Daniel Bachman is a guitar player and artist currently based in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His last record came out in the immediate wake of the election of Trump, and since then Bachman has been working in silence on his most intimate, challenging and artistically fulfilling record yet, entitled The Morning Star. The album moves easily between intimate home recordings (‘Scrumpy’, on which you can even hear Bachman’s breathing) and noisy experimentalism which wouldn’t be out of place on a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record. The thought of one man recording an album this layered and emotionally complex into an iPhone and a multi-track recorder is incredible. Exeposé talked to Bachman by email about Fahey, folklore and art under Trump.
How did you get into playing guitar – and how did you come across the lineage of Fahey and the Takoma School?
I come from a musical family – my grandparents were heavy listeners and at times in their life they were professional musicians too. I got into stringed instruments like the guitar and banjo through my dad – he had a number of guitars always around the house and I eventually picked one up. That was twelve years ago – when I was about sixteen. Around that time, I was getting really into early American music and the noise music world, which had a really good scene between Baltimore and Richmond in Virginia. When I heard Fahey’s Vol. 6 Days Have Gone By I felt I had found a music that combined the interests I had. He was playing with all the traditional technique that I heard in the old records, but he also wasn’t afraid to abstract it – and I got hooked from there on out.
What’s your earliest music-related memory?
I remember my mom putting on Neil Young and CSNY records early in the morning – and really loud – to wake me and my sister up for school. The intro to ‘Deja Vu’ on a chilly morning in the fall, the smell of breakfast and cold hard wood floors are pretty nice early memories.
As I understand it, you’re a folklore archivist and enthusiast – can you tell me a little about that? Has your understanding of folklore influenced your music?
I’ve been interested in folklore and folklife studies since I was a teen and twice in my life I’ve tried to study it in a university setting. Most recently I was turned away by the University of North Carolina to study there, so I’m going to continue my research and collection of material on my own. Right now I’m working with my sister on a project of early scholarly recordings of Virginia musicians, about a third of which predate John Lomax and his early efforts in field recordings of American musicians. The material is at the University of Virginia and the Library of Congress, small private museums and in the homes of performers’ descendants. Just the material at UVA contains some 800 tunes, 15,000 plus photos, correspondence and misc. folklore material. We’re hoping to complete the research in the next year or so. It’s been so fun working on this material!
more intimate and spontaneous than anything I could try and recreate in a studio setting
Your music seems to be very much rooted in the landscape, especially pieces like “Under The Shade of the Trees”, with all those cicadas droning in the background. How much does nature influence you as an artist?
I’d say quite a bit. Over the years, I’ve supplemented my income with seasonal positions with the state park system, and I currently have a full time job working outside as a landscaper and gardener. I love the night bugs, cicadas, frogs, rain and wind sounds and feel very comforted by them. When I’m practicing with the windows open sometimes it feels like it belongs with the tune I’m working on so I add it in – I love the way those seemingly random combinations of sounds work with my songs, especially the stuff that is more improvised. It’s also my personal belief that humans are the caretakers for this planet and it’s sad that we’re doing such a poor job at looking after it.
Recently you contributed to Star Route 1, looking at prairie life – what form did your contribution take there and what led you to the book?
About a year ago, my good friend Mary Welcome called me and told me that she was putting together this project through the Colorado arts collective M12 so over the course of three months I worked on compiling the stories, some poems and other odds and ends. I contributed almost all of the text for that photography book, and Mary added in some of the interviews she conducted, all of the photographs as well as the layout and design. I was especially interested in working on this because the Bachman side of my family are all prairie people from the Dakotas, and we spent two or three weeks out of every year when I was growing up driving from Virginia to North Dakota to visit. I have a deep love for that part of our planet and it was almost like visiting while I was working on it. I even connected with a 91-year-old former postmaster with the same name as my grandmother – Lucille Bachman – and we got the chance to publish two of her poems for the first time. It was an absolute pleasure working on that project and I’m proud of the work we did.
Have you noticed any significant changes to your artistic life since Trump’s election? Has it changed the way you approach music, both as a listener and an artist?
Yes. Many things feel like they are changing right now and no one is sure how this will end. I’ll share one quick story. I have been on the road for ten years now and I’ve played the city of Pittsburgh maybe five or six times. Each time I played there were maybe five to ten people in attendance, but the last US tour I went on was during the first two weeks of Trump’s presidency and I played a gig right after his inauguration, on a cold rainy January night at a small club in downtown Pittsburgh. That night there were maybe sixty people in attendance and all of them were dead quiet for the whole hour set. It was spooky and surreal – just like how most of the world is right now.
You posted the other day on Facebook about having turned in a new record. Can you tell us a little bit about it – what went into its composition, where your head was at making it, and so on? Do you plan to tour in support of the album?
It’s a record I’ve been working on for about a year and a half now. The whole record is a combination of iPhone and Tascam recordings, tapes from my teen years, and field recordings of my environment. I hadn’t planned on making it like this but when I started listening to things I had as rough takes I just decided to use them. They’re more intimate and spontaneous than anything I could try and recreate in a studio setting. It wasn’t intentional at the time but the tunes on this record are less structured, more free and at times very sparse. It’s a pretty long record, and I also made the paintings for the cover and gate fold. I’m ready to move on from it! It didn’t feel like I’d ever finish it at one point but I really do feel like this record is as close as I’ve ever been to properly articulating my emotions through the guitar and other instruments. I’m really excited to share it with other people.
spooky and surreal – just like how most of the world is right now
You said in a 2013 Fader interview that you planned on gradually leaving music over time – do you still feel that way?
The road life was really wearing me out. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been touring for ten years as of October and doing all the driving and playing and no sleep and too many gigs left me feeling pretty burned out. Right now, I just can’t afford to tour. I need a new vehicle, plane tickets and rental car prices are going up. I’m living with my folks because rent in this area and beyond has shot up. The gigs just don’t pay enough to live off and I’m just figuring it out. I am busier than ever though and I feel strongly about the projects, records and other things I’m working on and I’m going to continue to work hard because I love it. I really appreciate you all taking a minute to ask me some questions!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. The Morning Star will be released this summer on Three Lobed Recordings. Daniel Bachman’s music can be bought from Three Lobed via their website or Bandcamp page, and Star Route 1 can be bought here.