Michael Scott Dawson talks deep listening, seclusion, and new record ‘Nowhere, Middle of’ [Interview & Guest Mix]

The ambient composer gives us the origin story for his debut solo record (out October 16 on Toronto label We Are Busy Bodies) and blends up some soothing ambient bliss for his guest mix

Name: Michael Scott Dawson       

Hometown: Estevan, Saskatchewan       

Current city: Vancouver, British Columbia 

Home away from home: Over the last few years we’ve been spending time in the desert and Palm Springs whenever possible. 

Your debut solo album is called Nowhere, Middle of.  Was it written and recorded somewhere secluded? Yes and no. The title refers both to the process of making the record, and a source of inspiration for it. I didn’t make the album in a remote cabin, or abandoned farmhouse or anything… It was mostly recorded at home, but after a lifetime of playing in bands and collaborating, it’s the first time I’ve ever made music in isolation with no outside input, and without being able to hide behind my more talented friends. I didn’t even really tell anyone I was working on it until we announced the release. 

I took the cover photo on the drive back from visiting my mother. In recent years I’ve had a renewed appreciation for the aesthetic value of where I grew up. There is a spaciousness and tranquility to it. The landscape is so incredibly flat and unassuming but it also changes dramatically across each of the seasons. It felt fitting to name the album accordingly. 

Were you already writing this album when your bout of vertigo hit? Did that health issue inspire you to make this record, or otherwise affect the end result? I truly hadn’t even considered making an album prior to the vertigo. At that point I had sort of lost interest in making or playing music. I think that’s probably a normal phase any creative person passes through from time to time, but when it happens to you it’s always an unwelcome feeling. One of the side effects of vertigo, which I only became aware of after the fact, was how much it impacts your attention span. You’re living with this near constant distraction, or fear of distraction, and so when I started to feel better I fell back in love with music. I was listening back to so many albums I’d liked over the years with a renewed focus on the subtlest details. I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment I actually started writing my own record. It happened very organically. Initially I was just setting up little tape experiments and improvisations. 

Does this album mark your first foray into field recordings? Can you tell us a little bit about recording everyday objects? Field recordings are something I’ve been interested in for years. I really have to thank my friend Robb for that (and a million other things). It feels inevitable that one day I’ll put out of a record of just field recordings. What began as a curiosity has come to significantly impact how I interact with the world. I feel much more present and aware of my environment because so often I’m listening to “how” it sounds. The album contains a fairly even mix of field recordings and of using contact microphones to record objects that wouldn’t typically be considered. I think both help to give the music a sense of place. 

Pre-order Nowhere, Middle of (digital and limited vinyl)

photo by Janelle Wallace

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