DC COLLARD INTERVIEW - 200% Magazine
“The album took me a couple years to make, but it’s really taken a lifetime to complete”. A year after he toured with the British group The The, DC Collard has released his first solo album ‘On A Mission’. In the songs he confronts the demons of his past as a child of British missionaries. 200% spoke with the singer-songwriter and keyboard player about returning to Malaysia, his country of birth after 40 years; the impact on his life of the enforced separation from his parents and being sent to boarding school in England when he was nine years old, and the intensely personal lyrics where he holds nothing back.
200%: What made your parents decide to become missionaries?
DC Collard: My mum was a young nurse in London during the Blitz. She smoked cigarettes. One night she was heading home from Middlesex hospital during the blackout and walked into a lamppost breaking her nose. Lighting a cigarette back then could be dangerous in more ways than one! The next day she quit smoking and converted to Christianity, or so the story goes …
My dad was in the army right after WWII and wound up in Burma. He fell in love with the Far East and after military service became a minister, believing he was called to Asia. He was sent to Malaysia where he then fell in love with my mum, who by that time was already in country driving a Red Cross Land Rover loaded with vaccines and medicines. I guess they were both adventurers at heart; but both also had a strong faith and in their minds a clear calling.
200%: Did it take you a lifetime to complete the album because you find it hard to write about the painful memories from your childhood or to comprehend how being a missionary child has affected your life?
DC Collard: Both. For most of my life I’ve buried my past, as I say in the song ‘Kansas City Blue’, “Down down down under ground”. My emotions, deeply suppressed. Returning to Malaysia in 2014 after 40 years, I started to dig and eventually unlock those memories, painful and joyful. There was so much! I began to feel again. I mean really feel – feel more alive than ever … ‘Back From The Dead’, the song is literally about this awakening process. So yes, it’s taken me a very long time to be able to confront my past. To comprehend it and its effect on my life is another thing altogether: I am still figuring that out, but I’m so much farther down that road. I’ve become quite empathetic; before I almost had to pretend empathy, as my emotions were so numbed. It’s actually a joy to be able to feel again – even the pain, because I am now able to release it and look forward with optimism.
200%: One of the many issues missionary kids struggle with throughout their adult lives is commitment. Why do they struggle with this?
DC Collard: They struggle with commitment because it’s something permanent, and for us the opposite is true: nothing is permanent! We make friends, they leave – or we leave. Every commitment as a child is broken. And we mirror that as adults: failed relationships, failed marriages etc. So for me to commit to my own album, impossible! But as my emotions awakened, so did that possibility.
200%: Did you procrastinate to make the album?
DC Collard: Yes, there certainly was an element of procrastination in making this album. More so in the recording of it, as I wrote the entire album pretty much within a two-week period. Committing it to tape – or in this case, hard drive – was another story. I had to really psyche myself up, allow tears to fall and a few laughs. It was also strange because I was completely on my own – albeit a place I’m particularly familiar with – where usually I record with other musicians. However, for this project I knew it was necessary, even essential. I invented reasons not to start recording: a bit tired today, the motorcycle needs an oil change, my throat’s feeling rough, I should practice first – I never practice unless preparing for a tour.
200%: As you’re becoming older do you find it’s easier or more difficult to deal with issues of abandonment and loss in your life?
DC Collard: I do find it easier. I’ve found a perspective that I’m comfortable with. It’s a forgive-but-not-forget thing that allows me to accept the bad stuff from my past and balance it with the good.
200%: Have you got some advice how people can deal with loss?
DC Collard: There are some serious risks looking back at abandonment and loss, particularly as you start to re-live those experiences – and for some it’s just too much. My best advice is: if you’re afraid to go back there, surround yourself first with people who understand and have had similar experiences. They will walk back with you and together you’ll return stronger than before. For me, it wasn’t all easy, but it was definitely worth it.
200%: Did you think a lot about how much you were going to expose yourself in the lyrics?
DC Collard: No. If I’d let myself even consider it, the lyrics would not have been the same. After the fact I did think about it, but decided raw, visceral, no pulled punches is the only way to express the depth and pain of those emotions that were buried beneath layers of self-induced numbness – a powerful and protective shield from all feelings and fears of the past – and now exposed for all to see. I’m a more open person than I was.
200%: I love your style of playing the piano, for instance on the track ‘Beware: Mission Statement’. When did you start playing the piano? Did someone teach you?
DC Collard: I first touched a piano around the age of seven up in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. By eight, living down on the plains, with no air conditioning, pianos didn’t exist – but I did pick out a few notes on an old church pump organ. I started formal lessons just before my 10th birthday at boarding school in the UK.
200%: Did you find solace in playing the piano in times of loneliness?
DC Collard: As a teenager, the piano was definitely a source of comfort, a world I could create and exist in on my own, away from life’s trials and tribulations – the biggest of which was boarding school, thousands of miles away from my home, Malaysia.
200%: Who are your favourite pianists and why?
DC Collard: Bill Evans, hands down the best piano player ever, unmatched harmonic improvisation, always captured the perfect mood for any piece whether he wrote it or not. Pure genius! Just remarkable. And for Hammond Organ, Jimmy Smith. There are many great players, but you’ve got just about every base covered with those two. I will also add Nicky Hopkins, with whom I have a lot more in common musically. He was special, the very best at what he did, and definitely an inspiration to me.
200%: You did a comeback world tour with The The right in the middle of recording. Did that experience have a creative influence on your album?
DC Collard: The tour was wonderful. Playing with the finest musicians in the finest band was uplifting and definitely got my creative juices flowing. I had already finished most of the instrumental recording, but I still had at least half of the vocals yet to do. I think the biggest influence the tour had on me was looking at the whole sonic palette to my album. We [the band members] spent a lot of time discussing the sonic palette with regard to The The songs for the tour – and then I used that same approach looking at my album’s sonic palette. While with The The, the overall arrangements were quite stripped down and restricted, my album drew on a larger palette but still one that had certain limitations: Rock, Blues, blending Oriental Instruments and a touch of Psychedelia.
200%: Has writing the album been a cathartic experience for you?
DC Collard: Yes, it has been cathartic, but I still feel like I’m not fully aware of everything – possible side effects, consequences, that could be good or bad. There’s some lifted weight [from my shoulders], but I’m so focused on moving forward that I probably don’t appreciate or feel it as much as I should.
Interview conducted by Thierry Somers
Opening picture DC Collard by John Claridge
‘On A Mission’ album cover oil painting by Rebecca Calhoun
‘Like A Child Crucified’, the first single from ‘On A Mission’ has been released on October 15, 2019. The album will be released early 2020. More information: dccollard.com
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Assume the missionary position, press play and listen closely as DC Collard screws with your mind; from the tropical fever of his childhood to the predatory psychedelia of his adolescence to the melodious malingering of his manhood. It’s quite some journey and he’s just about lived to tell his tale!
Matt is the singer and songwriter of The The, a quality musician and mentor.
Fresh from a comeback world tour with British group The The, DC Collard has released a solo album that grapples with the demons of his past, as a child of British missionaries. Musically the album has the complex sound and sheer style that Collard brings to his music. But what gives this album its bite is DC’s passion.
On A Mission is about the betrayal of childhood. It’s intensely personal, chronicling the grief and alienation of enforced separations that mission educators demanded, under their claims of God’s will. Half a century later Collard’s album speaks for a wider audience: these are songs for lost children.
And he’s mad as hell. “Your mission statement is all out of date, mate,” he begins. And then he gets really cross.
Collard went to a mission boarding school in the spectacular mountain jungles of Malaysia when he was five. Then when he was nine he flew to Britain—he calls it “a journey of deceit”—to go to a UK boarding school, his parents a world away.
The album itself is a journey, from the pain and joy of his time in the jungle—the White Witch Jungle Stomp celebrates the fearsome cloud that besieged the school—to the deadening times that followed in Britain and the years that followed (Kansas City Blue).
It’s bitter sweet, made bearable by the grace notes DC adds: the sounds of the Asian jungle, the monkey cups, butterflies and recurrent motif of the prowling tiger with which DC had his own connection.
Collard’s virtuosity as a keyboard player makes this all look easy. It’s an album from someone at the top of their game.
This is music that needs to be played at volume. The message needs to be even louder.
(Full disclosure: Neil Chenoweth attended Chefoo School with DC Collard, and had a punch-up with him when they were both six).
Neil is an investigative journalist and published author living in Sydney.
DC Collard’s On A Mission paints an absorbing picture of childhood’s vivid experiences with a musical palette rich in diversity. Not merely a collection of songs but focussed on a personal journey of acceptance since then. The range of his ambition is equally matched by his virtuosity; it’s no easy task to play all the instruments oneself, but he achieves it with envious ease. Well Done, DC.
Roger is a producer and songwriter. He also plays bass guitar for Deep Purple.
Set within the frame of classic Beatles, Larry Norman, Pink Floyd along with a healthy dose of Blues woven with oriental undertones, and set inside Narnia imagery, this concept album takes you on a journey of painful realizations. There is enough light tones within the dark threads to grant some sense of balance, hope bleeding through the wounds of Mission.
—Wm Paul Young
Paul is author of The Shack and a number of other acclaimed novels. He is also a child of missionaries.
There’s something that fascinates me about records made with one artist playing most of the instruments - the journey from the ideas’ beginning to completion. And with an album that tells a story as personal this, I couldn’t imagine it being done any other way. Some impressive guitar work too from a keyboard master.
Barrie is a top British guitar player and the lead singer of Little Barrie.
I was fortunate enough to receive a pre-release copy of DC’s new Album project, and I must say I was not only pleasantly surprised but quite taken aback with the outcome.
This is an absolute masterpiece and a ‘true’ solo (in every sense of the word, being DC performed all of the instruments and the vocals and narration) album, which has already and will continue to receive critical acclaim.
A brilliantly dark distinct yet “English” Floyd-esque flavour flows over and throughout this project, and the intrinsic harmony structures inbred into our psyche by the Beatles etc are all present here to soothe the soul.
DC’s affiliation with legends, in particular The The, would know him internationally as keyboard virtuoso and musical director but . . . I must add (being a bit of a guitar player myself) that his guitar work and tones on this album are delicious.
Comment: Mission Accomplished!
*For those history buffs the common denominator for DC and myself from back-in-the-day was his band JoBoxers of which I am very proud to have produced their award winning debut album “Like Gangbusters”.
Alan is the guitarist and a founding member of Babe Ruth. He has produced many artists over the years, including Mike Oldfield, Jeff Beck and Roger Daltrey.
DC and I shared a similar dislocated childhood, the sons of people who worked abroad. This record resonates with me lyrically, and I very much admire his skill as a very tasteful multi-instrumentalist in bringing these songs to life, without a single trace of musical over-indulgence.
The word ‘journey’ is overused; ‘trip’ would describe this record in a much better way. It takes you slowly and deliberately from one place, through several themes, to another, never losing it’s own thread, or it’s own singular sound.
I always loved records that sounded like they were made at the same time and in the same place, and this is one of those.
James is a world-renowned bass player, composer and producer based in the UK.
DC Collard is on a mission – in this very, very personal album he takes us with him on a journey revisiting the often-painful memories of events that have had a major impact on his life. There are no easy solutions or quick-fixes in this album. DC Collard does not compromise – He reveals himself not only as a formidable musical virtuoso, but also as a sensitive artist. There is poetic vulnerability in the heart-rending lyrics emphasized excellently by the music. It is a very intense album and deserves to be listened to carefully.
Kirsten lives in Denmark and is significantly responsible for reconnecting DC with his past through a private facebook group, which in part led to the creation of this album.
This is DC Collard's story but it's also the story of many of us involved in Chefoo Reconsidered. Of course, this isn't all of DC's story, there is much more to his life and his musical career, playing with a who's who of other musicians but known primarily for playing keys with The The. But in this solo recording, DC has captured his early years growing up in Asia, returning to the UK and the impact that multiple separations and loss had on him.
Almost everyone who has lived has a story (or stories) of tragedy shattering innocence and DC has captured in music and song his particular story of innocence, of magic places, of heart-wrenching sorrow, of fear and loneliness and ultimately his search for health and wholeness, reconciliation and redemption. Those of us who grew up in Asia and attended Chefoo will recognize the jungle sounds, the thunderstorms, names of familiar places and references specific to our story but any child who has faced traumatic loss will perhaps find resonance and comfort in his words.
The musical style varies - from The White Witch Jungle Stomp ear worm to the rollicking, upbeat toe tapping Kansas City Blue, many of the songs feature DC's fast fingers on the keys (do not miss Beware: Mission Statement.) Some of the melodies will stay with you after just one listen.
The song that I suspect will grab many people as it affected me is Like a Child Crucified. This might be the dark center of this record and the hardest song to listen to but it's so so real...'Like a child crucified I buckle in my seat/On a plane to foreign lands on a journey of deceit/Like a child crucified I focus on the pain/then numb myself to everything so nothing hurts again.' DC asks the question that many of us asked when we were separated from our parents or returned to our passport countries, 'How am I supposed to live in this foreign land? How am I supposed to give with nothing in my hand?' and later screams, 'Mother how I miss you, Father where are you now?'
DC has some opinions about the policies that brought about repeated early childhood separations ('Negligent, remiss, irresponsible, reckless, foolhardy' - from Careless Children) but in the end he shares his story and the listener gets to decide what to do with his conclusions ('You can decide which hand is for you, the dance is yours...' from The White Witch Jungle Stomp.) There are references to scripture and religious imagery in several songs and one specifically at the end that left me haunted and wondering, wanting to know more of DC's story and thinking about my own journey.
Anyone who knows DC knows that he lives generously and warmly with arms open wide for embrace. In this musical offering DC has embraced his story, putting words to his emotions and experiences that are often so hard to name and then inviting the listener to reflect on his or her own story. He has offered us a gift and an opportunity to travel with him on a journey from heartbreak to hope - but a hope that does not ignore the pain and scars and is not neatly and tidily wrapped up. It's real, authentic and been playing on repeat in my house.
Duncan is a psychologist based in Washington, DC.
Very evocative and personal! Beautifully crafted melodies and rhythms, with haunting calls from the jungle. For me as a Chefusian, it seemed like a chronological narrative of childhood discipline and Asian flair stripped away in an emotional pedocide by the transition to the strange West, followed by an irresistible urge back to the roots of life. Then the Chefoo Reconsidered process of disappointment with the Mission but of unquenchable hope and longing, even for faith. Vision 2022 I interpret as hoping that the lease will be extended. And the ending is a wavering mix of cynicism and faith.
I like the different genres of music, from the likes of Lou Reed and the Beatles to some punk and a smooth boogie bar piano, a sprinkle of Lennon's Mother and the seven words from the cross.
Sometimes you feel cold fingers at your throat and sometimes righteous wrath, but then again also soothing relief and joy.
Anders is an ordained minister serving the Swedish community in Phuket, Thailand.
DC Collard’s illustrious musical career has largely been as an integral part of a band, ensemble or well-known record company artist, so it’s fantastic to finally hear and enjoy an album that solely and wholly belongs to him.
The author cleverly takes us through an autobiographical musical journey which has echoes of Pink Floyd, 10cc and even some David Bowie. The opening track introduces us to the White Witch and it’s euphemisms, a local nickname for an ethereal mist which nestles eerily and beautifully in between the highlands of Peninsular Malaysia. This is a wonderful concept album about a youth and his experience, wonders and traumas of being a missionary kid in the 60’s. Full of musical parable and allegory, often times hard-hitting, pulling very few punches as in Like a Child Crucified.
There is brilliant stuff on this album and every track is vastly different, yet none seem out of place and tie together beautifully from powerful heartbreaking ballads like End of the Tunnel to the wonderful Kansas City Blue, a great blues/funk track with great horn parts that had me smiling and immediately replaying it. The album comes full circle and ends with the way it began: a White Witch and some hauntingly played piano notes . . .
DC has incorporated the instruments and pathos of his beloved Malaysia whilst relaying the pain that couldn’t be ignored on his journey.
Great songs, well played, well produced, the album deserves repeated listens and lots of exposure!
I cannot recommend it strongly enough!
Richard is a singer-songwriter, musician, producer, who spent many years honing his craft in Singapore before finally relocating to Southern England.