Interview with Dana Schechter from Bee and Flower, January 2010

Bee and Flower's Dana Schechter is an ever busy person. Between writing songs for the new album and working as a freelance animation artist she luckily found some time to do an interview for this blog. In the following detailed interview Dana Schechter took a personal look on the first two albums, the similarities and differences between Berlin and NYC, the upcoming third album and more. Read on...

Dana Schechter
(photo by Waldemar Brzezinski)

R.: First off, I wanted to ask you about Bee & Flower’s band members, which have changed from the first album “What’s Mine Is Yours”, to your second album “Last Sight of Land”. I guess that was also due to your move to Berlin. Can you maybe tell me something about what motivated your relocation to Berlin and who was and is involved in the band?

Dana Schechter: The move to Berlin wasn't intended to be permanent. Before that plan came up, things had changed; after making "What's Mine Is Yours" our original drummer (Ani Cordero, who I started the band with) left to pursue her own band; and over time the group somewhat dissolved due to bandmembers being unavailable for long time stretches due to other commitments, because in New York everyone is in at least 2 or 3 bands. This became increasingly frustrating to me - we were at a standstill - but now I can see that going through that instilled in me the idea that you can't stop, even if those you used to rely on are not around. And since then, Bee and Flower have worked with so many musicians...the only one who has remained constant is Roderick Miller (keyboards).
The idea to work in Berlin came from Toby Dammit. We had played together (drums and bass, respectively) in several projects (Angels of Light, Bertrand Burgalat, April March) and enjoyed working together. The first collaboration was his remix/edit/tracking (vibes, percssion, etc) for "I Know Your Name", for the video by Josh Graham, and I liked how he worked.
Toby had been working in Berlin with Ingo Krauss (engineer) and had a whole plan envisioned; I told him that if he produced the record, I'd go for his idea. At that point he hadn't produced much beyond his own projects, which were amazing; and I felt that Toby was (and is) one of the most pure talents, so inspired...just brilliant. I had all the songs written but I was creatively stuck due to the recent 'breaking' of the original band and I was ready for something totally different. I really had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The plan was to record for 3 months, with the core band (myself, Roderick Miller, and Toby Dammit), plus Thomas Wydler (from Nick Cave/Bad Seeds) on drums. The basic tracking went fairly quickly, but once beyond that, it was clear it'd take longer - we were still writing and planning the accompanying music to the songs I'd written. The idea was very ambitious, which I credit in very large part to Toby, to make a record that broke our normal "band" mold, to make something bizarre, beautiful, and completely different from our first album (What's Mine Is Yours)...heavily orchestrated and non conformist. One reason it took a year to complete was that we did everything DIY to keep costs down. There was no budget, just self-funded. Over time it grew. Besides the four of us, the other contributing players were friends or people we sought out for specific parts, and I loved having all these talented and special people involved in the record. In all I believe there were at least 20 musicians involved.

R.: “What’s Mine Is Yours” is quite an atmospherically dark, brooding album, whereas “Last Sight of Land” sounds lighter to me. Is this change in sound in your opinion connected to the cities in which each respectable album was recorded? Apart from the change in personnel – how much has the relocation to Berlin changed Bee & Flower’s sound and lyrics?

Dana Schechter: In actuality my writing didn't change much, though I suppose it did grow up a bit in the years between "What's Mine Is Yours" and "Last Sight of Land". You can take any song and perform or record it in a wide variety of ways. Make a country song into metal, make a blues song into surf-pop...
In any case, as I said before, the "new" sound was largely attributed to Toby Dammit's role as producer and the directions he navigated the recordings through. He and I didn't always agree but it was a leap of faith on my part. His background is in orchestral arrangements and symphonic percussion, and that was a huge part of the sound.
I do think that the feeling we all had of a new lease on life, musically, socially, environmentally - NYC and Berlin being very different worlds - attributed to the difference. But I definitely wouldn't say Berlin made me feel lighter. Berlin is a very dark place, though it doesn't bother or disturb me. It just radiates that. Like a hologram. And consciously or unconsciously, who can forget the city's history? It was always in the back of my mind. My family background is Jewish and I knew that my grandparents would've been very disturbed that I went there by choice. I never felt afraid but I could feel the ghosts on every street corner, despite the warmth that the people there showed me.

R.: The design on the “Last Sight of Land” CD has stamps from what seems to be a flight ticket and boarding pass on and in the booklet. Can you explain the meaning behind this? Is this somehow connected to the lyrics that have to do with parting or is it just a way of connecting the two albums in different towns?

Dana Schechter: Parting, yes, but more so: passage. Passage to a new life, a new reality. The whole making of the album and our departure from NY and becoming ex-pats was ultimately about passage, and by chance, most the songs were about passage from one realm of life to another. Keep in mind that I'd written all those songs before there was any idea to leave NY. We didn't realize this thread until we were thinking about album artwork, and it hit us that there was a theme that'd practically created itself. I had found a very old photo of an ocean in a Berlin Trödelmarkt for 1 euro, and I was captivated by the image, and that became the album cover. The flight ticket stamps are scanned from our initial plane flight to Berlin. The CD gatefold was a photo by NY photographer Josh Wertheimer, whose photos have a timeless quality. The ideas just fell in together very naturally.

R.: How would you compare the two Bee & Flower albums?

Dana Schechter: The first album is clearly darker, more brooding, and simpler. It featured just the band members, and nobody else. At the time that was what I wanted to express; it was my first effort at leading my own project and that definitely had some pitfalls along the way, I think I could be a real pain in the ass. I was idealistic about how to approach the music and probably lost the chance to broaden it at times.
I wanted it to be bare and sparse, and my original idea was that there would be no guitar - I only wanted piano, bass, drums, and pedal steel - but after I met Lynn Wright (guitarist) I bent on that idea. Over time the band as a unit developed and it became more of a collaboration, though I was always the primary songwriter. But the other members (Jon Petrow, violin; Roderick Miller, keyboards; Lynn Wright, guitars; and drummers Ani Cordero and Jeff Conaway) all had special charms and when I listen to that record I can still hear them in it.
The second album is lighter, yes. It was made with much less of a focus on guitar, and that's one reason. I've already talked a lot about the sound of the 2nd record so I won't go into it again here.

R.: What is your favorite art form - beside music?

Dana Schechter: Visual art, painting, drawing, film. And animation. I have a long-standing second career as a freelance 2D animator for film and TV, using Adobe After Effects. It's not cel animation...in my field it's called Motion Graphics. The program works like moving Photoshop, layering images, footage, graphics. I really love doing it, it's amazingly diverse. And I don't mean cutesy animation, there are some really intense, scary, beautiful animation pieces out there. I used to be a painter but I don't have time now. But I do draw; I have a solo art show this Fall near Tabor in the Czech Republic (at Prácheňské muzeum v Písku). I've done some album covers and a book collaboration with Pete Simonelli (of Enablers). I'm always dreaming about ways to combine my music with my visual work - I have about 20 different ideas for music videos - but I know how much work and time it would take to pull it off, not to mention money, and so for now it's a dream, but I won't give up. Ideally we'd have a visual element to go with live shows, but if it can't be really, really good, I won't do it at all. Call me a perfectionist.

R.: What were your reasons to move back to the states? What did you like best when living in Berlin? Or even: Why do you think so many artists are drawn by Berlin?

Dana Schechter: Moving back to NYC was not an entirely easy decision but it needed to be done. I loved living in Berlin - the city, my bandmates, my friends, living in Europe - but after 4 years I felt stagnant there, like I was living in a bubble. The music scene was very limited for the type of music Bee and Flower makes, and artists need a sense of community or being part of something, or they get lost. I also had no work there - animation work - I'd been going back and forth to NYC a few times a year to do my freelance work and I realized that if I wanted to keep my chops I'd have to stay working to keep up with it, and since I can do music anywhere, moving back was the only choice. I also had a strong love interest in the US which was a big influence in my decision. So now I have a long - distance relationship with my band, but we're managing.
I think Berlin has a cache of being a place that anything can happen; if you want to start fresh it's perfect. A perfect place to restart your life, as an adult. It's quiet there, so you can concentrate. As an American, you can get by with minimal German. And it's cheap, there's lots to do, so many ways to lose yourself. But there's a sense of isolation that seeps into you when you live in Berlin for a while. It also seems that many people who move there end up leaving, either they can't find work or the dream wears off after a while. In some ways it's similar to NYC in that way; you either make it, or you are forced out. The grind and hustle in NY can be exhausting but the opportunities are more abundant; and the lack of those things in Berlin makes people feel displaced and unmoored. Personally, I am more productive with a fire under my ass.

R.: "Dust & Sparks" has been an excellent release that I really liked. Not only the song itself (which I think is one of the best Bee & Flower tracks) but also the fact that it’s released on a limited 7”. Are there any similar releases planned for the future?

Dana Schechter: That was the result of meeting Jozef Moors from Morningrise Recordings in Belgium, who was a big fan. I knew I wanted Nicole Boitos to do the artwork, she's such a stellar visual artist. The track "Dust & Sparks" was an unreleased extra from the "What's Mine Is Yours" sessions, and Jozef wanted to release something but we didn't have a budget to record, so the song came out from the vaults. I hope we can do more vinyl, maybe for the new record.

R.: Can you reveal something about the upcoming album?

Dana Schechter: Yes, the band just came over from Berlin in November and we recorded with Martin Bisi, who recorded our first album. We finished the basics for 6 new songs. We had 4 songs already done from sessions with Ingo Krauss in Berlin that we'd completed over the last year. The album's theme hasn't revealed itself yet, but I can say that sonically it's more similar to the first album. The production will be less orchestrated than the last record, and the writing is darker. I suppose it will sound somewhere between the first and second records, having learned a lot from both of those experiences, as a writer, and as the de facto producer. We also worked with some of the original NY-based band for the newest NY sessions, Lynn Wright on guitar and Jon Petrow on Violin. It's been a pleasure to work with them closely again. The guitarist who has been in the Berlin band for several years and recorded on the most recent Berlin sessions, Jonathan Heine, wasn't free to come to NY, so I asked Lynn, and he helped me flush out the new songs before the others (Roderick Miller, and drummer Thomas Fietz) arrived. I'm about to start recording vocals for the album this week and after that we'll get some guests on there, Toby Dammit, Martin Wenk of Calexico has already done some work, and I'm hoping to pull in bits and pieces from all the talented friends in my musical community to add the last glints and sheen before mixing. We don't have a label anymore, but we aim to have it released by Summer 2010, and if not, we will do our own release via our website, in which case I want to make all handmade covers, limited edition...something beautiful, a little gift for each person who wants to have one of their own.

1 Kommentar:

Rune hat gesagt…

Thank you so much for this interview, more people need to hear about this amazing band.
I'm really exited to hear that a new record is coming out, the last two have been some of my most listened to records of the last six months.