Despite occasional mentions in respected publications and national airplay, West Midlands based singer-songwriter Dan Whitehouse has been largely working off-radar, slowly building up a solid body of recorded work and gathering an increasingly fan base through word of mouth and constant gigging.
Regularly performing headline slots across the UK, he’s also supported a wide range of artists, including Maria McKee, Julian Cope, Peter Green, Josh Ritter and Caitlin Rose, to name but a few.
His latest album, his second, is Reaching For A State Of Mind, an ambitious collection of well-produced and emotive tracks that features a number of ‘name’ collaborators. It’s released on 7 October 2013 and coincides with a national tour.
The album features a few guests – notably Duke Special’s percussionist (Chip Bailey), Helen Lancaster from folk act The Old Dance School – how did they come to be involved? And what do they bring to the album?
Chip Bailey was part of the core band in the studio and made a big contribution to the overall sound of the record. I wrote and recorded the songs on my own, at home first … but when I played them with Chip in the studio he had loads of suggestions related to rhythm and groove. Flipping the songs upside their head and checking them out from Chips perspective was a really fun process. In addition to drums, Chip used everything from goat’s toe nails, chair legs, pots/pans and cheese graters to build up the percussive sculptures of sound you can hear on the record, a good example of this is on track one: A Dream That’s Floating Out To Sea.
Helen is like Jimi Hendrix, a lead player with natural flair. She plays swooping, serene viola and violin – a real natural talent and a real pleasure to watch perform. Once she’s set up, she appears totally at ease with the music, performing for us from another world. She will pour rich, smooth counter melody over my rough, blunt, direct songs and I love the combination. To make sense of what I’m going on about check out her string arrangements on The River – it’s one of the tracks I’m most proud of and you can download it free: http://shop.dan-whitehouse.com/album/free-download
And you also have a member of Fairport Convention, PJ Wright, on there too? How did that come about?
In December 2012 I supported The Dylan Project at the Robin 2 in Wolverhampton for the second time, and yet again was blown away by the musicianship and craft on display in that line up. PJ Wright approached me and said he liked my acoustic guitar, we had a bit of a geeky guitar chat and then the next day I wrote to him and attached a rough recording of Maybe I Too Was Born To Run. I was thrilled to get a quick reply from him … with ideas for pedal steel guitar parts for the song. This marked the start of an entertaining email conversation and exchange of audio files over the next three months. PJ has a wonderful command over his instrument, beautiful technique and sound and it was a real pleasure to collaborate with him.
Despite the two ‘folkies’ on the album, it’s not a ‘folk record’ is it? How would you describe it?
Like this: Lyrically, there are two central characters carrying conflicts, asking a lot of questions as they attempt to find their place in the world. Musically, it sits within a fairly wide spectrum of pop-rock-folk-Americana-roots influences.
I normally do my best to avoid describing my sound. But if pushed I say something like: The good thing about the internet is that we no longer have to describe music with words.
You’ve supported a range of acts on tour, most recently the revived World Party and Simone Felice – how were those shows?
Both were wonderful opportunities for me. Simone Felice was inspiring person to meet, work with, interact with. I was knocked out by his work ethic, and total, singular, focused dedication to his performance on stage. It’s most evident when he’s playing his drums – total commitment to every hit, he dives into the gig as if he’s jumping between two high rise city buildings, and is relying on instinct and belief he will make to the other side.
He invited me to sing an encore with him and his band, we did Neil Young’s Helpless together – there’s some footage on YouTube (See below). He put me through my paces in the rehearsal, and gave me precise direction on how I should sing it.
Meeting Simone has provided fuel for my own touring and live shows and rejuvenated the way I approach playing live.
Any particular support slots you’ve done in the past that stick in the mind?
Joseph Arthur – I’ve supported him many times and never tire of watching his entire set as there are always improvised elements making it a unique event. The gig that sticks in my mind is when he had a canvas on stage behind him. He’d set up a musical loop and then dip a brush and paint. Watching the show was like watching nature in action.
And Willy Mason – during his set the PA broke and he came and sat in the audience and carried on acoustically, on his first UK tour he exuded such playful, laid back charisma, and that combined with the bold, poignant statement of his song Oxygen made for a powerful punch of a gig.
You’ve been running a regular songwriting group in Birmingham … in these days of samplers and looping, do you think the art of good songwriting is still as valued as it perhaps once was?
I think it is and always will be enjoyed, revered, respected within certain communities. Maybe as the mainstream media turns it back on it further it’ll evolve into being regarded as a fine art…? It certainly is within the Songwriting Circle at Mac Birmingham! Part of the reason I established the circle was to form a group of like minded individuals who were passionate about songs and songwriting.
For me, all great popular music hangs somewhere in the balance between sound (production) and song. Perfect records, (like little beautiful little shining crystals) have a good balance of both: significant words and sounds that transport you someplace else.
What are your plans for the coming months?
I’m going on a UK tour to promote my new album Reaching For A State Of Mind. There are 20+ gigs from Devon to Northumberland and everywhere in between in a wide variety of interesting places, from arts centres to tiny theatres and pubs.
Interview by: Dave Freak
Sunday 29 September 2013
The Crescent Theatre, Sheepcote Street, Birmingham B16 8AE
Official Album Launch Show (Support: tbc)
Thursday 3 October 2013
Bootleggers Bar Ltd, 24 Finkle St, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 4AB
Support: Anja McCloskey + Molly Warburton and The Shady Days
Saturday 7 September 2013
Drawing Room, Francis Yard, Chesham HP5 1DG
7.30pm, £20 (inc meal)
Tuesday 8 October 2013
Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton St, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0DX
Support: Anja McCloskey + Richard Lobb
Thursday 10 October 2013
The Castle Hotel, 66 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LE
7.30pm, £8 / £4 concs
Support: Anja McCloskey + Shauna Mackin
Thursday 17 October 2013
The Milton Rooms, Market Place, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 7LX
Friday 18 October 2013
Cluny 2, 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 2 PQ
Joint headline with Fran Smith & Paul Liddell
Saturday 19 October 2013
Tanners Arms, 2-4 Hotspur Place, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1QFs
Support: Paul Liddell
Wednesday 23 October 2013
Noah’s Yard, 38 Uplands Crescent, Swansea SA2 0NE
Friday 25 October 2013
The Cabin, Brighton Steiner School, Roedean Rd, Brighton BN2 5RA
Support: Rebecca De Winter
Saturday 9 November 2013
Ents Shed, The Gordon Arms, Castle Rd, Bedford MK40 3QY
Support: Rebecca De Winter
Wednesday 13 November 2013
Grapevine at Bedfords, 1 Old Post Office Yard, Bedford St, Norwich NR2 1SL
Support: Rebecca De Winter
16 Oct, Kettering (venue tbc)
26 Oct, Hepworth Village Hall, Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
15 Nov, Art House, Southampton
23 Nov, Folking Live, The Cellar Bar, Bracknell, Berks
Photo Credit: Carsten Dieterich