Two years ago, SMHAFF reporter Rob Dickie met up with Dan Wilson, better known as Withered Hand, ahead of Music Like A Vitamin, a collaborative gig at Edinburgh’s HMV Picturehouse. Having just returned from a European tour, he talked about continental breakfasts and the differences between performing at home and abroad, before moving on to discuss mental health, the Scottish music scene and what he had in store for us.

Of course things are different today, with Dan releasing his second album New Gods in 2014. But it’s always good to take a look in the rear-view mirror isn’t it? It is our great pleasure to republish this piece ahead of tomorrow’s highly anticipated Withered Hand gig at Paisley Arts Centre with support from Marie Collins and Laura St Jude.

Rob Dickie: I understand that you’ve just got back from a European tour. How did that go and were there any particular highlights?

Dan Wilson: It went really well but it would be hard to pick out one show that was better than the rest. You get treated really well over there and more people showed up than I thought they would. I love going there – I’d like to go there more. I just went to Germany and Switzerland [as] I can only really tour [for a short time]. I have done longer tours but I prefer to tour in short bursts because I have kids, so it’s a mixed feeling [when I’m out there]. It’s good to be away but it’s good to be home as well. I went to Finland just before Germany and came back. I [like to] make little legs of the tour rather than stick it all together, so I can bring back some mementos and things like that. But it was great. I think people maybe don’t realise how hard things are in the UK, making music. When you go to Europe, it seems a little bit easier.

Why do you think that is?

I think it’s maybe a cultural thing, something to do with support or funding. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I know that a lot of towns have venues which are subsidised, like you would subsidise a swimming pool or something. They consider live music important enough [that they will] subsidise a venue. It’s quite strange but it’s nice when you’re making live music – you notice the difference almost immediately…Plus, the breakfasts are a nice change. You get a nice spread. I’m really big on continental breakfasts, so I enjoy it. You [also] get some kind of cheese when you turn up at the venues and it’s really nice.

I guess the biggest thing you take back from tour is when you meet lovely people who you would never meet [normally]. I’ve met some really, really nice people. I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t vying for a position in the top people that we met on tour.

You played at the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival last year as part of the Fruit Tree Foundation Live gig.

I did. It was part of that collaboration I did, the mentor project.

Are you still involved with that?

No, I think that was a self-contained thing. I still occasionally keep in touch with the person that I was mentoring and I’m pretty pleased to see that I haven’t put her off carrying on. She’s still gigging [and] still active, so that’s really good. She [was just starting out with] her song writing and [she’s] pretty young, so it’s nice to see someone persevering with it.

What was your role in the project?

Me, James Yorkston and Rod [Jones] had to select from a whole load of demos, which was really hard in itself. [We] had to select a person to work with based on how the demo sounded, and I ended up picking…this girl, Marie Collins, and James picked someone, and Rod someone else. We worked with them, met with them, rehearsed a couple of times and either took material that they already had or worked on some unfinished material. That was new to me as well – I’ve never done that before. And then we went into a studio at Stevenson College and recorded two or three songs, which ended up on [a]compilation. I think everyone got something valuable from it. I learned that I knew lots of things that I didn’t know I knew, if you know what I mean. You don’t realise that you know stuff and it was really positive. There were lots of times with Marie where you could just give advice, so hopefully [the mentees] don’t have to go through the same mistakes all the time.

What led you to get involved with SMHAFF this year?

Rod Jones asked me. I do get asked to do a lot of charity gigs that I knock back, because I wouldn’t be able to carry on doing this if I did every charity gig I was asked to do. The mental health festival is a charity I would definitely always support because I’m very aware that there is a fine line between mental wellbeing and mental ill health. I think most people walk that line often in their lives, even in my family. I think everyone is either affected by it or knows people who are affected by it, but it’s often trivialised, so I’m very happy to be supporting [the festival] in some way.

The Scottish music scene appears very collaborative at the moment, and everyone seems to be working together on a number of different things, such as Music Like A Vitamin tomorrow. Is that your experience of it?

Yeah, it is like that. It’s kind of a cliché now, in that everyone says it n thatblyf pretty well known musicians aborative at the moment, and everyone seems to be working together on a lot of differentseems really collaborative…There’s a core of reasonably well known musicians who have a very good attitude to it, and if they’re [available], they’re open to collaborative work. I’ve found it a very supportive environment. Musicians here, in my experience, are pretty supportive of each other, it’s not a competition or anything, and they generally seem to have a good attitude… But quite often again, there’s not always time to do all of the exciting collaborative things that get mooted.

Did the collaborative aspect of it help when you were getting started?

It definitely did. [We’re] talking in the early days of Myspace I guess, if people remember that. We’d quite often connect with people through that, who were in the immediate area or doing stuff that you liked, or just through friends of friends who were making music that you liked and putting on gigs. I don’t see so much of that happening just now in Edinburgh, but then I hardly go out. But it’s not as hard as people think to put on shows and start some tiny thing.

How would you describe your music for people coming tomorrow who might not have heard you before?

[I once asked] Tommy Perman, who is in the band Found and I know through the Fence Collective, if he could describe my music, because I was filling in a form, and he said it’s Neil Young for the Facebook generation. He was joking but I used that, and then it turned up in press releases and stuff. So I would use that again, because I can’t think of anything else to say about it.

It’s always difficult to put music into words and music journalists have a strange language of their own.

Yeah, they do. And they like to put things in boxes, [which] can sometimes be the death of something, but it’s hard to explain them without referring to other things…I’ve quite often tried to prepare people for the fact that [my songs] are very simple musically. These are good songs to start on if you’re learning a few chords on the guitar, and I think that’s a fair and valid description of the songs.

Your lyrics are interesting, often darkly comic, and juxtaposed with the more upbeat tone of your music.

[They’re] reflective. If I didn’t have anything to say, and I didn’t until I was 29, I wouldn’t bother to write songs. [They] aren’t like an easy “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” or whatever. What I do quite like is the idea of…kids dancing around to songs about dying and youth fleeting, not just because it’s a perverse thing to do but because I think it’s important that songs operate on many levels. If people do take the time to read or listen carefully to the lyrics, I would like to feel that there was some kind of communication going on, and probably some of them are very appropriate for the festival, because quite a few of them deal with depression.

Is dancing around to sad songs something you grew up with?

[I grew up] in the seventies and eighties…listening to my dad’s Kinks 45s, T-Rex and The Beatles, and early Pink Floyd. Stuff like that was in my dad’s collection…Melancholic songs always pressed my buttons. There was this great song that I used to listen to over and over again by Johnny Leyton called ‘Johnny Remember Me’ and it’s really sad. If I hear it now, I [still] get really sad. But then, my kids have pretty melancholic temperaments as well, so it’s just like it’s running right through us.

I have this song called ‘Heart Heart’, which is almost like defiance against sadness. When I play that, I find that very liberating, because it’s like in the moment, I’m defying the feeling that is mostly there. Sometimes, certainly at the start, writing songs and especially playing them in front of people [did feel like a form of therapy].

Did you initially find it difficult to perform?

At first, extremely. Now, I feel like it’s just something that I’ve learned to do. Like, you could be terrified of dancing and you could learn to dance and then you could just dance in front of anyone. I feel like that. It doesn’t mean it’s always good, but I’m not scared…I’d recommend it.

And finally, what do you have planned for tomorrow night? Any surprises in store?

Well, it will be a surprise [for me] when I try and collaborate with Marie, after not seeing her for probably a year and a half. I will hopefully be playing a song with her if we can both remember what we did. Then also, [as on the recent European tour], I’m going to bring in Malcolm [Benzie] from a local band Eagleowl, and…Peter [Liddle] from a band through in Glasgow called Second Hand Marching Band. They’re people who sometimes augment my band, but we reworked some of the songs so the three of us could play them. I’m going to do that in the Picturehouse, which I don’t think will happen again. So, it’s slightly different, slightly more than a solo show.

I’m really looking forward to it – the line-up is really good. I like all the bands but I’ve always had a particular soft spot for Sparrow and the Workshop. I can’t understand how they’re not massive. Live, they are amazing. They’re one of those bands that…in an intimate venue, they just blow everyone away.

Written by Rob Dickie