Dirty Inputs: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Moody soundscapes that are perfect backdrops for studying and/or deep contemplation/zoning out
File next to: Pole, Clams Casino, Mogwai
Playing: WL 606, Friday July 18 at 8-11 (Backyard of 233 Spadina Ave.)

Aaron Dawson is a dude, and Dirty Inputs is his one-man moniker. A former member of Toronto ambient drone collective Off The International Radar, Aaron is a small town Alberta native who has called Toronto home for more than a decade. He plays electronic music that careens broadly, from vast and hopeful to dark and (kinda) disturbed. This isn’t space rock or rock at all. Moreso, it’s music that is cinematic in scope and ambition. Dirty Inputs has played alongside electronic heavy hitters Holy Fuck and Junior Boys in past, and Aaron will be sharing his many musical mood with us at WL 606. Cam Gordon had some words with Aaron to learn more about his inputs and how they affect his output.

Where did your interest in electronic musician come from? Early influences/inspirations?

Growing up I was really into ‘80s/’90s hip-hop. When I first heard it, it seemed so new and different. I started obsessing over cassette liner notes and looking to see who was doing what. I remember being impressed that producers like Prince Paul, Hank Shocklee, DJ Premier and Pete Rock could really create their own sound and define what a record was like. It got me more interested in the production side of music. I was listening to a lot of noisy bands and industrial at the time too, like the Jesus and Mary Chain, Ministry, Sonic Youth, and Skinny Puppy, yet there didn’t seem to be a disconnect — lots of the bands were using synths and production techniques to make crazy sounds. When Screamadelica by Primal Scream came out, I thought it made perfect sense that Andrew Weatherall’s production had such a huge influence over it. That got me into FSOL, Orbital, and then jungle. I’ve always been into sci-fi and futuristic ideas, so electronic music was the natural way to start experimenting with that. I never was any good at guitar, so synths and computers made more sense to me.

Was hip-hop popular in your part of Alberta at this time? Were you friends with others who had eclectic musical tastes like yours?

Not at the time, it was basically me and a good friend that listened to it, nobody else seemed interested. My hometown was quite small. Calgary wasn’t too far away, but it was mostly classic rock, country and oldies. I was mostly into the oldies when it came to radio.

When did you move from High River, Alberta, to Toronto, and were there any stops in between? Who were your first musical “colleagues” when you first arrived in T.O.?

I moved to Toronto in 2000. After high school, I left High River and first moved to St. Catharines, Ontario, to attend university. I just wanted to get as far away as I could from where I grew up. It wasn’t that I didn’t love southern Alberta, I really do, I just wanted a big change. After that I moved to T.O., and a lot of friends from St. Kitts moved here at the same time. Off The International Radar (OTIR) formed not long after that, we (Henry Sansom, Don Kennedy and myself) all shared a townhouse and set up a jam space in the basement. On top of that, our next door neighbors were Randy Twigg and Brent Sasiela. Through Randy we met DJ Barbi, who had started an electro night at the Bovine. Through Brent, I met Ndidi Onukwulu, and we all jammed together a lot. Some of our first inspirations and kindred spirits here were Aidan Baker and Sandro Perri for sure. We met Brian Borcherdt around the time Holy Fuck was starting, and Ian Worang and Jake Fairley when Uncut began, and we played some super fun shows together. Dan Burke started booking us with some out-there acts, which was great. I was attending Wavelength and Ambient Ping shows and met a lot of people I admire and have come to know. WABI was throwing good warehouse parties full of experimental art and technology. All those different scenes really opened up the city for me. It really seemed like a crazy time in the city, like there was so much going on. Funny thing is, it’s still that way today!

Listening to your song “Western Reverie” on BandCamp. It’s been just over a year since the Alberta floods. When did you decide to make this a fundraiser and how long had this tune been around?

Weird story. That tune was almost a year old before the flood. I was playing a lot of Skyrim and Witcher at the time, and I liked the moody and dark classical music styles. I started messing around with string programs and piano sounds. I did a little three song “classical” EP called The Foothills Suite as a private gift for my parents that Christmas, just to show them something different than the droney, ambient stuff which I’m not sure they are into.

Were they into it?

They seemed to like it. They played it for my grandmother who said, “Is he playing all of those instruments?!” They made me take piano lessons when I was a kid, which I hated, so I think they felt like it had somehow been worth it.

The tune still sounds pretty “out there” to me!

Yeah, things got a bit droney anyways. I just can’t seem to get away from it. Anyways, when the flood happened that following year, I thought I might as well try to sell a song as a fundraiser and to raise awareness. I had come across that track again recently, which originally was just an experiment and I thought nobody would ever hear it. But listening to it again, I don’t know, it just seemed to fit the mood so I thought, “why not?” After all, it was written about that part of the world where I grew up, where the prairies meets the foothills of the mountains.

Describe your stage show and how your songs tend to translate in the live setting.

I actually get some flak from my friends for not having a better live show. One timed I played Lee’s, and a friend said when he closed his eyes, it was this epic, gothic, encompassing sound, but when he opened them again, all there is to see is some guy in a T-shirt standing on stage in the dark. OTIR always made original videos and projected them over the stage. I still do that nowadays, but it sometimes doesn’t seem like much, plus everybody is doing that these days. If anybody out there has some ideas for a crazy stage set-up/costume design/light show/decor piece/interactive video/etc., I’m open to collaborating! I definitely have songs that were created just for the live show and translate well there, and songs that are studio-only, that I just cannot re-create on stage. It makes for a strange mix of tunes. I’m trying to record the live songs sooner, so they can become studio songs. I’m getting better at doing that, most of my last batch of recorded songs has been ones I play live.

Dirty Inputs play Friday, July 18 at 8-11 (Backyard of 233 Spadina Ave.). Note: this is an early show with a 7:00pm start-time.

– Interview by Cam Gordon (Completely Ignored)