Composer and multi-instrumentalist Daniel O'Sullivan (of Grumbling Fur, Ulver, Aethenor and others) chats to us about the records that were a major influence on his life and music, and his upcoming solo album VELD. 

The Snowman

by Howard Blake 

For a lot of kids of my generation, it probably had the same effect in that it was a sort of introduction into melancholy. I remember first seeing it at school. The teacher rolled in the big TV with the teak surround and I remember having to leave because I got too upset and the other kids were teasing me about it. I’d never really seen anything that was based in fantasy and where the subject was so heavily connected to impermanence and it just freaked me out.

It’s funny talking about it now because it really reminds me of my piano teacher.  She was stately and elegant and her husband was my maths teacher who was pretty much the opposite of that—he was really scatty and uncoordinated, but they wore matching socks. They also had a really lovely, soft, shag pile carpet and you had to take your shoes off which was rare in Mancunian households.

We worked on “Walking in the Air” and it was interesting deconstructing it and seeing how playing in a certain key can evoke melancholy and how it’s a sort of a construct in a way. It didn’t take away the magic of it but I suppose it gave me a gate into that world. I was able to control my reactions to things and manipulate sound in order to create an effect.

 

 

The Dreaming

by Kate Bush 

Everyone in my family was really into Kate Bush. I remember the cover making a really strong visual impression one me, especially that ring on her tongue. I remember thinking, Did that come from inside her, did she create that? The title was The Dreaming, so there were so many possibilities. And the guy she was embracing was wrapped in chains which I think was supposed to be Houdini, so I thought it should’ve been a key that she was passing but maybe the ring was a key?

 

 

"Sometimes you do have to do something kind of crazy to break free of expectation that you have of yourself"

 

 

It’s hard to talk about it in retrospect because now I’m so much more cerebral about these things but at the time I was just responding to the feelings I was having.

It’s real multiverse music, head-spinning, mutant music and it’s just such a weird album. All her multiple voices, characters and all the histrionics on that record are just wow… Maybe it partially came from some identity crisis. I know that she had a writer’s block and that was the result, but I think sometimes you do have to do something kind of crazy to end the block, to break free of expectation that you have of yourself and that others have of your music.

It was like the music was guided by a hidden hand, there were all these subterranean narratives going on that reveal themselves slowly. That's my favourite kind of music—the one that works on quite a few different dimensions.

 

 

Fathers and Sons

by Muddy Waters 

Muddy Waters came before Kate Bush and maybe even The Snowman. It’s a really early musical memory. I chose this specific record purely because that’s the one that we had in the house. I remember the cover being some kind of humorous version of the Sistine Chapel, where God is black and Adam is wearing sunglasses.

I would just go nuts to this music. There’s this live version of “Got My Mojo Working” live at Carnegie Hall and as soon as the needle would drop down on the groove I would be in complete ecstasy; I would be spinning around and getting into this trance-trip state. That was kind of the appeal—those particles moving through the air, and corresponding with some internal vibration. Sound can get you into this weird, weird state—a kind of escapism.

I also remember thinking it was lucky music, that it was somehow auspicious; as if there was some magic and power to it that would make things better when you would put it on.

I was obsessed with the past because we watched a lot of old Ealing movies and Marx Brothers films and I remember thinking that, with Muddy Waters, somehow the dust and the grain of it had been captured, like some of the grain is audible. I guess it wasn’t that old of a record, it was late 1960s but there’s just something about the gravel and mania of his voice that just captures this sort of distressed signal coming through.                                                                                                                           

 

 

Love Songs 

by The Beatles

The record came in this leather-bound sleeve, with a vignette of them all looking really cute on the cover. It had a strong 1970s look to it.

The Beatles were massive for me. It’s the ordinary and the cosmic combined. They never leave out the ordinary, banal reality. But they always seem to touch on this incredible, infinite possibility, and I took great comfort in it.

My mum was really young when she had me so she used to go out a lot and she was living her life and so I was raised by her in part, but also by the rest of my family—it was a bit of a communal household. But I did feel quite vulnerable as a kid and I would put this record on and feel strong empathy with a lot of the more melancholic songs such as “For No One”, “She’s Leaving Home” and “Here, There and Everywhere” where there’s this line: “changing my life with the wave of her hand”, and I just remember thinking that I’m so at the mercy of my mother and my feelings depend on her so much.

I also had a really amazing dream once where “I’ll Follow the Sun” was the soundtrack to the dream. I was just walking down this long alleyway, following this light, a kind of orb thing, that was leading the way, and that song was playing in the background. I remember feeling this great feeling of acceptance and knowing that somehow the music was the answer to it and that the song would lead me to some sort of peace.

 

 

Betty Blue 

by Gabriel Yared

I saw the film way too young but I was the first of my generation, the oldest. I have three younger sisters and all my cousins came along after, so I was kind of the blueprint really. They were like, "why shouldn’t he see something like this?" Even though the opening scene is like five minutes of intense sex. What were they thinking? 

My uncle was pretty obsessed with Betty Blue. He was really into French movies and literature, he was studying the language and going there a lot. I could see it was a real form of escapism for him that allowed him to get away from Manchester and be free. The film was just sort of a symbol of it all.

We had the soundtrack on tape and my uncle had Béatrice Dalle posters all over his walls, she was like his pin-up. He was a bit of a hero for me, so I kind of vicariously lived through this media.

Musically it’s just amazing, it’s like colour. It’s just real colour. It’s very synesthetic music. With Betty Blue it’s that dusky blue and the really red, coppery sand and the pink paint when they're painting the house. I really feel the colour in it. It’s just so sad and beautiful. There's that song “C'est le vent, Betty” ("It’s the wind, Betty") where they’re just sat in a piano store playing that really fragmented melody. I would sit at the piano and play that endlessly on a loop.

 

 

About my new album VELD….

I recorded it mostly at my friend Ian Johnstone’s house. He lived in Spain most of the time working on his farm, but he had this beautiful house in Tottenham which was like his art project. It was full of powerful objects. He was involved with the English band called Coil and he was John Balance’s boyfriend for the last two years of his life. When John died, Ian became the custodian of a lot of the Coil art collection. 

While Ian was in Spain, I was looking after the house and working there so I made a lot of music there. The album is all my solo material from that period, from the last five-six years I was there. When Ian passed away two years ago, I moved out and finished the record.

I guess it’s kind of multiverse music in a sense that it’s not really any one narrative and it’s more like a collection of ideas. Some songs, and some sound collage things. They’re home recordings and I play pretty much everything on it, with a few guest vocalists.  

I started it when my daughter was born, so it kind of began with her beginning and ended with Ian's end. 

 

VELD is released on O Genesis Recordings on 30 June 2017

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