David "Yaya" Herman Dune
Hi Yaya! What are you up to lately?
As most of the time, I'm writing songs and working on paintings. I just finished a new album, which I started the week I moved to the United States, from Paris. On the day I got to California, I got a job doing a soundtrack for a French movie. It got me to start recording before I could even think of trying to find furniture after moving. Soon, I started recording songs for myself too, and within a few months I started realizing that I was actually creating an album, as in a group of songs you want to put together as a bigger piece.
I turned 40 this year, finally left Europe for the US of A after years of going back and forth. I bought a standup bass and am trying to get better at it, I practice a lot. I am writing a few short stories, and a lot of thoughts, feelings and observations, often in rhymes, that you may or may not want to call poetry.
On the visual side of things, I can't draw much else other than characters; I do it all the time. I always doodle, I always pencil, I always color, and I always ink, my favorite media being India Ink, Gouache, Acrylic and Watercolors. Although I love classic paintings, and admire real painters like my girlfriend Mayon Hanania, I can't seem to enjoy drawing anything else other than little guys, little women, monsters, in a cartoonish way. It's very different than what I do when I write, I don't know, some kind of spilt artistic personality.
What is moving you at this moment?
I'm going to answer with artistic and creative things that move me, because I can get intense when it comes to other fields. I am moved by Bob Dylan's writing and singing, always. He is like an embodiment of what words are to me. I read a line of his, and my mind explodes before I even know what it could possibly mean, it's like that code in the Manchurian Candidate, he just does that, you hear a song of his, and it just sits there in its beauty, for you to gaze at, not to make yours or reinvent. Just like a Jacaranda in bloom, it's just there whether you care or not, and it's magnificent. If you see it, you will never be the same, if you don't, it will still be there.
I love the late Leonard Cohen; I dig Popular Problems, and especially songs like You Got Me Singing. I connect big time. He has things to say, and he is in a direct dialogue with the Divine from the very first albums. He makes me think, he opens my eyes, he shows me the way, he's really like a teacher or something, and his technique is really rich in tricks and stuff. You can learn a lot from the guy. In a way, he's a very generous writer; you can gain a lot from reading him or listening to him, a lot about yourself and your art. With Bob it's different, because I feel like you can't learn much from him, the only way to emulate Bob is to be him, and that place is taken.
I love Paul and John. I read through them like holy parchemins, I seek meaning and depth in every note and every word. I can't conceive that there was anything random with The Beatles because they are a miracle. The Beatles for me are to be taken as an ancient scroll that holds the secret of life, you gotta dig and study, unveil it little by little, it's a treasure that we need to cherish and admire.
I dig David Berman (the Silver Jews), he is the king of images, sometimes it takes me years to get to the depths of one of his lines. I dig Lucinda Williams, she's simple, another one of those where you are like "Why is it SO GOOD? : Because it is". There is not much else other than the essence with her, she's just awesome.
I dig Townes Van Zandt, Adam Green, Dolly Parton, Turner Cody, Julian Casablancas, Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Lou Reed. I like The Blues, Muddy, John Lee, Blind Willie, Bessie. I like voices; I like Amy Winehouse, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Nina Simone. I like smart cats with a soul, like Miles, like Django like Paul Desmond, and John Coltrane. I like Big Stuff, like Starwars. I like Moby Dick. I like The Great Gatsby. I like Don Quixote. I like things that are Epic, like when I was a kid, big stories where people put everything in line. I dig Batman, always have, and always will, he's my man, The Batman.
What is your relationship to poetry?
I'm not sure I know what poetry is. It seems very confusing to hear others talk about it, like after that big debate about Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize, it seemed to me that there was a concept or two I was missing. The whole thing about poetry having to stand alone without music, I couldn't figure out who could be the judge of that, and how. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't really know the academics behind poetry. I do LOVE words that seem to come together and open a door. A point of view that changes the way one sees the world or a situation, or shines a light on it. I feel poetry when I read Walt Whitman, David Berman or Jack Kerouac, and I feel it listening to Lucinda Williams, Chuck Berry or Jonathan Richman. In this way, I can say that Poetry is all that I'm looking for in life. Someone bringing a spark in my perceptive world through words. The wonder of Poetry to me is that it lies beyond the form, beyond rhymes and writing tricks. I love when R. Chandler writes in The Lady in the Lake, "writers, everything always has to be like something else", making fun of the belief that poetry lies in finding metaphors. It's the magic I'm looking for, not the gimmick. All my life, I have felt that the only quest worth going for in life was a quest for Truth. I feel like poetry is exactly that, a glimpse of the Truth. It has that indefinable and undeniable value. Why is something true? Because it is. Why is this poetry? Because it is. There is no way around it, there is no fake truth, like there is no fake poetry, I think. Writing is either word plays, puns, puzzles, tall tales, or it is poetry. In that view of poetry, it is my only ambition, to write something true, with words. It really is like alchemy to me, like if through times, men and women had found invocations, ways to get there somehow, ways to help words touch the truth, rhyming, singing, finding images amongst other ways. I just have to keep trying, using these techniques: singing, rhyming, attempting to describe reality to maybe make it a little bit true, for a second. Sometimes I long for having something to say, and then I realize that more than a matter of talking, it is a matter of seeing. Opening an eye on the world, that's all there is to it for me, seeing something. Poetry is like these glasses in "They Live" (John Carpenter). You turn the juice on, and you start seeing things. So I guess the words I write are just my way to be in touch, to be alive.
When I'm not writing myself, I love to takes things in. I'm a big fan of being elevated through other people's work, not only mine. I love seeing the world with the help of others. The great thing is that Art does that. You hear Jerry Seinfeld talk about how an old person backs out of a driveway, and your whole life you're gonna love every old driver that almost kills you that way, you can't unhear it, you know? You read LA freeway names in Play It As It Lays, and you're forever in love with getting on the 110, you know, thanks to Joan Didion! Why? Because there was something of beauty, something of truth to what they said, and it's all that matters to you. We're magicians, our magic wand is poetry; it's our gateway from what we call reality and into the world of Truth. It really is magic.
It took me so long to accept that writing techniques had any truth to them. I used to think that because the Truth was unique, there could only be one true word about any given feeling, like only one result to an equation, I had a very rational approach to it. So for a long time, I refused meter, I refused rhymes, I just had to say what I had to say. But, with time, I embraced the human experience a bit more, and instead of math, the model became Magic, and writing techniques became to me like formulas, that men came up with through experience, not logic, and that are there for us to use.
Can you remember the first words you fell in love with?
When I was in 7th grade, my English teacher had me learn Keats' "A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever", and since then I think about it everyday, it so struck a chord with me. It's probably a little corny in a way, but it sums up my relationship with the world, most of the time.
What is your earliest memory of writing?
For the Day Of Atonement (Yom Kippur) you read the story of Jonah (and the whale). My first song was about that story. I was into epic stories at first, mainly from the Bible, but also Viking sagas, or big Fantastic tales like Frank Herbert's Dune. I wanted to write epic songs, like about people who were immortal and lived through ages with a curse and stuff. I guess I needed intensity to write, and it took me a while to find that intensity in my own life. So at first (I'm talking about being 10-11-12 year sold), I had one song about an immortal sort of Cain devilish figure, one song about a Norwegian werewolf, and another about Jonah, it was very intense, and I used to sing with all my heart and my eyes closed.
Can you describe your current writing process?
Yes, I write all the time. I usually have a thought, describe something or a feeling to myself or to someone in a way that I feel is connected to the truth, during a conversation, while driving, or in the ocean. I write it down as soon as I can, sometimes I have to stop by the side of the road or have my girlfriend Mayon take note for me if I'm in the middle of crossing the Vincent Thomas Bridge for instance. Every now and then, I gather my notes and try to make sense of them, put together the ones that push the same buttons, and group them in verses and refrains, try to put melodies to help them ring through. The funny thing with writing is that it is stronger than you, you take notes randomly for an entire month or something, and when you try to make sense of them, some real songs with rhymes and all emerge, as if you'd been doing it on purpose all the way through. Some songs are totally bigger than me, in a way that I had no idea why all those thoughts were coming to me, and only make sense of them when they are together in a song. Sometimes even later, I look at some poem or song I wrote, and after years of singing them I finally understand why, I finally see the truth behind them. It's really crazy in a way, crazy and fascinating.
Painting by Mayon Hanania
Do you have a favorite space to write in?
Hmmm… Definitely outdoors. I'm not the office guy, like I've read about Nick Cave or others. Sometimes I'm driving, or swimming, or bodysurfing, sometimes I'm on a tour bus, sometimes I'm lost in a sad city on tour, and I sit down and write. Sometimes I see art, and I write, I hear a piano recital of Franz Liszt and I write a horror story, I see the Dutch Masters at the Met and I write a love song. "A Thing Of Beauty", that's what gets me started. I need to go out, to meet the world, feel the beauty, feel the vibe, and then feel some kind of loneliness I guess, and then it just pours out of me. Sometimes I wish it poured more, and sometimes I wish I was more open to it all, and sometimes I just write two songs in an hour that I had no idea I had in me.
Where do your poems come from?
As I said, from "A Thing Of Beauty", I don't discriminate. A little girl screaming her lungs out with joy on a scooter tumbling down the hill on my street, watching The Wedge crash the earth like a mighty Giant or watching my gal try not to run as she's coming towards me after we've been away from each other for a bit. I don't know... a raccoon in the alley calling for his cubs to wash in a puddle, or Dana Scully in the first season of X-Files. Patricia Arquette or Peanuts by Charles Schulz, the LA Harbor at night or a sunset in the South Bay, a weird cactus flower, a Chihuahua, Old Man's at San Onofre or the hills of Palos Verdes. All that, all little things that I connect deeply with, little things I find beautiful. The ones I can't really figure out are the poems and songs that come from being sad. It feels like sometimes, through sadness, I touch some kind of true feeling that pushes me to write. Some would say writing heals, I don't know. When I hurt, I write, but I almost feel like it's because there's something beautiful in heartbreaks and pain sometimes that I dig. And then it becomes the same thing, you know? I guess I just write for beauty, even if it comes from being miserable.
How do lyrics and poetry connect us as human beings?
If poetry unveils the plane of Truth, then there is common ground. We all live in different realities, on different planes, but there's only one Truth, and that's where we can meet and connect. So that'd be it I guess, you know, if something is true, then we all have it in common, for the rest, we're all in our heads, you know?
What is your biggest question for the world? If you have one...
What's up with watermelon Sour Patch Kids, if they're not sour, do they belong in the patch?
What is your dream for the world?
Noam Chomsky in The Simpsons on a trip to Sweden where the Queen of Swedes is also a great Talmudist. They unite and cure the world of men. Accidentally in the process they wake up Van Gogh from the dead so that he can see what he means to us. This unlocks a gate to a dimension where Mark David Chapman lost his sight from Diabetes before he ever showed up at the Dakota.
Who would you like to see interviewed on We The Tender Hearted?
Definitely David Berman, Caitlin Rose, Jeffrey Lewis, Turner Cody or Adam Green. I have no idea how they do what they do, it could be good to learn about it a bit
Photos by Dani Fine
Find more from Yaya at: davidivar.com, @yayahermandune @yayashunga