Exclusive: Dan Webb talks Sungenre and Exotic Erotic Concoction — Sungenre Interview
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Exclusive: Dan Webb talks Sungenre and Exotic Erotic Concoction

Exclusive: Dan Webb talks Sungenre and Exotic Erotic Concoction

Melbourne musician and Sungenre Founder and Editor-in-Chief Dan Webb has been in the scene for over a decade. Never content with doing the same thing twice, his sound has taken a number of left-turns to evolve from the soul-infused art pop of debut record Sandstorm (2014) to the noisy, politically-charged psychedelia of the Sailing EP (2015) and second record Oedipus the King (2017). His third album, Exotic Erotic Concoction, an eclectic and flowing slice of electro-psychedelia, will be released on July 12.

It’s been a couple of years since your last album, Oedipus the King. What’s been the journey since then, that’s led to the creation of Exotic Erotic Concoction?
I actually started working on this new album back in 2015, so it was pretty shortly after (debut record) Sandstorm and it seems that whenever I’ve finished an album, I immediately start thinking about what I’m gonna do next. So, that’s sort of where the initial idea came from. I came up with the album title first and I wasn’t entirely sure what direction I was gonna take. It probably started off with mostly world music influences – I was playing around with Latin percussion and Indian instruments and stuff like that, and it was sounding pretty cool. But, I mean, it’s been about four years in the works, and I’ve refined it and changed direction a fair bit over those years. I’m not sure at what point I introduced the synthesiser, but that changed the game a bit; it went in a completely different direction after that.

Being an entirely instrumental album, was it always intended that way, or did that come in somewhere along the way?
Yeah, so, that probably happened about two-thirds of the way through. Being in the works for about four years, it was almost always my intention to have lyrics – whether I bring in other singers, or… I dunno. But, I think I really struggled with writing lyrics on the previous album – the lyrics were sort of a reflection of what was happening at the time, and that was a great way of writing lyrics at the time, but I didn’t really wanna do the same thing twice – I never wanna do the same thing twice (laughs). Yeah, I just didn’t know what to write about, I was in a relatively happy place at the time, and there was no sort of conflict, nothing noteworthy to write about, I felt. Probably about two-thirds of the way through, I just decided to set myself a deadline – I’m like, “if I don’t do that, these tracks are never gonna see the light of day”. So, that’s basically how it became an instrumental album, cos I’m like, “well, maybe I don’t have to write lyrics”.

Tell me about the process of making this record. Were there any other people involved with it?
It’s been entirely solo, but with a bit of an asterisk in the sense that on my last day of recording, I brought in Daniel Mougerman on keys. So, he’s the only other guy involved in the production. I’ve mixed and mastered myself. Around the time I was mixing the previous album, I got these really fancy headphones – Nuraphones, they adjust to your hearing frequency spectrum or something like that. They’re really awesome headphones, I’ve been using them for mixing – it’s a game changer, really, cos you can hear everything perfectly. But I mean, it’s just been jamming at home, mostly, and looping ideas. As I said before, I was playing around with world music influences, and stuff like that, and I just had, like, hundreds and hundreds of ideas and demos floating around, and I decided to start sampling my own stuff, cos I’m like – “well, I don’t have a beginning or ending, or even perhaps a middle for a song,” like, in the traditional sense of the song – like, verse and chorus, so I’d just play around with what I’ve got and build something out of that. And so, it’s been a really fun experience because it sort of felt like there’s no restrictions on what I can and can’t do. So, for example, there’s a four-second track on the album, and I figured like, why not? (laughs)

Your live shows over the past few years have been few and far between – do you intend to do any for this record?
No is the short answer, but then, you never know. My last show was at The Tote, sort of like a surprise show, I guess, with my mate David Glavich on guitar – so, I have been toying with the idea of doing something similar to that, maybe with Dan Mougerman and Dave, but we’ll have to wait and see I guess. It’s not like I’m gonna go out touring any time soon, cos I’m just over that to be honest, and I’ve got other things to do with my time.

Just look how quickly we’ve burned through Prime Ministers in this country (laughs). So I could be working on a song, and it wouldn’t be relevant two weeks later.

Your last couple of releases leading up to this one were in some ways politically-inclined. Is this something you’d come back to, especially considering the ever-intensifying political climate here in Australia, or is it something you’d just leave with those albums?
Yeah, I mean, never say never. I dunno, first thing that comes to mind is probably, for some reason, Midnight Oil. And it’s great to go down that path, but then I guess, the content of what you’re writing about does age very quickly, so I’m sort of mindful of that. And I mean, just look how quickly we’ve burned through Prime Ministers in this country (laughs). So I could be working on a song, and it wouldn’t be relevant two weeks later. But yeah, never say never. See what happens.

By extension, do you have any ideas of what you’d do, going forward from this record?
Yes (laughs). So, I mentioned before that I like to think of ideas for the next album as soon as I’ve finished the previous one. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I like to stay busy. So, at this stage, it’s almost certainly gonna change, but I have been toying for some time with the idea of going back to older, unreleased songs – probably from around 2015. I’ve got a tonne of songs which I was performing at the time, and it’s in a completely different style to what people are probably used to, it’s probably more along the lines of the Sailing EP, experimental rock sort of stuff. And I think at this stage, I’m probably heading back in that direction, and reviving some of those older songs. And again, similar approach to this album, in that if I don’t release it, then no one’s ever gonna hear it, so that’s a big motivating factor. And there’s some decent tunes in there. At the moment, it just exists in demo form, and I was toying with the idea of even just releasing a demos album, or unreleased tunes. So, that’s also a possibility. But there’s literally hundreds of songs there.

I was toying with the idea of even just releasing a demos album, or unreleased tunes… there’s literally hundreds of songs there.

Since you have, as you say, hundreds of demos and unreleased songs, how do you pick out the songs that actually make it onto the albums? What sets them apart from all the ones that remain unreleased?
I’m not sure if I can really answer that, to be honest – not sure whether it resonates with me on a subconscious level, but I guess you get to a certain point when you’re making an album, and you start thinking about the flow of the tracks – well, I do, at least – some tracks will stand out as singles at that point, you start thinking about the track listing as a whole. You might have a really strong song, but it just doesn’t fit with the vibe of the album, so unfortunately it just ends up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. So, I’ve got a tonne of songs like that, they work really well by themselves, but not necessarily in the album format – so, whether I release it as a standalone thing, or as a compilation style thing, or even going back to the EP format… we’ll see what happens.

I’m getting emails every day, from all over the world, from artists, record labels, publicists, sending me new music… you can’t help but be influenced by that – all the new music that I’m hearing, that’s gonna affect what my output is as well.

To go back a bit – you’ve mentioned world music influences, but what have been the main influences in making this record, perhaps aside from that?
It’s been really interesting on this record, just given the fact that I’ve started doing the Sungenre stuff, and I’m getting emails every day, from all over the world, from artists, record labels, publicists, sending me new music, and it’s been a real eye-opener, just how much music is being released. So, you can’t help but be influenced by that – all the new music that I’m hearing, that’s gonna affect what my output is as well, I just can’t help that. So I’m not sure if I’d necessarily point to individual artists or anything, but it’s just everything I’ve been listening to. And I guess that’s probably why you hear on the album, electronic dance music, there’s dub reggae sort of stuff on one track, and then, I don’t even know – jazz, there’s a real mashup. Which I guess I’ve been doing on previous albums, to a certain degree, but I guess previously I was more looking to individual artists for inspiration or influence. But this one’s been really fluid and probably more so for my own enjoyment as well – as I said before, I was just jamming tracks at home by myself, looping ideas and playing around. It was really experimental, the whole process. And not necessarily intending for anything to be released as an end goal – the album almost didn’t happen. So yep, there’s your scoop (laughs).

Where did the idea of all the tracks being named after different substances come in?
(Laughs) That was probably in the last week of recording, I think. I’d just been saving all the tracks – cos, as I said, there’s hundreds of ideas there – I’d just timestamp everything with the date and “EEC” as the indicator of the album that I’m working on. So yeah, I’d sort of decided that there was gonna be 19 tracks and being an instrumental album, there’s obviously no lyrics to base the song titles off of. I sort of started thinking about what the album represents, and what it might mean to other people, and what interpretations they can extrapolate from listening to it. And, I guess I’ve been on and off various medications for most of my 20s, so, I’ve had trouble sleeping, things like that. Previously, I made a statement about interviewing Two Door Cinema Club about their most recent album, and I’ve noticed with a lot of new releases, it’s not uncommon for artists to be writing songs about anxiety on a human scale. I guess I was thinking about that at the time that I was naming the tracks, and tapping into the opioid crisis in America, and sort of this desire for escapism. And it is kinda troubling that people, collectively, we’re turning to pharmaceutical drugs as a coping mechanism for what’s going on in the world. And I guess it’s a bit of a statement on over-prescribing medication, perhaps.

It is kinda troubling that people, collectively, we’re turning to pharmaceutical drugs as a coping mechanism for what’s going on in the world.

Let’s talk about Sungenre for a bit. What initially led you to create the site, and what were your intentions going into it?
It sort of happened by accident. So, I started off with my partner at the time, we were thinking about setting up a clothing brand at one stage; I was previously running a record label (Misdemeanor Records), so, basically it started off as almost a rebrand of that, but I just couldn’t get it to click. I guess at one stage it was gonna be a marketing agency. Similar to the album title, I came up with the name first, and then thought, “that was kinda cool”, and came up with the idea of what it’s gonna be and what it represents later on. So, yeah, just sort of happened by accident (laughs). I started doing blog posts when I was exploring all these different ideas of what it could be, and I started reviewing albums as part of that, to get traffic onto the website, and so it just expanded from that – record labels picked up on it pretty quickly, and the rest is history, as they say. But it’s come full circle, in the sense that I was doing a similar website when I was 14, so I interviewed Gotye, and at home I’ve still got contracts signed by Gotye and Hilltop Hoods, who were offering free MP3 downloads on the site at the time. But it’s kinda funny looking back on it, that there’s something I was doing over 15 years ago now.

How has your thinking and intentions shifted as the site has gone on?
It hasn’t changed so much in the intention of the site – I mean, music has become the main focus now; it was music and art, but we’re really hitting the music content out of the ballpark, and I’ve brought in some great writers on the site, there’s a great team, everyone’s working towards a common goal, but we’re really trying to shine a spotlight on innovative, new, emerging artists, which we feel aren’t getting championed anywhere else, really. I’m very conscious of the fact that, in Australia, Triple J essentially have a monopoly on what gets discovered. So, that’s a huge motivating factor to just give talented artists another platform and another means for getting discovered. So, that’s probably been the main goal for the past couple of years while we’ve been getting established. And, exposing talent, we’re never gonna stray from that goal. But the way we deliver content will probably change, quite substantially, over the years. So, yeah, it’s exciting to see what direction we head in.

We’re really trying to shine a spotlight on innovative, new, emerging artists, which we feel aren’t getting championed anywhere else… we’re never gonna stray from that goal. But the way we deliver content will probably change, quite substantially, over the years.

Last year, you announced that you were going on a hiatus from music, to concentrate on Sungenre. Is this still true, considering the album’s release, or would you consider the hiatus effectively over?
(Laughs) Yeah, it’s funny that you bring that up. To be honest, I don’t really even remember announcing that… I completely forgot about that. I guess that was probably borne out of the frustration of – when you’re working on an album, it feels like climbing Mount Everest, I imagine. It’s this massive goal that seems so far away, and you can’t possibly climb to the top. And then when you look back on the album, you’re like – oh, that was really easy, what am I talking about? And those sort of feelings feel like a distant memory – if you remember them at all. But yeah, just the frustration of not feeling like I had anything to write about, and at that stage I felt like I’d said everything I wanted to say, and got everything out of my system, and I’m like, “might as well retire at this point”. But yeah, just working on it over the past couple of years – just a desire to get what I’ve produced out into the open, and just setting myself deadlines, and forcing my hand in that sense.

I remember you saying in the podcast that you made that announcement in that you had a whole bunch of instrumental tracks that you felt weren’t going anywhere, but I guess you’d just change your way of thinking and it ended up just being instrumental anyway.
Yeah, totally.

Last thing – since you ask everyone this as the final question – if you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, living or otherwise, who would it be and what would you create?
(Laughs) Knew this was coming. Ah man. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’ve never come up with an answer that I’m really happy about. My answer would probably change depending on when you ask me, but I think at this stage, I’d really like to collaborate with a local artist called Sunbeam Sound Machine; I think he’s doing some really incredible work. That would be really cool, really fun. Someone like Thundercat would be incredible. And that’s music-wise, but then I guess the way I phrase the question – you can collaborate in any medium, and I just love the idea of… making a sculpture or doing a painting with someone, and I’m not sure who that would be, but there’s so many talented artists, and I think the point of asking the question in the first place is to encourage collaboration, and not shut yourself off from the world, reach out to other artists who might be able to lift your work up a bit. And, reaching out to Dan Mougerman, that certainly helped with the album.

I think the point of asking the question in the first place is to encourage collaboration, and not shut yourself off from the world, reach out to other artists who might be able to lift your work up a bit.

What made you think of asking that in the first place, and how did you come up with that question?
It’s sort of based on a question which a lot of bands will ask each other. I brought in my mate Luke Ebert, who used to play bass in my band back in… something like 2008 or 2009, around that time. He played on my first two EPs. He’s now the Chief Creative Officer for Sungenre, so he finished top of his class in Masters of Design at Swinburne, and he’s doing some incredible stuff behind the scenes at the moment, which we’ll be able to share with people soon. But at one stage, Sungenre was going to be a print magazine, so we were talking about content for that, and we thought it’d be really cool to have the same question asked of everyone we interview, and not necessarily that one, but we could throw in one which I’ve asked a few people now: “How would you define success?” And it’s really fascinating to hear, like, the Queens of the Stone Age bass player – his definition of success will mean one thing, and then I interviewed Jordan Rakei the other day, and he’s doing amazing things at the moment, but then his definition of success means something else; he has other goals to achieve. But then, for you or I, looking up to them, with millions of streams on Spotify, it’s like, “well, they’re successful!” It’s always, like, “what’s next?” And I think asking questions like that, and everyone having a different response is really fascinating to me and Luke. So yeah, that’s kind of where that came from… Also, it comes in handy when you’re having a tense interview, as a bit of an icebreaker.

Before your last two albums, your work was pretty collaborative. Out of anyone you might’ve worked with or even just met, are there any individuals in particular you’d say had an influence on the way you think about or make music? Or perhaps even anyone you’ve interviewed?
I definitely have career highlights and things that stick out in my mind in terms of interviews, and advice that I’ve received from people. Something that comes to mind at the moment is, I met Wynton Marsalis when I was a kid, and he told me to keep practicing, and it’s just such simple advice, but I’ve sort of applied that to everything that I do. So that really stands out. I mean, everyone that I’ve worked with brings their own unique skills to the table, and they’re gonna influence you, your way of thinking, in some form or another – I can’t put a finger on any one person. Early on, I was working with some really good engineers, for example, so Matt Voigt on the two EPs and Colin Leadbetter on the debut album, Andrew Crosbie, he was doing some stuff as well. And I learnt so much from just watching those guys in the studio, so now I feel comfortable doing it myself, having picked up on their work ethic and how they go about making things. That’s probably been the biggest thing, actually, just the production side of things, cos I’ve always been performing, but to actually get behind the mixing desk, and be in control of your sound as a whole, and not just the actual written component of it, that’s been pretty huge.