Danny L Harle “I don’t really have any stigma about what’s ‘cheesy’ or not, to be honest.”

Photo: Mads Perch

Danny L Harle is eeeeuuuge. On the heels of his Broken Flowers EP — a gorgeous array of what he calls “totally conventional” bliss pop, marking PC Music’s first release with Columbia — he’s pulled out all the stops: making BBC Radio 1’s A List, mixing harder than an industrial-grade food processor, and churning out explosive chunks of pop that melt in your mouth and not in your hand.

Fresh off the recently released “Jungle Survival DJ Challenge,” TMT sat down with Harle via Skype for a pleasant Sunday morning chat veering between topics such as reheated pizza, his early life, and his identity as a musician.


Hello?

Can you hear me?

I can hear you, yes.

OK, awesome.

Hi.

Hi. So…

I’m gonna have an alarm go off in about five minutes, because I had some pizza last night that I put it in the fridge overnight, and I just tried to eat it and it was frozen, so I put it in the oven. So my alarm is gonna go off, and I’m gonna go get the hopefully thawed pizza out of the oven, [which] I assume I know how to use. If not, this will be my last interview ever.

Absolutely, that’s fine. Alright, so I guess [in the meantime] we’ll start. I wanted to begin with questions about your background. Your father, John Harle, is a fairly well-known saxophonist, composer, and record producer; [as a teenager] you participated in the Royal Academy of Music’s jazz group, you attended Goldsmiths, University of London to study classical music. So I guess what I’m getting at is: can you recall your first [vivid] musical experience? And can you better outline your musical progression from that of a child in a musical household to your present as an established musician?

Yeah, sure. It was quite confused because it was kind of… oh God, the pizza’s going crazy. Sorry, one second.

Sure, yeah.

Yowza! Okay, okay. Sorted, sorted.

Awesome.

Okay, I did it. So yeah: My only slightly musical experience that’s vividly in my consciousness is being at the last Night of the Proms in 1995. I was six years old, and my dad was playing this piece by Harrison Birtwistle called “Panic,” which is… he’s regarded as an avant-garde composer. And basically, at that time and for quite a lot of my life, I wasn’t interested in music at all, until about the age of 12. But until about 14, I was only interested in music’s cultural connotations. I didn’t realize that I enjoyed the specific things inside music and got pleasure out of that.

So it was just through teen angst: I liked Slipknot and things like that, and I wanted to associate with certain types of people. I chose music that I wanted to like. And I do personally believe that one can appreciate music just based on who you want to be. I mean, I think that’s more of a factor than actual aesthetics. I think it’s the same with everything, obviously, because it’s about identity, isn’t it? And it’s weirder if someone’s appreciated for something based on its aesthetics; like, it’s weird when you get someone who’s from one very distinct culture and they are obsessed with a very different style of stuff just because of the aesthetics of it rather than its cultural association. And that shows a real interest there and, I think, when someone’s clearly got eclectic taste. But, of course, having eclectic taste is another identity.

Anyway, so yeah, my background: very varied, I was exposed to lots of music. I did tell my dad, at one point when I was about 14, “I want you to show me, like, every kind of music”: [he took me to] free and improvised jazz concerts in London, [he] took me to see operas and stuff, [he] showed me lots of great music, like he was really into the album Tutu by Miles Davis and Money Jungle [by Duke Ellington], because my dad’s involved in playing jazz as well… Earth, Wind & Fire. So [I was] being shown all of this music at the same time and that would be in the back of my psyche. And then I started to get interested in playing the bass guitar. And then my dad thought I should get involved in the junior jazz group, and then I got involved with that at the Royal Academy and that was very… that’s a hothouse. Most of the people I know from that area, from that course, are now incredibly successful […] because they treat the kids like they’re [at a] professional standard. They expect that much of them. They don’t care that you’re at school, they assume that you’re practicing all the time. So yeah, that was very hothouse-y.

And I got involved in that: doing all the bebop licks and all that kind of stuff. And then I kind of got a bit — I don’t know how — disappointed with that, as in I saw no endpoint […] because I wasn’t interested in going to jazz gigs, really. I was sort of interested in the kind of nerdy pursuit of playing perfect solos and stuff like that. And that, for me, wasn’t quite enough, so I started to accumulate my interests together, because at that point I got into free improvisation, [for] which I actually was interested in going to see the gigs. Dad had already showed me that before, and so I got interested in that area where there aren’t as many boundaries — though now I realize there are quite a lot of boundaries in free improvisation. And through that, I got interested in contemporary classical music, which has a lot of crossover, because it’s in the avant-garde where everything kind of meets, which is relevant to what I do right now. And then I started to realize the pieces that I liked the most were the pieces that incorporated material, that has tonal relationships between notes. You then can sort of compromise that. So it’s like “Dum Transisset” by Brian Ferneyhough or a piece like that. Or Die Soldaten [by Bernd Alois Zimmermann] — that’s a very extraordinary opera. And through that, I then went hardcore avant-garde for a bit, when I was at Goldsmiths.

The thing is, then, at Goldsmiths, I reconnected with [A. G. Cook], who [I’d gone] to school with previously, and he had really similar interests. [He] knew about some of the stuff: he knew about some different stuff, and I knew about some different stuff, so we compared notes basically and realized that, yeah, our abstract interests were identical, really, and there wasn’t actually any culture that we knew of that combined all these things, which were combinable because of its abstract principles. And so we just started to make stuff together.

So, yeah, that’s the end. That’s the sort-of vague, long-winded way of saying it.

It’s good that you bring up A. G. Cook, because a lot of reviews seem to perceive your music as more accessible compared to his and [those of] some of your other labelmates, something I’ve noticed as well. And, not to force you to appraise your work in such an obvious way, but would you generally agree with that sentiment? Or how else would you say your music differs from that of your labelmates?

I have no idea. I have to send my music to people before I know if it’s accessible or not. I’ve made and I send them to people and they say, like, “What the fuck is this?” I have no perception, really, so it helps me sometimes to get some feedback on what I should release [and] when, for example, but I don’t necessarily like that element of feedback when I’m making a mix or something, which I just want to be pure expression and all I like to listen to. [Feedback is] kind of useful and not at the same time, but I have very little perception of what’s accessible and what isn’t. I’ve had very strange conversations with people where they[‘ve] said, “Can’t you see that this bit of the track is really cheesy?” and I’m like “No?” I don’t have that kind of threshold. And I think it’s because… as much as I liked Slipknot when I was very young, I wasn’t involved in bands that were gigging or anything social and things like that. I didn’t know about the indie scene, so I didn’t have a stigma, even listening to pop music, really, when I was younger.

So, for that reason, I don’t really have any stigma about what’s “cheesy” or not, to be honest. It’s all in there. Some of it might be, some of it might not be, but all it is is an accumulation of what I like. I think that’s why. And I think that’s the reason why people haven’t dismissed it for being one of these… things… is because it’s quite clearly an expression of what I like rather than me being just a full-on, cheesy guy or trying to do something, trying to make a certain style of music. It’s a quite honest expression of love, really, for what I want to hear.

What does the creative process look like for you? Cook claims that he focuses on getting chords and melodies down with very plain sounds, but since your music scans somewhat differently than his, how would you say production differs for you, if at all?

Really similar. And that process is born, I would think, out of us working as Dux Content together, which was an early group that we formed. It’s based [on] the idea that if you want to make something interesting, it usually has to be based on a solid framework, so chords and tunes: can’t get more solid than that.

Tell me a little bit more about PC Music’s partnership with Columbia. Did you feel any pressure at all with Broken Flowers being the first release?

Not at all. I mean, I don’t know about PC Music’s relationship with Columbia, really. I’ve very much situated myself as an artist in this situation. That’s where I’m most comfortable. I felt no pressure with Broken Flowers, as well. It just felt like the right thing to do. I would’ve felt supremely frustrated with a smaller… I was having talks with other labels at the time, and they were talking about it being an underground release. And I just wasn’t interested in that, because that world really works for some music, culturally, but what I’m interested in is becoming involved in this world that so many people’s eyes are on, that is changing so dramatically, and there is such a degree of experimentation, unpredictability. It’s very exciting, the world of pop music right now. And the people writing it are all very excited; no one can predict anything, really, and so far it’s been a really nice thing to be involved with.

Humor seems to play a big role in your music. Can you tell me more about the “Jungle Survival DJ Challenge”? How did that come into fruition?

Jungle Survival DJ Challenge… Let me think… I can’t remember. It feels like it just happened. It didn’t really take much discussion. It was just like, “Do you want to do a mix?” Yeah. “Let’s film it.” Yeah. And then somewhere between that and what happened, we got the “Jungle Survival DJ Challenge.” I like the tone of it, that’s something that I’m very happy with.

Do you have any plans for your next release? Some people have been wanting to know if you’re planning to release “Never Thought” and “Aquarius.”

Wow, that’s hardcore knowledge there! There are plans to release stuff, definitely. Otherwise, it’d be the end of my career. I think people waiting for “Never Thought” and “Aquarius” within the next few releases might be disappointed, but hopefully not with what I actually end up putting out. I’m very excited about the next tracks that are coming out, though. They’re gonna be huge.

Awesome, that’s good to hear. Well, it looks like we’re almost out of time. It was great speaking with you.

Gonna eat this pizza now.

Alright, enjoy!

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