Dan West rules and he is very well known in the LA power pop scene.. here is his exclusive interview with Self Contained Music..
Dan West answers to ‘One Man Band’ questions
What led you to play most of the instruments yourself on "Hot Corners" & “Does It Suit You?
My cousins were all 10 years or so older than me and would often give me their old records to listen to. By the time I was 6-7 years old I had a serious Beatles/Monkees/Paul Revere And The Raiders obsession going on and I just had to have a guitar. My father, who had been a musician earlier in his life told me that if I wanted a guitar, I would first have to learn some basics on piano. So a deal was struck and I agreed to study one year of piano with my Mom and if I stayed with it, I would get a guitar for my birthday the following year which is exactly what happened. A couple of years later, I was going through my Mom’s old albums and I stumbled upon the Gene Krupa/Buddy Rich drum battle album on Verve and after multiple listenings, became obsessed with the drums!
There was a bit of back and forth one afternoon at the Tarzana Mall where, while shopping with my parents, I saw a beginners drum kit in the window of Sydney Kaye’s Music Scene. We had lunch at the Bob’s Big Boy there in the mall and after we finished, my father decided that I was serious enough to have the drum set.
From the earliest I can remember, I was always writing little ditties and playing them into my old cassette recorder (as well as my Dad’s little ‘Modernage’ mini reel to reel recorder). It was at this point that I learned ‘sound on sound’ recording after reading an article where Pete Townshend was talking about his early demos for The Who.
The proverbial light bulb went off and I realized between the 3 or 4 recording devices we had around the house, and the 3-4 instruments I was now fairly good at playing, I could start making recordings with more than one part or instrument. Multi instrumentalism was something that happened purely organically as I developed musically over the course of my first 4-5 years of playing and writing music. I just became enraptured by the different instruments and was determined to gain some mastery of each one.
In what order do you usually record the instruments?
I usually start with a scratch acoustic guitar or piano track recorded to a click. A scratch vocal, even if the lyrics are unfinished, is then added to further delineate some semblance of form and melodic contour. Once those elements have been recorded I will then play or program a drum part. I always do this before the bass part, as it is much easier to get a grooving bass part to a drum pattern than just a click track. At this point I have to say that the bass part, based on my enduring love of Paul McCartney, James Jamerson and Carol Kaye, is what I spend the most time on. Usually, once a strong bass part is established, the rest of the elements of the orchestration fall into place fairly easily.
Do you have everything planned out in your head or do you just shoot from the hip when crafting an arrangement alone?
It’s funny, but although I usually hear everything in my head when I get a song idea, once the first few instruments become a reality on tape or on the hard drive, my ears begin to hear new ideas and the song takes on its’ own evolution. At that point, I try to stay out of the way as much as possible and just let the song be what it wants to be.
What are some of your favorite one-man band albums?
Skip Spence ‘Orr’ is a masterpiece. All of the Pete Townshend ‘Scoop’ compilations are wonderful and were a tremendous inspiration early on. Jon Brion’s ‘Meaningless’ is fantastic. And I believe that other than Brad Delp’s vocals, the first Boston album is mainly Tom Scholz playing everything so, another favourite for sure.
How many instruments can you play in order based on proficiency?
Here they are in order of proficiency:
Piano, Bass, Guitar, Drums, Cello, Upright Bass, Flute, Clarinet and if it qualifies, Programming! I also learned how to compose for full orchestra and big band and actually have had some nice gigs writing for large ensembles esp. big bands.
What advice can you give the budding self-contained musician?
Collect, experiment and follow your ears. Do not let the old saying
‘jack of all trades, master of none’ ever stop you from experimenting with new instruments, especially if you are a composer, songwriter, producer. Jon Brion is a glowing example of this. His shows at Largo were mind-blowing to me. And from a sheer dollars and cents standpoint, if you do have mastery of more than one instrument, you will get a lot more live playing and session gigs! I have had some wonderful musical experiences and made some decent money on piano, bass and guitar gigs/sessions. I’ve even played the occasional cover gig on drums as well! But ultimately, your heart and your ears should always be your guides not the litany of ‘methods’ out there. The artist in my opinion should always have their particular method or way of doing things. It is what will give a particular artist’s music it’s own unique feel. Now, there are basic concepts which all musicians should understand such as chord structure, melody, harmony and groove/feel, but once those have been understood on the respective instruments, the rest is up to the artist to craft their unique vision with any and all combinations thereof.
Where can we find your music and what is next for you?
Well there are a lot of examples of my solo music as well as many collaborations with bands and the like. The following links are probably the easiest way to find me currently:
My Solo Work:
My Bandcamp page:
My Soundcloud page:
My work with Sidewalk Society:
Our 2nd album:
Our first album is on Spotify, just search ‘Sidewalk Society’
My work with LoveyDove:
That is the basic intro to what a do. There are many more things out there but these are the most current.
I plan on continuing to record and perform until the day I leave this planet. Immediately though, LoveyDove are finishing our second album and we are super stoked with it. It is a definite departure from our first album which was more ruminative and reflective. With the new album, we are going with a fun in the sun, dance party vibe. Once the new LD is completed, I will then attempt to make my first Dan West Big Band album. I know some amazing horn players so, the personnel is there but the logistics are a bit tricky with that. However, when there is a will there’s a way and the recourses have begun to present themselves as far as the redcording part so it will all fall into place nicely when the time comes. And I am always writing new songs so, at some point I’ll sit down and start recording some new DW stuff as well.