‘The Eighth Note’ is 8 quick Questions with Wellington Musicians.
A chance for us to catch up with people & see what they’re up to, or introduce you to a new musician/band and their music.
Today’s guest is Daniel McClelland. Raised in Wellington, spent his 20s as a software tester by day, and a musician by night. He got married and followed his diplomat wife abroad to New York, where they lived for 3 years. While there, he tested software for one of the US’ biggest mobile apps, and began work on his album Anxious Heart, which is out on the 6th of August.
Who are you? Tell us a bit about your music:
I think it’s sad that somewhere, in the last couple of decades overt ‘pop/rock’ became a frowned-upon genre. I’ve made it my mission to bring it back. If I had a Trump-like amount of money, I’d print a bunch of caps that say “Make Pop Rock Again”. I’m a Beach Boys obsessed software tester, who grew up in The Hutt, listening to New Jack Swing. That description hints at the three main elements of my music: lush harmonies, hard rock, backed by some danceable 90s-style drums.
What have you been working on lately? Any new tracks or albums on the way?
My debut album Anxious Heart releases on August 6th. It’s an 11-track record that explores what it means to be a man in today’s dog-eat-dog world. I wrote it while living in New York in 2016, after living and working there for three years. It was a crazy time to be in the US, and the immense pressure to succeed in The Greatest City On Earth is reflected in a lot of tracks. I performed and produced everything myself there, and brought the album back home to Wellington to get it mastered at Munki Studios by Mike Gibson.
Where is the best place people can follow you & find your music?
You can pre-order ‘Anxious Heart’ at my Bandcamp page in physical and digital formats. From August 6th onwards, you can also find my music on Spotify, Google Play, iTunes, Amazon Music, YouTube and all other major streaming services. Failing that, you can head to my Website to get links to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
What were the 3 most influential albums to you growing up?
I apparently was musically fully-formed by the time I was 12, because the answer doesn’t sound too far off my current influences today: Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, the mid-90s New Zealand version of Jesus Christ Superstar, and Nirvana’s Nevermind. The big one there is MJ’s record though, I remember getting it as a present and subsequently nearly wore the cassette tape thin. The beats in it, produced by Teddy Riley, were pretty mind-blowing in 1991. I highly recommend this 33 1/3 book on it by Susan Fast.
Which other Wellington musician (s) would you most like to work with?
I’ve previously featured on the compilation album 31 Days In Wellington, which is in the library’s catalogue too. I’d love to collaborate with a few more people featured on that record. But if I had to be super specific and choose just one person, then it’s fair to say I’m endlessly awed by the work Grayson Gilmour churns out. He’s still real young and has achieved a lot from his time in So So Modern, film compositions and his always engaging solo albums, including his latest, Otherness.
What’s your favourite Wellington venue to play in?
It’s going back quite a few years now, but I think the best I’ve ever sounded was at Indigo, née San Fran. Sometimes you can get the room just right and really fill it up in a way that is hard to replicate in other venues. When I can figure out how to play Anxious Heart live (it’d probably require a barbershop choir) I’d love to play there again.
In your songwriting or composing (or the band’s songwriting) how do the compositions and songs take shape?
I used to jam out “cool riffs” on my guitar and then fit melodies around them, but the game changed when I bought a full-sized perfectly balanced electric piano. I can still bust out sweet riffs, but I can then flesh out the arrangement with all my remaining fingers. That’s really helped Anxious Heart’s songwriting, because there’s a lot going on in each song. The bass lines are absolutely the glue that brings everything together, and they often operate independently of the synths, pianos, and guitars. Being able to sit down at a piano and find a way to fit that all in has helped speed things up for me, and avoid headaches in the recording studio. The hardest thing for me is that I play all the instruments myself, and I need to be able to visualize how it’ll all sound together before I start laying down tracks.
From a vocal perspective, I’ve found it useful to record backing track outlines on my piano, and then walk around the city listening to that recording, while I hum along. I’ll noodle on melody ideas for a few days without writing anything down, and eventually I’ll have iterated through tons of different possibilities. I stop that once I find myself repeating something I’ve hummed from the previous listen-through; it usually means that my brain accidentally stumbled upon something catchy! From there, it’s just a case of fitting lyrics to the overall tone. I ask questions like “Is this an angry song? If so, what’s it angry about?” The lyrics often tumble out within 20 minutes of brainstorming like that. After that, I try to figure out how Brian Wilson might arrange some backing harmonies around those lyrics.
Where/when is your next gig?
I’ve got a listening party to launch the album on August 6th, at BATS Theatre. My wife’s due to have a baby later this month, so I won’t be planning on too many gigs for a few months!