AfterDark’s Dean Hodge speaks to Dan Bettridge, one of this year’s Horizons 2015 artists.
The power of music partly lies in the pure, unabashed escapism it can offer and its ability to transport you to another time and place, regardless of where you are and when. It’s a philosophy that Welsh warbler Dan Bettridge fully embraces.
His husky, bourbon-soaked vocal and raw delivery instantly – the voice of an old soul placed upon young shoulders – sounds like more something born out of a smoky jazz or blues bar in late 60’s or early 70’s deep south America than like anything else today. You can almost feel the warm glow of sunset and the scent of smoke when you listen to his irresistible brand of Americana-infused Celtic soul, delivered with a voice which echoes the spirit of Van Morrison and Otis Redding but refines it within a Welsh lilt.
It’s said there must be something in the water that produces so many fine voices within Wales, and the Ogmore-by-Sea native seems to drink it all up along with all the leftover traces of soul greats from across the Atlantic that wash up on the shore. While Dan openly pays homage to his influences, he frames wistful melodies within modern-day lyrics that give his music a timeless edge.
As one of the chosen dozen artists for this year’s Horizons 2015 by BBC Wales and Arts Council Wales, it is set to be a big year for the young crooner who can now begin to lay claim to being one of the distinctive voices of his own generation. AfterDark’s Dean Hodge speaks to Dan about Horizons, the main factors in his musical upbringing, and leaving university to pursue his musical dream.
DEAN: First of all, congratulations on being selected for Horizons. Are you excited for the year ahead, and touring with the other Horizons artists?
DAN: I feel very honoured to be selected this year and taking part in the Horizons tour. There are a few of the other selected artists I am familiar with, and Hannah Grace is based not far from me. But most of them I haven’t heard of before, so I am definitely looking forward to hearing more of them and getting to know each other more.
Growing up in Wales, you see all for yourself all the great artists that are around here. But being selected for Horizons has opened my eyes up to the diverse scope of artists we have here. The nominees this year are a very mixed bag.
DEAN: Are you currently in the midst of writing and recording any new material?
DAN: All the time – it’s all I ever do! I’m hoping the next release though, or the one after that, will be a full-length album. My ultimate aim now is to get an album recorded and released by the end of this year or early next year. With all the songs I’ve been writing recently, I’m at the stage where I feel I’m finally ready to put an album out, and now it’s just the hard work of putting it all together.
DEAN: For your last release Third Eye Blind, you worked with a host of people including Sweet Baboo, Jack Egglestone, Rhodri Viney, Maddie Jones and producer Charlie Francis. What was it like to work with them?
DAN: I’ve wanted to work with the likes of Steve [Sweet Baboo], Jack, Rhodri and Maddie for ages, but being able to find a time when myself and one of them is free is constantly difficult. So to have all of them together in a studio at one time was pretty special, and they all play such a big part in Third Eye Blind.
Stephen [Sweet Baboo] actually came in on one of his days off in the middle of his tour at the time, and had to tell his wife he was on his way home when he was actually in the studio!
DEAN: Your sound is very reminiscent of a lot of American artists and styles of music. Would touring in America be one of your main goals?
DAN: Definitely! I’ve already played in America before, but would love to be able to tour there and see all the different cities and places where many of the artists that have influenced me have played before. I’m scheduled to go to Canada next month in June. I’m just getting over a bad back at the minute so I’m trying to get myself fit enough to be able to travel there.
DEAN: As you mentioned, you’ve been off with a bad back for a while. I expect you can’t wait to get playing again!
DAN: It’s absolutely killing me not being able to play. I’ve had this for seven to eight weeks now, and I haven’t been able to even pick up a guitar. A friend of mine has lent me a lighter travel guitar which is much friendlier for a bad back so I can practice on that.
In some sense it’s good because it gives me time to focus on writing without little distraction. I guess every cloud has a silver lining!
DEAN: I guess another advantage is having more time to discover new music. While you have been recovering, are there any particular artists you’re listening to a lot of recently?
DAN: Normally I always seek out new music whenever I get the chance, but while I’m recovering I’ve actually played a lot of artists who I’ve listened to for years or when I was growing up, but haven’t listened to much recently. I’ve just been going back to some of my musical idols such as James Taylor, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Bruce Springsteen – particularly good choice of music for getting you pumped again when you’re off ill!
It’s hard to pick out any artists in particular that I’ve mostly listened to. I’ve basically just had my Spotify playlist on constant shuffle for the past few weeks and it’s a very varied playlist. If you want to have more of an idea of my music tastes, feel free to check it out. #DansMellowMonday
DEAN: You have a broad range of influences which comes across in your sound. Who or what were the factors in you discovering your musical passions?
DAN: My parents were probably the primary influence on my musical upbringing. Most of their record collection consisted of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Ella Fitsgreald, Louis Armstrong and I remember an album called ‘Thanks For The Memories’ which was a compilation of classics from the 30’s and 40’s. They would regularly be played out at home and I’d often trawl through their records myself.
Additionally from a very young age until I was about fourteen, I’d often go to bed listening to classical music. The first two CDs I bought with my own money, however were Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘By The Way’ and Sum 41 ‘All Killer No Filler’.
DEAN: Do you remember your first gig or the point at which you started to play music regularly?
DAN: I remember the first gig I ever played was in St Donat’s Arts Centre at Atlantic College. I just sat myself on a chair on stage with a cheap guitar I bought for £20, and played a set of five songs. Things have moved on quite a bit since then!
DEAN: You mentioned in a previous interview that you actually dropped out of your studies to pursue music full-time?
DAN: I’ve been a music lover all my life and in a weird way I always knew this is what I was going to do, despite having no clue how I was to get there. It wasn’t very long into my studies that I figured I wasn’t going to stay on my course for long and it wasn’t where I wanted to be.
I thought rather than do the whole three years and end up having to get a job to pay off all my student debt, it’d be better to just leave now and save myself some of that trouble. It’s a decision I’ll never regret because I now get to do what I love for a living which is making music, and it’s got me to this stage.
Find out more about Dan Bettridge and this year’s Horizons 2015 artists here.
More from Dan Bettridge