Daniel Blumberg has released music in bands (Cajun Dance Party, Yuck), in duos (Heb-Hex, Guo), and under pseudonyms (Oupa, Hebronix), but never has his own name graced the cover of an album. Until now, at least. The 27-year-old Brit’s latest offering, Minus (Mute), is expectedly raw, revealing, and reflective, informed by experimental, improvisational music and anchored by melancholic refrains. Though the songs’ lyrics are intensely personal, Blumberg considers Minus—which features arresting strings from double bassist Tom Wheatley, violinist Billy Steiger, and cellist Ute Kanngiesser—his most collaborative project to date. “I like to start afresh, but I feel this is something that will continue,” Blumberg says of the band’s creative relationship, which developed from years of playing together at the London improvisational music venue Cafe OTO.“This is the most consistent I’ve been for years. I’ve found like-minded people, and the potential of what we do is more infinite.”
EMMA BROWN: I read that you didn’t play music until you were in your first band as a teenager. How did you learn how to play?
DANIEL BLUMBERG: I had bullshit lessons growing up—clarinet and piano. I like playing the saxophone. I used to hate it, but it’s such an expressive instrument. Me and Ute were getting our amplifiers fixed yesterday, and we walked past this recorder shop. I like recorders, but you can’t blow on them too hard. I think that’s why I gravitated towards the harmonica, you can blow on it as hard as you want and it makes it louder.
With my guitar, recently I’ve been playing with Ross Lambert, an amazing guitarist. He’s not on the record, but that’s how I develop. Guo is my project with Seymour Wright. He’s listed on the album as a consultant with Brady Corbet. Seymour is a saxophonist, and Brady is a filmmaker. They didn’t play on the record, but they totally made it with us. Seymour’s shown me so much music, and even just going to his house and talking, that’s how I play.
BROWN: Did you play Brady and Seymour any of Minus before it was finalized?
BLUMBERG: Yeah, totally. Brady is amazing. He started very young, like me. I worked with [producer] Pete Walsh on the record because Brady invited me to his Scott Walker sessions. Scott scored Brady’s film [The Childhood of a Leader, 2015]. I went to the sessions and listened to how Pete and Scott were communicating in the studio. I thought Pete could work really well with us. I’d always wanted to work with Scott, obviously, but I came out of those sessions thinking of Pete, because he was translating what Scott wanted, and realizing those slightly abstract ideas.
BROWN: Where do you want to go on tour for this album?
BLUMBERG: I don’t really know. I like Italy. But for me, touring is more of a creative thing now. We’ve never played consecutive nights, and I think it would be interesting to see what happens. It’s different playing with an audience than playing in the project space.
BROWN: Have you ever had a bad audience?
BLUMBERG: I don’t think it’s really possible. I like to play seated venues because, with what we do, it doesn’t makes sense not to. We are playing for people to listen to. It’s not…
BROWN: Background music?
BLUMBERG: Yeah. It just doesn’t work like that. I draw a lot when I listen back to recordings because drawing makes me focus. I’ve been accused of being rude because I draw when I’m talking to people sometimes. I’ve stopped, but it’s actually a better way of listening to someone for me.
BROWN: How did you first discover Cafe OTO?
BLUMBERG: I’d left my band [Yuck], and I was just drawing, and I knew that that was what was good. You have to use your instincts, because a million people say, “You should go out and tour,” or, “You should do a record like this.” But when people tell you what to do, they use their own interpretation of you. I just knew that drawing was the right thing for whatever reason. I was watching a lot of films; I wasn’t really listening to music. I was slightly fragile at that time, and someone took me to OTO to see this Japanese guitarist Keiji Haino. It sounded like my drawings. It was an improvised guitar solo, and I had never heard anything like that before. So I started going every day.
BROWN: Which is more relaxing for you: drawing or making music?
BLUMBERG: Drawing definitely can be relaxing. Coloring in! You’re not meant to call it that, which is bullshit. I love coloring in.
BROWN: What are you supposed to say?
BLUMBERG: I don’t know. You should be able to say whatever you want. Though I’m not really a color person, for me, it’s more about the lines. But, for example, if I colored that in red and then that in red, those things would start to engage with each other, which is cool. That’s what I like about it. They’ll start working together in a weird way, just because of the color.
MINUS IS OUT NOW VIA MUTE.