Epic Art-rock. Soul. Choir. Gay. Queer. Los Angeles. Intense. Orchestral. Psychedilic. Those are a few of the tags that singer, songwriter and performance artist Dorian Wood has placed on the webpage of his new album, “Rattle Rattle.”
Wood, who has been a figure on the city’s avant-garde art for several years now, has a bevy of friends and musicians playing on the album, which has been four years in the making. A chamber orchestra and a few duets accompany Wood’s voice, all of it so beautiful that you wouldn’t imagine that he was singing about the end times. Wood intones quietly, but can howl when a song calls for it. Piano, accordion or screaming at the top of his lungs Wood seems to command a certain presence when it comes to his art.
Wood, who was born in Echo Park, is scheduled to perform on Oct. 26 at The Center for Arts Eagle Rock with Chamber Orchestra and special guest Irene Diaz. I ask him a few question about Rattle Rattle during an interview that took place at Akbar in Silver Lake.
Q: For ‘Rattle Rattle’s’ mythology you’ve mentioned that there is a narrative behind the structure of the album, I guess it’s all in your head and not written out anywhere. Could you explain it?
The mythology is more like an imagined parallel to current times and almost like supposing what would happen in the future. How society would unravel. This was all born out of a dream that I had where I looked up into the sky and there were elephants everywhere and that would be the catalyst for the end times. It wouldn’t be this fire raining from the sky or anything biblical, but more something that no dogma or philosophy could explain. The album itself focuses on several different events happening to several different types of people on the very last day of existence. So each song tells a different story. Many of the songs tell two stories in one. The song ‘A Gospel of Elephants’ starts with a transgendered person trying to establish his or her identity right at the last minute and wanting to gain an acceptance for that and feeling that it might be too late. What to do at that point? It then goes into this song about Nina Simone, who is part of this hallucination that she’s riding one of these elephants down from the sky. Her own ferociousness is bringing about the end of the world.
Q: You have a lot of great people joining you on the album – including an orchestra. Then there are the duets. Do you have people in mind with these songs beforehand, or do you have to sort of explain where you’re coming from with the material?
I’ll be the first to say that I like to be in complete control of every situation. I’m grateful for people who put that trust in me. And it’s not like a cruel way of me going ‘We’re going to do it this way or not do it at all.’ It’s being able to be very bold and enthusiastic with an idea and inviting people to be a part of it.
The duet I do with Angela Correa came about when she came to me after a show and asked if I would write a song for her. And I was so inspired by her after her show. I think she’s a phenomenal talent and literally in a week I had this song for her. It was this desire to write a gospel song, which I had never done before, and it was my own hallucinatory version of that, and she was very gracious with her time and willingness.
Leah Harmon was someone I had worked with for a very long time and I’ve always wanted to do something with her. She has a wonderful voice and spirit.
Nina Savary was someone I met in Paris when I toured Europe a couple of years ago. Really very sweet, a beautiful voice. I had written a song about a dialogue between Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and God on her very last day on earth. It just dawned on me: Who would be a really good person to play God? I thought of Nina. This very sweet, melodic voice, with a French accent, I just thought that it makes sense to have her play God.
Q: You grew up in Glassel Park? Cypress?
I grew up in LA. I was born in Echo Park. Raised all around. My family moved around all LA for some reason. I didn’t think it was an uncommon thing until we were living in Sylmar and I asked my mom, ‘When are we moving again?’ My mom said, ‘What makes you think we’re moving again?’ ‘Cause we move a lot.’ It wasn’t a loaded question, it was like a sincere question. Before that we had lived in Glendale, Los Feliz, in Montrose, in Downtown.
Q: Did anyone sing to you as a child?
No. I remember my mom used to sing in the kitchen. She used to sing to this Liza Mineli live album. I wish I still had this, there’s a tape recording of her singing one of the songs on the album that I always feel is very endearing. I was actually the type that would sing to myself a lot. My grandfather was the biggest musical influence, he still really is. He’s a piano player. He’s still alive, he’s turning 98 next year. And he still plays piano, a bit shaky now. He still sounds phenomenal.
Dorian Wood plays The Center for Arts Eagle Rock, October 26 with with Chamber Orchestra and Irene Diaz.
Click here to read a complete version of this interview is published at Smashed Chair.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.