Daniel Bachman has always been in a hurry. He released albums at a fevered clip, and he played quickly and intensely, filling the space with his complex fingerpicking. But after spending a spell in Durham, he left the Triangle, issued a self-titled record, and returned to his hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 2016. There, he reflected on a decade of music making, and he started slowing down and reevaluating the sounds that inspired him.
On the resulting album, July's The Morning Star, Bachman pushes himself in ways his past records have only hinted at. Layers of field recordings and organ interact with his intricate guitar work to create compositions more spacious and experimental than anything he has done to date. In the middle of a move to Charlottesville, Virginia, Bachman caught up with us to talk about some of those changes.
I've been into drone music since I was a little kid when I used to hum and match my voice with my parents' lawnmower in the yard. I have really vivid memories of that, but I never thought of it as drone music. When I was in middle school, I bought a Yo La Tengo record that had a lot of drone elements to it, and I was like, "Wow! This is crazy! You can be in a rock band and not change the chord for ten minutes?" I'd never heard anybody do that stuff. And then I started to get into Indian classical music and Jack Rose. That's the three steps to drone in my life. It just makes me feel centered. It's like a tone to breathe around. Especially these days, it makes me feel grounded.
They're wonderful. I just feel incredibly comforted by is the sound of their music. It's psychedelic how loud it is. There are train tracks in my folks' backyard, and I thought it was a train, but it was actually them. It's wild. Since I was a little kid, I've loved them. I remember when I was probably like seven, it was one of the big, seventeen-year broods. I filled up like three or four Food Lion bags with all of their shells. I've been fascinated with them for my whole life. They're kind of like manatees. They're just vegetarians floating around, and they're not hurting anybody. They're just big gentle bugs.
I had some friends from that band the Mountain Movers, who played in Fredericksburg a couple weeks ago, and we were in my parents' backyard. They had never heard the type of cicadas that we have here. They have their own sounds in New England, but the ones here are different. They were like, "My god, what is that?" I said, "That's the summer bugs, man. That's like our little drone orchestra that goes on all the time."
My friend Shawn Hansen has a record that came out called Radio Badlands that was a big inspiration to me. No one really knows about his stuff. He's a piano tuner in Kansas City and did a synthesizer and field recording project based on the Badlands.
In some of the tunes on the record, I really feel like it helps set the environment that I'm in. And it makes it a more personal experience. On the second tune, "Sycamore City," with the bugs and the car horn and stuff, that's really what it sounds like. I also had this improvisation in that key, and I had a field recording of a rainstorm, and they were the exact same length, so I just smooshed them together, and it works. They compliment each other nicely. It's one of those synchronistic kinds of moments where it just fits together.
When you are a solo musician, I've found that adding that silence and using that negative space is so heavy at times. You can almost express more sometimes by letting things go quiet than when you're really trying to get it out by using a bunch of notes. That's another thing that's taken me a really long time to figure out. It's a powerful thing to play with, and I'd be interested in even going more minimal. I've been doing this for eleven years now, so now, I'm kinda getting more into abstracting the stuff that I'm really into to make it interesting for myself. It's like a new thing again. And silence is part of that. So many of those records that I've made over the years are just busy. It's part of just slowing your own mind down and finding peace.
I'm trying to reflect my emotions and my experience. Sometimes, the stuff doesn't really reflect that if it's more traditional in nature, or if it's someone else's tune or something. But especially the kind of music that I write, I'm just trying to express things that I feel, whether it's the negative things or positive things, we've all got that stuff. It's absolutely autobiographical.
It's been a crazy fucking year. It's been a crazy couple of years. It's almost a way to move on from things. It's a really weird way to do it when you show other people parts of yourself. It's like a release, I feel like, almost. And then you can move on to a new thing. At some point, I figured out that you can shed things through the stuff that you make, kinda like that cicada skin. You make these things, and then you molt them off. It's still a physical thing, and you can revisit it, but you're changed at the end of it.