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Reprinted by permission from Hearsay Magazine #20, spring 1999.   Check out their website to read more from them.

The Sound and the Fury

HS - Triage, Bedtime Stories and Boomtown are very personal visions yet these
days a lot of your work is for extra-curricular assignments—how does
writing songs alone differ from writing as part of a team for more
overtly commercial projects like your work with Susanna Hoffs, Sheryl
Crow and Jill Sobule, say?

DB - Well, when you’re writing for an artist... put it this way, if you’re
designing a house to be constructed on a rocky cliff, then the cliff has
to be a part of the design. With Su, for instance, the challenge was to
show her personal growth as a human being. That required rather
extensive interrogation about her past, her present, her feelings on
childbirth, on ex-boyfriends, on marriage, the Holocaust, whatever, and
then to try to use her experiences and growth as a kind of lens through
which the audience could view their own growth in the years following
the Bangle/ Reagan/ GoGo Eighties. It was a technique I’d sort of
arrived at with Bill Bottrell and the Tuesday Night Music Club, the idea
of simply asking questions of a singer, finding a rhyme scheme and a
back beat, putting the answers into the form of a lyric, and toddling
onward.

HS - Your writing’s always had a very visual quality and now that seems to
have found its natural outlet in film whether contributing (in different
fields) to Grace of my Heart, Hurlyburly and The Crossing Guard. When
you provide music for cinema, do you find the integral considerations of
direction, editing, cinematography and character a stimulus or a
straitjacket?

DB - Oh, the film’s the thing, absolutely. Randy Newman said that he runs for
cover when he hears a director talking about an equal exchange of ideas,
because there is no equality whatsoever in that relationship. Again,
it’s more like being an architect or a tailor than a pure artist,
although there is a lot of pure art that goes into the creation of the
music. I would assume that it’s very like the old days of commissioned
works by classical composers. If the Duke of Whatsit wants a march for
his coronation, you’d damn well better not give him a dirge, and vice
versa, no matter your own feelings on his ascendance. It’s an absolutely
fascinating job, and a wonderful and enviable thing to be able to do,
but it is still a job, and if you forget that, then Jerry Goldsmith or
Danny Elfman will surely remind you of that fact.

HS - Which film composers have inspired you?

DB - Ennio Morricone, Ry Cooder, Randy Newman, and Brian Eno. Of course you
have to include Erik Satie in there somewhere.

HS - Where did Triage come from? Was it an immediate impulse or did it have a
long period of gestation and development? Was it always lurking at the
back of your mind, even as you were making Bedtime Stories, say?

DB - Well, the first song on Triage, A Secret Silken World was written about
the same time that I was doing Bedtime Stories. I played it for Joni
Mitchell and she was absolutely horrified by the whole thing—she felt
that I was merely unleashing more malevolent energy into an already
malevolent world, and as we had too many songs anyway for that album, I
just put it away. (After all, it was Joni, and I hated making her feel
all creepy crawly.) But the subject matter continued to interest me, the
absolute seductiveness of power, and the nasty cocktail you concoct when
you mix it with abject fear and loneliness. I saw signs of it
everywhere, in hip hop culture, gangster worship, the whole ‘Greed is
Good’ thing, the overall embracing of corporate values, the political
culture, academia, everywhere. I started feeling like we were in some
variation of pre-Hitler Germany (minus the intellectuals, of course),
and that the only way this thing could possibly end was in either a
massive revolutionary bloodbath, or more likely, the false intimations
of a revolutionary bloodbath, followed immediately by a hardcore
military/police clampdown. We finished mixing Triage the day the LA
Riots broke out. (I still feel that way, by the way.)

HS - Triage is highly (and very effectively) structured with the scene-
setting opener, proceeding through anger, resignation and — eventually —
hope. Do you think the album has a linear narrative? Was the ordering of
the songs an integral part of the vision?

DB - Well, yes, it has a linear structure of sorts. You have the
protagonist’s eyes opening to a certain extent to the kind of ‘silver or
lead’ rules of the game we all play in this culture, to the human
holocaust that’s enacted everyday in service of our entertainment and
comfort, and to the grim feeling that one day, he’ll find himself in
front of a firing squad with the rest of the malcontents.
Which leads him to his only hope for even temporal happiness, which is,
rather facilely, in the arms of a woman he loves. So, yes, the ordering
was important, even as I admit that it was facile.

HS - We always enjoy your arrangement of sound... do you dream songs whole,
or is it 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration?

DB - Like just about everybody else I know, I’m always playing with sound...
tape speeds, analogue synthesis, effects, blowing into things, toys,
etc. It’s pretty much trial and error, for the most part though, and a
hell of a lot of fun. I started studying audio engineering about two
years ago, and that’s given me a little more control over what I do.

HS - Your dedication on Triage speaks volumes (‘to George Bush in the
sincere hope that there is a God and that He is vengeful beyond all
comprehension’). Have things changed significantly since 1993? Do you
think society is fundamentally flawed and that any change in the
political colours of the leaders is purely cosmetic?

DB - Well, the machinery for this whole abomination was written in stone in
1947, with the signing of the National Security Act. Having had their
taste for economic dictatorship whetted by World War II, the newly
triumphant world leadership found ways of making sure that it would
never be able to be genuinely challenged by a viable alternative. The
significant players remain as they have since then, not men, or
ideologues, but the dollar, deutschmark, yen, and pound (or euro, as we
now have it). The American political system as we know it now is little
more than a vast, multifaceted shell-game designed for the specific
purpose of entertaining and distracting the electorate as their pockets
are picked and their children packed off to wars and wage slavery. It’s
unfortunate, but there you have it.

HS - Whatever did the FBI have to say about your father?

DB - [He] offended his superiors at G-2 by suggesting that perhaps the
“Soviet Threat” was grossly overestimated and was overheard saying that
he wondered if greed may have something to do with it.

HS - Can music ever make a difference?

DB - Well, when it does, it’s usually in the form of propaganda, easily my
least favourite art form. But let me amend that... it can make an
individual difference, in that it can help a frightened and lonely child
to understand that these complex and alien feelings that they experience
are not theirs alone, that there are others who feel and have felt as
they do. And it can make you want to dance.

HS - We’ve kind of focused on your political writing but a lot of our
favourite DB songs are the breathtakingly intimate pieces like Hello
Mary, A Boat on the Sea and Born For Love. Does the act of writing songs
about personal relationships help you resolve them?

DB - Nothing seems to help me resolve my personal relationships except for
exhausting conversation after exhausting conversation. But writing about
them, or allowing myself to write unconsciously about them can help me
to clarify my own feelings... I can read something I wrote and it can
help me to realise that I need to (a) marry the girl, or (b) run like
hell.

HS - Tell us about your relationship with LA; what do you find so compulsive
about it? Boomtown, Sirens in the City and A Secret Silken World are
colourfully ambivalent! Do you think city life is the apogee of
civilisation or closer to its nadir?

DB - Well, firstly, it’s my home; where my friends are, my studio, my family,
etc. That doesn’t change the fact that it is a genuine nightmare of a
city. It’s ugly, violent, mean-spirited, dominated by nouveau riche, and
maintained by a notoriously brutal and corrupt police force. Its impact
on the world is literally immeasurable. Its language has become a global
language, through the television, through the movies... It’s a boomtown,
as it always has been, and attracts the kinds of people that are
attracted to easy money and all that goes with it. Its princes are
whores and its kings are their pimps. But of course everyone knows that.
As far as civilisation goes, I think its apogee was probably Jefferson’s
gentlemen farmers: spiritual, educated folk with a direct connection to
the land. But cities provide a home for the wayward, and a fractious
environment for them to populate, and out of friction comes heat, and
out of heat, art, along with anything else people can see their way to
create. Ambivalent enough for you?

HS - Grace of my Heart is both one of our favourite films of recent years and
one of the most rewarding soundtracks we’ve heard. What can you tell us
about the project? How did you attempt to get into the mindset of 60s
songwriters (or the teenage lesbians of My Secret Love for that matter)
when writing the songs?

DB - Oh that’s another of the little tricks of my trade. I spent about a year
or two just immersing myself in one thing or another; The Bible, Baroque
music, Hank Williams, whatever, and as an exercise, tried to ‘channel’
whatever little tributary I was swimming in. I just learned to embrace
the mindset of whatever I was trying to impersonate, or channel, and
simply write that way.

HS - If you’d been the right age in the 60s could you see yourself as a Brill
Building songwriter?

DB - I think I would have gone insane in the Brill Building, but I bet I’d
have been really good at it.

HS - Tell us about working with Larry Klein — he seems to have been a
creative foil for your work for a long time. What qualities do you bring
out in one another?

DB - He sort of contains me — my bile, viciousness, sarcasm, whatever — and I
provide him with a little more edge, and of course, lyrics.

HS - Can we expect a new solo album from you before long or is film work
taking your work in different directions?

DB - Well, I’ve started a band, The New Folk Underground, with Will Sexton
and some other friends and conspirators, and we’re starting to play
around LA a little bit. It’s taken front and centre space in my
attention, as it’s easily the best music I’ve ever been involved with.
I’ll do the odd film thing as it comes up, but my primary focus is this
band and its myriad possibilities. It’s not really ‘folk music’, as I’m
sure you can believe, but more our interpretation of what “folk” should
be: humanist, melodic, groovy fun music with content and spirit. I love
it. We’re playing tonight, in fact.

HS - Do you have any favourite quotations which have impacted upon your life?

DB - If you make an enemy of the world, so it shall of you.

HS - What makes you happy?

DB - My little boy, Beker. (14 months old).


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