David is an eminently experienced musician, bringing a sound that combines slow blues grooves with the burr and strain of classic post-punk such as Bauhaus. It’s a passion that has brought him across the world, from his first experiences in the garages and house-parties of 80s New Zealand to performing in England. He is currently settled on his solo project, More Than Shadows, and awaiting the escape from lockdown so that he can put his feelers out in the live scene once more.
In this interview we talk creative experiences, the enhancing power of cannabis, equipment, and the right approach to making smooth cannabis cookies.
DMJ: to begin with, can you tell us a little about yourself, your creative process and experiences
David: well, I’ve been playing music a long time. Started playing classical guitar when I was eleven. I did 3 years of that and got bored… Someone said, ‘come along to band practice’. So I went along, couldn’t really play much, thought I’d better learn the blues – so I went and learned the blues, and learned some stuff like The Cure and The Banshees, because that’s what I was into. I lived in New Zealand when I was a teenager – I met somebody who liked my music, and we started a proper band. We used to do house-parties and gigs, he came to England – I followed him -and we’ve literally been musicians since that time. I stopped performing so much live, and lately I’ve been recording, working for other people, and doing the more alternative sort of stuff.
David: I definitely identified with the Goth thing when I was younger. Bauhaus was a massive influence on my guitar, so were The Cure, so was John McGeoch from The Banshees. Those 3 really started me down that path. That sort of music did give me a bit of a different introduction to how to play. I wouldn’t say that I’m an amazing guitarist – but I concentrate on my sound.
DMJ: with classical guitar, was that encouraged in the family, or was that a spontaneous decision?
David: My mother and father were musical, there was always music in the house. To begin with my sister fed me music, like Queen, and later The Cure and stuff like that. Probably around nine, ten and eleven, I bought every album that Queen did. That might have led me on to play classical, but I wanted to play guitar, and the only lesson available to me then was classical. It’s finger-picking for a start, and I still drop that in sometimes. Because I’ve got a finger-picking style I can play bass. I do sometimes play leads with my fingers. It did me good – it taught me how to read music, that’s the big thing. I play by feel most of the time now, and if it fits, it’s right. I started being a music teacher for a while, so I had to go back and learn the theory again. A lot of that knowledge is amazing, but too much knowledge can stifle your creativity. I fell into singing; from age 21 to 25 I was a singer – I loved that front man thing, striding on stage with a mic in your hand, and having that freedom – not being weighed down with a load of equipment.
DMJ: with your band project, has it been one commitment, or a particular style..?
David: In 2008, I stopped playing with the band I was in. I’d been with the drummer for 17 years, and the bass player for 14. We’d all come to the conclusion that – there was a bit of ill-health in the band – we’d been doing it for a very long time. So for some years, I stopped playing. Then I might be someone who had a studio – and I realised I just wanted to play. I didn’t care about being famous, so I just started if anybody wanted to jam and anybody wanted to write music. At the moment I’m working on 3 things – my own stuff, More Than Shadows, instrumental because of Covid; I’m working with a guy from Sweden, who is doing a darkwavey-synth act, and I’m going back to my Bauhaus-y stuff. Then I’m writing music for someone to teach Yoga to, so that ambient synth stuff. Years ago, you had to have a record label, and you were always chasing that deal. Now I can put it up on Bandcamp, and if people want it, they want it. I would say the More Than Shadows stuff is kinda down the route of post-rock/psychedelic rock. I’d really like to play the ArcTanGent festival. It was amazing – probably one of the best festivals I’ve been to. Just because the people there were brilliant, it was small enough to be personal, and the bands were just phenomenal. Hopefully when Covid blows over, live music will kick back in and everybody will appreciate it. I love going to gigs, I love discovering new bands.
DMJ: So how about the equipment you use when creating?
David: I just went out and bought myself a Hagstrom Deuce, a Swedish guitar which is just amazing; I’d probably say the Fender Telecaster on the last EP got a good working out. It’s an old friend basically – it’s been through hell and back. The again, I when using an E-bow or a slide I use the Gibson Sonex because they give a thicker sound. I used a range of electronic and hardware amps, the two main ones I use are a Marshall Triple Anniversary 3 channel and an Orange amp. Recording at home, I can’t crank stuff up, so I tend to D.I a little bit. Software I use is reaper – it’s quite an open shell, so you can load in what you want. The guitar software I use is Amplitude, and I’ve got masses and masses of stuff for that. If you ask anyone playing guitar what’s a hardware sound and what’s a software sound -they’re never gonna be able to tell you the difference.
DMJ: So other equipment… cannabis. Has this been medical use for you, or creative?
David: Oh it’s creative. Always creative. From early days, basically. Just because I’m more relaxed, I’m not focused on what comes next. I’m a big person into jamming – even my solo stuff is jammed. It’s not one riff at a time, I play a big long track. That’s how my band would do it – no one would walk in with a riff. We’d just get stoned, then somebody would start. Somebody would come up with an idea and we’d just click into that. That’s the thing about being stoned together, there were no mistakes, no one pointed a finger or had preconceived notions. For Tence (one of the projects), there wasn’t a rehearsal where we weren’t stoned. That was in 17 years.
DMJ: would you say the stoned experience is more about just accepting the sound you are making, and allowing inspiration to flow?
David: Being on the same wavelength is a thing as well. We’ve had guitarists who come in and they don’t get stoned. It was weird. With a 3 piece, we were always stoned – and we wrote loads of song, loads of jams. Yeah, they were very long, but we’d break them down, and there was never any arguments. The key thing – we never had a band argument. We got on, we were friends, but we couldn’t have an argument because we were stoned!
DMJ: I guess when people are sober, they are anxious to achieve a preset idea, and that’s where conflicts come from. When you worked with people that were sober, what was the difference?
David: It was frustrating! We’d let things evolve, but they were ‘do this! Do this!’ It’s a good thing, having someone in control, but there was a few times where it just didn’t work. ‘Let’s all slow down, we’re just gonna riff over this a little bit.’
DMJ: but you’ve never been so stoned that it’s impaired your ability to play?
David: Nope. Never. We played gigs – we were always stoned at gigs. I used to have times when I’d say, ‘I’m too stoned, I can’t go on!’ but we had a studio at Bethnall green, and we rehearsed stoned, so going on stage was nothing. It was part of the ritual. It was a ritual for us when we were rehearsing, it was a ritual for us when we were gonna play live. There was no fear in the end. It was really nice – I have great memories. It was 3 times a week, we all had jobs (sometimes!) but it was just enjoyment. It was like a party, but we were doing amazing stuff. And part of that was sitting there on a bong, getting completely stoned.
DMJ: with weed being dealt as it is, have you been able to have control over what you were smoking – Indica vs Sativa and so on?
David: Lately, no. I don’t really smoke anymore – just make cookies. Age, lungs. I also found that I couldn’t cope as much – age has made me a bit paranoid sometimes, whereas with the cookie experience I know the measure, it lasts longer, and it helps me musically. I can be a bit more focused because it’s a nice, even keel. It just comes in nicely and I think, ‘ooh, I feel stoned’.
DMJ: I guess with smoking it’s a very immediate kind of hit, whereas with cookies it creeps up on you.
David: Yeah, ‘BANG!’ Which was fine when we used to rehearse, but I think age has crept in. I had this conversation with my bass player, a lot of people our age don’t smoke because of the health thing, but also because, ‘WHAM!’ it’s straight in your face. I slowed down because in my 20s and thirties I was a habitual smoker… because I was playing music all the time! I never smoked tobacco. You find the right pipes for you, the right bongs for you… I’ve smoked one and half cigarettes in my life.
DMJ: I spoke to Mother Tink in the States about it, and they don’t really have the culture of smoking joints. It’s all pipes or bongs. With your cookies then, did it take you a while to perfect a formula? Some instructions on the internet can leave them very uneven in concentration.
David: It took a while because of the dosage, really. The first ones were really strong. I found a coffee grinder in the end was the best way to break it down into a powder. I’d leave it a few days to mature and let the oils come out, and it works. I think the key thing is I melt the butter, layer it, stir it round and take it off. I do that two or three times throughout the course of the day. Then I put it in a container, and put it in a cool place for four days, keep stirring it, and then it gets through the butter. I don’t get uneven ones.
DMJ: so the trick is to take your time with it.
David: I make them different sizes too. When I test one, it’s a small one. And I don’t do the thing where I think, ‘Oh, it’s been an hour and I don’t feel anything,’ then eat another one because I know that’s a mistake!
DMJ: Do you remember your first cannabis experience on how you got into it
David: I don’t remember…
DMJ: probably because you were stoned!
David: I think it was the person who got me into the band… I remember enjoying it; and I didn’t really drink, because I didn’t like the loss of control that comes with alcohol.
DMJ: Have you found that, other than switching to cookies, you’ve had any changes in how you feel about cannabis over the years?
David: No, not at all. I still enjoy it, I don’t do it as much as I used to, but I’ve made the point that I like to be creative. I like to do something with it. It creeps into a habit again, thankfully I’ve had an enforced 2 month rest. I’ve still got friends who smoke everyday, but I don’t want to get into that. Not because I think it’s bad – it’s just me, just because of my age. It’s not the norm. I set all my gear up, I can eat a cookie, next thing I know – without realising, I’m playing, I’m recording a riff and I’ll think, ‘Oh yeah!’ With the smoking I’d lose the plot very quickly. With the cookie I’ve done a lit practice, then I will become very fluid, I’ve got a drum loop going, and suddenly I’m into being very creative.
DMJ: so you’d recommend to anyone inexperienced who was looking to try cannabis to connect it with something constructive?
David: I don’t know – just sitting in a field listening to music while getting stoned is a beautiful thing. I’ve often gone for walks. I live in Hertfordhsire and it’s beautiful round here. I bought a lot of stuff off Bandcamp, and just being stoned and having a walk – it was inspiring. I find that if I’m stoned, I deconstruct music really well or I just get lost in it. I’m reminded of something my dad used to do – if he’d had a party and a few beers, and he was a little bit pickled – the last thing he’d do was put a record on, and he would just sit there and listen to it. For me, I do the same thing when I’m stoned – a lot of people don’t do it – they don’t just listen to the music, it’s something that’s in the background, or it’s something while you’re driving.
DMJ: we’ll talk a little about legislation. I gather that you’re in favour of legalisation, but what form would it take?
David: I prefer the Canadian model. It’s gotta be a slow thing – but I think [it being illegal] is a stupid thing. We’re at a time when the country needs more money, and you’re not gonna ‘win the war’.
DMJ: A lot of people are buying it anyway – you go into a cornershop or off-license around here, and there are raw papers and grinders on the counter. There’s no illusion what that’s for, and it shows how widespread use of cannabis is. I think the local police have other priorities. They did shut down one major dealer based in some flats about 10 years ago.
David: a lot of people could eat a cookie and just get a light buzz – and that’s what they want. But they can’t get that because they’ve got to buy rubbish basically.
DMJ: You have no idea what it is. You’re given a name, and that maybe implies a certain strain, but you can’t trust it to be what you’re told.
David: You think of how long Amsterdam’s been going and how many times you hear of people dying on the street – you just don’t, do you! You might get a lot of people with the munchies.
DMJ: and that’s where cafes come in…
David: Yeah, and it was a nice experience. I took my wife when we first started going out 20 years ago and did the typical thing: ‘don’t eat that cookie all at once!’ and of course she did- but it was quite funny. She took about half an hour to butter her toast in the morning. I remember that fondly – sitting down in a café and going through the menu. Having a cookie and a cup of coffee – it was an experience, and that’s what it should be. Y’know, not going to a dealer and getting something dodgy. That allows people who are just a bit curious to go in and see what it’s about. It’s business, and it makes money. There’s no huge crime or anything. It’s sad that we still have to be so secretive about it.
David has several music projects on the go:- More than Shadows, Dumb Martian, as well as recording of his long running band project, Tence.
Grab a cookie, check it out and enjoy at:
Rock, Alternative rock, 80s alternative, Post-rock, 60s psychedelic rock, 90s metal.
Instruments and equipment.
Modified Fender telecaster
Marshall DSL100 triple channel
Orange Ad140HTC (the name of the second song on the “Laughing ep” recorded only with this amp)
Black country custom pedals
Electro Harmonix pedals (delays modulation)
Sansamp Tech 21
Amplitube (guitar software)
EZ Drummer (drum software)
Carbon electra synth
And here is some of More than Shadows music: