Just in time for his show at DC9 tonight, Alex Hungtai (better known as Dirty Beaches) took a couple of minutes to chat with BYT about his new album, his sound, and a clue into which direction he’s going next.
BYT: Being a one-man act, how does Dirty Beaches translate to your stage performances?
Alex Hungtai: I record on my own, so I record exactly how I’d play live—it’s pretty much identical; there’s no real difference between studio and a live show.
BYT: Then you are working alongside a recording I assume?
AH: I’ve been playing by myself with a recording pretty much so far. I’m tempted to bring new members on the road with me, if it works out in the future I guess.
BYT: Since you are working on your own, can you describe your creative process a little bit?
AH: When I get an idea, I do a sh-t ton of research for it, and I go from there. Every release is pretty different to me; be it the theme or sound, I try to switch it up a little bit. After that, I try to come up with some kind of narrative, a guide for music.
BYT: For Badlands, could you share the inspirations behind it?
AH: A lot of it came from my father, it’s actually an homage to him. At the same time I wanted to have it do the whole sampling thing. I wanted to make music that was a tribute to him, and at the same time working with the sampling perspective blending in all the things I love […] I referenced a lot of old music from the 50s and 60s, but at the same time I threw in stuff that I like, like hip-hop, no-wave, noisy guitar stuff… I just wanted to blend it all together.
BYT: You mention mixing in a lot of different genres—but how would you describe the sound of Dirty Beaches if you had to label it?
AH: I think I’m constantly changing, and that’s how I would describe Dirty Beaches—constantly in motion, and evolving, and changing. I move around a lot, so as the sceneries around me change, it affects me as a person. I think whatever affects you as a person will affect the kind of work you produce.
BYT: When I listen to your music, I imagine scenes, as if it should play soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino film or something—are you conscious of the scenarios your music creates?
AH: Totally; I actually wrote 30 songs for Badlands, but only eight of them fit into the storyboards that I had written for it. I wanted this album to flow and unravel like a storyline in a certain way.
BYT: Could you name an album for me that made the greatest impact on you or your music?
AH: Yah, Vincent Gallows’ When. Probably one of my favorite albums of all time; I’ve owned it since I was 20, and I’m 31 now—I’ve had it for 11 years. You know how as you get older your music tastes change over the years? That album has stuck with me for the past 11 years; it definitely had a big impact on me. I still listen to it.
BYT: What else do you have on a constant rotation?
AH: At the moment, I’m listening to a lot of jazz that I’ve been trying to collect over the years—I think now that I digest music differently, I’m looking back to the classics like John Coltrane, a lot of Sun Ra, stuff that I was into when I was in college but I don’t think I fully appreciate them then like I do now.
BYT: Is there anything in particular you want audiences to leave from you with?
AH: I think of music as a service, I’m making a product and I’m hoping that my performances live serves them a service of some sort. I don’t like to tell people what they should think or feel, I think people should decide that for themselves, but I do wish they would think of my performance as some sort of service. Unlike paying to go see a show and it’s just a bunch of dudes playing guitar staring at their feet as if they don’t wanna be there–I’m really happy to be there, and I want people to know that.