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Q&A with David Dallas


Alexander Bisley talks with David Dallas.

AB: There’s heaps I relate to in ‘Till Tomorrow’. Have any of the lyrics in that been resonating with you recently?

DD: Oh, all of them. That’s life. That’s as simple as I can put it. No matter how awesome anyone’s life is, there are days that you feel wicked, and there are days that you feel like shit. That’s just something you’ve got to deal with, and the sooner you accept that fact, the happier you’ll be in general. I think a lot of the time people just think that their lives are supposed to be perfect all the time. That’s what makes them more depressed than they should be.

AB: Many people have this fantasy idea of what their life should be like.

DD: The advent of social media, I don’t think those sorts of things help. On Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, it’s basically just a competition. It’s almost as if subconsciously people think that they have to project a better life than they actually have. It’s like, I’ve got to make my life look awesome because everyone else’s life looks awesome. It’s a never ending battle for people. It’s an overload of, “Oh yeah, the job is great”, and “I’m having such a great holiday”. Everyone thinks that what they see on the E Channel or on their friends’ Instagram is real and that “Everyone has got a better life than me”. It’s not even like that. It never is.  

 AB: I remember, years ago, seeing you do a gig at the San Francisco Bath House. You bantered about working some crappy, minimum wage job. What was the crappiest job you ever did?

DD: Once I started doing music, I didn’t work any more, which meant that there were certain periods when I just didn’t have any money which was worse than living on minimum wage [laughs]. The worst job I ever had would have been Pizza Hut.

It was right around the time that I finished uni that I appeared on the Scribe ‘Not Many’ remix, I was still a student. I had another semester of university, and then I was working at a software company in Auckland called Pete’s Software.

If I hadn’t fallen into music, I don’t know what I would have been doing. I guess I would’ve had to stay on that career path which I wasn’t even good at. I mean, I was good enough to get a degree in it, I got a job and all that, but I couldn’t excel at it. I guess that I couldn’t excel at it because I had absolutely no passion for it. I was just clocking in and clocking out. 

AB: With that partly your interest in videogames?

DD: Completely. That was it. I was interested in computers because I was interested in computer games. I’d always liked technology in general. I loved computers and videogames and electronics and anything like that.

AB: Increasingly, for a rapper, you’ve got to understand technology and the internet and new ways of getting your work out there. There’s the obvious angle with ‘Running’ being synced on the videogame Fifa 2014 as well. So do you think, in a way, your BSc has some relevance to what you’re doing as a rapper and hip hop artist now?

DD: I wouldn’t have even been making music because I started out recording myself on my computer at home. It was only because I was always on the internet. I was always downloading music. I was always on hip hop forums. That was the thing that led me to start recording. I’d met a few friends online who I’d end up meeting later in person in Auckland and they were like, “Yeah, we record ourselves. One raps and another one DJs.” And I thought, I can do that.

I was studying computers at varsity and I had spare time. I went online and downloaded some cracked recording software. I probably shouldn’t say that, but that’s what I did. I bought a cheap mic and figured out how to record in my room. I guess I was the first generation of kids that would record themselves on PCs and we’d share our music online with each other. It was just the advent of that; just the time recording software and computers were actually becoming powerful enough to run recording software cheaply. Prior to that, even in the 90s, you needed the mega computer to run recordings. You needed to be spending thousands and thousands of dollars. 

AB: I remember talking to Nesian Mystik over a decade ago about Polysaturated and they said they first had it as a demo they created on a PlayStation game.

DD: I’ve met so many dudes whose first interaction with samplers and sequences in programming music came from that PlayStation game.

AB: Kanye West posted ‘Big Time’ on his website, didn’t he?       

DD: Yeah that was in 2010. That was his thing at the time. That Kanye West blog was just huge at the time, music and videos and interior design images. It was all very well curated. I don’t even know if Kanye himself would have been solely responsible for curating that thing because it was always being updated. It was wicked because, even to this day, especially among Americans, there are so many dudes that become my fan because they saw it on the Kanye West blog.

AB: Going back to your title track, ‘The Wire’.

DD: Obviously I love the TV show, that song is all Ruby Frost to me. Her lead vocal; she basically sent that over like a chord progression. The Wire’s definitely one of my top 10 shows. The Office has influenced me creatively because I have used it; Ricky Gervais in general [laughs].

AB: It’s always a good reminder of, “Sure, you’re going to be a bit broke at times but the alternative!”

DD: Exactly. It’s like, “Ooh, at least I’m not in Slough.”

AB: I thought Eminem still had that fire at Rapture. You must have been stoked to open for him?

DD: Yeah it was amazing. Obviously I’ve grown up listening to him so it was pretty wicked. The show was just huge.

When he performed ‘Criminal’, that was crazy, I was just losing it because I wasn’t expecting him to do that. And ‘White America’.

For me, as a hip hop fan growing up in New Zealand, I was proud to be a part of that. It was very rewarding, very validating because we’ve just never had that.

AB: Self doubt is part of hip hop. Say in the 2012 album, Borrowed Time, that was less you thinking that you were going to die, but more the idea that this was your shot at hip hop?

DD: Yeah, it might be your last chance to say something. All the best guys have shown [self doubt], from Tupac, Biggie, Scarface. Even someone like Jay Z, the most supremely confident rapper, he’s still got songs that are all about his vulnerability. I’ve always gravitated toward artists that do that. 

AB: Any song on Falling Into Place which is in that vein?

DD: I think ‘The Wire’ touches on those sorts of things. For me, the most emotive work in Falling Into Place is something like ‘Southside’, really. ‘Southside’ really hit a nerve with me writing it. I don’t usually get that. I almost felt like I was choking up with several things. It was kind of raw for me.

AB: Challenging that one-dimensional view of South Auckland is cool. Mareko’s verse about David Lange is nice.

DD: Yeah, it’s a special place. I’ve lived in New Zealand my whole life and I’ve gone all around it. It’s very different. I can understand why people think it’s a city of its own. South Auckland is different from the rest of the world. It’s very multi-dimensional and faceted in terms of the people that come from there.

AB: There’s a favourite quote of mine from The Wire. The character Slim Charles says, “The game’s the same. Just go more fierce.” I see creative industries like that, the music industry in particular.

DD: Yeah, more fierce. A lot of people say, “Well, music doesn’t sell anymore, so fuck this. How are you going to do music? Music is fucked now.” To me, I feel like it is exactly the same as it was. You can’t just walk into the radio station and get heaps of spins and be killing it. The principle is still the same if you make good music, it should cut through. The principle is still the same. You try to make stuff that’s true to yourself; stuff that expresses what you want to express.

AB: Can’t stop hip hop?

DD: Yeah, I think it’s getting to the point now where a generation of kids have grown up with hip hop music. It’s not looked at as just brown people now. This really is its own culture. The youth will understand it. There was never a time before it for them. For those who were born in the 90s, hip hop has been around for their entire existence. I think that’s a great thing. 

AB: Congratulations on your awards at the 2014 Pacific Music Awards. 

DD: I would have liked to have been there, but I was on the opposite side of the world. It was good to hear. It was the same night that I played my first show in Paris. We were playing a boat on the Seine River. It was a cool way to celebrate because it was the first time I’d ever played in Europe.

AB: How did the Parisian audience go for you? 

DD: It was wicked. I mean, it’s kind of a crazy thing because just getting on stage, there are certain things you don’t really think about until you’re up there. Things like banter or introducing yourself onstage. You’re kind of like, how many of these people actually understand what I’m saying? Everyone got the gist. Everyone was into it and it was cool.

AB: You had almost 12 months in New York during 2011, didn’t you?

DD: Yeah, I had an apartment in Harlem from the end of 2010 basically till the end of 2011. After I shut the apartment down I came back for the New Zealand summer but then I went back to the US mid-2012 and I did a three-month tour. It was pretty much across the country.

AB: Is New York somewhere you want to spend some more time living?

DD: New York is a tough city to live in. Obviously, it’s the best city to holiday in. But living in a box and not seeing trees and not having a backyard. I guess for me growing up, having a backyard and not just living surrounded by concrete, living in a little box in a building.

At first, I’d go for a two or three week trip. The whole time it’s so alive and there are so many things to do there. That stuff is great. I found that when that sort of thing wears off, it starts to take a toll, going out every night and just being busy all the time. It’s a hectic lifestyle and the thing is, what you realise in New York is that everyone else is basically in a similar position. The majority of people that move to New York have moved there to pursue something. Everyone’s focused. Everyone’s got something to be. Everyone is grinding, hustling, doing something, you know? That kind of gets quite sapping. I found – specifically for my creative process – when it came time to write the record, it was good for me to get back to New Zealand and get back with my crew and just have time to really concentrate on the record instead of everything feeling quite rushed. There are certain benefits to being able to take your time and relax and have a look at things properly.

AB: I was talking to Savage about this as well, and he was saying that New York is a real concrete jungle and it wasn’t really his Polynesian vibe.

DD: I love cities. I guess, coming from New Zealand, you’ve always wanted to go to the big cities, but I think I’m just happy to have a break from it too. New York or any of those sorts of places, I’m happy to live in for six months of the year or something like that. To go back and forth between them, that’d be ideal.

AB: On your creative process, you’ve had a sharp tweet about your process like being in jail.

DD: A lot of people will tell you things, like, “When I created this, it was just great. I just went there and sat down and the idea came to me in 15 minutes and that was easy. That was that.” I think that glosses over the creative process for a lot of people when the reality is a lot of the best artists – when you actually go and sit down and say, “Okay, I’m going to try and write this album. I’m going to try and write this song” – it can be really daunting. Sometimes the scariest thing is having a blank page, or not having an idea of what you’re working on is going to turn into or if it’s going to be any good.

Say, even when I was working on a song like ‘Runnin’ ’, I had the first verse straight off the top, and I really liked where the song was going, but to actually finish off the song and add the chorus, it took 10 times as long as coming up with that first verse. The rest of it was like, “How do I not fuck up what I already did?’

AB: On ‘The Wire’, there’s the line, “I’ve forgotten who I used to be.”

DD: I don’t know how I could go back to working in a Pete’s Software. I don’t know what person I’m supposed to be without being a musician, without making rap music. It’s hard for me to get my head around. Obviously my values as a person are still the same, but that dude that I was when I was a computer analyst, I’m obviously not him anymore.

AB: Talk about partner Leilani’s influence on you creatively?

DD: It’s huge. She’s a great sounding board for me. I’ll go and make things, and if I play something to her I know I’m going to get her honest opinion. When I play something to her I know I’m getting honest feedback and I know the frame of reference that she’s using when she’s listening. It’s cool to have that voice that you trust.

AB: On ‘The Gate’ there’s the idea that your partner motivates you to be the best that you can be.

DD: Yeah it just makes everything not so self-involved, I’m doing this for someone that’s more than just me. I’ve got something to motivate me, and that’s an empowering thing.

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