DogStar Tantra, aka. Tristram Burden, is a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and world traveler.
Spending his teenage years in punk and indie bands across Northern Ireland, Burden poured all of his energy into writing after a move back to England. His stage name, DogStar Tantra, is derived from two ideas: 1.) ‘DogStar’ is rumored to be the third eye of the universe; 2.) ‘Tantra’ because amongst its many possible derivations and definitions, is the central idea of transmission.
How did music end up becoming one of your creative outlets?
“Perhaps inevitably. It’s a compulsion. My mother was a multi-instrumentalist who taught piano, played guitar and french horn – which is how she met my father. He was this world-class professional horn player: a member of the London Symphony; played on The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers; played with Yehudi Menuhin; Dizzy Gillespie; on early James Bond films. He was staggeringly accomplished by the time I came along.
They taught me piano, trumpet, french horn, eventually guitar. We always had lots of instruments around the house so picking-up something new and seeing what it sounded like was just a regular afternoon. I think music was my first creative outlet. I regularly sang in church-choirs my father conducted, and think I wrote my first song when I was ten.”
What does it mean to you when someone buys your music, listens to your song, or gives you praise? Is it validating?
“Music is extremely enjoyable and cathartic to make. But making music without listeners or anybody appreciating it is like nobody laughing at your jokes except you. When people listen closely, praise or buy it, they’re agreeing with what’s communicated in someway: dancing, laughing, crying and screaming along with you.
This may be a contentious point with some artists and creators, but without an audience there is no validation, and without validation, I believe the meaning of what you’re doing often gets lost. Music is communication. Sometimes saying things that can’t easily be communicated in other ways. Communicating depends on a receiver as much as a signal.”
You’ve called “Fall to Pieces” a love/hate letter to humanity. What’s to love or hate about it?
“So much! We are extraordinarily gifted creatures, with so much going for us: but we’re split. We have incredible intellectual insights and empathy, but are easily manipulated and led by our emotions. And we’re so naturally sensitive, but we waste so much energy pretending we’re not. And our current social norms and values are built around ideals of rationality, self-control, moderation and repressing the animal within us all. An animal which cannot be repressed. We’re not consistently good at ‘rational’. I think there’s a lot of value in demanding the impossible, but it seems like we’re currently tearing ourselves to pieces while demanding it.
The most frustrating thing about the human species right now, is having this new shambolic President in the US, and the rise of the right-wing in Europe, all as some defiant raised finger to the natural onset of egalitarian values. Egalitarian values are natural because I believe we’re peace-loving, sensual creatures who actually hate violence, confrontation and war no matter what others would have us believe. We misunderstand the animal within. We’re just very easily frightened. People who read this and scoff “I’m not easily frightened” have just been very easily frightened by the very suggestion of it. We’re constantly being told erroneous stories about ourselves.
And finally, we’re operating at such a low capacity as a species. Unless we’re designed to self-destruct, we can do a lot better, live more intelligently, more peacefully, and with less need. Most of our basic needs are hijacked and supplanted by marketing culture and advertising. Most of everything we desire is superfluous. And we don’t realize it. When was the last time you heard anyone extolling the virtues of wisdom, or telling you that advertising and marketing are abusive and should be curtailed if not entirely banned? That’s how you know we’re fucked. And we just seem to keep on fucking ourselves like it’s no big deal and making the wrong kind of political choices so we can just get back to fucking ourselves like it’s no big deal. “If I didn’t love you so much I’d hate you.” But I don’t. Because that would be like hating myself. And I don’t.”
Most of our readers are from the Brooklyn/New York area. What cultural influences have you found in South Korea that you could not have found somewhere else?
“The first noticeable thing was the peace and quiet. Then I realized it was because I don’t understand any of the advertising! But now I understand a lot more Korean, so it’s more subtle things. Many of them I’m probably completely oblivious to. What I do appreciate here, which is definitely a cultural thing, is the time I get to spend creatively. It’s one of the reasons I moved here from England. People don’t get paid anywhere near enough for their time. In South Korea I find I do because I’m a native English speaker, and that has value. My basic needs are met and I can devote a lot of time to creative urges.
So despite everywhere else getting themselves tied in knots over otherness, foreign influence and immigration, being in South Korea as a foreigner is a wonderful experience. No other culture I’ve experienced is so naturally open and accommodating.”
What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you?
“A trilogy of three-song EPs, and a music video for each track. I’m currently finishing up the mixes for the second EP, and that’ll probably be released pretty soon. Recording the third will probably start in April, and it should be ready for release in September. By the time the videos are all made, simply and cheaply, optimistically mid-Autumn, I’ll be ready to start recording the first album, and who knows how long that will take? That’ll all fill a year I’m sure… I’m keeping it relentless.”
“Fall to Pieces” is an ode to humanity. Satisfaction comes naturally, as a response to Tristram’s honesty — there is no filler glitz or glamour. This is our ‘third eye of the universe’ taking an unfiltered journey through his life.
As an experience, those who make this 7 minute investment will find treasures in DogStar Tantra’s obscurity. There is so much to see and understand of the cultural backdrop (South Korea) most listeners will be wholly unfamiliar with. Empathy develops, though, through the time “Fall to Pieces” takes to literally and figuratively stop to smell the roses. We’re on entirely different sides of the world, yet, there isn’t much different about us.
While we’re gently being carried from verse to verse, you almost forget you are being led ever closer to the song’s unforgettable climax. Heavy in distortion, rich with character, and overflowing with meaningful emotion, it isn’t difficult to get hooked — to the tune of 10+ listens. Deservingly, a 5/5.
If streaming is more your speed, you can find some of his collection on Spotify.