Interview: David Colohan (Agitated Radio Pilot)

Interview with David Colohan

Janu­ary 2nd 2009 - by O.S. & D.M.K.


All images prop­erty of Dave Colo­han, except where noted.

Irish­man Dave Colo­han, the man behind Agit­ated Radio Pilot and prom­in­ent mem­ber of the Deser­ted Vil­lage Col­lect­ive, was one of the first people we wanted to inter­view for Even­ing of Light. Parts of this inter­view have been lying around since early 2007, but now we’ve finally been able to mold it into a new whole. Dave was kind enough to answer all our ques­tions before he left on an extens­ive back­pack­ing trip through South East Asia late 2008.

O.S. & D.M.K.: How are things in Ire­land just before the Winter? 

In a few days I leave for South East Asia, where I will be trav­el­ling with my friend Bean. We plan to record as we go so that should be excit­ing. The Sum­mer has been a good one. I spent a month tour­ing in Amer­ica with United Bible Stud­ies & Shar­ron Kraus & we met the most won­der­ful people, saw some incred­ible places & made some great music along the way. After that I toured Ire­land with my friends in Resur­rec­tion Fern & The Drift­wood Manor & I got to play on both of their albums. My own new album The Rural Arcane has come out on Deep Water Sonic Pro­duc­tions, which I am delighted about as those guys are true gen­tle­men & good people to hang out & play with. I have a lot of new pro­jects star­ted which I hope to fin­ish around Christ­mas. The cof­fee is brew­ing & Wim Mer­tens is on the speak­ers. It’s all good…

It is clear from your music, and from inter­views, that nature plays a big role in your life and music. How do you relate your­self to nature? Does nature have a spir­itual or reli­gious dimen­sion for you?

dave_colohan_3When I stopped think­ing of Nature as some­thing ‘other’ and accep­ted it as some­thing I am part of on a daily basis, I found that it became an import­ant part of my life… from what I eat to what I play… and all points in between I sup­pose! Away from daily liv­ing, there is some­thing about a vast land­scape, forests, moun­tains, seas .… that brings you to an empti­ness within your­self… brings an end to philo­sophy & petty con­cerns. It brings you to a point where you can begin again. This is its spir­itual dimen­sion for me… that you can find redemp­tion out in the wild places.

Do you have dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ships with dif­fer­ent land­scapes? We can ima­gine that Ire­land must be very dif­fer­ent from your exper­i­ences in Aus­tralia, for example.

Ire­land is a small coun­try by any stand­ard but has a wealth of vari­ety in its land­scape. Where I am from in the Irish mid­lands is mainly flat plains & bogs inter­spersed with forests & lakes. It can be a very haunt­ing land­scape & has influ­enced my music in ways that appear again & again - In Gold­smith Coun­try & Like Flight­less Birds are attempts to come to grips with it. The edges are blurred. Maybe it is the ever-present rain! When I lived in Aus­tralia I trav­elled quite a lot, liv­ing in a tent mostly. This way I could come & go as I pleased, work­ing on farms & going camp­ing in some truly mag­ni­fi­cent places. From the rain­forests & cro­codile infes­ted rivers of Cape York to the unfor­giv­ing expanses of the cent­ral deserts… The rolling farm­land of New South Wales & the ancient Blue Moun­tains… The haunt­ing empti­ness of the Nul­lar­bor Plain to the heart­break­ing vis­tas of the Ocean Road… It is an aston­ish­ingly beau­ti­ful coun­try. With the band Holt I tried to put some of it into words & when I listen to that album it brings back so many memor­ies. Like­wise, A Drift­ing Pop­u­la­tion takes me back to days on farms avoid­ing Brown Snakes & not hav­ing a care in the world. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss it over there & I know it will influ­ence my music as long as I am alive. Trav­el­ling across Amer­ica has had a sim­ilar affect. When you drive from West to East, the coun­try trans­forms so often that it is impossible not to be moved in some pro­found way. In musical terms, some­times I can hear the vast dis­tances unfold… Land­scapes & memor­ies are echoed, looped & delayed… That empti­ness where you can begin again is some­where in the swirl & haze of sound.

How have your dif­fer­ent travels (Aus­tralia, USA, Ice­land, &c) affected you as a per­son?

I sup­pose there are some places where you take things in & some where you let things go.… I have learned some­thing of both every­where I’ve passed through or lived in. Travel chips away at the walls you build around your­self & helps you to let go of those things you’re afraid to lose.

Your music is often very per­sonal. Do you ever feel uncom­fort­able open­ing up your soul in music that much?

Since I was 18 or so I have been writ­ing & record­ing under the Agit­ated Radio Pilot name. I recor­ded many, many tapes - very prim­it­ive home record­ings - on My Agit­ated Radio, the tape label I had at the time. Nobody listened to them & so I had a great free­dom to develop my approach to music without inter­fer­ence. The Shrimper label - run by the won­der­ful Den­nis Cal­laci - put out count­less cas­settes, CDs & vinyl by the likes of Sentridoh & The Moun­tain Goats. I would write to him a lot & get incred­ible albums from dis­tant, exotic Amer­ica along with let­ters & draw­ings. At the same time I was writ­ing to Daniel John­ston’s man­ager & get­ting all of his cas­settes & 7“s. The music was some­times over­whelm­ingly honest…& so this leaked into my own song­writ­ing. Riot Grrrl [wiki] was hap­pen­ing at the time & some­thing of punk’s spirit of “Any­one can form a band!” was in the air. So, without a musical bone in my body, I began to record all these cas­sette albums with their Shrimper-influ­enced art­work (& songs!)… It was only when I saw Townes Van Zandt play in Gal­way that I truly became aware of the power of open­ing up your soul in music. A man alone on stage with a gui­tar. That gig haunted me & still does. Years later, see­ing Devendra Ban­hart play alone in a small bar, just before he rightly became well known… That was a major epi­phany too. For dif­fer­ent reas­ons maybe. But the essence was there in a man with a gui­tar, vul­ner­able & laugh­ing & mak­ing the hairs on the back of your neck stand up… draw­ing ghosts up out of yer past & mak­ing ye sup on yer pint with a little more urgency. When you’re writ­ing a song, I sup­pose you’re not think­ing about the fact that (hope­fully!) some­body will even­tu­ally be listen­ing to it, maybe even the per­son it might be about. What comes out, comes out. It becomes uncom­fort­able play­ing them live. Not all of them of course but some cut a little close to the bone. Maybe some­times I’ve thought that I can change a situ­ation through a song. That’s a lonely road to go down… Short answer: Someone once asked what I write about when I’m not being so per­sonal. I told them that’s when I write instru­ment­als!

How did the Deser­ted Vil­lage col­lect­ive form?

AMM were doing a week­end of work­shops & per­form­ances in Dub­lin in 2001. My friend Scott McLaugh­lin & I went along to take part in an impro­visa­tion work­shop run by Eddie Pre­vost. Fun­nily enough, the ones who would even­tu­ally become the Deser­ted Vil­lage col­lect­ive’s found­ing mem­bers were the ones who turned up with gui­tars! I’m not sure I impressed any­one with my con­tri­bu­tion! After the work­shop we did get to play in an ensemble with Eddie, sup­port­ing a solo set by Keith Rowe. I mean, these were guys who influ­enced Syd Bar­rett! It was an incred­ible exper­i­ence & turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life. I asked Shane [Cul­l­in­ane] & Gavin [Prior], the other gui­tar cul­prits, if they would like to play together again some­time. I know now that they were a little sus­pi­cious! But we star­ted to meet once a week, play­ing in a room above the gate to Trin­ity Col­lege. Usu­ally we’d go for a pint after­wards & so became friends as well as band­mates. After some time we decided to set up a cdr label in order to release record­ings by Mur­mansk, our new free impro­visa­tion band. A neigh­bour came up with the name ‘Deser­ted Vil­lage’, it refer­ring to the area I am from & the poem by Oliver Gold­smith. United Bible Stud­ies exis­ted already with just myself & James Rider being mem­bers. We invited the lads to join & soon there was a thriv­ing com­munity of us play­ing, record­ing & some­times liv­ing together. Many people have passed through the Deser­ted Vil­lage over the years. Some stay & some move on.

What are the main pro­jects of the Col­lect­ive and of which are you part?

United Bible Stud­ies play­ing live

United Bible Stud­ies is the main pro­ject. Mur­mansk, the ori­ginal inspir­a­tion for it all, is on hiatus at the moment. The Magickal Folk Of The Faraway Tree has reis­sues & an unheard album to be released…but the mem­bers all live in dif­fer­ent parts of the world now. Chil­dren Of The Stones was a once off pro­ject which I am very proud of. Gavin has sev­eral pro­jects on the go - Toy­mon­ger being his main one. The Cos­mic Nanou is on the far side of the world, hope­fully still record­ing on the sly! There are plenty of other pro­jects people are involved in but these are the main Deser­ted Vil­lage-related ones that come to mind. Of other bands… I used to be in Holt & cur­rently play in The Drift­wood Manor & Resur­rec­tion Fern.

For you per­son­ally, what are the dif­fer­ent con­cepts behind these pro­jects?

Mur­mansk is only con­cerned with free impro­visa­tion. At our last gig I was told off for play­ing “too New Age!” Heh! The Magickal Folk Of The Faraway Tree is con­cerned with acous­tic folk & unac­com­pan­ied singing. Chil­dren Of The Stones was a much more elec­tronic approach to songs & drones. United Bible Stud­ies can be vir­tu­ally any­thing. On the recent Amer­ican tour we went from feral noise to quiet folk, free jazz to com­pletely acapella in the space of a few days. It all depends on who is there & where we are. I can’t really speak for the other bands. In case I get it all wrong!

Do you have a spe­cial aim or goal with the Col­lect­ive?

If you asked me this when we star­ted off, I would prob­ably have said our aims were to release lots of music, meet like-minded people & travel. All of those things came to pass & hope­fully will con­tinue to for many a long year yet. I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to play & tour with some of my favour­ite musi­cians- Char­alam­bides & Fursaxa, to name but two…& to travel around Amer­ica, exper­i­en­cing such great hos­pit­al­ity along the way, not to men­tion all of the other incred­ible bands & places! Won­der­ful!

Were you immersed in folk music at a young age, or is this a later love of yours?

dave_colohan_2I remem­ber when I was in school there was a pro­gramme on Chan­nel 4 called ‘Party With The Rovers’. This was an Irish folk group [The Irish Rovers, O.S.] based in Canada, milk­ing their accents for all they were worth & wear­ing woo­l­ier jump­ers than The Clancy Broth­ers. They fre­quently per­formed while walk­ing across misty moors or moun­tain­sides. When they wer­en’t at that they were in the pub. This, whether I real­ised it or not at the time, had a pro­found influ­ence on me! Some years later I spent time with a friend called Laura Ten­nant in Eng­land… I was 18 or 19 at the time… We were going to the Phoenix fest­ival, spe­cific­ally to see Lev­it­a­tion play. Of course as soon as I had bought a ticket Terry Bick­ers left the band but I went to Eng­land any­way. A plan we had was to visit some ancient sites, inspired in part by a mutual fond­ness for Julian Cope - whose Jehovahkill album was a massive influ­ence on me - but alas we had no wheels in the end so that fell through. Laur­a’s par­ents had won­der­ful taste in music, not that I knew it at the time. I was far too cool to be enjoy­ing Fair­port Con­ven­tion & Ash­ley Hutch­ings solo albums! If Melody Maker did­n’t men­tion it then I did­n’t care! But I sup­pose being in a rus­tic part of Bri­tain, listen­ing to music that seemed so out of time, well I guess this also had a huge influ­ence on me. When I listen to this music now I am trans­por­ted back to those quaint Eng­lish pubs & coun­try roads.

You men­tioned that at first you were mainly inter­ested in Brit­ish folk music, and only later (re)discovered Irish folk. How did this come about?

In school, just before we went home, we would gather around the Mas­ter’s desk & learn the tin whistle. Some­thing of its mourn­ful­ness struck a chord in me even when I was 11 or 12. We also had to learn Irish Dan­cing in those pre-Riverd­ance days though I have no fond memor­ies of that! Irish music to me was all hun­dred-mile-an-hour jigs & reels & I felt noth­ing for it. When I was in sec­ond­ary school my aunt got me a Nick Drake com­pil­a­tion -Heaven In A Wild Flower- & through listen­ing to him I got into John Martyn & oth­ers from that scene. Then years later a friend of my girl­friend at the time handed me a battered video of a film I might like - The Wicker Man… Then I joined the ranks of musi­cians who were com­pletely rewired upon hear­ing the music & absorb­ing the imagery within. From here I gained an appre­ci­ation of a much older tra­di­tion in folk music, both Brit­ish & Irish. On our side of the water, sing­ers like Mar­garet Barry & Paddy Tun­ney… His singing of “When A Man’s In Love He Feels No Cold” is one of my very favour­ite songs. I feel very for­tu­nate to have met Johnny Moyni­han, also known as ‘The Bard Of Dalymount’ & a walk­ing lib­rary of song. A founder mem­ber of Sweeney’s Men, he trav­elled with Anne Briggs, spent some time in Planxty & has spent almost every wak­ing moment with an instru­ment in hand… or so I ima­gine! He played a few gigs with me on a short Irish tour we did some time back & just being around him, hear­ing the songs & stor­ies… I’ve been very lucky. He’s also the sharpest wit I’ve ever met! So it was only after get­ting into Brit­ish folk-rock that I dis­covered where they were com­ing from… & Irish music did seem to play a strong part in that, with some of them at least.

What about your other musical interests? A quick glance on your MySpace throws up links with metal bands like Prim­or­dial and Wolves in the Throne Room, both pro­jects that are far away from ARP music­ally, but per­haps share a sort of pro­found­ness with your own music? How do these tastes influ­ence you?

I loved metal before any­thing else. I should say I loved the imagery of metal but the music would rarely live up to it…That is until I dis­covered Para­dise Lost, My Dying Bride & Ana­thema. I loved Slayer & Entombed & a few oth­ers too but the epic mel­an­cho­lia of these bands in par­tic­u­lar appealed to me. At the time I was also listen­ing to a lot of Fields Of The Nephilim & The Sis­ters Of Mercy, who also seemed to draw on a vast sad­ness. Trav­el­ling in north­ern Italy with a friend when I was 16 - along with A-Ha, these bands were the staple fix­ture of my walk­man. We were hik­ing in the Alps & I have vivid memor­ies of the music & the scenery melt­ing into one… The nat­ural world dis­solv­ing into chim­ing chords & drones & vice versa… Mak­ing snow­balls on a moun­tain­side in the middle of July with this music ringing in yer ears & the sound of water­falls & birds bleed­ing through that again… It leaves an impres­sion. Along came the explo­sion of under­ground Amer­ican rock, grunge, uni­ver­sity & girl­friends & some­where along the line I stopped listen­ing to metal. A few years back, sit­ting in my friend Paul Con­don’s house, he tells me he has some­thing I need to hear. It turns out to be Bur­zum’s Filo­sofem & so a new raging love of Black Metal is born in me… Just like I had never left it. If my own music shares any­thing with Black Metal then I think it is philo­soph­ic­ally rather than son­ic­ally. (Although I seem to share crappy key­boards with a few on that scene!) Nature is not always a benign force, as so much psy­che­delic folk seems to dwell on. It is haunt­ing & cruel too. Where this seems to be what some Black Metal addresses, I feel my own music falls some­where between the two. In some newer mater­ial I’ve been work­ing on the Black Metal influ­ence comes across more strongly. I feel that if I con­tinue in this vein then it will be under a dif­fer­ent name - Enclosed & Silent Order. See­ing Prim­or­dial live was an incred­ible exper­i­ence. They have a ser­i­ously ded­ic­ated fol­low­ing over here. Again it is this idea of self & land­scape dis­solv­ing into one that I feel in their music. Same with Wolves In The Throne Room, Stri­borg & Xas­thur (though I’m sure he would hate to pinned down in such a way!)… I am reminded of those feel­ings I had on the moun­tain in Italy. Where sound seems to pour through the cracks between where you are & what you are feel­ing.

A bit about World Wind­ing Down. How did you man­age to gather such an impress­ive array of guest musi­cians? Was it dif­fi­cult to incor­por­ate all their input into your own musical vis­ion?

Dave with violinist Vicky Langan
Dave with viol­in­ist Vicky Lan­gan

Most of the con­trib­ut­ors were friends of mine already & as the major­ity of the album was recor­ded in Gal­way, all of my musical friends from there appear on it… Keith Wal­lace of Loner Deluxe, James Rider, Annemarie & Aaron of Mirakil Whip, Aaron from Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon… They knew where I was com­ing from & helped me to get where I wanted. Maja Elli­ott was liv­ing there at the time too & it was won­der­ful hav­ing her on board. Richard Moult sent some piano impro­visa­tions & I edited these into songs. Alison O’Don­nell, formerly of Mel­low Candle sur­prised me when she con­tac­ted me & it was an hon­our to have her on board. She got in touch through Myspace & I got in touch with oth­ers the same way; Richard Skelton, Larissa Pych­lau [Cele, O.S.]… Ant­ony Milton & Anders Gjerde sup­plied some field record­ings. We released cdrs on their labels in the past & have much in com­mon. John Cavanagh is a gent & did some beau­ti­ful work. Brian Con­niffe & Vicky Lan­gan of Female Orphan Asylum con­trib­uted haunt­ing parts. Autumn Grieve & Shar­ron Kraus sang beau­ti­fully. Shane & Gavin of Deser­ted Vil­lage were invalu­able… as was Car­oline… who appears on Your Turn… & World… Indeed she inspired everything. An album is not fin­ished until the art­work cap­tures the sounds within & I have Maeve O’Sul­li­van & Aaron Coyne to thank for the imagery. I’ve met Richard Moult since & we have toured in Amer­ica together but I have yet to meet some of those who appear on the album. We’ll share a bottle of wine someday, no doubt! It was­n’t dif­fi­cult to incor­por­ate every­one’s input into the over­all vis­ion, as it was one of sparse­ness. To me, it flows as it was inten­ded to.

'World Winding Down' album cover
‘World Wind­ing Down’ album cover

You’ve men­tioned that World Wind­ing Down and The Rural Arcane are sort of sis­ter albums. Could you elab­or­ate on that?

Well I will go one fur­ther & say that along with Your Turn To Go It Alone, they make up a tri­logy. Weirdly enough they’re all doubles too…although Your Turn… is a double 3″ & roughly single album length…in the vinyl sense! They all con­tain a mix of shorter songs & more expans­ive instru­ment­als, which is true of nearly every record­ing I’ve made. Blame years spent listen­ing to Pink Floyd!

'The Rural Arcane' album cover
‘The Rural Arcane’ album cover

With The Rural Arcane there is a more con­cer­ted effort to place the song at the heart of these sound­scapes. All three work through a par­tic­u­lar period in my life but Your Turn… has a few songs that refer to earlier times…relationships/friendships in Amer­ica & Aus­tralia. I guess the themes are sim­ilar though… land­scapes without & within - try­ing to cap­ture moments long since passed. Can we cap­ture them in the haze of reverb, echo & delay? I hope so… The first two parts were recor­ded while I was liv­ing on couches & floors & rely­ing on friends. Wan­der­ing between Dub­lin, Cork, Gal­way & Bal­lyma­hon without any real dir­ec­tion. I guess there’s a lot of pain & long­ing in those albums. The Rural Arcane trades in heart­break for a sort of redemp­tion in coun­try liv­ing I guess. Tellingly, this one was recor­ded entirely alone at home in Long­ford on four-track. On the pre­vi­ous record­ings I was happy to mainly play gui­tar & sing. On this one I played every instru­ment I own & headed fur­ther out. Maybe there’s an emo­tional & musical pro­gres­sion from one album to the next. I like to think there is, but maybe I’m not best qual­i­fied to say.

'Your Turn To Go it Alone' album cover
‘Your Turn To Go it Alone’ album cover

What are you plan­ning for the near future?Well for the next few months I will be trav­el­ling in South East Asia with my good friend & fel­low musi­cian Bean Dolan of Resur­rec­tion Fern. We plan to do a lot of wan­der­ing - writ­ing & record­ing as we go. A lot of new mater­ial has been recor­ded already, which I hope to get back to when I return.

Any live plans? Per­haps out­side of Ire­land?

United Bible Stud­ies & Mur­mansk have been my main tour­ing exper­i­ences abroad. The Pilot has mainly wandered around Ire­land. This past Sum­mer how­ever, I got to play some songs on a boat in Bar Har­bor, Maine. I joined my friend Audrey Ryan on Inde­pend­ence Day before the fire­works began & it was a won­der­ful exper­i­ence. She played fiddle on songs I’d writ­ten that morn­ing under a great tree at her mother’s place. Got to do a few songs in Ports­mouth, New Hamp­shire too, which was beau­ti­ful. I love that town! Ram­bling off the point again but as regards play­ing out­side of Ire­land in the future - define­tely. I’ll play any­where!

Finally, name one thing that you’d hope to accom­plish with your music.

As I men­tioned earlier, I hoped that I would make new friends & get to travel. That worked out & will hope­fully con­tinue to. I always hoped that maybe someday my music would affect people in much the same way musi­cians like Mark Kozelek & Neil Young have affected me. I get the odd mail from people who seem to find some­thing of what they need in the songs. If that con­tin­ues well then I’ll be happy. On a more frivol­ous note, I long for the day ARP gets a double gate­fold vinyl! Heh!