Singer-songwriter-pianist Ben Dunnill admits that as a fan of pop and glam-rock superstar David Bowie, he was late for the party.
But her recent adulation for the influential performer, who died in 2016, is the inspiration for her latest self-produced single.
Song for Bowie is slated to drop on most streaming platforms (including Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube) on Saturday, January 8 – which would have been Bowie’s 75th birthday.
A subtle meditation on Bowie’s presence and enduring influence in the music world, it features significant contributions from guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe (of the Vancouver band Ludic), co-producer Nathan Tapsas (who has also performed guitar parts), drummer Paul Feder and saxophonist Dave Say – and even Bowie himself (via a few sampled interview sound bites).
Full of subtle musical allusions to the glam-rock era of the 1970s and 80s – and some of the jazzy and transgender harmonic foundations Bowie incorporated into his work – Song for Bowie is also a reflection of Dunnill’s maturing self-confidence as an evocative and creative lyricist and songwriter and compelling vocal performer.
He does just the right amount of nod to Bowie’s singular vocal motifs without falling into Impressionism or parody, and while asserting his own identity as a performer.
Still, it was hard not to fall for a delivery to the Bowie, he said.
“It was difficult to sing the song in any other way,” he admitted. “When I first played it, I admit I really crossed the line.”
But Dunnill – who is preparing for a heightened profile in 2022 with an ambitious schedule in which he plans to produce and release a new song every six weeks – said he decided to tone that down so his tribute didn’t become not unique. anomaly.
âI wanted there to be some cohesion between all of the songs,â said Dunnill, well known to White Rock from his residency (if COVID allows) as a pianist / singer at Bin 101 wine bar.
The path of ideas that led him to Song for Bowie developed slowly, but organically, noted Dunnill.
âI knew Bowie before he died, but I didn’t realize the extent of his work,â he said. “But when Rolling stone came out with a tribute magazine, found it very interesting and started digging deeper into its catalog.
âWhen I started listening to albums like Life on Mars I started to realize that Bowie could encompass it all, French cabaret style songs rock and roll, âhe said. “It blew me away – I fell in love with Bowie’s artistry.”
The form of his tribute was suggested by one of Bowie’s compositions on the album. Hunky-dory (1971).
“I heard her Song for Bob Dylan – and also his Andy Warhol – and I thought it would be cool if I could write a song for Bowie the same way. I started to write about his life and what I thought he might have been as a kid.
Dunnill’s lyrics refer to a “lonely child (who) plays with UFOs … like an eagle near a group of crows”.
And the use of Bowie’s speaking voice – a late addition to the mix – was inspired by a Charlie Chaplin lyrics clip used in Paolo Nutini. Iron sky, said Dunnill.
But there’s no such thing as a deadline to help focus a project, Dunnill said – and it was his realization, in September, that he had just three months left before Bowie’s birthday. , which motivated him to take Song For Bowie from concept to finished product.
Fortunately, he was able to enlist the help of some excellent studio musicians, including Tesler-Mabe (âin addition to being one of Vancouver’s most promising musicians, she has a vast knowledge of music for years. 70’s and the âglamâ era â) and acclaimed Vancouver jazz saxophonist Say who provides a brief but revealing introduction to the piece.
And Dunnill himself – with his roots in jazz and musical theater (he once appeared in Surrey Youth Theater Company productions) – has said he finds resonance in Bowie’s work that will likely continue to do so. influence its own composition and performance.
The ongoing pandemic has derailed many musical plans, admits Dunnill, although he did manage to put on a few shows under the restrictions in place, and also taught piano.
But he said he was glad it forced him to focus more on recording – and refine his musical identity in the process.
âThis (coming) year is when I plan to focus on my real success,â he said.
To pre-register Dunnill’s Song for Bowie on Spotify, visit https://show.co/j3YNn3e