A lovely full length piece written by Kevin Hainey
(an edited form of this interview was printed in OFFERINGS JAN 2013)
Matthew “Doc” Dunn
Part 1. The Legend of “Doc” Dunn
The first time you meet Matthew “Doc” Dunn, you can easily tell he's a guy who's trying to look out for the good of the all and not just the one. In a town that's bursting with wannabes, dreamers, and doers, someone with a knack for uniting others under a bit of common good can go a long way in inspiring a lot of key players on any scene. Dunn has certainly gone a long way to bring us all “Tecumseh,” a debut slab of vinyl that's truly from and for the ages.
A natural born and enthusiastic tribe's leader if ever there were one (or perhaps, deeming himself too humble for the top dog position, the tribe's influential Second-In-Command), Dunn's feelings and encyclopedic knowledge concerning folk and rock's many tragic heroes and villains retains more sense the longer you know him and find out how attuned to the human condition him and his music truly is.
Much like his music loosens any expectations a listener might have, casts them aside and demands a personal journey, asking Matt's encyclopedic mind for rock and roll's historical back alley dirt about this or that session will have you aghast in no time over the excessive temperaments of pampered icons and just how far awry they can go. Like some of the best storytellers, asking Dunn a question when the tales are spinning, or seeking stable ground when the turntable's revolving his music, will only take you blissfully far away from that which you seek to understand, and deeper into the peaceful blend of sea and air. But herein lies Dunn's talent, in making you forget where you are or how late it is, content to go with the flow of the story, the arc of the dynamics, the spice of living, the vibrations of the sounds.
“Doc” Dunn knows his stuff when it comes to sounds as well as stories, and he plays, jams and records from the heart. Primarily a solo guitarist and gentle folk crooner through and through, Dunn's also a capable and versatile drummer, musical collaborator, and experimental sound traveller, which he's finely evidenced over the years with the Transcendental Rodeo troupe he's led to gentle trance-folk worship both on and off stage. Behind his music stands a complete man, and one who is tightly knit with the city he was born in. It's a triple pairing as ancient as the wind: the man, the land, and his music.
Six and seven years ago, in an underfed art school scene and cheap rent underground bored stiff with post-rock's (largely) pretentious one-note yarns, indie rock's (mostly) cuddly, spoon-fed complacency, post-punk's (dominantly) predictable romper-room angst, and all the tired hommage-inized rock moves, tributes and copycatting, young Toronto was getting fully into the swing of truly freaking out and freeing their creative souls, with loads of aggressive new talent being inspired by the global freak scenes, and pushing to do something unique.
Matt Dunn was largely responsible (along with Wolfgang Nessel and Marco Landini) for striking the bell that actively brought as many camps and cliques as possible together (at least momentarily) to jam out for nearly half a week under the ambitious Bummer In The Summer festival of '06.
And while it wasn't exactly the summer of love, it certainly cemented the presence of many new breeds of intellect and entertainer in Toronto's ambitious underground, establishing camps and cliques of artists, dabblers, dilettantes and dainties in a city previously only saturated with bands, bands, bands, bands, bands, eggs, sausage, and bands.
Even if corporate media hardly caught on to or supported the idea that there even was a vibrant underground happening here at all (and still has yet to), the times certainly were changing in Toronto, and have only continued to change and grow in fascinating new ways ever since. Case in point, some of the festival's performers, including Eric Chenaux, Timber Timbre, Laura Barrett, Nadja, and Ken Reaume have gone on to reach larger audiences since these salad days, while others have flaked out completely, went so far underground they're hardly seeing daylight, or changed their games to follow the fashions and trends advertised by the global media machine.
Nicked so back in '06 by the right honourable Matt “MV” Valentine, who incidentally mastered “Tecumseh,” “Doc” has a strongly convicted volition to live, breathe and create at one's own nature and pace, a volition that isn't fed by the delusions of big money and grandiose success and praise so many musicians quite literally play their souls into. At long last this good will is expanding onto glorious, timeless wax with “Tecumseh,” being lovingly released this December by Healing Power Records, in collaboration with Dunn's own Cosmic Range private press.
Peace, meditation, and prayer pours out of every rich and inspired groove of “Tecumseh”. Acoustic latticeworks, tribal summonings of energies seldom stirred, meditative tapestries of echo, and silk-voiced lyrical laments... The only comparison to Dunn I feel comfortable stating for the context-hungry listener and reader is Ed Yazijian, and even then only because of the similar breadth and variety of their work which these two performers have displayed. Dropping any more names would be like throwing stones at psychedelic messiahs, and each is as singular and personal as the next, and no two truly alike.
To gain an understanding of Matthew “Doc” Dunn and his long ruminated debut LP “Tecumseh,” one must contemplate the three elements the man considers most important: the music (or spirit), the man who inspired it (Tecumseh), and Dunn's native land (yep, Toronto). It is this tri-lateral completeness with which Dunn is concerned, and so this article is a chance for him to express himself concerning Tecumseh the record, the man, and his country.
Part 2. The Story of the “Tecumseh” Record.
DOC: “The genesis of this was a long gestation, because really this goes back to 2008. I cut the record between MV tours in '08 between August and November, because Mike Smith and I went down and did “Barn Nova” and we played Election Night [with MV & EE]. We did all of that in one leg, so it was between coming off tour in August from Terrastock, and that's the last time I saw Jack Rose, you know... There was an epic guitar summit with everybody hanging there---MV, Willie Lane, Jack, Bardo, not to get into all that---but Kawabata was hanging, and Tim Barnes was playing with us... It was far out, it was really fun. Anyway, when we got back from tour, I was at my ma's place, The Manor, where we've cut a bunch of stuff, and I basically set up my gear for about six weeks. My ma was outta town a lot, and I was doing night sessions mostly. Isla rolled by for one, and that's where we taped one of those tracks... I wanted to follow up “The Church Of The Transfiguration” tapes... During that period, too, one day Mike Smith came over and we made the [“Doc Dunn”, 2011] Inyrdisk album. We did that in one day when all my stuff was set up, and he just came by and just rolled tape, and that CD is literally just a live document. I think we subtracted one track away from the session to make it 40 minutes, but that's it. But that's part of “Tecumseh” too, though... So all that was going on, then I go tour with Matt [Valentine] and Erika [Elder] for 2008, go out a few more times in 2009, and during that period my 8-track, which I recorded the record on broke, and I moved, and was just all over the place, so the tapes [for “Tecumseh”] ended up in a box, and they weren't even digitized. They sat for two years. I never really went back, I didn't have time to do it, and my equipment was toast. A few years later, it was October 2010, living here [on the Davenport Trail], Aaron Lumley gave me a 424 Tascam, and I've only ever recorded on four tracks anyway, until I used the 8-track, so that's when I digitized the stuff, and I mixed the record in a weekend. I set up the equipment right here in the living room, tuned the Echoplex and everything, got all the tape delays going, and I dumped the tapes. I already had the vision for what the record was going to be, I always knew that it was going to be some sort of Tecumseh record, I guess I sort of know why, that's always kind of in my mind... I cut 35 tracks for the record, I try to do about a 5:1 ratio now, between what I throw away and what I keep. There are 8 tracks on the record. When I mixed it here, that October, with the system here and everything, it just made itself, in a way. It titled itself. A lot of people really bigged this record up and were really supportive of it, too, especially Wolf and Vic [Healing Power Records]. MV obviously mastered it, down at Max' Arousal Farm in Vermont. I sent him the tracks and him and Erika and Willie Lane were all super supportive of them and really got behind it, and were really into it right from the getgo, as soon as I started circulating the tapes about a year ago. Matt tweaked it just right. ...It's the perfect length for a record---36 minutes, which is kind of ideal for me. I don't wanna say that there's any kind of guiding principle or anything to this record, but it just really kind of took care of itself in this really amazing way. This record had to come out in 2012...”
Part 3. The Story of Tecumseh.
DOC: “...With all of the money being put toward this War of 1812 “Ra-Ra-Ra!” militaristic jingoist nonsense that our government's ramming down our throats, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on ad campaigns. What kicks me about this country is that what the War of 1812 really meant was that all the Native people got betrayed, literally got shot in the back, as Tecumseh was, and now they're still selling this fiction about it. There's a really local history to this. It's a very deep, deep story about people coming together. Tecumseh was one of the great uniters in history. He really brought all the nations together and was a very righteous person, one of the most truly radical people ever, and not two hours from here was where all of that went down. He was from Ohio originally, but they ended up moving up this way. These are all the treatises that are the big, big, bad treatises that we and all these people are still sitting under. They were swindled. They signed treatises that weren't ever going to give this land up. I know that's old news or people can be like, 'Yeah, no shit, they got a raw deal,' but I guess this [record] is just like this slight stand-up to say, 'This is fake history, and it's shameful what happened and that the native people have always been betrayed.' Tecumseh was a very deep mystical character, and I think it's important history for here. Tecumseh unified the Six Nations, he brought all those people together. They sided with the Brits because they were the ones who were going to run Canada, and in the end they betrayed them. Tecumseh and his band, they ended up coming north to around Chatham, and got ambushed at dawn by the river Thames. He was a medicine man, as was his brother, and he was known as one of the great orators, one of the greatest speakers; apparently there were a few speeches he gave that were just startling. He went to Washington and pled his case, and was a real uniter. There's a really fantastic Tecumseh documentary that's very complete and has a guy acting in it, called “We Shall Remain.” There were no pictures or paintings of him taken in his time. He's very much like Crazy Horse. There was one portrait taken posthumously. He had red hair, one of the most striking characters. He was a real top of the pile. The whole appropriated Tecumseh image in Canada is so convoluted. But [the truth about Tecumseh is] the only history here. Everything else is fiction. There's no history in all the ugly political garbage, the only history here has been trampled over and demolished. They murdered these people. He's like the Abraham Lincoln of the Natives. There's a great book, too, “The Patriot Chiefs.” It's a good overview, very basic, but very good. He died here, Tecumseh, The Greatest Indian. And that's our backyard, you know? That's how I am, I'm all about here.”
Part 4. The Story of a New Nativity in Toronto?
DOC: “It's so important to talk about where we're at. This is where we are in the universe, I don't wanna hear about all the other places we could be. This is our history, so I figure making tracks about it is super important. It's like [my Doc's Record Crate column in Offerings, which discusses Toronto records new and old], all our friends, all of us supporting where we are. It's why Weird Canada rules the hardest, because this is where we are, and I understand how for different practices and different work you gotta go to different places. I can't be a pineapple farmer here, but I'm not a pineapple farmer, I'm a guitar player, or a drummer, or whatever. Maybe a part of progress is accepting where you're at. Even Davenport Road here. I still think that Davenport's got a mystical deal, and it actually was a Native trail, the only Native trail that's left. That's why the road goes through here, because it was the high ground that you could look over and see the whole city, and thousands, or maybe millions of years before that, it's where the lake used to come to. This kind of history is all around us in Ontario.”
KEVIN HAINEY 12/2012
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