Interview with Nic Dalton by Christina Soong
From RAD March 1995
Nic Dalton: musician, song-writer, record-label owner/manager, producer, mixer, bookshop owner and a very cool guy. He is involved in many different facets of the music business. He has been called a "loose cannon made more dangerous by the fact that he's got a fiery sense of independence coursing through his veins" and yet is endearingly unaffected and down-to-earth. Christina Soong spent a lunchtime talking to Nic on the telephone to bring you this special report.
Half-A-Cow (HAC)is a catchy name which you better get used to seeing and hearing. It's the name of Nic's record label which houses Smudge, Sidewinder, Swirl, Godstar and SPDFGH, to name a few. It's also the name of Nic's newly re-designed bookshop in Sydney which stocks left-field, "eclectic, high-brow, low brow" poetry and prose, as well as CDs and comics.
Nic first got into the music scene after high school, joining a 4-piece called Girls with Money, which Nic describes as a "post-punk garage rock band." Since then, Nic's been in (or is still in) Godstar, The Lemonheads, Plunderers, Hippy Dribble, Captain Denim, Sneeze, Love Positions, and The Hummingbirds. There are the same groups of people in some of the bands, and the same trio (Nic, Stevie and Jeff) are in the Plunderers, Hippy Dribble and Captain Denim. Confused? OK - here goes...
Explanation no 1. The afore-mentioned trio would play one week as Plunderers and the next as Hippy Dribble - this was partly because they had heaps of songs which they wanted to play and partly because they thought it would be really funny to record/play under different names. The trio then also formed Captain Denim. The styles of the 3 bands are obviously similar, but Nic reckons Hippy Dribble were a bit more psychedelic and modern, whereas Plunderers were more of a rock band.
March saw the launch of the new Hippy Dribble album which is called "Silver Apples," featuring 7 new songs: Hippy Dribble's "Wild Strawberry, (1990), Captain Denim's "Fade", as well as some b-sides. The 18-song album covers everything that the Plunderers did under Captain Denim and Hippy Dribble. This album was recorded 4 years ago, but the launch was put-off because Nick was away.
Currently, Nic's in Godstar and Sneeze. Sneeze is Nic and Tom Morgan (Smudge, Godstar) and - wait up....this gets very mixed up again so...
Explaination no 2. Smudge is Tom Morgan (songwriter, vocals and guitar), Alison Galloway (drums), and Adam (bass). Godstar is basically Tom, Alison and Nic and others, but Nic sings and writes. Sneeze is Tom, Nick and others but Nick and Tom sing and write together. "People say Godstar, Smudge and Sneeze all sound the same, and I think Godstar and Smudge are really different. But Sneeze is a definite joining (sic) of what me and Tom do and it's pretty much our favourite thing." It gets rather involved, doesn't it? "It sorta does...I just like playing music and then things sorta happen."
Nic and Tom (who also co-wrote "Come on feel the Lemonheads" with Evan Dando) met 'cause Tom used to go to Nic's gigs. "Tom had never written a song and never had any aspirations to be in a band - he wanted to make videos. I befriended him and he came around to my house one day and I showed him my song books...I think I just really inspired him to write songs. We'd sit (in HAC) without a guitar and just write songs across the desk. That's where we came up with probably 30 of the 41 Sneeze songs (on the new album)."
The Sneeze 7-inch will be coming out in July as a CD with 21 extra songs making it a hefty 41-track CD! The single will be "Shaky Ground" (a duet with Alannah Russack and Tom) and another album is planned.
The new Godstar album "Coastal" (currently being finished) features 18 musicians including oldies like Evan Dando (The Lemonheads), Robyn St Clare, and Alannah (from the defunct Hummingbirds), as well as fellow ex-Lemonhead, Dave Ryan. The sound is a lot different to previous Godstar releases, and Nic did a deal with Mercury for production costs. "I've had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do. It's the first time I've made a record where I've had 2 weeks to mix it instead of 2 days. [Production's] probably been the let-down in everything I've done so far - it's been really indie, meaning low-budget. "Coastal" is going to be like, I wouldn't say a concept album, but it's definitely going to have a flow. I've really thought about what songs I want on it."
One of the songs, the Stylistic's "Go Now" is performed by Evan and the 2 ex-Lemonheads (so yeah, kinda by The Lemonheads), although this can't be mentioned on the album because of legal reasons. "Evan does really good guitaring that I hadn't heard on the last two Lemonheads albums 'cos he was relaxed and not under pressure to make a big record...he plays this beautiful, like, early 70s soulful guitar track - it's really cool." Other songs include a Neil Young one and one penned by Alison Galloway, which Nic says, "ties in with the whole theme of the album which is about, um, I don't know, me and her breaking up."
Nic also produces and mixes. In the early HAC days, he produced all of Swirl's and Smudge's releases. Recently, he mixed SPDFGH's debut release, "Grassroots." "I know what I want. My only problem is I find it hard to communicate what I want to a engineer or to the band."
A typical day in the life of Nic Dalton - "Since I came home in September, a typical day is very routine, which I'm really glad about as the last few years were really freaky." He spends his days helping to run his label and "the day goes really quickly 'cause it's really exciting having this label and trying to make things happen." He's now settled in Sydney and lives by himself, although he does have house guests: Evan was recently at Nic's place for a month-long visit. Nic reckons he's been trying to unwind from the whole Lemonheads experience and spends his time listening to records, reading, cooking, seeing bands and cleaning up.
Nic listens to a wide range of things although his favourite band is probably the Velvet Underground. He likes listening to a lot of "schmaltzy" 70s stuff like the Stylistics, and also disco. He doesn't like techno, rap, and a lot of top 40 music.
He got to meet the Velvet Underground in 1993 which was "like a dream." "Me and Robyn (Love Positions) covered one of (Lou Reed's) songs. I said 'you would have got about $50 worth of royalties' and he laughed and hit me." He recounts how he got a signed set list and also a banana from the Velvets' dressing room. "I said to the other guys in the band, 'well, it's finally been worthwhile me joining The Lemonheads and leaving my home, 'cause getting to meet the Velvets was like getting to thank people in person that I thought were like a dead band; that would never reform.'"
While we're on the subject of The Lemonheads...Nic hasn't worked out how he feels about The 'heads. I asked him if the good stuff outweighed the negative experiences. "I really don't know...it's something I probably don't want to talk much about." That's OK, Nic. "No, I do, but it's something that I haven't come to grips with yet. Even though I've been back 6 months, it's like so much has happened -good and bad- that it's like something that never occurred. It's like I've just come out of this weird dream slash nightmare." At the time, Nic was critical of what he saw as Gold Mountain Management's manipulation of Evan's image and the whole Lemonheads hype. He also said: "the bigger The Lemonheads get the more I want to get away from them. It's just not my scene." Nic actually left The Lemonheads in August 94. However, he says, "I did get so much good out of it, not just for my music or HAC, but also for Australian music in general. I think I really helped, and that's thanks to Evan. He's really helped Australian music by getting me to join his band for a few years, and he knows that and he's really proud of that fact."
Another release coming out soon is "Billiepeebup" by Love Positions (Nic and Robyn St Clare). It was the first HAC release (1990) and is being re-released on CD with 10 bonus tracks making it a 24 track album. That is, provided Nic can find the original tapes! He thinks the Love Positions sound is like a fore-runner of what Godstar sounds like with a slight late 60s psychedelic feel to it.
I comment that he's done a lot for his 30 years. "I suppose so, yeah. I mean, I didn't really get serious about music until I was 25...I'd been playing and recording it but it's only been the last few years that I've got serious about it, and had the confidence. I used to think that everyone thought what I was doing was shit 'cause no-one ever took any notice. No record labels ever approached me or anything." So is there anything else you still really want to achieve? "I just want to make good music. I'm not really into playing live, and that was the irony of me joining The Lemonheads, playing like, 400 shows. Plunderers never played much. We were just into making weird 10-inch records and stuff, and that's always been my thing. I just like to write songs and record. But I know you've got to go out and promote these things so I've gotta get into that frame of mind again. I suppose a goal would be to, ah...(laughs) fall in love, (laughs)." Again or for the first time? "Nah, for the first time...Nah, I just want to make really good records."
"I feel younger than ever. I'm just coming into my prime, as far as what I'm doing, so that's really cool. Well, that's what I think anyway." And who am I to argue?