Interview with David Vance
David Vance: Derek, can you tell us a little about you?
DS: If I´d have to categorize what I do (as I have to do now) I´d say "singer-songwriter" is as close as it gets. I play guitar, piano, synth, bass, sing and use a lot of electronic stuff.
I don´t believe in invisible lines drawn on a map, so I´d rather not point out my location of residence on this planet. I don´t really see myself as a citizen of a specific country, but rather as a citizen of this physical plane we call Earth.
I love music to the core and spend many hours each day practicing, learning, writing and recording.
David Vance: What got you interested in music?
DS: My dad played jazz when he was young and my mom loved songwriters from the sixties and seventies like Bob Dylan, Donovan, Neil Young and guys like that, so that kind of got me hooked on the songwriting thing.
Some of my friends had a really diverse musical background and listened to all kinds of music: Zappa, Robin Trower, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and that´s when I also got to hear - Hendrix.
That guy totally blew me away! I loved the raw emotion of it, the wildness in his playing - like a force of nature, like an electric storm!
One of these friends played keys, bought a guitar a some point and I went to the shop with him to pick it up. That was it. I bought one shortly after and started to take lessons from a local teacher.
That guy had a deep passion for music and was very encouraging. I had never ever thought about wanting to sing at all, but because of him I started singing without giving a damn, or being insecure and really enjoyed doing it.
David Vance: Who are your influences?
DS: Of course there´s much music that I like, but I have to say that my writing is more influenced and inspired by perspectives like Zen or Taoism and that perception of beauty.
I´m not a zen monk or anything, but I´m deeply influenced by these principles and I think there is a lot to learn from that viewpoint, especially if someone is totally rooted in the western world view. To me it is a huge opportunity to grow into new directions.
David Vance: Musically, what is your biggest interest?
DS: My biggest interest musically is to constantly explore new directions and ideas, regardless where they come from. That´s why I´m really drawn to other instruments as well besides the guitar, because each instrument gives you a totally different perspective on music, like peeping through a different keyhole.
The guitar´s layout encourages a player to think in a certain way and it´s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that music itself is build this way - until you switch instruments - and you see that music is channeled through the instruments interface and hence, colored and shaped by it. It´s like going to a different country realizing that your way of doing things is just one way of many and that the others are just as valid.
David Vance: What inspires you musically?
DS: Just the sheer beauty of existence! I love to pay attention to the wonder of life in very small things and I guess for existence there is no division into "big" or "small". A huge inspiration is music itself, because it´s such a great teacher - it constantly confronts you with yourself.
David Vance: How would your students describe your teaching style?
DS: I think they would say that I´m very practical in terms of what to practice and how to go about it.I have seen a lot of great players who were quite ineffective teachers, because they couldn´t explain how and why they do things a certain way. Teaching is a totally different skill set then playing - you have to get out of your own skin all the time and pose questions on what difficulties other people could have.
Then you have to be able to verbalize very subtle details and explain highly complex movements in an effective and still non-overwhelming way. Not an easy task...
I put a huge emphasis on being creative on the instrument right away - not years from now, but right from the beginning - maybe after three or four lessons, we start experimenting with a few things.
Joy and the mental connection of joy to the instrument is the most important foundation to build in my opinion, because once the fire lights up and you infect a student with passion - the rest will follow naturally and without discipline or force.
I´m not a believer in discipline - I´m a believer in love and passion and once that spark is there, discipline is not needed that often.
David Vance: What kind of teaching can my readers look forward to?
DS: I hope to offer your readers value in regards to many inner aspects of music; topics like passion, discipline, frustration, curiosity - I think these aspects are of paramount importance in music and they are mostly not touched upon at all...
I would also love to share thoughts about effective practice, because I think there are many aspects that need to be discussed to get optimum results for the time you invest.
One of my main goals when writing for your readers is to help them to avoid overwhelm - I think this is one of the biggest obstacles in our time where infinite amounts of information are available for everyone twenty four seven.
As a beginner or intermediate player, it´s impossible to sort it all out and make good decisions on what to practice at the moment, because you´ll most likely get buried in all the info and quit out of overwhelm and a sense that it´s kind of pointless to even start.
So, hopefully this short intro served well to introduce myself to you. If I can make your musical life a bit easier with my suggestions - I have been successful.
David Vance: Thanks for sharing!
Interview with Colin Berg on release of "The Tenfold Path"
CB: Hi Derek, good to hear your album and have this interview.
DS: Thanks for having me!
CB: What is the history of putting the “The Tenfold Path” album together?
DS: Most of the songs were written around 8 to 10 years ago and were just recorded as acoustic demos. I often played them for people and always wanted to put them on one album, but I had no recording skills at the time.
I took me quite a few years to buy the gear, set up my own studio, learn how to use the tools and the art of recording music. When everything was finally set up and I was able to work on the songs, I somehow got lost in the production process by trying to do everything myself. You can quickly lose all objectivity when you´re involved in all the steps of writing, recording, arranging and quickly end up with a lot of train wrecks, never finishing any song.
That´s what happened to me and it´s also the reason why I decided to work with a producer to help me create the album, which turned out to be a really good decision.
CB: What actions did you find most important in helping the “The Tenfold Path” album be released?
DS: The most important thing in my opinion is to keep your forward momentum going; to keep writing, recording, to get used to make quick decisions and to not get distracted.
Recording an album, like anything else in life, is cyclical. You have periods when everything seems to flow and the songs seem write and arrange themselves. It´s great when that happens, but getting mentally attached to that feeling is detrimental, because you might start to think that you cannot work until that feeling comes back…
What I´ve found is that the time will come sooner or later when things are not easy, when you might be stuck in one place, when you might make a lot of “wrong” choices and finishing a song becomes a drag…
My solution is to not get emotionally attached to how it unfolds at any point in time. Sometimes it´s easy, sometimes not.
As you can tell, I´m not a big fan of waiting for inspiration or the muse. In my experience, the only thing waiting creates is cobwebs, so I simply show up and work no matter how I feel.
I often imagine the muse as some lazy fat lady in jogging pants eating pizza on her couch, watching TV all day. Now - it might happen that she gets her butt off the couch at some point, but I don´t really want to place my chips on that event...I want to finish the songs in my lifetime.
If she shows up unexpected, great, she´ll get a coffee and another pizza, but until that happens, I´ll continue working.
CB: What were some connections/relationships that you made that were helpful in creating the album?
DS: James Scott, the producer of this album, was a huge help for me in many regards. I could bounce ideas off of him, get some feedback on what he thought might not be working in the arrangement and listen to his ideas for the song´s direction. As it turned out, we were a really good match in many aspects and that made the process much more fluid.
Sandie Nielsen did the wonderful background vocals for "Into Pieces" and "Four Walls" and helped to make those songs really shine. Those two people were essential in creating the album and I´m really grateful for their contributions.
CB: What were some musical goals that you accomplished with this album?
DS: The main goal was to get the songs out of my system and to translate what I heard in my head into the physical world. I´ve been carrying these songs around for so long, it felt like being pregnant for years but never giving birth.
Another intention was to get the exact right blend between acoustic and electronic elements and merge them so they feel like an organic whole.
CB: How has learning classical piano and composition along with guitar influenced your songwriting?
DS: It´s very valuable to study another instrument even though I cannot remember or play a single classical piece anymore.
The fretboard or keyboard are just interfaces that allow us to access and play music, but at the same time the interface also "filters" our choices by making some things easier to play than others depending on the instrument. If we´re playing one instrument exclusively, it´s easy to slip into seeing music through those colored glasses...You don´t have to get proficient on another instrument, just the switching of perspective for some period of time is immensely beneficial, because it takes you out of your favorite and cozy viewpoint and throws you into unknown waters. I love to jump into things that are quite far removed from my usual interests, because it helps me to remain open for all forms of expression and to question what I´m doing.
CB: How have non musical ideas such as Zen, Japanese aesthetics and Taoism, influenced your songwriting?
DS: I´d say most of my musical influences are non-musical. In the end it´s all just about transferring ideas from other fields to whatever it is that you´re doing, be it painting, poetry, baking or music...A very important point in Zen is the idea of "no-self", which is quite alien to the western mind, because almost everything we do is geared to enhance our self-image. We look for recognition, fame, praise or whatever it might be to unconsciously feel worthy and successful and that make work well for us for a short period of time, but then the longing starts again and so it continues.
It´s a longing to finally feel complete, to fill an imaginary inner hole, because we kind of lost contact to whatever we emerged from.
In Zen, the whole idea of a separate self is an illusion and the feeling of separation is simply the result of consciousness getting so lost in physical form that it cannot feel any connectedness to existence anymore. It´s a great relief when you really ponder that ultimately nothing is really that important and that you´re just a very temporary visitor. Life becomes more joyful and lighter once it´s not so much about "adding" something to the story of me, because you´re not seeking to complete yourself through anything on the outside.
Japanese aesthetics is deeply influenced by Zen and thus points our attention at simplicity, imperfection and finding beauty in things unconventional. I´m fascinated by Taoism too, because it doesn´t bring in a creator and describes existence as an organic process governing itself by means we can´t comprehend through our logical thinking process.
A famous taoist principle is that of "Wu Wei" which could be roughly translated as "doing by not doing". I could be interpreted as not forcing things in a an artificial way and could be adopted to music by not forcing songs into existence. Instead, you listen to where the song wants to go and let it guide you. It´s the female, receptive approach, not the male one, that constantly tries to control and bang things into shape.
CB: What music most influenced the album and the creative process behind it, and how was that mixed to create the album’s own identity?
DS: The solo work of John Frusciante is quite important to me, especially some of his unreleased demos and the "To Record Only Water For Ten Days" album with it´s blend of acoustic and electronic elements. Thom Yorke, Ben Harper and Chris Whitley are other big influences, but not in the sense that I sit down and try to write something similar or cover their songs. I just listen to their music and at some point their influence shows up in my own songs without any conscious effort; by osmosis so to speak. I often only recognize it later, when I listening back to the tracks.
CB: How have your musical teachers affected your musical journey?
DS: All my teachers play totally different styles so their influence was mostly technical and inspirational. They helped me shape the tools to be able to express myself through music and I´m immensely grateful for that.
CB: What are some important lessons you learned while building your own musical studio?
DS: Building my own studio was a great experience and taught me a lot about the various steps of music creation, because I started from zero and knew nothing about recording or audio engineering. I bought Logic Pro as my first DAW (which was a big mistake in terms of overwhelm), started reading the thousand page manual and didn´t get anything in the beginning. I kept reading and applying in very small steps, looked up the terms I didn´t understand and took courses on engineering, music production and sound design. I often had to get up in the middle of the night from 3 to 6 am, because of the time difference. That´s the great thing about the internet; if you really want to learn something, nothing´s holding you back except your own laziness and your own excuses.
Constantly educating yourself on the many aspects of music production is great, because you get to know from start to finish how music is created and how much dedication, passion and commitment it takes to bring music into the world. You can kind of see the whole immense process in your head as a movie when you buy a CD. Totally different that "just" being a consumer.
CB: How has creating the album affected your musical opportunities and connections?
DS: The album has already opened some doors in terms of cooperations and I´m sure that a lot more will come out of it. Having an album is definitely a badge that shows that you are serious about your music, because it takes infinitely more commitment than just putting up a few demos.
CB: What are some meaningful stories or memories that resulted from the creation of the album?
DS: When I look back now I´m amazed about how many obstacles I had to overcome to create it. Napoleon Hill once wrote about an unseen guide who is testing you to see if you persevere and move forward. I often felt as if that guide was on double shift during that time.
In addition to technical difficulties and the breaking down of essential gear in the worst moments, I got Focal Dystonia in the middle of the recording process and had to work in very small increments.
Some solos were played with just two fingers, because my technique broke down more and more. I didn´t know what it was at the time, got physiotherapy, went to a neurologist to check for a trapped ulnar nerve, but it the end I got the diagnosis of Focal Dystonia.
It is generally viewed to be incurable and the worst nightmare for a musician, but there´s one guy in spain, Prof. Fabra, who has cured many musicians with that illness and he helped me a lot. I´m not done and back to normal yet, but will be in a few months. I´m writing a book on the process to help and encourage others and clear up some myths on the subject.
In hindsight I think the album benefitted as well, because I was forced to use way less guitar parts than I otherwise would have.
I guess what I´m saying is: It´s good to be mentally prepared for some difficulties and challenges along the journey and not give up when times get rough! :-)
CB: Anything else you would like to share?
DS: I would like to remind myself, you and your readers to really ponder how marvelous the times are that we live in and what a privilege it is to be alive right now. There has never been a better time for creators! We just have to get off our butts and use the immense opportunities that are all around us. We can develop any skill and learn from great teachers from all over the globe without compromise. It´s freakin´awesome! Think about it.
And - don´t take all the songs you carry inside you to your grave! Develop your gifts, your potential and thereby inspire others to do the same! All the best for your life and your music.
CB: Thank you for the interview.