Posted on Jun 16th 2009 12:42 am

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Interview: Dextro: The Wind Of Change

Ewan Mackenzie first appeared in 2004 with a first EP released on Border Community. Followed another one that same year on Jumblefunk, and his debut album, Consequence Music, was issued two years later, initially on his own imprint, 16K, then on Grönland a few months later. With a second album, Winded, now under his belt, we caught up with the man to talk about making the transition from band to solo act, how his live persona differs from his studio one, and how releasing his own music ensure he can release it exactly as he wants it to be heard.

What is your background, and how did you come to make music? Do you come from a musical family?
You could say that, although none of my family would describe themselves as musicians. My Father is a keen guitar and piano player, and my Mother used to sing to us. My older brothers were always introducing me to music when I was younger with bands like Joy Division, and other post-punk bands such as Cocteau Twins, Throbbing Gristle, ESG and PIL.

You used to drum in rock bands before making music as Dextro. What made you decided to go solo, how did you make the transition to predominantly electronic music, and how do you think it feeds into your music today?
I still love to play drums in bands, and I still do. There is no other instrument that makes me feel as in touch with life as the drums, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never stop playing them. I began making electronic music because I wanted to create something outside of the traditional rock band set up, although playing in bands has always influenced the way in which I record and add live instrumentation to the Dextro project. My solo work has always ran along side my other musical interests, and I have made recordings on tape machines and messed around with musical sounds since I was a child.

What or who are your major influences?
I enjoy all kinds of music, but the music that has influenced the Dextro project comes from post-punk bands such as the ones mentioned above, as well as Krautrock bands such as Cluster, NEU and Can. Also, I love minimalist composers such as Satie and Glass, and enjoy Max Richter and Murcof. Susumu Yokota’s Sakura album is also a big influence on my electronic work. Post-rock bands such as Explosions in the Sky, Mono and Red Sparows have also influenced the project. I also love Dub, King Tubby and the more recent act Disrupt (Werk) to mention a few.

Your new album has a much more organic feel than its predecessor. Was this an intentional move?
I think it came from playing instruments and wondering why I wasn’t using them in the productions. I have always messed around with guitar and obviously drums, but I decided to have more ‘playing’ on this record because I felt that it complimented the sound. Also, I wanted to be able to re-create these moments live, instead of relying on samples and computers to recall electronic work. I know many electronic musicians meet a crossroads in this respect, some opt for total electronic deconstruction and manipulation, and some opt for apparently ‘real’ instruments that are outside of the electronic domain. For me this was not a choice as such, because adding more ‘real’ instruments felt like it was the right thing to do for the music.

It sometimes feels as if this album had been partly conceived to be played live, perhaps by a band. Was that something that was at the back of your mind when working on the album, and how do you see it performed live?
My live work has always been pretty different to the recorded output. It’s usually a mix of all sorts of songs and parts mixed together with live drums and guitar. I aim to keep it in this format, because I feel that it’s more enjoyable than playing songs. I’m always looking to add more ‘band’ instrumentation though, and on the next lot of gigs I should have some more band members helping me out.

Did working on Winded differ a lot from previous records? The press release mentions that you spent more time working on it. Did you feel that you needed this to take your music further?
I think most artists, musicians, writers or academics, or anyone else ‘creating’ stuff would look to further themselves through their work, so yeah I guess I wanted to expand the project musically. Also, a fair amount of change has happened in my life over the last few years, and a lot of that was channelled into the music. In this sense, some of the writing felt like an emotional exorcism, but I still enjoyed the process immensely. It is interesting how life experiences can alter perspectives and approaches to making music, and what makes sense to people musically.

You can be heard singing in the background on a couple of tracks on the album. Are you keen to work with vocals, and vocalists, in the future?
I haven’t made a conscious decision about using more vocals or not, it simply seemed like the right thing to do. I often prefer music to come through me rather than directly from me, so if the moment grabs me again then I will sing again, perhaps more, or perhaps less so.

There has been some comparisons made in the press between your music and that of Boards of Canada. How do you react to that?
I think it is inevitable that I will be compared to them. I’m from Scotland, I make electronic music, I like post-rock, I like psychedelic rock music and I like making messed up sounds. The comparison is lazy, and it might piss off BoC a little, but I don’t grudge people for making it. Most of my influences come from the bands I mentioned above, and less so from contemporary electronica. Personally, and with the utmost respect to BoC, I consider our song writing to be miles apart. However when people hear some wobbly sounds on a down-tempo record, then comparisons are easily made.

You release your records on your own imprint, 16K. Why did you choose to set it up in the first place, and do you feel you have more freedom and control over your releases this way?
I set up the label initially for the Dextro project as a way to release material and control the artwork and content. I have had some good experiences with labels, but having your own imprint is a great way to keep it close to you. The music is released exactly as I want it, and I have personal contact with supporters of the project. I can develop the label, and the people who are involved in helping me out play an intimate part in things. Also, keeping personal contact with supporters is personally rewarding as well as being a good way to keep them informed about what’s happening. I hope to develop the label too, and someday 16K will have more acts on board.

Are you planning to release music from other artists as well as your own? What kind of music are you interested in publishing?
I am interested in publishing music that is good! It does not have to fit into a specific musical genre.

Consequence Music was re-released on Gronland Records a few months after it came out on 16K. How did this happen?
They asked me, and I agreed. Although it had its plus points and negative points, it certainly helped me to understand what is best for the Dextro project.

Currently, the CD version of Winded is a limited run. Are you hoping to re-release it with the support of a bigger label at a later stage?
That really depends on the label, who is running it, what their plans are, and whether everybody is in agreement with a common goal. Not simply a label who solely wants to take your product and sell it.

The CD comes with a booklet which contains a lot of rather beautiful photographs taken by yourself. Can you tell us more about these? Do you see them as a visual counterpart to the music?
The photographs are all of significance personally, and some of them are of remarkable places I visited. The main theme in the booklet is of nature and change, the overwhelming power that nature has over us, and how change will always come.

Your album is also available in digital formats. A lot of musicians don’t really like to see their records released like this because of the relative poor sound quality of the format compared to traditional vinyls or CD. What is your position on this?
I agree with musicians who feel that way. I find it quite strange that we endeavour for better quality images, yet we are happy to put up with much lesser quality sound. Many people look for music digitally though and find it more convenient (I am not one of them). As a lover of vinyl I would love to release Winded on vinyl, but unfortunately the bank of 16K Records says no.

There are also more and more streaming services around, the more recent and possibly high profile one being Spotify. Do you think this could be the future of how people consume music?
I think it already is the future, although I believe the quality of MP3s or other sounds files will increase with the rise in bandwidth and connection speeds. There will be more and more ways to listen to music, which perhaps then adds the danger of people appreciating it less so.

Your music has quite a strong cinematic feel. Have you ever composed music for films, or would you be interested in doing so? And what type of movie would you be interested in?
I have composed music for short films in the past. It is an ambition of mine to write music for a feature film. I would love to write music for film that dealt with real issues, real struggles and real people.

Now that the album is out, what are your plans for Dextro?
I am in the middle of arranging shows in the UK and Europe for later in the year. Also, there are some re-mixes of tracks from Winded in the pipeline. Hopefully it will not be too long until the next record is out too.

If you had to choose 5 records, films or books to define who you are, which one would they be and why?

I don’t think they define me, but here are some favourites.

Joy Division Closer – Brilliant and heart-breaking at the same time
Harmonia Musik Von Harmonia – Timeless, and always makes me wonder how they made those sounds in 1974.

Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – A lesson on the remarkable strengths and weaknesses of people living on the edge.
The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien – Proof that having a wild imagination is an important remedy for the madness of life.

Badlands – Probably the coolest film ever made.

Email interview June 2009

Icon: arrow Dextro | Dextro (MySpace) | 16K

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