Music DC Collard interview
“The album took me a couple years to make, but it’s really taken a lifetime to complete”. A year after he toured with the British group The The, DC Collard has released his first solo album ‘On A Mission’. In the songs he confronts the demons of his past as a child of British missionaries. 200% spoke with the singer-songwriter and keyboard player about returning to Malaysia, his country of birth after 40 years; the impact on his life of the enforced separation from his parents and being sent to boarding school in England when he was nine years old, and the intensely personal lyrics where he holds nothing back.
200%: What made your parents decide to become missionaries?
DC Collard: My mum was a young nurse in London during the Blitz. She smoked cigarettes. One night she was heading home from Middlesex hospital during the blackout and walked into a lamppost breaking her nose. Lighting a cigarette back then could be dangerous in more ways than one! The next day she quit smoking and converted to Christianity, or so the story goes …
My dad was in the army right after WWII and wound up in Burma. He fell in love with the Far East and after military service became a minister, believing he was called to Asia. He was sent to Malaysia where he then fell in love with my mum, who by that time was already in country driving a Red Cross Land Rover loaded with vaccines and medicines. I guess they were both adventurers at heart; but both also had a strong faith and in their minds a clear calling.
200%: Did it take you a lifetime to complete the album because you find it hard to write about the painful memories from your childhood or to comprehend how being a missionary child has affected your life?
DC Collard: Both. For most of my life I’ve buried my past, as I say in the song ‘Kansas City Blue’, “Down down down under ground”. My emotions, deeply suppressed. Returning to Malaysia in 2014 after 40 years, I started to dig and eventually unlock those memories, painful and joyful. There was so much! I began to feel again. I mean really feel – feel more alive than ever … ‘Back From The Dead’, the song is literally about this awakening process. So yes, it’s taken me a very long time to be able to confront my past. To comprehend it and its effect on my life is another thing altogether: I am still figuring that out, but I’m so much farther down that road. I’ve become quite empathetic; before I almost had to pretend empathy, as my emotions were so numbed. It’s actually a joy to be able to feel again – even the pain, because I am now able to release it and look forward with optimism.
200%: One of the many issues missionary kids struggle with throughout their adult lives is commitment. Why do they struggle with this?
DC Collard: They struggle with commitment because it’s something permanent, and for us the opposite is true: nothing is permanent! We make friends, they leave – or we leave. Every commitment as a child is broken. And we mirror that as adults: failed relationships, failed marriages etc. So for me to commit to my own album, impossible! But as my emotions awakened, so did that possibility.
200%: Did you procrastinate to make the album?
DC Collard: Yes, there certainly was an element of procrastination in making this album. More so in the recording of it, as I wrote the entire album pretty much within a two-week period. Committing it to tape – or in this case, hard drive – was another story. I had to really psyche myself up, allow tears to fall and a few laughs. It was also strange because I was completely on my own – albeit a place I’m particularly familiar with – where usually I record with other musicians. However, for this project I knew it was necessary, even essential. I invented reasons not to start recording: a bit tired today, the motorcycle needs an oil change, my throat’s feeling rough, I should practice first – I never practice unless preparing for a tour.
200%: As you’re becoming older do you find it’s easier or more difficult to deal with issues of abandonment and loss in your life?
DC Collard: I do find it easier. I’ve found a perspective that I’m comfortable with. It’s a forgive-but-not-forget thing that allows me to accept the bad stuff from my past and balance it with the good.
200%: Have you got some advice how people can deal with loss?
DC Collard: There are some serious risks looking back at abandonment and loss, particularly as you start to re-live those experiences – and for some it’s just too much. My best advice is: if you’re afraid to go back there, surround yourself first with people who understand and have had similar experiences. They will walk back with you and together you’ll return stronger than before. For me, it wasn’t all easy, but it was definitely worth it.
200%: Did you think a lot about how much you were going to expose yourself in the lyrics?
DC Collard: No. If I’d let myself even consider it, the lyrics would not have been the same. After the fact I did think about it, but decided raw, visceral, no pulled punches is the only way to express the depth and pain of those emotions that were buried beneath layers of self-induced numbness – a powerful and protective shield from all feelings and fears of the past – and now exposed for all to see. I’m a more open person than I was.
200%: I love your style of playing the piano, for instance on the track ‘Beware: Mission Statement’. When did you start playing the piano? Did someone teach you?
DC Collard: I first touched a piano around the age of seven up in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. By eight, living down on the plains, with no air conditioning, pianos didn’t exist – but I did pick out a few notes on an old church pump organ. I started formal lessons just before my 10th birthday at boarding school in the UK.
200%: Did you find solace in playing the piano in times of loneliness?
DC Collard: As a teenager, the piano was definitely a source of comfort, a world I could create and exist in on my own, away from life’s trials and tribulations – the biggest of which was boarding school, thousands of miles away from my home, Malaysia.
200%: Who are your favourite pianists and why?
DC Collard: Bill Evans, hands down the best piano player ever, unmatched harmonic improvisation, always captured the perfect mood for any piece whether he wrote it or not. Pure genius! Just remarkable. And for Hammond Organ, Jimmy Smith. There are many great players, but you’ve got just about every base covered with those two. I will also add Nicky Hopkins, with whom I have a lot more in common musically. He was special, the very best at what he did, and definitely an inspiration to me.
200%: You did a comeback world tour with The The right in the middle of recording. Did that experience have a creative influence on your album?
DC Collard: The tour was wonderful. Playing with the finest musicians in the finest band was uplifting and definitely got my creative juices flowing. I had already finished most of the instrumental recording, but I still had at least half of the vocals yet to do. I think the biggest influence the tour had on me was looking at the whole sonic palette to my album. We [the band members] spent a lot of time discussing the sonic palette with regard to The The songs for the tour – and then I used that same approach looking at my album’s sonic palette. While with The The, the overall arrangements were quite stripped down and restricted, my album drew on a larger palette but still one that had certain limitations: Rock, Blues, blending Oriental Instruments and a touch of Psychedelia.
200%: Has writing the album been a cathartic experience for you?
DC Collard: Yes, it has been cathartic, but I still feel like I’m not fully aware of everything – possible side effects, consequences, that could be good or bad. There’s some lifted weight [from my shoulders], but I’m so focused on moving forward that I probably don’t appreciate or feel it as much as I should.
Interview conducted by Thierry Somers
Opening picture DC Collard by John Claridge
‘On A Mission’ album cover oil painting by Rebecca Calhoun
‘Like A Child Crucified’, the first single from ‘On A Mission’ has been released on October 15, 2019. The album will be released early 2020. More information: dccollard.com