Damon McMahon talks about his Amen Dunes project, under-cooked sheep kidney, future Ethiopian-tinged recording projects, and why he didn't brave the Catskills during hunting season (it has something to do with an orange hat).
So I've read the history of you renting a cabin in the Catskills three years ago for a month that was half an hour from the nearest gas station/grocery store. You recorded DIA there. What was the typical day, and how many different invisible face were you talking to by the end of it?
On a typical day I would get up in the afternoon, make some food, have coffee and a have cigarette, and then start to play. I would normally play for a bit and then start recording once I had something going, and then just lay stuff on top of that until I had something that sounded complete. I would basically just do that until about 4 or 5 AM each night.
For some reason, I never managed to get outside and walk around even though I was in the middle of the Catskills, except when walking to my car to go get cigarettes or food. My phone didnt work, and there was no computer, or TV or anything, so the choices really were to keep recording or to walk around in the woods, which in the daytime would have been ok, but at night it was a little intense. Actually, kind of super intense. And playing loud at night helped it not be so uncomfortably quiet. Also, it was hunting season so I was told in town not to go out in the woods under any circumstances unless I was “wearing my orange hat.”
Other than the gas station guy who had the gas and the cigarettes, I didn't meet anyone. I dont remember the supermarket people.
This all happened three years ago, but DIA came out this year. So what happened to that material in the period between?
The record was just waiting around since I have been living in China since 2007, and until recently I didnt have any concrete plans to return to the States. I had done the record in the first place really just for me, so I never felt much urgency to release it.
What's the weirdest thing you ate while you were in China?
Sheep kidneys, and the guy didnt fully cook them.
What were you doing there, specifically?
For two years, I was writing for a Chinese newspaper and for myself, and travelling out to the provinces whenever I could.
[I came back] because the record was coming out and I wanted to play some shows to support it, though I'm going back this winter and will probably move back indefinitely at the end of next year.
How about the pre-DIA history. Was Amen Dunes born in that house?
Yeah I would say Amen Dunes as a project was born in that house, though when I went up there I was just sick of being in New York and had no plans of doing anything more in Shandaken than recording.
And what made you switch from the clean recordings of your early work to the abstractions of DIA?
The songs on my first record were songs I had written when I was 19-21 and never recorded, so the recordings were just my trying to document the songs in a simple way for posterity, just demos. It was released because a label Inouk had been talking to wanted to put it out. I thought it would be interesting to release something so clean and simple at a time when everybody was seeming to lean in the opposite direction.
Why did you leave Inouk?
It wasn't my thing.
Have you been to Patagonia?
In 2005, and thats where I came up with the melody for “Patagonian Domes,” hence the title.
What is the point of traveling, to you?
I think it's a way of losing a lot of ideas you have about yourself, or of whats important, or right, and if you go out long enough and go to the right kind of places, you can lose yourself in a pretty good way.
What does your new material sound like?
Some of it is a batch of more improvised songs, but quiet, almost all acoustics and vocals and some smaller sounds this time. Then I also did some covers of some Ethiopian songs, done in the same full band overdubbed way of DIA. I have also been doing some recordings with a friend of mine of some guitar/live sampling stuff that might become incorporated with Amen Dunes or might become another project.
What's your favorite hardcore band?
What's your favorite Amon Düül song?
Never really liked Amon Düül too much.
What's the ideal live setup for the band?
What does music do for you, when the two of you are alone in a room together?
It's my way of checking out.
What do you think of the tenet 'music is meant to be heard.'
I think it depends on what kind of music. With a lot of music I think listening is good enough.
You are in a room with Merle Haggard and Syd Barrett. You have the chance to ask only one question to one of them. What's it gonna be?
Merle: tit or ass man?