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xmag.com : November 2001: Dahlia

If they ain't the biggest fucking thing in Portland, then tell me who the hell is? The conglomeration of electronica wizards known as Dahlia, is the closest thing to an international Portland splash since the days of Dan Reed, Dharma Bums or Nu Shooz. With its two most recognizable figures--keyboardist Keith Schreiner and singer Jennifer Folker--treading the light fantastic with the likes of Love & Rockets' David J., Banco De Gaia, Nine Inch Nails' Chris Vrenna, Jeff Trott and Sheryl Crow, there's little doubt that Dahlia is something amazing that's blooming right here at home. And Dahlia is a flower that's pushing up buds all over. Schreiner, with his compact family of sequencers and keyboards, works regularly around town as a freelance composer, session man and as the one-man-show called Auditory Sculpture. He's recently hooked up with Trott on a regular basis, completed some session work on Crow's latest album, and buried himself in writing a film score for a locally produced documentary. Then, under the Auditory Sculpture name, he gave birth to a phenomenal CD called That Might Be You, But This Is Me. This heady little trip elicits a flood of electronic icons, from Moby, Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream to DJ Coldcut. Talk about resumés.

Then there's the lovely Miss Jennifer, who has racked up a load of glittering highlights, including work on David J's solo works (on the Internet), the ethereal Banco De Gaia, and a recent EP by Vrenna that features an appearance by art rock god David Sylvian. And when their worlds collide, it gets damn interesting. On Keith's album, the stunning "Hiding From You" reveals a classical side to the techno whiz kid. But that song appears on Dahlia's explosive first CD, Emotion Cycles, as well. Here, it's delicately layered by Jennifer's vocals while the original Auditory Sculpture version slides intact underneath.

"I think why Dahlia works so well is that the music stands up well by itself," said Schreiner. "And with Jen on top, it's just--fuckin' A-- that much more."

Meanwhile, Cycles is in its third pressing now, having sold out locally time and again. A recent national distribution deal with Allegro will happily force them to press even more. But there's still more to Dahlia than meets the eye...and ear. Behind them at every show is soundman Jay Bozich, who, according to Schreiner, "does the whole nine yards: tweaking the sound, effects, lights and video."

"It's nice to be in with Six Degrees Records. It's like having a relationship with them without
the relationship: all the intercourse you want without the commitment." --Jennifer Folker

And behind Bozich, Schreiner and Folker is a constant aesthetic of improvising. Surprisingly little is set in stone in their song structures: from Folker's otherworldly, on-the-spot scat singing, Schreiner's awe-inspiring method of manipulating and toying with his own loops and keyboard lines, to Bozich's mystical manner of moving the entire direction of a song from behind the soundboard like some sort of Wizard of Oz.

Exotic: It really is improvisation on every level, isn't it?

Schreiner: It's improvising over a general theme. Jen knows what I do. I know what Jen does. We all know what Jay does. There's a general construct of what the song will do. We know roughly what will happen, where it's going to go, but we have no idea what's REALLY going to happen. Sometimes Jen will take over as the leading force and I'll follow. Other times I'll take over. We
don't even look at each other when we perform. We know when someone feels the bug.

Bozich: And every once in a while I'll take over.

Folker: Yeah, we'll hear Jay take over. He'll turn it up louder than it's tasteful, and we can hear it. All of a sudden my voice has, like, this effect. And I'll change the approach at that point, because I'm, like, ooooo.....he'll have this harmonizer on my voice. It'll get all creepy and I'll play off that.

Exotic: I've seen that happen when you make those sort of whale noises,
and all of a sudden there'll be this echo surrounding you, giving it that sub-marine thing.

Bozich: It's sort of reflex now. I'll be trying to do something else, then I'll hear that and I know I've got to go hit that effect.

Exotic: Jennifer, how did you get hooked up with national people like David J., Banco and Vrenna?

Folker: Vrenna heard me on Banco De Gaia--who are both on Six Degrees Records--at their offices, and he said, "Who the fuck is this singer?" They said, "Well, we'd love to hook you up." It's nice to be in with Six Degrees Records. It's like having a relationship with them without the relationship: all the intercourse you want without the commitment. And David J. heard my old band, Imogene, down in San Diego when my friend played it for him. He was curious and I sent him a demo.

Exotic: Do these other high-profile projects help in promoting the band with the national distribution deal?

Folker: Yeah! But you go do these other things and it's still great to come back. It strengthens the working relationship with us. People go, "Well, you've worked with so-and-so, why don't you keep working with him?...."

Exotic: It's like, "But have you heard Dahlia?"

Folker: Yeah. More like, "But there's this fucking great project back home."

Exotic: Keith, you play a lot of didgeridoo. But you were telling me once how that can have some stigma--you'll sometimes join a jazz jam and the musicians will initially ask, "what the fuck," until you win them over.

Schreiner: It's misrepresented so often. The aborigines don't just drone and fart in the thing. That's boring as hell. The more rhythmic approach is traditional. They just rock it. I often feel like I have to go out and prove, "Hey, you can rock this thing." It's not just new age, hippie bullshit.

Exotic: On the album, there's that song where the lyric goes, "Show us your soul," called "Tour." It's sort of a signature tune of yours, and it's a live version that's on the album.

Schreiner: A lot of people who bought the Dahlia album at first were bummed that it was so different from the live shows. So we figured we'd put that on to give it a taste of the live. It's raw. It's super raw, but it gives a good taste.

Exotic: Now, you once told me an interesting view on performing--how you don't really like it.

Schreiner: Yeah, I'm not real big on performing live. I don't think you can give an honest, true performance if you play live, because inevitably the crowd

dictates what you do. You have to focus on the energy, the crowd, and that dictates your performance-- unless your ego is THAT fucking big.

Exotic: Is that a view that you both share? Or how do you feel about that?

Folker: Oh, I'm not worried about him. He's got to pay the bills. I agree with what he's saying, but I get off on the feedback of the crowd and the energy and what not. Although it has its painful nights if you want to do soft stuff and
you can't.

Schreiner: Some of our best material is deep ambient. But I don't attempt it anymore, because when I try some mellow shit all I hear is talking, and we watch people walk off the dance floor. So we try to keep it upbeat.

 

That's not exactly a "music for the masses" concession for the improvisational wizardry of Dahlia. More like helping the audience out. Or throwing them a bone...or a didgeridoo. *

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