Many artists will tell you they're influenced by every record store aisle, from Bowie's Berlin years to Björk's skittish soundscapes to the madcap melodies of Prince. What sets Dan Black apart, however, is how the singer/multi-instrumentalist/producer literally pieces his heroes together on his solo debut, ((un)). Like a Pop artist who paints with sample banks and synthesizers, it's as if he's here to revisit and revise everything that's right about the rock, rap and R&B of the past 30 years. "What I do is obviously a hybrid-y thing," he continues. "I don't sit down and say, 'Okay, I'm going to write a punk record now.' Since I like all these disparate things, I try to just make them come together as naturally as possible."
In the case of his self-released single "HYPNTZ," this meant slipping Starman's sweeping strings over over snappy Rihanna samples and the bendable, posable rhymes of the Notorious B.I.G. The rapper's estate would eventually hear about the song's blatant B.I.G. references-a minor-keyed "interpolation," in their words-but not before it graced countless blogs and the BBC. Suddenly, the former alt-rock architect (The Servant) and shape-shifting sideman (Planet Funk, Minty) had overwhelming interest in his own work, an experiment that quickly became a full-time job. As for what happened to "HYPNTZ," it was easily re-tracked as "Symphonies," with original lyrics that tug at your heart strings without sounding overtly sentimental or the least bit sappy. (An alternate version was also cut with Kid Cudi for ((un))'s North American pressing.)
Thanks to his father's coveted record collection-the guy shares his son's love of Dylan, the Beatles and Portishead-and a lot of underage clubbing in London, Black's wanted to make some form of music since he first picked up a guitar to impress a girl. Never mind the fact that it had two strings, leading to some literal two-track recordings. That's another thing that makes Black stand out: his refusal to rely on outside producers, and his willingness to work with limited means. For instance, the Timbaland-like loops of "Cocoon" are not a high gloss studio trick; they're the sound of Black smacking a table in his Paris basement, and matching that rat-a-teat beat with chopped Mozart bars and gnarled Nick Drake guitars. (The folk troubadour's "strange tunings," which Black studied, not any of his actual playing.) Elsewhere, "U + Me =" delivers a devastating synthscape with glimpses of toy robots, spy TV shows, and percussion that was carefully pillaged from a stack of '70s records. "Sometimes things come together really fast and your brain rewards you," says Black, adding that he recorded many key "U + Me =" elements at a friend's Eastern Bloc apartment in Germany. "Those moments are why I put myself through all of this other shit-so it can be one man's vision, for better or for worse. I'm not against collaborations in principal, but for me, they've always been about making compromises, about saying, 'Well, we can live with this,' instead of, 'Wow, we're all excited to do this.'"
By that, he means the year of writing that went into ((un)), and the winter season spent sorting through nearly 70 songs, "like mixing a bunch of pigments in a pot until you get a new color." Yep, Black is an art-school dropout-one that majored in painting "expressionist bollocks" like boxes of cereal floating in space. Which isn't a surprise when you consider not only his songwriting process, but his hands-on approach to every aspect of the Dan Black persona. That includes all of his music videos and related visuals, which have been created in a close partnership with the Parisian design company Chic & Artistic.
"It's about more than music," explains Black. "It's about making a universe people can inhabit-this crazy little world I get a kick out of creating. After all, I'd rather people be deeply irritated than deeply bored."