Dan Black’s ‘UN’ Captivates

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Dan Black is the former front man from the UK-based indie group The Servant. After feeling stifled by the process of writing songs with a band, Black has struck out on his own infusing his pop songs with hip-hop, electro and rock stylings. His track "Symphonies" was burning up the charts in April.

Q: You wrote your album, "UN," largely in the winter of 2007 at your place in Paris. What was that like?

A: One of the key things that was different about this album was that I’d made it totally on my own and that was heightened even more by being in a country where I didn’t speak the language that well and it being winter so I was kind of holed up in the cellar so it was very, very, solitary, even though I was in a city. It was very much just making music in general, which is sort of an eternal sordid thing, but it was heightened by it being winter and it being a city that I didn’t know that well and not knowing any people didn’t speak the language well so I didn’t properly understand people so I was sort of locked in my own little bubble.

Q: You’ve expressed that the reason behind naming the album "UN" was because each letter was the opposite of the other. How did the idea of including the concept of opposites in your album come about?

A: Making the songs work for me is a mix of searching for things and making the song sound, well, good and sound real and true. The way it works to have a song with a contradiction in it, its got two things that are so opposite. I noticed that afterward, it wasn’t something where I thought to myself "I need to do this." I’d like certain songs and I asked myself "Why does this song speak to me more than other things?" and often it would be because the song contained a happy quality or a sad quality at the same time or something that was aggressive but also sort of fragile. Or something that has electric elements in it but at the same time it sounds human and sounds organic. It was more of a discovery of that thing more than going "Oh, I want to do this." The concept came after with me looking back at what made the songs work.

Q: For the visuals associated with the album, what kind of guidelines did you have for their creation?

A: Partly, just stuff that reflected me and my feelings at that time as well as the music. I just got loads of images together that I felt reflected what we were trying to do. We were trying to take everyday objects and bend them to their own will. It was similar to how I make songs that ring true in a way.

Q: From those objects one that sticks out in my mind is the gun head that you wore in the video for "Yours." How did that idea get started?

A: When we started, the very first thing we did was an avatar of me levitating in my studio. At that time I wanted to come up with a logo that made people think of Dan Black and one of the people that I had been working with came up with a shirt that had a bird that had a gun for a head. She replaced the bird’s head with a gun and I thought "Oh, that’s really cool," and I thought maybe we could do the same thing with the [levitating] body and stick a gun on its head. At first I thought that could be a really good logo. I wasn’t quite sure why I liked it. It dawned on me as I was making the record that I had one mission and sacrificed every aspect of my life just to make the record and make the music and also how it was "Do or die." I was shooting these songs out and I had only one function, and when it came time to do the video I thought "Hey, wouldn’t it be great to actually make the gun head and do a video with it" and so we did.

Q: After listening to your album repeatedly, I feel like the album itself is about personal triumph. Can you speak about that?

A: I wrote the album when I’d left a band and at that point I thought "Should I maybe give up music?" I’d been thinking about it for a long time and wasn’t having any more. Was I stupid to keep trying to do music? I wondered if I had peaked artistically. I had to make the choice and at the end I had to do it. A lot of it stems from fear and in the end that’s what it’s all about; continuing. It’s about adversity and personal triumph. So that was definitely a theme.