Avant-electronic maestro Alfred Darlington (aka Daedelus) is pretty much always in motion. This month alone, the sometimes jazz hound and skewed Dublab darling drops a split EP with Jogger, before touring Europe behind a new release by the Long Lost — his dreamy, electroacoustic collaboration with wife and muse Laura Darlington.
Jane McCarthy of our sister publication Earplug sat down with Darlington at his studio in Santa Monica to talk sampling, Victorian Dandyism, Brian Eno, and the perils of classical training. Then, when the producer’s wife entered the room, McCarthy fell head-first into a couple’s lament on the meaning of love. Ah, the perils of music journalism.
Read the interview after the jump.
Earplug: Your home base is L.A. How has it influenced your music?
Daedelus: Growing up in Santa Monica, I remember seeing the rave scene a little bit from a distance… I wasn’t wearing Mickey Mouse hands and day-glow colors, but I was buying all of the mix CDs I could get. The music scene was amazing in L.A., and that’s something that totally feeds into youthful imagination. You kind of think anything’s possible. And I kind of kept that imagination going. I wanted to be a jazz musician, all this stuff.
EP: And you went on to study jazz at USC. Do you subscribe to the theory that you have to learn all of the rules in order to forget them?
Daedelus: Well, I’m really happy I went to USC, because I met wonderful people, some of who ended up starting Dublab. But the jazz program was really tough, because I learned a lot of rules, a lot of four-part harmony, classical choral-arranging music theory… Learning the rules in order to break them — maybe some people are really good at that, but I’m not so good at forgetting.
EP: That stuff haunts you?
Daedelus: Completely. I think to myself, “Oh, you shouldn’t have parallel fifth movements in a song.” If it sounds good, it sounds good. That should be the only rule. But I continually find myself doubting because of some conceptual error.
EP: While you grew up here in L.A., and you’ve stayed, you have a very strong anglophile bent. As a kid, did you think you were supposed to be British?
Daedelus: It’s even worse (or better, depending on your point of view). I didn’t grow up thinking I was British; I grew up thinking I was Welsh. I used to lie about it. When I was a kid, I would say I was from there… I begged and pleaded my parents to take me, and when I was like 12 or 13, I got the chance to go. Instead of it being like, “Why did I want to come here?” it was, “Oh, this is it! This is right!”
EP: You perform in Victorian gentlemen’s apparel. Do you consider yourself a nostalgist?
Daedelus: Now is good. I mean, if it wasn’t now, I’d be dead twice over because of dysentery and waterborne diseases and malnutrition. But also, musically, I’d be dead. I love doing electronic music, and years ago it wasn’t possible. Now is pretty cool for that kind of stuff… Not only the tools, but also the Internet. In the ’60s, very few people got in the door at the major labels. It was a really closed system. Any other time period, I would have been at most a footnote on a footnote. Right now, it’s easy to be a small fish and still be okay.
EP: Your name is a variation on Daedalus; in Greek mythology, he’s the inventor. But, he’s also Icarus’ father. You’ve mentioned the aspect of loss that accompanies this figure is intriguing to make music around…
Daedelus: Well, music, in essence, is a constant losing battle. I don’t know if you had these kinds of moments as a teenager, but you hear something, and it’s like a sledgehammer hitting you. It changes the way you think about the world. So hugely powerful… but you never can regain that. It’s just done. Music’s always downhill in some ways. I know that sounds kind of dark, but there’s something to that, and I like that, with Daedalus, there’s tragedy there. You have to have a little sour to make the sweet.
EP: In another interview, you mentioned that you see artists as conduits to something bigger. Are there things you do to set yourself up to be open to that energy? David Lynch, for instance, suggests transcendental meditation…
Daedelus: Brian Eno has said some interesting things on the subject. He’s obviously made all kinds of music that’s all over the place, but he always starts from a really strict set of restrictions… There’s a wonderful thing in hip-hop, where you find a record that has something fresh and you sample it, and that sample becomes the basis of an entire song. Now that sample is going to restrict everything else you’re going to do, because it already has a rhythm to it, it already has some melody to it, so suddenly you’re locked into this thing, creating something from it.
EP: Do you ever feel like an album is fully realized? At what point do you say, “Okay, this is done. It’s enough already?”
Daedelus: Well, for instance, the Long Lost. It took us ten years to do our record. It’s a process. With music, there are definitely different stages of love — maybe like a normal relationship. You have your honeymoon stage, when it’s all new and wonderful; and then you have this kind of middle love, where it’s respect and admiration; and then you have an older love.
[Laura Darlington walks in]
EP: How did the Long Lost begin?
Daedelus: Before we even were the Long Lost, we were making music. We re-met after a few years apart, after dating in high school and being broken up. When we got back together, I think it’s very natural, because we both were musicians, to experience that together. I don’t even know how it really started. Do you remember?
Laura Darlington: It was just very natural.
Daedelus: It was like a date we went on — except instead of going out to dinner, we were making music.
EP: Is there a central theme to this album? I’m sure over ten years it’s been a lot of things, but what would you say connects these tracks?
LD: I mean, certainly our story. Just the concept of romance as a good and bad thing.
Daedelus: It has to do with this previous experience of having seen each other and having had a tumultuous love affair. Just the fact that we had this love, we lost it, and we were able to find it again.
EP: Do you think an instrumental track can be as emotional as a song with lyrics?
Daedelus: Well, our ears are bent to hear the human voice. Even sometimes when you have something really low in a mix, people automatically listen for it. Personally, I find instrumental music to be more emotional, but that isn’t to say a turn of a phrase hasn’t brought me to tears.
LD: I have to listen to a song at least three or four times before I even hear the lyrics. I always hear the music and the chord changes first. Instrumental music for me is completely emotional.
Daedelus: It’s funny, there are plenty of records out there that are well loved, but if you look at the lyrics, it’s like a 14-year-old sat down to write bad poetry. But in music, in song, it’s completely acceptable. It’s just funny how these things can sometimes still get you. And it’s excusable too. You see a lot of weird 33-year-old emo dudes writing songs and it’s like, really? You’re way too old to be writing this kind of poetry.
LD: I’m not throwing any stones from my glass house. No comment.