D.D Dumbo, musician

Finding a way to help reduce suffering in a basic sense should be a motivator in everything ...

Oliver Perry, also known as D.D Dumbo, is one of the most unique musicians currently operating in the Australian music scene. After blowing everyone away with his 2013 EP Tropical Oceans, Oliver has spent the intervening years crafting his debut long-form opus Utopia Defeated. A masterful work of intricate and interweaving compositions, Utopia Defeated has earned Oliver another level of acclaim. Since release, the album has earned a gong for Album of the Year at the J Awards, and the lead single ‘Satan’ scored Song of the Year at the APRA Music Awards, and that’s not to mention the plethora of rave reviews from the Australian music press. D.D Dumbo is currently embarking on a national tour to support the album and is also gearing up to play to legions of fans at Splendour in the Grass in July. We seized the opportunity to chat to Oliver about the year so far and what we can expect from his live shows.

Tell me about how the process for Utopia Defeated began! Did you have a vision for what you wanted from the start or did it form as you went along?
I guess early on – probably like three years ago – I had some sort of vision. That changed over the years, though – kind of like how my first EP was only intended to be a demo. I was intending on making an album this time around, though.

What sort concepts or ideas were informing the process as it went along?
It’s slightly odd to say. Because I had this vision of it but lots of the ideas were fairly intuitive. It’s not like I wrote down a list of concepts – it was more of a case of certain things that I was interested in found themselves in there and the concepts came naturally just from the stuff I think about and enjoy.

In terms of the working process, how does a D.D Dumbo song form?
Musically, lots of it just stems from improvisation. The album was written mostly on a loop pedal – though it wasn’t recorded like that – so I guess lots of the musical ideas come out of when I mess around for hours. That’s where I find things that seem to work in some way, so I build on that.

What were some of the biggest challenges for you in terms of the recording process or even just crafting the album as a whole?
I guess once I had all the songs down I had some sort of idea of how it should sound and what sort of instrumentation should go on it. I took me a while to realise how hard it actually was to replicate what I had in my mind. I’m sure it’s a common thing with other artists! I recorded most of the album two or three times in a few different places – like at my place and at another studio – and ended up scrapping it. I was trying to do the same thing, but in a couple of different ways – so I guess the challenge was trying to get it towards the sound that I was in my head. Part of that process was experimenting with different instruments and also lots of post-production experimentation. I don’t actually think I got that close to what I wanted – so I was a bit bummed at times.

For any song that you put down or any cohesive project you work on, what does it have to have for you to be happy enough to share it with the world?
Ideally it would feel non-contrived and contain real expression. I’m not saying my album doesn’t have that – it just doesn’t have it as much as I would have hoped. Partly, I’d like to make something that isn’t easily recognisable that’s not completely obscure and difficult but also not contrived. It’s really difficult to say.

In terms of what the album process has taught you, do you feel like you are closer to being able to execute your ideas and find that true happiness in your work?
I think it has definitely taught me something – it has probably helped me realise that it’s not necessarily that helpful or conducive to mental health to aim for some unattainable goal. That kind of seems obvious, really! I definitely feel like the next album that I do I won’t put such high expectations on it. I’ll still try and make it good, obviously! I shouldn’t be so ridiculously hard on myself or expect too much because, like all ideals in the world, it’s unlikely that you are going to attain everything given the restrictions of our human biology. We are just designed to want a particular thing and it never comes, you need to apply a more realistic logic to music. But, then again, if you don’t try to head towards that unattainable goal then you wont produce anything interesting.

That’s interesting though, because despite your thoughts on the process and result the album has earned a very high level of acclaim! What are your thoughts to the reception to the album?
I certainly very much appreciate the response – I didn’t expect it. I guess that has helped me get over my trivial disappointment and look at the album in a slightly different way.

What does music and the art of creating and performing it mean for you?
I guess for me it’s intuitive and inherent to who I am. The urge that I get is something I don’t think about – the thinking comes after. I guess that’s normal of any sort of dance or music and the appreciation of music that the majority of people have – it’s purely a primal desire. There’s a compulsion to it. It’s the only thing that I think I am half-decent at and it’s all very much an instinctual thing and it’s similar to the urge one has to eat.

You are playing at Splendour in the Grass next month, which must be exciting! In terms of the performance aspect, how have you gone about translating the album to a live setting?
It took awhile after the album was released to figure out how to do it all live. There was a lot of multi-tracking work on the album and I played the majority of the instruments on it, but now I have figured out how to somewhat represent it with a drummer and two other multi-instrumentalists. One plays the bass clarinet, which there isn’t really much of on the album but it basically fills in a bass guitar role. She also plays a few other knick-knack instruments. Then the other plays keys, a bit of percussion and trumpet. I’m also doing some basic trumpet, flute and clarinet stuff, and I’m playing the wind chimes as well! There’s a lot of hectic stuff happening.

What are you currently finding as a source of inspiration and motivation in your life?
That’s a good question. I guess without getting too deep and mopey, one thing I interested in and find somewhat of a motivator is philosophy around ethics and stuff like that. I’ve been looking into the aspect of maximising good and the effect of altruism movement. It’s a movement that aspires to combine evidence-based thinking and rationality with altruism, while also blending emotional reasoning and more cold science to do the most good in the world. I’ve been thinking about that and it seems to be motivating me in some way. Finding a way to help reduce suffering in a basic sense should be a motivator in everything.

You can catch D.D Dumbo this weekend when he plays The Triffid, or at Splendour in the Grass from July 21–23.


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