Scratched Surface 20th anniversary

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“Worth searching out coz this lo-fi singer/songwriter oddball has a unique take on the genre. He’s pissed off, a tad fucked up (as usual), but not full of lugubrious self-pity (as unusual) and is happy to get raucous & obnoxious in just the right kinda way.”Chris Knox

In December 1998 I self-released my debut album . Scratched Surface was a teenage no-budget lo-fi postpunk pakeha singer-songwriter album from the Taranaki, Aotearoa underground, recorded on analogue reel-to-reel tape.

I burned it on CDR and sent out copies to anyone who would listen. It was the opening salvo in a recording career that’s gone on for over 20 years now, occasionally dismissed, largely ignored, gloriously unsuccessful. A career nonetheless; I’ve made an album most years since.

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20 years on I’m still creating – here’s some of what I’ve done more recently:

But around 1998 I was mainly a one-man guitar & harmonica act, original songs only. fiffdimension was a nickname from high school, which I spelled phonetically in the west coast kiwi brogue. I played gigs in Taranaki and busked, opening incongruously for metal and hard rock bands, or on a side stage at folk festivals. The Most FM played some of my tracks. It was several years before WOMAD came to New Plymouth.

A strength of the Taranaki scene was heavy rock bands like Sticky Filth, Nefarious, Schizophrenia, Inebriation, Maidstone, and other acts who played at events like the Mushroom Balls, and venues like the White Hart, the Mayfair, and the Kaponga Backgammon Club throughout the 90s. A shout out to Brian Wafer for all his work behind the scenes!

Chris Knox, Peter Jefferies, Paul Winstanley, and Emit Snake-Beings were older NZ solo postpunk antecedents who partly inspired and influenced me.  I opened for the first two and later made albums with the second two.

I’d never studied music at school – I started as a teenager, and knew a handful of chords. I had no idea how to play tonally or with melody, and had zero interest in playing cover songs.

I could write lyrics though, and was equally happy to play accoustic or with distortion & feedback – my yin and yang.

Often no one liked it – proving my point that it counted as punk.

It was the 90s; I might have captured a tiny part of the pre-millenial post-grunge zeitgeist.

I no longer do, and my sounds have diversified since then.

For example in 2008, half way between 1998 and 2018, I was living in South Korea and travelled around Asia. I composed electroacoustic pieces made of field recordings and immersed myself in the sounds of other cultures – there’s nothing like that on Scratched Surface

 

but you can hear parallels between, for example, my take on acoustic folk protest ballads

or

from 1998, another voluble acoustic song with a seasonal title, moving towards my second album, with

recorded in 2018, but written by my great-great-grandfather John Collie in Scotland, 1856 – himself a young man at the time, with a self-published book of poetry, before he came to New Zealand. Recording more of his pieces with some of my relatives is a project for the near future.

 

Another aspect to my music is free improvisation. Here’s an early example

that’s since evolved into slightly more sophisticated variations – including with multimedia accompaniments.

Some of these visualisations were inspired by Len Lye, whose works I was familiar with in Taranaki (there’s now a whole building for his work in New Plymouth)

Or, further over on the electric side of the coin, compare the use of untutored noise guitar (albeit juxtaposed with acoustic arpeggios & teenage angst, and a coda in dropped-d) in

plus the permission granted by the Dead C, and by Campbell Kneale‘s contemporaneous NZ Birchville Cat Motel albums.

Campbell and I recorded our first collaboration together in 2018:

 

From these folk/punk beginnings my style evolved into the more complex/impressionistic/visionary approach of The Marion Flow, Mantis Shaped and Worrying, and Loose Autumn MoansThese combined songwriting with an interest in free jazz and poetic modernism that sunk my commercial chances entirely. I stopped writing words entirely with The Winter and Ascension Band

After that I  lived abroad in Australia and Asia and reinvented myself again as Dave Black.

Since 2015 I’m back in NZ where my recent albums come full circle – weaving together these various strands,

20 years on from my debut – obviously I was never able to give up a dayjob, but I’m still here.

Some days I feel like it’s time to retire. Other times I think I’ve only scratched the surface…

 

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