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.
I’m probably too self-conscious about how such an economic rig would be perceived, but if I went to see me based on what I heard from any of these recordings, I’d want some effort to at least get close to it. Anything less feels like a rip-off.
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.