When the clock hits the witching hour, do you ever wonder if the spectres are having breakfast at the dinner table or the creaking walls and floors are in heavy conversation, ever-while the bats squeaking outside are just vampires waiting to be asked in? If so, then Daniel Ouellette might make perfect accompany music to your thoughts. His latest album El salón (A Happy Home Is A Haunted Home!) summons your everyday and makes it a little more ghoulish. Of course the salon is a rather old fashioned and wonderful parlour, to have tea and simply talk. This is an interview with Daniel and what struck me the most is his love of conversation with those around him. To that end, the album has songs in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, extending that idea of not limiting your ability to converse. With this in mind, please imbibe and sup the wondrous words of this conversation and don’t let the Mothra bite.
Welcome to the retro 80s room Daniel, where we use Japan’s David Sylvian’s vocals to clean the crystal, Duran Duran is life and the ghosts of yesterday haunt us with gay abandon.
Thank you so very much for having me! How nice to be around Japan, Duran2, and gay abandon!
You are a resident of Chesapeake Beach. Have you always been in this area and how do you think it has influenced you as a musician?
I am new to this area as of May 2021. I have lived in several places, but I am originally from Massachusetts. Honestly, I cannot say Chesapeake Beach has influenced me as a musician, however much of the oddness of growing up in New England has and there is that type of feel here in Maryland… The outdoors are vast and spooky and full of bats and birds and other winged creatures.
What is the post-punk scene like in Chesapeake Beach and surrounding areas?
Hmm… I am not sure if there is one here in Chesapeake Beach as I have been here for only a year. However, I am very excited to be playing my first performance of the year here at the grand opening of Dusk and Willow Designs in North Beach, MD which is a metaphysical boutique. It is quite beautiful and Jenny , who is the proprietor of the shop, is a very kind and wonderful soul to work with on this event which will be the weekend of the most wonderful Halloween. It will be October 29th. One can check for the details. However, perhaps we will bring a post-punk scene to the Chesapeake/North Beach area. Maryland has a lovely scene in Baltimore and around with so many grand promoters, musicians, DJs. I often feel like an outlier to most scenes which is not bad because I have been blessed by the wings of Mothra to have been part of everything and nothing. Heh. Very philosophical.
Your solo project has been around since, about, 2018. What was Messer Ouellette doing previously musically and what is Shobijin (do not release the Mothra as the curtains could not take it)?
Before there was, Daniel Ouellette and the Shobijin, there was simply me solo and most of the time even when I performed with that name, I performed solo. The Shobijin was my backing band of singers and players who joined me on various performances and tours from 2010 to 2017. After that, I did a short project with a dear friend Deirdre McLaren called The Countess Zaleska, but unfortunately it was just a temporary project, but now I am mostly completely alone, but I work with a wonderful group of cohorts and conspirators like Jenny Rae Mettee of Fun Never Starts, Jason Mendelson, Elizabeth Lorrey, Don Zientara, Peter Linnane. Incidentally, the Shobijin are characters from Godzilla/Mothra films… which I see you’ve caught the wing of that reference.
Going to creep out on a limb here and say that you like to write music that you can have a jolly good giggle over…..
Why thank you for noticing! So very thoughtful and true. I love the idea of humor, horror, storytelling… making songs that can mean what I want them to, but can adapt meaning to anything for the listener… I like making songs that have a hint of wondering what is happening, but letting go and loving the experience. Some people don’t always get it and that’s ok with me. It wasn’t for them. Sometimes I am laughing the whole time inside whilst I perform or write… it is good. One should always laugh during the volcano explosion.
You released the album “El salón” at the end of July, so how long did it take for you to complete the writing and recording?
I am not quite sure of the amount of for the writing part. It was very quick. I think it took 2 or 3 weeks of non-consecutive recording and writing. I tend to write the skeleton of the songs quite quickly. I had recorded it in September of 2021, but then some life issues happened. I was very close to leaving the planet, not by my choice, and had everything to set to be released for a posthumous release. Is there anything like an album from beyond the other side?
But I made the videos from January to March. I wrote the songs by writing the drum patterns and then recording vocals with no other instrumentation. Then I, Jenny, and Jason played the synths. I went back to touch up anything I felt like, but not much. Everything was done quickly. One song was re-record from my 2012 album The Enchantment, I made English lyrics unrelated to the original version in Spanish for the song “The Kitchen Witch…” I don’t like to translate, but I loved the sound of that song and felt like it needed a new version.
I envy people who speak more than one language and you sir speak French, Spanish and Portuguese on top of English. From what I understand, you have family members that speak Spanish but how did you end up learning the other two?
Oh no no, no one spoke Spanish in my family. I learned Spanish on my own from school, making loved ones, and living/studying in Spain. We spoke English in the house.
However, my mother’s side of the family is of Azorean Portuguese background and there were some relatives who spoke it from the extended part of our family. My father’s side is French Canadian and the same with his family.There were members along the extended part who spoke French. I learned Spanish after English, because I thought I would rebel against Portuguese and French, seeing Spain is in between France and Portugal. Heh!
I studied in Madrid for my MA. I have an M.A. in Spanish with concentration on…Drama. However, I learned French and Portuguese at school and through loved ones and travel like I did with Spanish. Sometimes, I feel shaky with all four languages, but it is like riding a unicorn when you get back to speaking a language that you do not speak all the time, it comes back, plus there is technology to help us. But many words are buried in my head.
You represent all these languages in the album and I was wondering if you see these as different parts of you, this being one reason to include them?
Yes, definitely! Language is for communicating and when we start to use any language it becomes part of us if we may have the chance to let it happen. It is gradual and takes time. When I write in a particular language it is because that song’s message and feeling requires the words, cadence, and nuance that the language contains. I have learned that after teaching, writing, and singing in multiple languages, that all language is personalized to who we are and how we express ourselves. There are grammar rules for formal writing, but for communication, especially in friendship, love, poetry, music, there should not be such rigid rules, I think. Language is constantly in flux for new expressions. We all sound how we sound because we are our sparkly selves with a need to be deliciously heard.
What I like about singing and writing in multiple languages is that it is a beautiful way to share with more listeners something that they may enjoy. It is a delightful form of connection. I am sure I sound funny in every language that I have learned to speak to someone else including in English.
As I had mentioned, I have never done any direct translations, however “Kitchen Witch” on the “El salón” does have a Spanish version called “Te odio” which is on the album “The Enchantment”. The lyrics are unrelated in theme… the recent English version is more about escape from some place and the Spanish version is about telling an ex-partner that you now hate them, and you hope they are some place crying.
Again, thank you for asking about the inspiration and artistic desire to write and sing in multiple languages. So often I have been scolded for “showing off” when I speak to someone in a language other than English and have even been criticized for the use of a language other than English in my music because the reviewer feels that it is a bit chichi if you will. It is sort of odd and a disappointing point of view to me that that is how one would look at being multi-lingual. I want to create a wonderful, supernaturally artistic, and divine ambiance of performing and singing to others about all the things one might need like vampires, ghosts, and jewelry.
The album has your tongue set firmly in cheek, as you describe everyday life but from the perspective of ghouls and legendary horror creatures of the night. How ever did you come up with this concept?
Like language, such things are what I feel a grand affinity for, the other worldly world of what may not necessarily have a definition. I like what I feel is an artistic freedom that imagination and storytelling of supernatural and other offbeat subjects that may be beyond what we only see with our eyes gives to performing and writing music. Ever since I have been writing songs, the idea of monsters, the Netherworld, cryptozoology, the spirit world, have been placed as signs and themes in my songs. So for this album I wanted to make the whole album and each song flutter around these ideas whilst making references to a haunted house in both positive, neutral, and negative manners.
Do you have have a favourite monster child off the album?
Not really. I feel like each monster needs each other. The English songs contain titles about the house and the Non-English songs contain the monsters. Hmm…But if I went on a program, I would sing “Duérmete (una noche lupina”, “O Lindo Sonâmbulo (Um Fantasma Na Minha Casa)”, and “Velvet Divan (Why Do You Always Have to Punch the Furniture?)… This is hard.. maybe I would just sing any of them.
Could you tell us about some of the people you collaborated with such as Pam Ant?
Oh Pam Ant!!! My heart dances just seeing her name! We are siblings from cosmic mothers! She is an amazing playwright, actress, and musician. She was a singer with the pop-punk band “The Toes” from Burlington, Vermont. She is a divine artist in the truest sense of the definition. We met when I was on tour in Vermont.
Jenny Rae Mettee is another supernatural sibling from another mother. She is an amazingly talent artist from Baltimore. She is a singer, songwriter, and video editor among other grand things. She heads the fabulous industrial synth band Fun Never Starts and plays bass with the equally smashing Nahja Mora. She has the same penchant for the macabre and monsters. We met through the internet by mutual friends. Check out her band Fun Never Starts.
Jason Mendelson is sweet, talented, superbly stupendous musician. He can play any instrument like the heavenly being he is. Talking and working with him is like a gift. We met whilst I was on tour in DC. He created an amazingly creative project a few years back called “MetroSongs” and as he says it was “a goal to increase awareness, appreciation, and support for public transit by writing, recording, and performing a collection of songs all about Washington’s Metro station locations, beginning in 2010 and completed in 2017.” It’s such a great project! Go check this and all his work out.
The 4th collaborator on this project was Bob Murphy who plays the synth on “The Kitchen Witch Who Stayed in the Living Room to Fold Laundry (Take me with you, Mothra!)” and he is a darling friend that I met through playing music with one of my previous cowriters and longest standing cosmic friend who is a great talent and support, Scott Harrison. Bob is a wonderfully delicious grand wit too. When he is able to come to performances, he always sweetly whispers in my ear…”Don’t f*** up!” and then he walks away. Those are the guest players on this project!
Elizabeth Lorrey and Peter Linnane deserve mention as they did the engineering, mastering, and mixing with me. Elizabeth always makes me feel confident and justified to do what it is I like to do, and Peter takes such care in making it feel the best quality it can be.
From time to time, my dear husband, Ron, guest stars on the accordion in recordings and he needs a big thank you and a vampire bite sized kiss! Hehe…
I hear not only the music, but I believe I can hear a lot of love for the written word. What genre of books or writers have grabbed your imagination?
I like that you have heard that love. I would like to think it a surprise, but Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving are two who speak to me. I love reading books of Buddhist philosophy, autobiographies of musicians, and variety of writers, poets, and playwrights like Miguel Cervantes, Maya Angelou, Federico García Lorca, Pío Baroja, Pedro Calderón de la Barca… I sometimes write songs that contain inspiration from a poem or novel, never am I as good, but like the way Kate Bush would do such things. There is no one genre that intrigues me to read or write from whence inspiration grows.
Why do you think you are so attracted to the old fashioned horror legends and stalwarts?
The sense of the other world, the supernatural that is or may be. I think of making music as expression of an escape. I find it far more interesting and natural to sing about a specter under the couch than to sing a love song or one of those “I did every thing right and you did everything wrong” break up songs.
Who would you say influenced you musically, early on in life?
It’s a rather eclectic and maybe surprising collection of artists. In no order of one being better than the other:
Very early on: Donna Summer, ABBA, Blondie
Early on: Eurythmics, The Pointer Sisters, Siouxsie and the Banshees/The Creatures, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Sade, Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Tina Turner, The Human League, B52s, Yoko Ono, Peter Gabriel, Thompson Twins, Whitney Houston, Bjork, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich, Duran Duran
Not as early on: Alaska + Dinarama/Los Pegamoides, Celine Dion, Big Country, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miguel Bose, Isabel Pantoja, Ofra Haza, Desireless, Jacques Brel, Françoise Hardy, Mecano
Are there bands or solo artists that catch your ear now?
I have love Ida Maria, HK119 and Dua Lipa. I love to find music new and old that I may not have heard before too. As of recent, I have been enjoying playing classical music around the house.
A grand treat of touring and being in the music business is that in the past 20 years I have been exposed to so much music in the colleagues and contemporaries that I have done performances with: Fun Never Starts, Prima Primo, Winkie, C8bal, The Spearmint Sea, The Osyx, Kelly Spyglass, Nahja Mora, The Pilgrims of Yearning, Jason Medelson, Elizabeth Lorrey… There are so many more, but these are some recent acts that I know who end up in my mixtapes.
If you had a Ouija board, would you want predictive text on it and whom would you use it to talk to?
I think I would skip the predictive text! It likes to make up what it wishes! Wouldn’t that be a great little movie short? An impish ghost that takes over someone’s predictive text in their phone and causes funny little traumas and relationship woes for the phone user. I am sure this has happened in film.
Now, “IF” I had a Ouija board? Hehe… it’s right over there! Hehe. I would love to talk to Ofra Haza and Juana la Loca.
Ofra Haza always seemed like a dear and would be nice to have a discussion about singing. Juana because I think her name needs to be cleared of “loca”. I don’t believe she was crazy, but a victim of men wanting to take her power for themselves.
So, when using a seers ball, what is next in the future of Daniel Ouellette?
There is a performance for October 29, 2022 in North Beach, MD for the grand opening of the Dusk + Willow Designs metaphysical shop. I am excited work with Jenny Jimenez. I will release a limited-edition compilation at the show of the songs from my last two digital releases, “Avemetatarsalia” and “El salón” as a physical printed work. It will be titled “A Corvid in the Living Room (Come on, Louise! I’ll Buy You a Drink”)”.
For 2023, I am planning to release a single in February or March and then, I think I will begin the recording of the full length follow up to “El salón”… It is already written and tentatively titled “Otherworld (When the Wolfbane Blooms)”…
A tour would be nice. I would like to play places new and familiar. I once heard Siouxsie talk about how they like touring to places where the Banshees have never been and I like that. The unknown with a drum machines, a microphone, and a jingle bell.
Thank you for hanging in the Onyx lair!
The pleasure has been all mine and thank you for having me. May something grand and perhaps supernaturally wonderful happen to you!
El salón (A Happy Home is a Haunted Home) | Daniel Ouellette (bandcamp.com)