Interview with Jacob Thomas of Dunnock and Pete Devine of Pete’s Rock News and Views (http://petesrocknewsandviews.com)
PD. What type of artist are you?
JT. A mediocre one? I mean I consider myself a seriously untalented human being who’s sadly saddled with the dual need to produce artwork and acquire other people’s praise and approval.
But here I am, about to turn 37 and still chugging away at making things for other people to consume and hopefully enjoy. I think it goes better when I just accept it as a hobby. Like model trains or stamp collecting. I just collect Metal Archive entries.
PD. Tell us the brief history of yourself.
JT. I grew up in West Virginia, in the same county that produced noted cult musicians Brad Paisley and Charles Manson.
We lived in poverty when I was a child, but it was a sort of privileged, self-imposed poverty. My mother and step-father both had graduate degrees in social work from WVU and could have made confortable middle class money if they weren’t so committed to living a sort of authentic, morally pure Appalachian lifestyle.
I have mixed feelings about it now. I’m not resentful, not too resentful anyway, but my childhood and adolescence were not terribly great. At the time I accepted it as the way of the world, but I don’t think it really had to be that way.
I have a lot of love for my hometown and the people in it, but I don’t think it was a good place for me to grow up. I don’t think it’s a good fit for a lot of the people who grow up there, the difference is my family had a choice. They opted to be there.
I was supposed to respond to this question briefly, right? Well after high school I left West Virginia, perhaps unsurprisingly. Lived in Philly for a spell. Wrote graffiti and slam poetry. Learned to make music on a computer. Went to college in Maryland. Studied philosophy, theology, and math at St. John’s.
It was around this time that I first got sick. Developed epilepsy my sophomore year and barely graduated. I think even more so than my childhood, my illness is one of the chief defining characteristics of my life, and it certainly more than seeps into the art I make.
I’m well medicated, the condition is kind of under control. But I still spend hours each day in a state of dislocation. Uncomfortable, awkward. Biologically intoxicated against my will.
I don’t know that I’m specifically trying to capture or evoke this state in my music, but I have no choice but to work sometimes when I’m out of it, so there’s no way it hasn’t impacted my recorded output. It’s come up in the lyrics a bit too. The Rainy Season EP we did a couple years back is all about epilepsy. Well, epilepsy and rain. And heartbreak.
PD. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?
JT. Non-musical influences include a lot of the stuff I was just talking about. My illness, obviously. There’s also a ton of references to very specific locations near my hometown. Roads, creeks, hollows, etc. The new record is really all about places where I used to live. The fictionalized murders are just an excuse to discuss settings that figured large in my mind’s landscape.
As far as artists or writers who influenced me I think Bukowski looms large. His work is simple, direct, rough around the edges, and endlessly solipsistic. Discovering his books was a major breakthrough for me as a poet. It’s also something HL from Dhampyr and I bonded over when we first started corresponding and before I joined that band.
After Buk the biggest literary influence is probably the Bible. I know this is apostasy as far as most black metal is concerned, but whatever. I’m not a big letter capital C Christian and I’m not evangelizing with my music. It contains an endless wealth of storytelling potential. Heartbreak and poetry and hope and despair. I steal from it constantly.
Tom Waits is maybe my favorite song-writer of all time. Like literally since 1996 when I first dug my step-father’s cassette copy of Rain Dogs out of the bottomless dusty bin in the living room. I don’t think I hear any echoes of his his singing or arrangements in my own, but he’s one of the best at dumping a pathetic character in our laps and forcing us to love them before the three minutes are up. He also taught me to use place names and proper nouns in my songs.
As far as obvious musical touchstones, Striborg is the absolute starting point for Dunnock. Without the inspiration of Sin Nanna I don’t think I would have found a path forward for making black metal. I had been listening to the genre for a while, just to random popular bands, and all these guys were technically accomplished, borderline virtuoso musicians in professional studios doing flawless tremolo picking. And then I hear Russell and, especially on the earliest stuff, he sounds like this ambitious young man in a living room who just has to get the music out so he does.
And the thing is I really genuinely liked what he was doing better anyway. I’d take a Striborg album over Immortal or Marduk any day. He’s my black metal Bukowski, basically.
Velvet Cacoon are another big inspiration. The whole gauzey, foggy, distant texture to the riffs, the fact that the drums are an almost inaudible pulse. The elaborate fictions… They might be my favorite black metal band ever. Sutekh Hexen too. The way Kevin’s guitar just devours everything in an endless wall of blackness. All the noise they layer on things too, live they’ve almost Harsh Noise Wall. Blackened HNW, I guess.
Paysage D’Hiver for the endless expanse of the tracks, the field recordings, the fact you can drift off to sleep to the tracks. I fall asleep to all these bands. I wanna make black metal you can fall asleep to, to fully escape reality in. Hopefully that’s not the same thing as boring them to sleep.
I should probably note that I don’t actually listen to that much black metal any more. It’s like 1% of what I put on when I’m riding the train in the morning. And artists like Xiu Xiu, Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine, Mount Eerie, and Burial are probably subconciously bigger influences on my composition than the acts I mentioned above. In fact the first couple minutes of the new record are probably evidence enough to make the case that Burial is a little more than a subconscious influence.
PD. What are your dreams and goals?
JT. If I don’t die alone and in too much pain or fear I’ll consider my life a victory.
PD. Who writes your songs, what are they about?
JT. I write all the songs, in terms of like the lyrics, chord progressions, most of the arrangements. I also play 90% of the music. Aidan doesn’t contribute as much musically as he used to. We used to live in the same building and now we live on opposite sides of the Bay, both in kind of out of the way neighborhoods. By the water though, so that’s cool. He’s on half the songs on this new record.
I consider him still the spiritual advisor of the project, in the same way that I’m kind of the business manager for Dhampyr as much as an actual manager. He’s someone I can get online and talk the project through with when I’m feeling lost. Greg Schroeder, who collaborates with me in In the Midst of Wolves is another person who plays that role. Frankly he probably deserved a credit for the new full length as well. I don’t think it would have sounded the same without his input.
PD. How do you promote your band and shows?
JT. We have a PR agent who helps us get the word out when something major gets released, like say a new full length…
Dunnock is a band that has at most two members at anyone given time. And my illness makes it hard for me to remember how to play my own songs. In fact if you asked me to right now I couldn’t pick up a guitar and play a single one of our tracks front to back.
As a result, I think, live shows will always be something kind of out of our reach. If I ever do something live with this project it probably won’t sound anything like any of the records and will be even more of a Sutekh Hexen rip-off.
PD. What do you think about downloading music online?
JT. I fully support digital downloads. Most of the music I have made in the past 7 years is available for free on Bandcamp now.
Pirating music is something else entirely though. If an obscure demo is like long out of print then getting it off a blog is no big deal. But if a band is selling something right now I don’t personally pirate it. If I can’t get stream it on Spotify or Bandcamp or I can’t afford a hard copy I usually just go without.
That’s just me though. If pirating my music is the only way someone can hear my music than I’d rather it happen than not.
PD. What’s your outlook on the record industry today?
JT. I think we live in a golden age of underground music. Probably popular mainstream music too. Everyone talks about how great music was in the past, but there’s a filter there in our memories. We only really remember the best stuff, all the chaff gets lost to time. Everyone remembers The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones, but there were hundreds of 1910 Bubblegum Company’s for every one of those bands.
So I think the music today is as good or better than it’s ever been. And I think it’s easier for a musician to get their music heard now than ever before. I work with other labels a lot, but 75% of the music I make I release myself, which I think would have been maybe impossible for a man of such middling talent twenty years ago.
PD. What song do you wish you’d written and why?
JT. In the past decade I’ve built a Spotify playlist of my eight or nine hundred favorite songs. I would have been happy to write any of those.
PD. What are some of your pet peeves?
JT. I’m really bothered by people who say “Thanks. But no, thanks.” It’s redundant
PD. What is your proudest moment in music?
JT. The Rainy Season EP is far and away the best thing I’ve done yet. Maybe the best thing I ever will make. It was supposed to be part of a series, covering a week or so of the character Jes’s life, but I’m not sure I can ever make a worthy follow up to it. So if it’s just the first two days and and unresolved story then that’s what it will be. In real life stories are rarely resolved.
Anyway, if people only hear that one EP that I did and that’s all they know me for I think I’d be fine with that.
PD. Tell us about your next shows and why we should be there.
JT. As mentioned earlier I don’t think there’s gonna be a “next show” any time soon. But if there is I encourage anyone who likes open A chords to attend. I suspect I’ll be playing a lot of those.
Band location – Berkeley, California
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