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The Thrill of Imperfection: Dan Patlansky On Keeping It Raw

Thursday, 01 February 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Tobias Coetsee

If you’re fed up with over-produced music and sick of average singers having their voices enhanced by studio technology, then Dan Patlansky feels your pain. Which is why ‘Perfection Kills’, the guitar slinger’s aptly-titled new album, deliberately aims a blues-rock blunderbuss at any notion of flawlessness. It’s delivered with an unvarnished live sound that’ll make you feel like you’re in the front row having the fortitude of your eardrums tested.

After a string of promising early releases, Patlansky’s career really clicked into gear on the back of a support slot with Bruce Springsteen in 2014 and the subsequent arrival of his first full-blown electric effort, ‘Dear Silence Thieves’, a year later. Almost 15 years into career, suddenly he became the hottest property on the blues block.  

The impressive ‘Introvertigo’ album arrived in 2016 and led to the South African being hand-picked to open for Joe Satriani on the European leg of his ‘Shockwave Supernova’ tour. Rich rewards, then, seem to follow a Patlansky album and ‘Perfection Kills’ seems unlikely to buck the trend. We caught up with the man himself to chat about his new album, the problem with perfectionism and how Audioslave helped him give the blues a contemporary lick of paint.

With your last two records having done so well, did that put extra pressure on you when it came to making your latest release, or did the success give you added confidence?

I think there’s a bit of added pressure, but when you’re making an album you’ve got to try and keep all that out of your head. Every album’s a new adventure and a new thing and if you start thinking too much about the success of past albums you end up making a watered down version of those. So I try my best to completely take those albums out of the equation and start from scratch.

Tell me a little more about the title ‘Perfection Kills’, and what it represents.

Well, obviously the album, in comparison to the previous two, is far more raw and organic and I thought it would be a fitting title. As soon as you over-produce anything, or any art, you end up losing a lot of the magic. The imperfections become the magical moments on records and they often get completely polished away. My goal was not to do that and have a more live sounding album.

So what did you change to achieve that?

Well, this was a different process. I produced this album myself and we did a large portion of the album live in the studio, which gives it that energy and feel. I didn’t worry too much in post-production about fixing little bits and bobs that a lot of people would on an album and tried to keep it looser so it represents what we sound like live better.

Why do you think that notion of chasing perfection has become more prevalent in music?

With modern recording studios you can fix anything. You can do whatever you want in the studio whereas in the old days, whatever went down to tape, that’s pretty much the way it came out. So the pursuit of perfection has become more prolific because technology allows you to so-call perfect things, fix mistakes, make all these arrangement changes and overthink things because it’s a lot easier.

What are your feelings about the use of something like autotune, because that achieves a form of perfection but, in reality, it’s false perfection?

I think it was originally designed…if you’ve done a fantastic vocal take and there’s one note in there that ruins it then you can fix a note or two. But people use it now to the point where they just smash it on and it doesn’t matter what you sing it’s always gonna come out perfect. Which is crazy and one of those things about technology I was talking about, that people use it just because they can.  

You recorded your album in two weeks. Can you wrap your head around the fact your fellow countryman Mutt Lange took years to make one record with Def Leppard in the ‘80s?

I know, it’s crazy. But for me, because I was going for the sound I was going for on the album, it’s definitely more like a gut instinct thing. The more time you have to mess with it the more you will mess with it and the more you will start polishing things. I think it’s just human nature to do that. But if you set yourself a small two week deadline you do what you need to do and it’s more of an ‘it is what it is’ type of thing. I like that method and it really lent to the sound and production of the album.

On your last two records you started with a couple of hard hitting rockers and this one’s no different. But what I like about Johnny is the mixture of hard-edged riffing and then the unexpected mellow passage that follows.

That’s exactly why I put it as the first track, because it sets a good feel and mood for the album. I love marrying those extreme dynamics together in one tune. It’s always a challenge and when you get it right it’s a very rewarding feeling.

Part of the riff on that song reminds me of Rage Against The Machine. Are you influenced by ‘90s alternative rock? I hear that sound in many of your heavier numbers.

I am massively influenced, more by Audioslave than Rage Against The Machine.  They’re just a massive sounding riff band. Possibly one of the biggest sounding riff bands ever. I’ve always loved that, and the way they wrote their riffs and how they arranged the songs. I try and keep genre out of the equation when writing and whatever comes out and whatever serves the songs best I go with, instead of trying to make it a blues song or a blues-rock song. I let the song dictate and those early influences definitely come out.

Tell me about your solo on Never Long Enough, because it moves through a number of distinct key changes in a way that almost sounds like you have guest players on there.

Key changes in solos used to be a really big thing in the ‘80s and ‘90s and it’s a cool arrangement tool. I’ve never really experimented much with that so I thought I’d write a couple of other sections in different keys, just because it’s such a cool sound. We also chose some weird key changes so it’s almost a bit jarring on the ear, but interesting, at least.

What can you say about the song iEyes and your feelings on that subject?

I think it’s an increasing problem, people really living their lives through their smartphones and tablets. I’m guilty of that, too, but it’s sad that society has got to the point where we’re buried in our phones and seeing the world through our camera lens rather than our own eyes.

Does it bother you when you’re on stage and look up to see a sea of phones raised in the audience?

It doesn’t, really. I always think to myself that, if you pay money to see a live show, then see it with your own eyes rather than through your phone otherwise you might as well just have a look on YouTube the next day and see some clips.

Was growing up in a country that’s had its fair share of social and political problems the reason why you write songs that, although not touching on those issues specifically, sometimes boast a strong social commentary?

Yeah, I think it’s definitely made me more aware of social and political happenings because of growing up in that sort of an environment. It kind of pricked my ears up to that type of thing and definitely sparked interest in social commentary.

Too Far Gone seems to be along those lines.

Well, that’s a song about how I think we might have gone too far, as a human race, in screwing the world up. On an environmental basis, a social basis, a political basis. To me it feels like there’s no turning back now, which is quite a scary thought. It’s quite an apocalyptic tune in a way but it’s definitely the feeling I get.

There’s only one longer song on the record (Judge A Man) where you open up with your guitar playing and cut loose a bit. Most tracks are quite tight and don’t feature prolonged instrumental workouts. Why do you keep it that way on record?

Well, an album’s a very different thing to a live performance where it doesn’t keep focused all the time. A guitar solo on the record is almost like a gift to the listener in my opinion. For what I want to get across it must be a focused musical happening in the song, not too rambling and long.  I really like short, sharp, focused songs.

Did you have a moment in your career where you decided to focus more on the songs and less on your playing?

I think we’ve all been through stages of writing songs just to facilitate guitar playing, but in the big scheme of things the most important thing in music is the song. You always want to play for the song and certain songs will lend themselves to more guitar playing and certain songs won’t. I don’t think there was one moment but it’s definitely become more of a focus in the last 10 years. When I started everything was about the guitar playing and that was it.

You’ve developed a great sound on your last three records. Are you keen to keep going down that path or do you have any ambition to explore different styles in future?

I think every album will change fairly subtly and eventually it will be a complete change. As an artist you kind of evolve and have different influences but, for me, it’s a very slow process that with every album will subtly move in a slightly different direction until it’s in a completely different direction. So I think that naturally happens for me depending on influences, how I’m feeling and what fields of music I gravitate towards when writing.

‘Perfection Kills’ is out on February 2.

Dan Patlansky Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu March 15 2018 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Fri March 16 2018 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Cluny
Sat March 17 2018 - LEEK Foxlowe Arts Centre
Sun March 18 2018 - BRISTOL Bristol Tunnels
Tue March 20 2018 - SHEFFIELD Greystones
Wed March 21 2018 - LONDON Borderline

Click here to compare & buy Dan Patlansky Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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