Interview: Doug Tielli
Published on March 5th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Last month, Rocksucker was tickled pink by Swan Sky Sea Squirrel, the solo debut outing of Toronto virtuoso Doug Tielli, so we fired him over some questions to satisfy our curiosity on a few issues thrown up by his mesmerizingly meandering album. First, though, listen to this choice cut…
Congratulations on an excellent solo debut. Would it be fair to say that you were in a somewhat fevered state of mind when you wrote and/or recorded it?
Thank you. A fevered state of mind eh? Mostly it was pretty quiet. Although when certain tunes started coming together and surprising me as to what they were becoming there was some feverishness.
What do you have planned for this year? Do you plan to make a second solo record?
There will be some touring in Europe and the UK coming up soon, starting at the end of March. And there are thoughts percolating about doing some recording while in England, maybe to get started on a second full length or an EP.
How long did you spend at the artist retreat centre? What was a typical day there like for you?
I was there for three months. The art centre is an old school house on Toronto Island, which is mostly just a park. I would try to get as many days in a row where I didn’t have to come into the city, just to sink into being out there. Toronto is quite a big and busy city, and the island goes at a much slower pace, and it takes some time to get your ‘island legs’ so to speak, and start walking slow and not being so driven to keep moving like in the city.
I love going slow, so I just walked around a lot, spending many hours on the south shore of the island, up and down the beach, doing some swimming. I became more aware of the weather and the natural cycles; I loved coming home late at night and biking along the boardwalk under moonlight and getting to track its movement through its arc and phases.
When things slow down, a lot more nuance and richness become revealed, and the small things take on deeply magical qualities … like watching the beach shift over the weeks, and seeing the different colours and moods the water takes on, and finding strange little ear-like fungi, or being visited by an owl.
So a typical day was quiet and spacious. I didn’t push myself to record, but instead took it when it came and when it felt like what I wanted to do.
How did you come to learn so many instruments? Are there any in particular that you can’t yet play but would love to be able to?
I learned music bit by bit. It was a surprise when I was 20 years old or so, and realized I could actually play the guitar, trombone, piano and some cello. I don’t consider myself too proficient at any instrument, but I do have a multi-dimensional and flexible understanding of music, which allows me to come at many different instruments or musical styles and situations, and understand them. It’s like when you get the big picture, all the little details don’t surprise you so much – and in the case of music what you know on one instrument informs all the others.
As for new instruments, I’m interested in bass clarinet, bassoon and violin, but I’d sooner take some dance classes (ballroom, break-dancing, tap, modern or belly) than start learning any of them.
My brothers have been big influences on me. When I was 13 and all of my friends were into rap and dance music, I thought the Rheostatics (Martin’s long-time band) were the best band in the world! And when I was 16, John invited me to join his first band, playing trombone and singing backups. I knew all his songs, and loved singing them with him, so I was super excited to give it a shot.
I still occasionally play in John’s Metal Kites project, and I have done a bit of recording on Martin’s records and played an impromptu three-song set with him last year, which was the first time we played together on stage. Though we have talked about it, the three of us have never played together, not even just for fun.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
I haven’t ever given a shout out! And I don’t think I am going to start just yet, so I would like to recommend some fellow Torontonians: Jennifer Castle, Alex Lukashevsky and Ryan Driver for those who love unique, intelligent and moving songs and singing, and the startling drumming of Nick Fraser (mostly jazz, but really anything) and the slow, rich and psychedelic compositions of Martin Arnold.
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
Neil Young, Nina Simone, J.S. Bach, Anne Briggs (even though it is so scarce) and a really, really comprehensive folk music anthology.
Doug Tielli, thank you.
Doug Tielli will be playing the following UK dates in April with Two Wings…
8th April – Nice ‘N’ Sleazy, Glasgow (click here to buy tickets)
9th April – Taylor John’s House, Coventry (click here to buy tickets)
10th April – Betsey Trotwood, London (click here to buy tickets)
11th April – The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle (click here to buy tickets)