I first listened to the music of Dimbleby & Capper on the recommendation of the incomparably charming and immensely talented Lisbee Stainton (also a classmate of Laura’s from Goldsmiths College). I was so impressed (and conveniently London-bound) that I rushed to set up an interview. Over coffee in St. James’ Park, we discussed everything from production and influences, to performing and the London club scene. Here is the first of a series of extracts.
The Indie Handbook: Do you think your time at Goldsmiths influenced your sound?
Laura Bettinson (D&C): Oh yeah, for sure. I started—oh, that’s a nice dog! Really cute. It looks a bit like my hat—When I joined Goldsmiths, I lived in the Midlands with my mom and dad and came straight out of doing my A Levels straight into uni. I didn’t take a year off or anything, and I’d been playing quite a lot on the Midlands singer-songwriter scene—Coventry, Birmingham, all that stuff—and I was taking a piano because it was just a voice and piano thing. And then I got to London and I tried doing that for about two months until it became obvious that I can’t take a full, proper weighted piano on the Tube. It’s a joke. I just wasn’t doing it.
TIH: I think I’d pay to see that, actually.
D&C: Well, I did it a few times, but the thing is heavy. It’s just so damn heavy. So I took a little hiatus to figure out how I was going to put all this—all my songs—in a suitcase and be able to get around easily without having to have three men help me carry it up the stairs of Covent Garden tube station. So that’s why I started messing around with electronics. After that, I got into the whole looping thing and samples. At Goldsmiths, you had so many opportunities to perform and it’s a really non-judgmental environment for you to go Alright, I’ve only just started fucking around with this, so my apologies—and everyone gives you genuine feedback. The course we were on was so small with only about 28 people on it, but some amazing talent and the tutors are fab. And the facilities are good—I mean, they may not be the best ever, but that’s kind of the charm of it, because we’re all kind of DIY. And if you can’t do it yourself, then who the hell’s gonna do it for you? Which has almost become one of my mottos, that whole DIY-type thing—stick it together; see if it works. If it doesn’t, find some people who will help you do it.
TIH: So it’s more the sort of environment that fosters and encourages experimentation.
D&C: For sure, yeah. And it’s a popular music course, the one I was on, which is funny because a lot that comes out of it is not “pop”. I loved being at Goldsmiths but it’s a proper bubble, you know? You’re in that bubble for three years and you think I can do all this ridiculous conceptual stuff and everyone thinks it’s fabulous and then you come out and play it to normal people and you realise you’ll have to make a few more user-friendly modifications.
TIH: Have you done much listening to those more experimental artists—well, they’re standard fare now—but the avant garde performers of the 70s and 80s, like Meredith Monk or Laurie Anderson?
D&C: Laurie Anderson. Yeah, I do listen to Laurie Anderson, but only in the last year or so, since being at Goldsmiths. It’s very minimal in some ways, but there’s a depth to it. I do like Laurie Anderson but she gets a bit much at times. I can’t listen to it forever, but I can really appreciate what she does. And also someone said once that watching my growth through Goldsmiths is like looking through Cindy Sherman‘s back catalogue. Because, you know, the idea of reinvention…
TIH: Cindy Sherman is brilliant
D&C: and I like that. I used to take ridiculous photos on my Macbook. I used to dress up and my wardrobe is ridiculous—and I work in a vintage clothes shop now, which has not helped—so I can see the similarities there, the whole idea of characters is one of the strengths that enables me to do what I do, because otherwise I can’t do it, that whole personal thing. It’s no good, I wouldn’t be able to just sit there with a piano now, not for very long. I mean, what Lisbee does with her guitar—it’s just a different level of—I don’t know. It’s just a completely different approach to performance, equally meritable and brilliant, but I think I would find that very exposing.
TIH: I think that’s true of a lot of performers. I know it has been in my own experience. Without something between you and the audience, a rejection of the performance becomes a rejection of the performer.
D&C: It’s gets too much. Totally. It’s a funny old world. But like I said, if you’re going to do gigs like that—when you get bigger gigs and bigger audiences—if it doesn’t go down well and it’s just you, it’s like Oh, fuck. Whereas, I like stepping into something else. It is essentially me, just an exploded version, a bigger version, which can take the hit better than if it was just me.
TIH: So do you think that helps you to separate the performer—the you on stage—from the real you?
D&C: Yeah. Everyone always asks…well, you haven’t asked yet…but the Dimbleby & Capper thing, the name, wasn’t really thought about, but I just needed—the music’s really quite schizophrenic, you know. All the lyrics, I just kind of cut stuff up, you know? I don’t really sit down and think I’m going to write a song about waking up and eating breakfast. I’ll just pick out a word and think Well, that rhymes with that and I’ll just shove that together and we’ll go down that tangent. I fancy talking about cross-dressing. I’ll shove that in there. It’s totally cut and paste. I do some art—well, I say ‘art’—a lot of my ideas come from that collage kind of stuff. There are a few little bits of cut and stick where I just literally take body parts of people, animals, anything, myself—there will be a part of me in there somewhere: a face or a leg or something—and I’ll stick it all together. And I think that’s kind of the approach I take to Dimbleby & Capper. It’s a bit of everything: mish-mash, cut it up, stick it together, if it works, it works, if not…
TIH: So you don’t have, necessarily…
D&C: A method to my madness.
TIH: Not exactly the term I was looking for, but…
D&C: Yeah, that’s my approach. Pretty much everything I do in life has got to be, like, instant, even food. If I can’t have food in five minutes, I’m not gonna eat. It’s like music. When I get my stuff mixed, my boyfriend—he’s a sound engineer—when he gets hold of my sessions, he’s like What the fuck? What have you recorded this at? It’s distorting and it’s awful! But that’s just me. That’s how I do it. That’s how I got that sound. You’re gonna have to work with it. It’s not particularly the most orthodox method, but it works for me. No complaints yet.
TIH: Well, I think it sounds good.
D&C: Thanks. The only problem is, though, you never remember how you got there. Recently, I was trying to remember: Why do the vocals on ‘Slick Maturity’ sound great and I can’t recreate them on any of my other stuff? And it’s because I haven’t got a fucking clue how I did it. I don’t know what settings I was on, nothing, which is pretty irritating. I really should start writing stuff down.