Northern Winter Beat

Northern Winter Read #1: Daniel Blumberg

Daniel Blumberg
Photo: Steve Gullick
The shipwrecked relationship is on the top of page 1 in the songwriting handbook, but somehow Daniel Blumberg sounds nothing like the same old tearful lament.
Northern Winter Beat talked with him before his performance at the festival in January.

by Mikkel Brandt

”This year, I’ve been working mainly in silver.”

The English artist Daniel Blumberg is with me through a moody WhatsApp-connection from London. Here, he alternately talks about his music, and shows his silverpoint drawings to me and the camera on his phone.

”Silverpoint is one of the oldest techniques of drawing,” he explains and describes how the drawings are carried out with a little silver stick on specially treated paper.

However, at Northern Winter Beat 2019, you will be able to experience his endeavors in music. Something he started in the indie rock band Yuck, and earlier this year expanded his palette when he released the solo album "Minus" - an album that is both the artistic culmination of a tough break-up and a marking of a distinctive change of style. A kind of reboot, as he calls it.

”Those songs were all from a very specific time. And it was a very different time to now.”

And if you crave for a biographical reading, you can draw a straight line to Blumberg's break-up with the model and Nymphomaniac actor Stacy Martin.

So when I talk with him, I ask if he buys into the premise of “Minus” being a break-up record.

”Yeah, definitely. I mean, there’s loads of things going on musically and sonically, and bla, bla, bla. But I think that’s more referring to the lyrical content and maybe the time. So it was a break up record.”

The record´s featuring musicians count among others the drummer Jim White (Dirty Three, Cat Power, Bonnie Prince Billy). He and the other musicians got the space to improvise and put their personal touch on Blumberg’s personal songs.

“When we do the live stuff, it’s very different. So it’s not very useful to listen to that recording of the songs. But yeah, I am happy with it.”

The seven songs on the album maneuvers between quiet parts, anarchistic harmonica, jarring violins and noise guitar, sounding like a transcript of a modem that starts. As a side note Blumberg´s own grandmother sings on the choral parts of “Used to be older”, where the title repeats as a hypnotic mantra, crawling into your ear like a small worm.

”Minus” is produced in cooperation with Peter Walsh, who among others has worked with Scott Walker since the mid-eighties on records such as ”Climate of Hunter”, “Tilt”, and ”Soused” with Sunn O))).

About their recording sessions in Wales, Blumberg recounts:
”It was great because we went to a residential studio. You don’t have any distractions of life. And for me, at the time, stuff was slightly complicated. So it was good. We were just going to sort of a zone, where you wake up, and you start.”

Break up as creative fuel


The list of records with the broken relationship as the creative fulcrum is long.
A few examples could be Sinatra (“In The Wee Small Hours”), Fleetwood Mac (“Rumours), Bon Iver (“For Emma Forever Ago”), Beck (Sea Change), Danish artist Bisse (“Umage”), and so on.

So if we continue the dance with the biographical reading of the break-up record as a phenomenon, one question comes to mind. How can you as an artist find the creative resources to create great music on a broken heart?

”Well… I couldn’t do anything at a certain point. I mean, it depends… It goes in waves, I think. Like at the moment, everything is quite engaging and enjoyable, and I got quite an energy to do stuff. But in the past, yeah, sometimes, when you feeling really rubbish, the last thing, you want to do, is to get yourself up and start working,” Daniel Blumberg says.

”But those things happen. You know, maybe that can be a morning, or an afternoon, or a point in the day, where you manage to get something done. But everyone is different.”

90% Oto


Since Blumberg left Yuck in 2013, his music became more improvisational.
A change of direction, that among other things, was strongly inspired by London venue Café Oto. A place he sees as a central pillar in his work as a musician.

”A lot of the people, who I work with, sort of gravitated towards the place because of the quality of the shows. There’s always quite amazing things happening there,” he says and in the same breath recommends O YAMA O, whose release party he’ll be attending the same evening - a record he calls ”a great, great, great new record” you can hear right here:

He estimates that Café Oto is the place where he gets 90% of all the music he consumes. At home, he’s spending more time listening to radio (segments about football) and watching movies. Otherwise, he will listen to recordings of his improvised concerts where it’s not given when and how the songs are played.

“The way that I perceive improvisation is that you sort of do what you feel is necessary in that situation. It’s sort of indefinable, really, to say what you think about,” he says and describes how his songs and their structures are restructured on the spot – and that he doesn’t use setlists.

Therefore, I ask how he and his musicians prepare for a live setting.

“Sometimes, when we meet up to play, we don’t even play, we just talk. Sometimes we go to the cinema. Sometimes we watch shows together. Sometimes we play, but you build up a sort of language as people, as well as musicians and artists.”

So, what happens when the approach from free music meets the song writing?

”The way we work is that we mainly make improvised music. And, obviously, the nature of songs and song writing is not normally associated with improvisation. But I think live, we sort of use the songs as a sort of meeting point.”

Experience Daniel Blumberg at Northern Winter Beat 2019 January 25th at Huset i Hasserisgade.