D.D Dumbo: The Castlemaine attraction

It was in a sparsely populated Tote bandroom where I first saw D.D Dumbo, the solo project of Oliver Perry, commanding the few in attendance with loop-oriented arrangements coupled with a soaring vocal. He was performing a mid-week support – I forget the headliner – soon before being announced as the last-minute replacement on the 2013 Meredith Music Festival lineup for a crook Vance Joy.

Back then, D.D Dumbo was on to a good thing with his track ‘Tropical Oceans’, and its titular EP. In the song, Oliver’s voice duels with his effects-pedal-bolstered guitar, both aspects powerful in their own right, swirling together for an alchemistic wonder. Success followed: impressive live shows (solo, with the aide of loops) in Australia and abroad, a global record deal with 4AD, and a lucrative advertising sync placement for ‘Tropical Oceans’. 2014 was a banner year. So what next?

It’s October, 2016, a few weeks prior to the release of Utopia Defeated – D.D Dumbo’s debut full-length. It’s early arvo at The Gasometer Hotel in Collingwood, where I sit with Oliver, who has made a day trip into Melbourne. Home is Castlemaine. Oliver moved to Melbourne when he was 19, but moved back to Castlemaine after six years in the big smoke. “Forgive me, I’m a bit tired today,” he offers between questions about how Castlemaine has changed – “It’s become a bit more artsy, with a bit more people, but It’s quiet enough. I’m fairly like overstimulated I think in the city,” he reasons. “I just need a pretty low key environment.”

There’s anticipation for Utopia Defeated – it will go on to win the 2016 J Award for Album Of The Year – but Oliver’s measured disposition keeps nullifies any fallacy of overblown hype, as it did back in 2014 – a realness that was then channelled into the creation of the album.

As D.D Dumbo, on Utopia Defeated, Oliver Perry has found his own distinct space, on his own terms.

FL: The album has a great sense of landscape, but it’s not a metropolitan landscape. It has that detachment – or even slight disdain – from modern.
I think the way you’ve interpreted it probably makes sense. Although, it’s not incredibly specific – from the lyrics it’s not. There’s some sort of vague intentional attempt to create some a landscape environment that is sort of slightly unworldly, and not metropolitan. Trying to convey a broader picture rather than a personal relationship, or anything like that. In a very general sense, I guess there are certain songs which are more specific.

What happened between the EP and the album? 
Yeah, I’m not good with dates, but I think I was starting to work on new songs from the album before even Tropical Oceans was released. Soon after the EP came out I was doing more playing, and a bit of touring. Not a huge amount. Time in between that I was working on doing the album. I was intending to record it myself initially, probably over a year ago. I tried various times in different ways, but just kept scrapping stuff, and starting again, and changing the songs. It’s been an ongoing thing that eventually, probably due to the label saying, “You’re going to actually have to finish it.,” it encouraged me to actually get it done. If it wasn’t for the intervention, I’d probably still be going.

“It’s an interesting sort of place to be, because it distracts from the more pure expression of it. That’s obviously common, and can cause harm for some people.”

You say encouraged there, but was there any sense of pressure from the label, from yourself, from any expectation? And how did you sort of navigate that?
I think most of the pressure was probably in my mind, more intense than it actually was. That’s probably standard. The label were really good considering how long I was taking. It’s hard for other people to have an idea of what it could be. A couple of times they thought I should just put out what I had, and I wasn’t happy with it. In the past I’ve had certain expectations for myself, so having been signed did put a bit of pressure on that. It’s an interesting sort of place to be, because it distracts from the more pure expression of it. That’s obviously common, and can cause harm for some people.

You had the sync deal with ‘Tropical Oceans’. Is it difficult to not just rest on that financial success, creatively, when it can be so elusive for musicians?
I think I kind of was already in the process of being quite focused on the album before that even came about. That thing did make me question some sort of ethics of it, and I felt uncomfortable about it. There’s this thing called Effective Altruism – the idea of combining good reasoning, and evidence to do good, donating to effective charities. I donated some of the money to that, and that made me feel better about it.

Perhaps it gave me more incentive to work a bit harder, like it could be done in a way that’s actually not just to buy an indoor pool. I think a lot of punk attitude about stuff is just completely naïve, and embarrassing to have this sort of pseudo rebellion. It’s actually providing you a means to express yourself. But at the same time I still feel funny about certain things, and it feels gross. It’s weird. I don’t know if there’s a healthy balance.

You emerged with this quite distinctive tones, your guitar and your voice, and all of that is still there on the album. But there is also a lot of stretching out in terms of instrumentation.
I did have in mind the idea to have more instrumentation, I tried to start learning, or practicing, on other instruments a bit more. I had a vague sense of what it should be a couple of years ago, and I was trying to get to that point, and experimenting with different stuff. Just trying to represent what I was hearing in my mind, not that I had everything perfectly figured out. The EP was more just an intuitive thing, that sort of just happened without too much thinking.  I’ve probably gone overboard – the album doesn’t have any loop stuff on it. It’s pretty much all live, and some of it’s edited a bit. There’s lots of fooling around as well mix–wise.

That mix between alien and familiar – how do you find that spot in between?
I don’t know if it’s that conscious, but maybe it’s just because I don’t listen to that much stuff. I don’t know if it’s certain voices that I’m fond of that gives that sort of familiarity. I guess I’m sort of conscious of not making it too complicated. Even though there’s noodle-y bits, they’re still fairly simple songs to me.

Let’s talk about the video for ‘Satan’. I was sent a link to the video by my 96-year-old grandmother, who had a farm in Byaduk (a small township in South-West Victoria), saying it was shot in the abandoned Byaduk pool.
Oh, that’s amazing. That was funny. Jim [Elson, director] and I went out scouting for a pool. It was mainly Jim looking all over Victoria. He made contact with a couple in the community who had access to it all. On the day of that shooting the whole town came and watched, and just drank on the side of the road. Because it was a huge sort of novelty thing for them. They were all like super nice, and asking heaps of questions. It was pretty funny.

Do you have a studio setup at home that you work with?
Not at the moment. I kind of did, I was living for the better year and a half just out of Castlemaine in this old horse stables sort of shed. Owned by these permaculturists who kept most of the garden tools in there, but there was like one room, and that was my studio, and living space for about a year.

I’m currently moving into a similar place out in the bush, off the grid. It’s not super out in the bush. I’m intending to setup a home studio there I think. I don’t have a huge amount of stuff.


Utopia Defeated is out now through Liberation. D.D Dumbo performs at this year’s Laneway Festival, dates and venues below.

St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2017

Thursday January 26 – Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD
Saturday January 28 – Footscray Community Arts Centre, Melbourne VIC
Friday February 3 – Hart’s Mill, Adelaide SA
Saturday February 4 – Sydney College Of The Arts, Sydney NSW
Sunday February 5 – Esplanade Reserve And West End, Fremantle WA