“While weaving tales of love, heartache and fantasy in his intensely dark and mystical style, Dan Shears is proving himself to be one of London’s more interesting and captivating artists…”
I first encountered Dan Shears in 2012 at Union Chapel. He was opening for another folk singer, Charlene Soraia. Charlene was riding a wave of popularity following a successful commercial campaign for Twinnings tea which used her cover of The Calling’s song “Wherever You Will Go.”
When Dan took the stage, the room fell into an awed hush as our senses were captivated and our hearts were lost. His bio describes his sound:
“Beautiful, flowing vocal melodies, with lyrics that bring to mind carnivalesque lullabies written by a much older soul, cascade over delicate and intricate guitar work and songs so immersed in passion and pathos that they’re sure to haunt the memory long after the first listen…”
Dan Shears has played gigs throughout the UK and Europe and has garnered himself a loyal following. Quirky, witty and waif-like, his angelic voice floats through dark lyric and complex melodies causing audiences to swoon as he sings of longing, loss and revenge. Sometimes playing solo, often accompanied by Megan Affonso’s enigmatic harmonies and cello, and by Sarah Boughton on the violin, the sweeping orchestral richness of his sound is fully realized when the full Velveteen Orkestra takes the stage.
This evening, London will be treated to such an event at the Karamel Club (Chocolate Factory, 2 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6UJ ) as part of a Pledge Music event. I caught up with Dan about tonight’s gig and his upcoming first album, Shadow & Whimsy and asked him about the process of crowd funding his first album.
You’ve had a really great crowd funding campaign!
I was very nervous about launching a crowd funding campaign in the beginning. There is a real risk that you could look really silly in public if you don’t get the interest you were hoping for. When we launched and people started pledging and sharing the campaign online, I was thrilled but also a little relieved. We reached our target 2 weeks before the deadline which was great, because now it means we can continue running the campaign right up until we release our album. It is wonderful to have had so much interest but most importantly, I am so excited to get the album finished and hear it complete, all the way through for the first time.
You’re headlining tonight at the Karamel Club as a result of that campaign – Can you tell us more about that?
I think it’s more to do with us having more band members than the other acts, if I’m honest. There are other people playing who seem on far more people’s radar. I certainly won’t get carried away by the fact that we’re playing last, it’s just nice to have been invited to play off the back of our PledgeMusic campaign. We’ll put on a good show and hopefully let a few more people know about us.
I understand you’ve had a challenging journey to get this album made?
Actually, since we began making this album, it has been a joy. The lead up was hard though. Our third EP was recorded and pretty much complete but then was lost. A great deal of time and energy was spent trying to get it back but to no avail. It got to a point where I considered knocking music on the head and just spending my spare time going to watch my football team instead… perhaps if Millwall had been having a better season at the time, things might have turned out differently. After all that time we decided to draw a line under the music that we lost, put a load of new songs together and make our first album. Although it has taken a while, making this album has felt very liberating and has definitely brought us together even more, not only as a band, but as a group of friends.
How does the new album differ from your previous EPs?
The new album (Shadow & Whimsy) is heavier than the previous EPs but there are still a lot of elements that have remained in our music. We are always influenced by European folk music and Americana but with some of these new songs, we have added a bit more bite that I guess is reminiscent of bands we love like Queens of the Stone Age and Masters of Reality. The horrible situation with the lost third EP bred a lot of anger and frustration, so some of the new songs started to come out a lot more aggressive. We have really tried to use the instruments to add drama and paint pictures. The strings and brass instruments add a real elegance in songs like ‘Pound of Flesh’ and ‘Waltz in Viscera’ but there are also songs such as ‘Hook in Your Head’ and ‘The Bloody Anthem’ where they sound like a horror soundtrack. The last 45 seconds of ‘The Bloody Anthem’ sounds like a thumping gypsy dance around the roaring fires of hell.
That sounds amazing! I’m curious to know more about the band and how you chose the name?
Quite a lot of things about our band are juxtaposed. Musically, artistically and sonically we are both: – elegant yet unrefined; noble yet savage; pompous yet inferior. We have a sound that some might consider to be nodding towards the baroque composers, yet we do it with a degree of venom and snarl that somewhat tarnishes or humbles that ornate, gilded beauty. Our lost EP was going to be titled ‘The Street Urchin Opera’ which was kind of leaning on the same theme. Velveteen is a very cheap material made to look like something very expensive and luxurious so we thought it was a good way of describing a group of penniless musicians playing passionate, operatic music. The album title of “Shadow & Whimsy” is another reference to those opposed themes.
How did you first get into music, Dan? Mandolin is rather unusual – How did that come about?
Joining a band was always something I wanted to do even when I was very young. I sang in my first band at school when I was 12 just doing Beatles and Kinks songs. I began teaching myself the guitar soon after that and began writing songs as soon as I could put a few chords together. Writing songs was always the goal, right from the beginning. I think I was always drawn towards those dark, melancholic folk sounds but it took a lot of time to actually discover that was the case and where I could find that kind of stuff. When I began finding out more about the folk music that I liked from various parts of the world, I realised that the mandolin was quite often used so I bought one and decided the learn. If you can play the guitar then it’s not a difficult transition to the mandolin.
What is your writing process and your inspiration for the haunting melodies and lyrics that are a Dan Shears signature? What part does the Velveteen Orkestra play in the writing process?
I can’t really be mechanical when it comes to writing, I could never force a song out of me. Sometimes a song will be complete all but for the lyrics for months before it gets finished. Suddenly the melodies and word spaces that I’ve been “humm”-ing or “la la”-ing for several months, will align with each other and the words come. I want people to form a relationship with our music in the same way that I have with my favourite artists. For me, a compelling melody is your first line of communication. Your melody is like your first kiss with your listener and your lyrics are the warm embrace and the flutter in the heart that says they want keep you in their life. The Velveteen Orkestra is wonderful at enhancing the aesthetic of the songs. Illuminating the mood and imagery that emanates from the lyrics or the chords.
Well, you’ve certainly fluttered the heart of this fan! Your lyrics are rather dark. Should we be worried about you, Dan? Worried about those who live with you?
You should all be worried… I’m coming for each and every one of you haha. I’ve always been drawn towards art that is darker in nature. I wrestle with the darker thoughts that reveal themselves in my head and exorcise them by putting them on the page rather than letting them fuel anything destructive. I find being onstage, quite liberating as well. I share things in songs, I’d be far less inclined to share in life. I can be a me that I’m a little frightened of being out in the world.
Are there any other collaborations in which you are engaged and any other media in which you’d like to work that you haven’t yet? Why does that interest you?
I have sung vocals on an album with Woody Woodgate from Madness which has been my main collaboration in recent times. Woody used to teach at my school when I was doing A-Levels so we’ve known each other for a long time. I hadn’t spoken to him since I left school however, so I dropped him a message one day and he said how spooky it was because he was actually trying to find me so he could ask if I would sing on his album. Charlene (Soraia) and I have talked about maybe doing a duet one day, that might be fun. I would envisage it to be something similar to that song Nick Cave did with Kylie.
I would very much like to get involved in film. Our music kind of veers towards the cinematic so I think it would be great to get involved with a film project. A song from the new album is being used in a film over here but it would be great to try and compose some music especially for a film.
Your Pledge Music campaign is still running and there are all sorts of goodies and special offers including a pre-order of your new album, Shadow & Whimsy. Where can people find those offers ?
Yes! I have done a little video appeal you’re welcome to share and people can find the album pre-order and other offers at my Pledge Music site:
Can we give the readers a little sample of your music?
Sure, our video for ‘Dressed Up in Sables’ from Shadow & Whimsy is still in editing but will be out soon. We have a video by Plainview Media of our song ‘The Rest is Silence’ from our first EP, The Eternal Mystery of the Human Heart. It is softer than our current album but it will give you a flavour of our sound.
Where can people follow you?
Everything is under Dan Shears music – that’s Shears like the shears you cut with, because nothing says Rock n Roll like gardening equipment.
And my final question for you, Dan is this – For what are you most grateful, in this moment?
I am most grateful for my family.