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An Interview with Doug Hammond of Daisy House

Daisy House
19 May 2013

A week ago, I didn’t know Daisy House existed. Then my friend Jim saw them mentioned on Mary Lou Lord’s Facebook page and told me they’d be right up my alley. Boy, was he ever right. This wonderful Long Beach folk rock band formed in December 2011, and consists of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Doug Hammond, his daughter Tatiana (Angel) Hammond on vocals, and his long time friend Christ Stiles on cittern (an ancient, lute-like instrument). From the first listen, I was riveted by their deep grounding in British folk, most especially the late 60’s variety done so well by Fairport Convention. That is only a starting point, for it’s clear Daisy House have ingested a whole host of influences ranging from The Byrds to Donovan. I contacted Doug (DH) about an interview and he readily agreed to entertain my queries.

I have been a fan of Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention for over 30 years. When I first heard your work the other day, I was astonished. Many have tried and failed to capture the excitement of that long ago era, and yet the three of you have nailed it. How did you accomplish this?

DH: Fairport….Chris and I hooked up again, Christmas 2011, after a 30 year pause. We’d bonded originally over New Wave stuff and he played bass in our 1st originals “band” when we were Tatiana’s age. Shortly after that, he went into a self-described “English Folk Frenzy”, buying up everything he could find while I was digging into The Smiths, The Cocteau Twins, and REM. I did a couple shows with Chris’s folk band though that were very, uh, “Holy”. It left an impression on me, the intimacy and purity of it. When we reconnected, Chris’ electric cittern had literally rusted in its case, though the brass fittings had corroded like some sunken treasure. We jammed a bit with his acoustic cittern, and I suggested we do some folky songs with Angel and I singing; .Donovan and Fairport in the back of my mind. As it progressed, I started seeing the possibilities more and more and the strange central hook of this singing blonde folk girl, flanked by these two elder dudes. Beauty and the Beasts, lol. Everybody loves her, little girls, college girls (except the mean ones). and their moms, who are reminded of their younger selves when they see her.

So Chris had known about Fairport Convention back in the day, but I’d only known about Sandy through “Battle Of Evermore” like everybody else, and I didn’t didn’t realize she had this amazing body of work apart from that until around 2001.

I heard “Blackwaterside” on KCRW (public radio), and after that just fell heart first into them. Fairport incorporated the depth of time into their music. The English writer Colin Wilson used to refer to the expansive psychological power and allure that “other places, other times” have on people’s imaginations. Fairport hit me like that, they just had it all, they were large, they were intimate, they were psychedelic, and they were grounded. They were “human-scaled”, in performance and improvisation, yet otherworldly in their themes. Sandy’s expressive voice and Richard’s playing, they were new to me, like a box of gold. The only thing that’s hit me as hard that way is discovering Elliott Smith.

I don’t know of anyone else who’s attempted that Fairport dynamic except the folks in the original UK folk-rock music scene like Steeleye Span and Pentangle. That was part of the appeal of using Fairport as a template; it felt fertile and abandoned by the world, at the same time, and it seemed to fit the global economic moment. Handmade music for a world that may or may not find itself using hand tools again ;)

So, I guess Tatiana’s “Sandy”. I’m Richard Thompson, and Chris is the guy with the citterns. They are a big part of the “sound” of us. That, “what is that thing?” thing.

Another thing that helps us get closer to the expansiveness and intimacy of Fairport I believe, is the dynamic of a 50-year-old’s thoughts being channelled by a 20-year-old girl. It makes for an interesting frisson; experience and innocence in one pretty package, “skater boy” it’s not.

What artists have influenced you the most? And why is it that so much of today’s modern music is missing that critical element that makes it stand out?

DH: Most influential artists? Beatles. Beatles and the Beatles. 60’s pop music in general. The untouchably best decade for pop/rock/soul music that will ever be. Fairport, The Byrds, Beach Boys, Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, Dylan, Zeppelin, Left Banke, Emitt Rhodes, Traffic, the Who, garage rock, The Kinks, The Association, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Animals, Mamas and Papas, Doors, The Monkees, Small Faces, Zombies, Simon & Garfunkel, Walker Brothers, Nilsson, Jimmy Webb, Fleetwood Mac (both iterations). So much foment in such a tight time span.

Like that song “Deep Blue” by Arcade Fire, my first memories of life are the songs of the 60’s coming out of car speakers when my older teenage half-brother had to babysit. He liked to go cruising in the suburbs with me in the back seat;)

I love Elliott Smith,The Smiths, REM, My Bloody Valentine. I just started digging into Richard Thompson; I love his lyrics, voice and guitar work.

People kept saying, “You sound a bit like The National“, now I like The National. There’s The Black Keys, White Stripes, Radiohead, and Sharon Van Etten.

Chrissy likes Gregorian chants, lute music, Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy, deep catalog UK folk artists, madrigals, and rounds. A lot of the “ancient” things I throw into Daisy House are a nod to Chrissy’s taste.

Tatiana (I call her “Angel”) likes what I like. She never had a chance, poor kid. Hip hop is mocked in our house, singalongs are mandatory. She grew up with aphorisms like, “if singing is the most generous thing the human voice can do, what is rapping?”

There’s really good stuff out there today in indie land, but there’s also a “dark side” to the “underground”. It can be lyrically obtuse, spiritually empty, and abstracted to death. Folk music hits more directly, usually with a bitchin’ story attached, if it’s done right.

The mainstream as far as I can see (I don’t pay much attention) is still being culturally CHOKED to death by what remains of the corporate music infrastructure. In rap, it’s been an endless parade of scowling clowns traipsing up to the mic over the last twenty years to rhyme “Bitch” with “Rich”, “Nigga” with “Trigga”. That’s corporatism at work, that “guaranteed revenue stream”. For pop music, the “career path” of any pop diva in America today seems to be innocent Disney™ chanteuse to pole dancing, cooch flashing “vixen”, that’s corporatism as well. Country? Pixel perfect approximations of the legacy of guys like George Jones and Johnny Cash, who used to sing about death among other non-pop subjects (end “old man rant”).

A lot of modern American cultural offerings leave one cold I believe because they are NOT human scaled anymore. They’ve been engorged and “perfected” and offered up to a species that will never be perfected.

There’s your disconnect right there, it’s the fllaws that make a song adoptable and human in my opinion. I’m encouraged though, by the success of Adele (she’s got soul), The Black Keys (they’ve got funk on ‘em), Mumford and Sons (we have better songs though), and Arcade Fire. Makes me think that people may adopt us as well.

How long has the band existed, and what are your touring plans?

DH: We’ve been together a year and a half and initial touring plans are contingent on Chris and Angel. She got a 4 year scholarship to a college in PA, and has 1 1/2 to 2 years to go. Any touring or shows would have to be wedged into the summer or winter breaks. Chris teaches college history and has similar constraints.

It sounds like a host of musicians have joined you for your debut album. Is that the case, or are you all multi-instrumentalists?

DH: I played everything on the record except half the cittern parts (Emitt Rhodes is the patron saint of home recordists everywhere).

When did Tatiana start singing? Has she had voice lessons, or is her magical voice the result of good genes and a lot of practice?

Tatiana at the window

DH: Angel began singing when she was 4. Her first song was, “Daddy wants some food. Mommy wants some food” (busted-lol). Actually, apart from the listening aspect of it, I never forced music down my 2 kids’ throats. Angel only really started picking up my guitar and singing around 13, when she sang “Ode to Billie Joe” at a middle school talent show. She sings like anyone would sing, in the car, with headphones on, nothing too intense (unless we’re recording), but she’s got this amazing quality to her voice. I hate to say it, but it’s better than mine. It’s a voice raised on classic rock chicks, and apart from all the useless coloratura of modern commercial divas; though she does know the indie divas, Regina Spekter, Feist, Sharon Van Etten (we LOVE her). She’s more Sandy, Joni, Mary Hopkins, Marianne Faithful, and Grace Slick. She’s only beginning; as she gains more control over her voice, she could become even more amazing. We’ll just have to wait and see.

How does the band approach songwriting?

DH: I write all the songs. Chrissy provides me with “starter yeast”, and hips me to Celtic feedstock. The idea was to have anglo “folk” as the overarching theme of it all, while trying not to become too stifled by the conventions of folk music. For example, it could be a shoegaze tune as long as it got “folked up” lol.

I’ve been perusing the Child ballads for the same reason, as jumping off points for Daisy House songs. For instance, I’ve got a new one called “Why Do You Dive So Deep in Beauty”, which is loosely based around a 17th century English folk song called “Tarry Trousers”. It’s striking how much the melody snippet sounds like something Elliott Smith would have busted out, and its over 300 years old! I also do historical research for some of the songs. There’s another new one, working title, “Plague Song”, where I ended up reading about the black plague for 3 days looking for imagery to use.

For the bulk of the 1st album, for Angel’s songs, sometimes I would imagine that Sandy was still alive and that I was writing songs for Sandy to sing on Fairport’s next album, but Anglo folk is always the parameter: no banjos, no harmonicas, it’s lutes and shit for daisy House ;)

Do you have favorite covers you like to perform, because I can totally see you covering Fairport, Steeleye Span, or The Pentangle? Maybe even Incredible String Band.

DH: Covers? We started working up a cover of “Blown A Wish” by My Bloody Valentine I’d like to do. Otherwise, there’s too many other songs of our own I’d like to flesh out right now.

Do you favor any particular equipment?

DH: The citterns. Chris has an acoustic Sobell cittern (octave mandolin) he bought back in the 70’s that’s worth about ten freaking thousand dollars now (I’d love to have one of those myself). It sounds like a grinding hurdy-gurdy-esque baritone mandolin, and is a big part of our sound. He also has the aforementioned electric cittern by Manson that sounds like a capoed 12 string guitar. Just awesome instruments. I have an old F’ed up Harmony Rocket that has more “flawed” mojo than any other electric I’ve ever played. I also like Strats, Rickenbackers and Les Pauls.

Finally, what are your future plans for the band? With your daughter in college, I imagine that might hamstring touring a bit.

DH: Our future plans are to crush the pop world, make it bend to our will and install Tatiana as the new un-spoilable, folk-rock, high priestess of pop. She could do it too. She’s pretty, she’s smart, she’s NICE, she has a voice like an angel, AND she’s COOL!

Failing that, I will continue to write “wicker man” songs about woodsmen, witches, leeches, love and death that will bring joy to hundreds! The next batch of songs is shaping up to be as good or better than the last.

I’d like to give a special shoutout to Mary Lou Lord and Alex McAuley for helping to spread the word about us and to all the recent friends we’ve made so far…You mean a great deal to us.

Catch up with the band:

Bandcamp

Facebook page

 

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