling you have and express it to another person. Its impossible to know if you ever achieve that but its always worth a shot.
You’ve done some work on film scores too. How does that compare to making an album?
It’s very different in a way, at least for me. Usually I write from my own experience but for film, you have to write from someone else’s perspective. Telling their story from your own stand point. This is what I love about it, that you’re forced into someone else’s vision and you try to animate that as best you can. Inevitably and ideally I think, you end up with a little of both.
And will you be working on more films in the future?
Yes, as much as I can.
You’ve just started a tour with Beth Orton. How’s that working out so far?
So far I have not messed it up, that said, I’ve only done one of the ten shows. So I have at least nine more opportunities. We are taking this tour by train, which is an unusual and great way to do it. I know Jonathon Richman is very keen on train tours, you get to see a lot more cutting through the countryside instead of being stuck in traffic on the M25
And what comes next for Dan Michaelson?
I haven’t quite decided yet, my brain is ping ponging between different ideas at the moment. I’ll give it a couple of weeks to settle down, then I’ll demand an answer.