INTERVIEW: Listener (CMW 2011)

There are few bands out there that actually make you pay attention to their performances. LISTENER’s one of them. The group from Atlanta, Georgia, brought their experimental sound to Toronto and between their various gigs across the province, vocalist Dan Smith was able to sit down with us and talk about the act’s background and how words can connect with an individual on an intimate level.

As a musician and a writer, how powerful can words be?

Words are only as powerful as the heart behind it; the honesty and how it bounces around inside of someone else’s heart. Words can get in the way too but I think if you write from a place that is honest and where you’re just trying to figure it all out, then other people that hear it can maybe relate to it as they’ll try to figure it all out too.
Do you think that sense of power is why listeners get so attached to lyrics?

Words are one of the ways we describe what’s inside of each other. We have other ways too, but words can be a large part of it. Sometimes we can really connect our lives and feelings to those words as if they are our own, or we can empathize or it just draws something out of us. It can be a powerful thing and it can be healing and mind-opening as well.
What interested you most about hip hop music when you first started becoming a musician at an earlier age?

I think it was the words and the “stream of conscience” lyrics. The drums too. It was the thing that I listened to first when I was young and you always sort of have a connection to the music you first listened to. I made a lot of it and learned how to write a lot words. I think I listened to the Wu-Tang Clan a lot.

There was also this radio station on once a week that played underground hip hop for two hours and I would tape it and listen to it all week. But the DJ never really said what bands he was playing so I didn’t really know who I was listening to. It was just a bunch of good stuff.

If I’m going to write a bunch of words and tour around, I might as well create an atmosphere or attempt to so it allows people to hear what I’m saying..”

Why did you become unimpressed with it after a while?

Well, it’s genre music. It’s something that is compartmentalized and not really accepting of everyone. I wanted to make music and write words for everyone regardless of what genre they liked. That genre didn’t feel like it was very accepting of doing things different or breaking the mold or trying new things.
One certain aspect about Listener’s music is the use of spoken words; did you decide to use this method because it forces others to pay attention?

That could be one way to look at it. It came out of writing a lot of words together and playing in front of hip hop audiences and wanting folks to listen to what I had to say. If I’m going to write a bunch of words and tour around, I might as well create an atmosphere or attempt to so it allows people to hear what I’m saying. We started playing a lot of house shows because of that.
Are there any musicians you try to draw inspiration from?

I really like the band Menomena and As Cities Burn. I love instrumental music too, stuff like This Will Destroy You, Pelican, Do Make Say Think. I like to listen to all kinds of music though as even life, art and friends can be inspiring as well.

Why do you think more and more artists are starting to become influenced by life and the individuals around them instead of other musicians?

I think artists have always been influenced by life and friends and family. It is what we all live in. There are certain inspirations we get from bands and other musicians that are incredible too; glimmers of genius and spark where you can see honesty and a little of their soul through what they have found in questions they’ve been asking or the norms they’ve been questioning.
How have Canadian listeners responded to your music?

We have had some amazing shows in Canada and we love playing here. I hope we can come back very soon. We are about to head to Europe right now, but I can’t imagine if they will top the love and support we receive from Canadians. We really appreciate it.
Having broken through other audiences through a guest appearance on The Chariot’s latest album, can fans look forward to any other music collaborations in the near future?

I did some vocals on the new Homeless Gospel Record and a friend of mine has a band called Half Price Hero I’m recording stuff for too. Those are both folk records. I don’t think I’m going to do any more guest spots right now as I am writing for our next record and EP and want to give that my full attention. With The Chariot it just sort of fit and happened organically. I saw them play a show last summer and they came and saw us and we just started hanging out.
Is there any other type of experimenting you hope to do with your band?

Make better records, and maybe tour with a drummer.

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