Interview: C Duncan (Part 2)

By on Tuesday, 7th November 2017 at 11:00 am

To read the first half of my interview with C Duncan in Washington, DC, last Saturday night, use this link.

It has been well documented that C Duncan’s second album ‘The Midnight Sun’, released in 2016, was named after an episode of The Twilight Zone, an American tv show that got its start way back in the 1950s. I had guessed that he had stumbled upon it on late night Glaswegian telly, but that wasn’t the case at all. “Actually, no. It was actually the first time I ever came to America. I was about 13, I was with my best friend from school. His dad worked in Manhattan and had an apartment there, so he flew us out there, and then we went to Florida and stayed at Disney [World] and went to Universal. We’d been on the Tower of Terror. The ride’s great, but I was so intrigued with the whole history surrounding it. Just walking into the hotel, there’s a weird feeling you get once you’re there, and it’s all a bit disorientating. I just had to check the show out. I got the DVDs and went home. I have since become completely obsessed. I’m a big sci-fi, horror fan.”

Following on from a thematically suspenseful album, I ask him if that means he’s headed for a horror-themed album next. “‘C Duncan scores The Exorcist’? No…”, he replies with a laugh. Speaking of scores, he has been asked to do the score for a documentary next year. As I’m not sure if that project has been absolutely confirmed, I’ll keep the details of it to myself. Let’s just say for now that if the project does come to fruition, it’ll be another example of how the community in Glasgow takes care of its own.

I comment that he seems to be a prolific writer, releasing albums in back-to-back years. He says he tries to write every day and when that doesn’t work out, “the way I see it, if I’ve got block, you might as be well be working on your technique, you can get slightly better recording vocals, or getting slightly better working on your chords, and hopefully something good will come out of that.” Both this optimism and attention to detail are personality traits that seem to be shared amongst all the electronic artists I’ve met and interviewed over the years, including most recently Australian producer Willaris K.

Duncan admits that it wasn’t his idea to release album #2 so closely behind the first, so we might have to wait a bit longer for album #3 to surface. I have no doubt that it will be worth the wait, as everything this Scot does comes after some deep rumination. “After the Mercury thing, there wasn’t pressure for me to make another album like that, just like the first record. Of course, in the back of your mind, you think, okay, something works in that one, so why not take elements of that and upgrade it? But actually, about 5 minutes of thinking about that, I was like, fuck it. I really wanted to do something electronic and something bigger sounding as well.

“I love great, big, lush-sounding harmonies, and with synthesisers, you can get that sweeping sound. If I had a string orchestra, I would have used a string orchestra, but I didn’t have one. So I thought, a synth can do the same thing, but in a different way. Then there was The Twilight Zone influence, I liked how icy a lot of the synth sounds were, mixed with the big choral harmonies. Once I started playing around with the synths, yeah, I have to do this.” For a further example of this, check out the video for ‘Wanted to Want It Too’ below, with a nod to the creepiness of the tv show as the song itself is punctuated with stabs of synth.

In addition to his musical gifts to us, Chris is also a talented painter, chronicled beautifully in a short film by Helen Plumb and Ben Cox for Nowness. In case you hadn’t heard, the album art for both ‘Architect’ and ‘The Midnight Sun’ are his personal works. Both have great personal significance, circling back to his connection with Glasgow and his creative environment. “I did both records in my apartment. The first record, I was very conscious of where I was when I was making the record. A lot of the album has to do with escaping, in a way. Glasgow can be very bleak at times. It’s an industrial city: it’s a very beautiful industrial city, but it’s very grey and very cold. And it rains an awful lot. Our summer consists of about 2 days in May.

“I think it’s a great thing, that’s why we’re so creative, we’re indoors all the time, you know? I was very aware of where I was, so the first record has the overview of one of the main streets in Glasgow I spent a lot of time on (Byres Road, in the West End). The first record was very personal, but it was quite obscured. You can’t really hear what I’m singing a lot of the time. It was a confidence thing. I thought, okay, I’ll make music and hopefully people will listen to that and not focus too much on the words. And if they hear them, that’s great, but I sort of muffled them slightly.

The Midnight Sun large cover

“On the second record, you can hear the lyrics more and it wasn’t gibberish like the first record. And I thought, okay, so I recorded this again in my bedroom, and into another bedroom in the flat, and I’m going to make the front cover [of ‘The Midnight Sun’] the stairwell to my apartment. It’s all very geographical, location based, because where I work means a lot to me.” Although the process of music making eats up most of his time these days, Chris admits he’s “stubborn” and makes an effort every few months to paint something significant “to keep my technique up”. Sensing a theme here? I hope so. Young artists, take note. As the old American saying goes, “How you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!”

C Duncan is an artist who puts in 110 percent into everything that he does. It’s paid off, in the forms of a Mercury Prize nomination, the admiration and appreciation by a massive band like Elbow who has taken him on tour in the UK and North America, plus countless fans being inspired and moved by his music. He’s the kind of artist who will continue making music his way, and I for one looking forward to the many musical chapters of C Duncan still yet to come.

Massive thanks to Chris for his time for this interview and his unexpected, but much appreciated vocal support for TGTF (!) at the Elbow show Saturday night at the 9:30. Thank you also to Rey and Sam for making this happen. He performs tonight alongside Elbow on their North American tour at Detroit’s St. Andrews Hall. Sounds appropriate for a Scottish artist, doesn’t it? Much more on C Duncan here on TGTF is follow us over here.

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