Exposure: Withered Hand
- Kelly Smith
- 17 April 2009
Withered Hand - Religious Songs
Despite a lyrical admission to listening to death metal bands, Withered Hand makes pensive and pretty 'antifolk' music sprawling with all sorts of questions and quiet conversations while his Neil Young-ish voice mingles joyously with varied accompaniments including that of a banjo, harmonica and mandolin. Dan Willson spoke to The List recently about being Withered Hand (but not the banjoman) and touring with whomever else can fit in the van.
How long have you been around and how’d you get your sound together?
I have been performing and making drawings as Withered Hand for two and a bit years but before that I spent sixteen years mostly learning blues scales and listening to metal. I had a kind of artrock band called Peanut for a while, which eventually helped me over my fear of singing. That was a big step for me. I never dreamed I could sing songs in front of people. When I became a parent and hit my thirties I got my hands on an acoustic guitar. I started writing quiet, simple songs at home and, with a little encouragement, I got more courage and found my voice. I have people and movements who have inspired me to carry on but I try to write about things I know, nothing too complicated really. Musically, I keep it simple, plus I’m both a much better lyricist and much worse guitarist at this stage in life than I have ever been, which helps.
Who do you work with musically, and what do they do? Are you the banjo man?
I wish I was the banjoman! To date, Neil Pennycook (of Meursault) is usually the banjoman. I can get a tune out of most things with strings but I’m not really sure I’m what could be called a musician. I find it fascinating working with people who can play other instruments and sing. I write songs alone. Sometimes when I play a show, I play my songs with friends. I've been real lucky so far. I have mostly been playing shows with a band comprising Alun Thomas (also of The Leg) on drums, Hannah Shepherd on cello, Neil Pennycook (of Meursault) on banjo and backing vocals and sometimes Chris Bryant (also of Meursault) and Bart Owl (of Eagleowl/Occasional Flickers) are drafted in on percussion and mandolin respectively. Occasionally, Jo Foster (Fence Collective) sings with me. In fact, all of these people appear in some shape or form on my forthcoming album, which, thanks to a grant from the Scottish Arts Council, is a collaboration with the well-known American producer Kramer (Low, Galaxie 500, Daniel Johnston). This can occasionally get tricky to organise and there is only so much room in the van, so there are still occasions where I play solo. That’s the way the songs are written so in a sense that's their purest form, if not the easiest on the ear. Last month I recorded my second EP with Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) in Fife, and that was just me and my guitar and he ended up playing accordion and drums and stuff on some songs, which was fun. I genuinely think sometimes people hear the songs and slightly flaky delivery and if they like them, they want to help.
You play in Edinburgh often, are you based in the city?
Yes, I am based in the city. I think Edinburgh is a great place for new music right now, it's an exciting time. I have been here for just over twelve years but my family is originally from the south. It would take a lot to pry me away from this town.
I read on MySpace that you're influenced by acid. Really?
I can't comment. As a parent, I have to say: Hey, kids, don't do drugs. Not even mushrooms. But as an artist I have to say I’m influenced by everything I’ve ever done.
Where do you buy your music from and what was the last album you bought?
I don’t really buy much music these days, sadly. I think the last album I bought was a very beautiful album called Lost Wisdom by Mount Eerie featuring Julie Doiron and I bought it direct from Phil Elverum via his website. It’s cool you can do that now with the internet. Other than that, if I am passing I can never resist popping into Avalanche on Cockburn Street to browse but usually it just makes me feel old.
What else do you do when you're not Withered Hand?
I bite my nails/try to be a good person.
Withered Hand performs Sat 18 Apr in Avalanche Records, Edinburgh as part of Record Store Day; Sat 18 Apr at Fence Homegame, Anstruther; Sun 10 May at The GRV, Edinburgh; Sun 24 May at The Bowery, Edinburgh with Defiance Ohio and Billy Liar; Sat 6 June at Old St Paul's, Edinburgh (acoustic set); Tue 9 June at The Bowery, Edinburgh