The Dandelion’s Natalie de Silver: “I have a garden so I go out there… you only have to sit and watch for a few minutes and you’ll see creation and the creation process”

Original photo courtesy of Harpoon; handmade collage by B.

Sydney’s The Dandelion channel the best parts of 1960s music, hints of exotica and psychedelia to create a magical world of their own. We had a deep chat with The Dandelion’s creatrix Natalie de Silver about creation, spirituality, songwriting, growth and their new album in the works.

What feeling do you get from making or playing music?

NATALIE DE SILVER: It brings on a whole range of emotions. A good song is a song that makes you feel something quite powerfully; a bad song is a song that doesn’t make you feel anything or it might just make you feel annoyed [laughs]. I always judge a song by how it makes me feel. The feeling I get from making or playing music is quite inexplicable really. The creative process is quite complex, sometimes it can be frustrating. I start with a sound in my head and I want to bring it to life; it doesn’t always come out the way that you want it to, which can also be a good thing as well because it can be surprising where it goes. There is something about spontaneity in the creative process that is magical.

I understand that you don’t really feel so comfortable writing and recording in the company of other people; why is that? Is there a freedom in making things by yourself?

NDS: I don’t mind recording in front of people. The reason I do lots of recording by myself is mainly financial. I can do it from home and I’m not on a time schedule. I can chip away at what I’m working on when I feel like it and I’m in the mood, rather than have studio time booked and have to get everything together for it and make it in a short timeframe. The next record that we are doing is going to be in a proper studio, it will be a bit more of a collaborative process with the other band members more involved. We’ll have a recording engineer as well which is exciting!

I was going to ask you about recording your next album because I saw back in November last year that you put out a call for a violinist on social media, saying that you might be recording this April.

NDS: That’s right, it’s still scheduled to record in April.

I’ve read you talk about wanting to really get a really lush sound to your albums. I was thinking being in a studio as opposed to home recording like you usually do, you may be able to realise that.

NDS: For sure! It will be nice to have a little bit less responsibility in terms of capturing the sound but, it is inevitable I will be directing a lot of what is happening and the creative process. Not having to be the one that presses play, record and rewind, will give me a different type of freedom. Like you were saying before, I do have a sense of freedom when I record by myself at home but, I think having less responsibility in engineering the recording I will have a different freedom in the studio.

I know that for the last two LPs you used the same recording equipment and instruments to get the sound you have. Using a different studio etc. it will be interesting to see where this recording goes.

NDS: I think it will have a different sound sonically for sure. I don’t want to give away anything yet before it is done though. I always find that generally how I would envision the album before its being made, it doesn’t always turn out the way I plan.

I understand that when you do start writing for an album you often think it’s going to be a folky kind of album and then it turns out completely different.

NDS: That happens pretty much every record, I plan to do a folk record. I think it’s because I write a lot of my songs on a nylon string acoustic guitar. You can probably tell on my albums there is a lot of folk material, that’s generally how I start the record, then there is this moment where I get a burst of energy and want to play real drums and play an electric guitar [laughs].

Photo by Jamie Wdziekonski.

I think it’s so cool that you write, play and record all your songs yourself, not many people do that.

NDS: I don’t know how that came about? I learnt to play instruments, I had a period years ago where I was living in a warehouse space, that’s where the band used to rehearse so instruments were just there set up… maybe I started out of boredom? We had band rehearsals once a week and I had all this time in between that, where I was surrounded by all of these instruments. I was always writing songs and I’d feel anxious because I wanted to just record it. It was a slow process of recording and learning how to play those instruments at the same time. I had a multi-track cassette recorder and I would start with the drums. I’d record myself jamming to myself and then I would write the song based around that drum beat. I would have an idea of the song in my head but then I would create little bits, like a drum roll or a break down, and start playing softly. Once the drum beat was recorded I would listen back with the organ or a guitar playing along with it and work the song out that way.

It’s really great starting with the drums because the drums are such a primal thing.

NDS: Yeah, I always consider the drums as the heartbeat of the song, everything else is on the top of that. This record I’ve been writing is a little bit more challenging because I am writing at home by myself and having the other band members involved. I’ve been writing very much on just guitar and organ, without the drums. We’ll see how I turns out.

I understand that spirituality is a big driving force in your life and your music; when did you start on this path?

NDS: Yes. I’m a cradle Catholic, so my spiritual journey started form birth. I was initiated into the church through the sacrament which is baptism, confession and Holy Communion and Confirmation. Like most kids who were initiated into religion at a young age, I didn’t really understand the true significance of those sacraments until later in my life. I left the church when I was fifteen, I would have been in Year 9 or 10 at that stage, I was going to a Catholic school—I chose a path of self-spiritual self-discovery through what I would call chemically-induced mysticism. I was very influenced by my favourite musicians from the 1960s. Unfortunately that path inevitably got me expelled [laughs] from Catholic school. Music became my religion for years after.

Through those years I identified as a non-practising Catholic, however I formed a strong attraction to New Age spirituality. That led me into the occult and I began to experiment with practises such a Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Witchcraft, Sex Magick and spiritual channelling. The practises were complimented by drug use, mainly amphetamines and psychedelics. I think that created an illusionary sense of connecting with the divine, it took me many years to wake up from that—I describe it as self-centred, chemically-induced, hypnotism. When I woke up from those experiences I thought it was a very self-indulgent way of obtaining spirituality and spiritual enlightenment—spiritual gluttony is probably a better term to use.

Quite recently I found my return back to the Catholic Church and I begun attending the traditional Latin Catholic mass. I started participating in daily prayer and regular confession, slowly I began to realise that there is no self-centred way to God and spiritual enlightenment. The holy mysteries are revealed slowly and incrementally through self-sacrifice and positively and actively participating in society, as opposed to chemically inducing yourself into a state of false divine revelation.

Courtesy of Natalie de Silver.

Was there anything in particular that woke you up?

NDS: I realised I was self-destructing, that was a wakeup call. I got to a point where I realised that if I continue down this path I’m not going to be alive, it was getting to that point. I had a wakeup call that when I looked at myself objectively and asked myself; what are you doing to yourself? I asked myself the very serious question; do you want to live or do you want to die? That’s when I realised how self-centred I had been by being self-destructive. It’s quite easy to get self-destructive, there’s something quite romantic about it, throughout the centuries people have written poems ad painted pictures and created stories and lived out these seemingly romantic lives of self-destruction, living in pain and embracing it. There is a lot of pain and suffering inevitably in life… there’s that romantic notion that you embrace it and take it head on. Once I looked outside of myself and looked at what I was doing and realised it was affecting other people around me, my relationships with them and my life, that pulled me out of that vortex, that cycle. That’s when I come to realise that self-sacrifice is the key to obtaining true enlightenment. I had to give up a lot of things in my life which I was enjoying, but they weren’t healthy for me. Ultimately the outcome of that – it wasn’t an easy process, it was quite painful but ultimately beautiful – was that I was able to find an inner peace. I have less friends now but I think that the people that are close to me, those connections are so much more solid than before when I felt quite lost amongst a sea of madness [laughs].

Isn’t it funny how different people in your circle or groups of people you know, start to fall away and out of your life when your self-growth accelerates in positive ways.

NDS: I know! It’s a painful process because they are people that when you’re amongst that arena, everyone is on the same wave length, we’re all searching for something and you find each other and you do form a closeness; it’s painful to break away from that. Sometimes people don’t like it when you do better because they might feel like you’re leaving them. Ultimately it’s probably best for both of you to move away from each other, especially if you both have the same bad habits.

There’s a lot of references to the natural world in your music: the night sky, willow, fire, sun, moonbeam meadow, cold wind, petals, morning, evening, nocturnal/night, garden, caves, earth, milky way, trees, 8-legged ones, seasons; what’s your relationship to nature?

NDS: To me nature is the best representation of the existence of God. I see God as the essence of creation. I’m fortunate to have a backyard in my apartment, I have a garden so I go out there and you only have to sit and watch for a few minutes and you’ll see creation and the creation process. That to me is a symbol of the existence of God because I recognise it from my own observations that everything does have a purpose… which is contrary to what prominent Atheists like Richard Dawkins say, things like, the universe has no purpose of design and there is no good and evil, that the world carries on with pitiless indifference. To me there is more evidence to suggest that we do have a purpose and an intrinsic purpose which we call survival. If you see everything intertwining and working together in this beautiful harmonious structure… I see it as this metaphysical hierarchy in nature, there’s the hunters and the prey, some species are both, and it’s fascinating to see that unfold.

Courtesy of Natalie de Silver.

It’s interesting that if you look at nature it seems like everything lives in harmony with everything else except for us humans.

NDS: Yeah, I guess so. There’s a certain grace that nature has that us humans try really hard to obtain. For instance, if you watch two humans fighting each other it’s generally what I would consider an ugly performance – maybe with the exception of controlled fighting like martial arts, there’s some sense of beauty in combat there – generally human conflict is ugly. If you watch a wolf hunting down a deer, even though it’s brutal to watch and can be confronting, it has something majestic about it. That’s part of the process of life.

What makes us different is that as humans most of us have our basic survival needs already met, this looking for our purpose and meaning changes to other activities; those other activities sometimes can come into conflict with other people’s purpose and activities and what they want out of life and what they feel is important to them—that’s when us humans can definitely fall from grace and that’s when the world ca become quite ugly. When we become too focused and too ideological about how we think the world should be run as opposed to finding balance and harmony.

In some ways I also believe that conflict does seem necessary in some way because I always think of those moments when you have a conflict with someone and then post that, there’s often a moment of transcendence where you can reflect on it and learn something from it and hopefully reconcile with the person you had the conflict with and then you both transcend—that’s such a valuable experience to have. The connection and transcendence with that person wouldn’t have happened unless you had conflict. I guess that’s the strange puzzle of life that I think is very mysterious. Spirituality and religious philosophy is able to explain that well I think.

There’s such an importance in mythological stories, they convey human experience as opposed to just looking at stuff analytically, like in the Sciences as opposed to direct human experience. In saying that, I have a big respect for the conventional Sciences as well; that’s part of us as well, a gift that human beings have, to look at things analytically and experiment with things as long as it’s done with positive and good intentions. There’s another part of human nature that’s hard to put into words, that’s where I see myths, stories, films, music, art, are the best methods of explaining that inexplicable.

I noticed that the Aboriginal creator goddess Yhi makes an appearance in your songs ‘Garden of Yhi’ and ‘Goddess Yhi’; how did you first come to know of her?

NDS: It’s a fascinating story. The first version of the song, I recorded in the morning, it was actually a very beautiful morning. I was contemplating her, again I was in the backyard. It was one of those angelic mornings where you have that dappled sunlight shining through the trees and I was thinking about the goddess Yhi, I feel her story is very similar to Persephone in Greek mythology, she goes down into the underground Hades but when she comes up its springtime and everything just comes to life. I saw a very strong correlation between Yhi and Persephone. It’s a beautiful story that’s symbolic of the cycle of life; again it’s a symbolism of God and creation. Her archetype was very, very inspiring.

It’s almost even similar to your own story, you went into the darker areas of life and you’ve now come out the other side where you’ve created all this beautiful stuff.

NDS: Yes, that’s the love and hate relationship I have with the creative process [laughs]. You have to destroy yourself for a little bit to see the light. Although now as I’m getting a little older and more responsible, I think I’m definitely finding a way to manage that duality a bit more.

I know what you mean. I think for myself where I’m at is that I really believe in love, creativity, compassion, service, connection and nature.

NDS: Yeah, and what’s beautiful about all of those things are they’re so mysterious and that’s why we are so attracted to them. They’re not things that you can merely just look at. I googled the scientific explanation for ‘love’ the other day. The only way that you could analytically or scientifically look at love is through physical relations; it says there’s a certain chemical reaction in the brain when someone is in love and then it has these bodily sensations. I thought that was simply reducing something to a physical reaction—love is so much more mysterious than that. It’s something that is subjective and objective because it’s part of our experience and we all have a different understanding of love and we express it differently. I think love also can sometimes be confused with infatuation which can be the onset of love, but true love is something that you can’t really explain it. When you think of how you love your family members, sometimes in reality you might be really angry at them, sometimes you even hate them but, it’s inevitable that you do love them. Once you really embody that, you realise how powerful it is. When it’s true love that’s when you learn that love is not impatient, love doesn’t hate—there’s something really supreme about it. When we talk about the concepts of God or Goddesses or any type of archetype, love is one of those things that there is nothing higher than that.

When you talk about nature, there’s something so miraculously mysterious about it when you see how it all works together. At the same time it’s beautiful but it’s also brutal. If you think about us human beings, if we were to be thrown out into nature, out of our little cocoon of our home and shelter, nature could be really cruel and unforgiving—it could destroy you.

If you look at the patterns of Indigenous People throughout the centuries, they seem to have found a way to communicate with nature and to move harmoniously with it. Modern humans have a lot to learn from that. There’s a tendency in the modern day to see that type of thinking as primitive or archaic but I think there’s a lot of things we could learn from them. Where we are in this day and age where we are, going through this very strange pandemic, there seems to be crisis all over the world, environmental, social; we can learn a lot from going back. I don’t like the word ‘primitive’, I think that makes it sound derogatory, I like to think of it as eternal wisdom.

Going back to the concept of spirituality and religion, there’s an eternal wisdom that has always been around. Certain people throughout the centuries have been able to tap into that better than others. Hopefully as a nation we can start to recognise that and cherish that and conserve that as opposed to throwing it away.

We live in quite a post-modern type of world. Look at our technology at the moment, it’s helped us a lot but, things that have been created now are very disposable. I’ve always wondered; how does that affect us psychologically? In ways that we might not even be aware of it, unconsciously we’re owning all these things that we throw away quickly.

Lately I’ve noticed with everyone being in lockdown, when you do go out to the shops there’s so much stuff on the shelves that people don’t really need. I think maybe people are starting to live simply on what they need, the basics, rather than frivolous things they want.

NDS: Yeah. Obviously during these times you spend a lot of time scrolling through the internet, which can be not so healthy, but occasionally you’ll see that people have come up with some beautiful analysis of what’s happening. They’re looking at positives that have come out of this social isolation. Life tragedies are somewhat necessary for us to progress and move forward, as painful as it can be; there’s generally some sort of answer after. That is the mystery that we’re all in one way or another searching for, some of us call it God, some of us call it enlightenment, some of us call it just existing.

On album Old Habits And New Ways you have an instrumental song called ‘De Silver’s Dream’; do you dream often?

NDS: I do. I have a reoccurring dream, unfortunately it’s not a very nice one. I go into an old style house, similar to the ones in Surry Hills in Sydney, they’re skinny three-level terrace houses, and it has nice Victorian furniture in there and when I enter I’m compelled to walk up the staircase. There’s an impending doom-feeling and something telling me that I shouldn’t go in there but I walk up anyway. There’s a horrible, deathly, sickly smell and I open a door and feel the presence of something, suddenly I wake up. I haven’t had it for a while but I’ve found that the dream comes about in times of uncertainty in my life, I think that’s what it represented. I’d have such a mixed feeling, compelled to do something but something telling me not too. Maybe it represents a big decision that I had to make in my life.

I haven’t dived too much into dream interpretation but I’ve been meaning to. I’m so lazy with writing them down. I started writing a dream journal for a little while, there were some weird ones! Beyond weird [laughs]. I stumbled across it the other day actually, I was writing some songs – I always have ten books that I write in – I picked up one and it was actually my dream journal. I read through it and thought they were so weird!

I was watching Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain the other day and thought that movie is such a great depiction of what dreams are like; just complete weirdness, things have symbolic and sometimes triple meanings. The one thing I experience often, which I think others would too, I experience this phenomenon in dreams where you’ll be talking to someone and then they’ll change into something else, I find that fascinating. I think dreams are where our surreal art and art in general comes from. I’m really into C.S. Lewis at the moment. He’s one of those writers that are a top-level intellectual writer. He said he’d have these dreams and wake up and write a novel. I wish I could do that, it’s so fantastic!

Do you find lyrics come easy to you?

NDS: Lyrics are a tough one. That’s the part of the songwriting process that I like the least to be honest. The music side comes easy, I can pick up a guitar and write a song straight away. I would be mumbling lyrics and saying nonsensical words though. You know what is the most annoying part of songwriting for me?

What?

NDS: It’s when I have those moments and pick up a guitar and start to write a song, I’ll start humming lyrics and I might feel they’re good but then I can’t remember them because it’s such a spontaneous process. I’m just spewing out lyrics but they might actually sound good and then I’ll go get my book to write things down and I’ll be like; what the hell did I just say? It’s so annoying! When I focus on writing the song down it can sometimes lack that magic it had when I was just first creating it and I wasn’t really thinking about it.

What I’ve got into the process of doing now is that, when I start strumming I’ll have my phone next to me with a voice recorder and I’ll just hit that and record what I’m doing and I can play it back and generally be able to pick out some lines. The lyrical process for me is somewhat of a stream of consciousness. I find it hard to write about specific things. I know some writers might have an experience and they’re able to articulate it poetically and brilliantly use abstract words to tell the story. I don’t really write that way, sometimes I wish I could. I’ll generally have a mental spew of words, words will come together. I do like rhymes. What is really interesting is that when I reflect on the song it will have a theme and meaning; it will more often than not portray my state of mind or what has been happening in my life or where I’m at.

If I look back at my past songs, it is kind of like looking at a diary, which can be a bit awkward. Like when I look back at my dream journal, you sometimes cringe [laughs]. I feel that way with certain songs that I have recorded, it’s a bit embarrassing but then on the other hand people may see something different in it. There’s also times I do look and find moments of pure naivety, and I could never replicate that ever again. If you look at any artist that has put out a catalogue of work, it’s often the early stuff that people enjoy the most; during that time the artist isn’t over thinking everything or didn’t know what they were doing and sometimes that naivety creates something really, really special and accessible. I say this somewhat in jest but, my music is becoming somewhat more sophisticated in my artistic approach that I’m a bit unsure if my new music will be as accessible because I’m looking at it with a bit more experience. I don’t know though. When I record something I rarely listen back to it, I say goodbye and it’s then the listeners’.

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