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03.25.09

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Phaedra

Get dune tonight: David-Ivar Herman Dune and Neman Herman Dune play the Brookdale Lodge on Thursday.

Herman Dune

Part 'Flight of the Conchords,' part Simon & Garfunkel, Parisian indie duo Herman Dune heads for the Brookdale Lodge.

By Paul Davis


In these troubled economic times, it's instructive to remember that America's No. 1 export is its culture. There may be flare-ups about Coke in India or Starbucks in Dubai, but Bob Dylan is loved the world over. In return, that culture is exported back in ways unexpected and unprecedented. Herman Dune, an indie-folk duo hailing from France by way of Sweden, is merely the latest in this fruitful musical free trade agreement. Taking the fireside folk of rural Americana and splicing it with the rhythmic and melodic shifts of European folk styles, Herman Dune takes the familiar and makes it foreign and revelatory.

In recent years it's become fashionable for indie bands to embrace the trappings of Eastern European and Spanish Gypsy music. The collaboration of David-Ivar Herman Dune and Neman Herman Dune (no relation) isn't quite as Balkanized as the likes of Beirut or Gogol Bordello, but the ghosts of traditional Jewish and European folk emerge with close listening. Despite vocalist and principal songwriter David-Ivar's avowed love for Americana, he came to discover these musical threads embedded in his own genetic code. "I guess I was exposed to these forms of music, being raised in Europe, in a Jewish family," he says. "Seriously, though, I was mostly a fan of American music all my life. My taste went to Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan or Ray Charles since a very early age. I guess after a while, playing, I sort of start strumming my guitar the Spanish way, like my father does when he plays guitar [he's from a Jewish/Spanish background], and when I started listening to John Zorn and his multiple projects again, it got into the European tradition a lot more."

This appreciation for both the classic songwriting of American titans such as Ray Charles and Bob Dylan as well as the casual experimentation of composer John Zorn is apparent in Herman Dune's music. Though the music is far more pastoral than Zorn's experimental skronk, David-Ivar's songwriting bears a similar fascination with upending traditional structures and forms. Herman Dune does this primarily in the pop milieu, discarding traditional verse-chorus-verse structures in favor of hymnal repetition and audacious dynamic shifts. It's David-Ivar's unusual approach to composition that allows for this deceptively free-form experimentation.

"I have a lot of respect for the classic pop songwriting that uses the verses, the choruses and the rhymes to make a nicely crafted 2 1/2-minute little piece of poetry," he says. "I respect that a lot, and sometimes that's where I want to go. But sometimes, I have an idea for a song that wouldn't fit in there, and I keep it because it's good. I think I'm really interested in the poetic aspect of songwriting, and it sometimes leads me to adopt a different pattern, some different rules for a song or two. I'm a big fan of melodies and love to have strong ones, but I don't want the melodies to be weaker than the words. I guess sometimes the clash between both the melodies and words creates something very different and interesting, something hard to achieve."

With this fascination for the interplay between poetic language and pop melody, the easiest course for David-Ivar to take would be to write in his native tongues of French or Swedish. Far more audaciously, however, David-Ivar primarily writes in English, demonstrating the reverence for American music that infuses his work. Though not entirely fluent, he approaches the language with a bit of the outsider's wonder, unearthing unexpected beauty in language most native speakers would dismiss as banal. With this outsider's approach, David-Ivar rambles through story-song narratives as otherworldly as anything Dylan conjured during his most eccentric moments.

For Americana-phile David-Ivar, the band's frequent tours through the heartland allow him to connect with the musical and cultural history he's long admired from afar. He says, "Touring the States has always been to me a great way to feel closer to the music I love, through driving through the places I hear about in the songs and stuff. I love touring here."


HERMAN DUNE performs Thursday, March 26, at 5:30pm at the Brookdale Lodge, 11570 Hwy. 9. Tickets are $10.50 advance/$12 door. For info call 831.338.1303.


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