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Birds and Buildings - Dan Britton with Hi-One

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    Posted: May 27 2019 at 19:28
Dan Britton Interview
Project <All Over Everywhere/ Birds and Buildings/ Deluge Grander > with Hi-One Records



People desire the music produced by cool bands, But a 'band' is a harmony of different individuals. That's why we wonder about those individuals. Today, we are going to find out about the head of the band, Dan Britton. 

- Personal story

1. Mostly, music starts from personal experience, What or Which experience inspired/influenced  your music?  a. Any episodes? or story that remains in your memory or a story influenced your music.  b. where is your hometown? any stories about your hometown? 

I grew up in Florence, SC in the 1980’s, and we had “MTV” on in our house a lot when I was a kid, so I liked a lot of that music at the time.  I think the first few bands I really liked were The Cars, Howard Jones, The Escape Club, Don Henley, Phil Collins, and ZZ Top.  When I was about 12, I was in a department store called Phar-Mor, and I noticed they had a lot of CDs by Genesis, some with really interesting album cover artwork.  I had heard Genesis’ 1980’s music, and I also heard a rumor that Peter Gabriel of “Sledgehammer” fame was once their singer, so I got very curious about those albums.  First I bought “Duke,” since that wasn’t too much older than the music I already knew, and I liked that a lot.  After a few weeks, I got some more money (this was back when my allowance was about $10 a week, so I didn’t have a lot of spending money), so I got “Nursery Cryme” and “Foxtrot” on the same day, which had a huge effect on me.  I must have listened to those two albums hundreds of times, and I eventually bought all the other old Genesis albums, and also got into Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Rush, and Kansas. 

For a while, I thought that might be all the “progressive rock” that was available, but when I was about 16, I bought a copy of the magazine Goldmine, which had hundreds of ads in it selling CDs, some of which had descriptions with the word “prog” or “progressive,” so that helped me discover a few lesser-known groups like Renaissance, Alquin, and Three Man Army.  And I also found the publications Progression and Expose that were entirely devoted to this music, so that got me to explore all the European groups like PFM and Magma, and newer groups like Anglagard and Porcupine Tree.

When I was about 20 years old, I went to Germany for four weeks to study German, and I had the opportunity to see Magma in a castle courtyard in a small French town and PFM in a big stadium in Milan (where I was in the front row).  Those two events still linger in my mind with a magical glow. 

c. At least these three albums are enough to make me think that you like naturalism. Music & Lyrics. What inspired you to create such atmosphere?

I’ve always preferred landscape paintings to paintings focused on people.  I find looking at landscapes to be comforting and evocative, especially when they’re combined with music somehow.  And I suppose a lot of my favorite music reminds me of mysterious landscapes as well- something pleasant and inviting but also a little strange at the same time.

2. It's an album from three different bands you've participated in, and it's highly praised by the listeners. I'm curious about you being active as a band with a three different names. (Anything that comes to mind)

a. the background story of each band

I moved to Baltimore, Maryland from Columbia, South Carolina around 2003.  I looked around online and found a group called Cerebus Effect who were trying to find a keyboard player, so I started playing with them.  We made one album together, and then it became clear that the bassist, guitarist, and I weren’t so musically compatible.  But I got along well with Patrick Gaffney, the drummer, so he and I kept playing together.  We formed what would become Deluge Grander, and we found Dave Berggren on guitar and Brett d’Anon on bass.  After the first Deluge Grander album was finished, I wanted to keep on going and make a new album, but they wanted to take a break.  I had moved closer to Washington, DC in the meantime, so I looked for musicians there and found the drummer Malcolm McDuffie and saxophone player Brian Falkowski, who made up Birds and Buildings, with Brett d’Anon stepping in on bass after the original bass player quit.  I had written a few quieter and slower songs over the previous few years, and I met Trinna Kesner, who had also written some similar material, so we combined all that on the All Over Everywhere album, with several other musicians I knew from these other groups helping out on the recordings.

b. Introduction of band members and their relationship to you

Patrick Gaffney (Deluge Grander drummer)- I’ve known him since we started playing together in Cerebus Effect in 2003.  He is very much into odd time signatures and heavier music, but he tolerates and sometimes seems to enjoy some of the lighter music that Deluge Grander plays.

Dave Berggren (Deluge Grander guitarist)- He played on the first two Deluge Grander albums, but then he joined the military and moved away.  He is more into the Grateful Dead and Phish, but he also appreciates interesting chords, and he does a good job of coming up with his own parts based on chord sequences that I come up with, which most other guitarists I’ve played with aren’t able to do.

Brett d’Anon (Deluge Grander bassist and Birds and Buildings bassist and guitarist) – Brett is a very interesting guy who seems to get passionately into some issue or another and then lose interest in it not long afterwards.  He’s very sociable and funny, but for some reason he doesn’t like to perform in front of even a few people.  His favorite album of all time is Semiramis’ Dedicato a Frazz.

Malcolm McDuffie (Birds and Buildings drummer) Malcolm is a fantastic drummer, who is more into punk and jazz music than “symphonic prog,” but he plays pretty much everything extremely well.  Unfortunately, he moved away a few years ago, and it’s been hard to get him to record more music.

Brian Falkowski (Birds and Buildings sax, flute, clarinet player) Brian is a professional musician who I found when he was in college the “old-fashioned way” by putting a flier in the music building at the University of Maryland at College Park.  He seems to respect almost every kind of music, but the only kind of music he seems to really enjoy is modern jazz like Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock.  He’s an amazing sight-reader, so I’ve gotten him to play on several other albums.  He’s also a fantastic improviser, but not always on the first attempt (though he might disagree with that assessment).

Trinna Kesner (All Over Everywhere songwriter)- Trinna is a great songwriter, though I don’t think she’s so active musically anymore.  She worked as a veterinarian’s assistant for a while, and I think she’s still doing that kind of thing somewhere.  She also collects decorative napkins, which is a somewhat strange hobby.

Megan Wheatley Shurman (singer for all three groups at various times)- I met Megan through a guitarist who didn’t work out unfortunately, but he did mention he knew a female singer who liked old Genesis, so I eventually emailed her, and she’s recorded a lot of stuff for me over the years.  She sings in lots of cover bands in the area.

c. Three bands have different type of music atmosphere. How did you start thinking about recruiting your members? and sounds?

For all these albums, I usually start with a nucleus of 2 or 3 people (including me), and then I look for other people to add parts on top of that.  For Deluge Grander and Birds and Buildings, the nucleus was me, a drummer, and another instrumentalist.  For All Over Everywhere, the nucleus was me and Trinna Kesner.

The Birds and Buildings album has two distinct types of songs- the first 3 and last 3 tracks were rehearsed and performed by the entire band, and the drums have a more important presence on those, while the middle three songs are based mostly on acoustic guitar ideas that were never rehearsed in their entirety, since they were so dependent on multiple instruments and harder to rehearse.  So the drums are just “playing along” rather than driving them.  

The All Over Everywhere album was always intended to have more atmospheric and less intense music, so that’s how it turned out.

3. You certainly look interested in album art. What made you choose album art as a watercolor or oil painting?

I’ve always loved album covers and connecting music with art.  I still think art that uses paint looks better than the computer-generated art (though some of the new software might finally be reaching a point where it can make art that looks as good as the old paintings without requiring a lot of time and effort).  For many years before I started making albums, I would look at old paintings and imagine them as album covers, so that’s what I did with the first two of these three albums. 

  1. What did you want to express/meaing in each album art

Deluge Grander’s August in the Urals and Birds and Buildings’ Bantam to Behemoth were intended to be the first two albums of a trilogy.  I have a lot of musical ideas for the third album, but I haven’t released it yet, even though I put some of the best stuff I’ve come up with is in there.  For these three albums, the general idea is that there is a big object and a small object- in the first album, they’re far apart, in the second album, they collide, and in the third album, they unify.  So that’s a very general concept that could be applied in lots of situations.  Some of the lyrics in these two albums deal with the histories of the United States and Russia and whether historical events are inevitable or random.

  1. About the Artist who helped you

The cover art from August in the Urals and Bantam to Behemoth is from old paintings, but most of the inner art on these albums was done by a woman in Italy named Kezia Terracciano.  I never met her, but I found her online.  I tried to find an artist who could follow specific directions and could illustrate well.  She could do both things better than anyone else I found, so I’ve used her art several times.

c. The name Maria stands out from the “Alll over everywhere - inner firmaments decay” album jacket, which clearly looks like your family.

Yes, she is my younger sister.

4. You are famous for artist who has very little information on internet. It has been a long time since fans didn't see updated feed on your Facebook. Many people are curious, and such curiosity is proof that there are many fans who love your music. 

None of these groups tour, and we only release albums once every few years, so I usually don’t have any big reason to update these pages too often.  I have three young children, so that makes it difficult to find much time for music, though I still have about 1-2 hours a day to work on it. 

a. Any reason why you don't use Social media?

I do use Facebook, and I used to use Myspace – I just don’t post updates so often.

b. What do you do in your spare time? In a short sentence apart from 'Musician Dan', how would you describe 'Dan Britton'?

I’m a data analyst who runs numbers for publications about crashes and inspections involving large trucks and buses.  I also have three children (aged 5, 2, and 8 months) with my wife.  So those activities take up most of my time.  I spend almost all of my remaining time working on music, though that’s only 1 or 2 hours per day.

Music: 3 albums and 3 bands

( For the Music questions, they are broad and simple. I would like to hear your thoughts as much as I can on this topic. Please feel free to express yourself.) 

  1. Your bands have selected for the Top 50 by Discogs and many blogger. As a licenser in your opinion, what make your sounds so appealing to the listeners and fans?

I guess the music I’ve been involved with doesn’t really fit well into one of the niches of modern “progressive rock” music, like “neo-prog” or “avant-prog.”  I think it’s got more in common with the original creators (Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, etc.), in that they would incorporate many different styles- sometimes their music was ugly, pretty, complex, simple, sad, happy, etc.  It seems like a lot of modern “prog” bands just play a small subset of that.  “Math rock” is always complex and mechanical, and usually loud.  “Neo-prog” is usually melodic and easy to listen to.  I like to think that my music is a little more diverse or eclectic.  I also don’t really embrace the modern “loud is better” approach to production- my stuff is a lot more lo-fi, which I admit is partly due to my lack of knowledge and equipment, but generally I think is ok and maybe adds an aura of mystery to the recordings, which I like.

a. Introduction/Description of each album

Deluge Grander’s August in the Urals was mostly made when I had just finished graduate school and before I found a job.  I got into a strange habit of staying up late and sleeping late, so I tried to live on a “26 to 30 hour cycle,” which meant that I would stay up about 16-20 hours in a row and then sleep for 8-10 hours.  It was interesting, but probably not so healthy.  I didn’t have much money, so I spent almost all of my time in my apartment working on music or watching movies.  One snowy day, I found an old Univox synthesizer sitting outside on the ground near some garbage, so I brought it in, and it basically worked fine, though it was damaged.  I tried to make August in the Urals pretty diverse and interesting, though I guess what stands out to some people is the mellotron and the reverb.

Birds and Buildings’ Bantam to Behemoth benefited from a lot of input from the drummer, Malcolm McDuffie.  We rehearsed at his house in DC, so that might have added a more hipster vibe somehow.  Brian Falkowski played some great solos, especially on “Birds Flying into Buildings,” “Chakra Khan,” and “Battalion.”  We performed a lot of this material live on about 5 occasions, which were mostly organized by a bass player who quit the band shortly after recording began.  I still don’t really understand why he quit, but Brett d’Anon stepped in, which helped for recording, but made it difficult to play live again, since he doesn’t do that.

All Over Everywhere’s Inner Firmaments Decay was a combination of some slower material I had lying around with some of Trinna Kesner’s songs.  She also brought in some people she knew from school to play on the album.  There was no intention of performing this material live, so it was just a recording project rather than an actual band.

b. The sound you wanted to make (on your album)

For Deluge Grander, I think symphonic rock like obscure European prog bands of the 1970’s (for example, Pulsar, Maxophone, and SFF) is a decent description.  Birds and Buildings is like that too, but a little heavier and jazzier and with more of a zeuhl approach for several songs.  All Over Everywhere is softer and more atmospheric.

2. The sound of these albums also contains elements of jazz and symphonies, along with a grand epic that gives a little strange impression on the chords. But you just described your own music as 'bashing progressive rock.' Can we talk a little bit more?

a. It doesn't matter if it's short. What kind of music do you want to play?

Generally, I like the idea of combining as many musical styles as possible, hopefully winding up with something that’s complex, catchy, and distinctive.

  1. What story did you and the band want to tell through this music and sound?

Although there were some general concepts behind this music, the main purpose was just to make music we liked and thought other people might like.  

Philosophy: What is it and how ?

1. Simple and difficult. But many listeners may wonder what you think. What do you think of music?

My favorite music could be described in the same way as the music I’m trying to create: complex, catchy, distinctive, densely orchestrated, carefully arranged, and eclectic.  A lot of “progressive rock” music fits that description, but I’ve recently found several other genres that do too, including some MPB (Brazilian popular music from the 1960’s and 1970’s), Japanese “city pop” of the 1970’s and 1980’s, and even a lot of “easy listening” music from the 1950’s-1970’s.  Most people probably wouldn’t think those genres have much in common with “progressive rock,” but they cover all the qualities I like in music, so that’s good enough for me.

a. What is music to you?

For me, music is something to listen to while you’re doing other things like working, reading, cleaning, studying, driving, exercising, or almost anything else.  Seeing it performed or associating it with social or political movements is a lot less important for me than for some other people.  

b. How did studying music in Russia affected you?

I lived there for a total of about 3 months in 2001-2002, studying the Russian language, mostly for fun.  In St. Petersburg and Moscow, there were tons of vendors selling pirated CDs, and I was amazed that almost half of them were at least somewhat connected to “progressive rock” music, which I found pretty shocking, since only about 5 percent of what I saw in American and western European music stores would fit that description.  I did come up with some good musical ideas while I was there, such as most of “The Solitude of Miranda” from August in the Urals.

2. Your music is interpreted by many people. Someone enjoys interpreting music, and someone likes to accept it as it is.(ex/ My acquaintances believe that your album "Birds and Buildings - Bantam to Behemoth" jacket and first track are deeply related and enjoy your music while searching for many meanings. But his friend accused it of speculation.) How did you work on these albums?

Yes- I definitely try to put a lot of hidden details in the music, artwork, and song titles, which at least 95 percent of listeners will probably never notice, but I think it’s a lot of fun to do.  For that album, I even worked out track lengths that made a somewhat symmetric pattern.  The artwork, which is from Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” was used for the cover because it seemed to have “birds flying into buildings.”  

a. Your thoughts, memories, and feelings for each albums

When I think about these old albums, I often think about what I should have done differently, but I’ll try to avoid mentioning that stuff.  

For August in the Urals, I was finally making an album after having thought about making albums for many years.  The 27-minute “Inaugural Bash” was my obligatory “epic,” which takes many twists and turns.  When we rehearsed it, it had seven distinct sections, but I don’t know if those boundaries will be apparent to listeners.  When I first figured out how to use the mellotron sounds I had acquired, I made demo recordings for the other guys in the band that had way too much mellotron, which they didn’t like very much.  But there are several sections of this song that I think use the mellotron very effectively.  I also used a lot of reverb, which I think contributes to a special feel about this album.  The concept behind the song is depicted in the corresponding illustration, which shows a person dreaming about world domination.  The second song “August in the Urals” was very much an “acoustic guitar” kind of song that I had planned out a year or two before I ever started recording it.  There are a couple of sections that didn’t work as well as I had hoped, but overall I think it’s ok, though when I listen to the vocal sections, I find myself wishing I were a better singer.  “Abandoned Mansion Afternoon” had a lot of potential and has a great spacy mysterious vibe to it that fits in with the title pretty well.  “A Squirrel” is more baroque and somewhat jazzy.  The middle section with the analog synth solo is one of my favorite moments of the album.  “The Solitude of Miranda” is probably my favorite track on the album, since it’s concise and pretty intense. 

Bantam to Behemoth benefitted a lot from Malcolm McDuffie’s drumming and Brian Falkowski’s saxophone.  “Birds Flying into Buildings” has probably been listened to more than any other song I’ve been involved with.  Several sections on this song worked much better than I thought they would, like the opening mellotron notes and electric guitar melody line, and also the final section, where Malcolm’s drumming takes the song to a higher level.  Malcolm had a tendency to play fast, which made a song like “Terra Fire” become a lot more upbeat than I originally intended.  My singing on that is very high, and I had to strain myself to even come close to hitting those notes.  “Tunguska” was about a meteor colliding with the Earth in Russia around 1910, which seemed to presage the Russian revolution a few years later.  In our early days, people seemed to like the heavy middle section a lot.  I’m proud of my jazzy electric piano solo, which has some good chordal improvisations, which are usually hard for me to play well.  I had outlines of the middle three songs for years before we recorded this album, and these were almost entirely based on acoustic guitar ideas.  The last few minutes of “Chronicle of the Invisible River of Stone” (which is about the asteroid belt) and the dual acoustic guitar section of “Yucatan” are my favorite sections of these songs.  Some sections stand out to me as being too sappy or emotional compared to the rest of the album, but it seems like most listeners don’t mind this.  “Chakra Khan” is an interesting composition that has a great saxophone solo and fits together well, even though it’s probably the most complex song on the whole album.  “Battalion” has two halves, and the second half is one big crescendo, repeating one of my favorite chord sequences several times as the sax solo emerges from a sea of sound effects and samples.  The last song is just an epilogue to the destruction suggested by “Battalion.”

Inner Firmaments Decay has some good songs on it, though I think the execution wasn’t so great overall.  I suppose the lack of anything remotely upbeat turns off some listeners too.  But I still think “Art of the Earth” and “Gratitude” are among the best things I’ve written, and Megan did a great job singing “On a Dark Street,” which could even be counted as a “pop” song.  The chord sequences of “Honesty” and “The Shroud” were originally considered as a part of the last section of “Battalion,” but I thought they would work better on their own.

b. Your thoughts while you are working ?

There are different stages to making albums, some of which are more enjoyable than others.  I like coming up with new ideas, trying out different ways of playing them, and putting them all together.  Deciding on finalized mixes can get tedious, since I like to put so many details in there, and I inevitably have to remove some of them so that it doesn’t sound too cluttered.  I do often associate some musical ideas with my mindset when I originally wrote them, or with a particular location, though I don’t know why my brain works like that.

c. It is fascinating to do music that makes you think. Your opinion on this?

Yes, very much so.  I loved the whole experience of listening to music, not knowing what to think of it at first, then listening to it some more, very carefully, trying to understand how and why it was made, and eventually enjoying it.  

3. Our brand believe that this process is a “design". We try to design values for the people with this music. Organize and assemble components for the artist, listeners and even for the collectors. What is your valuable “keyword” you want to give to your fans when they experience this “design”?

I like album packaging with colorful images you can stare at and get lost in as you listen to the music.  I also like it when there are details in the artwork or music that you don’t notice at first, but when you do notice them, you think “Oh, that’s interesting!”

I hope the atmosphere of this interview will be conveyed to you.

I wish that my questions were comfortable like talking to an old friend. I look forward to hear your answer. Again, thank you for your interview.

Edited by Hi-One Records - May 27 2019 at 19:28
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The Stygian Heresy View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote The Stygian Heresy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 29 2019 at 22:10
I really enjoyed this interview, thank you both.  Dan Britton's music, through his various projects, is unquestionably among the small handful of the most important of latter-day progressive rock manifestations.  A lot of territory was covered; although I missed word of 'A Big Blob', a fantastically favorite piece.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progaardvark Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 30 2019 at 10:58
I'm a big fan of Dan Britton's works. Thanks for sharing this interview. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Clap
to meet anyone nose at nose
the walls have hearsay
he go to four feet
take the moon with the teeth
he has a good beak
the stone as roll not heap up not foam
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote infandous Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 03 2019 at 10:48
Thanks for this!  Very nice interview and I agree that Dan's work is some of the best in modern progressive over the past 10-20 years.  I met Dan at a Nearfest several years ago and he was very personable and filled me in on what he was cooking up at the time (which has since been started with his last two albums being part of the 7 album concept he told me about back then).

Edited by infandous - June 03 2019 at 10:52
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fuxi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 17 2019 at 08:10
Very happy to read this. Dan Britton is the kind of visionary prog really needs.
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