Words With: Kyle Bobby Dunn

Although I’ve threatened it for many years, interviews on HearFeel have never been forthcoming. I have conducted a number of them over at Headphone Commute (amongst other writings, which you can find by narcissistically searching my name here), but this will be the first here. I am very pleased to say that I managed to convince one of my all time favourite ambient musicians to answer a few questions regarding his work, and this first interview is with none other than the illustrious and much regarded Kyle Bobby Dunn. All answers are his own. Enjoy.

Hey Kyle, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions today, it’s a real privilege. How have things been with you lately? 

Honestly not great for quite some time. I am sure there are people who must think that is my default answer or that I answer that too often but I have not been doing well for many years. Now that summer is around the corner I just want to fuck off to some lakeside area or travel but it probably won’t happen.

You’ve been creating your own brand of Ambient and Drone music for well over a decade now; how did you first get involved with the genre and what keeps you motivated to continue creating music these days? 

I guess it just stemmed out of playing keyboards in the early days. I would compose really shitty soundtrack music for films I was making as a child and into my teens. I liked a lot of film music, Badalamenti and Morricone scores and still to this day enjoy the cheesy horror film soundtracks of the 80’s and beyond but as I dropped out of trying to be a filmmaker in high school I took to making sounds only. Music that soundtracked my memories or feelings inside and, in the beginning, mostly made albums for myself and some friends. I started doing concerts of it in late high school and it’s always been a mess. I suppose it always will be but there is an emotional motivation there that just won’t let it die for me. I need to do it like one needs exercise and fresh air.

We actually got to hear the first new sounds from you in 3 years recently in your new single “Her Ghost Wore Tennis Shoes”; could you tell us a little about it? Is this possibly a prelude to more material down the line?

I think so. It’s been hard since ‘Infinite Sadness’ in 2014 was such a massive release and statement on music in general. I never thought I’d release a work like that and in a way it’s everything I’d be reaching for since the beginning of making music, so it could have been my first and only release. I like how a blunt of the material still sits with me today but I am working on new things with different producers and people and I am hoping any new album, which is probably a ways off still, will be more collaborative and varied in nature than the flatness of Infinite Sadness tends to be. I find it very hard to work with anyone other than myself but I am getting better at it and this new song was very much possible due to working with a local producer and musician friend, Nick Schofield. He works in many different projects so maybe it’s why the track was possible but he helped stitch it together in different ways that I typically don’t. I do like how the two versions turned out so I found it hard to not release both of them to the internet. It’s simple and mostly about dreams and desolate walks in Montreal Nord.

Whilst much of your work is very dominated by guitar drones, “Fragments and Compositions” is notably different in its stringed arrangements and beautiful piano sequences; have you ever considered exploring that Neo-Classic sound again?

Those are mostly experimental recordings much like my other early stuff on Kning Disk, ‘Six Cognitive Works.’ I was just more into playing piano as a kid and during those recordings I hadn’t really played a lot of guitar before. To me the music is still sort of neo-classical in nature. I like the strings on my song ‘Mon Retard’ and I recently played a Toronto concert with a fantastic cellist and I think some of the newer songs will feature piano and other instrumentation again.

It seemed like your last record “And The Infinite Sadness” was rather denser and more ambitious than your previous efforts in its length and emotional scope; what was different about that record and how has the creative process changed over the years?

Some of the music was as direct as I’ve ever been before and I got great results from loops that I’d stored over the years and used for mainly live sets. Some music was from 2006 and I had been trying to process properly over the years. It’s really just a record I was brutally honest and sincere about and it makes it hard to follow up since it was ambitious and vast. I think it just made things deceptively simple and intensely difficult for me and the creative process since. I think many people working in music, especially drone, probably have no idea what to do anymore. I hate to think that people must think what I do is too simple or boring but I know that’s probably the large majority of anyone who might come across it. I have to say I don’t enjoy much drone music I hear.

Lots of your track titles seem quite specific in the people and places they reference, not to mention mysterious in their cheeky in-jokes; how much do they feed in to the music they name, do you feel your pieces are thematic in that sense?

Absolutely. They may only make sense to me sometimes because of the intensely personal references in places but it’s also abstract to make hopefully more accessible to listeners. I have always been into themes. Either based on someone or some crevice in time. That’s mainly all the music is. Maybe most music.

I and many others find your work very peaceful and beautiful, introspective listening, but you often talk about your music as being sad and apathetic, even miserable. Why do you talk about it in such terms and why do you think there’s such a difference in perception?

I apologize. I am a frustrated worker and person. I think I do myself, my music, and possibly my fans a disservice by constantly remarking on how miserable it is. It isn’t. It just often comes from such miserable places within myself and I have often felt I am doomed genetically to be a very miserable man for the rest of my life. I don’t often have a good feeling about the world news and some of the people I have been unfortunate to know in my time but music is all up to the interpreter. I think it’s amazing that a rather varied audience enjoys what I do for different reasons. It’s not meant to be one sided or selective in any way. Emotions aren’t either.

Lastly, and this is perhaps a somewhat selfish question, I was wondering if you could give us any insight into the meaning of “Ending of All Odds”? It’s one of my favourite all time pieces and I’d love to know more about it from your perspective.

Good final question and coming from the last response I think makes sense. It was just a song and title I came up with while mostly walking streets of Manhattan one day. It’s just about empty hope. I feel the world and its differences will never end its odds mainly because what I said above about emotions and things never truly being one sided or definitive. There is a sense of hope and sadness in the song and it was recorded in one take on a warm spring day. I’d sure like to end my odds might be the best way to sum it up.