SXSW raged on on its warm Friday afternoon, and we were still recovering from an epic Mad Decent Showcase the night before. Dexter Tortoriello, better known by his stage name Dawn Golden, blew us away that night with an emotional set that displayed his incredible vocals as well as his skills on the knobs and pads. Watching him perform was a spectacle, and you're left with little doubt that this guy pours his heart and soul into his music. Dawn Golden took some time before his Friday shows to hang with us at the Omni hotel, and let us in on his backstory, what gets his musical gears in motion, and what he's got in the oven for us this spring via Mad Decent. You can check out the interview in its entirety below, and be sure to check out the music video for his latest single.
Earmilk: This is you're 4th year to Austin and SXSW, so you've been around the block. What's your favorite thing about SXSW?
Dawn Golden: Consistently, and this sounds really dumb, but the SESAC has a luncheon at the Driskill every year and it’s like a haven there. They just have amazing free food and it’s really mellow. I always have a bunch of meetings there, and it’s such a nice break from everything else. But as far as shows go, it changes every year, obviously. But this Soundcloud party I went to was really cool, and the Mad Decent one was so much fun.
EM: Speaking of that, fantastic show last night. How was it playing at the Mad Decent Showcase?
DG: Oh, man, it was so much fun. It’s been awhile since I’ve played a Mad Decent event. I did a lot of the block parties and stuff like that a couple years ago, and I usually do their SXSW parties. But last year I just DJ’d, and this year since I have a record coming out I wanted to actually perform. It was amazing. They always have really nice sound systems, which is nice. It’s never boring, that’s for sure.
EM: You ended your set with what I thought was a really powerful sample. What did you take that from and what does it mean to you?
DG: Thank you! It’s a sample from this big speech from this movie from the 70s called Network. It’s kind of a famous thing that not many people know about; kind of like a cult speech. It’s amazing and it comes like half way through the movie and you’re not expecting it, and this thing happens and you’re like, “holy shit, that’s unbelievable.” And it’s so applicable to right now. That quote, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore,” is for me is a way of living and operating your own life. If you’re not happy with something then you need to get up do something about it and change it.
EM: Your live setup and production is truly remarkable and one can really appreciate that when they see you live. Can you tell us a little about your musical influences growing up and how it came to influence your current sound?
DG: My influences were all over the place. As a kid I was really into death metal, so as a kid I grew up playing the drums. I played the drums for years. Then I went the polar opposite and started listening to a lot of drone music and ambient stuff. Mogwai and stuff like that when I was like 14 or 15. I stopped listening to death metal or anything with any kind of energy for a long time. And then it all kind of came back together. I started hearing electronic music and Tim Hecker and stuff like that. He incorporates all the things I like from ambient and then the distorted balls-to-the-wall craziness of metal into one thing, and I just fell in love with it. So yeah, there’s a lot of influences that just come together. I think I have an engaging set that is fun and something that you can emotionally connect to it. And at the same time I want to play drums up there because I just love playing drums, and then I just want to be able to freak out up there. This project is a culmination of everything I like to do in my life, so it’s really nice to be able to do that and get a response from people.
EM: During your live performance the audience can really see you and feel the emotion you portray with every song. Do you have any sort of pre-show ritual that gets you in that head-space?
DG: Yeah, usually I do, but not during SXSW because it’s always just throw your shit on stage and go. I was packed into a green room with like Liz and MØ, and just like 300 other people in these tight rooms. But when I’m playing a club show or something like that – now that I’m playing nicer venues I can just stay in my dressing room and just close my eyes for a second… Before my first show I ever played, I have another project called Houses, and we played our first show at CMJ – New York, and it was one of those eye-opening things where it’s like "wow, these people care about us, and this is our first show ever and we’re in New York." There was like a couple hundred people that showed up and it was fucking crazy. I had to lock myself in the bathroom beforehand because I don’t really get stage fright but I get anxiety before I go on stage. I just had to play through my head, “this is what I’ve always wanted to do my entire life, and it’s supposed to be fun, and if I’m not having fun then I’m not doing it right. So just go up there and even if you fuck everything up and everyone walks out at least you’re going to have a good time.”
EM: So where does the name Dawn Golden come from?
DG: I had a EP that came out about 3 years ago on Mad Decent, and I released it under the name Dawn Golden and Rosy Cross, which was just too long to say. When I actually got the full record together I wanted to drop the “and Rosy Cross,” because I’d be at a club yelling at an agent and he’d be like, “What? Who and who?” But Dawn Golden is kind of like a play on words. Aleister Crowley, who is like a world renowned cultist and ritual magician, he had this cult back in the 1900s called the Golden Dawn. It was like a secret society and they worked a lot with black and white magic and stuff like that. It was really interesting to me and I’d read a lot about it. It was one of those things that I’d always planned that once I got into music this would be my name. So I switched the words around and then in the past year, a matter of coincidence, the gigantic Neo-Nazi party in Greece took the name Golden Dawn. Not many people in the US know about it but in Europe it’s a big thing, and now I’m getting emails saying, “Hey, you know your name is the opposite of a Nazi party,” which is just the opposite of what I stand for.
EM: So how pumped are you to be releasing an LP with Mad Decent?
DG: Oh, really pumped. I’ve been working with them for like 3 years really closely. I’ve sent in a few records to them and asked them what they thought, and their feedback has been pretty exceptional. They’re not afraid to tell you what they think or if a song isn’t for your record or better for an EP. Those are things that I definitely needed to hear, because when I first started I didn’t have a very good self awareness about what I do and what I need to be doing. So I worked really closely with all of them and they’re just the best people. I’m really close friends with them now.
EM: How did you end up getting signed by MD?
DG: My first EP I put on bandcamp myself. I sold like maybe 200 copies of it. I was just emailing writers myself trying to get press. I just sat there for like 6 months thinking it was over. I was mostly working with my other project Houses, and then I got a message from Diplo. He was just like, “what are you doing with your record? I want to put it out,” but it was all written in like broken english and most of the words were missing vowels. This was right after his Blackberry commercial with the Superbowl aired. So I had just seen him, I was familiar with his music and I was familiar with Mad Decent pretty loosely, so I just emailed him back. It didn’t seem right at the start. I was about to start with another label for it too in the UK. It was a really hard decision to make because [Mad Decent] puts out really amazing music but it’s so different from what I do. I was scared about it and got on the phone with Diplo; this was the first time I’d spoken to him. He was just like, “dude, if you don’t want to sign with us then you don’t fucking need to sign with us. You actually shouldn’t be signing with anyone. You should be putting this out yourself and really working behind it. But if you’re prepared to sign with us then we’re prepared to work with you and make sure you bring out the best music.” He was so honest about it and that was all I needed to hear, honestly. I was sold.
EM: Who would you love to collab with in the future?
DG: Oh, man, there is a lot of people. Most of the people I could mention aren’t people I could easily connect with because they’re like childhood idols, and I don’t think anyone cares about their music anymore. But I’m working on something with Ryan Hemsworth right now. He’s like my favorite producer right now. There’s a rapper signed to Mad Decent called Zebra Katz and I love his stuff so much. I don’t know, it’s all over the place. I say these things and then a lot of them come true, and it’s just one of those cool things like, “oh my god, this is happening.” I’d love to work with Tim Hecker. I want to work with like weirdo, up-and-coming noise producers, because I think their stuff is breaking so much ground right now. Like Death Grips or something like that. They’re a noise band that plays hip-hop and stuff, but at their core there’s so much distortion and power.
EM: What can we expect from you for the rest of 2014?
DG: I’m putting out my album on May 13th on Mad Decent, so that will be a big thing. Pretty much more videos and I hope to be touring constantly.