Last November Gary Steel had a very pleasant Q&A with Auckland group Dear Times Waste’s Claire Duncan. On the occasion of the release of their first album, Witchdoctor publishes the full transcript for the first time
Witchdoctor– What about an album?
Claire – I’m working on one at the moment. I’ve just signed a deal with Speak & Spell, a label from Sydney. They’re putting out this (EP) in February next year and we’re working towards release for a full-length record in probably August next year.
Witchdoctor – How did the Australian thing come about?
Claire – I haven’t played any shows over there at all but I’ve been in touch with a couple of the guys from Speak & Spell for a long time, maybe three years now, and they were quite keen to do something. But it took a long time for me to feel ready to do it.
Witchdoctor – You’ve been involved in music projects prior to Dear Time’s Waste?
Claire – I spent a couple of years just playing solo, just playing on my own in bars and stuff. Before that I was in bands at high school and stuff, but nothing really serious. So I spent awhile singing on my own but then the songs I was writing and the things I wanted to do I just couldn’t pull off on my own anymore, and I wanted to have a band. To have drums and stuff.
Witchdoctor – Why a band name rather than your name?
Claire – There’s a couple of reasons. Primarily I wanted to make it a more anonymous. I think there’s a bit of a stigma with… you get the singer/songwriter label put on you really quickly, especially as a female I think. Not that that’s a negative thing because there are a lot of good female singer-songwriters that perform under their own name and stuff. But I think for me I just wanted to detach my own name from it. I wasn’t that comfortable with having my name as the label, an overarching thing, and I didn’t think it served the songs properly. I kind of like the idea of music being under a banner that’s not necessarily about the people involved, it takes on its own personality, rather than being ‘Claire Duncan’.
Witchdoctor – You’d keep the name regardless of whomever you had in the band at the time?
Claire – Totally. Like this year for live shows I’ve had quite a rotating cast of different people. It’s getting more solid now, because people are more locked into it and it’s starting to work really well, but we’ve had a variety of people involved, which actually works really well, because it keeps it really interesting for me and everyone involved, and also for the audience. Because if you’re playing a lot of shows in Auckland people are like ‘I went to see you last week and why am I going to go and see you again this week?’ But there might be a different guitar player!
Witchdoctor – What about the name?
Claire – It’s actually – it’s going to get all English wanky – it’s from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets that I really like.
Witchdoctor – I should have Googled that.
Claire – What comes up when you Google it is just lots of people with Shakespearian blogs and stuff. But yeah, it’s from a sonnet that I really like, and I kind of just like the way the words sound together.
Witchdoctor – So you’re into poetry?
Claire – Yeah, it’s something I’ve always done.
Witchdoctor – Are the songs poems as well, or do you see them as quite separate, words to go with music?
Claire – I think on one level, on a lyrical level, it’s important that words in songs are really important for me. Bad lyrics in a song just ruin it for me. It’s really important to me to have strong lyrics, and you can communicate a lot in a song, but it’s different in the sense that you have the aural element, which… well there’s performance poetry, but you often don’t get that environment of music underneath it. And I guess with this I’m trying to do something… well I’m not aiming at the pop market but just by the nature of the songs being 3 and a half to 4 minutes long and moving in certain ways it has a lot more of a conventional… the verses rhyme and they have a kind of solid structure. With poetry I think of it as more like an interrogation of language, so you can have a lot more freedom to play with it. But with writing I have been trying to do more of that in songs. Like, how do you do this in three and a half minutes.
Witchdoctor – Yeah there’s that tradition of poets who have moved into songwriting, like Leonard Cohen to name a really old one. And his stuff… the choruses are really repetitive.
Claire – Yeah you’re right, and he’s a poet in the most conventional sense, all his lines rhyme and they’re all even. But great, I love Leonard Cohen, amazing, and Bob Dylan’s another one.
Witchdoctor – Who are your favourite songwriters?
Claire – Probably those two. I’m also a pretty obsessive PJ Harvey fan, I just think she’s really innovative and creative, and she’s always trying to push for something new, and what she does and what’s going on around her without neglecting the simple essence of a pop song, a catchy hook. I’m constantly surprised by her. ‘White Chalk’, before that record I never liked her particularly. I just hadn’t really gotten into her and then I heard ‘White Chalk’ and think it resonated with a lot of stuff I was listening to at the time, a lot of shoegazy stuff with ethereal melodies, and then it opened up this whole other world, so I’ve had a lot of fun delving into her back catalogue.
Witchdoctor – There’s a real shoegazer element in the music, at least the accompaniment, the way the guitars sound. Is that more the people you were involved with?
Claire – No, it’s very much what I wanted to do when I was writing those songs. I was listening to a whole lot of My Bloody Valentine and that Deerhunter record, and I really wanted to make (laughs) fuzzy, nice music, and it just reflected where I was at at the time.
Witchdoctor – Newer material is sounding a little bit different?
Claire – I think it is. I suppose it is.
Witchdoctor – That kind of style seems to be undergoing a revival at the moment.
Claire – Yeah hugely. I’m too young to have experienced it the first time around, so discovering it was like a whole other world. I’m not sure what I was listening to before I was listening to that.
Witchdoctor – How old are you?
Claire – I’m 22.
Witchdoctor – At your age taste can change quite quickly.
Claire – Totally, it’s like realizing that there’s these massive periods of history and all these amazing people who I’ve just never heard before. As a kid you just listen to what your parents put in front of you until you turn 12 or 13.
Witchdoctor – And then you rebel against it all.
Claire – (laughs) Yeah! My Dad used to play us lots of classical music, like Grieg. He was huge on him.
Witchdoctor – Hall Of The Mountain King.
Claire – Yeah! I remember my sister and I would put on Hall Of The Mountain King and like when we were really small we would be like, running around, because it builds and builds and gets faster and faster.
Witchdoctor – Who is in the band at the moment?
Claire – At the moment I’ve been playing with Rickie who used to be in Trees Climbing Trees. Rickie plays guitar, and Rosie Harris plays bass and Katie Everyham plays bass.
Witchdoctor – Will you still have that lineup when you play at Laneways festival?
Claire – Laneway. Most likely. Who knows.
Witchdoctor – Do you like Echo & the Bunnymen?
Claire – I do. I really do. It’s a pretty exciting lineup, it’ll be a great day.
Witchdoctor – Do you see yourself as a fulltime music person?
Claire – Yeah. I’m consciously aware of the fact that I have to pay rent, so I work as well. But it’s definitely my focus. I’ve just finished a degree in English and history, so I’ve been doing a juggling act for the last year especially.
Witchdoctor – That ties in well with the interest in lyrics and poetry.
Claire – It does, it totally does. Poetry and literature does inform… they inform each other. Whatever you spend your time doing informs your music.
Witchdoctor – Apart from a busy summer schedule and working up an album… any other plans?
Claire – The EP release in Australia, so I’m going to go over there and play a few shows in March. I’m quite keen to get the record out here a bit earlier, so hopefully that can happen in the first half of next year, and just tour. So I’ll be hopping between here and Australia a little bit. I’d quite like to spend a good amount of time focusing on Australia, so it’d be wise to focus there, but I’m really keen to go to the States. That’s where most of my interest has come from. Online, people viewing my stuff.
Witchdoctor – Are you a driven person?
Claire – Yeah, I think I am. I think I’ve been fortunate enough to have some amazing people around me who have helped me a lot and give me a push when I can’t push myself.
Witchdoctor – One last question. Who would you have in your ultimate band? Dead or alive. I suppose there could be a competitive factor if PJ Harvey was in there.
Claire – No, I don’t think so. God I don’t know. I would love to work with Flood, the producer in London, because he’s produced a lot of my favourite records.
Witchdoctor – He worked with U2 at one stage, didn’t he?
Claire – Oh yeah he had a bad year or two (laughs). He’s done all the PJ Harvey and a whole bunch of Nick Cave. Someone like Thurston Moore. It’s hard to think how it would translate. Hmm, hard question!
Witchdoctor – Writing partner?
Claire – I’ve always written alone, so the concept of a writing partner… it is something I’d really like to do, but it’s scary.
Witchdoctor – You get this awful thing where Boh Runga goes to California and collaborates with all these horrible production line…
Claire – I’m not going to say anything (laughs). Working with Jason on the EP was a really fruitful collaboration. I really love working with him.
Witchdoctor – Do you feel like part of Kiwi music, or part of a particular scene?
Claire – I suppose to the extent that I live in Auckland and I’m playing music and I know a few musicians, my friends are mostly musicians. But only on that level, like I don’t really feel like… like I’m participating in some big movement or anything. I think it’s a bit tricky the whole… calling something Kiwi music. I don’t really think that’s the best way to describe music.
Witchdoctor – There are some bands you listen to like the Mint Chicks and you think ‘this sounds like us’.
Claire – I remember the first time I saw the Mint Chicks and I was 15 or something and I’d never heard anything that sounded like that before. Maybe in the late ‘70s early ‘80s. But I’d never heard any of that kind of stuff before, so it was like ‘this doesn’t sound like it’s from my country’, in the best possible way.
* Dear Time’s Waste’s debut album, Spells, is out now.