Dan Black: Getting Creative with Kelis

By Tristan Parker

Ten years ago if you had told a young Dan Black, then a singer and songwriter in English alt-pop/rock band The Servant, that in a decade or so he’d be partaking in various deep and crazy conversations with Kelis while they write songs together in her Spanish retreat, it would have seemed a little ambitious, to say the least.

Because even though The Servant enjoyed success, it was only when the band split up in 2007 and Black began recording as a solo artist that things really kicked into a higher gear, particularly through his instantly anthemic, leftfield pop single “Symphonies,” which found a huge audience in the United States.

Accompanying the melodic indie-stomp of his latest single, “Hearts,” is none other than Kelis. The pair wrote the track in Spain, in a house rented by Kelis – a “pretty amazing experience,” says Black. “She would always surprise me with her ideas, and hopefully I did her a little in return. Plus we kept having these mad, intense conversations. It was super fun. I’m not a big fan of the classic big-studio scenario, with loads of engineers and people ‘hanging out’, so when it was just me and her, looking out over the sea, with a laptop, I was in writing heaven.”

Continuing a pattern set with intriguing and innovative videos for “Symphonies” and “Alone,” the video for “Hearts” is again an eye-catching one, and involved Black suffering for his art, perched on a rooftop in his adopted home city of Paris (“It has a slightly sad but romantic feeling which I finding oddly inspiring”), for 24 hours non-stop, using time-lapse photography to snap one frame every 16 seconds. “To get it all in synch … was very complicated and standing in the sun all day didn’t help,” he admits, “but the end result really caught that modern, sped-up-life feeling that the song has perfectly.”

Initially, it all seems like a long way from his days in The Servant – and as a guest vocalist for Italian electro band Planet Funk – but the separation isn’t necessarily a clear-cut one, Black says: “In many ways, what I started originally doing with The Servant, sort of atypical pop songs with a computer, is what I am still trying to do now. That band just got taken in a direction that I ended up not liking, and I just tried to get back to my initial aims by going solo.”

Having said that, Black suggested in an interview with CMJ earlier this year that he was very much done with being in a band, and very happy thriving from the creative buzz of working as a solo artist. Has he really turned his back on band life for good? “Ha – well, I guess never say never – but they are invariably so dysfunctional or weirdly political that it’s just not worth it I don’t think. But then maybe I’ve just been in the wrong bands!”

He may have started out in “the wrong bands,” but Dan Black is now powering along the right track and looking firmly like he belongs there.

“Hearts” featuring Kelis, is out now on Ultra Records.