Monday, May 16, 2011

Interview: Dexter Tortoriello

Posted by Andrew Hertzberg

Dexter Tortoriello seems to make music for whatever weather related aural accompaniment I desire. He is half of the (for lack of better term) chillwave duo Houses: perfect summer sunset patio tunes to transport you to the rural Hawaii that helped inspire it. But for the all too common rainy days of 2011 so far? That’s where Dawn Golden and Rosy Cross comes into play. Entirely Dexter’s project, his EP Blow was re-released last month on Diplo's Mad Decent outfit. The six song collection is ominous and brooding, yet oddly comforting. It’s when the sky turns orange from the clouds and you begin to notice the flashes of light through blinded windows. The thunder’s not far off and you catch just a sprinkle of the impending downpour before you find shelter.

After reading a couple pieces on Dexter, I decided he was a pretty interesting cat and wanted to pick his brain deeper. Read on for his poignant thoughts on the necessity of occasional isolation, unique recording environments and appreciating what you don’t understand.

WCR: Gonna start this one sort of long-winded. In an interview with Loud Loop Press you talk about your next idea to record in an underground bomb shelter. The same interview, you discuss the laziness you feel returning to modern urban convenience after living in rural Hawaii. Now I may be getting the wrong picture of you as a society-eschewing, Rousseau / Thoreau-touting creature, so let’s set the record straight: is isolation innate to human existence and creativity? Or are these feelings a minor detail in your greater mind? 

Dexter: I believe that isolation is extremely important to both creativity and self-awareness, at least that's the case for me. I don't think people spend enough time by themselves anymore. There's always a way to communicate - when people are alone, they're tweeting about it, or taking a photo of it to upload, or at the very least, thinking about doing one of the two. I'm guilty of it from time to time as well, but I've learned to become very comfortable with my time alone. There's also a lack of silence in today’s culture. Everything makes noise or plays music, and it's detrimental to creative thought and process. I would say that being alone and shutting up for at least an hour a day is one of the most important things a person can do.

Location has historically been influential to creativity. Is the bomb shelter metaphoric? Do you feel an impending demise to the world as we know it?

The bomb shelter is 100% literal. It's a long-term goal, but it's one that I put thought and planning into on a regular basis. It's really less about the apocalypse and more about creating the world that I wish I lived in. The plan is really to have a very small house, around 100 square feet with a hatch that goes to the shelter. Like you've noted, I have a tendency to isolate myself - so the idea is that if I have two interior options (tiny house or underground shelter) I'll spend more time outdoors where I should be. There is definitely an element of preparedness woven into this whole thing, though. Everyone laughs at the guy with the bomb shelter until their fingernails are falling out from nuclear fallout.

You’ve mentioned elsewhere the influence of metal and drone, two genres I could never tap into. What’s the appeal to you?

The appeal is actually not so much in the actual sounds most of the time. It's like listening to someone recite Hemingway passages in Russian. It's ugly and sounds like shit, and I don't really understand it, but there's a beauty and passion at its core. Rage and hate are very pure emotions, and are usually a lot less complicated than love. It's nice to experience those things from time to time. I won't listen to death metal unless I really believe that the guy screaming is as terrified and angry as he sounds. Neurosis has a song called Locust Star that sums this up pretty nicely.

What does DGaRC achieve for you that Houses doesn’t?

Houses was way more of a departure from what I was used to doing musically than Dawn Golden and Rosy Cross is. When I sit down to write a song, it comes out sad. It takes work for me to write upbeat easy music, so DGRC allows me to thresh out a lot of brutally personal things from my past, where the Houses stuff more represents my current life, which is rich and full of love.

Now that DGaRC has gotten Mad Decent’s attention, do you anticipate moving forward with that project as equally as with Houses?

Absolutely. I had always planned on continuing to write for DGRC, even before Mad Decent got involved. The only thing that's changed is that I now have a really great group of people keeping me on track.

How’s the Teen Daze collab going?

Haha, poorly. At the start we worked really fast and were finishing tracks together in a matter of days, but then we both got busy with our respective bands. I have no idea if we'll ever finish it, but the songs are great and really unlike anything either of us has done.

Who else would you like to work with or play a show with?

Here's a list of people I'd like to be in the same room as: William Basinski, Matthew Cooper, Harmony Korine, Vincent Gallo, Eric Lindley (Careful), Leonard Cohen (40 years ago), Roy Orbison (60 years ago).

On "Black Sun," are those Chicago or Hawaiian crickets?

Those are from Chicago. That song was recorded several years ago as the final track for an album I was working on for my older project called The Hospital Tapes. It fit with the DGaRC stuff so well that I included it as the last track on Blow, as it never saw the light of day before. Those crickets are a really lonely sound, they still bring me right back to where I was when I recorded them.

Logistics aside, where else would you like to record or to simply exist?

I spent a few years living in Salt Lake City and could imagine myself being back there. I'm really connected to that place for some reason. The Big Island of Hawaii is also a possible end destination. Really anywhere that allows me to see stars at night, hear birds during the day and walk outside without seeing another living soul.


There are no Chicago dates yet for DGaRC, but mark those calendars early for when Houses hits Schubas on Saturday, August 27th. 

Check out more WCR interviews:
The Island of Misfit Toys
Drawn From Bees
Tiger Bones

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