Recently I had the good fortune to speak with Lachlan R. Dale. Lachlan runs labels Art As Catharsis and Worlds Within Words, and also participates and has participated in a few other projects,

We mostly spoke about the labels, and we lightly touched on his solo musical endeavours.

Ez: It’s the one that’s like “Da da dadada da dadad da da dada da da da. Da da da!”

Lachlan: Could be a lot.

Ez: I think it’s about six minutes long. It’s early on. It’s like the third or fourth.

Lachlan: Oh, yeah. “Bom bom budede bu dede de de dede dun dun dun!” Yeah that one.

Ez: I guess I’m gonna ask a question now.

I’m not gonna cover the beginning of Art As Catharsis. You’ve already talked about that.

Obviously we’re sort of in a lull point in the pandemic. It could disappear; it could come back in force.

Obviously operating… I don’t know how successful Art As Catharsis is. I’m not going to ask that either because it’s pointless. The fact is Art As Catharsis is a small label. It’s a label with a reputation and it’s well-known in a certain range…

Lachlan: To resurrect the question that you’ve already dismissed, part of what I’m doing is to plug a gap and to help bands out rather than exist as a commercial entity. Sometimes we have releases that make a bit of money and plenty that it’s more like “No, I’m trying to support this ecosystem of bands rather than make a stack of money or sell the most records possible”.

Ez: And obviously, in a non-financial way I’d argue that it’s a success. Finance ultimately only matters as a means to an end and it shouldn’t matter beyond that. As long as the label can operate without exploitation and you’re doing what you want to do, really that’s the ultimate thing, right?

But with the pandemic, that would have had an effect. What has happened to Art As Catharsis since the start of the pandemic to now?

Lachlan: It’s pretty complex. There were a lot of things going on I think. I noticed there were less new bands and less new records coming to me, but the bands that were coming to me were less likely to do something physical as well. I think people were just a bit gun-shy for a while.

I think the first year of the pandemic we did really well and I feel like the last financial year we did less well. I’m not sure what to bring that down to and I don’t know how I can map it onto the pandemic. It’s probably just the specific releases we did, and the fact that we didn’t have a lot of physical releases to offer people.

A lot of people’s careers have gone on hold. There were a bunch of bands who had big tour plans and were really gonna step up and do another record and they got put on hold largely for two years. On an individual level I’ve seen all these bands who were getting and then were forced to scrap their plans. It sucks.

Milton Man Gogh had flown to Europe for a big tour and they had to fly home before they played their first show. Bonniesongs was meant to go play in Ireland and that got axed.

Earlier this year it was really, really difficult to get anyone on shows. I feel like we’ve just hit a turning point – probably since July, August. I finally feel a bit more positive about the numbers I can get at a show, but the first half of this year was pretty brutal for gigs.

Ez: Would that also have a lot to do with how much the numbers were shooting right up?

Lachlan: Yeah. People were either concerned about going out or had been trained to sit at home and watch Netflix and order Ubereats. Two years of doing that…

That becomes people’s habits and humans are really built on habits. That’s a factor, but I also saw quite a few people who were really strong supporters of our gigs move out of Sydney. Cost of living are forcing people out. They’ve gone to live out in the countryside, they’ve gone to other cities, they’ve had kids, moved on with their lives as well, so there’s a lot of things feeding into that.

Ez: But so long as there’s an upturn, that’s the main thing.

I obviously stayed at home a lot, but I thankfully didn’t turn to Netflix. I find things like TV and Netflix draining.

Lachlan: Draining in what sense?

Ez: “I’m gonna watch this show. I’m not doing anything now, because it’s just so easy to sit down and tune out.”

Lachlan: It’s something I’ve always fought against and it’s probably why I’m extremely busy all the time. If the temptation is there – maybe occasionally I might do that, but I don’t watch much TV at all. I prefer to read a book or do some label work stuff, or try and play some music and write some music.

Ez: Maybe Art As Catharsis should start doing TV shows on Netflix.

Lachlan: With Worlds Within Worlds we do have some documentary stuff coming up. We’ve been working with a filmmaker in Spain on a number of documentaries on Afghan musicians, so I’m not against doing that stuff but obviously it’s a very different thing to blockbuster series on Netflix.

Ez: Worlds Within Worlds only came up… just before the pandemic?

Lachlan: I reckon five years ago but I started it pretty quietly. Been trying to find the right way to market it and to reach people who might be interested. I think truthfully a lot of this stuff I’m preoccupied with and that label… I don’t feel there’s a great… there’s not a huge amount of people going “Oh, where’s the Afghan classical music?” so I kind of have to create an open space for that which is fine. I find that really rewarding.

Ez: Was it started in part to indulge your tastes, but…

Art As Catharsis is very – I guess – Western music-oriented; Underground, and some could argue out there and whatnot, but it’s still very western-oriented. With Worlds Within Worlds, it’s very Middle / Near East-oriented. Is it in part designed as a contrast?

Lachlan: I think it’s more my sprawling interests. If you look at the history of Art As Catharsis it started off doing doom and hardcore, and all this extreme metal and punk stuff, and shifted toward more…

Well it was always like an intellectual, progressive music kind of thing, and then I’ve done a bunch of experimental pop. I’ve done more noise, soundscape stuff. There’s clearly a jazz period which alienated a lot of early fans pretty severely *laughs*.

I’ve experimented not knowing how to limit Art As Catharsis. What are the parameters? I don’t know. I like this, I want to try and do something. I think over time there are themes that are consistent, so I think now after eleven years I kinda know now what I want to do with that.

I released a couple of albums from Eishan Ensemble who are like jazz plus Persian classical music. Then I was like “I want to keep doing more of this stuff but I don’t feel like it should be under the same label. I’m spreading it too thin” and I didn’t want it to be focused on Australian artists either. I wanted it to be more international.

So yeah; New label with a more expansive limit. I think it opens up a lot more opportunities and future projects like that documentary.

Ez: The other thing as well is that in the way it operates sort of like a gateway in a sense because suddenly here’s this person who is going “Look, here’s this cool shit you might not be aware of”.

Lachlan: Yeah, I see it as that. Here’s this stuff that I’m really passionate about that I think more people should listen to. The same as Art As Catharsis but the public knowledge is probably less. There are more interesting dynamics as well.

I’ll be like “You know what? Here in Sydney I want to create some performance opportunities for touring musicians from that part of the world”.

Ez: How is Worlds Within Worlds going?

Lachlan: It’s good. We just had Qais Essar here in August. That’s the first international act I’ve ever had in Australia. Did nine shows, he sold all of them out super comfortably. It’s just fantastic, so inspiring, and I think after a couple of years of struggling with the pandemic, after all these shows in the first half of the year not doing that well and just have this home run…

He’s a friend. To have him here, for us to play music together was amazing, and then to throw on top this highly successful tour as just like “Hell yeah! Okay.” It helped refocus me on what I wanna be doing with the labels.

It’s gone great. Yeah, I love it. I have to [work out] how to make it more sustainable, but it’s a real passion.

Ez: From what little I’ve heard, Qais Essar has a way of taking common or at least familiar melody and moving it into a space it would not normally exist in.

Lachlan: I think he’s got a lot of dimensions to what he can do. One of them is that he has the I Am Afghan, Afghani Is Currency (Vol I, II & III) series which is taking melodies from Afghan singers or key musicians and taking those melodies and putting them in a more classical context, but then he also has a lot of – he hates to be calling it fusion stuff, but pulling in all these different genres; Western film music, American folk, a bit of Indian and a bit of Afghan [into this] more cinematic space. Then when he was here in Australia he just played straight up Indian Classical music, like ragas which is art music in its own right and different to either of those streams.

Ez: Do you think that you yourself could draw form that in a live setting?

Lachlan: Yeah. My last solo album I tried to start… I’m still pretty ignorant… I wanted to start at least use those kind of modal rules in a few of those songs that were inspired by listening to heaps of classical music from India and Iran as well. In a really uneducated way, trying to take influence from them.

I think hanging with Qais made me go “Shit, I think I do really want to go into Indian classical music.” Need to carve out the space in my life for it at the moment.

Ez: Just get rid of everything on Art As Catharsis and make that all Indian classical and then make Worlds Within Worlds everything else from that particular region. What are people gonna say? They’ll either listen or they won’t, I guess.

Lachlan: I don’t want to lose Art As Catharsis.

Ez: Well you won’t lose Art As Catharsis. You’ll just lose an audience *laughs*.

Lachlan: Yeah. Well it’s been a theme of Art As Catharsis over the years.

“I really like this hardcore stuff!”
“Sorry. Here’s like, experimental pop and jazz and… sorry.”
“This post-rock release is great!”
“That’s great. I’m tired of post-rock.”

It’s what bands are coming to me, or what bands I’m interested in. We’re going to do a new release from Bear The Mammoth next year. You could call them post-rock, but the stuff they’re doing is really melodically interesting. I’m obsessed with interesting rhythms, so rhythmically super interesting, compositionally interesting, so are they a prog band? Are they a post band? Bit hard to tell.

Myriad Drone are more post-metal. Seeing them live is like “You guys are really pushing this into a new space”. I think it is about my excitement with that particular band and what they’re doing at that point in time.

Ez: Do you think that maybe part of Art As Catharsis changing is to do with essentially, other than your excitement and restlessness, you’re hungry to just keep coming across things that you’re not familiar with that interest you?

Lachlan: I think I just need music. I just need to connect with new music. That’s how I get inspired to write music of my own and I have to write music on my own; Otherwise I go crazy. Making connections and a good group of my friends are from [music scenes] so the community aspect is really important to, but it’s all pretty intertwined at this point.

Ez: I guess that with Worlds Within Worlds, I imagine that what you grew up with is the same as what a lot of people grew up with and you had to find what interests you later, outside of that base. Do you think that with something like Worlds Within Worlds it’d be a lot easier to release stuff that might seem a bit similar to other things because it’s not music that you’re not necessarily inherently familiar with?

Lachlan: I wasn’t that familiar with jazz and I’ve really delved deep into that in the last five to seven years, and styles from those various countries I’ve been diving into the last five, six years, so… I don’t know. I wouldn’t separate it out too much. I don’t listen to jazz with a jazz musician’s ear. I’m not a jazz musician.

Ez: Not yet.

Lachlan: I don’t want to be *laughs*.

Ez: There’s always time. You just kind of fall into it sometimes.

Lachlan: Same with these other styles. I’m approaching all of these as an outsider and that’s fine because I don’t want to be whose identity is about genre of music. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, so I feel like I’m an outsider in a lot of these scenes. If I really something in the post-rock scene it’s because it’s grabbed me and that probably means that commercially no one’s probably gonna be really interested, so it’s fine.

Ez: So long as you’re able to support the community.

Lachlan: Yeah, but I’m still really picky about the styles that are on Worlds Within Worlds. What’s the right balance between tradition and innovation? There’s such pressure not to deviate from traditional forms in a lot of those cultures.

I’ve spoken to Iranian musicians about… they go home, they have a tiny space in which they have to do purely traditional classical music and innovation is frowned upon unless you’re a master, but come to Australia and play music, and you have a lot more space to combine styles and experiment, and the expectations aren’t as trapping.

Am I going to release a purely traditional thing? Maybe. Maybe not.

Ez: I guess the interesting thing about tradition and innovation is that sometimes innovation is more traditional than it seems and tradition can still change over time.

Lachlan: And that’s how it works, right? There are periods where forms get solidified but at other points they’re more liquid. They change; they evolve. If they’re not living traditions, they die and if they’re not able to change, then they will die.

Ez: Well, speaking of tradition and seagues, drone album… I can’t remember what it’s called but I’m just gonna say it’s called The Festivities of Death, your solo drone album.

Lachlan: I released a song called “Death Envelopes All” –

Ez: Oh!

Lachlan: And I did a split release called Eclipsing // Orbs.

Ez: Okay. Yeah, “Festivals of Death”.

Lachlan: *Laughs*.

Ez: If I remember, “Death Envelopes All”, it’s a forty minute piece.

Lachlan: No, it’s like a ten minute piece.

Ez: ‘Cause I remember a release under your name that’s about forty minutes, forty-three…

Lachlan: It must be that split release which probably twenty minutes of that is mine, and twenty minutes is Joseph Rabjohns. Awesome guitarist. So good. He’s part of the label up in Brisbane. He helps book shows with Benjamin Shannon, one of my favourite musicians at the moment.

Ez: How did you approach this and how did you get to the point where the [you felt] the song justified its length?

Lachlan: I use music to process information or events or reflect or to capture a sensation so it’s really tied with experience. “Death Envelops All”, I started working on in some period of… I don’t know if it was depression but awareness of death. I was like “How can I play something that seems to resonate with that feeling or captures something about that feeling or experience”, so that’s how it started.

There was a particular period where I was in the studio and processing things in my life and that was part of recording that piece. It was really not approached well in terms of how I recorded it. I didn’t have a vision; I just recorded stuff. Editing brought it to… I think it’s eight minutes. How can I keep it so there’s some constant movement and development of the idea? Whether I succeeded, whatever.

The Orbs stuff which is more recent, there are a couple of compositions on there and there are a couple of songs where my intention was to take some inspiration from Indian classical music, have say modal rules. Have themes that are repeated and can be transformed and between that have free improvisation and have modal rules so it’s a lot of exploring and messing around and whatever comes out comes out.

Ez: Well sell it to me. You’ve already told me about the existential dread of “Death Envelopes All”. What warrants it being an exty minute piece?

Lachlan: Well that’s more in service of the thing to the thing I wanted to express. Musically does it have dynamic structure? Is it constantly building or doing something? Is it in service to the wider structure?

Ez: And same with Orbs?

Lachlan: That album is meant to track the experience of the loss of someone and processing that. There’s a whole lot of things attached to each stage, so it just depends. Some of them are compositions which are pretty short. There are a couple of pieces that I just improvised on the spot. I created some weird loop and I was like “That’s kinda cool”, and did a short improvisation and they’re like two minutes each; They’re just little mood pieces. I’ve got a composition or two on there – I can’t remember – and I’ve got a couple of those semi-improvised pieces. They’ve all got kind of different parameters on them.

They definitely shouldn’t be just floundering around doing nothing. I wouldn’t mind doing an hour-long drone piece that’s meant to be seriously meditative but that’s a specific idea.

Ez: Also it’s something you have to set out and think about as well, because even if it’s meditative you don’t necessarily want it to be one thing, even if it changes subtly. Sometimes that does work though. It really depends.

I guess for someone like yourself, especially in the last ten-ish years, indulging in music that does change a lot, your approach to drone would be that there has to be something going on, even if it’s subtle.

Lachlan: Yeah I guess so. In the last five years, maybe more, I’ve been listening to a huge amount of ambient music as well and I’ve always been attached to drone as a technique or as a genre. It can bring about trance-like states and that style of music, or music that’s trying to express that points to something beyond a standard conception of music as entertainment.

Ez: I’ll ask you one more thing and then we’ll call it a wrap.

Do you ever… because obviously, in any situation where you are being interviewed, it’s usually going to be about Art As Catharsis as far as I’m aware, and with some other side parts and what not, but Art As Catharsis is not just you. Do you ever worry that in these processes it takes away from the other people who are behind it?

Lachlan: So Daniel Nesci has been a big part of why this exists. He’s a contractor who does digital coordinator style work for me and that’s allowed me to step aside from some of those tasks I’ve doing for many years now, so he’s really vital and he’s not necessarily going to stick around forever, so I’m going to have be able to adapt to that.

Ben and Joe help me book shows in Brisbane and occasionally hook me up with bands, and got Tom Brand does some press writing for me. In the past I did all of that stuff.

I think they need to be acknowledged. You can’t survive without those people. They should be acknowledged, but no.