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Dodson and Fogg - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 10 / 4 / 2016

Dodson and Fogg - Interview


The recent release of the ninth album under his Dodson and Fogg project gave us the opportunity to put a few questions to Chris Wade. To long term followers of his work, it will be no surprise to learn that Wade already has the next Dodson and Fogg album almost completed!

Back in the good old days it wasn’t unusual for a band to knock out a couple of albums a year. The problem was that there were always a few dodgy, predictable covers to make up the numbers amongst their original material. Some of these bands had a few years worth of material to pick from for their debut and, unfortunately, time proved that they had used their best on their opening shot. Others developed over time and are now, decades later, turning in some of their most interesting and inspiring work. Chris Wade doesn’t fit into any of those categories. Over the course of four years the multi-instrumentalist has released nine albums under the Dodson & Fogg banner and he certainly didn’t exhaust his best work on his first nor has he run out of ideas yet. Wade seemed to appear out of nowhere in 2012 with the debut Dodson & Fogg album. There was no big fanfare, no overhype, the album quietly slipped out on Wade’s own Wisdom Twins label, decorated, as has been the case with all the Dodson & Fogg albums since, with intriguing cover art by Linzi Napier and blew most other albums released that year out of the water. At the time, Wade’s hybrid of prog/folk/rock and pop didn’t quite fit in with what was happening musically. That he had one eye (and both ears) firmly focused on the late 60s and early 70s was immediately apparent but there was something more there than a mere copyist or a talented musician who had the ability to expand on those golden sounds of the past. ‘Dodson & Fogg’ was the sound of an artist creating music that came naturally to him, it felt that the music was flowing effortlessly from Wade, that he was channelling the best sounds from an era he so obviously loved infused with his own vision so fluently it was impossible to resist. The songs and arrangements on ‘Dodson & Fogg’ were so strong that there were fleeting thoughts that maybe Wade was one of those artists who had played their best card on their debut. But it was only months later that Wade followed up with ‘Derring-Do’, the first of three Dodson & Fogg album he released in 2013. Apart from the fact that Wade has other projects running (his web site http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com carries details and is worth checking out, it’s not the usual artist/music site and shows what a diverse and special talent Wade is) with each album he’s released as Dodson & Fogg he’s succeeded, without totally deserting the sound he created on that debut, to keep his music exciting. There was a point when every time a new Dodson & Fogg album came along it was tempting to hail it as the best music Wade had created up to that stage. In hindsight, that’s not true, the fact is that Wade’s music is consistently brilliant, it’s the eagerness to hear new music by Wade (often just a few months since the last album) that, until they are given another, fresh listen makes his previous work pale slightly to his latest, even for the shortest time. So, we’ll abstain from saying that ‘Roaming’, the latest album from Wade as Dodson & Fogg, is the best he’s created so far. If you’ve heard any of his previous albums you’ll already be smitten, if the name is still new to you then prepare for a little head-scratching while wondering how such an innovative and talented musician has so far passed you by. Asking Chris Wade a few questions is always a pleasure; being an author, his answers are always informative and his sense of humour is never far away although he obviously treats his music seriously. With the release of ‘Roaming’ there was an excuse to put a few more questions to this most underrated and talented musician and as usual, Wade provided some fascinating answers. PB: ‘Roaming’ brings the tally of Dodson & Fogg albums since the debut in 2012 to nine, and that’s not including the outtakes collection, that’s a lot of music in a short space of time. What motivates you to create music? CW: Good day, old boy. I just love making music. I always have since I was a kid. Me and my brother were always making songs on our tape recorders when we were really young and then in my late teens I got a 4 track tape machine and learned a bit about mixing, levels and all that. It's something I've always loved doing. A hobby that's gone a little further now. I also think it's a good way to express yourself, and personally I get a lot of feelings out in song; sometimes anger, sometimes more pleasant feelings, and it all seems to come out into the music and make me feel better. PB: How do you feel ‘Roaming’ stands in your body of work under the Dodson & Fogg banner? CW: I don't know really, but a lot of reviews have said it's the best one yet and people who've bought it really think it's a decent album. I just enjoy recording and coming up with songs, so I'm always happy with these albums, otherwise I'd keep them hidden and wouldn't put them out there. It's the most recent one so I'm really pleased with it, as I always am. I'd have to go back and listen to the other ones to see where it stands among them though. I'm starting to forget which songs are on which album now. Over 30 now, so I'm starting to lose it. Who said that? Where am I? PB: Every Dodson & Fogg album is met with critical acclaim and each time there’s the feeling that this time the world must take notice rather than just those who have raved about your music in the past. Are you happy with the impression the Dodson & Fogg project has made so far or does it get frustrating at times that such good music is still slipping past so many people? CW: Not frustrating at all. When I was a kid I would dream of having my own albums out and people getting into them, but I never thought it would happen. Thanks to the internet you can be totally independent and still sell music and make enough to get by. That's what it always was for me. I thought if I could make the same or a little bit more than when I had a regular shop job then I'd be really happy. It's taken about 7 years of writing then getting the music going to get to that position, but it's what I was after; been able to make a living off doing my hobbies. And I find that people are discovering it all the time and then going back and checking the rest out. This stuff is going to be around forever for people to pick up if they feel like it. PB: The albums are released on your own Wisdom Twins label, have you ever been approached by a major or even another indie label? Would you consider a label change if you felt it would get your music out to a wider audience? CW: Not been approached once, and I'm quite glad of it too. I read so many horror stories of signings going wrong and record labels suing people and letting them down, that it puts me off and I'd honestly say no now anyway. This way I can release music whenever I want. I can finish an album and release it the same week if I want to. I think that is amazing. A label can sit on your music for as long as they want. Not for me. I make enough to get by. And I'm not in it for egotistical reasons or because I want everyone to come and see me in concert and offer to shave my armpits and be false with me, or rave over my albums en masse. I couldn't be bothered with it. I like it at this level. I've just found a way to make a regular living doing stuff I have done since I was a kid, stuff that I would have done regardless just for fun anway. I like when people stumble across the music, then stick around and look forward to future releases. Also, I get to keep all my earnings, I own my songs myself, get all the PRS for radio and other plays, control art work for the covers, go and post the things myself, see to all my royalties, emails, business... it keeps me busy but it's my passion so I really want to keep Wisdom Twins as it is. I have total control. There is so much work under that banner now - Dodson albums, music collaborations, loads of books, audiobooks - that it would be a shame to hand it over to some big corporate company or whatever after all the hard work, people who are just into the money side and don't give a shit what you want to do musically. The way I see it, these books and albums are out there forever, and will always be available and I'll always be able to make something from them and have the thrill of people discovering them. I often get people discovering the latest Dodson album, then going and buying the full discography deal on my website. It's just a great way to do things and I get to speak to "customers" for want of a better word on email and interact with them. It's brilliant. The most important thing is the creative freedom. Oh and the malt loaf is damn fine too.... PB: You’ve authored books; do you feel that the many different musicians you’ve researched and written about have influenced your own songwriting in any way? Do you think that being an author has helped in your songwriting? CW: I'm not sure really, because I don't think much about what I'm writing or recording, and I just get my ideas down quickly. Nothing's ever too far planned out in advance. I write them and record them there and then. It's all inspired by thoughts and feelings I think. There's not too much to analyze at all really. But I bet my fave musicians have leaked into my natural style a bit, maybe. PB: For all the originality in your songs, it’s rewarding to read that others are now hearing hints of Marc Bolan in your music, something that struck us from your debut. Would you name him as an influence or is it just coincidence? CW: I never listen to T Rex. My dad likes them and I heard them as a kid but I've never sat down and listened to them religiously. I like bits of his early stuff mostly, but I'm not that into him and I think he was too much of a poser for my liking and much of his work seems throwaway to me now. It baffles me when reviewers mention him actually... haha. I love songwriters like Bob Dylan, The Beatles are my absolute favourites, Incredible String Band, Neil Young for his sheer integrity and passion, and then stuff I've always loved like Madonna, who is one of my favourite artists of all time. She's a genius. And Leonard Cohen, Black Sabbath. All kinds of stuff. but not Marc Bolan! PB: While the Dodson & Fogg albums all share a distinctive sound, you still make each new set sound fresh and, while still keeping your own sound, always come up with new ideas to keep the listener interested. After nine albums that surely takes some thought and energy, yet you still manage it. Is it getting more difficult to attain that? CW: No not at all. It's easier and more fun now. I just write a song and record it. I look in my instrument cupboard to see what I fancy putting on it. I never think "got to keep this fresh" or anything, I just do what feels right. It's about enjoying myself mostly. If a song is not working at all, I'll just get rid of it and start on something new. If anything I find it easier now because I didn't really know what I was doing on the first two albums and picked up more about the sound and production on the way. I'm addicted to making music and couldn't live without it now. I also feel more confident about lyrics now and just trying out whatever I feel like. It's good actually 'cos one reviewer said he liked the lack of conservatism on one of the albums and that I seemed to try anything. It's natural though. My dad had to point out to me that it was quiet avant garde and unusual to have Nigel Planer reading stories between the songs on In A Strange Slumnber. Stuff like that just keeps me really entertained, so I figure that others will be entertained by it too. PB: Most artists would say their latest album was up there with their best work, if not the best so far, which is annoying for fans who bought albums that the creators state are not so good years later. Do you have a personal favourite from the Dodson & Fogg catalogue though and if so, why? CW: I am really proud of them all. Just looking through the album track listings now and they all remind me of different things, different moments in time, so there are lovely memories attached to them as well. I really can't choose any over the others, but I know I am proud of every note on them because so much work has gone into them. I'll never release anything I'm not happy with. PB: Your website, http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com is one of those rare sites that is actually informative and entertaining; given that you’ve worked with Nigel Planer and Rik Mayall and, it seems from the site, that you have a pretty cool sense of humour (not to mention the madcap audiobooks) do you ever feel that a career as a comedian beckons should you ever tire of this music thing? CW: I don't think so because it isn't really a good outlet, it's more a bit of fun that I do on the side. I just love getting my mad thoughts together with an excuse for a story and get a real thrill out of hearing people narrate them. I love it when people discover them though, but I never push them or promote them. They're more a hobby thing really, but I'm really proud of them too. PB: You have always been modest when it comes to your musical talents but surely you must have times when you wonder why it’s taking so long to gain the recognition for your brilliant, distinctive guitar playing if not for your skill on other instruments? CW: Not really, because I'm not really trying to get recognition. I send my music to the same people every time, you guys, Shindig, the same radio shows, because it's always positive and worthwhile. I don't gig or anything, so I jut let it get out there naturally by itself mostly, apart from the odd interview. There are loads of musicians who never even record an album or get one review. I'm amazed I have people who regularly buy my albums, listen on spotify, write reviews, share them on torrent sites, share videos and playlists on forums I've come across. The whole thing is just so thrilling that I don't care if I never become well known. I'm into it for the music and the reward of hearing it back. That I make anything out of it and get the mentions in magazines and on sites that I do is something I would never have foreseen as a kid. Like when I supported Trembling Bells a few months back; people came to see me as well, and people had heard of me and bought the vinyl. Little things like that still mean a lot to me, so maybe if it was all big and blown up and people were getting into it just because it was hyped up might ruin it for me. The best thing is having the first album out on vinyl and people asking me to sign it before I send it through the post. That's what I dreamt of as a kid, so the scale of it is irrelevant really. I have no frustrations with the level it's at. I like a normal family life with this as my 9 to 5 job. I'm a normal working class person and I see my writing and my books like a normal job, like when I worked in a shop. That's it for me. I'm not bothered about mass recognition, but if it comes at all I'm pleased and happy about it. But for me it's just getting the chance to make music and write books through the day and spending time with my daughter, getting to see her all the time and not every now and then because of touring and sodding off all over the world. Being happy is important. PB: While you are known as a multi-instrumentalist, you’ve always used the talented Ricky Romain for the sitar parts on your albums and those songs have always been a highlight. Have you ever tried to play the sitar yourself or been tempted to ask Ricky for some lessons? CW: I'd love to have a go. Ricky says the true way to learn sitar is face to face with your teacher, but knowing me I'd probably buy a battered old sitar with strings missing and just learn to plonk it enough to get some sounds out of it. PB: Your collaboration with Sand Snowman last year, ‘Tell The Trees It’s Autumn Again’, brought out your more folky side. Are there any plans for more albums like that? Any other musicians you’d like to collaborate with? CW: No because I didn't enjoy doing it really. I liked the start of it, but he insisted on mixing it and cutting out all my electric guitar, which really peeved me off. It was OK, and I like the guy, but it wasn't a fun thing to make at all. It was frustrating if anything because I am used to deciding what goes where. I'm working with my brother Andy again though hopefully. That's different because we have a great friendship musically and it's more natural and even when we do an album. Other than that I am not too bothered about collaborations. Only dream people like Neil Young or Paul McCartney, but that's never gonna happen!! PB: The title track of your latest album appears in two parts. They are distinctively different, ‘Roaming’ is the perfect opener to a Dodson & Fogg album, complete with the otherworldly feel we’ve come to expect by now, it’s classic Dodson & Fogg but ‘Roaming Part 2’ despite the hauntingly wordless vocals is a completely different beast altogether. What’s the connection? CW: I had part 2 done first, and it was called something else, but the word roaming just came into my head when I heard it back. It has a conversation between me and Rik Mayall in there, some old radio broadcasts and other bits of voice and sound effects. I just thought Roaming fit it. Then I started writing the Roaming Part 1 song and that word just came out of my mouth when I was messing about with the chorus melody during writing it. So I decided to do parts 1 and 2. Really happy with both of them. PB: A song like ‘Yesterday Man’ from ‘Roaming’, on which you play all the instruments and supply all the vocals, how long does it take for you to complete the actual recording of a song like that? Doing everything yourself and producing such a full sound must be quite demanding. Lovely guitar on that track too. CW: That took a day. All the songs take either a day or half a day. With Yesterday Man, I wrote it in the morning and spent all afternoon recording it, laying on vocals and guitar. Then I didn't listen again for a couple of days and listened back to it so it sounded like a song I had never heard before. I do that all the time now, it makes it more fun and exciting for me. PB: There are so many facets to your music, folk, prog, rock, pop even, it’s all in there somewhere but the end result is always pure Dodson & Fogg. Then a simple thing like Georgia Cooke’s flute adds so much texture to ‘Rainclouds’ and takes that song into a completely different realm again, at what point of the process do you decide to add certain embellishments? CW: After I've recorded them and left them for a few days, I listen back and think "ooh a flute'd be nice there" or "ay up lad, a bit of sitar would be great there." So it's if I fancy the idea of hearing something more exotic on it that I cant add myself. That's the main reason. PB: ‘Old Bar’ is one of the more experimental songs on ‘Roaming’, complete with your mesmerising electric guitar work again, although Nigel Planer and Celia Humphris are listed as supplying backing vocals on a couple of tracks no mention is made of who is singing the bv on that track. Are the vocals all your own work? CW: It's all me on that. I can get my voice a bit higher now, a lot more than I used to. Must be all the practice. I'm actually more comfortable and confident about singing than ever now. PB: Knowing by now the speed at which you work, it wouldn’t surprise your fans if another couple of Dodson & Fogg albums were released before 2016 ends. Have you any concrete plans so far for more this year? Or any other projects planned for the near future? CW: Yeah I've finished the next release already, called Walk On. Really happy with it. Just waiting for some flute parts from Georgia and I've got Colin Jones back on trumpet. I'm really enjoying checking the mixes and levels and making sure it all sounds okay. That will be out in May I think, in time for my 31st birthday. I just want to keep going now, releasing stuff whenever I feel like it. Life is too short and we only get one go, so we might as well do what we feel like and not worry too much about silly things. Get as much good things done as you can, something to look back on when you're an old duffer. Or my great grandkids can say to their kids "this was my great granddad, this bloke mumbling away here and twanging on his pubic hair." And they'd probably go "oh right.." with no interest and continue to play their robo yoyos or fly off in their space boots or whatever they'll have in them days. Shit, I've gone off my head... PB: Thank you.

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