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Interview: Ditner (Joshua Deitner)

29 October 2023

Joshua Deitner (composer/multi-instrumentalist) is the voice and producer behind Ditner, an experimental/indie recording project based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

October 2022’s debut Future is Fine examined the weight of existence in parallel universes with a heavy reliance on guitar pedal-effected keys; the sophomore Cast In Stone, Colored In Rose (January 2023) more calmly retrospected with live strings, horns and piano. Imaginary Conversations (May 2023) is an exploration into the longed-for human interactions that could or should never be, arranged over iterations of harmonic sequences driven by layered synth, electric piano and sampled studio noise.

June 2023 brought Negative Space, a pair of two songs in collaboration with old friend and The Parallels bandmate Chris Bump, known as solo artist (and Meager Morsels labelmate) Iffer. These two tracks were uniquely written and produced remotely – a song was halfway written and produced, then sent to the other artist to complete. The resulting release featured shared vocals, Iffer’s unique guitar techniques and otherworldly textures, and Ditner’s electric pianos, strings and horns.

In July, Vision Release was presented as a set of four tracks. These may be described as claustrophobic chamber post-rock – pretzel-like harmonies played by piano and vocals filled out with strings, horns, bells, hand percussion and slide guitar. This release featured no electronic gadgets aside from a saw-like e-bow; all the clicks, creaks and squeaks from bowed strings, vintage piano and pump organ remain.

Figures arrives October 27, 2023 featuring traditional drum set and percussion, monophonic synthesizer and layered guitars underneath the most adventurous lyrical and vocal work to date. NYC post punk, shoegaze, gospel, R&B, traditional jazz, British electronic and desert rock influences might all be found. I’m Still (September 29) arrives as the first single while Swallowed Whole is accompanied by a shoegaze/orchestral b-side on October 13.

Q: In your opinion, what are the essential qualities that make a “good songwriter”?

I’m not sure. I suppose we need to clarify the meaning of “songwriting.” The word conjures things that I don’t necessarily try to do. What I want to hear, and what I strive to create for myself, is an interesting bit of music. That could mean sophisticated harmony, and/or melody without cliché. Or it could mean groundbreaking production with unusual textures. Lyrics and vocals only need to clarify the musical ideas, and be musical textures on their own. I don’t care if the lyrics are in full sentences, or if they ever really rhyme, or if they’re written in modern vernacular. A good songwriter is just creating something fresh, whether it’s wordy or not, whether musically complicated or not.

Q: What is the basis for writing attention-grabbing music in the year 2023?

Being T. Swift. This year is nuts in terms of what people are listening to. There’s a ton of really great stuff being produced – during the “input” periods of my creative cycle I’ll try to search it out, but what the majority of folks are choosing to buy and stream is excessively narrowed down this year, compared to most.

I don’t honestly know how to analyze commercial music today. What grabs my attention isn’t the same as what’s gone viral. This year I’m floored by things like Jarak Qaribak (Dudu Tassa + Jonny Greenwood), Mali Velasquez and Art School Girlfriend. I’ve never heard anything quite like them, and that’s what excites me.

Q: What has it been like working with an indie record label as opposed to working on your own?

[Laughing] It’s one and the same. The label of my own creation is Meager Morsels Music, est. 2023, and it’s slowly becoming more of a real label. I might need a few more years before it’s not completely scoff-able.

I should say I’m grateful to Mint400 Records for their help this year. I’ve done some recording work at my studio (Great Wave Recording) for one of their artists, and in return they’ve generously given some assistance in getting my new record out.

It was less than a year ago that my intentions were set solidly on releasing my music for the sole good of my own health. But that’s like giving a mouse a cookie. I want to keep on making music, so I’m down the old rabbit hole of somehow finding justification. It’s been a lot of fun, and I can honestly say that I love the business side nearly as much as creating. It’s so much work, though, and I have hardly seen the wringer yet. For artists that really want to succeed, I can see now how truly difficult it is to sufficiently administer the business side on your own.

Q: Can you pinpoint some specific songs and songwriters that changed the way you write music?

For me, I wouldn’t say there are many songwriter to songwriter connections, per se. The music that has influenced the way I make music today inspires on a number of levels. When I listen to Radiohead, or Múm, or Grandaddy, I don’t think a lot about how the song may have been written. I think about the feelings they convey and how they achieved it through textures, vocal fry, and how much phaser is on the snare drum. When it comes to lyrical concepts, form, harmony, melody, counterpoint, etc. my writing is equally inspired by film, literature and classical music.

Q: Do you find it hard to be inspired by artists that are younger than you, or are you motivated by their energy? Can you name any new artists you find inspiring?

I don’t think I have any trouble being inspired by younger artists, though I’m at an age now where I still feel like I can relate to the hip kids. I’m trying, anyway. Give me another 10, 15 years and I’ll probably be grumpy and jealous of what the youngsters are doing.

I don’t know exactly how old they all are, but I’m a big fan of what The Japanese House, Good Good Blood, Isadora Eden, Kitchen Congregation, and Indigo De Souza are doing. They definitely have some young energy, but I dig the maturity and depth that I perceive.

Q: For your new album, what inspired the lyrical content, album title, and overall vibe?

Each album I do is usually borne of several concepts – to stimulate creativity I like to create some limits. I find that if I don’t, I’ll never decide what to do or how to do it. Figures was originally conceived as more aggressive post-rock, heavier on the drum set and bitey guitars, but importantly each song would have its own unique form. I made some nitpicky decisions too, like which mics and guitar pedals I’d use (and which ones I won’t!). But the title came of the idea of placing importance on the compositional forms.

The lyrics here really came out of nowhere for me. There’s a lot of the current wartime climate, environmental crises, and my exit from religion. Those are pretty new topics for me, and some of it feels pretty dangerously personal. I did get some help this time around from my old friend and The Parallels bandmate Chris Bump (a.k.a. Iffer) on four of the tracks. He’s a lyricist like none other.

Q: Do you find that you ruminate over writing songs and hold on to them for a long time before including them on a record? Or do you prefer to write them, release them, and be done with them? Do you ever re-visit old material to do a re-write or once it’s done it’s done?

I don’t ruminate at all. I’ll typically write 10.5 or 11 sets of lyrics, set 10 of them to music, record and release. Before 2022 I spent many years writing and composing, usually not recording anything at all, and just convincing myself that it’s not good enough. I found myself last year. I wondered why I had let so much of my life pass without giving myself the artistic release that I need. I decided I wouldn’t let it continue.

That said, I don’t necessarily want to be done with my past releases. I cringe when I re-listen to bits of my first album and I fantasize of re-recording my vocals, maybe making some edits, and remixing, now that I have a much better idea of what I’m doing. Also, these songs haven’t seen a live stage yet. I hope to play some shows in 2024.

I can say I’m planning on releasing some alternate versions of the Figures songs sometime in the near future.

Q: Were there any lessons you learned in the writing and recording process for your current release that you will take with you into your next project?

I’m always learning from project to project. Most of it is understanding myself better, learning what I’m capable of. My biggest struggle throughout my musical life has been confidence with my singing voice. While recording Figures I found a bigger, more versatile voice that I’m excited to keep developing.

It also helps that I continue to learn new recording and mixing techniques. One example – until this album, I had always put one or two overhead mics on the drums; this time I found some exciting sounds that sounded more natural by placing four perimeter mics at shoulder level. I’m often trying new things. It doesn’t always result in success, but I always come away stronger.

The next planned album will hopefully pan out with a number of very exciting collaborators – it’s already in the works. I’m counting on learning a few more lessons on that project!