C Duncan (Photo credit – Jordan Curtis Hughes)
Christopher Duncan, or just C Duncan by his name as a musician, a Scottish talent and putting out his 3rd album Health this month, is one of the more enigmatic musicians you will ever hear.
Coming into a new phase from his first album Architect and followed up by Midnight Sun, he takes you through a wild dreamy journey of sound. It is beautiful, and in a strange way will sound very familiar, even though you are hearing him for the first time. His voice is incredibly soothing, and FRIGHTENLY hypnotic. You will hear sounds that remind you of the good ol’ days, that you can almost remember. His ability to mix all of this into multiple layers of his songs will keep you busy flowing with each song.
Coming from Glasgow and a very musical family, he took on music when he was very young, and developed his creativity to be matched among the geniuses of Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and Jonsi of Sigur Ros. His music has so many familiar themes, and feelings to it, you will find yourself in a world of audio deja-vu. His previous album Midnight Sun is a great effort, with some wonderful gems on it, there are some 5s and 6s, and several “Perfect 10s” and is a great album to dive into and enjoy. The just released Health levels it all out, and every song is a solid 8. Making this a stellar complete work, that will in no way be disappointing. As I spoke to him about the album, I found out how and WHY it actually turned out that way.
At 29, although having been open about his sexuality, he never said much about it until now. In my conversation with him, I clearly began to see how complex a person he is, and it’s all right there in front of you. C Duncan can say so much, in simple terms, in conversation, or his music, with incredible depth, and background. At surface, you will find yourself able to get him, and his music, because of so many musicians, the music of C Duncan is a clear expression of himself, letting it really speak for himself, but for everyone to enjoy how it sounds. He is in no rush to make a point, but reflects deeply on everything he does and says, and it is worth getting to know him, just by listening.
JEREMY HINCKS: Health is along the same vein of the previous two, but it sounds more of a “mature” effort. Can you tell us a little about what has happened between the albums, and what created such a different … and more developed sound?
C DUNCAN: I went through heartbreak twice, depression, anxiety, and as a result I matured a lot. I started using music as therapy in a way. It’s amazing what reflecting on situations can do, and especially if you relive the situation every day you are writing a song about it. Writing a lot of these songs made my then irrational feelings more rational. I was also wanting to make a record that was much more personal and direct, which I think helped develop my songwriting a lot as I wasn’t hiding behind the music so much.
I found Health especially to be in the same realm of Thom Yorke and Jonsi, that’s pretty cutting edge in the dreamy obscure world of sound. How has the creativity been received between the albums?
Firstly, it’s an honor that you put me in the same realm as Them Yorke and Jonsi! With each album people don’t really know what to expect from me. There is a continuous thread throughout my music which is that dreamy, multilayered thing, but I like to change style and progress musically. Not only to keep others interested, but to keep myself excited about what music I make and could make.
I assume that you’re being gay might not have been a secret within your friends and the industry, but would you say you had to “come out” or say that you were gay publicly? How was the journey around that and how much of that influenced where you went with the music?
Yes and no. I’ve never felt like I’ve publicly had to come out, however, when I’ve been interviewed for the new album I find myself talking a lot more openly about my sexuality. It’s something I’ve shied away from in the past, but given that this album is very open and touches on sexuality, I’ve kind of forced myself into coming out publicly. Which is a good thing! I have always been attracted to musicians that can talk openly (Bjork, James Blake, John Grant, The Knife) and I hope that has filtered into my own music.
In the states, there is usually a lot of scandal when a celebrity comes out. People rush to comment, say “I always knew” or, whatever. Was there much of a response about it when you came out?
No one has even mentioned it yet. It could be to do with us Brits being reserved, or maybe no one has realized yet!
Your biggest influences, I am a HUGE Glasgow music fan, and we all love Claire Grogan, and Liz Fraser I can hear in your music. Who has influenced you? AND, can you talk about John Grant in particular as well?
The two huge influences of mine are Billy Mackenzie and Cocteau Twins. Both exquisite songwriters in different ways. John Grant has been a big influence over the past few years because of his openness to talk about his sexuality. He shows many sides to it too – it’s not all sorrow and hurt and anxiety (although some is) but he’s also quite tongue and cheek. There is light with the dark, and this is something that really speaks to me.
Who have you toured with, and what are the plans for touring on this new album? The States?
I toured a lot with Elbow after the release of their last album. Both in the UK and in the States. Prior to that I have toured with Lucy Rose and done the odd gig here and there with Belle and Sebastian. We are touring the UK with the new album in April/May and then hopefully Europe. I would LOVE to tour the US again and looking into ways to make that happen!
When you were really young, and learning to make music, did you ever see it getting to where you are now? How did your sound form into what it is now?
Having grown up in a musical family (both parents are musicians) I always kind of assumed that I would go into music. However, I always thought I would go down the classical route. It wasn’t until I graduated studying classical composition that I decided to go down the more ‘pop’ route. Since I was about 12 I have been recording songs and developing my tastes, and I now like to mix all my tastes together to make my own music. I have a VERY eclectic taste and I like the idea of merging them together to make my own thing.
I enjoyed and was actually really blown away with the multiple layers in the new album. Tell us about how the layering came into it. Is it really experimental, or do you have it in your mind how you want it to sound first?
Growing up I sang in a lot of choirs and even barbershop quartets, and the sound of multiple voices singing together is something that has always excited me. I guess this is why my music now is so layered (especially the vocals). I tend to start with melody and then layer on top of that. I do experiment a lot with harmonies and I never know how a song will end up sounding when I first start – which is very exciting for me – chord structures change and the arrangements go in different directions.
Can you tell me a little about the concept behind each album?
Architect was a mix of different songs. There was no real concept behind it other than me trying to find my own style. The Midnight Sun was very influenced by 50s/60s sci-fi (particularly The Twilight Zone). The whole album is icy and brooding. Health is, in some ways, more similar to Architect. There is no overriding theme, but the songs fluctuate and go up and down a lot more than ‘TMS’. I guess the concept for Health is the fact that I used the making of it to better my health. It was very therapeutic and cathartic to make.
What was it behind “He came from the Sun” and “Reverie” (my personal faves) on this new album. Do you have any specific favorites from your previous albums I should invite the readers to give a listen to?
‘He Came from the Sun’ came about after a breakup. This was also just before the anti-gay purge in Chechnya. These two things kind of merged together. The guy I broke up with – his father could never really accept that he was gay so there was always an awkwardness around discussing sexuality with him, which ultimately meant that we couldn’t ever fully bond. That, along with the horrendous happenings in Chechnya got me thinking about my own situation and how lucky I have been in life. However, no matter how lucky you are, coming out is a difficult thing to do. When I did it (at the age of 20) it flipped my world upside down. I worried what people would think and I was constantly questioning myself as to whether I should come out or not. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. But ultimately, I needed to and things have been a lot better since. This isn’t the case for a lot of others. Coming out doesn’t make things better for some, and in cases like Chechnya, it makes things unimaginably difficult. In a way, it’s a love song to those martyrs who fight for equality, and who, against all odds, fight for their rights.
“Reverie” came about when I was at my lowest mentally. I spent over a month in bed, trying to work out what my life meant. At some points, all I could think about was being swallowed by the sea, or being consumed by my room and just disappearing. The thought that I was thinking about ending things made me feel very dirty, which just added to the problem. Life at the time felt like a very strange dream, I wasn’t in control of my thoughts, and this was very very frightening. Writing this song was the most cathartic experience I’ve had through music. I wanted to write it down and make an example of it so that if I do ever get to that point again I can hopefully use this as a reference point to start getting better. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s ok to feel shit. At the time, I was embarrassed about it, but getting this song out into the open has helped a lot. Seek help and do what you have to do to get better.
Hmmm… A personal favorite of mine is ‘Window’ from The Midnight Sun. It’s not the most upbeat number, but it’s a song that I’m very proud of.
In the states, there seems to be a lifting of the stigma with gay artists. In the mainstream, there are allies such as Lady Gaga and P!NK that are getting all the attention. Do you see the general population of music consumers showing more favor for it, just accepting people as “artists” and not LGBT oriented artists? In the states, it’s almost as if you are an ally you have to make a statement, do you see any of that in the music industry, or is your corner of it not really making it an issue?
Honestly, my corner of it isn’t making an issue of it. I think I fall into the “alternative” category enough for the consumers of my music to just see past it. This is something that I’m very happy about. Given the fact that nobody has said anything about my first single from the album being about an ex- boyfriend and yet people are still listening to it shows how progressive an audience they are. To answer your question more clearly though, I do think general audiences are becoming more open minded. Without people like Lady Gaga and P!NK, there may still be a more obvious divide between Artists and LGBTQ artists. It also helps that Lady Gaga is cool as hell, so if she’s open minded then other people who want to be as cool as her should be open minded too!
In the US, especially with the young LGBTQ community, there is so much turmoil, because of the culture and religious background. We have an epidemic of suicides, and drug abuse, kids being kicked out of their homes for being gay. I like to close with the question I ask at the end of each interview … “What would you say to the young LGBT people who are in an emotionally vulnerable state?”
It is so so so so so important to be who you are. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. You’ll reach a stage where you shed all those people who don’t understand you and you’ll gain allies – there are a lot of us LGBTQ people around so you’re never alone. Find like-minded people. Talk to like-minded people. We all have our own stories and experiences. Everyone is different and that should be celebrated every day.
Wow, thank you. I hope your album does well. I loved the Pitchfork concert performance on YouTube (everyone needs to see that one, or rather FEEL that one). Good luck on this tour, too.
About the Interviewer: Jeremy “Jacques” Hinks
An indie GONZO music journalist in Salt Lake City, and an Anarchist behind the Zion Curtain. Jeremy Hinks is an obnoxious Type-A Male, who is embarrassingly straight and a staunch LGBTQ Ally with little tact, and a big heart. He has supported his LGBTQ friends since he was a teenager.
He has photographed on multiple tours U2, The English Beat, Peter Hook & The Light, and is somehow making a name for himself photographing Pink Floyd Tribute bands, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Britfloyd, Dead Floyd. He is one of the photographers for the LOVELOUD Foundation in Utah, an organization to bring awareness and support for the young LGBT community in Utah, and to bring an end to the epidemic of suicides there.
He also drives a Vespa, and wears kilts, is rarely seen wearing pants, should be considered armed and dangerous, so do not approach without extreme caution.