2016 Artist Survey: C Duncan | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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2016 Artist Survey: C Duncan

Duncan on Trump, Brexit, Scary Movies, First Kisses, Stranger Things, and Self-Driving Cars

Feb 28, 2017 Artist Surveys 2016
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For Under the Radar‘s 14th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2016. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2016 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Scotland’s C Duncan (aka Chris Duncan).

Duncan released his acclaimed debut album, Architect, in 2015 via FatCat. It was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize and was a gorgeous collection with shades of Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear in its multi-layered harmonies. In 2016 he released his sophomore album, the even more atmospheric The Midnight Sun, also via FatCat. The album is in part inspired by Rod Serling’s iconic science fiction anthology TV series The Twilight Zone.

For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about Trump and the election, 2016’s deaths, self-driving cars, Stranger Things, first kisses, scary movies they shouldn’t have seen as a child, which Friends character they are most like, and much more.

Pick up or download Under the Radar’s Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue for Artist Survey interviews with Amber Arcades, Austra, Faris Badwan of Cat’s Eyes and The Horrors, Boxed In, Caveman, The Charlatans, Cursive, Lucy Dacus, The Dears, C Duncan, Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz, Dutch Uncles, Ezra Furman, Robyn Hitchcock, The Invisible, Justin Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories, Lost Under Heaven (LUH), Lush, Midlake, Phantogram, The Range, Springtime Carnivore, Sunflower Bean, Surfer Blood, TEEN, The Thermals, Nick Valensi of CRX and The Strokes, Jenn Wasner of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak, and Yuck.

A shorter version of C Duncan’s survey appeared in the print version of Under the Radar’s Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue, this is the full unedited version.

Top 10 Albums of 2016

1. Mild High Club: Skiptracing
2. Modern Studies: Swell to Great
3. Ian Sweet: Shapeshifter
4. Geneva Jacuzzi: Technophelia
5. Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
6. James Blake: The Colour in Anything
7. Douglas Dare: Aforger
8. Alex Calder: BEND
9. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
10. Ian William Craig: Centres

2016 was regarded by many as a fairly tough and negative year. Was it also a hard year for you personally? If so, how? And also what were the high points for you?

I went through a breakup at the beginning of summer, which was messy. I had been going out with the keyboard player in my band for a year and a half and he continued to play in the band for a few months after we split up, whilst we found a new keys player. It was difficult and very awkward. The high point of this year however has definitely been the amount that myself and the band have got to travel. We have explored lots of very exciting places together including France, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Latvia, and we even got to go to LA.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. presidential election played out?

Surreal and abominably. How the hell did this happen? I’m shocked that there wasn’t a polar opposite opposition to take Trump, like Bernie Sanders (who would have made an excellent president). It was basically right wing vs. watered down right wing in the end-although Hilary Clinton would have been a much less frightening president. It’s also shocking that Trump could sway enough people to think that he was the “right” choice for president given that he is blatantly a very bad man and poor candidate for the role, with the potential to ethically push America back about 50 years, to days of social inequality.

Let’s discuss Donald Trump. What does the rise of Trump tell you about America in 2016? What concerns you most about a Trump presidency? How do you think his presidency might personally change your life? What message do you have for those who voted for Trump? What actions will you take over the course of the next four years to either protest a Trump presidency or support it?

It tells me that America obviously wants change. What concerns me most about a Trump presidency, besides an absolutely terrifying prospect of a unity between America and Russia, is that the president of the United States of America is seen to be the most powerful person in the world. They should be a good role model, but instead people will be looking up to an arrogant, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, capitalist businessman, and I fear that people will think that it’s okay to be like that. Kids at school will no doubt learn all about Trump, and a lot of them will aspire to be like him. Another scary aspect is the team that Trump is building around himracists, homophobes, and climate change deniers? What’s he thinking? On the grand scheme of things, this presidency will impact the U.K. in many ways, as we tend to follow in America’s footsteps. Will we take the lead from Trump’s policies like anti-immigration laws? Will we try and unfairly throw people out of our country because he’s doing it? On a more personal level, I will most likely be affected by the vice president’s anti-gay and anti-gay marriage stance. Will he reverse the rights to equality when it comes to sexualitysomething that America has been fighting very hard for and has finally won in most places? As a gay man, I worry that anything he might do on this matter could make people more prejudiced against the LGBTQ community in the U.S. and potentially elsewhere in the world. I would like to ask why people thought it was a good idea to vote for Trump? So many of his policies are absurd and violate so many human rights. Did people have an almost arbitrary religious blind faith that Trump could actually make America great again? Trump himself is an immigrant (half Scottish, I’m embarrassed to say), so why do people think he has the right to penalize people coming into the country? And throw those from elsewhere out? In my eyes it’s the vibrant mix of cultures that makes America great. There is a lot that I will fight for with regards to equality in the U.S. I will also fight for the acknowledgement of climate change, which is something we should be paying serious attention to.

What reality TV star would you have rather been elected president?

Any of them, really. Not knowing much about reality TV stars I can’t make an educated guess as to who might be a better president, but all the ones I’ve seen have been somewhat less evil than Trump. Perhaps someone like Sharon Osborne. At least she is liberal and has empathy. She is very motherly too so I’m sure she’d lend a sympathetic ear.

If you were president, what would you try to accomplish in your first 100 days in office?

Equality for all. Free healthcare for all. Free education for all. Free childcare for all. And of course, free jackets for all cold greyhounds.

What are your thoughts on Brexit and the future of the European Union? To what extent do you think the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump were motivated by the same factors?

It is a complete mess. Why this option ever came up in the first place baffles me. We, the voters, were never given enough information to really make a decision and as a result people went for the radical optionand most of them now regret it (also known as Bregret). You would think that purely on an empathetic level the people of the U.K. would vote to stay in the EU, but no, people got selfish and xenophobic and we left the EU. We are already an island, so cutting our ties from mainland Europe will have detrimental effects with regards to shutting our doors to immigrants, and of course to trading. Already I have been affected by article 50 and it hasn’t even come into play yettouring around Europe is especially expensive with the massive fluctuation in currency rates. Sure, the U.K. is a thriving place, but not having the inclusion from the EU means that we will potentially be fined, taxes will go mad, and a forecasted £122bn debt the U.K. will be in by 2022. I think that both the Trump election and Brexit were lead by an overwhelming need for change. The world isn’t a very happy place right now, and being fed lies from politicians left, right, and center isn’t helping. Without hard factual evidence from either side it is difficult to reliably make the right decision, and I think people (certainly concerning Brexit) panicked and went for the most extreme choice, and now Bregret it.

We lost three highly influential music icons in 2016. What are your thoughts on the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen? And what are your favorite albums by each artist?

It is a great loss for the music industry. All of them were at the top of their game so it feels like there is a gap where they used to be. My favorite albums by each are David Bowie: Hunky Dory, Prince: Purple Rain, and Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.

What do you think Prince and Bowie’s afterlife project sounds like?

I reckon they would both go in very different directions. Bowie would get more and more obscure, and Prince would get even more poppy (if that’s possible).

Which Friends character are you most like?

I would like to say Phoebe, but I’m probably most like Monica. Although I’m very silly, I’m a bit of a control freak. I’m perhaps not quite as stressy as Monica.

What scary movie did you see way too young as a child, how’d you end up seeing it, and does it still scare you now?

I was far too young when I saw Scream. I used to stay over at a friend’s house when I was about 10 and his very liberal parents would rent any film from the local shop for us. I watched a lot of films with him that scarred me at the time, but Scream was by far the scariest! Particularly that scene (which I find funny now) where the girl is getting chased around the garage trying to escape through the cat flap. The killer opens the garage door whilst she is stuck there, squealing and squirming, hanging to death.

Are you ready for self-driving cars and a more automated future?

Hell yeah! I thought cruise control made life easier, but imagine not even having to steer! It will also make touring around Europe in a van really rather nicewe can all sit in the back doing a jigsaw whilst our van carts us from venue to venue.

Tell us about the most memorable fan encounter you had this year.

We played in Utrecht recently and a fan came up to me after the gig in tears and told me how my music had helped him through a really hard time in his life. I got quite emotional too. It was very humbling and kind of life affirming to hear that my music had helped someone.

Tell us about your first kiss.

With a girl or guy? I smooched my first girl when I was about 11 (which didn’t mean much to me). I had my first gay kiss when I was about 14. A friend and I were over at his place and his parents were out so we thought why not give this a go. It was then that I realized that guys were much more fun to kiss than girls.

Under the Radar has been around for 15 years now, since December 2001. How do you feel the music industry has most changed in that time, both for the better and the worst?

I’ll start with what has changed for the worst: people paying for music has been on the decline since the Internet basically took ownership of music (which also has it’s good points) so it’s hard for artists to live off record sales and have to tour extensively to make ends meet. This could perhaps be a deterrent for some bands as even after the success of a debut album, it’s still hard to make the whole thing financially viable. On the up side of this however, it encourages artists to go out and create their own opportunities, which often means that artists have complete control over what they are creating. Although having instant free access to music online takes away from sales, it also exposes artists music to a MUCH wider audience. I’m a Scottish artist and I have fans in Japan, Peru, and America and without the Internet it would be much harder to reach these far afield places. Of course I am mostly talking about my experience and knowledge of the alternative music world, but having more and more independent labels means that there is much more scope for different styles of music which makes the music world generally more colorful and exciting.

Which Stranger Things character do you most relate with? Why?

The dog. I had a flat-mate who looks uncannily like Jonathan, so in a way I feel I relate most to him, because I feel like I’ve lived with him for three years.

What advice do you have to the leaders of the Democratic Party in terms of how to rebound from this election?

I would ask them to put Bernie Sanders in charge. There needs to be a true leftie to fight Trump, and he is the perfect person for the job.

If you have kids or plan to have kids one day, will you encourage them to be a musician or artist or would you prefer they get a more stable job?

When I was growing up my parents (who are also musicians) wanted my brother and I to do whatever made us happy. I of course became a musician like them, but my brother owns his own app development business. We are all very happy and proud of each other so I think I would also just let my children do whatever made them happiestthey would always have my support.

What’s usually the biggest stumbling block to your happiness?

When there isn’t any red wine left and I’ve run out of cigarettes. Aside from that, isolation. I tend to lock myself away for days at a time writing music, and I often get very down and forget that the key to my happiness is usually human interactionalthough I do like to be alone a lot, I need a healthy balance of both.

What band, besides your own, has the best name?

Well, my name is pretty boring so I could really pick any other band name… I do particularly like Chairlift, Hospitality, and Pavement though.

What’s the most vivid dream or nightmare you had in 2016?

I had a terrifying dream a few months ago that I had a little brother and that my older brother was trying to poison him. In the same dream my dad and older brother were plotting to kill my mum too. It was very disturbing.

What VHS tape or DVD did you wear out growing up?

Donnie Darko. I had (and still do) such a huge crush on Jake Gyllenhaal! What a babe…

What problem in the music industry isn’t discussed enough?

I personally don’t feel like there are enough out gay role models in the alternative music world. I didn’t really have anyone to look up to when I was growing up and wished I did, other than Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and Ricky Martin. Of course there are a lot of gay alternative musicians, but it’s not talked about very often. I guess the more open people are about their sexuality, the more they can help young people who are struggling with their own.

What song, past or present, best sums up 2016?

“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” by The Carpenters. We may have to move planet to get away from what is happening politically in the world right now.


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