Photo : Luigi Bennet
Dan Patlansky is a hyperactive ball of energy whose personality perfectly matches the eclectic and exciting blues that he puts down on record. He appears not to fully comprehend just how good his latest offering, the stunning, album-of-the-year contender ‘dear silence thieves’ actually is, and he is both an energetic and friendly interviewee who takes the time to answer each question thoroughly.
For myself, I’ve been listening to ‘dear silence thieves’ on near continuous repeat for days despite the ever growing backlog of wonderful music I have to listen to. It’s just one of those albums. It has everything you want – an amazing production (courtesy of Theo Crous), stunning musicianship and a set of songs that are both instantly memorable and yet layered enough to warrant numerous replays. Listen to ‘backbite’ once, for example, and you’ll be instantly hooked by its earth-shaking, Zeppelin-esque groove. Come back to it and you’ll start to hear the little intricacies such as the echo that hangs on to Dan’s voice as the guitars roar overhead. There’s subtlety too. For anyone who’s away from their home, ‘windmills in the sea’ is a simple, beautiful, heart-breaking ode to a familiar landscape and it will indelibly etch itself in your mind from the very first hearing.
It was a privilege to have the opportunity to speak to this rising star of the blues on the eve of his album launch and, during our brief chat, we took in subjects such as recording the album and Dan’s love of physical media. So, place your copy of ‘dear silence thieves’ in the stereo and then find out a little more about the man behind one of the best albums of the year.
Photo : Leslie Van Wyk
Here in the UK we can be a little bit blinkered when it comes to artists outside of the typically Western sphere and I was wondering how much of a challenge it’s been to develop an international following.
Man, literally, it has been quite difficult. In South Africa you’re kind of in the (laughs) ass-end of where it’s happening. But I’ve got a fantastic following down there but I think the age of the internet and all that stuff has made it easier to gain fans in the Northern hemisphere. You know all those kind of platforms like Youtube, that really helped and we’ve actually got quite a big Turkish following on Youtube, you know there’s plenty of videos on youtube and that kind of thing. So it got easier with as technology has grown, but it is a challenge man. It is a challenge coming and touring these places because you get that stretch every time you hit a new country or anything like that and it takes a bit of time and a bit of work to build up a following and get somewhere.
I’ve not come across too many international acts from South Africa – are there other musicians on the scene whom you like to play with when you get home?
Yeah – I mean back in South Africa there are a lot of great players, a lot of world-class players and they’re really up there but no one’s really heard these guys because they don’t really get out of South Africa, they’ve never really broken internationally you know, like Johnny Clegg, but it’s really like a handful of artists who’ve done it. But there are some great musicians there and it’s sad that the world hasn’t heard them, you know.
To move on to the new album – aside from the music – the first thing I do when I pick up an album is to read the booklet and the liner notes and it’s becoming increasingly rare to see liner notes in albums: are you a physical album fan?
I certainly am because although I understand the convenience of downloading and so on – you know it’s instant and all of that – I do miss the days of the big CD shop or record shop which had nearly anything you wanted and you could hold it in your hand and read liner notes and that was part of the process of listening to music – reading the liner notes whilst hearing the music and seeing artwork and holding artwork in your hand. It’s almost a sad state of affairs that that’s dies off a little bit and I think it’s great that vinyl’s coming back and popularised again because that for me is the ultimate form for music.
Looking at the liner notes and other interviews you’ve done, you talk widely about the genesis of Dear Silence Thieves and how it relates to people who talk through shows and I was wondering if that extended to people who stand at the front filming shows as well?
I’m not too fussed about people recording a song on their phone as long as it doesn’t affect what’s happening on stage and as long as it doesn’t affect other people in the audience. Because often that’s where other people in the audience get affected by it – you know holding a phone up in front of people’s faces trying to capture a song or something like that. So, yeah, in a sense, if it’s interfering with the music or the audience’s experience of the music, then it’s definitely dear silence thieves material.
Photo : Allen James Lipp
It’s quite rare to see an album with a specific social message, not a political message, but a really up-to-date social message – so how much does the theme inform the lyrical work of the album?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a couple of tracks that, content wise, are quite far from the album title But trying to put the album together the point, certainly for the South African market, was to try to educate people how they should behave at a live music show, you know what I mean. No one’s saying you can’t have a good time and stuff like that, but you want to have a chat about politics, I don’t think the best time is during a ballad during someone’s set, or anyone’s set for that matter, and I’ve been telling people that story at shows while we’ve been launching this album to try and wake people up a little bit. So the songs on the album are… there are songs that refer to the ‘dear silence thieves’ kinda theme, but not all of them. I suppose you could find a meaning if you look hard enough, you know.
One song that I think is really, really beautiful, is ‘Windmills in the sea’ which I guess is about South Africa and your home there.
Yeah, yeah that’s exactly it. It’s pretty much about the landscape of South Africa, and we tour extensively in South Africa, like nine months of the year, and when you tour by car in South Africa there’s like a million and one landscapes that you go through and it changes quite dramatically, and we take certain routes all the time and it’s incredible to see how the landscape changes, so that title’s all about the landscapes and what you see and how the road in South Africa kind of feels like a home to me and my favourite place to be is on the road and seeing all of this.
It’s very evocative and the imagery – the bullet holes in signs and so on is wonderful – but it’s also a very universal message, that nostalgic feeling of being far from home.
Yeah, for sure, for sure.
The actual album itself is a very eclectic mix of blues, for example ‘Backbite’ has that great, funky, Led Zeppelin feel, and I just get this feeling that you must have a huge collection of music that must have influenced you over the years.
Yeah man – my roots have always been the blues and that’s where I start everything when I’m writing – I start from the blues, but then I’ve got a million and one different influences out of the blues. There’s a classic rock thing, like Zeppelin, and then there’s funk elements and soul elements and jazz, so I love all that music so much and I’ve been inspired by it so much that I like to put it all into a pot and mix it up and see what comes out the other side but with the blues being the core ingredient.
One of the ideas I hear from artists whom I interview is that writing an album is difficult but also sequencing it to make a complete journey that flows from start to finish can be even harder – is that something that you’ve found?
It’s always challenging. It’s all between which song should open the album, which one should close, which one should be in the middle. But with this album, once we recorded ‘backbite’, it just seemed to be the obvious opener for the album because I always like my album to start with a punch, you know, and then you can decide upon what kind of journey you want to take form there. So opening the album was the easy part and then structuring it so that it made sense and told a story after that was slightly more difficult, but luckily I have a producer on the album who had a big hand in structuring it and we got there eventually.
Talking of the producer, how was it working with Theo Crous as a producer – you go from ‘backbite’ which has a very clean sound to ‘pop collar jockey’ which is mired in this dark, dirty distortion and it sounds like you had a lot of fun in the studio putting it all together.
Fantastic man. It was great, he’s a fantastic producer to work with and I think the reason it all worked out and came together like it did is because he is not a blues producer at all. He’s never produced anything like that and that’s what I do, so we kind of like always had to find a middle ground between what he wanted and what I wanted and we had to come up with something that we were both happy with at the end of the day and I think we both kind of left our imprints on that album.
I know you’re going to be touring the hell out of this for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, we’re focusing a lot of our time and energy on the UK and Europe. I’ve found it a real hotbed for what I do on this side of the world. I’ve had great shows and great audiences and loyal fans and all that sort of thing, so we’re definitely going to focus our time a lot more on this part of the world.
It’s such a wonderful pairing, you and Joe Satriani – two wonderful guitarists with very different styles touring together…
Yeah, it’s going to be great man. It’s an honour to be on the tour with him. We’re quite different kinds of players and we come at it from different angles so it’s going to be great. But I must say that I’m glad I’m going before the guy and not after him!
I’ve taken up a lot of your time so I just want to end by asking if you have any final words for your UK fans?
Yeah man, the brand of blues that I’m doing is not your daddy’s blues, it’s a modern, in-your-face type of blues, it’s a high energy show so please get down to the show and come and check it out man.
APRIL/ MAY UK TOUR DATES
LONDON, BORDERLINE ALBUM LAUNCH Monday April 27 (Tickets: here)
SHEFFIELD, GREYSTONES Tuesday April 28 (Tickets: here)
YORK, FIBBERS Thursday April 30 (Tickets: here)
STOCKTON, MUSIC LOUNGE Friday May 1 (Tickets: here)
WANDSWORTH, GJ’s Sunday May 3 (Tickets: here)
PORTSMOUTH, THE CELLARS Monday May 4 (Tickets: here)
BRISTOL, THUNDERBOLT Wednesday May 6 (Tickets: here)
POOLE, MR KYPS Thursday May 7 (Tickets: here)
November dates with Joe Satriani (Tickets here)
Manchester o2 Apollo Sunday November 1
Birmingham Symphony Hall Monday November 2
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall Tuesday November 3
Sheffield City Hall Wednesday November 4
Cardiff St. David’s Hall Thursday November 5
Southend Cliffs Pavilion Saturday November 7
Bristol Colston Hall Sunday November 8
Portsmouth Guildhall Monday November 9
London Eventim Hammersmith Apollo Tuesday November 10