I just like to do it by feel. Some people are so rigid about how they think a song should sound.
Listening to music should be an immersive experience. It should lift you up, tear you down and shake the cobwebs of forgotten memories. It should make you dance; it should make you think and it should make you feel something. Dave Dixon – a.k.a. Tamu Massif – strives to create songs with those ever-important human aspects to them; personal, abstract offerings that allow you to become lost in a world of layered soundscapes. Working with Perfume Genius and Youth Lagoon producer Ali Chant for his latest EP ‘Alba’, the Bristol-born, Weston-bred songwriter is creating the kind of music that makes time stand still.
“I try and write stuff that I’d want to listen to,” he explains. “I spent a long time trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to be doing musically and I think I’ve finally found the sound I was looking for.” Originally working as part of a trio, geography pushed Dixon to try it out alone, something which comes naturally to the bedroom-bound writer. But it’s not just the line-up that’s altered, as Dixon moves away from minimal acoustics into more electronic territory. “I love folky and acoustic stuff but you’re limited a little bit,” he reflects. “I love playing around with different sounds and trying to do something a bit new, a bit different, but still using elements of folk… and I think Tamu Massif is a reflection of that. With straight guitar and vocals, there’s only so far you can take the listener, it’s all been done so much, y’know?”
Picking up his first guitar around the age of fourteen, Dixon has never been one to focus on the theoretical aspects of music, preferring instead to write what comes naturally to him. “In some ways I quite like that I just have to figure stuff out,” he says. “I remember playing a song to a musician friend who is incredibly theoretical and he just turned to me and said ‘what you need to do is do this particular music thing’ or ‘change the chord so it’s suspended’ and I felt that was a very clinical way to view it. There are some instances where being so theoretical makes sense but I just like to do it by feel. Some people are so rigid about how they think a song should sound.”
It’s the first time I’ve come out of the studio and I’ve been happy.
Attending university in London, Dixon also spent time living in both France and Italy with four months in Chambery and Sienna respectively; an experience that, he says, has come to shape his musical offerings. “Sienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the world without a doubt,” he continues. “I really like it when you can hear the environment you’re in. On old recordings I have the sound of the street in Sienna, or of a bar in France. I love hearing voices in the background — especially with Italian because it’s so rhythmic. There’s another recording where my girlfriend at the time shouted upstairs that dinner was ready. She screamed ‘Oi!’ and not only was it picked up but it was somehow in key, which was really funny.”
However, Dixon’s time on the live music circuit in London was not so full of fond memories. “I had some really bad experiences with promoters that would charge ridiculous amounts to your friends and then pay you nothing,” he says. “They’d be ripping off your friends then complaining that you didn’t bring in enough people. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of people like the Howling Owl guys here, the way they’ve brought together a little community in Bristol.” It was this community that inevitably brought together Dixon and local promoter and music manager Aled Chivers of Chiverin, after Chivers asked the Tamu Massif trio to play one of his ever-popular nights. “I remember thinking that no promoter had treated us this nicely for ages,” Dixon explains. “He’s got some amazing acts on his roster and he’s put so much time and effort into this release. He’s really helped me out and it’s been so nice to work so closely with him.”
Inspired by everyone from John Frusciante to Weezy, ‘Alba’ is an EP that blends together seemingly mismatched genres to produce one dream-like sequence. “I know it’s a cliché to talk about a song being about dreams and wandering through a jungle, but for some reason, that was really vivid for me,” he says of lead single ‘Jejune / Selene’. Taking two years to complete that particular song, it’s clear that Dixon doesn’t stick to the usual songwriting process. “I started it back when I was living in Hackney. It was a year or so later until I eventually went back to it and was like, ‘Wait! I really liked that initial idea’. So I scrapped all the verses and changed the melody. I usually find it quite hard to go back and change things like that, but more recently I’m getting better at doing it, I think.”
After working with renowned producer Ali Chant, Dixon says he’s more excited than nervous at the prospect of people hearing ‘Alba’. “It’s the first time I’ve come out of the studio and I’ve been happy. I like being able to add stuff as I please and really play around with whatever I want. You have to feel comfortable with the producer; I’ve just never really been that happy with the process before Ali.” With the four finished tracks tackling broken relationships, dipping into jungle dreams and placing you in bustling Mediterranean environments, Tamu Massif has created a world you won’t want to wake up from.
‘Alba’ is out now on Chiverin Records.
Check out ‘Jejune / Selene’ right here: