Some music is so tethered to the time it was made that it’s become a kind of byword for an era: Oasis and 90s Britpop, Human League and 80s synth-heavy pop, The Beatles and 60s British invasion guitar pop. There’s something timeless about those musicians who manage to dodge these weighty associations, as if their music could be taken from any period of time in history. In their reverb-heavy sonic journeys with a fondness for experimentalism, A.J.H.D. have a touch of the timelessness that mirrors that of their great inspirations Deerhunter and Sparkleshorse.
Rich in introspection and layered textures of distorted noise, A.J.H.D. are a trio who have the ability to cast a spell that can instantly transform the atmosphere of a room. Originating as the solo project of songwriter Alastair Dunn, the group’s powerfully understated hypnotism can send you drifting into a dreamy state through thrumming waves of guitar noise. Their entrancing, mesmerising sounds filter into your conscious: A.J.H.D. are here to chill you the fuck out, whether you like it or not.
So, how do you make the transition as a songwriter from brooding, Elliot Smih-style torch songs to crafting reverb melodies in the vein of Bradford Cox, while maintaining your signature sound? Alastair Dunn explained to us how he’s managed to navigate this journey thus far.
“We started the band in its current format – which is myself, Callum Bocker on drums and Andrew Parry on bass – about two years ago now. I’ve always been pretty open to external ideas when it comes to writing music so it wasn’t difficult at all, really, to add in these other elements. Plus, the three of us have been in various bands together since we were kids, so we find it really easy to play together and have a mutual respect and understanding of each other. I never fully intended A.J.H.D. to be a solo project anyway, so having the other two to bounce ideas off and just generally play music with is perfect. I still write the songs but it’s definitely become a very collaborative project.”
“To be honest I don’t take the specific emotion I want to invoke in people into consideration too much. I definitely consider what kind of atmosphere thematically and musically that I’m trying to create, but in terms of emotional reactions to the music I think it’s so subjective that it would be hard to predict. I have a general tendency to reach into darker places for subject matter, to the point where at some gigs I’ve done on my own I’ve been concerned that I might be making the audience uncomfortable. But I think, with all art, that once you’ve created it and put it out into the world then you’re essentially giving up control of the meaning. It’s all a matter of perspective and personal experience. Death Of The Author and all that.”
“When I first started writing songs I was about 13 years old and I didn’t really have any idea of what it was to try and be an artist. Like most people I was just trying to imitate others that I admired, and it wasn’t really until I was about 16 that I started to develop my own voice in what I was doing. I think the thing that has probably changed the most, apart from hopefully becoming better at it, is that I’ve come to terms with the idea of separating myself from the person I have to be on stage when performing these songs. At first it’s hard not to feel a little bit stupid and embarrassed when you get up and show these dark, personal things you’ve made to people that have known you for years. They know what you’re like in everyday life and it’s hard not to worry that they would think you’re being inauthentic in some way. But gradually you realise that this performative role you inhabit isn’t actually a barrier but an advantage and that people are aware of this shift subconsciously anyway. Everyone knows that an actor on screen is not that person in real life and I think it’s the same with musicians.”
“Most of my songs come from ideas and themes in books that I’ve read more than from music I listen to, so the kind of emotions and places I’m exploring and writing about are heavily influenced by that. I like creating a kind of world for these stories to happen in, so usually they’re not directly about me or my own experiences. A lot of my favourite writers come from the Southern Gothic School, so I often try to convey that sense of bleakness and use a lot of gothic imagery. The emotional experiences in the songs are commonly ones of isolation and degeneration. I know it sounds pretty heavy but it’s the just the avenues of art that I find the most interesting.”
“People listen to music for different reasons. Some just use it for entertainment, and that’s fine, but a lot of people find a connection between themselves and the person that’s making this music. I think you can always find a part of your own experience and thoughts in the way another person views things, so I suppose that’s why there is an appetite for the more introspective moments in music. On a personal level, I’ve often felt more connected to people I’m listening to or reading than people I actually know just because I’ve felt a shared sense of perspective with them. So, in terms of the voyeuristic nature of that, I think it’s really an inescapable part of listening to music in general.”
“How much of yourself is safe to pour into the music? It’s different for everyone, I suppose. I would assume that a lot of people think that the musicians who write really sad, emotional songs are the ones putting the most of themselves into it because it’s so raw. But who’s to say people who make really upbeat, party music aren’t just exposing an extension of themselves to the same extent? You can never really get away from yourself in art regardless of how abstract you may try to make it, so I think it’s safe to put as much or as little of you into it as you want. As long as you’ve been honest with yourself about what you’re trying to do, I think for the most part you’ll always be fine.”