Galapogos Frontman Dan Newton’s Mission: “treating the audience as human beings, not as consumers…Triple J and music industry assholes have forgotten how to do that.”
I’ve been corresponding with Dan Newton – frontman of Brisbane band Galapogos and editor-in-chief of Heavy and Weird blog – for a month or so now. The dialogue has been refreshing and engaging. In this lengthy interview Dan talks about the ‘pure punk rock experience’, keeping ticket prices low, of having integrity, the ‘evils’ of the music industry, feminism, Riot Grrrl, spirituality, Patti Smith and more.
If you’re in Brisbane this Thursday (Feb. 7) you can see Dan in action with Galapogos at The Zoo playing with The Halls, Foxsmith and Little Planes Land. Doors 7:30pm. Tickets $10. For more details go here.
You’re a busy guy Dan—the vocalist for Brisbane band Galapogos and, the creator and editor-in-chief for site Heavy & Weird (focusing on music, politics and art). What motivates you to do all that you do?
DAN NEWTON: I like to keep busy and focused and I don’t like having my time wasted basically. So, I guess instead of interacting with life and having it wasted with pointless and fruitless pursuits I decided to go after and do things that I like doing. I love to write, whether it is music or an article for Heavy and Weird. I just love sitting down and collecting my thoughts and expressing myself. I love communication and doing my best to get better at it. Communication is at the centre of everything and as human beings when anything breaks down in any relationship it comes from a lack of communication. Playing and creating music and doing the self-diagnosed journalist thing allows me to engage in so many levels of different communications. It allows me to connect with a great many people and in the process plug into so many different points of view. I love that exchange, when active communication is connecting you to someone regardless of whether it is through debate or a mutual love of something. The fact that you are sharing ideas and communicating is positive, you are learning; all great points of view come from that kind of knowledge where you are just plugging into all the different human beings that make up this amazing ocean of chaos. So there is that, and also the fact that I want to slow time down. When you spend your time dreaming instead of doing you just see time rush by and you waste your opportunity to live. I’ve got no time or patience for that process or any sympathy for people who dream but don’t act. I’m doing what I want because I have a desire and I don’t believe in being content or satisfied with having “just enough”. I always want more from this life.
Oxygen is like a fucking drug to me, so I don’t have time for partying, boyfriends, girlfriends, marriage, kids or the freedom of Friday night. So I have a lot of time for my work and if I’m going to have so much time to do it then I better be prolific and I better be consistent and I better create at all hours. You can either waste life and waste time or you can take it by the fucking balls and keep moving forward and do what you want. My advice to anyone who complains about their position in life is to shut the fuck up and just “do” and fucking get it on. Only you will fail you if you don’t.
On your band Galapogos’ Facebook page the lone ‘Band Interests’ listed is: The pure punk rock experience. What do you mean by that? How would you define it?
DN: Punk rock for me and the rest of the band is not a sound. Certainly we all love the genre of punk rock and the whole history of it but when we talk about the ‘pure punk rock experience’ we are referring to the attitude and discipline that you need to be an individual and remain independent. It’s about being awake and aware to the world around you and using your experience with disappointment to engage in positive and forward thinking movements of change; to use compassion instead of hatred and to invest in the basic principle of choosing love over fear. It is about striving for equality and justice for those around you. Most importantly it is about using our vehicle of communication – music – to help people strive for peace, both inner and outer and to ensure that across all levels of our career that we do everything possible to tell the truth.
It isn’t about fashion or tattoos or the clichéd identity that mainstream culture plugs into when it talks about punk rock, for us it is a spiritual philosophy that requires you to open your mind to everything, even the enemy; to make sure that you are doing your best to educate yourself and the world around you. You got to make sure your message is funded by love and has that understanding of the darkness and never ever be satisfied. Always question but always remember to listen. That is the pure punk rock experience and it is an energy that has filled all the great minds of our history.
What was your first encounter with this ‘pure punk rock experience’?
DN: If you had of asked me this question in my early twenties I would of given you a whole bunch of important names like Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye, Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Ed Vedder, Phil Anselmo and Neil Young. As a 30 year old man, I can tell you that my parents – Brian and Aileen – were my first encounter with this. You see, they may not have been influential punk rock musicians and in terms of their own taste they would much prefer listen to Roy Orbison and The Beatles than Black Flag and Fugazi, but the reason why they are so important to my philosophy is because they taught me how to be an individual and to go out into this world and combat the cruelty and to stand tall. They taught me how to avoid becoming a victim of the cruelty and to love life as opposed to fear it.
My mother is the ultimate feminist icon in my life because she is a leader and taught me the many virtues of love and compassion and how to cope with the many different levels of loss that can occur in your life. She taught me self-respect and how to be proud of whom I was and that just because I was different that didn’t mean I had to feel like a freak. She taught me how to respect the world around me and how to smile even when the bastards are trying to kick you when you’re down. She plugged me into the importance of education and reading books and engaging in active communication and to tell the truth. Her greatest lesson was that you get into more trouble if you lie and this stays with me to this day.
My father, he taught me how to sniff out the bullshit in every situation and his almost supernatural ability to be so spot on when it came to sensing if someone was full of shit or was genuine is a lesson I am glad he taught me. He taught me the power and importance of a firm handshake and that sometimes optimism has to wear heavy boots and that although by telling the truth and being honest you may not always win every single popularity contest, you will have a clean soul and sort out who belongs on the ride with you and who needs to be removed and left behind. My father also taught me how to be a gentleman and how to respect and love woman. He taught me about equality and the importance of when to say “fuck you” and how to use my mind instead of my fists. My parents are the greatest examples of human beings ever and all of those qualities that they taught me were amplified when I became fans of people like Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye, Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Ed Vedder, Phil Anselmo and Neil Young—who to me are the musical epitome of the pure punk rock experience.
What do you feel personally when you perform? I know from our previous chats that it is a spiritual experience for you.
DN: Music is the place where I celebrate my spirituality. I think it is important to outline that music for me is not about entertainment nor is it a hobby or simple pastime. I love learning about and investigating the full history of music. I believe that in order to be a successful artist you have to plug yourself into the history of your artistic vehicle. People who don’t are just making a bunch of empty calories and it is simply tolerated vandalism and pollution; all the fevered egos and the music they make is so insignificant to my journey. Like all investments in history, you need to understand its place in the story of evolution. Know that enemy, consume it and understand how to do what you want as an artist despite it. You have to make that choice of whether you want to be a musician or an artist. Trust me there is a big difference.
In terms of performance, I like to muse on that history of music and how it has influenced me to manipulate and create my own sound. A great band is a group of people who are madly and deeply in love with each other and through this love they use the same kind of energy that is involved with great sex and together make a sound that is unique to their souls and their truth. It has to reflect all of the emotions pulsing through each individual making up that group so that the collective consciousness aka the band, can birth all of those feelings and emotions into a sound that is coming from the many different dimensions of existence. It is about channelling inner and outer space and helping give the idea of God a face and a voice to exist. God may have many different faces but she is known by one name and that is love. For me as long as love is at the centre of it then you will always arrive at a pure sound experience.
Now let me dull down internal dialogues that read the word “God” and think I am some religious freak. I am not and our music is not a celebration of religion, it is a celebration of the divine, of the shiver that we all feel. Our sound is funded by the darkness and the disappointment of life and it is incredibly emotional. These emotions come from our own experiences but also the greater experiences of the world around us.
When we play we plug into something higher because a lot of what we write and release is fully improvised. A lot of the times, in fact pretty much all of the time we don’t even remember playing it because we are all in such a trance that we just become conductors of the different spirits and dimensions surrounding us. All we do is tell the story through our imaginations and musical skill. Sometimes it is a personal story that gets told whereas other times it is the emotion and energy of whatever room we are in. It can be intense. Sometimes it may be an exercise in nonsense or humour but, the most important thing at the centre of it is the fact that we arrive at it through our collective meditation on that shiver to help a divine communication to transpire. When you see a Galapogos show you will always experience the moment as opposed to some rehearsed show.
If you look at the spiritual principles of the difference between meditation and prayer, meditation is listening to god and prayer is speaking to god. When we play live, our noise meditations are about listening to the energy of the Universe and all of its wonderful dimensions and through that delivering the other human beings experiencing that moment with us some kind of dialogue to what is happening and to hopefully open them up and wake them up and ultimately spread love.
Getting into that space before each performance requires discipline and you have to allow yourself to get both comfortable and vulnerable, which is my first instruction to any audience before we begin. In those moments before we begin I try as much as I can to be in a silent space and to plug into a degree of calm because my performance requires me to muse on all of my emotions and the many different ups and downs that have motivated me to open my mouth and sing. Prior to this, when we first arrive at the venue I like to walk around it and get a feel for the energy of the space and muse on the history of what has occurred inside of it. It’s important to engage that ambience so that you can feel what kind of mood that space is providing you. Before we all hit the stage I make sure I tell each member of the band how much I love them through either words or an action like a hug or kiss and then once we step on stage I simply close my eyes and surrender. What happens after that surrender is beyond my control. Anyone who has any inch of spiritual knowledge understands how important surrender is.
Once I get off stage I just need to get away from everyone and to be by myself and to give myself the space to come back to earth. It is exhausting but orgasmic and on a basic level, feels fucking really cool. Like I said, oxygen is my drug of choice and after those noise meditations I’ve had my fucking full hit and maximum high. In that moment I feel so connected to the world and have the most love ever pulsating through me. It’s in that moment; however brief that I glimpse inner peace and it feels fucking beautiful.
Galapogos seems to operate a little different from most bands, you guys have such a prolific output of music; can you give us a little insight into your process?
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