"'Delicate Empires is about the fragility of power and looks to the story of Genghis Khan for inspiration. Genghis saw the weakness in a way of life that was removed from nature and confined by stone walls and governed by greed, the rise of the Mongol Empire was enabled by this realisation," reads part of a statement I recently received from Daniel O'Toole AKA Captain Earwax AKA EARS. O'Toole is an Australian-based multi-disciplinary artist who over the course of the last decade, has done work as a street artist, curator, gallery operator, esteemed painter, musician, and music video director. I actually met Daniel O'Toole because of one of his latest collaborations, Jonti & Steve Lacy's "Scrood," which was the basis of this very interview in its infantile stages; little did I know, EARS was a world-renown graffiti artist and multi-instrumentalist readying his latest full-length album as Captain Earwax, Delicate Empires. An esteemed musician in his own right, Daniel O'Toole has released two albums, Red Silhouttes (2012) and Porcelain Giants (2014), and EP's Floating Tokyo and Blue Temple, as well as a number of projects with fellow Aussie and audio engineer Jack Prest as Flight Recorder.
"On Delicate Empires, Captain Earwax blends his passion for nature and Earthly sounds with playful and emotive melodies, intricate percussion and crunchy textures. Delicately-weaved together with a varied, yet cohesive range of tracks—some which feature vocals from Jonti, Lou Millar, and Amy Kisnorbo—while others focus on unique instrumentation such as the title track which features the "morin khuur," or Mongolian horsehead fiddle, played by Sydney-based Mongolian musician Bukhu. What’s most notable about this album, though, is its accomplishment as a seamlessly-crafted long-player, a format that is becoming somewhat of a rare gem in today’s landscape of streaming services and playlists created by algorithms," Fifty Records' press release continues. Daniel "Captain Earwax" O'Toole's third album, Delicate Empires is currently available for pre-order on limited edition 12-inch vinyl and digital album formats. Ahead of Delicate Empires' Monday 8/14 release on Australian-based Fifty Records, Daniel O'Toole and label head Casey van Reyk have unleashed not just one, but two singles from the forthcoming album: Amy Kisnorbo-featuring "Black Rainbows" and "Vortex." Please feel free to turn on a few Captain Earwax jams, delve into my rather in-depth 10-question interview with Daniel O'Toole down below, and pre-order a vinyl or digital copy of Delicate Empires from Fifty Records!
I. How did you first manage to get in touch with fellow Aussie Jonti to ultimately film the music video for Steve Lacy-assisted "Scrood" from his upcoming Stones Throw album?
I had met Jonti going to the movies and watching that recent Tarantino film The Hateful Eight, he was part of a group of friends I went with being that mate Jack Prest had been working on the record with him doing the mixes. I had loved Jonti's music already, since I first heard Twirligig and was quietly stoked to meet him. I ended up going to some gigs he played with The Midnight Mutants and hanging with him a few times before I had the idea to do a film clip for him and mentioned to Jack P. over a coffee how much I would love to do a clip for him. Jack was like, "just hit him up, dude. He would probably be down and it's good timing with the record just about finished." So, I messaged [Jonti] and showed him a few previous [videos] I had done, like the Little May clip for the song "Remind Me," which it turns out, Jonti had already seen and loved. So, it was quite serendipitous, in a way.
II. Would you care to briefly explain (in laymen's terms) the various distortion effects, double exposure, and various camera trickery employed throughout "Scrood" to give it its utterly unique finished look?
Sure. I discovered a process through playing around with the materials I had in the studio, whereby I lay a mirror on the floor and then, layer a piece of transparent blue plastic over the top. I film the reflection of the subject in the mirror and the separation between the mirror and the plastic is what creates a splitting of the image or a double exposure-type effect. I sort of warble the plastic with my hand and this allows some rhythmic effects to fit with the music since I can sort of perform the distortions and ripples in real-time, while the track is playing and it looks a bit like tricky editing, but it's super-analogue.
III. What exactly was the filming and eventual editing process like for "Scrood?" It looks like you really filmed a plethora or material and then, had to meticulously layer it together to create the final product?
Yeah, I do a lot of gathering of imagery; filming things on my phone and using that as a texture layer, shooting stuff on the GoPro, using the 5D for some of it. It's a real mixed bag. I did some painting on bleached Super 8 film and projected it on my bedroom wall and re-filmed that for texture layers... loads of experimenting and playing with textures and colours.
IV. What type of assorted releases, if any, do you currently have lined up to be released on your online record label, Free The Beats this Spring/Summer?
I'm actually looking to release my next album with a different label. I never really looked at Free The Beats as a full-fledged label. It's more of a compilation series and has been a place to put some music that my close friends and I are making, but ideally, I would love to have a label behind me. So, lately, it's been all about sending the record to people and trying to find where it fits. My manager, John Macliver and I are pretty keen on [Australian label] Fifty Records. Casey van Reyk, who runs it, is super-cool and passionate about what she is doing. It's a vinyl-focused label and they push quite a lot of Underground Hip-Hop from The States, which is virtually unheard of for an Indie label in Australia. Generally, the labels here are focused on local artists, for obvious reasons, but I'm digging the idea of getting beyond Australia and collaborating with musicians/rappers/vocalists overseas. Fifty Records' most recent release was a split record with two rappers, Leaf Erikson & AC Pull [with producer dakim,] called momentum / unannounced. And at the moment, I'm making a bunch of beats to send over those guys [to] see if they would be interested in a collaboration.
V. What would you care to share, at this current point in time, concerning your forthcoming Captain Earwax solo album, Delicate Empires? I know you previously mentioned to me that Jonti, Louise Millar, mastering engineer Jack Prest, and Sydney-based Mongolian musician Bukhu were all involved and you were additionally working on a companion film consisting of footage shot on 8mm film while visiting Mongolia.
Yeah. So, "Captain Earwax" is the name I will be releasing under from now on. I have released under "EARS" for all the other stuff, but that name is more from my work on the streets and as a street artist, it was a quirky name... but in a music context, it's less so and there are two other artists on Spotify that use the name, so it was time to change it up. Delicate Empires should be out by the end of August; the single, "Black Rainbows" features UK-born/Australian-based vocalist Amy Kisnorbo and will be out next month. The record is quite influenced by my travels in Japan and Mongolia and my interest in foreign instruments from unique cultures. It's sort of a floating, glitchy, Ambient, Psych, Hip-Hop thing. The album was mastered by Jack Prest (same guy who mastered and mixed Jonti's new record) and yeah, I was lucky enough to work with Jonti on a track and am excited to get the whole thing out on vinyl soon! The album artwork has been done by Kit Bennett, a Melbourne-based artist doing really fresh illustration stuff, at the moment and I have had some really fun and surreal press shots done by Nicole Reed, who is an insanely talented photographer from Melbourne.
VI. What can you potentially tell me about your Drumsmuggler site, which will "showcase the sound of local [Sydney-based] producers and sell their sample packs?" Who are some of the artists currently signed up to be involved within this unique initiative?
Drumsmuggler is a project I'm working on to showcase sound packs of mostly local artists, Australian producers, who I am connected to that are doing super-interesting stuff. So far, I have Kid Fiction, Jack Prest , Jonti, Mohi, Monkfly, Patches, Elbee, and Kho. The idea is to profile the artists and have some links to their music and I am making videos with the artists, etc. It's just another way that we can make some passive income on the side of all the other creative stuff we do.
VII. Now, do you currently have any additional projects planned with either Jonti or any of his fellow Midnight Mutants bandmates?
I'm planning to do some photographic portraits on 35mm film in a similar style to the imagery of the film clip we did, so that there is some documentation of that project, since you can't print the 72 DPI video still. I feel like it will be nice for both of us to just have those photos for keepsake, later on down the [line].
VIII. What are some of your favorite current listenings (aside from your own material and Jonti's as-yet unreleased Stones Throw album) which my readers and myself might not yet be familiar with?
Really enjoying Allysha Joy from Melbourne. She is on a Neo-Soul sort of tip similar to Hiatus Kaiote. I just bought her recent 7-inch, which is exciting; been enjoying the recent Plutonic Lab album, Deep Above The Noise, too. He did a track with Guilty Simpson, which is pretty tight, but yeah, the whole record is dope.
IX. I know that in addition to your various musical and cinematic endeavors, you're also an extremely talented artist and painter... do you have any type of shows, gallery exhibits, etc. coming up any time soon?
Haha yeah, thanks, man. I'm juggling a few things, HEY. I have just had a solo show in Melbourne, which went really well and I'm doing a solo show June 22nd in Sydney at Stacks Projects. Quite a lot planned this year, various exhibitions, and in September, I'm planning to go over to France for a two-month artist residency in Lyon.
X. What else are you currently working on or reading for release that I may have neglected to previously mention—be it music, film, art, etc.—that you may want to promote within this very space, Dan?
I'm working on an EP with Amy Kisnorbo, since the recent track we did went so well and hopefully, put that out early next year. I'm doing a film clip for Kid Fiction later this month and I have just finished a film clip for a local rapper, Rapaport, who runs a label called Big Village Records, which will be out within the next week!