Duncan Evans: An Interview

Duncan Evans

Duncan Evans is a musician from Leeds, UK.

From dark folk and the more intense side of the singer-songwriter tradition to studied explorations of noise, Duncan Evans has produced a remarkable body of work. Released under his Moonlow moniker, Who Are You? (Trepanation Recordings) is his most recent.

Weirding: What draws you to a song?

DE: When I'm writing a song I need to feel something. Once I think I'm onto an idea which has some sort of resonance then I pursue the feeling and see where that takes me. I also look for ideas that seem to express something that is different enough from what I have done before; I don't want my next song to be a regurgitated version of my previous one. The ability to express a feeling that can resonate is key.

Weirding: What about other people’s songs? Like if you are thinking about singing someone else’s stuff.

DE: I don't really go out looking for songs to cover, as such. But when I rehearse with my voice and the guitar I am sometimes drawn to a song that has had an impact on me and that I think would suit my voice. It's that simple, really. I often find myself picking up the guitar, quickly mentally transcribing the chords for whatever song it is, and then singing it through a few times. If it works, then perhaps I'll throw it into my set. I don't usually do more than one cover in a live set though.

Weirding: As you are an artist whose work has run the gamut from acoustic guitar renditions to full bands to noise productions, I'm interested in how you think of your creative output. Is there a common thread that links all of your work? Or is it left purposefully unresolved?

DE: I listen to a lot of different styles of music, and I also get bored quite easily and want to constantly explore new records and artists. Perhaps those factors have something to do with the fact that I have never really pinned myself to one genre or style.

The music I create under my own name certainly has its boundaries, loose as those may be. With my solo albums I let the songs suggest the musical accompaniment that would suit them and I go with that. I think that I have a songwriting style that probably comes through regardless of what instruments are in the background.

Weirding: So, that’s really interesting. Do you then see a differentiation between songs in-and-of-themselves and songs as they might be dressed up in different instrumentation or genre conventions?

DE: Yes, that's right. If we're talking about songs in the traditional sense then what defines the song is its melody, lyrics, and arguably its chord sequence. If those elements are strong, then I think there are myriad ways to dress them up in musical accompaniment and arrangement. Some of these will work better than others, but no single one of them is necessarily the absolutely "definitive" iteration of the song.

I write most of my songs using an acoustic guitar, but that doesn't mean that that's how they end up getting recorded. I try to find the best vehicle I can in which to present each song, but, as I've said, I don't think there is only one correct way to do that for each song. I actually like to change how the same song is performed when I play live. For example, some of the stripped-down acoustic material from my first record has been reworked with the full band. I like both versions.

Of course, it's a bit different if we're talking about something like noise music, where the actual sound is the composition. And where melody and lyrics are often not present at all.

Weirding: Yes, so what about with Moonlow? Because, like you are saying, that’s a much different take on music which is far less oriented around songs so much at all.

DE: With a project like Moonlow, I consciously wanted to break out of my own identity and to do something different. I just allowed the music there to take whatever form it wanted to, and I didn't write the pieces as "songs" in the traditional sense. Instead, I wrote poems, and then set these to semi-improvised music. The delivery of the vocals was also completely improvised with no prior planning. I enjoyed working with a completely different approach and it's something that I might do again if the time is right.

I don't know whether there is a common musical or philosophical thread that runs through all of the projects I have been involved with. I don't think too much about that. I prefer to focus on the next thing that I want to create. If a new idea moves and excites me then I'll probably pursue it.

Weirding: So, do you have a preference between the stage and the studio?

DE: I do very much enjoy the process of creating, and the studio is an integral part of that. I produce, record, mix, and master my own records as much as I can. And I have a home studio, so I can take the time I need to make my music sound as good as I can make it.

However, there's nothing that beats the feeling of being on a stage playing in front of an audience. For me, that's where the most exhilarating musical experiences happen.

In the studio, things need to be a bit more planned out. On stage, I like the performance to be a bit different every time — even if the set list is the same. I like to leave parts of songs open to improvisation, and I like to play around with the way lines of music or words are delivered. I encourage the musicians who perform with me to do the same. I find that the element of surprise and unpredictability is particularly exciting, and I like to be swept away as the music takes its own course — a course that may be slightly different from that of any other version of the same song.

Weirding: And what about the online thing? More and more, I'm finding all of the new music I've been listening to through Bandcamp.

DE: Bandcamp is great for being a trusted and respected way for fans to be able to buy music directly from artists. It has an equitable model for paying artists. It’s also a great hub for finding out about new music. 

Weirding: The monthly Bandcamp Day [ed. — where Bandcamp’s fees are waived so artists keep all funds from purchases] certainly seems to have taken hold.

DE: Bandcamp Friday has been quite fruitful for me.

Weirding: I think even despite all the havoc it might do to the inbox on those Fridays, it’s been really exciting just seeing so many people making music and talking about music.

DE: I certainly thank Bandcamp for putting it in place.

Weirding: Talk to me about what you see as the trade-offs between digital and physical releases. Do you see them as competitive or complementary?

DE: I think it’s pointless at this stage to dismiss digital music — it’s just how things are these days. I personally like to buy physical releases including CDs and vinyl, but most people don’t. So, I think artists just have to embrace the different and new ways that music is distributed. 

Having said that, CDs and vinyl still sell pretty well with a lot of audiences.

Weirding: I know you've said that you got into music at a young age. As a musician, can you piece together how your initial impressions of music came together? Was it informed by radio? Something in your environment or home life?

DE: I first started to take a serious interest in music as a young child whilst on long car journeys with my parents, when they would play cassettes of artists such as Eric Clapton or Dire Straits. I decided at some point that I wanted to be a rock guitar player. And eventually I started to have guitar lessons when I was aged eleven. I think having guitar lessons opened me up to a lot of different styles of music, and my tastes have continued to expand ever since. As a teenager I was never really into the "cool" contemporary music of the time, and I suppose that meant that I stopped caring about whether other people liked the same music as me. The realization that you are allowed to like whatever different types of music you want — all at the same time — can be quite liberating.

Weirding: Do you remember the first time you ever referred to yourself as a musician?

DE: That's a good question. I don't know when I first started to refer to myself as a musician. I might have been when I was a teenager and started to play gigs with the bands I was in. Actually, I am not always entirely comfortable with the term "musician". There came a time in my musical and artistic development when I realized that I had become a little preoccupied with some of the technical aspects of musicianship, and that I had perhaps slightly neglected the reason why people enjoy music in the first place - because of the emotional experience it gives them. 

Good music makes people feel something powerful, as opposed to only making other musicians feel impressed at the skill involved. Music that only does the latter has very little artistic worth, in my view. Many of my favorite artists are not particularly "gifted" on a technical level, but they do have a deep sense of the artistic power of what they create. Although I also want to be able to play and sing well, that's only a means to an end in being able to create something that can move people emotionally.


Duncan Evans

IG: @duncanevansmusic | Twitter: @DEvansMusic

Bandcamp: duncan-evans.bandcamp.com & moonlow.bandcamp.com

Upcoming releases: Duncan will be releasing a split collaboration album later this year on Trepanation Recordings.

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