Dana Gavanski with Mike Lindsay (Tunng) Have Been Working Together a Really Long Time

The collaborators catch up about parenthood, residencies, and LATE SLAP.

Dana Gavanski is a Canadian singer-songwriter residing in London; Mike Lindsay is a Mercury Prize-winning producer, co-founder of the experimental folk band Tunng and one half of the band LUMP with Laura Marling. Mike produced Dana’s new record, LATE SLAP — out now on Full Time Hobby — so to celebrate, the two caught up about its creation.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Dana Gavanski: How are we doing?

Mike Lindsay: Doing good, yeah. I’ve just got in after a night of waking up every couple of hours and hanging out with my little babby.

Dana: Oh, yes. Big life changes. [Laughs.] How old is Leonora now?

Mike: Eight weeks today. 

Dana: Wow. 

Mike: Thanks for the shout out on the radio.

Dana: That’s so sweet that you guys were listening when it happened!

Mike: Yeah, we’re just in every night now. Anti-rock & roll. 

Dana: Oh, but that’s more rock & roll than people even understand.

Mike: Yeah, that is rock & roll. But all is well, all is good. I’m dad-ing. I’m back to work. I was doing a session for a new Moshi Moshi artist called Al Costello all week, and we just finished that, so I feel like I’m getting the balance. But things have changed, Dana, because now finish time is 7 PM.

Dana: Ooh, an hour earlier! [Laughs.] Well, you know, that hour can go a long way. 

Mike: Well, that’s bath time. 

Dana: Aw. So what is it like balancing having a child and music?

Mike: Well, it’s only been eight weeks, and six of those weeks I’ve been hanging at home, sort of playing guitar to her and having a having a sweet old time. So I can’t really answer that question too well. But I’m actually I’m going to Paris for a week at the end of April, so that will be the new test, because I’m playing a show.

Dana: Oh, nice.

Mike: I don’t know if you ever knew about this project I did called Outsider with Philippe Cohen Solal from the Gotan Project — I probably told you about it, it’s about Henry Darger.

Dana: Yes, yes.

Mike: Well, we’re finally doing a show. The record came out in 2021. And we made the record in 2016, and we’ve been talking about it since 2006. So we’re finally doing a show, in Paris.

Dana: That’s exciting. I wish I could make it to that. Is it just one show? 

Mike: One show for now, and then maybe more later. There was talk of a full orchestra at some point, and all that kind of stuff. To be continued. But you are doing it right now.

Dana: Yeah, I guess it’s my release day today. 

Mike: Yes, it is! Happy release day!

Dana: To us, really! LATE SLAP is slapping.

Mike: Yeah, that puppy’s slapping. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved with a project that was made that quickly and is out within — what’s it been, five months or something? 

Dana: Yeah. The gestation period has — the baby has come early. 

Mike: That must feel pretty good. How does that feel?

Dana: It’s always surreal putting an album out. It kind of feels like a birthday sometimes, because it’s hard to feel the age… It just feels a bit surreal, the passing of time, and especially something that you’ve put so much work in and all of a sudden it’s this physical, and also quite abstract, thing.

Mike: Yeah. You were writing and rehearsing that for a long time before you came to my little studio, right? 

Dana: Yeah, kind of. I wrote all those songs within a year and then we rehearsed it in late August, early September. Then we went to your studio mid- to late September, recorded it into October, and finished it finally in November. I feel like I’ve usually done my records quickly, but then I don’t know what it would be like to have them for a long time before they come out. I guess you can get easily tired of something, and you can change so quickly between the time that you make something and the time it comes out.

Mike: Yeah. I mean, I’ve got this Mike Lindsay Supershapes Volume 1 record coming out in June — I started working on that four years ago.

Dana: Wow, I didn’t know that. 

Mike: I mean, it was not consistently for four years. That would be crazy. But I kept picking it up in between other projects, and it has morphed a lot in those four years. It feels fresh, but it has been around a little while. And actually, it was finished last January, and it’s taken a year-and-a-half to come out since then. So it’s kind of tricky, that stuff. I feel like this Henry Darger project was being talked about for, like, 15 years. But as long as it still excites you and it doesn’t feel dated… I feel like your record, because it was so quick, it’s got to feel super fresh. You’re still in the moment, you’re still in the music. You haven’t had a chance to detach yourself from it yet.

Dana: Not really, no. So your upcoming record, how has it changed from when it first came into your mind and you first started recording it [to] now? Has it taken big turns and surprises? 

Mike: Yeah, it was going to be an instrumental record. Then I got Anna B Savage in, and Anna and myself started singing on it. Anna is a brilliant poet and I’d worked on her album. I was going to get loads of different artists in — I tried to get in touch with Robert Wyatt, and he replied back brilliantly and said, “Michael, you were right to get in touch. Thanks for asking me to be a part of your project. In the ‘80s, I was going to write a whole album of recipe songs—” and then he was like an old granddad and he said, “None of them are as good as this one.” Then he said, “Is that you singing on it? If so, I think it’s fantastic and you should continue in this vein. But I’m not going to do it.” I just thought, Oh, well, I’m gonna have myself singing on it for that one. But Anna’s all over the record. She’s brilliant.

Dana: It’s so nice to hear your voice, though. Even though it would have been nice to also have Robert Wyatt on there, but maybe that’s kind of the catalyst to have more of your voice. Because you have such a nice, warm sounding voice. 

Mike: Ooh, yeah. [Laughs.] Thank you. I also tried to get in touch with Beverly Glenn-Copeland — who, I only found out about him through you. I discovered his music and was super blown away. And it actually was a bit of an influence on working with Anna, because she has this sort of androgynous, operatic tone. But he also was an influence working on your record, was he not? With the DX7?

Dana: Definitely. I mean, that album, Keyboard Fantasies is so beautiful. I keep on coming back to it. The sound of the DX7 — it’s a very ‘80s synth, but the way that he uses it, it breaks those boundaries of time. It’s just very expansive and spiritual and happy, and a very positive album. I think listening to it over and over again, I’ve been thinking about how to translate that feeling into my own music, the positivity. Because life is fucking hard and it can be really tough, but not everything has to come out sounding so sad. I just wanted to make an uplifting but deep and personal album. So I think that was definitely an inspiration on how I was writing this last one.

Mike: I mean, it is uplifting, but it’s also pretty twisted — your record, I’m talking about. It hits different points… I’m just trying to get it up on my iTunes… Wow, I’ve got all your records on my iTunes.

Dana: Yeah, because you’ve produced them all. [Laughs.] We’ve been working for a really long time together.

Mike: We have, actually. It’s been great. Nigel from Full Time Hobby put us in touch, but you were still living in Toronto then, right?

Dana: Yeah, I was still living in Toronto. I just had an EP, but I think I was beginning to work on an album that came to be Yesterday Has Gone. We were chatting around that time because Nigel had discovered a little EP that’s called Spring Demos — very folky, alternative guitar tuning-y, Joni-inspired album. And then through that came more chats, and I think before the album was made, I came to the UK and had my first show in London. Also, I came to yours and we worked on “One by One.” 

Mike: Yeah, yeah. And then you went back to Toronto. You say I produced the records, which I sort of did, but you tracked the previous two albums.

Dana: Yeah, with Sam Gleason. So it was a co-production between me, Sam, and you. But you added a lot of your funky flavors and made it more bouncy, peppery, spicy. 

Mike: And then you moved to London, right?

Dana: Yeah, pretty soon after that.

Mike: It was really nice to just try and listen to the ideas, capture the ideas, make them sound as interesting as possible. It felt like a different way of working, but I enjoyed it. And now you’ve got this great band — I’m looking forward to seeing it live.

Dana: Yeah, that will be pretty soon. That’s going to be really fun. And it’s interesting working with the SPD [sampling pad], just to add those little Mike flourishes, because we can’t have you for the tour. [Laughs.] It’s really nice playing the album live. It feels quite sonically rich and fun. I think we’re all really enjoying ourselves. It’s a bit dancy, so I get to perform that a bit. It’s something I haven’t done before — or, I’ve thought of doing it before, but I haven’t really managed. 

Mike: And what about taking the band back to Belgrade? 

Dana: That would be so fun. I almost had an opportunity last year, or at least a hint of an opportunity. Unfortunately, I think they were supposed to get funded by something and it didn’t come out. But it would have been so fun.

Mike: Have you thought about making a record there? 

Dana: I would love to, but I don’t really know a lot of music people there. Or at least I don’t know music people that I really trust.

Mike: I’ve only been there once, when Tunng played a show there years and years and years ago. I really loved the city. I thought it was super cool. There was a honey festival going on.

Dana: A honey festival?!

Mike: It was all these beekeepers hanging out, and you could buy beekeepers outfits and stuff.

Dana: That’s really cute. When was this? 

Mike: It was 2005.

Dana: OK, yeah. Maybe they’re not doing that festival anymore, but I’ve never really lived there, so I’ll look it up. But I would love to go there, because my parents have a place there and I could just stay without worrying about rent. And the place is big enough to fit the band.

Mike: Amazing. And you speak the language! If I was you, I think that would be an amazing opportunity to reach back to the roots and see if there’s some inspiration in just somewhere else to make a record. I have done that once, in Iceland, when I lived there — it’s an amazing feeling. I’d quite like to do it again, to go to another country. Which you’re doing it right now, of course. I forget that you are.

Dana: I know, it’s true. Where would you go if you were to make your next record [somewhere else]?

Mike: I went to Mexico for a month and that was pretty special. I met these guys there in Mexico City that have a studio — super friendly. I actually recorded a lot of percussion there for my record. I recorded the quijada, which is like a donkey’s jaw. It got me thinking that it’d be a great place to go and to write. Or maybe somewhere more remote — I was going to say a Scottish island, but the weather… Maybe a Greek island. Just bring everything with you and be focused.

Dana: Totally. 

Mike: But I suppose you did that. You’ve come here, you met all these people around London. 

Dana: Yeah, London is really cool. I do dream about going somewhere, at least for a residency — just somewhere else that’s not home, that’s not familiar and that’s not demanding parts of my brain like, Oh, I have to do the laundry, I have to cook dinner, I have to pay my rent. I mean, I still would have to do that elsewhere, but just in a more restricted sense. More focused. So I would love to do that.

The first place I ever went to, which was so magical — and I do fantasize about going back there — was Banff Centre in Alberta. There’s a big residency there. I think the year that I went, which was 2017, it was very, very full — there were 50 or 60 of us — but usually I think it’s a bit smaller. You go there for one-to-three weeks and you have a little hut and they give you whatever instruments you want. And there’s always a piano, whether upright or a little a baby grand. It’s in the mountains and you just see snow, and sometimes a deer. It’s really nice.

Mike: Anna B Savage also did that residency. I remember her getting all misty eyed talking about it and how wonderful it was and all the people she met. It does sound really special. I know that feeling, because the I did my own self-imposed residency in a fishing village in north Iceland. I was there for three months in this cabin, which only looked out onto these mountains.

Dana: There’s something really nice and cozy about being surrounded by snow, because everything quiets down. That’s why, when people ask me about Montreal and how difficult those winters could be — they definitely were difficult, but I think sometimes it could just feel so nice and quiet. Everything felt like it was slowing down.

Mike: I made mine really loud. I put the big guitar amp on the porch, got naked, turned it up as loud as possible and played, like, Guns N’ Roses riffs. 

Dana: [Laughs.] Wow. Well, you were in actually the middle of— 

Mike: Yeah, there was no one. There was just me there.

Dana: How does it feel going from London to Margate? Do you miss the big city?

Mike: The big city! I do sometimes miss London. But I’ve been here for a while. I quite like going in for a couple of days and then coming back and seeing the sea and just feeling like, Ah, this is fine. And now I’ve got this space to record in, so people are coming to me, which is fun.

Dana: Yeah, you’ve got a great studio. What’s your studio called again?

Mike: It’s called MESS — Mike’s Excellent Sound Space.

Dana: I’m so happy you have that. And I mean, up until then, you’d been in your own house, so it’s probably nice to have the separation.

Mike: It’s definitely nice. Definitely nice for Lily, who was painting upstairs and listening to my bass throb. And now there’s the little one — actually, Leo loves it in the studio. She’s been in about six times. She’s hanging out.

Dana: I was gonna say, you’ve been taking Leo to the studio a lot then?

Mike: Yeah, daddy time.

Dana: So when can we expect her first record?

Mike: I’ll probably get it done and dusted in a couple of weeks. It’ll be a bit babbly…  

Dana: Aw. 

Mike: I have to say, when musicians have children and then suddenly their records are full of, like, children’s choirs and things like that, I’ve always recoiled a little bit. But having now become a recent old papa, I can see how that can happen.

Dana: [Laughs.] 

Mike: But I’m not going to go there, Dana! I’m not going to go there. 

Dana: I don’t know. I mean, now that you’re done with this record, Leonora is going to get to you somehow. She’s going to convince you. 

(Photo Credit: left, Jack Tennant)

Dana Gavanski is a singer/songwriter currently residing in London.