An Interview With Canadian Singer/Songwriter Dave Quanbury
Dave Quanbury is a Winnipeg-based singer/songwriter. His songs explore the inner world and touch on the emotional life of the mind. His latest album Still Life with Canadian is an exploration of the complex emotions that arose when, due to immigration issues, he was forced to leave Austin, Texas and move back to Winnipeg. I talk to him about how he first fell in love with music, how the creative process works for him and his plans for the future.
Interview with Dave Quanbury
Karl Magi: How did you first start making music?
Dave Quanbury: I started writing songs when I was about 18. I was in a rock band at the time, so I was writing the songs for the band. I started writing singer/songwriter stuff that I could play on guitar. I put out a record in 2003 called No Vacancy and that was the first collection of songs that I’d written. I wrote some of them on piano and some of them on guitar.
KM: Talk about the topics on which you like to write songs.
DQ: I’m always looking for an emotional angle or an interesting storytelling angle, so I think that songs can fall into one of two categories in that sense. There are songs that are of an emotional nature with some sort of longing or melancholia in them. There are songs that deal with crises of identity as well. I also like writing songs about characters. I was in a band called Twilight Hotel and the focus of that band was writing songs about down-and-out characters, about people outside of society. Lately, I’m back to writing the personal, emotional songs.
KM: What are your influences as a songwriter?
DQ: There are the historical influences from the great songwriters who’ve always been there like Tom Waits and Paul Simon. In more recent times, I’m really interested in a band called The War on Drugs. I think there’s always an artist of the moment who I’m currently into, and then there are these other influences that’ll never go away.
KM: How do you approach the process of songwriting?
DQ: A lot of people have their own approach and mine is usually all or nothing. I’ll go through periods of months or years where I don’t write any songs at all, but then some sort of switch will flip, and all of a sudden I’ll just write a whole bunch of songs. All of the songs on the album that I’m putting out in April were written after I had a terrible experience and I was really upset and depressed. All of those songs got written within eight months of each other. Those songs came really fast and furious for me. I usually write a song all at once. I talk to other people and they seem to spend months on a song, but for me it really all comes out.
KM: Tell me more about your new album Still Life with Canadian?
DQ: In contrast to the fact that the songs were written really fast, the album actually took a long time to make and it changed from the beginning to the end. When we first started making versions of the songs, I wasn’t happy with how they sounded. Myself and the producer Michael decided that we had to take them apart and build them back up from the ground, so we started over again on a lot of things and we made two or three different versions of the songs. As a result, I’m super happy with the album now.
In terms of the themes on the album, I had an experience where I got banned from living in the United States. I’d moved away from Winnipeg and I’d started my own life, but I was forced to come back here and live in my parent’s house again. I lost a big part of my independence and my self-worth.
The idea of telephones seems to show up in a lot of the songs, partly because my wife and I were using the telephone a lot. We had a long distance relationship when I got kicked out of Austin. I guess it’s about the idea of communicating and keeping love alive across distances.
KM: What’s your experience of the Winnipeg music scene lately?
DQ: I had moved away and so I’d lost touch with the scene. When I came back here, I really had to force myself to go out and reconnect with people. A lot of the venues had closed and there were new ones that weren’t there before. It’s a strong scene right now, but it’s harder to find an audience than it used to be. I set up a couple shows early on when I came back and there was sort of a rude awakening for me because I realized that people weren’t necessarily just come out to see a show I was doing. I had to make friends with other artists and network, start going to other people’s shows.
It was tough because I was feeling really reclusive and embarrassed to be back in Winnipeg because I was worried that because I’d left people would think that I thought I was too cool for Winnipeg, so it’s been hard. I haven’t reconnected with the scene as much as I probably could have.
KM: Talk about your plans for the future.
DQ: Aside from this record which I guess is my solo project, I have a brass band called the Exile Brass Band. It’s trumpet, trombone, saxophone and sousaphone. I play gigs in the city with them. Right now, they’re separate projects but I want to merge them. I want to bring them into the same band.
When I do the Exile Brass Band, it’s really fun and we’re dancing around and I’ve got a megaphone. When I do the Dave Quanbury show, I’ve got a guitar and I’m on stage as a singer/songwriter. I want to somehow bring those two things together. My vision for the future is to marry those two things which I guess means making some cool, funky dance music.
KM: How do you keep yourself inspired and recharge your creative batteries?
DQ: I went back to university, so right now I’m finding that to be an inspiration with the stuff that you learn and all of the assignments. Music is my hobby, so because I play guitar and trumpet, when I’m sick of writing songs I’ll go play trumpet and when I’m sick of playing trumpet, I’ll go practice guitar.