23 Mar The Embrace of Nihilism – An Interview with Darcy Baylis
Despite only being in his early 20s, Darcy Baylis has been around the Melbourne scene for half a decade with several impressive releases. His undefined ambition, unique combination of skills and ability to execute his work so well, has caught the praise of critics and fellow musicians alike. Rather than looking to fit in, Darcy chooses his own subconscious path, involving genres spawning from every decade since the ’70s. Wanting to further pursue this approach in more interesting and different depths, makes his work some of the most memorable of our plethora of local artists we have today.
We sat down at Dr. Morse and talked with Darcy about recording Intimacy & Isolation (out via DOWNTIME) while travelling last year, the importance of vocals in his music and looking to work with local rappers and improve Australian rap music.
Marcus Rimondini: I’ll start with – how was the Golden Plains experience last year? Is that the biggest crowd you’ve performed to?
Darcy Baylis: It was like the greatest night of my life. Categorically, objectively – it stands out as the best hour. I have no other way to describe it. I don’t even know if I was expecting it to be that good. I guess because I had never played anything remotely on that level I knew I had to step it up. Funnily enough as well, it was the only gig where I wasn’t nervous. My manager said to me “Do you want to have a look at the crowd to get ready?” So I did, and even though it was a lot of people, I just felt so prepared and like nothing could go wrong.
You the spent last year travelling and recording this album – what gear did you take on you on your trip to record? Did you borrow gear? What do you wish you took with you?
Just my laptop and microphone. [Laughs] I’m not a big gear person, synthesisers are cool I guess, but it’s just not my thing. I think even if I had money to access things, I probably still wouldn’t buy much gear. I primarily work within my laptop – I consider that to be my main instrument. I didn’t borrow any gear. I just took my laptop and some clothes and I was good, didn’t really need anything else.
Did you try to collaborate with anyone for the album? Anyone you’d love to work with?
I think it’s very important that I’m transparent about the collaborations that were involved on the album. For instance, on the first track there’s a reading of a poem by my friend Polly titled ‘All I Is’. I think that poem is integral to a lot of the words in the album, she also co-wrote some lyrics for ‘Emergency’.
I came back to Australia with a large portion of the album half done, and I went to the studio with my closest friend and collaborator Joseph Buchan. I asked “What do you think?” and he’s someone who won’t appease me for the sake of it. For instance, I’ll play music to other people and they’ll say “This is great!” but with Joe it’s more constructive – “I think you can do better”.
As far as collaborative work, those two people were integral in encouraging me to get better, step back and think about why I’m doing what I’m doing, how the best way to do it is, and how I can actually make it stand out. As opposed to making it as good as something I’ve done before.
There’s a ‘90s sound that sticks out, artists like The KLF. Was there a particular era or sound that influenced the album or is that just naturally what comes out when you produce at the moment?
It’s just kind of everything, which seems like a cop out to say that. I think because a lot of this album was written with a deadline, because I needed new material for Golden Plains, I figured out the only way to make good music quickly is to not think about style, I pretty much gave up on the idea of making a house song, or an electronic record, or whatever. It’s literally all the things I like, democratised in a way, and all given their equal share of play. There’s definitely things like Orbital, Aphex Twin, but there’s also contemporary rap, like Future and Drake. Even some of favourite albums of all time like Björk’s Vespertine.
So it’s more of a natural stream of thought?
I think so. It’s very important to me in my practice, the democratising of style, and making sure that things that are traditionally considered highbrow are lowbrow, or are presented as equally important. Rather than here’s a techno record with an ironic flourish of pop, I don’t do anything ironically. I’m at a point where it’s really hard for me to find music that I dislike.
You mentioned how you hope this album appeals to teens – is that because you feel that’s difficult to do or just because you want them to access more interesting music?
Yeah totally. Teenagers are the future. The way that they approach social media and interact with each other, they’re figuratively and literally the future. I think they have the most innovating taste out there and I think that’s really interesting. I think it’s also really important to discover music that you love as a teeenager. I feel everyone’s obsession with music begins at that point.
If you had to associate yourself with any other similar artists in Australia, who comes to mind. Friendships to me would be the closest artist. Are you familiar with their work? What do you think is the main difference between your works? Or do you feel there’s nobody exploring the same territory?
I try not to compare myself to other people as a general rule of thumb because I used to spend so much time doing that. It drove me insane, falling into this weird insecurity, aspiration anxiety. I have a lot of respect for Friendships, I think they’re great, incredible musicians and artists. They sound a little bit like me, but not heaps. I’ve been trying to actively consume more Australian music, but I don’t try to think about what I do compared to other people. I think there’s an importance between influence and reference, there’s things that my music literally sounds like, but there’s actual reference points. I just consume music and see what happens.
There’s a lot of effects on your vocals throughout this album and your previous EP – do you feel the vocal manipulation separates you a little from the other local electronic producers?
That’s a really nice thing to point out! I appreciate that, nobody’s actually mentioned that. I think that was an essential part of the record. In contemporary rap and pop music, the timbre of the voice has kind of become the main instrument. Auto-tune itself has become a very malleable instrument, vocal processing has become an instrument, and it’s also become essential to innovative or standout or create interesting music. The human voice is this transformative, transcendent thing. I think if you spend three hours working on a synth sound and then just sing over it, seems kind of pointless, I think everything should be given equal treatment.
Do you find it easier to use your voice than a sampled voice?
Yeah I find it way easier, the big difference making this album was I had a good microphone for the first time in my life. I could get the ideas out quickly and make the music. A lot of the lyrics, I don’t tend to write them down, they’re just phrases in my head at some stage.
What’s the meaning behind the line “Force won’t kill me”?
That’s an example of a sentence that just appeared in my head, fully formed in that rhythmic melody. If anything it’s an embrace of nihilism – that point where you stopped being so concerned about not being afraid to die, but you also very much celebrate life as well. I feel those two things are very close. That point in the middle, where it doesn’t make sense that you’re here, but you’re going to do your best to figure it out. Which is a grand statement to explore.
Did you performed the guitar solo in ‘Emergency’?
Yeah. Guitar was my first instrument, I started when I was 11 years old, my sister played me ‘The Taste Of Ink’ by The Used. The next day I was like, I need to learn how to play this song. I started off playing punk music, then jazz and classical. After this I discovered electronic music, so the guitar has always been around, and something that’s existed parallel to my own electronic music. I think for the next show I play, I’d like to shred a bit more, to show that it’s something that I can do and because it’s fun.
Now you’re going back to university – how big of a commitment is it? Does it keep you free to make music and tour?
It’s bigger than I thought – on my first day back I was thinking “… I might be in a bit too deep here”, juggling study, touring this album, trying to write a 45 minute composition with an accompanied thesis, text people back and still get eight hours sleep a night. [Laughs] it’s going to be pretty tough but I think I’m very much capable of it. I don’t want any of it to slow down as a result of it. I’ll just be looking stressed out for the rest of the year, but I’m prepared for that. I think the greatest resource I have at university is the ability to bounce ideas off peers. Collaboration is so integral for any good arts, that’s why I can’t stop going back, because I want to see what all my friends are up too. I’m such a nerd about it, I want to be there all the time.
You mentioned a song called ‘Cucks’ that you’ll play live – what is it about and why does it not feature on the album?
It was made just after the album and is about me being traditionally not a very masculine person and my friends not really associating with either side of the gender binary. So being perhaps a male presented person, who embraces the ‘cuck-hold’, I guess. It’s part joke, part very, VERY serious. The song itself is like a really cheesey ‘70s new-wave, synth-pop. It almost sounds like primitive Kraftwerk before they got cool. There are other songs I’ve been writing since the album that contain more guitar, and you could definitely describe them as tech-grunge [laughs]. I’m just trying to get weirder, in terms of lyrical content and what it sounds like. I think I’m done with being suicidal and sad but with a tech beat – it was fun, but I’m ready to do something vastly different.
You’ve also mentioned producing for rappers. Any rappers in mind, local or international?
I’ve been in talks with a few in Australia. I don’t like to talk about things until they’re confirmed, because if they don’t happen it’s devastating. It’s something I used to do with weird American internet rappers a while ago. I figured I was mostly listening to rap music, and rather than being like “Australian music sucks”, why not try to make it good? Reach out to people you do admire, see if they want to work with you and try make something good out of it. People underestimate the importance of the beats, it’s weird. I feel like you don’t really realise it until you hear a great beat but with a really lackluster rapper over the top – it’s integral. Even though production is 50% or more of a song, the rapper is everything, that’s just how that form of music works.
I remember actually catching your set as ‘Namine’ at Strawberry Fields 2013. I was quite impressed, is there any advice you’d give to your 17 year old self?
Wow, yeah just wait a bit longer. If I could go back, I probably wouldn’t put anything out until this album. But then it’s stupid to think that you put out something that I think is this good as your first record, you have to put out a few average ones first.