DUNKIE: The Music and Masks of Mountain Ash
FROM DREAMS TO DESIGN
From the beautiful treelined mountains of Wales emanates a sound that naturally branches out across folk, indie-tronic, 60s’ psychedelia and rootsy dreampop. This kaleido-sonic tapestry conveys the light and shade of the human condition, while ruminating poetically and melodically from two musicians with clear, yet eclectic visions for each meticulously crafted tune. In this wildly ambitious, yet expertly executed debut LP, dunkie brings 17 tracks to life with a spirit of community. A revolving door of musician's guest, fortifying the music with many colours, textures and timbres to explore. ‘Working To Design’ is as visually captivating as it is sonically, with over 20 beautiful artworks by Michael Gustavius Payne to accompany the package.
We first heard the music of Anthony Price and Producer Wayne Bassett when dunkie debuted their twinned music videos for “Can a Song Save Your Life” & “Rabbit Hole” (which featured around 40 of our masks made from waste materials) and now, with the debut album in tow, it feels like the right time to dig deep into the process and inspiration behind their work.
Fletch: Anthony and Wayne. Welcome to our artist feature, thank you for sharing your experience and art with us and congratulations on the well-deserved rave reviews for your immersive album! What a vast project and well done pulling such vision together with all involved. It feels like a true communal effort. What is the process of taking a song from start to finish like between you? Are you both writing, or is one of you the ‘artist’ and the other ‘producer’?
dunkie/Anthony: Firstly, thank you for the high praise and thanks for having our back from the beginning to agree the use of the masks. The feedback we received for those videos/masks was amazing... due entirely to the masks!
The writing for the debut album was different to the follow up EP. Even though Wayne and I only live about 4 miles from each other in the South Wales Valleys, and having many mutual friends, we’d never met before. Wayne had heard a bunch of my complete lo-fi acoustic demos and we got chatting on social media (after his Wife introduced us to each other). Wayne had asked whether I had considered recording them on a larger production scale, and it had been something I had dreamed of doing as when I write basic acoustic track me heads spins with ideas of Production.
So, all the songs on the ‘Working To Design’ were all complete musically/lyrically structured songs that I had already written and brought to the table... we started with turning ‘Can A Song Save Your Life’ into a BIG production number, and realised we were completely on the same page... 30+ songs and 4+ years later and we’ve not fallen out yet (even though I've pushed him enough!).
As you mentioned all our songs pretty much have a revolving door of musicians/friends that have helped on ALL of these recordings... and that continued with the follow EP ‘The Vanishing and Other Stories’, but unlike the LP, the EP is 50/50 song writing over all the tracks between Wayne and I. Same with the Production a little... even though Wayne has the tech head for that.
dunkie/Wayne: Thank you very much Fletch. Yeah, it was strange that Ant and I had never crossed paths being as we knew a lot of the same musical friends and I knew of two members of a previous band he was in. After hearing an acoustic demo of ‘Can A Song Save Your Life?’ I asked Ant up to the studio to discuss and maybe record something. We were constantly messaging and slowly building up a friendship so there was no clear plan for an album. Our thinking was let’s do a song see how that turns out and maybe do an EP or something, but as we were getting into it and I was hearing all these demos and great songs realising that these needed to be put out on an album on a bigger production scale so we just worked on them.
Ant had a big back catalogue of songs so we were spoilt for choice really, we started recording about 23-25 songs but as we were working on them some were left behind as they might not have fitted cohesively as others, so we ended up with 17 songs that had to go on the album.
dunkie/Anthony: Yeah, I think as we were beginning to have some formation of songs recorded, I started to discuss a life-death theme, rebirth, and even a shared love for time travel... some “What If...?” scenarios, and we began to focus on a making the tracks feel like they were part of the same universe.
From the initial conversation we had between one another, and before we even began recording, we talked about ‘peaks and troughs’ of song structures, productions, layers, colours and tones - Anthony
Fletch: The songs work in both the acoustic “singer/songwriter” context and with the full band arrangement. I dig how up front in the mix the electric guitars are when they appear, and your use of effects is tasteful and colourful. To my ears I can hear elements of Big Star, REM and even Neil Young at times. What kinds of records do you listen to when you are not making your own music?
dunkie/Anthony: Well, you’ve mentioned 3 of my favourites right there, and Big Star have always been a massive influence, the comparisons to Neil Young and Michael Stipe I’ve had too, along with Radiohead (another influence of both of ours – more so Wayne’s). From the initial conversation we had between one another, and before we even began recording, we talked about ‘peaks and troughs’ of song structures, productions, layers, colours and tones.
Wayne asked me what influences I had and I gave him an eclectic A4 page list of albums by Queen, M83, Christine and The Queens, AIR, Neil Young, Teenage Fanclub, Dusty Springfield, KISS, Human League, Faith No More, Bon Iver, Peter Gabriel, Dvorak, Smashing Pumpkins, Carole King, Daft Punk, Chvrches, Biffy Clyro, Beach Boys, Rue Royale, there were so many on the list... even The Muppets! Honestly it was random and eclectic, I’m surprised that didn’t frighten him off. I don’t think we had an intention to say we were actually making an album together at that point; we’d never met each other before this so we didn’t really know if we’d even get on together.
The best example here would be the songs we first recorded, and that was ‘Can A Song Save Your Life’ followed up with ‘Sugar’, and if you’ve heard both those songs you know have very different in production they sound. I think from there it gave us total freedom to know we could move through different styles, Wayne may be best to answer here, but I know I was “...I’d really like the songs to sound like everything!”
The problem there is attempting to keep all the songs sounding like they belong in the same universe together, which I think we managed to do so well. I’m really proud of the cohesion on the album between all 17 eclectic tracks, but I think you’re right, they need to be able to exist in a skeletal state. Maybe that’s where the singer/songwriter thing comes into play, if they can be played simply on an acoustic instrument with a voice, then all else is bells and whistles. I tend to find and listen to a lot of unsigned music now via Bandcamp, again jumping from genre to genre.
dunkie/Wayne: Ha-ha! I remember the list, again we were on the same page musically as 99% of the bands I was into too, I think long gone are the days when you liked a musical genre and stuck to it and from a production point of view the more eclectic the better. But it wasn’t a case of let’s chuck all these instruments into any song just because we could, all the parts written and played had to fit musically and have their own space in the song. The little peaks and troughs like Ant said, we had parts we wanted for colour and tone, parts written to elevate a certain segment and parts that were solos which had to carry the segment in which they played. I think listening to a lot of various music helped us because I think Ant and myself listen as fans but also with a Producer’s ear picking up on little bits within songs.
dunkie/Anthony: We shared a loved and passion for a great ‘Making of...’ music documentary, like those ‘Classic Albums’ docs... the smallest things that created something interesting in a songs production. I remember us vividly discussing to Produce ‘Can A Song Save Your Life?’ without a single Crash cymbal, something that we remembered Peter Gabriel insisting on his third solo album.
As an audience member you’re taking away the music and the accompanying story the masked figures are revealing. You’re eliminating the ‘human face’ and forcing the audience to think differently - Anthony
Fletch: The masks that appear in your awesome music videos for “Can a Song Save Your Life” and “Rabbit Hole” are numerous! How did you come across them and how to they tie into the narrative of your music?
dunkie/Anthony: I honestly don’t know how I came across Wintercroft, I can only assume it was via social media adverts. I loved the designs, they almost looked sinister but also animal-innocent too, depending on the photoshoot I saw them within.
I know when I first contacted you to ask if it was possible to use the designs it was a big ask, and that it was going to take me a while to make the numbers I needed. The original concept and Production Company shoot didn’t happen and that knocked me for six a little as I had made a large amount of the Masks, so we went ‘guerrilla filmmaking’ style and asked local friends to shoot the concepts. Again, the Welsh weather didn’t help and we had to postpone and reschedule and couldn’t film the one concept, so ‘Rabbit Hole’ was filmed and we shot the behind the scenes ‘Can A Song Save Your Life’ almost like a making of video during Takes. It captured friendship perfectly I thought.
I’m not one for showing my face, or the whole ‘band’ concept as a face to promote the music. I know image sells but I really wasn’t concerned about that, I like to hide behind an image or a mask, and in the case of being to use the Wintercroft design here for those videos it seemed perfect.
As an audience member you’re taking away the music and the accompanying story the masked figures are revealing. You’re eliminating the ‘human face’ and forcing the audience to think differently. The concept of the human race wearing ‘masks’ in our day-to-day life came into the decision too.
With the concepts I had more ideas written, and still do, and the Rabbit Hole music video was themed around loss and children, and I attempted to write an abstract concept this, and in keeping with the feeling of holding hope in our lives. Even in darkness, trying to find that ‘lift’ of hope; in the music and the videos.
I decorated each mask with the lyrics to Can A Song Save Your Life in different languages... English, Welsh, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Norwegian... and also the complete pages of Dostoevsky`s Crime and Punishment. So, it was a real labour of love to honour your designs, that’s what I love about your PDF templates, if gives you the freedom to decorate these however you feel fit. It’s literally a blank canvas.
We were so lucky with the shoot itself - we send out a call to friends on social media and they came along with their children in a local woodland for 6 hours on a damp Sunday between 10am-4pm. Friends that weren’t on camera even came along to support from the side-lines, everyone commenting on how amazing the masks were... of which I took no credit! They’re all to the credit of Wintercroft here.
dunkie/Wayne: Same here, I think I saw some adverts on Facebook and when Ant shared his concept for the music videos, I remembered them from online, I love the Wintercroft masks, it’s great seeing a post you guys do and being amazed by photos of somebody’s creativity and how they have made the masks their own too.
The community comes together in support of the project wearing masks for the music video
Fletch: Your music is original and self-produced and there is a real sense of community around this project. We love how you brought all these talents and fans together for both the audio and visual aspects of your album. It’s inspiring and very real in contrast to many artists who rely on mystique to perpetuate their image. Was this by design or simply a natural evolution along the way.
dunkie/Anthony: Really appreciate you saying that, it has always something that we were conscious to do so from the beginning. Both myself and Wayne had been in different musical projects and have supportive friends from playing gigs and open mics. Personally, I saw it from other friends that included their friends to help them on studio recordings, a backing vocal there, a guitar there... this was/is not meant to be a band in the usual sense of the word. We thought we could use the skeletal songs I had written, and see where we take each in production and we again reached out to our friends to ask if they would consider being involved.
Both Wayne and I have day jobs families, and the only time was maybe a few hours on a Sunday... we even brought our children along to the recordings, and that’s how it began and continued for 3+ years almost every Sunday for a few hours. We begin a production of one song and think who we knew that would be willing to give up some of their personal family time on a Sunday afternoon to be involved. I think everyone we asked did so, and we paid them in pasties, cups of tea, biscuits and donuts!
dunkie/Wayne: Thank you very much, it's been an exhilarating ride. As we would be working on the songs, we’d discuss what kind of instruments would complete the song and who did we know that could play such instruments.
So, we would record some tracks to a certain degree of completion and then it would be an exciting wait listening to the progress mix throughout the week (making notes and messaging each other about possible tweaks we could do) ‘til the following Sunday to see what our musician friends would bring to the table so to speak.
Everybody who came along gave us their creativity and time and it shows on the album. We are extremely proud of it and the 30+ friends who helped make it.
This amazing cover art was created by Welsh Painter Michael Gustavius Payne
Fletch: Finally, guys, thanks again for making our masks part of this vast and glorious vision. What’s next for dunkie after all this lockdown business. You got any key gigs coming up? It looks like you are raising funds for a super deluxe vinyl/artwork package. Where can folks go to support and obtain such an audio-visual gem?
dunkie/Anthony: We delayed the CD Box Set release in 2020 due to the situation we all found ourselves in during the year... But that Box Set release would have been us launching and performing for the first time as a complete 9–11-piece live band. As I say recording gave us complete freedom about not worrying how we would perform the album, we just wanted to create the best songs/productions we could with our friends... but then we obviously found ourselves in the person that we’d need to promote this album live. During Jan, Feb and March 2020 we had been rehearsing for a May live launch... it didn’t happen so hopefully we still have the friends to play alongside us in this live set up when things begin to really settle down.
So, no immediate live plans as such yet, with no dates, but that’s mainly due to the uneasy situation with pandemic... we really would like to make this something special live. Plus, we have the latest EP and the forthcoming 2 EPs that we’re working on together, so it’ll mean more songs to add to the set. We have a special plan for a physical triple EP release, again to combine the art and music to give it a real throwback to owning something special.
With the Broken 8 Records Double Vinyl release, again our aim isn’t just to create music it’s to provide something a little special to own and we couldn’t be any more excited with the vinyl release. It’s a gatefold, it has an 8-page art/lyric booklet that includes all of Gus’ artwork, it’s a double vinyl splatter in green and black paint and it includes an exclusive 7” single of two tracks taking from The Vanishing and Other Stories EP. I’m excited about this even as a fan myself!!
It’s a pre-order vinyl release so we need to hit the funding goal for it to go to pressing... so please head over to:
dunkie/Wayne: I think rather than do the difficult second album we bypassed that by deciding to release a collection of connected EPs over the coming year and beyond, and that has expanded into something a little larger too.
Ant has mentioned all the plans above so it’s going to be a lot of studio weekends and creativity, we have quite a fair bit written and it’s back to excitement of creating again and stocking up on biscuits, cups of tea and pasties!
A COMMUNAL CREATIVE PROJECT
Well, there you have it folks. What a gargantuan effort and what a feat to pull together all these wonderful creative people to create something truly unique and special. Follow the links below to check out more from these vital artists and enjoy.
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Further reviews, podcasts and interviews here:
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