I N T E R V I E W
Dan Satherley : Radio Over Moscow
by Ian Duggan
‘Radio Over Moscow’ is the prolific indie-electro project of ex-Hamiltonian, now Auckland based, Dan Satherley (aka Dan X). Dan began his music career in Hamilton, with a brief appearance as a guitarist in indie-rock band Sequester, followed by the short-lived brit-pop inspired group SophieXEnola, and then the even shorter-lived Planet Claire. In 2000 he formed his first long-term venture, the indietronic solo project ‘luna spark’, which continued following his move to Auckland in 2004. He changed the name to ‘Radio Over Moscow’ in 2009, to reflect a change in sound.
HUP: Dan, your output in Radio Over Moscow has been prolific. Where does your inspiration come for your songs?
Dan: I used to write largely about what I knew; it took years to figure out no one was interested in that! Nowadays the inspiration can come from anywhere, particularly if it happens in February. That's not as strange an answer as it sounds. I'm a regular at fawm.org – February Album Writing Month – which is kind of like Nanowrimo [National Novel Writing Month], but for people who think they can write songs. Okay, maybe it is as strange an answer as it sounds.
I used to write whenever was convenient, which pre-kids was whenever I wanted to. Now, I tend to collect bits and bobs through the year – riffs, melodies, song titles ripped from great tweets, the news or the Fortean Times – then come February, take some time off work and bang it all together for a few weeks and voila, there's another twenty or so demos of wildly varying quality. No, I don't know if I'll ever get time to record and release them all (the world sighs in relief).
The Dharma Police project of mine – which incidentally, has more followers on Facebook than Radio Over Moscow, if that means anything – is 90% old-school synthpop songs about the TV show Lost. The rest are about super-volcanoes and questions like, 'what if the moon was sentient?' But taking that idea kind of seriously, if that's possible. I've actually got another couple of records' worth of Lost-themed material sitting in the nearly-finished basket, I must warn...
As for Radio Over Moscow, the past couple of albums have had songs about Brian Tamaki, Michael Laws, John Key. Yeah, the hate flows strong, I guess, but there's also stuff about flood mythology, biotic resistance, interstellar conspiracy, Hone Harawira, hyperinflation, Stargate, and er, Lost. Really accessible stuff. I'm expecting a call from Adele any day now.
HUP: Your sci-fi and interstellar conspiracy references are pretty clear! One of my favourite recent tracks is ‘The Wow! Signal’, named after the signal picked up by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project in 1977, which had the characteristics that might be expected to come from an extra-terrestrial source. It is a song that is seemingly about the paranoia of aliens coming to Earth, mentions panspermia, the theory that life on the Earth originated from materials originating from outer space, and has a recurring line of “the truth is out there”, the tagline from the X-Files. What do you rate as your favourite song from a lyrical perspective?
Dan: 'The Wow! Signal' fits into this little niche of songs I've accumulated which lyrically, pretty much wrote themselves. As I mentioned earlier I do most of my writing in quite concentrated bursts, which has taught me to trust in whatever fate delivers. Write drunk, edit sober, you know? For many of these tunes, they're not comedy as such. I mean, there's nothing which you would call a joke in them. But if a line brings a smirk to my face as it manifests, I'd usually consider it worthy of making the cut.
But as an air quotes 'serious artiste' who grew up with grunge, I like the humour to bite. Songs like 'Kid Fud', an outright tribute to Hone Harawira's failed 'Feed the Kids' bill, and 'Antediluvia', which takes climate change to the illogical conclusion the seas will rise so high they'll engulf the solar system... they definitely fit into that category.
Favourite lyric of my own is probably 'Hide the Decline'. The recording could be better — the production is all kinds of wrong — but it's probably the catchiest song you'll ever hear about alleged meteorological fraud. I'm nearing the completion of a new record made up largely of songs I wrote back when I was barely done being a teenager -- and god, the lyrics were awful. I've literally had to rewrite 35 minutes of millenial teenage 'feelings' into... whatever it is I do now.
HUP: What other artists would you describe your sound as being similar to?
Dan: I wouldn't say my music doesn't sound like anyone else 'cause it's wholly unique. It's more a result of not being half as talented as those I'd like to emulate, and insisting on doing everything myself; writing, recording, mixing, mastering, "promotion" (i.e., tweeting a link once).
The influences are probably obvious - my problem is usually deciding which one to rip off! Computers these days make the production choices essentially endless. I spent most of my free time trying to get Billy Corgan's guitar sounds, but unfortunately my guitar skills are closer to Lil Wayne's. I think I'm pretty close to getting a half-decent 'Abbey Road' Ringo drum sound too, but that doesn't mesh so well with the 'Melon Collie' guitars, you know?
I'd love to make a sound combining the best of New Order, Nirvana, the Beatles, Devo, Nine Inch Nails, early '90s U2, the Human League, Kraftwerk, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Trans Am, the Manics on 'The Holy Bible', Gary Numan, Ultravox and Duran Duran... but it ain't gonna happen.
Fuck, if anyone could pull that off, I'd be impressed...
HUP: What are your aspirations for the project?
Dan: Aspirations are something I should have given up on by now. If I was better at the people and business side of things, who knows. By the time I release a bunch of songs I'm pretty much sick to death of them (third verse, lead vocal, take 42...) and halfway through recording the next album anyway! I secretly don't like leaving the house and dealing with the real world. There's a small part of me that thinks one day, when I least expect it, one of my tunes will pull a Gangnam Style – divided by about a billion of course. In other words, someone might listen to one.
HUP: You were highly supportive of Hamilton music when you lived there, setting up the now defunct websites Hamiltron Yahoogroup and htown.co.nz, edited the Hamilton Music zine Clinton, briefly supplied Rip It Up with a Hamilton column, and were integral in launching the Hamilton Music Wiki. What have been your favourite Hamilton bands, and have you kept up with the scene since your move to Auckland?
Dan: The Datsuns of course were fucking amazing back then. Probably still are, I wouldn't know. I haven't seen them in probably a decade. But, a) they're never playing Ward Lane again, and b) I'm about 15 years — and kilograms! — past the sweet spot for hitting that dance floor.
I really dug Tweeter. So glad they managed to get an album out. It's like Weezer with synths. Something I've been trying in vain to pull off since figuring out the '80s weren't the enemy. Daisy Chain Halo were unfairly maligned by a lot of the cool kids. So disappointing they never managed to get a proper album together. The EP is good though. There's not a better song you'll ever hear out of Hamilton than 'Soft Light Serenade'. There are loads of old bands from those pre-MySpace, pre-DAW days that now only exist through a handful of tracks, if more than just a single recording. The EP Schrodinger's Cat did was great, Stadium kinda fell apart before getting anything really decent down on tape, and I don't know of any Nervous Wreck recordings at all. Handsome Geoffrey had some great songs, but can't say I've got anything that does them justice sitting on my hard drive.
I remember being pissed off the year Dogs on Prozac won the Battle of the Bands. I had the holy attitude a 'comedy' band shouldn't win competitions 'serious artists' like myself had entered. A few years later in Auckland, I spent a year with (lead singer) Kent [Briggs] kicking ass in Kittyhawk, a band with songs like 'Big Stick'! The Dogs knew how to lay down a weird fucking groove though.
So obviously, I haven't really kept up with what's happening in the Tron the past decade or so. Put it down to getting old and boring, I dunno. I've often wondered if I moved back, would I go out again? Is it still acceptable to stash drinks in the alley behind Ward Lane?
Check out more 'Radio Over Moscow' on Bandcamp!