You may remember Dw. Dunphy from our interview with him here. Well, it’s the holiday season and he has a Neon Green Xmas to share with us all! It’s a slightly wistful look at Christmas through the eyes of an adult who longs for a simpler time when everything about Christmas was magical.
Hello and welcome to the House of Atmosphere! A little while back Dw. Dunphy shared his new album, Test Test Test, with me and then I shared it here on SKOM. It has a lot of atmosphere and more variety than you think upon the initial listen. I recommend heading over to his Bandcamp and then head to his NoiseTrade to check out even more music! Now tuck in for an honest and open look at what makes Dw. Dunphy tick.
What is your name?
Dw. Dunphy, of the Dunphys that traveled across the boundaries of Scotland and Ireland, but mostly hung out in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
What is your quest?
I seek the Holy Grail…uh, I seek to share my musical endeavors with the world. If that should happen to come with a really shiny cup, then yay me.
You recently released Test Test Test. What was the inspiration for this album?
I have two distinct musical sides to my personality. I listen to a lot of music, from many different genres, so it all gets filtered into what I do. But I like classic rock and pop, and I like film soundtracks. I have, over time, tried to unify those two things as one project, but this is probably the closest I’ve come to achieving it.
It’s not such a strange thing either. At one point, instrumental music was widely accepted. However, that started changing in the late-1980s. That was when we had the last two big instrumental hits, Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme” and “Axel F.” from Beverly Hills Cop by Harold Faltermeyer. Faltermeyer was, if I recall correctly, an associate of Giorgio Moroder’s.
What was the process like?
To be perfectly honest, it was whatever I could do at nights and days off from work. Like so many independent artists, I have a day job. I think one has to at this time. You really have to achieve a specific level of recognition to survive solely on your music creation efforts. That’s okay though. The goal is to make something people can enjoy and will hopefully want to share with others. With that as a goal, this is not a bad time to make music in.
As for the songs themselves, they usually come through some process of noodling on the keyboard or guitar. You’ll hit upon some finger-shape that sounds really good in that moment and you will build a chord progression from that. I try to deviate from too-simple chord runs because I hear a heck of a lot of them already. It often comes down to making something I want to hear myself, but cannot find in the marketplace, if that makes sense.
Am I correct that you did all of the production yourself?
Yes, and that’s partly out of necessity. Because I’m fitting this work in around other schedules, there was no way I could do it with collaborators. I’m not opposed to collaborating in any way either, but for what comes out strictly from me, I don’t think too many people would tolerate my process.
I have a lot of music heroes and one of them is Todd Rundgren. If you listen to Something/Anything? it sounds like the work of a fairly decent-sized band. The majority of that set is all him, multitracked and overdubbed. The joy of being the –gag — auteurs is that it is a very personal vision. The downside is that if you screw it up, there’s no one else to blame.
What’s the story behind Shootout At The Spaghetti Factory (or, Do Breadsticks Come With That, Hombre?) ?
The song came before the title. I hooked up the tremolo pedal for that one and the vibe had a slight (like, very slight) Ennio Morricone spaghetti western feel to it. Maybe spaghetti western by way of Dick Dale’s “Misirlou.”
I can be a pretty dour musician at times, so anytime I can throw in some humor without it being forced — or stupid — is good. So after hearing the track, I thought, this might be a nice place for a provocative, slightly goofy title.
What has it been like journeying from Enigmatic to Test Test Test?
Enigmatic came near the end of a very prolific period. I’ve done music since the mid-1990s, and some of those original releases were through the Secret Decoder Records cassette collective. So there was a long stretch of writing and recording happening. I’m sure this is not unique to me: when you are a creative person there is this constant feeling of satisfaction as you’re making your work, and sometimes that carries through to when you start promoting it, but it only goes so far. You get that sinking feeling…what happened to the world domination I was expecting by now? So you quickly start the cycle again.
By Enigmatic, I was starting to change my perspective. I had my first musical homage on that, being “The Icy Frozen Ocean” which is a tip of the hat to Brian Wilson. That was a vocal album, which obviously was much different than Test Test Test, but it was the start of this new mindset. I don’t want to say it is “lowered expectations.” I still want to win over the hearts and minds of the whole world, but I do realize that it will be less likely as years go by.
Creative people are often insecure and somewhat needy. I want to have people tell me they like my work. It certainly fuels the creation of more of it. But I am just as happy to continue making and sharing with the small but loyal core group of fans I have. I suspect that even without them, I would still be making music. It is compulsory with me. That’s probably a sign that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
What are your hopes for Test Test Test?
I’d like for more people to hear it. That is complicated because I cannot get out and do shows, which we’ll discuss in a moment. So I’m caught in pushing as much as I can with Internet venues, with videos I construct and put on YouTube, and good word of mouth. It’s been far easier with Test Test Test. The word of mouth has been fantastic so far. People are able to take from these songs what they want. There isn’t a concrete statement being offered up, not like the previous album The Radial Night, which was a thematic, concept-driven album. What can I say? I like my prog rock too.
Do you perform live? If so, what is your setup like?
I’d love to perform live, but right now my ability to do so is severely compromised. Although this stuff was initiated by one guy in a tiny room in New Jersey, I’ve painted myself into a corner. To sound like what’s on the record, it likely needs to be played by a band. I could change arrangements and go out with an acoustic guitar, but nothing will sound like the recording, and that’s not really playing fair to the audience (whoever they may be). Same goes for if I go out with backing tracks on a laptop. That feels like a karaoke stunt.
How has your relationship with technology and music changed over the years?
Technology has enabled most of it. Not all of it…going back to those first cassette releases, I was one of the artists on that indie label that did multitracking. But I did it with two boomboxes, recording on one, playing back and playing along, recording on the other, and so forth. I’d do that until the accumulated hiss sounded too bad. It was the ’90s though, and us lo-fi types had Guided By Voices making it legit for indie artists to record and distribute no matter what. It was an interesting time.
Now I can record at home, and get really nice quality out of the work. Home recording no longer has the stigma it once had. Several major label albums have come out in recent years that were recorded on laptops, recorded on iPads. And there are so many ways to get your work to audiences now, which is a marked improvement from how it once was…but it also poses problems. In a day, there can be as many releases as there once was in a year out there, waiting for people to grab them. The Internet is a big pool, but the volume inside that pool is massive, and we are kind of squeezing each other out.
The way around that problem is more internal than external. You have to recognize the climate you’re in and keep your goals achievable. Still do good work, still give it that passion and enjoyment as always, but be realistic. Recognize there are many with those same passions out there who are hoping for the same outcomes. Also recognize that if Beyonce or Kanye or Taylor release something that day — or do just about anything that day — that will have a profound effect on your impact. A lot of oxygen will get sucked from that space, not only away from you but from the majority of others like you. That, too, is an effect of technology and the communications-driven world we live in.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I’ll continue spreading the word on Test Test Test. I’m really proud of it and feel it stands up quite well. I think it is unique enough that it will be recognized as its own thing, and I am glad of that. I’ll probably continue up to the holidays and likely start new recordings in January 2016. If things happen that facilitate my taking Test Test Test even farther, I’ll be thankful and will take that ride happily. Either way, I want people to hear it, and I definitely want them to enjoy it. That’s really why I’m giving it away for free, and the separate track from it as singles. I don’t expect to make money from it. I want the work to be heard and liked.
What haven’t you accomplished musically that you still hope to?
There are still collaborations that I’d love to make happen. I’d like to be a part of a band again, even if it is a one-shot deal. Having co-conspirators is fun, and can be creatively rewarding. Ever since I was a little kid who spun 45 rpm records on my toes — it’s weird but I swear that’s true — I’ve wanted to see my music on vinyl. I’m so happy that records in the literal sense have come back. If an indie label licensed Test Test Test, The Radial Night, Enigmatic, or perhaps the more soundtrack-like People Wearing Masks, that would be a dream come true. I don’t know if I could top that.
If none of that comes to pass, I’ll still be making music. Like I said, it is compulsory. Gotta do it. It is safer than base jumping.
What inspires you?
Anything and everything. Great stories. Uplifting moments. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Marie-Denise Villiers’ painting “Young Woman Drawing,” or listening to Mark Knopfler soloing…You never know what’s going to set you off creatively. I will say that in June I saw what might be one of the last concerts from Rush, out at the Wells Fargo Stadium in Pennsylvania. Here are three guys who are, I think, in their late ’60s. Neil Peart has gone on record as saying playing can be painful now. Sometimes you hear Geddy Lee reaching for a vocal note that he couldn’t NOT hit 20 years ago. But they all had such energy and joy in what they were doing. Alex Lifeson smiled all night.
That’s what inspires me. I want to smile all night, and frankly, the only thing that would stop me from getting a tiny bit of that joy would be to stop making music or stop being a creative person in general. Even if this is as much public approbation as I will get, it is still worth it.
I recently received a link to this in my inbox. Definitely worth checking out.
Welcome back to the continuing saga that is Some Kind Of Muffin’s interview with The Deafening Colors.
What are your hopes and dreams for this album and for The Deafening Colors?
John: My hopes for this album are that people cherish it, listen to it, and love it the way that I do my favorite albums. My hope for The Deafening Colors is that we spend the rest of our lives making music as best as we can. If we focus on that—the making of the best music we can make—all the rest will take care of itself.
Cris: Everything John said, and really: I just want more people to hear it. Sure, it’s nice to get recognition or make money or something, but what I REALLY want more than anything is something I’ve gotten a little bit already with Carousel Season. For the first time, people have “gotten it.” They’ll say, “Oh man, this made me think of that time I….” and it’s not the same thing I thought of when we made it, but it’s similar. It’s an aesthetic that people latched onto in the same way we did making it. It gives you this electric feeling of true and literal connection: like this thing that you can capture sonically can make someone feel the same way you’ve felt, even if you’ve never met this person. It’s what keeps me waking up and doing this stuff every day. Trying to get an answer to the question: “Maybe you’ve felt this way, too?”
Listening to Carousel Season I was immediately hit with a wall of emotion. I know that the album is a nostalgic look back, but it also feels immediate. It doesn’t feel wistful or regretful, as so many nostalgic pieces do. Where does that emotion come from and how are you able to convey it so effectively?
John: First, this is a wonderful reaction and I’m overjoyed that you felt this way when listening to the album. I think a lot of the creation of art comes from a mysterious place lurking somewhere between what might be called our conscious and sub-conscious. So answering this question is tough—but my guess is that the emotion comes from the realization that life is fleeting and that looking back on our experiences with anything other than some combination of joy and wonder would be useless.
Cris: YES!!!! That’s so cool! That’s the kind of thing I was talking about above. This is a roundabout answer, but it’s true so bear with me.
Here’s a secret: I’m deeply afraid of localism. This works on a few levels. For one, as a surfer, there is the constant question of local authenticity. Being a guy who grew up near the beach and now living across the river from Manhattan, every time I come home to paddle out, I wonder if someone is eyeing me up because I have a shirt tan or something stupid like that. Or even the way I surf. Or that I’m on a longboard instead of my shortboard because I’m out of practice or whatever.
Also, this is the same thing with where I live. I’ve been living and working in North Jersey for about a decade now. I’ve been home for extended stays in there, but my permanent residence has been in Morristown, Hoboken, Weehawken, and more for years now. For those are not from the area, it may sound stupid (and it probably, truly, is. But…) those places are decidedly more “New York” in accent, attitude, clothes, pace, and more. So even though some of this might be in my head, when I come back for a holiday or something, it’s as though I’m now the “other.” The difference. But where I live and work now, I’m always the other. You know what I mean? And people don’t move around between North and South Jersey often. The cliche is that they ought to be different states, but it’s actually a little more than cliche. It’s not animosity really. It’s, at least in some cases, a different way of life. It’s Philly vs. NYC. Slow vs. Fast. The beach vs. the city. I’m a diehard Philly sports fan but I live three blocks from the Hudson River and drive by MetLife Stadium and Red Bull Arena on the way to work every day. Go figure. John is much the same way I think. We live in this strange in-between world of New Jersey. We have probably lived in 10-15 cities and worked double that number in jobs between the two of us, so I think we have a firm grip on what it means to live in the Garden State.
So now, here’s the conclusion: when we wrote this thing, we were in a cool spot. Since we grew up here, since we have our families and our friends and our high school and our experiences and memories and childhoods here, we’ve been away long enough to write objectively about it. We can criticize and not feel like some jackass outsider or vacationing tourist (as a lot of recent AC-based songs can certainly feel) or some critical voyeuristic journalist looking to say “look at what a disaster this place is!” We can objectively say (and sleep okay at night saying) “this is our home. This is what it feels like for us. It’s messed up. It’s beautiful. We grew up operating carnival rides on the boardwalk and surfing at sunrise, but we also grew up knowing too many kids who died of heroin/opiate overdoses before we were of legal drinking age. We also saw good, hard-working people lose good jobs because of mismanagement and bureaucracy. We saw two island beach resorts with ludicrous socioeconomic disparity. We saw long summers, but we saw longer and more desolate winters. It’s flat here. It’s featureless. Pine trees and sand and pine trees and sand and cattails and bay grass and low tide and the same bar for the same happy hour with the same people…and we (or they?) like it that way. It’s not cool because it’s different from everyone’s experience. It’s cool because it’s our experience and it’s probably yours. It’s 100% not special. That’s why it’s special. We love where we grew up.” It’s everyone’s story of localism and the conflict in your heart when it comes to going away or coming home. In a weird way, I hope there’s something sort of American about it! Do we owe it to those who stayed or to our conscience to dwell where we please? It’s nostalgic, sure. But it’s OBJECTIVE. Or at least we tried to be that way. It’s good and bad like anywhere else is. Yikes. That was a lot longer than I wanted it to be.
What are the greatest challenges as songwriters?
John: To avoid cliché, and to say something universal as concisely and simply as possible.
Cris: To explain a feeling people have been trying to explain their whole lives, though they didn’t even know they were trying to explain it.
What haven’t you done yet that you want to either with your music or in life?
John: I want The Deafening Colors to make a masterpiece so undeniably great that it holds its own with the greatest albums, or works of art in general, of all time. To aim any lower seems a waste of time.
Cris: I 100% agree with John. I think his answer is perfect. As audacious and naive as it sounds, grandiosity doesn’t happen without foolishness if you ask me. If the worst thing that happens is someone thinks we’re talking out of turn, well, good.
What has been your darkest moment as The Deafening Colors and what has been your brightest?
John: The darkest moment was probably somewhere between our first full-length album, Upstairs, and Carousel Season, when we only practiced sporadically and recorded even less. The brightest was the whole recording process for Carousel Season. Those were some of the most fun days I’ve ever had.
Cris: We’ve had 20 or so people play in our group over the years and not all of them have been the kind of nice, kind, friendly folks you like to have around the family. With that said, many of them have been, too. Also, John has had some remarkable stability with his wife, and I…well…haven’t sometimes? I don’t recall having even a mild disagreement with John really ever, so the dark moments that have influenced a lack of output or less-than-stellar stuff have really been a symptom of personal stuff rather than TDC.
How do you play live? Is it just the two of you? Do you have additional musicians live or prerecorded tracks?
John: We have played many shows with a full band–usually three guitarists, one bassist, and a drummer. Lately we’ve been doing an acoustic duo/trio depending on who is around, and we’ve also been practicing with a full band. We have never used prerecorded tracks live. We’ve also played with dozens of musicians in our various incarnations over the years.
Do you plan to tour? Because I can’t make it to New Jersey, but it’d be great if you made it to Portland.
John: We do. Do we know when? Not necessarily. Part of it depends on finances, and our work/life circumstances. If circumstances and finances allow, I’d like us to tour anywhere that would have us!
Cris: Agree with John here too. I think that the two of us struggle inherently with a simple concept: we spend so much time getting the right sound on our recordings, and that is a discovery process. So there’s a lot of “trial and error, listen, take time, listen some more, try something else” going on that you can’t really have in a live show. So ultimately, we (unfairly, and maybe inaccurately) feel as though our live show seems like it doesn’t measure up to our records. Also, the real rush of it all at least for me (but I think for John too) is that we get to actually make something NEW when we are recording. We’re not treading over something we have worked to perfect, we are making something. We like that.
I know John is married. Do you both have full-time jobs in addition to the band? How do you manage your time?
John: Yes, I am married, and yes, we have full-time jobs. I am a librarian. I manage my time by filling it with all the things I care about–I love my job, and when I am not working I am playing guitar, or writing to bloggers about The Deafening Colors, or driving to Cris’s place to record music. We record late at night, or very early in the morning, or all day on weekends, or all day on holidays, or whenever we get a chance, really. Cris has been doing all of the instruments himself–which means that whenever I get over there he has a track for me to sing over. It’s been a great arrangement and we don’t plan to stop.
Cris: I am not married, but I have a wonderful girlfriend who is infinitely patient and compassionate in addition to being a gorgeous and strong person. I am a full time 10th/11th grade English teacher at a public high school in northern New Jersey. I have been doing that for five years. I absolutely adore my job, my school, and everyone I work with…not to mention the students who are unquestionably awesome. I also coach girls soccer at the high school, play semipro soccer with a local club, cook at The Little Grocery Uptown in Hoboken during the summertime (the owners are lovely people and the food is incredibly good. I know, because I make it!), I surf as often as possible, and I try to see my family, see my friends, read, and write as often as humanly possible. I’m pretty obsessed with recording and listening to music though. I sort of strangely look at it as studying as much as I look at it as doing something for strictly entertainment purposes. The management of all of this time is a bit of an insane juggling act, but it never seems that way. It’s just what we’ve been doing as long as I can remember. It’s strange: since I’m fourteen or so, I always think that whenever I have free time, in my head, it’s always “I should be recording… I should be recording… I should be recording…
Thank you both so much for taking the time to share about your new album, your process, and a bit about your personal lives!
John: Thank you for taking the time to interview us!
Find The Deafening Colors at these fine locations: