David Benjamin Blower is a brilliantly unique and remarkably demanding singer and songwriter. Imagine, say, John Cale reimagining his folk roots, ennervation and innervation all at once, in a single intimate and unnerving breath. It's true! David's currently based in Birmingham and his tour with his widely acclaimed LP, We Really Existed and We Really Did This includes a stop at the inaugural OUTSIDELEFT Night Out, at Why Not Coffee in Bearwood. It's an unmissable event and we're more than thrilled that he agreed to come and play. Ahead of times, David exchanged messages on his music, motivation, the good times and maybe the end times with OL's, Ancient Champion...
OUTSIDELEFT: It would be remiss to fail to ask, "Community Theologian...?" Pray, tell. Are you like the Hazel Motes of Selly Park or whenever you live? You do have a touch of the slight portentous Southern Gothic to your sound and you do play in chapels…
David Benjamin Blower: I am very much the Hazel Motes of Balsall Heath. I am thoroughly apocalyptic. Its nice to live in a moment when it's not a such an embarrassment to be a religious person, and when being religious is itself thought to be a bit dangerous and anarchic, as it often it is. My neighbourhood is awash with religion and non-religion of all sorts, and therein is its charm.
Community Theologian is a sort of a self-given title for people like me, who make space for religion and politics and poetry and ecology and activism, in real communities, without being stuck in university seminar rooms or religious institutions too much.
OUTSIDELEFT: you actually do come along and perform in people's living rooms. Can you even shoehorn your act into a Bearwood Terrace?
DBB: I do play lounges often. The lounge gig phenomenon is growing. It works very well for small independent artists. And there's something quite wonderful about coming as a guest into someone's home, and helping be part of a space of hospitality for a handful of people in whichever neighbourhood it is. I'm making a lot of new friends as I go.
But I'll play anywhere. Very happy to come and play a Bearwood Terrace. Let's make it happen.
OUTSIDELEFT: We Really Existed and We Really Did This... That's a cool title for your very cool new record. I love the arrangements. Can you tell us something about it...
DBB: The title is reaching for the feeling you get when you let it sink in that your species has triggered an era of mass extinction, a chain reaction of destructive weather phenomena and a new geological age. No species has ever done the amazing things we're doing now in 4.6 billion years of the earth's natural history. All of which might result in our own extinction. At first you're horrified and desperate and anguished. And then you laugh and cry and it feel the sheer wonder of the fact that we ever came to exist in the first place.
Its a record of folk poetry type songs and soundscapes, with nods to Ennio Morricone, and a lot of sadness and joy.
OUTSIDELEFT: Aren't we always between a collapsing past and a very uncertain future?
DBB: Yes, true. But let's play with some metaphors to sketch out what I mean. Much of history has a sort of messy continuity, feeling its way along the rope of time. But there are odd moments of history when a break with the past becomes so jarring or violent that it were as though the rope behind us is cut and falls away, and everyone feels unmoored and afraid. Or perhaps we seem to reach the far end of the rope and nobody can agree what to feel our way along next. Or perhaps every now and then the rope becomes such a point of dispute that nearly everyone abandons it and feels around in the dark uncertainly looking for a different one that won't break. I think this is that sort of a moment.
OUTSIDELEFT: You have a particularly idiosyncratic style... What are your influences? Music, Arts, Literature, Urban Wilderness
DBB: I like dustbowl folk songs, western soundtracks, Hebrew prophets and continental philosophers. In fact, We Really Existed' Is full of quotes from some of my favourite writers, if you get the CD version (which is sort of the director's cut). And I like urban environments and the electronic age: I actually like living amidst he beeps and screens and notifications and such. And everything I do is shot through with an apocalyptic imagination. All Things apocalyptic.
OUTSIDELEFT: Put your hands in the soil is audacious...
DBB: Yes, and I find it surprising. It's very out of character for me to throw out imperatives to anyone (relinquish your privilege… plant trees and grow flowers… mourn for your enemies… free all the horses etc). This came from strange places and wrote itself. There's a collection of writings that Extinction Rebellion have just published under the title This Is Not A Drill. There's something about living through an apocalyptic moment that throws us into audacity and action.
OUTSIDELEFT: Are you doing lots of shows this summer to support it? Live do you have a band or how does that work.
DBB: I'm a person with a guitar on a train. I have no car, so I can't carry any more than a guitar. And I'm a small independent musician, so I can't afford to pay a gabble of other musicians much of the time. I show up on a doorstep, knock, enter. I have a coffee and share stories with whoever I'm lucky enough to be met by. Then I plug my guitar into nothing and unroll words and music to a lounge full of souls. I'm playing anywhere that'll pay for travel and time. Once or twice a week for the rest of the year. I love it.
OUTSIDELEFT: You and the book of Jonah...
DBB: I played a gig some years ago where we decided just to play sea shanties. I'd finished Moby Dick and was in that kind of mood. At one point I read the prayer of Jonah from the belly of the whale - old king James version - to the sound of my friends' accordion. The text is dreadful: "I went down to the roots of the mountains… the earth barred me in.. The seaweed was wrapped about my head". Half of me was plunged into existential dread. The other half thought, well this would make good Brechtian musical theatre… And so the project was born. I'm happy with how it came out. This gets performed in lounges too.
OUTSIDELEFT: Have to ask... The smallest room you've played....
DBB: A garden shed on the roof of a block of flats in Brighton, looking out over London road as the sun went down over Kemptown. Happy memory.
David Benjamin Blower will perform at the inaugural OUTSIDELEFT Night Out on September 28th. My extinct mothers' birthday.