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David Colohan interview: “some landscapes suggest their own sound”

The Irish experimentalist opens up about his latest album, ‘Darlington Point’.

Childhoods are funny things. So are families and their strange dynamics that shift over the years as people get older and experiences different things in life.

Speaking from a privileged position where they were lucky enough to grow up in a big family, and one thing that sticks in my mind are the in-jokes. In particular, one that was directed at me, which I’m reminded of whenever a family get together ensues (it’s been many years now).

My auntie, who isn’t much older than myself (my mother comes from what most would consider a large family), was doing a school project about the Murrumbidgee River; Australia’s second longest river, located in New South Wales. The name means “big water” in the Wiradjuri language; an Australian Aboriginal dialect.

As a tongue-tied infant, I supposedly attempted to pronounce this river’s name, failing badly and, of course, was subsequently left with a nickname that slightly resembled the iconic watercourse.

Revealing an embarrassing childhood story is the last thing one would ever consider authoring on a site like this, however – strange as it is – it’s somewhat linked to the album and artist in question here.

When an artist writes an album inspired by the very same river, naturally it sparks a certain curiosity and this is where David Colohan’s latest album, Darlington Point, comes in.

The Irish experimentalist travelled around Australia in the earlier ’00s and, so inspired by his travels – some of which he lived under the stars – he wrote an album about it.

Having featured in our second Albums Quarterly, we suggested that Darlington Point was the finest ambient record of the year so far, and that still very much remains the case.

Bursting with the rich textures and soundscapes the likes of Fennesz and Tim Hecker have carved out over the years, Colohan’s creations lend themselves to open spaces. To nature. To the environment.

Colohan has been in many projects over the years, including the United Bible Studies (of which he is still a part of), but on Darlington Point, everything just seems to come together perfectly in what is one of his finest releases yet.

Between various emails and, admittedly, some badgering on my part (during one of our exchanges Colohan suggested that he was perhaps “allergic to talking about himself”), he kindly answered our questions.

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Sun 13: The press picture of you on the beach with a saxophone looks like one of the most liberating things I’ve ever seen. Do you get to do this often?

David Colohan: “That photo was taken on a beach near Spiddal in Connemara some years ago. I had been playing at an event in an abandoned underground car park in Galway and so the saxophone was in the car. It struck me that it would be a great place to just blow, improvising along to an Atlantic breeze.

“Playing and recording outdoors is something I’ve always loved doing, heavily inspired by the activities of the Jewelled Antler Collective.”

S13: Has lockdown been a positive or a negative in your bid to consistently create new music?

DC: “I mainly collaborate with others by exchanging files so lock-down hasn’t changed that. As with anyone, there have been periods of sustained creativity followed by dry spells. When this happens, returning to an instrument I haven’t played in a while can help.”

S13: Darlington Point was inspired by your time in New South Wales 20 years ago. Have you been thinking of writing something about this for a while or was it a case of the idea coming to you all these years later?

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DC: “Australia has been cropping up in my work since my first visit there. Several Agitated Radio Pilot releases were inspired by it, as are a few of the albums under my own name.

“I was in a band called Holt with some friends I lived with over there. We formed the group when we were all back in Ireland and recorded one album – 80 Mile Beach.

“That might be the last band I was in that actually rehearsed regularly. In Holt, Australia came out in the lyrics. In other projects it has mainly emerged in sounds and atmospheres. I lived in a tent in Darlington Point for a few months and lived a very simple life. It’s never far from my mind.”

S13: What kind of work were you doing on farms?

DC: “I worked on sorghum and banana plantations, cherry farms, all sorts. There’s a drifting population of folks moving around with the seasons there, following the work.”

S13: You’ve travelled around Australia a bit by the looks of things. What are your fondest memories of it?

DC: “Hitching up into Cape York with someone I’d just met turned into an adventure, although I won’t be in a hurry to camp near any crocodile infested rivers again.

“Walking down and shining a torch into the darkness was a sobering experience. We weren’t too close anyway but after that, we dismantled the tent and moved much further away. Not a fond memory maybe…

“Visiting Hanging Rock and some of the places where the Mad Max films were made were highlights. The Dirty Three and Will Oldham playing two nights in a row the weekend I moved to Melbourne was also sweet. It is an amazing country and I met great people there so if you lined up a few bottles of V.B. I could reminisce all evening, heh…”

David Colohan - Darlington Point

S13: You played all the instruments on Darlington Point. I’m guessing the toughest part of it was the mixing process?

DC: “A lot of my music comes from improvisations. I go through them and pick out the parts that move me. Then I improvise on top of these new basic tracks and repeat the process. A gradual chipping away then reveals the final form of the piece.

“Though it’s hard to think of anything as having a final form if you want to revisit it and take it somewhere else later, so the mix is always open…”

S13: A lot of your work seems to be inspired by various places and their unique landscapes. Is this the main influence with the music you write?

DC: “For sure. Some landscapes suggest their own sound and with others, you need to dig around in the dirt a little before it emerges. I used to write a lot more singer-songwriter material but that fell away over the years and is hard to find a way back to.”

S13: Do you make a conscious effort to separate your solo work from United Bible Studies or is there some cross pollination?

DC: “A heckler yelled ‘They all sound the same!’ at a Neil Young concert and his reply was ‘It’s all one song.’ That’s how I feel about my music, film work, writing…”

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S13: Who would you consider to be your musical heroes?

DC: “[I] better put Neil Young in there so and to just choose a few others… Townes Van Zandt, Tangerine Dream, Alice Coltrane, A-ha, Loren Connors, Shirley Collins… The list could go on, especially if I thought about all the great musicians I’ve met or played with over the years, so I’ll just stick to a few of the giants…”

S13: Your output of new music is rather prolific. How much does an online service like Bandcamp benefit artists such as yourself?

DC: “Bandcamp creates a direct link between the artist and a potential audience, in a way that seems to value both. I see it as a very positive thing.”

S13: Musically, what’s next in the pipeline for you?

DC: “There are always several projects on the go, solo or with United Bible Studies and various other collaborations. I have a few commissions from labels so they will hopefully find their way home eventually.”

Darlington Point is out now via Cruel Nature Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

3 replies on “David Colohan interview: “some landscapes suggest their own sound””

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