Andy Dixon

Andy Dixon
Since his early teens spent as the guitarist and songwriter for emo punk legends dbs, Andy Dixon has become an entrepreneur of the Vancouver DIY scene. After dbs, his guitar-skills amped up the synth punk antics of the Red Light Sting. From there, his creative output exploded in all directions. He launched Ache Records, the independent record label that accidentally Hot Hot Heat and Death From Above 1979 but now focuses on noise-rock and glitchy electronic projects. He built a career off of his messy, experimental graphic design as the Chemistry Designs. He made album after album of glitchy, sample-based electro under his Secret Mommy moniker. Recent times have been his busiest yet, as 2008 has seen the release of Husbands (a collaborative split seven-inch between Dixon and Montag), Weird Weight (his debut art book), Could We Believe in Magic? (the sophomore album from Dixon’s guitar skronk trio Winning), and, most notably, The Mice of Mt. Career (Dixon’s debut solo record). Stuck at home when a summer tour was canceled due to scheduling problems, Andy let us know about his creative process, his various projects, and where all this Weird Weight is coming from.

It seems as though, with these projects, you don’t go on tour as much as you used to.
I’ve definitely been doing a lot less touring than dbs or the Red Light Sting. I’ve never been the guy in the band who books the tour or even comes up with the idea of the tour. I’m not sure why that’s not a focus of mine. I really enjoy it when I do it, but it just doesn’t seem to be a priority, so when I’m the only person in a project, I don’t really think of it. I’m the kind of person who needs a catalyst to get me going. I’m so busy that I’ve never just sat down and said hey I should go on tour. I need someone to motivate me into doing it.

A lot of bands tour to stay financially stable. Is it because you’re not doing this as a full-time job that that aspect of it doesn’t even cross your mind?
Absolutely! That’s just something that doesn’t even cross my mind, like "How can I make more money?” I’ve been doing it for 14 years, and the idea of making any money ever is kind of absurd for me. Maybe money is a normal motivation for tour, and I don’t have that. When you have so many projects and the ability to release whatever you want, how do you decide what to release?
What I like. I’m not trying to say I’m so virtuous that I have zero audience in mind, but I release what I would enjoy the process of someone hearing.

What caused you to have so much creative output last year?
A lot of things. I lost my mom, which was a huge motivator for me to keep busy and put my nose to the grindstone. I had to get stuff off my chest from that. I also went through a break-up, so there was a lot of personal stuff. It was very therapeutic to get all of that done.

The lyrics on both The Mice of Mt. Career and Could We Believe in Magic? are very abstract. Are they stream-of-conscience, or is each some about something specific?
The lyrics aren’t specifically about things. Well, they are to me, but they’re more about capturing a specific feeling to me. Quite often, I seem to be writing as some kind of antagonist. Most of them, to me, seem to be in the eyes of someone I don’t like. It’s a way for me to try to describe my feelings. I think it’s personal, and there’s a lot about loss and whatnot, but also there’s this sociopolitical edge to it. I think it’s a byproduct of my mom dying from lung cancer after smoking for 35 years. So I was feeling very antagonistic against business in general, but specifically a business that makes their money from killing people. That was a huge motivator for me on both albums. It’s been an ongoing coping process for me for a long time.

Why did you make a solo record, when Secret Mommy has always been just you?
The solo record sort of came out of nowhere. Considering the things I was going through, writing a new Secret Mommy album just didn’t feel right. So I started making a Secret Mommy album, but then I wanted to sing on it. With Secret Mommy, I never have a melody in mind. I sort of let the song congeal and hone in on it as opposed to sitting down with an acoustic guitar and using that as the foundation for a song. So that’s a huge difference in the process of how the songs are written. With Andy Dixon, the songs were songs I wrote previously before recording them. It would just seem weird. Secret Mommy is pretty tongue-in-cheek, and it’s not really heavy. It would have been completely out-of-field and weird if I called it Secret Mommy.

Does that mean Secret Mommy is done?
No. But I’m in a crazy time where I don’t know what direction everything is going in. It sounds like a complaint, but it’s not. It’s kind of great. I like the possibilities now that I’m creating without a specific direction in mind. Secret Mommy is still playing a lot live. It’s probably what I play live with the most. We just got back from a tour. We’re a five piece band now. I started sampling my friends performing, and it seemed totally alien to have a sweeping cello line coming out of a box, so I decided to assemble a band and make it into a bigger live performance. So I decided to make a distinction between Secret Mommy and the Secret Mommy Quintet. So now we’re this band, but that’s not really what Secret Mommy was about. Secret Mommy was about making music from non-musical things, like a tennis court or a swimming pool, or the sound of me eating a pineapple. So do we write songs now, or do I keep making Secret Mommy music on my own and making the Secret Mommy Quintet another thing completely?

You’re also in a band called Healthy Students. Tell me about that.
I’m in a couple of different bands right now, but they’re mostly casual. Healthy Students is Gregory Adams’ thing. He was the singer of the Red Light Sting and is also in Winning. He’s been sitting on these Minor Threat-style hardcore songs for years, and he finally had the motivation to get a few friends together and teach us the songs. So it’s me on guitar, Greg singing, and Al and Steve from Ghost House and the WPP. I’m pretty sure the idea is to make it a fun, over the summer sort of thing. Purposely make it a bit terminal. I’m not interested in being in a hard-working hardcore band. To me it’s just fun and therapeutic. Greg said he wanted to play 5 shows and break-up. But maybe we’ll really enjoy it. I think it’s really important to not box yourself in.

Who is involved with the live incarnation of your solo album?
I’ve been doing live performances of that with me and Sarah Jane Truman who was in the Doers. She plays Rhodes and I play guitar. I think it’s going really well, but I’ve recently become motivated to make it a big project. I think we’re going to become a 5-piece band. I’ve written a bunch of new songs accidentally, and I’ve decided it’s not going to be called Andy Dixon anymore; it’s going to be called Mt. Career after the name of the album. We haven’t actually had a band practice yet. A couple of people I’ve asked to be in it, I know they’re great musicians and great people, but I don’t really know them that well, so we decided that instead of making music on the first night we’re going to buy a bottle of wine and sit in the park.

Once it becomes a band, will Mt. Career become more collaborative?
I would like it to. With Secret Mommy, it’s not that collaborative. It’s more like, "Hey you – play this please.” I definitely will admit that in my past I’ve been quite a band Nazi at times if I have a specific vision, and I’m really trying to curb that. Listening to the Winning album, I completely fell in love with Greg’s parts. It was one of the first albums I was just able to relax. We wrote these songs together. I just realized that if I let go of the reins a little bit and let my friends who are such amazing musicians fill in the gaps, the results are amazing. That’s kind of the point of starting this because I want that. I just want something really amazing to come out of the meeting of six really creative minds.

With Jack Duckworth gone from Winning, the line-up is you, Paul Patko, and Greg Adams, which are basically the core members of the Red Light Sting. How is this project different from Red Light Sting and how is it the same?
We were always the annoying ones. In the Red Light Sting, me, Paul and Greg were totally the everything is a joke type people, so it is kind of funny because we went on a winning tour with just the three of us and it was totally bizarre. I would say there was a little bit of a shift, because with the Red Light Sting, Greg and I were the principal songwriters, and with Winning it’s more my project. Also, a lot of the songs are written around improvised jams. What I like about Winning is that each one of our individual parts come together harmoniously. I wouldn’t be able to show someone just my part of a Winning song, because it would be incomplete.

Both of these records have a distinct pop sensibility that hasn’t appeared on your older material as much. Was this intentional?
It was actually intended in the first Winning album, but no one caught on. I hear it, but I guess no one else heard it. It’s one of those things where, when you are involved in the creative process it’s hard to tell exactly what an audience would perceive it as. To me, the first Winning just sounded like some sort of bastardized pop album, but I guess that didn’t shine through. So we came to realize that we hadn’t gone far enough with that idea. It was definitely intentional to inject more pop sensibility into the next album. And I think working with Greg helped that, because we both grew up in the mid-90s emo/rock scene, so we’re suckers for melody.

What is the significance of "Weird Weight” as both a title and a concept?
That’s a song on both new albums and it’s the name of my book. For the song, I wanted to see what would happen if I came up as a chord progression and a basic melody, record it and add whatever samples I want, and craft it as a song, but also just bring the principal foundation of the song to a band and not tell them that I was already using it to see the different direction it would take. If someone would put out a compilation record where a bunch of bands work with the same song, I’d really like that. It gives you a bit of an insight into how everybody’s creative process is different, and even working with the same ideas and tools can come up with such a different idea. I was trying to illustrate to an audience what happens to a song when it’s been filtered through three people instead of just one. The name and idea has a lot to do with the head space I had been in. It’s an ominous name, and it has to do with the weight of the world and the shitty things that have been happening. I picture it as a message on a billboard – it feels like a force coming down on you.