Guitar and loop pedal virtuoso Dustin Wong, formerly of Baltimore noise-rock band Ponytail, is treating Bangkok to two nights of the intricate, experimental pop that saw him signed to iconic US indie label Thrill Jockey. BK caught up with him ahead of his shows at Harmonica on Nov 9 and 10.
How did you first start playing music?
I started like any teenager; I got a guitar and just started to fiddle around with it. I didn’t really have any idea so I started with shapes on the fretboard—using squares, rectangles and triangles as templates to explore the instrument. It was only a few years ago that it finally clicked and I got to really understand the geography of the instrument. With looping, I’ve been working with this idea for 11 years now. Being a self-taught guitarist, discovering new musical ideas is always such an exciting feeling; like going to see a movie without watching the trailer.
Is recording an important part of your songwriting process?
It is very important to let me instantly observe what I’m trying to make. I recommend it to anyone writing music. I record each song by itself, then in sets of songs, and then I go back to the drawing board. The songs themselves are important but also how each song leads to the next song, the flow as a whole. I think studying film in college has a lot to do with this; editing is very important to me.
Ponytail broke up around a year ago; do you miss the band dynamic?
I really do love working with people on music; it’s very exciting. Even after the band broke up I’ve played with other people casually, so the collaborative element is still very active in me.
You granted private Skype sessions to fans who pre-ordered your record; how highly do you value intimacy with your audience?
A lot of times I'm in a confined space where I can't project sounds through speakers so I have to use headphones. These offer a very different, more intimate experience; there are times where you almost feel like the music is merging with you. That’s the kind of experience I want listeners to have—a very personal relationship with the sound, a feeling that they are becoming the music they are listening to.
You recently asked your fans to describe their dreams which you would turn into music; where did this idea come from?
I had a dream on New Year’s Eve this year. It felt very profound, the imagery and everything about it. I can't go into it much, but it included: lightning in the color of a rainbow drawing images of animals onto the sky, the horizon lifting up like a page being turned from a book, revealing the map of Japan and a mountain with a Buddhist temple with tiny shimmering mushrooms all around it… After this, I wanted to dive into other people's dreams and, by making a soundtrack to their dreams, let the music be this kind of glaze—like how a glaze can bring out the colors of a painting, have the music bring out the images of the dream.
Can you describe your live set-up?
It’s very simple, I have my series of eight effects pedals and my guitar. I don’t use an amp; I just go directly into the house speakers, so I can utilize the whole venue as one big amp. The performance itself is just a reveal of my creative process, one melody, one layer at a time.
As a Chinese/American born in Hawaii and raised in Japan, does cultural identity play a role in your creative process?
I definitely think so. There is no way of denying it. But in my case it’s a bit different. A Chinese/American growing up in Japan is a bit strange. There was definitely some prejudice around me growing up and even when I was in the US, being an American growing up in Japan, you were considered a little bit different. With my music, as with everything really, I want to integrate everything, be it culture, ideas or beliefs.