Dimbleby & Capper: gaffer tape and other stories

Don’t forget to read the introduction to Dimbleby & Capper week as well as part 1 of the interview, if you haven’t already. If you have–well–enjoy part 2!

TIH: Let’s talk about your stage show a bit. What is it with the masks?

D&C: The masks. That whole thing. I was doing Dimbleby & Capper before I finished my degree (I did my degree at Goldsmiths, the same one Lisbee was on) and in your final year, what you have to do is put on a show or whatever you want to call it—basically, do a set. It sounds piss, but it’s got to be you kind of figuring out what your music’s about—there’s got to be all this kind of conceptual thought behind it and reasons for doing stuff and not just getting up there and playing what you usually play on a Friday night down at the pub. There has to be a reason for what you’re doing. And so, the mask really—for me—it puts up something between myself and the audience. Because sometimes I really don’t enjoy performing; I find it really hard. And other times, I really enjoy it. It was more for me. The whole costume-y kind of thing is like a barrier between me being able to dip into something else before I go over to them if you like. Whereas I experimented,when I was doing the EP (because I recorded and produced it from home) I was basically holed away doing that for ages in between gigs and that, I stripped the costumes out of it and the guys and the masks and things. I was just like I’ll do it naked—well, not naked naked, obviously—and it was exposing. So, when we took it to the gigs, it was just completely different. It showed that the music stands up by itself. That was nice. And the band, they stand up. But something was just not quite—I just didn’t feel comfortable with it—it just puts a whole new level of you, personally, being out there. I don’t know how I can explain it. It’s difficult when you’ve been working on it at home and it’s been all you and then you’re performing them and, like you say, it’s just you and how you look at home and if you don’t get a good reaction…it’s just all too much for me. Instead, it’s like I’m some character saying I don’t give a shit if you like it or not! I used to wear proper gaffer tape clothes.

TIH: Yeah, I’ve seen pictures.

D&C: I might bring them back. That’s why I had gaffer tape shoes on last night, because that was kind of my whole thing. When I was doing my solo stuff, I got—a lot of the sound engineers I encounter are male and you turn up and you’re a girl and it’s something like: What’s your setup? I’ve just got a loop station and a vocal. Right, so you’ve got no instruments? No. So what do you need? And I’ll just plug all my stuff in and think ‘fuck you, man! I know what I’m doing and it sounds good, thank you’. And a lot of them see it and start asking, So, what’s that? Well, this is my vocal splitter. I’ll need two outputs for this and I’ll send one to your main desk. And they’re all like Oh, you kinda know what you’re doing and I’m like ‘Fuck you’. So my tape was kind of that thing of two fingers up to them, wearing the industry’s essential thing—because they’re all like I don’t know how I’d ever get through a live gig without any gaffer tape—and then wearing it in a seductive way on your person. There was something in that for me, anyway. Like, this is me and my machine, but in a slightly seductive way. That’s my weird, strange relationship with my equipment.

TIH: Would you ever think of going the next step and making it full-fledged conceptual show—not give it a plot, necessarily—but a full theatrical production almost?

D&C: I would love to. That was the great thing about doing the degree, you have all this spare time and you have money or a loan coming in and you can meet up with your band and you can spend three days in a row rehearsing without having to worry about going to work—perfect! We used to do all these synchronised movements to all these different songs and it was genius, but we haven’t been doing that recently because we haven’t had time to rehearse it. You know, when you’ve got a gig every week, in between we haven’t been meeting up. We just do the gigs, and, when the gigs have quietened down a bit, then we will go back and rehearse and do some different stuff. But, yeah, totally. We’d love to. We’re thinking about doing a video soon. We’ve got a guy involved who would like to do a video and I’m totally about scratching each other’s backs, you know? We’ve got a lot friends who do fashion and other people that do the more visual side of it, choreography—next door to Goldsmiths, we’ve got the Laban Centre, that contemporary dance place—and people that do costume design and all this. You know, I think there should be a real sense—and that’s what I love about down in New Cross. You know the people and you just need to come together and help each other out because they can use it for their portfolios, you can use it for press, and you all just muck in and get some stuff done.

TIH: Do you think it benefits the overall quality of the music when you have to be really conscious of how much you’re spending and doing the best you can with limited funds?

D&C: Yeah. Well, with what I do, it’s all about getting out of that whole working with other producers thing and doing things by yourself. Because you don’t have the time and everyone else is really busy. I’d say, if you’re an unsigned artist, it’s not necessarily the producers that won’t give you time. It’s their managers who say ‘Well, you’re not getting paid for it, so we’ll just bump that one out of the way’, which is fair enough. But that was so beneficial for me, because otherwise, there never would have been an EP. There would just be a few more pop-esque demos that weren’t wholeheartedly myself floating around and that would be it, really. So that was completely beneficial for me, just having the time and saying to myself no one’s funding this for you so you’ve got to do it by yourself in your bedroom. You’ve got the musicians around you. Yeah, and I really like it. You get a real sense of who’s wholeheartedly in it and, hopefully, it will pay off for all of us. And when it comes to the live thing with the guys, I know I couldn’t do it without them. I mean, I still do solo shows sometimes, if it’s small enough, intimate venues, I still do the solo thing and I love doing them. But when it comes to the band and stuff, they’re great, because we get a minimal fee. We cover our backs—we don’t lose money—but we certainly don’t make any money when it comes to the live thing…at the moment. But it’s nice. We’ve built up a real team of people around us that are really into the project, no matter if it makes money or it doesn’t, and that’s cool.

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Dimbleby & Capper: stage and studio

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.