Sometimes the most enlightening moments in an interview come after the Dictaphone has been switched off. Having met up with Daniel West in a busy Bold Street café on an overcast Saturday morning, we’re just about to part ways – coffees drained, and a full English consumed before our farewell dialogue reveals a little neat anecdote about his first gig as DAN DISGRACE. “Basically, I was a bit of a mess. I’d just been dumped, I’d come straight from work and turned up with my shirt and tie on, so I borrowed a pair of sunglasses from my friend, played the gig in my office clothes and that was it.” This was the birth of Dan Disgrace – an immediate leap from the tedium of the office through to an outlet of expression and release.
It’s one of the most-written-about clichés in the musical book – escaping from the daily grind. But whether it’s working in bars or offices, music has always been a way of ‘sticking it to the man’. It’s strange, though, just how immediate that transition was with Dan Disgrace; within a matter of hours he had developed his ramshackle persona and run with it. While there isn’t a palpable sense of aggression present in his character, the music itself is a direct artillery attack on shitty jobs and bosses.
Dan, who is sat in the corner of the café tucking into his breakfast, explains how this concept has leaked into his forthcoming EP Nightmare Music. “There’s a song on the release called Commission and all I’m doing is totally ripping into my old boss. I remember at one point I actually felt really ill going to work every day – I was coming home from work and picking up a bottle of wine or two a night because of the stress. In the end, my ex-girlfriend was like, ‘Fucking hell’.” With longish black hair dangling into his face, Dan continues to recall his former circumstances. “I wasn’t eating properly and getting up every day putting a shirt and tie on and just thinking how awful it all was. Then I reached a point where I was just like, ‘That’s it, I’m done; I don’t have to do this any more’.”
With a modest handful of dreampop singles to his name already, Dan’s quick to agree that the creative process came as a release, nullifying the aforementioned frustrations. “That’s a big reason for why I make music – it’s a by-product of just wanting to get away from normality. It’s like my own little place where I can just go and create.” Having a relatively DIY setup affords Dan the luxury of freedom when it comes to writing and recording. He explains: “I’m grateful that I can make pretty much whatever type of music I want; I’m not the best musician in the world but I can get there or thereabouts. I feel like it’s fun that I can explore all of these different themes, I don’t have to rely on a band or anyone to mix my music for me – a song can lose a certain theme or atmosphere quite easily if you do that wrongly, it can be quite easily skewed. I think songwriting and recording are two very separate things, but they’re both as equally as important.”
Despite coming from quite a lo-fi setup, the singles have already made it onto national radio. This doesn’t seem to faze Dan at all though. “Huw Stephens randomly played one of my tracks on Radio 1 last year and I got a 6 Music play from Tom Robinson, which is amazing. It’s been weird to be honest. I’m not too arsed either way. I get my kicks from just doing it.” It’s refreshing to see such a genuine low threshold of expectation.
“It sounds ridiculous but I already feel successful because I’ve got it to a point where I’m in control of what I want to do,” Dan continues. “It might come across as unambitious, but I’m getting my kicks. This is always what I wanted to do: I wanted to be in a position where I’m making my own music and in control of it. Anything after that is a bonus, really – I’m not fame-hungry or anything.”
It’s easy to see why the songs have garnered such attention, though. There’s a hint of dreamy outsider pop that brings to mind names like Ariel Pink and John Maus in the music, although Dan says his influences are a little closer to home. “I think, for me, it’s more of my my peers that I get a kick out of. I’m friends with Bill Nickson and Alex Stephens [Strawberry Guy]. These people that are all just doing it themselves are a real inspiration. I’ve also just moved out of a flat that was a really healthy environment, people were always around and we were always creating music. So it’s more friends than contemporary artists I’d say.” The bottom line is that the music has to be made to a high standard. He picks up: “I just like music that’s convincing in one way or another. I do like the weirdos – to me, that’s more of a pure expression of music. I’m down for anything that has a bit of conviction.”
The forthcoming EP will be released through the celebrated and forward-thinking Liverpool label Eggy Records – something of a support network for artists like Dan. It’s been invaluable, he says, to be part of that wider community. “There’s a real range of all different types of music reflected through the label, but, despite that, it very much feels like a family.” He mulls on this before continuing: “Everyone that’s on the label would all feel like outsiders if it wasn’t for those guys. I love it because we invite other people to play the shows and it’s a support net rather than a label. It generates lots of ideas and it’s been a good platform for all of us.”
The regular shows that Eggy Records hold have also been something of a launch-pad for Dan Disgrace – and there’s a big headline show lined up at The Zanzibar to celebrate the debut EP this February. Dan is obviously excited for this one to roll around. “The best sound I’ve ever had has been there, so it’s going to be great. My set-up is so minimal at the moment, I think the sound techs are always quite relieved.” Despite this, it’s something of a 2020 goal to start challenging the sound technicians again by pulling a band together. He says: “I did have [a band] for a bit, but then a few things happened and it took a long time to get it nice and tight – so that’s something to be working on.”
If one thing is for certain, it’s that these are hectic times for the 27-year-old, and getting a solid body of work out there is a massive personal milestone. Dan rounds up: “This is a really big thing for me. Up until this moment I’ve just been releasing singles, so it’s all built up to this point. I’ve made something I can be proud of and I want it to be the first big thing that I release. I’ve had my sights set on a larger body of work for a while. Now it feels like I’ve finally reached this time where I’ve got something that I can take forward with me.”
Nightmare Music is available via Eggy Recordings from March. Dan Disgrace plays The Zanzibar on 20th February.