Summer Times asks Dunedin musicians to ruminate on
their most prized instrument. Today: Graeme Downes, of The
Graeme Downes says voice is the starting point for all his
songs. Photo by the ODT.
What is your favourite instrument?
Can you recall where and when you discovered it?
About 1979. I mean it existed for speaking up until then, but
unleashing it for singing purposes was another matter. The
great thing about voice as an instrument is that you don't
buy it, you invest in it.
What was it about the instrument that so appealed to
It is both instrument and thought conveyer via language at
the same time. No other instrument boasts these qualities.
Other instruments make up for their shortcomings in this
regard in more abstract and, undeniably, eloquent ways. But
the voice is special. I started musical life on classical
instruments playing music that already existed. With the
voice, in conjunction with writing, I became addicted to
playing music no-one had performed before - constant
Has it become more special over time?
By learning how to control it better (I'll be frank, I am not
that good at singing now, and when I started I was awful).
Has the instrument inspired you to write any songs?
If so, name a couple (and explain their genesis - in a few
It has had a part in all of them, of course, because that's
what songs are, though further back in time the guitar was
probably more of a genesis instrument. More recently, voice
has been the starting point for all of them. A song like Last
Will and Testament started life as a poem, but a poem for
whom words alone were insufficient, such that it press-ganged
chords and melody in its service.
If your instrument could talk, what would it tell about
you? (i.e. how does it reflect your personality?)
The voice is a window to personality, as I think the most
recent Verlaines album, Untimely Meditations, testifies. A US
reviewer's opening salvo was that ''I'd lost my mind''.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder still.