ONE PHOTO: Bristol composer Stantz on life in lockdown, longer tracks and the gift of time

Whether or not you have enjoyed the previous four months in lockdown, or found it soul-crushingly debilitating and can’t wait for everything to go back to how it was in February, we can agree on one thing the pandemic has given many of us more of: time. And time, for artists, is more valuable than gold. This is the impression I got from sitting down with an artist to whom I have been in very close proximity for the duration of lockdown, David Mackenzie of Stantz.

Primarily, Stantz is a storyteller, drawing on memories and experiences to create multi-medium works, and in the process developing a new model of releasing music which goes far beyond the expected. And although his live show has taken a pause due to the pandemic, he is still innovating while planning his return to the stage, where he will showcase his talents through performances that crackle with energy and imaginative concepts.

For this edition of our ‘One Photo’ series, we are exploring an image of David’s mother, which he is using as promotional artwork for his newest release ‘Reawakening’.

Meditative: David’s chosen photo

‘Brand’ is a word with which we are all, whether we like it or not, familiar in the modern world. As artists, it is no longer sufficient to simply ‘create’; we have to package ourselves as a sellable brand if we want to be successful in our chosen industry. In one line, explain to me your ‘brand’.

My brand is about raising the frequency of human beings on planet Earth.

Tell me the story behind the photo you have chosen, and how it makes you feel.

It’s a photo of my mother when she was about 18, taken on a family holiday in Wales. I picked it because it’s meditative; it makes me feel like I’m looking into a hall of mirrors. It is appropriate for the piece, which is a reflection on my artistic journey.

What led to you writing this piece?

When my mother died ten years ago, I inherited her record collection. At the end of last year, I moved into a new place after having nowhere to live for some time, and I was able to set up my turntables and audio equipment and listen to her records again. It was an amazing experience, like I was communicating with her and understanding new things about her and about myself. ‘Reawakening’ is the story of the journey I have been on, from childhood to now, and all the influences I’ve had along the way. It is divided into three parts, reflecting where I come from, where I am and where I am going.

Has your family always influenced your work?

Yes, absolutely. My mother influenced me with her taste in art, music, photography and books. She played me my first classical music – Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’. I remember her explaining to me what a ‘motif’ was by using this piece as an example, which made total sense to me as a child. My brother also influenced me musically, as he was a musician when I was about seven. I used to sneak into his room and play his guitars…eventually he had to put a lock on his guitar case! He gave me my first instrument, a hand-me-down guitar he’d made himself. It was painted yellow and was a piece of shit – I had blisters and cuts from playing it, but it was like a door had opened for me.

Stantz’s latest release ‘Luminosity’, based on an experience with his grandmother

‘Reawakening’ is a long and ambitious track, similar to a piece of classical music in its structure. Do you think there is a place for this in the modern world, where everyone’s attention spans are supposedly shorter than ever?

There are some things you can say quickly, and some things take longer to explain. This piece is a story that takes place over a longer span of time. I love classical music and am constantly listening to symphonies and thinking about how that form could apply to modern electronic music. I think listeners want to hear things they have never heard before, and I am always looking for opportunities to experiment and be innovative in the decisions I make.  

How has the lockdown affected your working processes – has it been a good time to create?

Financially, it’s been devastating – for me and many other artists in the entertainment industries who have lost so much work. But creatively, it has been a fruitful period. I am eternally grateful for this gift of time, time to focus solely on my music and self-improvement, my relationships, my health…this kind of self-development might have taken years in my previous situation of working two jobs and being burnt out all the time.

Stantz performing live for Woodbox Productions with Alice Berkeley

The live music scene in Bristol has come to a standstill this year. What do you think are some of the long-term effects of the pandemic on the music industry as a whole?

We’re not yet in a position to be able to see the extent of the effects, as we are still in a patch of not understanding what is next. Nobody knows. I am an optimist, so I believe things will be better in the long run for artists – we will be valued more, paid better, and there will be a greater appreciation for art and its importance in society.

Stantz in his studio

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in music?

First, I’d have to understand what they want from it. Studying and becoming someone who operates within an art form is really an extension of the experience of life. My life is led through the lens of music; it’s how I have chosen to see, hear, and interact with the world. For me it’s been a spiritual journey of learning about consciousness…but it’s different for everyone and everyone has different reasons for doing it.

Finally – tell me three artists on your playlist right now.

Laurie Speigel: ‘Patchwork’ – You can hear her sound, her choices, and it feels so specific to her. Plus, the analogue synths and equipment sound great – really dirty and noisy and unpolished.

J Dilla: ‘Sunbeams’ extended – I love that it’s 18 mins long and stays super minimal.

Arvo Part: ‘Tabula Rasa’ – Just a transcendent, beautiful piece.

‘Reawakening’ is released 04/09/2020.

You can find Stantz’s music in the following places:

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