The Psychedelic Fuzz of Night Beats: Danny Lee Blackwell Interview

Danny Lee Blackwell on Night Beats’ Gritty Psychedelia

Night Beats is an American psychedelic and garage rock project founded in 2009 by Danny “Lee Blackwell” Rajan Billingsley in Seattle, Washington. The project, named after Sam Cooke’s album “Night Beat,” began as a solo endeavor with early releases like “H-Bomb” recorded by Billingsley alone. Night Beats’ sound intricately weaves the gritty, fuzz-laden garage rock of ‘Who Sold My Generation’ (2016) with the soulful grooves and funk-infused rhythms of ‘Sonic Bloom’ (2013). In 2019, Night Beats released “Myth of a Man,” produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, which showcased a more polished sound while maintaining their psychedelic roots. Night Beats’ sixth studio album, “Rajan,” set for release in July 2023, marks another evolution in their sound. The album features a mix of genres and influences, incorporating everything from mystical psychedelia to vintage R&B. 

Night Beatsofficial site & Bandcamp
Featuread image © Jaqueline Badeaux

How has the concept of space or place influenced your most recent album?

I can be influenced by things far smaller on scale than notions of space or place. The lyrics and music come from my head, so I don’t know … like an ant trying to understand why he’s cold. I do like experimenting with different lengths of patterns though, within the structure of an album. “Blue” for instance really gives the listener time to sink in and step into that world. “Anxious Mind” gives the listener a mood or picture to fill in with their own ideas.

What’s a personal habit or routine that helps you stay creative and productive?

Playing the drums, writing down everything, seize the idea and explore, come back to it if it calls.

How do you approach the balance between digital and analog sounds in your productions?

I prefer analog because it is naturally closer to the tone and sounds I love, but I like using what’s in front of me. I don’t like the idea of limiting myself to one medium, I think it’s fun to work with nearly anything. I’d like to make anything sound good, by how I approach it. 

What role does improvisation play in your music creation process?

Improvisation is the root to all ideas. A live Night Beats show is mostly improvisation over the structure of songs I’ve written and chosen to play. Improvisation is more tapped into feeling, which I have a lot more of then technical information.

How do you approach creating the dense, layered soundscapes that are characteristic of your music?

I want everything to work in tandem. I usually have it all planned out in my head, rarely do I go back and add things that become a defining characteristic. It all begins and ends with Rhythm, by that I mean the timing of things happening within the song as well. I love to learn new instruments, so I have an understanding of a decent amount of optional tools or instruments. Melody brings meaning to the songs, so I need to make space for it, alongside any harmony.

Night Beats interview 3
© Night Beats

In terms of sound texture, what is the most challenging aspect of translating your studio recordings to a live performance setting?

Well we’re usually a three piece, so it’s all the other elements 3 people can’t play that are on certain songs. I don’t like the idea of setting up a backing track to integral instruments that should be played. But the live experience is different, it’s meant to be a different translation of the recorded songs.

In what ways do you think your music interacts with the current global cultural or political climate?

I’ve never shy’ed away from saying what I believed. I also don’t write all my songs about political, social or cultural world issues. I believe in the healing power of music and community, I hope it brings joy or relatability to anyone out there suffering. Protest music takes on many forms, I try to write about what I feel and sense.

How did you approach the creation of your latest album Rajan differently from your previous work?

I played most of the parts, minus Chris Scott on “Nightmare” and “Motion Picture”. So I had more confidence in “saying” what I really meant. I dedicated this record to my Mother. I gave myself more time, although it was written and completed in a shorter time than previous. A Lot of lightning in a bottle.

What’s the central theme of Rajan? Are there autobiographical elements in this album?

In honoring my mother I wanted to incorporate new instruments, new song lengths, new and old concepts. My writing is autobiographical by nature, but I tell stories too. Depends on how literally you take things. “Hot Ghee” is the beginning of a ceremony, the taste and smell of this song is specific, but can also be seen as a portal. I use imagery and tone to weave my stories.  “Morocco Blues” is a scene in my head involving a night train through the Sahara, so for example, I enjoy fiction.

How did the partnership with Melbourne Queer Film Festival come about?

They reached out! Happy to support.

Have you ever considered scoring a film, and if so, what type of film would you be most interested in composing for?

I’d love to. Definitely a goal of mine. Anything, as long as it’s interesting to me and I had creative freedom. Paul Thomas Anderson, Tarantino, Eggers, Aster … I love horror, thriller, psychological drama, love stories, art in film in all forms. 

What’s one instrument or piece of equipment that has become indispensable in your music production?

I use, lose and break stuff too often to have anything precious. Upright Piano should always be around, ideally.

Night Beats interview 2
© Night Beats

How do you decide on the visual elements that accompany your music releases?

I think them up and either make it myself or reach out to artists I dig to help me complete the vision. The visual elements accompanying the music have always been really important to me. It’s just another way to add depth to what you’ve already created. Do it yourself, at first, and ask for help where you could use it.

Could you see your future projects expanding into other areas of the arts, such as visual media or performance art?

Yes.

Photos courtesy of Night Beats

Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by retrofuturista

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