An interview with Danielle Dax

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Foufounes Électrique, April 21, 1988

Danielle Dax came to Montreal in the spring of 1988, almost on a whim. She had a showcase gig set up in Boston, and decided to come up to Canada to play a couple of shows. She told me, “I just wanted to see what it’s like. Just curious.”

She’d picked an inauspicious time to play Foufounes, as the management was in the process of renovating the place. When I approached Dax for an interview after the band’s soundcheck (which she described as “the second-worst, most horrendous soundcheck I’ve done for the last year”), we couldn’t find a quiet place to chat. The dancefloor sound system was blasting away as usual, and the dressing room had had the wall that separated it from the performance space entirely removed. There wasn’t anywhere to sit in what was left of the space, so we found a couple of broken-down pub chairs and sat knee-to-knee. “the whole place is totally shattered,” she said.

It didn’t help that I was incredibly intimidated by Dax. I was a fan of her music, and had been playing it on various campus-community radio stations (CKDU, CITR, CRSG, CKUT) for the past couple of years. But her music hadn’t prepared me for her intense physical presence — she was wearing an ultra-glam black satin dress, loads of make-up, an explosion of teased-out blonde tresses, and spike-heeled mules she’d picked up at a London S&M shop. I was almost completely tongue-tied by her presence, and too shy to shove the microphone near her face, where it needed to be if I was going to pick up her voice over all the racket of the club. Sensing that I wasn’t doing my job, she kept pointing at the tape recorder and asking, “Is that on ?” She was also concerned that I was going to fall through the hole in the seat of my ramshackle chair.

I began by asking if her backing musicians were the same ones she’d toured with before in Japan and Europe.

Danielle Dax : No, it’s the first time that we’ve all played together.
V : You’re an independent recording artist, how long have you been recording independently ?
DD : I’ve been working independently since 1983.
V : 1983. And did you start out playing your own music ? Like, when you compose – ?
DD : Yeah, I started off completely from scratch. … I started by buying 4-track tape recorders. And collecting loads of instruments from second-hand shops like violins and saxophones and guitars and stuff, to use the tape recorders to write the songs.
V : You taught yourself completely ?
DD : Yeah, on the first album … first album I played everything on, and the second one as well, more-or-less.
V : Where were you living then ?
DD : London. … The South End.
V : Are you using musicians, other musicians now on your albums ?
DD : No, I tend to use a few people. On my last album I used three or four extra people. I do tend to limit it because I can do a lot of things myself, so I don’t really need to use – I generally use people to play things I want in a style I can’t necessarily do. Because I can do, especially song-things, I can do most of it myself.
V : What are some of your musical influences ?
DD : I have a very wide record collection … African, Indian, Eskimo music … I collect rock music and classical , blues … Inuit …
V : You ever hear Inuit throat singing ?
DD : Yeah ! That’s my favourite, that’s great !
V : How do you write your music ?
DD : Write it ?
V : Well, when you’re making a song, do you sit down and write lyrics first, or do you make the music first and then the lyrics come … ?
DD : Oh, no, I keep a lot of notebooks and I write two diaries as well, a normal diary and a dream diary, so I have lots of ideas all over the place. Usually what I do now is I get the music first and then I go to my books and choose something in them and enlarge upon what the music suggests.
V : How long have you been keeping a dream diary ?
DD : About four and a half years.
V : Do you find you dream more now, or you’re remembering them more now …?
DD : No, I remember my dreams. I mean of course if you try to remember things, you remember them. And so I can remember dreams, wake up, and sort of continue them, and then wake up again, and you can control things that way, to a certain extent.
V : Because we’ve been keeping a dream diary for nine months or so …

Heather, my then-girlfriend, had come to the concert with me to take pictures. She was interested in dreams, and asked Dax a question about them.

H : Do you find after you do it for a while, writing them down … it’s like you’re conscious in your dream ?
DD : Um, the only conscious thing that comes into it is when I wake up and I don’t want to. But I don’t actually argue with myself, I tend to follow things. I’m quite interested in not really creating what happens in dreams. I quite like to be a passive observer and see where they lead, play with it.

Krak, the short-lived music magazine that had given me this assignment, went belly-up shortly thereafter, so my planned article was never written. This is the first ever publication of the interview.

Later that same year, Danielle Dax signed a deal with Sire Records and was able to release her work in North America for the first time.


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