Dusted’s Total Dust has turned out to be one of my favorite records of 2012: a melancholy yet uplifting collection of pop rock songs recorded with endearingly lo-fi production values. The one-off studio collaboration between Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt’s and producer/drummer, Leon Taheny has since turned into a real band, with the two of them going on the road as a duo. We caught up with Borcherdt via email, somewhere on tour:
You have aptly described the sound of the record as a “weird world of dust and distortion” and having a deliberately “gauzy blurry focus.” When you were up in the woods of Nova Scotia writing these songs, did you envision them sounding like this? Or did it evolve in the studio?
I wrote them over previous months touring. A few songs came from even earlier, like years back. I decided to record them this way after having brought the sound to the stage, sort of inadvertently, singing through a tiny valve state practice amp. Suddenly I was excited to playing my own songs again. They weren’t so bare and vulnerable anymore yet, nothing was new, just a bit of dust in the delivery. And that was something that suited my sense of aesthetic and made me more comfortable.
The production is very sparse and “lo-fi” but also meticulously well-crafted, with each song having its own particular sonic landscape. You’ve mentioned “blown-out amps” as a one source of that “dusty” sound—were these sorts of effects pre-planned or more a result of fortuitous circumstance? What was Leon Taheny’s role in the development of the arrangements?
The arrangements were part of the writing process, and that was what I was bringing to the studio. But of course new things came to the surface, new melody lines, or tones, rhythmic ideas. That is what a great studio session should be, a process of rediscovery. And Leon made all of that possible. He and I bounced ideas back and forth. Sometimes it was adding something new, and even more often it was removing things. For songs like these we agreed less was more.
“Centuries of Sleep,” is listed as a “bonus track” on the CD but the LP is not very long (barely 30 minutes)—why did you decide to segregate this excellent song from the rest of the album proper?
“Centuries of Sleep” came from a much earlier recording session. I didn’t think they fit as well with the new stuff. We kept “Property Lines” for the record. But for “Centuries of Sleep” I was torn. It’s not that I don’t like the song. I do. I like the other songs we left off as well. But for me they didn’t fit as well.
Dusted has hit the road as a duo. How is it going? It must have been a challenge to reduce these songs to just two performers—what strategies did you utilize to translate them to the stage?
Our strategy was “we have four hands, twenty fingers, how can we play these songs live?” It was a fun, puzzling process. We’d decided to leave bass out of songs if Leon didn’t have a free hand to play it on his bass synth. Or in other songs we’d have bass synth but no snare.
You have intimated that Dusted is not just a one-off and more of an ongoing concern—does that mean there will be another album? Will it just be you and Leon again or have you considered expanding the lineup? Can we expect a similarly “dusty” approach to recording?
Who knows. Since we finished the record Leon has built a new studio. Maybe it will be a more hi-fi record as a result. The one major difference with songs arranged so far is that they have a more drum heavy delivery in that we’ve worked them out for the stage rather than the studio.
After a couple of years off, Holy Fuck are apparently working on a new album—do you think your experience with Dusted has informed your work with that band? Or are they totally separate activities?
They’re totally different. Right now Holy Fuck are recording and coming up with ideas pretty much the same as we ever did. But that’s a whole other story.
You obviously have an intense work ethic: it seems you are always either writing and recording songs or touring endlessly—what do you like to do when you’re not making music?
I don’t really have a lot of hobbies. I live in Toronto when I’m not touring. For me, I’d rather be in the woods when I’m free from the road. I’m happier there. But in the city it’s really about working on music as much as possible or hanging out with friends and getting drunk.