LA Priest: Learning to Love
[Occasionally I feel self-indulgent for the pieces I pursue. In the case of my interview with LA Priest, I heard one song – his synth-dripping debut single “Oino” – I knew I had to talk to this mysterious weirdo. Luckily my intuitions were correct in sensing that this was a unique and fascinating artist well worth getting to know.]
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Meet Sam Dust, A.K.A. Samual Eastgate, A.K.A. LA Priest.
Or maybe you already have. Five years ago Dust was the singer and songwriter for the beloved, albeit short-lived, British synthpop band Late of the Pier.
Their hugely popular and only proper LP, Fantasy Black Channel was released in 2009, though the material on it dates back to as early as 2004, when Dust was 15 years old. That was when he first started experimenting with his music obsessive father’s collection of vintage equipment, in the attic of their family house in the British hills.
Working in isolation, away from a major city or social connections, Dust was able to stake a claim to genuine originality – if purely for the sheer scale and scope of its eclecticism.
Quite fitting for a band of such glorious mayhem, Late of the Pier came to an end just as their star was really starting to ascend, and following suit, Dust fell of the face of the earth.
Leaving few traceable clues as to his whereabouts, some super-fans even set up a forum to establish his whereabouts, at one point getting the subject trend on social media. At some point it seemed reasonable to assume Sam himself had vaporized into dust.
Then, at the start of 2014, Dust reemerged. He had a new project called LA Priest (pronounced Lah-Priest) and a brilliant new album in tow.
Over ten imaginative tracks Inji reintroduces Dust as a truly idiosyncratic voice we thought we’d lost, applying much of the same frantic, eclectic, mischievous and absurd spirit of his previous band, but to ever more nuanced and affecting songwriting and composition.
I got the chance to call Sam Dust while he was at home. He is a mysterious and guarded character, but almost certainly human.
Though conscientious of every word and their , he no so much an introvert, but rather a man whose inner compass points east when others’ points north. As he recently explained himself, “I’m this musical techno-hermit who doesn’t have a watch but has 30 synthesizers and a 4 track in a nice place in the mountains.”
And although he’s clearly enjoyed his past half-decade of isolation, even the most content of island-dwellers needs to return to the mainland every once and a while, to refill on supplies and share what he’s been working on.
Brilliance sometimes takes the long, untraveled road, but the result is the same or better when it gets there.
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Hey Sam. Is it Dust or Eastgate?
For musical purposes it’s Dust, but that’s not officially legal yet. I’m thinking I should just change it because everybody just calls me Sam Dust these days.
How did that moniker come about?
I gave myself the name 10 years ago. When I was a teenager I had the typical Sgt. Peppers obsession. I just wanted to copy them, to have this alter ego. In the days of Late of the Pier, we were just having fun making name for everyone, but that one stuck around. I had a shed in my garden with loads of dusty stuff in there, so I became Dusty Shears. Now I’m just Sam Dust. It’s a dumb story, but that’s where it came from. [laughs]
By design or consequence, you’re something of an enigma.
I think I’m quite aware of how the spotlight on an individual – in the case of a musician, performer or entertainer – is basically whatever that artist decides to point that light at.
I suppose my spotlight is a bit cloudier and obscured than the clear, bright spotlights that pop musicians tend to shine on themselves. I think that comes from a desire for my image or identity to develop more gradually and slowly over time. I don’t have a fully-formed design of what I want it to be, but along the way I’ve found quirks and aspects of that identity. I like to collect that kind of stuff as I go.
I would think you have to fight against the outer forces that want to reveal your full self?
Yeah. I’ve always been clear with people I work with that I want to do things differently. I only have to fight it with people who have different ideas of what I should be. I try to let people know I’m not going to appear in the same ways as other musicians; I’m not going to do some kind of acoustic session, unplugged thing – that’s kind of obvious with my kind of music. [laughs]
There are a lot of situations where I prefer to have complete creative control. Beside not wanting to burst the bubble on my imaginary world, I really like the opportunity to get creative with every angle of it.
What happened with your previous band, Late of the Pier?
The thing with that is, that’s my history. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t met those guys at an early age and started career I’m lucky to have. But I kind of prefer to let the past exist in the past. I don’t want to go there. It’s different from what I’m working on at the moment.
So since then, what have you been working on and how did LA Priest form?
LA Priest is the term I use for a certain selection of my own material. It’s what I’ve put the most energy into in the last couple years.
Part of doing this was just wanting to learn how to do things by myself. It takes a lot of energy to see something through from beginning to end, but if you can do it on your own and not rely on anyone else, it’s a really good exercise for growth and knowing yourself better. Putting out my first album, just deciding what kind of album and project it would be, was so revealing. With collaborations you kind of bounce ideas back and forth, but you never question it. It’s still good process, but in a different way.
For being fearful of revealing too much of yourself, how did you choose to show your own face and appear in your own videos?
When it comes down to it, think my personal appearance throws people off a bit. At one time I thought I shouldn’t even appear in my music videos – maybe that’s not a relevant thing. I don’t think my face or body or expressions have much to do with what I hear in my head or whats on my album. But the reason I chose to show my face on the record sleeve and the videos is that people can’t help but relate to a human face. There is something more for them to explore, and maybe I will explore how I can use it to relate more with the audience.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the sense that these songs are at least vaguely tied together by love. I think someone called them “surreal love songs.”
I think it’s more that……. Hold on, there’s a sheep next to me making noises into my ear. I’ve just moved houses, and there are farm animals everywhere. There’s a donkey making these ridiculous noises too….
Take your time. [laughing]
…So the love connection. I think it stems more from the fact that I’ve been away from the scene, not putting out any kind of music for the last years. The music itself was supposed to be a means to reconnect to people again. It was kind of an excuse for me to reconnect with the outside world in general. I think that’s a kind of love.
I think the opposite is happening as well, where some songs are about an absence of love. You know, you can’t really define an idea like love without talking about anxiety, fear, disconnection, isolation… Some of the songs are very much about my feelings of isolation, when I kind of retreated from the world. Together [the album] kind of completes a journey – first away from my audience, and then back toward them.
And you went on some very real journeys too, right?
I did. I spent a greater amount of time at home, but I did go to three or four continents, and I suppose that helps me get through the daily grind.
A lot of the time, making music isn’t quite as exotic and fantastic as you’d imagine. One thing that does my head in is the amount of time you have to spend sat down in front of a computer screen. Sometimes I really want to do my music outside, but as far as I know, there isn’t a system yet where a laptop screen can work in direct sunlight.
And even then you’re dealing with the donkeys in your yard…
That’s right. I haven’t worked out a decent donkey filter yet. There are a lot of factors that keep you indoors. That’s why I use any excuse I can to travel. That’s why getting back into touring is kind of awesome. I’m lucky that the people who caught me in my previous projects are still of gig-going age and still want to see me.
For me your songs have a very colorful, visual quality to them. Do have a kind of imagery in your head when you make or hear your own music?
Yeah but I’m never really sure whether the images in my head are directly linked to the imagery, or whether there’s some other kind of creativity I want to get out. I’m kind of obsessed with the combination of music and images. Sometimes I wonder if the imagery will someday become more important than the music – you know, fitting the music to the images instead of the other way around. I’ve got a lot of ideas…
Your music has been described as “unique” and “idiosyncratic.”
If there’s a genre that’s close to describing my music, if it starts fitting into one box, then I naturally want to move in another direction.
I don’t have a very close relationship with genres, but I don’t know why that is because I’m not really afraid of any particular styles or sounds. I do genuinely love music that fits squarely into categories. I guess I’m trying to do my best to not repeat myself in any way. So if I hear something of mine that sounds like funk, psychedelia, I go, Well, that’s too easy. If I’m going to go anywhere, I’ve got to do something new.
Looking at any of my favorite artists – the ones I really respect like Björk and Radiohead – that’s the kind of level you’d like to reach. I think people give up trying to define them in genres, because they’re just are what they are. Eventually they become a genre of their own. I know that’s a bit ambitious [laughs], but I’d love to be a genre rather than be defined by one.
Ambition is good, man.
[laughs] Yeah, some day. Some day.