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Red Steers

Red Steers

Monday 9th August, 2010 1:28PM

Red Steers is Daniel Johnston, a self proclaimed bedroom musician operating on the hugely influential and always interesting A Low Hum label. After releasing the Laga Luga Lagoon EP in 2008, Red Steers will be returning soon with The Fever Fold. Johnston gives us an insight into what inspires him and why he’s into everything from Kanye West to Bon Iver and Dubstep to Wild Beasts.

Can you start by telling us a little bit about how Red Steers came into existence?

It started maybe 3 or so years ago as a side note to the music I was creating with friends, I would spend time delving into synthesizers and software on my own, making sketches of songs in order to learn and figure out the craft. I had no grand scheme in sight or much to say, the only real objective I had in mind was to make song after song as quickly as possible.

How would you describe your sound?

Right now it sounds like a mix of choral music, big drums and bits of electro pop.

Where are you based?

Wellington City

Have you ever been involved in any other bands/projects?

I made music in a duo called Ropes, we had one song put out on an alowhum comp awhile back but have fallen into hibernation in recent times. There’s a backlog of unreleased and unfinished tracks from the project that’s gathering dust on hard drives, I hope to revisit them sometime in the future. Prior to that I used make anonymous beats for rappers, like local gangster rap.

How did you come to the attention of Blink from A Low Hum?

I used to trade songs with my friend Ash and I sent him a collection of tunes when he was on tour overseas with Over The Atlantic as their bassist. Blink, who was tour managing, ended up hearing them and got in touch with me about putting some of them together for a release.

Where and when did you record your EP Laga Luga Lagoon?

It was recorded in multiple bedrooms of wherever I was living at the time; I think 4 bedrooms in total. They were experimentations recorded over maybe the course of a year or more, a part of a larger collection of strange odds n ends that I came up with as I got to grips with the hardware and software that I was exploring.

What’s the meaning behind the name of that EP?

I was working in a job where I had a lot of time on my hands and access to large databases with lots of people’s personal information. I’d write down and collect names and words that I liked, when it came to coming up with lyrics and song names I’d just draw from this list and flesh out ideas around them.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming release The Fever Fold?

The Fever Fold is a 5 song EP that I recorded entirely by myself last year, it took somewhere between 3-6 months to finish from conception to finality. It was made, scrapped and then made again. I was interested in the idea of writing a concise EP which followed a guideline that only drew from a limited palette of sounds and references. The original template for the song writing was lifted from Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, the mix of Taiko drums, electronic music and the focus on voice and melody. At the time I was enamoured with voice, I liked dissecting music that had processed voices, lots of layers of vocals, falsetto, guys who sing like girls and harmonies. I’d repeatedly listen to music by Justin Vernon & Wild Beasts.

How has your approach to recording your album differed from recording your EP?

Rather than a compilation of bits and bobs that didn’t have much focus or intent behind them, this was an effort to execute a concept based on a formula. My ideas were on paper, I had a self-imposed timeframe, and before I wrote any of the music I had gathered a collection of writing, references, samples and software.

How do you write new material?

For this lot of songs I’d mostly have a melody in my head that I would hum out and remember during the day, when I got home I’d sit in front of my keyboards n gear and figure out what notes I was signing and what key it was in. Then I’d recorded it, layer it, blend it with synths and loop it around a beat. The beats were also often things I’d have in my head, just basic patterns that I’d elaborate on when I was in front of the computer and had my library of samples open. I spent a while chopping up bits of bars of Taiko drum songs I’d gathered and built beats out of them combined with lots of samples of old drum machine sounds, things like TR-808, 909 and like Akai stock sounds. The actual lead-type vocals came last and it’s just me layered a bunch, singing about stuff I had scrawled in a notebook.

Do you have any plans to tour before or after the release of your album?

There’s some talk of this, it’s a little unclear right now though.

What is your stage setup like?

Initially it will be performed as a duo, me playing keyboards, managing samples, singing and my buddy playing bass guitar, some guitar and keyboards.

What has been your most memorable show?

Never played a show, I’m a bedroom musician through n through.

What first got you into being a musician?

Messing around with stuff like Fruity Loops, listening to hip hop beats and thinking ‘I can do this...’

Who / What is the biggest inspiration for Red Steers?

Exorcism & electronic music.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Mostly stuff that falls under the Dubstep banner but probably isn’t your typical sounding dubstep. I like what the dudes from The Purple Trinity are doing; Joker, Guido and Gemmy. I’m really into this producer duo called Mount Kimbie and an affiliate of theirs called James Blake.

The state of music in NZ is….

Strong and getting stronger.

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