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Dakota Suite
an interview with Chris Hooson by Martin Williams

I don't feel morbid, says Chris Hooson of Leeds-based Dakota Suite as we broach the subject of misery in music. I'll tell you what I do feel, and he's definitely warming up here. I mean, my stance is that life is just inherently disappointing. He says this with a flat, isn't-it-obvious? tone. I can't get around it. It's a morose pronouncement maybe, but one that's central to Dakota Suite and their music's icy edges - With their third album proper, Signal Hill (Loose), the band's outlook is still most overtly stated in the refrain of early song Divided: "life isn't what you thought it would be." - and it inhabits the outlook Chris has for the band.
I tell him I like the fact that they haven't upped sticks down to London in an attempt to be noticed.

We never get asked! he laughs, adding, I never see myself making any kind of living out of this. I used to work with alcoholics and now I work with kids in care, like drug users and stuff, and I just never see myself making any kind of living out of music. I just think it's nice that someone wants to put out my records and I think that's quite a healthy view to have. I love playing London, because it seems to me that the people in London will come out and see stuff, whereas in the provinces out here you go and do a gig to three people and you're thinking, 'why the hell am I doing this?'

Dakota Suite's music is sparse and spacious and, in spite of a varied musical canon that nudges at jazz and world rhythms, they make a vulnerable, thin-skinned sound that betrays Chris Hooson's initial motivations.
Basically I started writing some songs as an exercise in catharsis, he says.

Doesn't that impetus make it difficult to perform live?
It's really difficult. I do a gig - and I think I have this in common with probably lots of other bands of a similar ilk to us - but you always get a couple of real obsessives who come up. I've had people walk up to me in tears, like, 'your music means everything to me.' And I really find that difficult to cope with because when I do a gig it really is like an outpouring. I feel like vomiting afterwards. I really feel distressed and I usually have to get away really quickly because I'm genuinely shaking. Because when I sing a song I put into it the intensity with which I wrote it and I do tend to get a little overwhelmed because it tends to come back to me a lot, and that's hard.

Bearing comparisons to Low or Mark Eitzel or Rex, Dakota Suite's reference points are all American. Does he not see any British contemporaries? His answer, though warily confident, is mercifully free of any best-band-in-the-world posturing.
I don't hear anybody else doing anything similar, he states. And I'm talking in the sense of the variety of stuff like the instrumental album, the Suite for 18 Cellos and stuff. I don't hear anybody else doing it.

Indeed, their previous release was the stark and beautiful instrumental album Navigator's Yard, close in tone to the tintinnabular music of Estonian composer Arvo Part.
We have two full length scores up and ready to go when we have the time to do them. There is the 18 cello's and a piano piece and also a movement for small chamber orchestra and a French horn. I am totally in love with instrumental pieces. So much more depth than a pop, singer songwriter format.

While admitting to a liking for Red House Painters, Will Oldham and Plush, Hooson confesses to a general ignorance of modern music.
I'm obsessed by ECM you see, he explains.

And I'm not the first to point out a similarity between the packaging of Dakota Suite's albums, with their monotone photography by Chris's wife Johanna, and the stark look of the ECM back catalogue.
My listening is mainly fairly melancholic instrumental stuff like Harold Budd and Eno, the Rachels and stuff like that. Another influence, and I don't think it comes through very much, is the whole Coltrane thing. We're hideously into Coltrane. I listen to so little new music it's not true, so if there were any English bands I really wouldn't know, because I don't listen to any.Modern music has nothing new to offer. Signal Hill is more song based because I wanted to keep it simple, and we also only recorded over two days so it wasn't easy to create an atmosphere for the instrumental stuff, but I do see it as very important to mix them both as I see them as equally important pieces of the DS range.

Their name taken from the NY apartment of John Lennon, and an instrumental on Barbed Wire Fence entitled December 8th 1980, as well as the album's dedication, 'to the memory of John Winston Lennon,' I finish up by asking where his fixation stems from.
People get the album, look at it and they go, 'December 8th 1980, what's that about?' and my face starts boiling. Usually the other band members have to restrain me, I'm like, 'I'm not answering that, I'm off.' My parents are from Liverpool, that's where I grew up, they grew up going to the Cavern. Mum and Dad were into that hippie, end-of-sixties vibe. While other kids grew up with Fisher Price and building blocks I grew up with Pink Floyd and the Beatles. And my only memory of childhood is this huge John Lennon picture of him standing in front of the kick drum with this lovely Rickenbacker. I had that huge poster on my wall. And I remember when he died, I was 9, and I had six weeks off school, I was thrashing around the playground twatting people. I was mad, I was really insanely mad. When I woke up that morning and heard the news I was just beside myself, I was gutted. It's the same reason I can't listen to Double Fantasy at all, it does my head in. I mean I don't think our music shows any Lennon influence at all, but I always say, if you're from Liverpool and that's what you're steeped in, you'd understand how big it was, to my parents, and to me consequently. I moved to Holland about two months later and I lived there for about eight years- my parents had a bar- and it took me a long time to get over it and now it freaks me, it really freaks me. If Woman comes on the radio I have to turn it off, I just can't bear it. There is no influence musically, I'm just a bit hung up on the whole thing, really.

CWAS #5 - Summer 2000