Interview

Timothy Blackman

Timothy Blackman

Monday 30th August, 2010 3:56PM

Wellington (via Dunedin, Auckland and Berlin) musician Timothy Blackman has built a reputation with his two earlier EPs. He has played with the likes of Scout Niblett, Alexander Tucker and the Mountain Goats overseas, and his music touches the same ground as some of music's great solo performers like Bill Callahan and John Darnielle. His debut album I've Never Lived is about to be released on 30 August, and is a beautiful collection of spare, emotionally moving music – suggesting that the less is more approach can pay off when it comes to creating highly engaging music.

Why music in the first place?

I started violin lessons when I was five, and I picked up the guitar when I was ten. When I was at intermediate I started a band and continued playing in bands until 2005, when I started recording and performing solo.

Why the switch to solo?

Originally it was a time thing. I could work in my own time. Now I realise it's not just time, it's the fact I work best alone on musical projects.

First full length album…

I decided it was time to move from the EP to the LP format. To be honest, it felt quite natural increasing the length of this record. I guess I became more experienced in grouping songs together. It was definitely not a process that I could have rushed. I can’t imagine going back to the EP format anytime soon, but then again, you never know.

How did the production work?

Tom O’Halloran recorded the album for me in my very tiny Berlin bedroom last December. The album was then mixed by Dave Rylands in Auckland and mastered by Timothy Armstrong in Wellington. All of these guys are friends of mine, so it was great to have them involved in the process.

Was there stuff which didn't make the cut?

There definitely was. It's not that the songs weren’t good enough, it’s just that some songs didn't fit the general feel of the album. It is possible that some of them will be used on the next recording project.

In terms of instrumentation, you did a lot of it yourself?

I performed most of the instruments, but my friend Nathan Taare played the drums. It was the first time I had worked with anyone else whilst recording my solo work. It was great to have Nathan involved as we have always wanted to record together but had never got round to it.

Interesting getting back in touch with your violin background, given I assume you've separated it out from your guitar background?

It is interesting coming back to the old skills. I find it quite natural to incorporate the violin into this project, which is nice. I would like to add the cello on any future recordings.

Doing a kind of Alastair Galbraith with the violin?

I love Alastair Galbraith and yes, listening to his work did originally influence me to include more violin sounds on my recordings. However, our styles are quite different. I am very much inspired by Alastair’s approach to recording and releasing music in New Zealand and distributing it to many parts of the world.

Tape hiss?

I don't want to be involved in the lo-fi genre, but I am finding it really hard to leave whilst working with such small budgets. Every interview or review (on my work) has always focused or at least touched on production values. I often find this quite difficult as I would prefer more comment on my songs, rather than the form in which they are presented. I would love to make a studio album one day, but I am unsure as to how this would ever be achievable with the sorts of budgets I am forced to work with.

How did you write it – was it ad hoc or fit around work?

I was only working two days a week, so I had lots of time to play music. So it did fit around work, but I was not really working enough to destroy the process of writing songs.

What was Berlin like? It's talked up as this great place for artists…

It is a great place for artists. The cost of living is about half that of most New Zealand cities. For example, you can go out for dinner at squats and pay only one euro fifty for a tasty meal in a fun environment. There is also an abundance of people working on creative projects.

You've made music in a lot of places – Dunedin, Auckland, Wellington, how different was Berlin?

I wrote my first EP in Dunedin, my second EP in Auckland, and the album in Berlin. I think it is important to put yourself in a new environment, to change your view on things. In Berlin, there seems to be a lot of people trying to get things off the ground, which is always a benefit when you are entrenched in a creative process.

Was there much a musician community when you were studying down in Dunedin?

The music community was very strong whilst I was in Dunedin and most of the friends I have made through music are from that period.

Musicians seem to enjoy making music in Dunedin. I am not sure what it is. There's something about the small valley that creates this strange feeling that aids the song writing or music making process. It is also nice writing music in a place with a rich history of successful recording and especially home recording projects.

How are you releasing the album?

The album is going to be released in New Zealand through Home Alone Recordings and distributed via Border Music on the 30th of August, 2010.

Are you stripping it back live?

At the moment I'm playing live with Wellington based cellist, Emma Goodbehere. It has been really enjoyable performing with another person, as it can sometimes feel quite isolating alone on stage. I'm not interested in creating a full band at this stage. It would be nice to get there one day, but I don't agree with getting a band on stage for the sake of it.

I imagine it must sound quite different just you on stage…

I like a bare sound. That may change.

Brannavan Gnanalingam

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Timothy Blackman - I've Never Lived - out now via Border Music.




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