For a guy whose songs sometimes encompass stiletto-like
social commentary, and who has just endured a roadwork-prolonged journey from
Glasgow to Bristol when we catch up with each other on the phone, Dan Patlansky
is sounding remarkably chipper.
Just as well it’s a night off in the course of his autumn UK
tour supporting Joanne Shaw Taylor though.
Welcome to Britain, the land of the traffic cone, I observe.
“It was a wee bit of a drive,” the South African blues
rocker chuckles. “But we got here in one
piece, and that’s all that counts.”
The purpose of this call isn’t to have a very British conversation
about road works and traffic though, but to look ahead. On February 2 Patlansky
releases his latest album, Perfection
Kills, to be followed by a 6 date headlining tour of the UK in March.
|Dan Patlansky - he likes that Strat you know!|
Pic by Allan Jones
Patlansky has a habit of coming with intriguing album titles
– Dear Silence Thieves, Introvertigo, and now Perfection Kills. So where did the latest one come from?
“Well you know, I’ve done quite a few albums, and sometimes
I find that pursuit of perfection in the studio, in the recording, sometimes
you engineer the magic out of it,” he says, “because you polish the magic out a
little bit too much. So I’ve always kind of tried to stay away from that, and
keep that live spark and energy that always exists in the live performance, and
try and capture that on the album. And
you know sometimes, leaving mistakes on the record, and glitches, that’s often
sometimes where the magic is – there’s something special about that.”
After the Wish You
Were Here-like burning man on the cover of Introvertigo, the cover of Perfection Kills is similarly
thought-provoking, featuring a family sitting in a dowdy sitting room – but dad
is an old-fashioned pipe smoker, mum is a bald mannekin, and the young girl is
wearing a gas mask. What was the
thinking with that, I ask.
“Well I think that’s a different take on ‘perfection kills’,”
Dan responds. “It’s almost like a family
where the mother’s like, too perfect, and strives for perfection, and the little
girl can’t breathe, that’s why she’s got the gas mask on. And you know, the old man is just bleak as
hell!” he says with a laugh. “He’s kind
of lost the will to live a little bit.”
As I noted at the start of this piece, lyrically Patlansky sometimes
tackles quite hard-hitting subjects, as with ‘Sonova Faith’ and ‘Western Decay’
on Introvertigo. On this album ‘Johnny’ talks about the impact
of a difficult childhood on the grown man, and ‘Too Far Gone’ is a rather
dystopian state-of-the-world piece. So
does Patlansky deliberately like to
|Perfection Kills - it's never like this in the sofa ads|
bring some edge to what he writes, or is it
just what bubbles to the surface?
“Yeah, I mean it’s kinda like social commentary, or things
I’ve seen. Often what I write about is
the stuff that, like, just annoys me at that moment, I suppose!” he laughs. “And what better platform to moan than a
song? But yeah, I used to write lyrics
that were far more, I suppose, clichéd blues type of things, and I always
thought that was a bit disingenuous because, you know, I don’t work in a cotton
field like those old guys used to. That
was their life. So I thought I had to
write stuff that was more relevant to my life, and social commentary’s one of
my favourite things to write about – about stuff that annoys me!”
Another example is the song ‘iEyes’, which talks about
people living their lives through screens nowadays. I ask him if he’s aware of that at gigs – of people
filming the band on their phones for minutes on end rather than watching them
live, as it were?
“Yeah,” he confirms.
“Actually the first thing that came to mind when I wrote that song was,
we went to play at a venue in London, and it was a sold out venue, and I
actually looked up at one point in the middle of a song, and it was like 200
cell phones in the air. And I thought to
myself, you know, the definition is way better with your eyes than with your
cell phone! It was a very, very strange
thing to see.”
Even stranger in a way to an old codger like me, as it’s a
completely about turn from when I was young and going to gigs, and you weren’t
allowed cameras into the venue.
Patlansky is something of an oddity on the British and
European scene, with his South African background. But maybe that helps him to offer something
Does being based in South Africa give him a perspective that
helps him to find a fresh take on things, I wonder? I imagine even in terms of metaphors and
slang there might be a different vocabulary for him to tap into.
“It definitely does,” he says. “South Africa is quite westernised these
days, and also at one point was a British colony. So there are a lot of similarities between
South Africa and the UK, in certain aspects.
But obviously it’s a very different world now, and a very different
place to live, with different problems and a different lifestyle. So I definitely think it lends itself to a unique
kind of songwriting if you’re basing your songs off stuff from back there.”
Patlansky has spoken about trying to make this album sound
more akin to how the songs will come across live, and it sounds to me that’s he’s
brought more of an edge to his vocals on some tracks, like ‘Dog Day’ and ‘Too
Far Gone’. Was that something he was
“I don’t know if it was necessarily conscious, I think it
was more like the song suggested a certain thing, and you kind of automatically
or naturally go in that direction. So I
must say, it wasn’t a conscious thing, but it kind of definitely ended up that
|Patlansky goes for the Rage Against The Machine vibe|
Pic by Anthony May
Patlansky doesn’t strike me as being your typical,
mainstream blues rock guy, I suggest, so I’m intrigued to hear who really influenced
your musical direction.
“I mean obviously a big portion of those guys are the blues
rock guys,” he says, starting off with the more obvious names. “Like Hendrix was a big influence, Stevie Ray
Vaughan was a big influence. But you
know, all the old blues guys like BB King and Albert King and all those guys.” Then he starts to get into different
territory. “But also, on the other hand,
one of my biggest influences is David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, and Pink Floyd
in general has been a massive influence and still probably remains one of my
favourite bands.” And never mind the
guitar work, it occurs to me later, but maybe the Floyd’s penchant for angsty
social commentary seeped into his consciousness.
“But you know,” he continues, “I’m influenced also by guys
like Steven Wilson, who’s a modern kinda prog guy I’m a big fan of. Even guys like Beck, who are completely
outside the blues genre, but I think he’s a fantastic songwriter more than
anything. Then there’s all sorts of soul
guys, like Ray Charles, and jazz guys like Jaco Pastorius, and Charlie Parker,
and Oscar Peterson. So I think it’s
quite a wide range of influences, that I always try and kind of mix together to
try and get something slightly more unique in the world of blues rock, song
wise that is.”
That doesn’t strike me as the whole caboodle though. I note that when he starts to get heavy, as
on ‘Backbite’ from Dear Silence Thieves,
or ‘Dog Day’ from the new album, there’s a seriously hard-edged funk undertow
“Yeah, that’s like, I’m a big Audioslave fan, and a Rage
Against The Machine fan, and I just thought they were fantastic riff writers.” He ponders for a second. “And also, you know, Zeppelin – I know that’s
nowhere near as heavy as those bands, but Zeppelin were the original rock’n’roll
riff writer guys for me, and that was a massive influence too. So maybe a bit of that kind of influence came
through on those slightly harder songs.”
Patlansky first made a serious impact in Britain and Europe
with the release of Dear Silence Thieves
in 2015. But he’d released six albums
before that, going back to 1999. How was
he developing during that period?
“Well I started out as a very traditional blues artist, like
doing straight down the line blues, 12 bar blues type of stuff, which I still
love listening to and still love playing on occasion. And you know over the years I kind of really
wanted to get into the songwriting side of things, and try to not just express
through guitar playing and singing, but also writing music and trying to
express through the song itself. So the
focus shifted far more to the songs, and try to get the song right first and
then worry about the playing and the performance of it. So I think that’s been the biggest shift and
We have a bit of a laugh as I observe that his website, and
some of his PR material, give the erroneous impression that these earlier
albums were largely acoustic in style, even though the cover pictures generally
feature him wielding an electric guitar.
Speaking of which, the guitar he’s always pictured with is a pretty
beat-up looking Strat – it’s almost worthy of Rory Gallagher.
“Yeah, I’ve had that guitar since the year 2000. The guitar is a 1962 Strat, so pretty much
the same year as Rory’s – I think Rory’s guitar was a ’61. And yeah, I’ve played that guitar almost
exclusively for the last 17 years, and it’s really taken a beating on the road. And it’s been everywhere with me, it’s
virtually done every live show I’ve ever played. It’s been to every country I’ve ever been to,
it’s been thrown around in airports, and on the stage, and dropped - it really
has taken a beating. But it’s a Strat,
and fortunately they’re quite strong.”
|Dan Patlansky gets ready to cast a spell|
Even so, I’m thinking, I’ve seen numerous stories of
guitarists retrieving their instruments after flights and finding them
damaged. Does he worry about baggage
handlers getting their mitts on it?
worried. I’ve actually got a super
strength flight case for it, and even with that I still kind of have heart
attacks every time I arrive on the other side, hoping that my guitar is going
to come out in one piece.”
No Bonamassa-like guitar nerd, the Stratocaster is
Patlansky’s essential weapon of choice.
“Yes, definitely,” he agrees. “I use that in the studio, I use that
live. I’m the type of person that’ll
really relax with one guitar, and really know the guitar, know the way it
sounds, know the way it plays, and it really feels kind of second nature. So that’s really why I love the ‘one guitar’
kind of thing.”
Now this is interesting, I think, because Patlansky has gained a reputation as a bit of a guitar sorcerer. Does that mean he has to use effects to
stretch himself and bring variety to his sound?
He demurs a bit, saying that he’s actually got a fairly small effects
“But for me,” he explains, “if you know a guitar well
enough, there’s ways of getting different textures and tones out of a guitar
without using effects pedals – more like the way you play the guitar, the
techniques you use on the guitar that I’m trying to work on. So that’s pretty much the way that I try to
keep things interesting, tone-wise and texture-wise. It’s just try and experiment with the guitar,
and play it differently, and set it a little bit differently, and then see what
happens. And it’s crazy how some unique
stuff can come through."
From previous comments he’s made, and even the notion of
Introvertigo, Patlansky has given the impression that he’s something of a
reflective guy, happy in his own company.
heart I think I’m an introvert,” he agrees, before anticipating the next
question. “In a way I know it seems like
a silly career choice being a musician if you don’t like crowds of people, but
I think performing on stage and being in a shopping mall is a very different
thing!” Or as he puts it later, “Having
to make conversations about the weather with strange
family members, or something
like that – that really kind of kills me. I tend to recharge when I’m on my own, and
there’s a little bit of peace and quiet.
So I guess I do really shy away from, like, chaos.”
|"Don't talk to me about the weather!"|
Nowadays though, artists like Patlansky are very much
expected to be accessible to their audience offstage. I recall seeing him supporting King King in
Glasgow back in 2016, and talking to a long queue of people after his
set. It must be demanding, coming off
stage and having to do all that chat, I imagine.
“It is in a way,” he admits.
“But at the same time it’s – if I feel like
I’ve had a difficult show, or a bad show, then it’s like a lot of hard
work. But if you’ve had an alright show
I actually find it alright, because it’s not for too long, it’s half an hour or
40 minutes, and you get generally honest feedback on what people thought of the
show, and that’s always good to hear and take to heart.”
Well, I suggest, if they’re bothering to speak to you it’s
probably because they’ve liked you. And
Dan Patlansky laughs, as he often does.
For all that he likes to write edgy songs, and is also
capable of striking awe into axe worshippers, Patlansky comes across as a
rather self-deprecating guy. That
picture on the cover of Introvertigo,
of a burning man sticking his head in the ground, may just be an exotic way
laughing at himself banging his head against the wall on occasions.
There’s a Facebook group out there nowadays dedicated to the
‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’. With his
innovative guitar playing, punchy and distinctive sound, and intelligent
lyrics, Dan Patlansky has got all the tools to surf that wave. Perfection may kill, but class will tell.
Read the Blues Enthused review of Perfection Kills here.