Thursday, September 29, 2011

INTERVIEW: Dustin Wong

Written for Rebel,
Please read on

Interview w/ Dustin Wong

From Hawaii to Japan to the United States, Dustin Wong has had quite an episodic childhood; learning English and forgetting it as his family and he relocated to Japan at the age of two, having to re-learn English and joining a punk band in his early teens contrasting the oppressive conditions of Catholic school, Dustin surely went through some turmoil. In 2008 he started the quintet Ponytail with friends from art school. In 2010, after many performances and two albums worth of songs, the band announced their perfomance at Whartscape that year may be their last. The individual endeavors of the band's members had led them to an indefinite hiatus. Since then Dustin has released 2009's Seasons, a collection of ideas from 2002 to 2007 captured with just the internal mic on his laptop. In 2010, he released Let It Go, which pushed further the integration of technical guitar riffs with processed voice, drum, keyboard textures, and the limitless imagination of recording; finally Infinite Love the same year, which showcases a true representation of Dustin's live performance built almost entirely of fast-paced guitar loops.

First of all, do you plan on creating with Ecstatic Sunshine in the future?

I collaborate with Matt from time to time. We've been recording songs at the end of every year the past 3 years. We email it to our friends and post it on our blogs as a kind of a git for the holidays. Last year we recorded renditions of "Blue Moon" and "Sleep Walk".

What are your different roles in your solo project, Ponytail, and Ecstatic Sunshine? When making music do you consider whether something would be more for Ponytail or more for yourself?

With both projects I wanted the contributions to be spread equally and democratically. The idea of a band for me is alchemical, a group of people come together and blend their intellect and creativity as one singular idea, and that is the most exciting element of being in a band. You learn new things about yourself musically too, so it's a great learning experience.

Do you find creating more difficult or easy going with this democratic decision making? At the end of the day do you think everyone is satisified with every single aspect of a song? What do you bring back to your own solo project from working with others?

Yes, it is pretty difficult! Because everybody needs to be satisfied, but that makes the performance that much better when everybody is in to what they are playing. It becomes passionate and exciting. Its a delicate balance, to have 4 sticks leaning on each other to stand upright.

With my solo stuff, I've learned so much from everybody that I have collaborated in the past. Every individual approaches the medium in their own particular way even if it doesn't seem that way formally when you're listening. I always look at guitarists and examine how they play, being like, huh wow, he skipped over that note, or that inflection accent is something I wouldn't do.

Do you work on a song for awhile before you record it or do you experiment and use recording as an idea generation tool?

I use recordings as a way to refine a song. I will only record a song once the idea is a little bit more solid, then listening back, I try to chip away the flaws of the song, sand it down a little. Things can be shorter or longer, cutting unnecessary elements or dominating frequencies.

Since 2009 you've written from time to time on your blog Influenced By Something, which has served as a place for you to post your shows, live, videos and other news, and things you're into. With most artists and listeners moving away from Myspace, trying Blogspot, Tumblr, Facebook, etc, as a home base for their fans, do you intend for Influenced By Something to be a place where your fans can stay informed on what you're doing?

I hope so yeah, I really don't like myspace these days, so hard to use! I want to make that blog the main source for that stuff, I can link it through my facebook too so its useful when I'm sharing ideas or music. I've been using Soundcloud too but I'm afraid I'm still a bit web 2.0 illiterate.

For the most part, do you plan out a piece of music in your head with intended results or experiment until you've made something you couldn't have expected?

It all comes through experimentation, it's a lot of exploring. Sometimes I may get an idea about rhythms and melodies that might work as a foundation. But that happens rarely and it works rarely too. The best way for me is to explore and find something that strikes me then build on top of that.

Share with us a story from the first band or project you were a part of.

Hmm, I was in a crappy punk band in middle school, I played the bass. I was in Japan at the time so it was hard to find free spaces to practice because of the strict noise complaints, however there were a lot of rent by hour studio through the city and there was one pretty close to our school. The one we went to was pretty dirty and we didn't know anything about making music (I actually thought every song ever recorded were played by improvisation). One day our drummer decided to build a fire in the middle of the space, and we played as loud as we could. I peed on the fire. We were a bunch of ignorant morons.

Wow, it's interesting to imagine who you seemingly are today being that mischievous as a kid. When we hung out in New York last May I felt you were one of the most positive, easy going people I've met. So you've been making music for a long time then, when did you first pick up the guitar?

Ha, yeah, well I started off as a very naive guitarist. I picked up the guitar when I was about 14yrs old, I didn't know anything. So I started off with shapes, squares, rectangles, triangles on the fret-board, changing the tuning, putting drumsticks in between the strings and stuff. As I started collaborating more with people it started clicking, It started to all make sense. I realized its all a simple puzzle, just had to figure out how the pieces came together. I got my telecaster when I was 15, my Dad got it for my birthday, its my baby, still use it to this day, I can't imagine using any other guitar than the one I have now.

Is there anything notable outside of creating art that you invest a lot of time into?

I really love reading religious and new age books. UFO and Alien stuff I really love. I also read the Tarot. I've also been interested in binaural beats and vibrational healing.

You mean like the Solfeggio frequencies? 528Hz allegedly repairs DNA, right? Have you considered implementing that into your music?

I did not know about the 528Hz! That is very cool! Maybe one day I will be able to implement it in my music, tho I feel like I still lack the knowledge. However, healing, thats something that I really want to have in my music. Sometimes I feel that kindness is lacking in music these days.

Given the fact that your solo work is mostly instrumental, how do you name your songs? You have posted the titles for "Infinite Love" on your blog, but other than that, most may not know what or if the songs have names. Is this your intention and if so, why?

Song titles are a tough one for me, Its hard to find the words to fit. With Infinite Love I took all the words from a revival hymnal book from the 1800's I found at an antique fair. It came out like a prayer and I thought it would be nice to have it 'concealed'. That these song titles or prayer was internalized in the media, like a silent prayer.

Is there an overall theme to your music or something you're trying to convey?

Building and collapsing, collapsed by the builders. It's architecture, to elevate, then humbled by the collapse. I always feel like whenever I think I've grown in some way, I have to start from the ground up again. Like planting a seed on the highest branch, then letting that seed grow in to a new tree, then planting a seed again on the highest branch.

What are your plans for the remainder of 2011 and beyond?

I want to record this new album, and I might be going to the UK to conduct an ensemble of guitarists to play some renditions of Infinite Love. I've never conducted so this is going to be extremely fun! There has been some major changes in my life recently so it's a new beginning for me!

Photo: Dustin Wong perfoming live at Silent Barn in Queens, NY by Emily Reo.

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