Where do you fit into Dubai’s musical landscape?
I guess the niche I’m targeting is people who are interested in the art and music world, but who are stuck out here in the desert and want to feel like acts like Your Majesty and Jeffrey Lewis aren’t passing them by. I’d rather play a bit sloppy than a bit clean, and create my own individual sound rather than be like everyone else. And I enjoy the whole post-modern approach to music making.
You mean mixing up lots of wildly different elements?
Yeah. I appreciate music from the past, but I’m not one of those people who says, ‘I won’t use synths because I’m a purist.’ I ain’t a purist – or at least I am in terms of wanting a good song, but not when it comes to the means of making it.
Indeed. I recall seeing you playing some mad, one-stringed instrument at Lime Juice.
I picked that up in Vietnam. Out there, people use that instrument to play pop classics. Using the harmonics of just one string, they bust out ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and stuff like that. I love the beauty of one string – you can get just as much emotion from that as from six. I’ve had that thing since I was 17 and I thought: Maybe I’ll find some soul in that. So I ran it through a distortion pedal to hear how it sounded. And I thought: Wow – I could use that on a Muddy Waters song, because it has this earthy, dirty, grimy sound to it. And why not?
What have you been listening to lately?
Let’s think… I’ve been listening to Apex Twin, Bon Iver, Blind Lemon Jefferson… I also have this album called Bottles, Knives And Steel. It’s all slide guitar playing from the ’20s and ’30s, when slide guitar players were bad mothers, you know? I’ve been listening to that loads. Also, someone called Luna Pena from Portugal. I heard her on the world service, one of those artists that nobody listens to, and it was really moving music. She does this traditional Portuguese style, really muted rhythms on the strings when she sings and it’s really haunting and really good. And what else? A lot of Ali Farka Touré. Him playing with Ry Cooder [on Talking Timbuktu] is the most awesome album.
That’s pretty eclectic stuff. What will you be playing on the floating stage at Festival City?
I’m going to play a mix of styles – I’m hopefully going to give you something you don’t hear all the time in Dubai, something that draws on a lot from the past and looks to the future as well. Something that gives the real feelings that folk musicians and blues players try to get across, with some of the fun of an indie vibe – I don’t like to be the preacher blues person. So you’ll see a good performance that’s for sure. I’m always trying to be a good performer, and the audience is going to be involved – it’s just going to be kick-ass.
Won’t it be a bit tricky to draw the audience in from a floating stage?
Hell no! Look ’em in the eyes! They can’t resist it! Give ’em the snake charm! I played down at Festival City for the French festival and it was amazing. I’m a nobody and know nothing, and yet people were coming up and asking me for autographs. I never knew it was this hangout for young people! It’s supposed to be just another mall! But it has this feeling of what the park should be like, down by the water.
Tim Hassall And The August Company play Festival Centre, April 8