Gavin MacDermott is better known, at least until now, as a producer, but his new solo project, Dashoda, sees him break out of the production realm and bare a little of his soul.
A deeply personal electronic project exploring themes like self-sabotage, and referencing the likes of The Blue Nile and Talking Heads, it’s one of the more unuusal and memorable pieces of music to come out of Dublin in recent months. I caught up with him to talk it all over ahead of the launch of the EP ‘Never Enough’.
First of all, tell me about ‘Never Enough’ and how it builds on ‘Sultan’?
Sultan is just one piece of a five part picture, four songs and the visuals which accompany them. The picture is only something I understood in retrospect to be a document about my experiences with self-sabotage. There were clues in the lyrics, and I can remember certain aspects of the process which might suggest this too, but I didn’t realise all of this until it was suggested to me by a friend and I had some distance between me and the EP.
So, in a sense, the final two singles are the full reveal of the picture. Each song appears to me to be exploring a symptom or cause of self-sabotage: avoidance, self defeat, anxiety, procrastination. These are broad themes and I have no answers, but I do hope that whoever listens to it will project their own meaning on to them.
Musically, I would have taken a lot of inspiration from 80s bands I got into when I was 18 or 19, like Prefab Sprout and Japan. I just loved the sound of Juno synths, drum machines, and chorused guitars. I’ve never really shook any of that. Around the time I started making demos in Ableton in 2014 I had heard Benny Smiles’ music. He had a track out called Somehow Yours Do, which I loved. I was starting to learn more about other Irish artists making this kind of music and it started to feel possible for me then.
Fast forward to 2020 and Ross Fortune (Benny Smiles) asked me to rework a new single he was about to release. I then asked him he be interested in doing some additional production and mixing on several tracks I had, and these tracks became “Never Enough”.
How has your work with Jackie come about?
I’ve known Jackie for a few years and I was a fan of her music before we met.
I had the chorus for Sultan since 2018 but I was never happy with the verse. I played it for Jackie and she vibed with it so we set to work on finishing the lyrics and arrangement structure.
Are there more collaborations on the EP, or any you’d particularly like to put together?
Yes, my friend Jake Curran co-wrote ‘Fooling Around Again’ and ‘Roy Orbison’ with me and ‘Looking For You’ was a co-write with Richey McCourt. There is some additional production by Ross Fortune and he also mixed the EP. Each of these collaborators had a different approach which was fun. I think one of the reasons for collaboration was the pandemic. Lockdown was an isolating experience so it felt natural to have a project that involved other people to escape from that, whether working remotely or during the windows where we could meet up.
Ror Conaty directed all the music videos and Mark O’Brien was also a creative consultant for the visuals. I see the EP as an audio/visual project, when I started to work with Ror and Mark the EP had been recorded and the visual project brought a lot more depth to it, for me anyway.
I think my eyes have been opened to the friendship and camaraderie you can build with others through collaboration, so I will certainly seek out collaborators for my next project.
Talk to me about the influence of ‘The Blue Nile’ on your work…
I first heard The Blue Nile when I was about 12. I didn’t get them, I was too young. My dad played Tinseltown in the Rain for me on headphones, and immediately it felt different to what I had listened to up to that point. That track has such a haunting atmosphere. It has joy and regret. It must have resonated with me on some level because I still have this memory nearly 20 years later.
When I did discover them properly in my mid-twenties, I think I fit the mould of the protagonist in most of their songs: a typically troubled 20 something, living in a city, single, looking for answers but finding more questions. There’s a vulnerability in their music that is connected to the lived experience of most people I know, because The Blue Nile’s magnify the feelings and experiences of ordinary life.
I remember reading an interview with their singer Paul Buchanan and he talked about trying to achieve stillness with their music. And I think this is something I look for, though I haven’t yet managed to peel back the layers in my own work and practices to achieve this. It still serves as an inspiration or beacon when I am trying to piece together the vision for what I’m working on next.
‘Sultan’ has a bit of a nod to The Blue Nile in terms of sound, especially the outro. I think it’s reminiscent of ‘Over the Hillside’ from theire seecond album ‘Hats’.
Sultan sounds like it would be complicated to create live. Have you got a process for building your sound into a live setting vs recorded?
Yes, and this is something I had to figure out slowly. For the launch gig, I will have a band, Jackie will also be performing so it is a little easier to translate the recorded version to a live performance.
Performing on my own I need to lean into the electronic side of my influences, and let go of convention or what might be considered acceptable for a solo artist who plays guitar and writes songs. Initially when I started to build the solo set I began putting up barriers in my mind. I thought: “hang on, this is me, some live instruments, and a lot of track. Surely this is just karaoke?” And in many respects it could be, so I just lean into it. The limitations also offer opportunities to focus on just delivering the song, telling the story, and not get too hung up on the technicalities.
How did you find the 49th and Main support slots? Did they help you develop as a live act?
Absolutely. Those gigs were my first public performances in any capacity in about 3 years. I loved getting around Ireland again in such a short space of time, I think it was all over in about 10 days and I was still in work so it was full on, but a good full on if that makes sense. I had been cooped up in Dublin for a while, and it was great to get out explore different venues and meet new people. I was surprised how many people resonated with my set so it gave me encouragement.
We also had some live visuals to offer the audience something else. I’m going to work on this more to have a set I can do on my own, with visuals so I can adapt to any scenario, especially if there is no band. I’d like to take the project in an audio visual direction in future.
I realised these gigs should be about the energy in the room rather than a technical masterclass, burderning myself with lots of midi controllers to make it “look” like I was doing everything when it was clearly going to be too much and unnecessary for my set. It was good to work through this process and realise that every artist’s set will be different and can go in an infinite number of directions. I just need to choose what was right for me, to get into that flow state.
I guess the nod in ‘Roy Orbison’ is fairly obvious. Is he a big influence? What’s the story behind that one?
He isn’t really, it’s a bit more of an oblique reference! There’s reference to ‘Silent Prayer’ in the second verse, which is from ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison. I think I had watched Blue Velvet around the time of writing as well. I think I was becoming aware of how you can learn a lot about yourself thinking about the art you consume and I was reflecting on why I liked Lynch, who was a big influence on me. The song had more of a rock vibe because my friend Jake and I wrote it and he’s a guitarist. There’s usually a bit of playfulness and humour in whatever we work on together so I think saying something like “I feel like Roy Orbison” felt normal enough at the time.
That song is kind of train of thought and I think this is because it’s from a place of being pre-occupied with your own thoughts and anxieties.
What can people expect from the EP launch show?
My last run of gigs was solo, this is with the band and I’m very excited about that. We’ve got Alma Kelliher on keys and synths and David Dockery on kit. I think there will be some experimentation and deviation from the record as well, out of fun and then necessity as well. I really want to keep the track to a minimum at this gig, just have it there for atmosphere.
Once the EP is out, what’s next? Is it fair to assume there’s a lot more music already in your live set?
Yes, half the set is the EP and my first singles and the other half is unreleased material. I still have a few darlings to kill but I think this music needs to be heard live now and I’m happy to switch up the process to give me a new challenge. When I was getting ready for the support tour in December I had to make a decision on what songs I was bringing with me and this got me excited for my next releases this year.
I’m still writing away every day but normally just sketches. They could be a handful of words in a journal, post-it note, or some voice notes. I’m looking forward to getting these finished so I can keep the momentum going. I have a lot more energy and positive outlook on what I’m doing when I feel I’m moving toward a new vision.
‘Never Enough’ by Dashoda is out now.