Favourite instrument a window to a personality

Graeme Downes says voice is the starting point for all his songs. Photo by the ODT.
Graeme Downes says voice is the starting point for all his songs. Photo by the ODT.
Summer Times asks Dunedin musicians to ruminate on their most prized instrument. Today: Graeme Downes, of The Verlaines.

 

What is your favourite instrument?

The voice.

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 you?

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 adventure.

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 words).

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.