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Music Is the Language of the Soul - Interview with producer David Singleton

by John Malkin
Interview with David Singleton, composer, sound engineer, producer, author and co-founder - with guitarist Robert Fripp - of Discipline Global Mobile (DGM). This interview was originally broadcast on KZSC 88.1 FM / and published in the Santa Cruz Good Times newspaper. It was also re-broadcast on KSQD.
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David Singleton is a composer, sound engineer, producer, author and co-founder - with guitarist Robert Fripp - of Discipline Global Mobile (DGM). Since 1992 Singleton has “reluctantly managed” the innovative band King Crimson and produced numerous projects. Fripp has collaborated with many artists including Peter Gabriel, Brain Eno, David Bowie, Talking Heads and his wife, singer Toyah Willcox. His own Frippertronics looped-guitar performances were groundbreaking. Singleton and Fripp were touring as “Englishmen Abroad” speaking about their decades of creativity. They were at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California on Friday, February 23, 7:30 PM.


JM: When I heard Robert Fripp was coming to town and not playing guitar I thought, “That's not fair.” But watching some videos of your speaking engagements together I realized, “This is quite interesting.”

David Singleton: The intensity with which Robert approaches a music concert, you couldn't add in the talking properly. He used to come out before King Crimson shows to say something but he didn’t engage in difficult questions. He said, “If I go there, that puts my head into that space. And I can't turn around and be ready for the performance.” So, if you want the Robert Fripp that will tell you stories about the creative world better than anyone, sadly he has to leave the guitar at home.
I love the questions that come out from left field because it's slightly terrifying! Somebody walks up to the microphone and you have no idea what they're going to say. In New York someone asked us to talk about the role of silence. I learned very quickly that Robert has a game when there's a question to which there isn't an obvious answer, he turns to me and says, “David, what do you think?” So, while I'm making a fool of myself, he has time to think of the perfect answer! Oddly enough, it's the unlikely questions that produce the most memorable answers! It’s an evening of improvisation.


JM: Tell me about your relationship with Robert Fripp.

David Singleton: I first worked with Robert when he sacked his sound engineer halfway through a League of Crafty Guitarists tour. (1989) I was producing a record in a studio that Robert used a lot. He phoned up Tony Arnold who owned that studio, “Do you know anyone who could step in at short notice to help out on the tour?” Tony looked at me and said, “What are you doing in two weeks? Are you free?” I said “Yes.” Knowing nothing about Robert Fripp or King Crimson I flew out and did that tour. Since then, I've done just about everything Robert’s done. We got on well.


JM: I was blown away first time I heard No Pussyfooting (1973) by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno.

David Singleton: The first time I heard No Pussyfooting I told Robert, “This sounds like something someone threw together in an afternoon.” Robert laughed and said, “Actually, it only took us forty-five minutes!” Despite everything, I think our tastes are very similar. Therefore, I’ve found working with Robert very simple.


JM: The music industry is infamously exploitive. And it seems like it's gotten worse.

David Singleton: Artists and major corporations are often not a happy fit. Obviously, industry wants a reliable, repeatable product. But that's not usually what artists want. People often quote Peter Gabriel when he did the solo album with monstrous hits like “Sledgehammer” and the major labels wanted him to do another album that's going to sell the same. And that really isn't how artists work. Not true artists. Artists are going to produce whatever their art leads them, and that may or may not be as commercially successful as the last album. Most people know when an artist is producing something real and true and who isn't. Big business, which needs to hit quarterly targets, is a bad fit with an artistic cycle where artists will maybe just once every three or four albums produce something spectacularly successful. We've sat outside that world.

JM: Robert has said the two of you established DGM in 1992 as, “a solution to inequities of the music industry.”

David Singleton: In DGM, we believe that you have to do the art first and worry about the consequences later. We're both artists so that's naturally what we do. We think, “This is the right album to do” and we keep going until we've done whatever this album needs. Generally, we've discovered that if you take that approach, the world will support you. You may not get fabulously rich, but generally your fans know when you've produced a proper album, made with love. And enough of them will buy it to support you.
After we made the album Thrakattack we were having a meeting with our accountants and they turned to me and said, “What market research did you do before putting out the album Thrakattak?” I've always thought it's a perfect demonstration of the difference between the two approaches. The answer was “None. We made Thrakattak because we both thought it was a fun idea.” (The 1996 album featured a compilation of live improvisations.)


JM: How are you and Robert faring in the digital world? People seem to listen online to single songs and not albums. And musicians tell me they earn .00 something per listen.

David Singleton: We were very, very late comers to Spotify because the model doesn't make sense financially for artists. Initially we thought, “We refuse to be on Spotify!” And then the gamebook point where I said, “Actually, we need to be on Spotify.” Not for financial reasons. But for King Crimson music to exist for a new generation, it needs to be on Spotify. So, we went there despite the business model.
It used to be that if people would buy even 10,000 or 20,000 CDs, you could make a good living. Now you can have a million listens on Spotify, and not even earn enough to pay back the cost of recording. So, we've now flipped to a world where musicians earn their music by playing live. If musicians are relying just on the streaming world, there simply isn't enough money. On the other hand, I love that you can now access a huge, great music library of most of the recorded music that's ever existed!


JM: How did your journey in the music world begin?

David Singleton: My voyage is still horribly incomplete! It’s one of the other things we speak about at these Englishmen Abroad talks. I'm probably a very helpful person for frustrated artists in the audience because hiding within me is a very frustrated artist! Really, I'm a composer and songwriter. My earliest memories are when I was about seven literally having a manuscript paper under my sheets and writing music. I was writing purely piano or classical pieces. And then The Beatles happened in my mid-teens. I've dedicated my life to songwriting. That isn't how I’ve earned my money, hence the frustrated artist. But if you asked me what it is that I get out of bed and want to do: compose! What was I doing just before this call? Arranging a song!

JM: Tell me about your project about the unscrupulous music industry, The Vicar Chronicles.

David Singleton: The Vicar Chronicles grew out of a very simple conversation with Robert. We were working late one night and my inbox was being filled by yet more grotesque happenings in the music industry, some of them involving us. I turned to Robert and said, “Why hasn’t anybody written a who-done-it about the music industry?” Because you don't have to make the stories up! Robert leaned forward and said, “Because you haven't written it yet, David.” I took this as a challenge. The project includes a blog, album and three novels about a fictional record producer called The Vicar. The second graphic novel is soon to be released.


JM: What’s most important to you about music?

David Singleton: I recently said to Robert that my current thought is that music is the language of the soul. What fascinates me is the question; what is it about music that makes it so central to so many people's lives? My entire life has been in service of music in some way. We're doing this interview because music has obviously touched you deeply. I think that's fascinating. I’m always exploring; Where does music come from? How do we bring it into the world? Why does it touch us? And everybody who comes to these talks is probably there because music has touched them very deeply in the core of their existence.
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