The Guillemots frontman is back with an EP, an improvised piano and vocal work, a mooch through the albums that have influenced him most, and some answers to questions
Fyfe Dangerfield seems to have been away for ages. Following four Guillemots albums and associated worldwide tours, Mercury and BRIT Awards nominations, freewheeling stage-left camaraderie with jazz improvisationists Gannets, a major label solo debut album (Fly Yellow Moon), the odd soundtrack and a Top 10 single, there was… something of a gap. The sometime frontman became a father. Last year, amid lockdown, he turned 40. Amongst it all, birds were undoubtedly watched.
But the period of silence is coming to an end, and a welcome return includes the launch of a free online creative space channelsmaychange.com, a YouTube channel and associated label described as “a burgeoning digital home for Fyfe and an arc of collaborators, a free playground where everything and anything made for the pure joy of creativity alone can be shared, ready to be sampled by the curious”.
As he explains: “We casually share informal photos of ourselves all the time these days, and I need to be able to operate the same way creatively… to happily show myself in my musical pyjamas, rather than only ever presenting the smartened up ‘first date’ version of myself to the world. So Channels May Change is that open station for me, where all the strangest, most oddly-shaped ideas that make no rational sense but still tickle me can reside, without them feeling like their only option is to have to jostle and hustle for living quarters on a more conventional release.”
The creative process unleashed there has led to a new (very) impressionistic EP called The Birdwatcher and a single, Woah! Life, together with an improvised piano and voice album, Ludlow. Marking the occasion, Dangerfield trawls through the albums that have influenced him most for his This Music Made Me, which appears below. But first, some questions are in need of answers…
It’s been ages and ages and ages. Where have you been and what have you been doing?
Ha! Yeah it’s been a while!
Well… becoming a Dad… and beyond that, just recording and recording and recording.
Having those years in the limelight with Guillemots, and my solo album, was really rewarding, but I also had this sense gnawing away at me that I hadn’t even scratched the surface of what I wanted to do creatively.
And the decade we’ve just left – that combination of online becoming such a force, and home-recording technology becoming the norm rather than the exception .. everything just opened up for me.
I loved playing with the band, but it was also so exciting to realise that, for the first time ever, I could now really truly make anything I wanted – literally anything – and make it available for the world to hear. Rather than having to get a record company’s sign off, or the approval of the other guys in the band.
So I just started following every creative instinct I had, allowing things to twist and turn in their own way, and learning how to use a laptop to get the sounds in my head out, unfiltered.
And this idea gradually grew of having my own channel online, a kind of digital playground where I could share anything I liked in a more casual, less pressured way than a “formal” release. Somewhere to share music-in-progress, in its current state of dress, whatever that might be. Knowing that at any point I could come back to it all and put out different, evolved versions.
So I started channelsmaychange.com towards the end of 2018, and broadcast a weekly series on there called Birdwatcher, which is a mix of songs and music and sounds and even some strange talking characters too; it’s kind of its own surreal universe, spread across 12 episodes.
It’s all free to listen to. That was important to me; I felt like if I charged people, there’d be a certain expectation I had to fulfil. Whereas I just needed to totally let loose and broadcast whatever I felt like. I got really obsessed with truly representing myself – showing all of me, not just the most palatable, familiar sides.
We made some dreamlike artworks for each episode – myself and Gavin Bush, who oversees the channel – and there’s 12 accompanying Michelin-Star style tasting menus too, naturally (!).
It was a mega intense process, as I was putting each episode together week by week; I was often working on the music day and night, to get it as good as I could in the time I had. But that pressure also led to some really wild creative decisions. And it was so satisfying to come out on the other side of it all, and have this big, sprawling, mad “thing” to show for it.
Birdwatcher’s a really big deal to me, I’m so glad it’s out there for people to gradually discover.
So after that I took a bit of a break for sanity’s sake – then gradually started making some more music, trying to figure what to do next, and then the craziness of lockdown unfolded, and quite a lot of change in my life generally, and now here we are in 2021.
And for some reason – finally – it now feels like the right time to, you know, just start releasing some music again, outside of the context of a surreal four-and-a-half-hour series!
You were the front man of Guillemots and on a major label. Tell us where you’re at now. (And, is Guillemots definitely no more?)
Well I guess the previous answer covers the “where you’re at now” bit!
But with Guillemots – ah, I definitely wouldn’t say we’re “no more”. The four of us are all in touch pretty regularly these days, and we’ve been gradually hatching some plans.
We’ve got a pretty big archive of bits and pieces that people haven’t yet heard…
I doubt the band’ll ever be the main thing in our lives again, but we’d all love to all get in a room together at some point and play; it’s just not the easiest thing to organise, even outside of lockdown, as we’re spread across the globe now!
But like I say, in the meantime, there are various ideas cooking…
Has lockdown and not touring changed your music making for the better? Have you been writing and recording more?
I wouldn’t say it’s changed my music-making particularly. When I’m doing my thing in the studio, it’s kind of irrelevant what chaos is going on outside, I just get into my bubble, so in that respect writing and recording hasn’t felt particularly different.
But it’s hard to live through something like this without it having an effect on you personally – even if sometimes that impact is more subconscious than obvious – so I’m sure it’s influenced the music I’ve been making.
And discovering live-streams has been a real eye-opener… I did a weekly series last year and just finished another one more recently.
Obviously it’s not the same as a traditional live show, but it’s genuinely felt like a lovely little community’s formed around the streams each time, the same people checking in each week.
There’s still been that sense of a mutual exchange taking place both ways between performer and audience, rather than it being a one-way thing… that spirit’s still there, even if we’re not all in the same physical space. It’s been a really heart-warming thing to experience, actually.
Tell us about your release plans for the year.
Well, the idea is just to put out a steady stream of music on Channels May Change Records – the channel’s label.
We’ve started with The Birdwatcher EP, which is a handful of tracks from the first two episodes of the Birdwatcher Series.
And we’ve made a video for Woah! Life, the first track on the EP and in the series, which is out there now, and I’m so happy about that – it was a real labour of love to make, it kind of feels like a visual extension of the song. That whole combination of music and visuals is something I’m going to explore a lot more.
So now we’re just going to keep releasing this and that. Singles, EPs, albums, videos… all sorts.
Just keeping a kind of Willy Wonka production-line going, rather than being silent for months, then putting out one thing, then disappearing again.
And introducing more bits and pieces on the channels website too.
I’ve stockpiled so much music over the last decade or so… so it’s an exciting feeling, starting to free this and that from this giant tub of stuff I’ve been amassing.
What are the two things you’re most looking forward to doing when lockdown ends?
Well, probably the same answer as most people – just sitting in a pub and having a pint with a friend or two, I guess. Simple things like that. Going to a nice restaurant. And also, I hope, actually playing some live shows. And going to watch some live shows too. It’s been so long, it all feels like a bit of a distant concept, but I’ll appreciate it all so much more, that’s for sure. That was more than two things wasn’t it…
Our This Music Made Me series usually amasses 10 albums which have influenced the artist most. Fyfe couldn’t quite narrow his selections down to 10, so we get a bonus three. And here they all are…
The Beatles – The Blue Album
I can’t not put the Beatles in here because I’ve been listening to them since I was about three. I didn’t really listen to anything else for years.
I remember this record being in the house and playing it a lot, and I could never whittle it down to one particular album, so I guess a compilation is the most diplomatic choice! It’s still the most extraordinary creative trajectory… from Love Me Do to Strawberry Fields in four or five years… and they always kept their sense of spontaneity, playfulness.
I still keep coming back to them all the time, they’re so deeply embedded in my musical DNA.
Jeff Buckley – Grace
This was a pretty big one for me, when I was around 16.
I’d kind of been into the whole Britpop thing as it was happening, that was the first time I’d ever been into music that was actually current at the time, but then someone put a couple of tracks from this on a compilation tape for me (remember those?!) and it was so beautiful and passionate, and his delivery so celestial, it really hit me in a much deeper way.
It’s so sad he left us so young.
Björk – Homogenic
I clearly remember getting this album when I was about 18, 19, living away from home for the first time, still in my first band which was basically guitar / bass / drums / vocals, with a bit of keyboards… and getting back to the house, finding it empty, putting this on really loud in the lounge and sitting there with my mouth open, just thinking “what is the point of us even trying in this band anymore?” Not in a nasty way, but just.. this sounded like music from another planet.
I’d always wanted to make music that sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before, and we were trying in our own way to be original in the band, but then you hear something like this and it’s just on a whole, whole other level… it’s completely singular.
Various Artists – Warp 10+3 Remixes
I think I borrowed this from the local library and copied it onto CD (again… remember that?!)… ah, the old days of pre-internet pirating.
It’s a compilation of people on Warp records remixing other people on Warp Records… I just looked it up on Spotify and flicked through the first few tracks and it’s amazing how familiar they still sound even though I don’t think I’ve listened to it for 15 years at least… it really drew me into the world of electronic music.
I guess Björk sort of opened that door for me, but then I really went rummaging. This whole double album was just like a safari through all sorts of sounds and textures that were so new to me.
Pole – 3
I’m choosing the majority of these albums from the same time in my life, when I was around 19, 20, 21… because I really did just spend so much time listening to music then.
I’m conscious that I don’t spend nearly enough time listening these days, because I’m always so busy making stuff. This was just a random record I bought in the local record shop with no idea what was on it, I just liked the plain bright yellow cover.
But actually it really beguiled me, this strange kind of micro-dub-glitchy minimalist kind of music… it’s a very particular sound, all the tracks kind of sound the same (in a good way)… it’s really stuck with me. Just very much on its own trip.
Aaliyah – Aaliyah
Someone else we lost way way too young.
It’s such a potent combination, such sensual music – her singing’s so clear and effortless and gorgeous, the harmonies are beautiful… and then the Timbaland production’s just right on it, again, so clear, so crisp, but also kind of other-worldly… with the bleeps & throbbing synth basses and everything.
It really did sound futuristic to me then and still kind of does, even though it’s now also very recognisably from a certain period of time.
Vaughan Williams – Job / The Lark Ascending
Job as in “Jobe”, a biblical figure, not, like, “get a job”!
Again, this time in my life when I first lived away from home, so many different musical worlds were opening up to me. I’d kind of resisted “classical” music for a long time, I guess because I’d been having piano lessons since I was tiny and saw that as music I had to practice, rather than stuff I’d listen to for fun. But gradually I got drawn in. This was a CD released on Naxos, which I remember at the time I bought loads of, because they all only cost a fiver.
Job is such an amazing journey, such sumptuous music, it completely envelops you. And The Lark Ascending is just one of the most beautiful pieces, so elemental… he really tapped into some magic there. It just completely captures that serenity of being out in nature, really present and out of your head (in the sober sense!)… the beauty in that.
Brian Eno – Music For Airports
I still listen to this album a lot actually; often if I can’t sleep, I’ll put this on.
When I was making the Birdwatcher Series, which was the most intense time-pressure thing I’ve ever done, getting these episodes together for broadcast every week, I’d often have to work through the night and I’d take little power naps on the studio sofa and drift off listening to this on my phone.
It’s such deeply calming music, it’s truly medicinal. And so much space in it! Space – something that I have to keep reminding myself about when I’m making my own records!
John Coltrane – Ascension
I mean, this is about as far from Music For Airports as you can get in every respect, as chaotic and full on and unhinged as Airports is tranquil, measured and peaceful.
But it’s so euphoric in its freedom.
This is the best side of free jazz… for me, sometimes this kind of music can be rather fussy and self-consciously awkward, a bit too cerebral for my taste, but when the spirit’s there, it’s as exhilarating as any music can get.
Tom Waits – Rain Dogs
Another record that just totally exists in its own universe. I love all the marimbas and junkyard percussion and so on; you’d never guess it was made right in the midst of the 1980s.
And again, talking of spirit – this record just has such life in it. I remember a time when I was working nights in a piano bar, starting at 11 at night or something, and there was one night I really, really didn’t feel like going in.
And I had a bath and blasted this album out, and just came out of there an hour later a renewed human, totally ready for the late shift. It’s defiant, the sonic opposite of defeatism.
Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours
Ah man! Such heartbreak but such beauty too.
His singing is so direct, the orchestration by Nelson Riddle is just spot on, the whole way it’s recorded is delicious on the ears… and the lyrics in these songs too, it really is just a whole other era, a whole other way of expressing yourself.
So emotional, yet still so dignified and composed somehow. I still come back to this one a lot.
Various Artists – Ethiopiques, vol 5: Tigrigna Music 1970-1975
This is a collection of Ethiopian pop music from the early 1970s. I think I first heard this album driving around in a van whilst doing some gigs with a band called Transmissions of Not, a kind of free-jazz / beatbox / electronics combo thing… my memory’s a bit blurry of it all.
But I’m pretty sure it was John Edwards, the double bass player – an extraordinarily energetic musician – who put this on in the car, and it was such a fresh and joyful sound, the kind of thing you can only really get by playing music live in a group.
And there’s these tunings and accents, downbeats in there which were so unfamiliar to my ears… I love it.
Richard Burton – Under Milk Wood
I had to put this one in there .. not strictly music, but it is, really.
The combination of his speaking voice, which is just the most evocative, mellifluous thing – and the other cast members too, these great, rich Welsh accents – and then Dylan Thomas’s words, which, though very meaningful, seem to be equally as much about how they sound, how they roll off the tongue. So it really is music to me and is another album I often put on if I’m feeling anxious.
It’s so enchanting to listen to. And somehow reassuring too. It’s sort of like listening to the human equivalent of birdsong.