Having released teaser single, Dumb Dumb Dumb, in advance of the June album, Hairline Ego Trip, Dez Dare is back with a bang. And this time, he’s here to stay.
A native Australian, Darren Smallman, aka Dez Dare grew up in Geelong, a port city in the state of Victoria, where he became involved in the local punk and rock scene which held him in good stead when he moved to the UK in 2010, where he has operated ever since.
Having had a few fallow years, Darren has seized the opportunities given to him by lockdown to record an album, Hairline Ego Trip, due out in June 2021.
The recent single, Dumb Dumb Dumb, gives us a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Which is crazy psych punk and homemade energy.
Described by Darren as a Frankenstein’s Monster created within his house. Bolted together with old pedals, guitars and synths, a collection of tracks were produced that muse on existence, social normality and the illusion of reality.
Clearly we needed a chat with him.
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Dez: I am in Brighton in my home / office / studio. Just finished work.
P3dro: How did you end up in Brighton?
Dez: Long story, really. I’ve been backwards and forwards to UK. I first came over in 1996 on one of those working holiday kind of things. That was for a year or so and I travelled around Europe for a bit. Then I came back with my ex-wife in 2000. We were living in the country in Australia, and then in Tunbridge Wells, which I hated, but she loved. And as lovely as Tunbridge Wells is I got a bit bored. And then I thought Brighton was an alright city, so here I am now!
P3dro: Brighton has a pretty good music / culture scene.
Dez: Yeah. I’ve worked here for a long time, now. There’s a lot of art going on in the city. It’s only about 260,000 people, but there’s lots of theatre and a couple of big festivals. There’s a lot going on – it’s good. I spent most of my adult life in Melbourne, which is also quite an arty city, with a lot of art and music going on, so it was quite nice to get back to a place with [a similar feel] in that sense.
Having a few years living in the country meant I was a bit starved of wider cultural adventures.
P3dro: Tell us a bit about Dez Dare. Where does he come from?
Dez: It’s a kind of mixture of things, actually. The name Dez comes from a nickname that an old friend of mine calls me, she’s the only one that uses it. And then the whole idea of the band comes from things running through my mind when I was in Australia last, just before the pandemic hit. I was flying across the planet, just as borders were being closed, airports being closed and I’d just snuck through. Dare is part of my stage name from when I was in a punk band as a teenager, playing in grotty heroin soaked pubs, back in Melbourne and Geelong.
So, my stage name was Darren Dare – very imaginative! So, I came up with a mixture of Dez and Dare.
P3dro: The new album, Hairline Ego Trip was lockdown project?
Dez: Yeah, it’s kind of weird. Since I was 15 through to the age of about 30 or so I was playing and recording in UK, USA and Australia, but then I stopped to set up a record label with one of my bandmates and I’d been doing other odds and sods. But I’d got to a point where I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t do a band and a record label at the same time, so I stopped performing for a while.
I’d been trying to get back into it for a long while, but I couldn’t get into the rhythm and there were no gigs or recordings for a while. Just like a lot of things that you haven’t done for a while, I wanted a catalyst to get off my arse. So, for me, it was definitely the lockdown. I needed something else to do – I wasn’t commuting anymore and stuck in this house, I needed an outlet.
So, I bought some studio gear and there you go.
P3dro: Is the album all just you, or are there other people on it?
Dez: It started out as a project with a bunch of other people from other bands. A friend from the US and some from Australia. But I think everyone has taken a lockdown project over time. And what with kids and jobs and so on, they didn’t end up doing it. So, I ended up doing it myself. It’s all me, apart from the illustrations. I can design and make creative things, but I couldn’t illustrate to save myself.
So, the film clips, the production was me, all the playing was me. My wife, Mari sings on ‘Monkey Monkey’ from the first EP I put out and we had a guy called Mal Mall to do the illustrations.
So, yes, it’s me at the moment, but I’m hoping that will change when we get some more flexibility. I’m looking forward to that.
P3dro: That was really what we were going to ask next. Do you have any plans to gig and play the album live?
Dez: Yeah, definitely. I like the collaborative idea and this weird noisy experiment around these topics. It would be good to invite people into the project with the idea of having me as a central point and then having different people join in on different tours. That would be really good.
The next plan is to get the album out and get people listening. That’s going alright. And then trying to put a band together, which would be one of the fun things to do.
I’ve been working in the arts sector over here for the last 10 years, so I need to find mates to be band members! I’ll do some hunting around and some pilfering from local bands, I think!
P3dro: We’ve had a chance to listen to the album. For the most part you manage to get your point across is two minute songs, but then there are a couple that stand out, including the rather gloriously named Tractor Beam Shitstorm that comes in at about 10 minutes. There’s an obvious punk element here, but is there a tension between that and psych going on?
Dez: Er. I don’t think I actively think about that too much. I tend to start with picking a riff and then writing and recording things on my phone, just to keep ideas. And then they just build. I don’t think too much before I get into it. I get a riff I like and then dump it down with some rhythm tracks to see where it goes.
I often have the same sort of ideas in my mind, but how they end up will vary depending on how the song starts and how it works throughout the recording process.
I really love weirdness to be perfectly honest. I like solid, kind of, droney riffs with weird layers over the top of them. Whether they go into a psych direction, or whether it’s a more rock direction just really depends on the feeling at the time. There’s no preference.
P3dro: Do you put any kind of label on your music, or your style?
Dez: It’s funny. No, I hadn’t thought about that until I started promoting this stuff. But then everyone wants to put a weird label on it. Doing some PR myself, I’m getting some very unusual feedback from some people! It’s kind of weird hearing about yourself.
The tag line I’ve been using is “psych hymns, soft punk, good times”. That’s probably the best descriptor, even though I don’t know how good the times are, considering some of the lyrical content.
P3dro: Where does the album title come from?
Dez: A lot of this stuff is simply words and sounds I like, and then I try and find some meaning afterwards. The album title doesn’t have too much meaning in it.
In hindsight, looking back at the topics [covered] in the album, and the title, it generally talks a lot about people’s lives and the way they deal with digital tools, how they present themselves to the world and the fractured psyche of who they are.
You can see this in the way people talk to each other. The disconnect they have when they talk to each other on social media compared with the way they would communicate when they meet each other on the street. You’d never just go up to someone on the street and say: “You’re a fucking arsehole, how dare you say such a thing”. Rather, you’d have a conversation with them.
There’s an egotistical void between people that enables them simply to act like dicks, really. So, that fits in well with the name [of the album] and its subject matter.
P3dro: You deal with a lot of social issues and the ills of the world in general. Because you have that voice and platform, do you find any kind of obligation or responsibility to put out that kind of message?
Dez: Not really. Although I think it’s generally good to talk about it. But I think we’ve done this time and time again in different societies, we keep on damaging ourselves and the people who are close to us. We keep on damaging the world. But humans are not going to change, not any time soon. And singing about it won’t effect any fast moving change to help us as animals running around this globe.
We have this conversation quite a lot in this house. I work in the arts sector in an organisation that talks quite a lot about sustainability, we talk quite a lot about change and people’s views. But I think a lot of people are quite entrenched.
So, the question is: Do you not do anything because it’s hopeless, or do you try? The answer is: Yes. You always have to talk about it, you always have to try. Although, how much that affects the outcome, well, I’m not sure.
P3dro: Yeah, I think we’ve found over the recent years people have become more entrenched in their views. It’s harder to persuade them to change tack.
Dez: This is part of the problem with mis-information. It’s what we see a lot of. People can find whatever they want to back up their point of view and they can build a little arsenal of “facts” to back up their view of life. People don’t have a conversation any more, they just shout at each other on social media and make themselves feel better [that way]. There’s no need for people to have a conversation and come to an understanding. You find your own little pocket of people and it’s done.
And this is what organisations do, these days. They push an agenda and split camps. There’s a huge void and I don’t know how we would mend that void between all the different factions.
P3dro: That was a bit of a rabbit hole that we hadn’t intended! You’ve got form for being in bands – there’s quite a long list of bands you’ve been involved with in Australia, but with Dez Dare being a solo project, how do you view the two? Obviously as Dez Dare, you get to call the shots and make all the decisions, but a lot of people who are part of a band really like the interaction they get from being in a room together to spark ideas.
Dez: Yeah, when I was quite young, I played in collaborative bands, but over the years I became more and more the instigator of the projects. My earlier stuff was more punk and different from [what I’m doing now]. That’s part of the reason why I started a record label. I became the person who guided [things]. I think I’ve been in that position for quite a while now.
But I think it would be nice to do some more collaborative stuff, but it comes back to my impatience! I tend to run very fast. It’s a problem I’ve always had, it’s either on or off. Even with [Dez Dare], the album will be the fourth release since November. I’m 15 songs in. I don’t really have a slow gear.
P3dro: Is there a future for Dez Dare? Or will you move onto a different project?
Dez: I think this is it. I think when I was younger I was too quick to stop projects, but I’d like Dez Dare to continue as a permanent project. It’s not going to change, it will be my main thing musically and artistically. There will be plenty of records yet to come.
P3dro: Recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.
Dez: The one I’ve been listening to recently is the Death Valley Girls album, ‘Under the Spell of Joy’. They’re pretty cool.