Music Interview Interview

Dan Lyons has been a consistent face in the South London music circuit for the best part of the last decade. Having played drums for bands such as Fat White Family, Misty Miller, Zulu and Phobophobes he is now launching his solo project. Here we exclusively premiere his track, Big Moon.

Often, drummers stay cast to the shadows, rarely taking the attention away from the frontman. Dan is different – unable to fade into the background, his magnetic presence, musicality, charisma and vulnerability can end up dominating a gig; therefore this venture into solo recording makes total sense.

Dan first met artist Tim Noble whilst they both still lived in London; bonding over their mutual understanding of how easily one can slip into a ‘black hole’, their sensitivity to the full moon, and decisions to move from the city to near the sea. Having created the artwork for Dan’s upcoming album, here Noble turns interviewer, leading a conversation between the musician and himself. 

Tim Noble: Who is Dan Lyons and where can we meet The Wet Nurse?
Dan Lyons:  I was born in Kent, and moved to London to read English at University. I didn’t like the way that you’re taught to dissect and dismantle great pieces of literature. It got to a point where I couldn’t read anything, even the newspaper, without taking it apart, so I dropped out and started playing in bands full time. As for the Wet Nurse, right now it is a constantly changing bunch of musicians from South London, at the moment Gamaleil from Sweat plays Cello, Jack Fussey from Phobophobes plays acoustic guitar, Robin McCready is on bass and my girlfriend Freya sings backing vocals and plays tambourine. The ‘Wet Nurse’ name came from Joanie, who plays in Madonnatron.

Tim: I remember us being out somewhere and having a conversation about being sucked into the void, how time can keep you swirling around in there unless you can wake up and punch your way out of the other side. You went home and penned a song around the black hole and sent it to me; a swirling, miserable, Sid Barrett-esque song, both haunting and on the edge of falling apart. Even though it was a rough cut, I added it to my playlist – if I ever make a film I want to put it in. How did you crawl out of the hole into what appears to be a more optimistic side of life for your new album?
Dan: I remember that night very clearly, we were in some hideous West London hang out, I was feeling very alone and peculiar, floating somewhere inside that hole… You told me to get it together, that the world needs people to make art. That helped a lot, and made me write that song for you. I reached the nadir when my friend and band mate in Phobophobes, George Russell, died last June. I came to realise how delicate life is. One step in the wrong direction, one little push, and that’s it. So, I suppose that the optimism you’re talking about is basically a willingness to live, and to keep living.

Tim: I first met you at an early Fat White Family gig, you were their drummer; you were topless, blonde and had a mad look in your eyes. You are a powerful drummer, you seem to drum then drum an echo at the same time, what made you go from drummer to front man?
Dan: I studied drums at college, did all my grades, and playing in Fat Whites for all those years was a good way of un-learning all that stuff and developing a style of my own. I will always play the drums, I play in Phobophobes all the time, and a lot of the drums on the solo album I recorded myself. I’ve written songs since before I came to London, just never had the time or the platform, or the confidence, to let people hear them. Until now.

“I went to see an exhibition on Portobello Road last year that you were showing at. One of the pieces was this stinky, shitty, cum stained duvet that you’d covered with drawings, and I loved it.”

Tim: You could have been a Kurt Cobain kind of cliché, who could have quite easily been engulfed by self-destruction, to becoming really focused. You look set to take the stage; are you ready for the live stage?
Dan: Working out how to best get the songs together live is an ongoing process, I’ve played gigs with just me and a guitar, with a five piece band, and recently with my girlfriend Freya singing and my friend Gam on cello. I think the more I experiment, the more obvious it will become. I’m definitely ready for people to hear the songs I’ve written.

Tim: You seem to have a string of potential hits on your album – Special People is a song for the asylum, Biarritz has a nursery rhyme feel – you certainly have structure and the ability to write songs packed with lyrical content. You have written songs for other artists like Misty Miller. You could have hidden in the shadows; why now have you come out in to the glare of the light?
Dan: I co-wrote a few songs on Misty’s album, the one I like the most, and had the most part in writing, is called Stars. I’ve done a few ghost writing sessions, and found them to be alien and weird. Unless you know somebody, I can’t see how anything truly honest can come of it. A lot of songs that are written that way usually all stem from hypothetical, made up situations, like a soap opera. That process just doesn’t interest me. I prefer to write about things that have happened to me. It’s cathartic. I need to get them out, off my chest. Sleep paralysis is horrible.

Tim: Why did you not draw your own album cover?
Dan: I went to see an exhibition on Portobello Road last year that you were showing at. One of the pieces was this stinky, shitty, cum stained duvet that you’d covered with drawings, and I loved it. The drawings were so naive and childish, scribbles, but at the same time disgusting and crude. I asked you to do something for the album because you have a knack for showing how those two extremes are connected.

Tim: We are living in a time when the phenomena of the self has taken root, with accessible phone apps like Instagram showing us highlights of people’s lives. How do we draw attention to people’s vulnerabilities, mistakes and weaknesses, without it being boring and full of self-pity?
Dan: I think that there’s a massive pressure on people to look a certain way, to say the ‘right’ thing all the time. That online pressure, which is a result of celebrity culture and corporate think tanks, bleeds into our lives offline, making the ‘real world’ seem dull and unfiltered. I would say go to a gallery, go to a gig, go for a walk, talk to someone on the train, and leave your phone at home.

Tim: What do you see when you look naked in the mirror?
Dan: Scars.

Tim: In the last couple of years there was a healthy rise of young feminist writers and artists, and it almost felt like young men were in need, their voices were forgotten. Did you feel isolated at the time?
Dan: I think it’s a positive thing that there has been a rise in the number of people talking about feminism; society generally treats women as second class citizens. There’s a charity called CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) which I was turned on to via a gig they put on at The Windmill in Brixton, aimed at helping men with depression or anxiety. They offer a phone number you can call, and an online chat with people at the other end who can give you advice when you need it. But yeah, I think that maybe the voices of men in need aren’t heard. Most likely because of the way ‘men’ are brought up to be ‘men’. “Blue is for boys, pink is for girls, boys don’t cry, be a man, get some balls, man up, don’t be a pussy.” It makes it hard to tell people how you feel, and turns these stereotypically ‘female’ traits into negatives, which in turn causes women to be suppressed and looked at as being weaker. It’s a vicious cycle.

Tim: I live opposite the sea and swim in it every day. You are moving to Margate – is that a quest to be near the ocean?
Dan: For the price of a tiny room in London, you can live in your own flat in Margate; and the North Sea and the skies that come with it are beautiful.

Tim: Neil Young used to record only on a full moon. Do you get effected by the full moon? Three days running up to the full moon I feel like pulling my skin off.
Dan: There was a lunar eclipse whilst my mother was in hospital giving birth to me. I always feel very affected by the moon. Often, I won’t realise that it’s full, and can’t work out why I’m feeling so strange, until I look up.

Follow Dan Lyons on Facebook and Soundcloud.
Dan plays at Ramsgate Music Hall on 8th September.