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SJD Releases New Album Dayglo Spectres

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

SJD has just released his fifth album. OLIVIA HOLBOROW talked to Sean James Donnelly about new directions, commercial successes, and the benefits of obscurity.

Wellington, Oct 31 NZPA - Dayglo Spectres, SJD's fifth album, has 10 up-beat tracks dripping with pulsing synths and 1980s influences and has already received critical acclaim.

Unlike previous albums which took about three years to complete, Dayglo Spectres was finished in just four months.

Sean James Donnelly says this was an intentional effort to push himself in a new direction -- away from his previous "rampant eclecticism".

"I like lots of different kinds of music and if you do one album every three years, every little thing that you listen to and are into during that time tends to get put into it, which can make it a somewhat confusing experience for a lot of listeners."

He feels this has been the downfall of his music in the past and says it is sometimes hard to listen to his old albums.

"I feel like I'd enjoy them more now if things were more a single entity," he says.

So this time around the focus was on taking a simpler approach by using the instruments at hand (drums, bass and guitar), turning the tempo up, and getting the tracks finished.

Donnelly describes it as painting in broad strokes, rather than getting carried away with a fine little brush.

Lending a helping hand was James Duncan, who has worked with SJD before but this time stepped up into a much more centre stage role. Donnelly says Duncan's focus perfectly balanced his own tendency to drift.

"He had a very definite thing that he wanted to do and he stuck to it ... he just really brought it back to some more basic elements and made it work on that level."

The collaboration and new direction clearly work. The end result is an album that feels complete, flowing easily from start to finish.

Of the 1980s influences apparent throughout the tracks, Donnelly says that in the last few years he has gone back to a lot of the music he loved during the decade. Though he says he was wary of letting the influence seep through in the "novelty" way that has recently become popular.

Donnelly was particularly influenced by early David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Depeche Mode among others. Once again balancing him out, Donnelly says Duncan brings a more modern influence to Dayglo Spectres. He was listening to bands such as LCD Soundsystem and Chik Chik Chik at the time.

The album's title has drawn almost as much attention as the fact of its release. Asked where Dayglo Spectres comes from, Donnelly (clearly no stranger to the question) laughs and responds: "God knows".

Originally a lyric paired with "some ridiculous French bit" on the track Nite Club, it was wiped from the song at Duncan's intervention, but lingered as a title.

Despite its seemingly random beginnings, Donnelly says the title does have some strategic merits.

"I've noticed that if you Google something like Southern Lights [the name of SJD's third album] there's lots of stuff that comes up -- from a brand of cigarettes to tex mex music. So I thought `I want to start having album titles where if you Google them, you get SJD'."

A quick Google search to test this theory revealed a full page of SJD related results -- well played.

SJD has, of course, already claimed a place in New Zealand's music history books. Donnelly's 2007 album Songs from a Dictaphone took the New Zealand music scene by storm.

It reached number 11 in the New Zealand album charts, and topped the iTunes sales chart. Two of the album's tracks, Beautiful Haze and I Wrote This Song For You, were licensed for television advertisements for Monteiths and the Buy New Zealand Made campaign. Beautiful Haze also earned Donnelly a nomination for the Silver Scroll song-writing award in 2007, as did the song I Will Not Let You Down.

Donnelly, who describes his work as "a little bit too left of centre for people", says he does not expect Dayglo Spectres to follow suit.

"I want to make more albums, more quickly, and I don't really expect this album to be as successful as the last in terms of licensing. It's the nature of working quickly and being more focused in an area of music that probably has less cross-over potential."

But he does value his commercial successes, which have not only introduced his music to more people but also help him get by.

"I couldn't survive off the albums that I sell, but the fact that I do that bread and butter work means I can actually do what I want with an album -- it doesn't have to be too commercial and compromised in that way."

Growing up in Auckland, Donnelly says he always wanted to be a musician.

"I'm lucky enough to be able to make music full-time and that is kind of a dream come true really."

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