To make the new release from Chris Dallman, Jason Shaw talks to the enigmatic mellow tunesmith with a voice of pure honey.
A tragedy of modern life I find is the painful truth that there are many people that really don’t seem to quite get the recognition they richly or rightly deserve. In an effort to elevate some of that misfortune and injustice, I’d like to introduce you to a singer/song writer whose blessed mellow evocative tones deserve to and should reach a multitude of fresh ears.
Christopher Dallman is a rare combination of incredible talent and unashamed niceness, he was born in September 1978 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this handsome fella learned the piano from just 8 years of age, then picked up a guitar around the age of 16 and taught himself to play. Sometime during 1996 he started playing Sunset Boulevard, no not the famous street in LA, but a coffee shop in Milwaukee!
Chris is a sensitive chap with a vocal style is a delight to the ears and his all round sound is of transcendental, authentic and rather moving. Chris has already built up a small army of fans all over this globe of ours and is all set to release a brand new five track EP. I caught up with the LA based musician to find out more:
Hello again Chris, so this is a very exciting time for you, with you just about to release a new EP, when’s it coming out?
It is very exciting. I’ve been living with these songs for so long and I love them so much that I can’t wait to share them. It’s out September 27th.
We will talk some more about that in just a little while, however, first I want to take you back, to where it all first started, when did you know you wanted to be a musician and that you had a such an emotive voice?
Well, I’ve always been musical. I sang a lot as a child. I have many memories of singing in my pyjamas while my grandmother played the upright piano in our living room.
I started actually writing songs when I was 17. I recorded a little album I called ‘Poison Jack’ on a four track recorder in my parents’ basement. It was a collection of fuck-you songs, I’d written to the older boy that had just broken my heart. I dubbed a bunch of cassette copies for my friends and they responded really strongly to it. I suppose that was the first time I knew my voice had any kind of emotional power. And, you know that’s what gave me the confidence to set up my first live show at a coffeehouse in the city.
You talk about singing around the piano with your grandmother as a youngster, did you always hold a dream of being a singer or an entertainer?
I always wanted to be a performer. Other jobs have never much appealed to me. But I started out wanting to be an actor and that turned into music when I was 18.
Who was on the young Chris Dallman’s stereo?
Earliest loves were Madonna and Prince. In high school and college, I got very into Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco. I was very Lilith Fair then. I still love all that, but back then it was all I listened to, whereas now it’s a tiny slice of my taste. I didn’t really listen to dudes until I was in my 20s and I think you can hear that in my voice. Now I listen to everything. I’m stuck on James Blake at the moment. Stuck hard.
So are these the same kind of people that you take your influences from now?
Absolutely. I learned to play music by mimicking the musicians that moved me most. Over time, my own style has emerged, thank God, but I can still hear their influence in my tunes.
Did you take guitar lessons or where you self taught? Singing lessons?
Self taught on both fronts. It’s wonderful and terrible at the same time. It’s both liberating and limiting.
Fascinating, most of the great guitar players are all self taught, now lets change the subject a little and talk more about locations. You currently reside in Los Angeles with your husband, now please forgive me, being a simple Brit, I may have got this all wrong, but is LA like it appears in the movies, an wanna be actor at every street corner? And Do you all go down to the beach at the weekend to surf?
Haha, the side of LA that’s shown in movies is true to life, but it’s just a sliver of what the city really is It’s accurate, but narrow. I’ve been to the beach 3 times this year. But never to surf. And yes… actors EVERYWHERE.
Thank you for that insight, one of the reasons I wanted to know about LA, is that from your sensational EP ‘Never Was, there’s a track I simple adore called ‘Has Been’. Which seems to typify the whole LA, New York, Paris or even at a push, London ideal, the aspirations of making it in the big city, yet finding the streets are not paved with gold, that dreams and realities are not always the same things. Did you have that in mind when you wrote it?
Definitely. I wrote it on the road after a really rugged gig. I’d been stuck in a period of time where I couldn’t get out of my own head onstage. The whole THING of performing is letting go of that and allowing yourself to go to another place that has nothing to do with the brain. If you’re in your head, it kills it. And the thing is that when you remove that part from the performing experience, you’re left with just the bad stuff– the anxiety.
I was driving to my next destination after that show feeling all sorts of washed up. But then I laughed because how could I feel like such a has been if I’d never really made it? I wrote the melody and lyrics then and there.
Is the best of you, yet unseen?
Absolutely. I’m just getting started. I really dig where my voice is headed and my five newest songs are my five faves. The older I get, the freer I feel.
Forgive me if I sound a little gushy here, but there isn’t a single song on your Race The Light album that I don’t like. Seriously, every single song has a deeply honest, authentic feeling to them, which if any are your most proud of?
Thank you! From a songwriting perspective, I’m proud of every tune on that record. It was made so many years ago and time has certainly aged a few tracks, but when I revisit, I’m always proud of the artistry in the writing.
My favorite on ‘Race the Light’ changes, but right now it’s ‘Nighttime in the City.’ When I listen to it, I feel like I’m in a taxi, speeding down a New York City street at night. It fully transports me to the time in my life that I’m writing about.
That’s a perfect lead in to the nest question, the writing, how do you go about that whole thing, I mean is it the lyrics that come first or is it the music that perhaps is the first thing to the mind?
Ohh, it used to be the lyrics first. I used to have notebooks full of words and I would dig into them when I found a melody I really liked. It was almost a matching process. Now, I’m inundated with melodies and it’s the words that are harder to pin down.
My process is not very defined. I do not believe in rushing a song. I’m all about letting it breathe and guiding it’s development gently. I don’t like to get in the way. I don’t mean to say that I don’t buckle down or make strong choices in my art – I do – but anytime I’ve ever rushed, there have been moments in the song that don’t sit well with me as time goes on.
I usually pick up my guitar and just play and play and sing along until I find a place that feels really comfy and then I hang out there. I’ll make a quick recording of that idea and if it’s good the tune lives in my head for a few days. I sing a lot of gibberish – sometimes for years – and eventually find a word or phrase that seems to be the real deal and the rest of the lyrics grow from there. I don’t always know what a song is about until it’s done.
How long does it take for you to create a song, from it’s original idea to finished product?
It varies wildly. ‘Ghosts’ I wrote in 10 minutes. ‘Subterranean’ on the new record was 3/4 written and stayed that way for 5 years. I had everything but the lyrics to the bridge. I didn’t write those until 5 minutes before I went into the studio to record the vocal for that song on the new record.
Wow, impressive, or maybe a touch impetuous, so tell us a little about the new EP, what can we expect?
Oh Jason, the new EP is called Light the Love. It’s a collection of songs that I’ve been playing live for many years but never found a home on one of my other recordings. One of the songs – ‘Right on Time’ – I’ve been playing since my very first live show in NYC more than 10 years ago. Each of these songs have already had a pretty rich life onstage. They have lived and breathed and this record in many ways is about documenting that.
I recorded it over the course of the last 2 years with a guy named George Stanford producing. He’s an LA based singer songwriter and we worked in his studio in Hollywood.
It was a very different process that anything I’ve gone through before. ‘Race the Light,’ ‘Never Was,’ and ‘Sad Britney’ were all recorded in big studios with vintage gear. Each session was, like, 12 hours plus… We spent hours twisting nobs to get the right sounds before recording a note I loved every minute of it, but it was a very drawn out process.
With George, we’d get together casually in his home studio every couple of months over the course of 2 years. Each session was 3-4 hours and each song took just 2 sessions. The first meeting, we’d lay down the music. I played guitar, of course, and he played pretty much everything else. He is so, so talented. Watching him find his way with each instrument was really amazing to experience.
The next time we’d meet, I’d lay down the lead vocal, the harmonies, and then we’d add whatever extra little instrumental touches we thought the song was missing, always being very careful not to have too much going on.
And that was it, song by song. There was very little fuss.
What to expect? The production is simple, but not bare. It’s basically the songs as I play them live with touches of magic here and there.
It has a lot of light. ‘Never Was’ was a bit of a bummer. A beautiful bummer that I love dearly, but a bummer nonetheless. ‘Light the Love’ is full of energy and possibility.
That sounds really exciting, do you have a particular favourite?
My favorite is the title track, ‘Light the Love.’ It opens the record. It’s full of magic. Listen to it loud.
Now in the last interview we did, I asked for a secret and you let out that Lindsay Lohan once told you that you were hot, care to share another secret?
I want to be the lead singer of a band. Anyone looking?
Christopher’s Light the Love, EP comes out on 27th September, it will be available to download on Bandcamp first and then on iTunes shortly afterwards.
To learn more about some of his other stuff, including details of his controversial cover versions of Britney Spears songs on the Sad Britney EP, please feel free to check out our first interview here
© 2011 Copyright Jason Shaw