Name: Danny Moffat aka The Collect Pond
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, audio engineer
Current release: The Collect Pond’s third full-length album Long Range is out September 24th 2021.
Recommendations: I’d have to point people towards a couple of books that I’ve read. I’ve worked full-time as a freelancer doing post-production on audio books so I’ve read many books over the last several years. I would have to go with An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, as well as My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, both of which shook me upon completion.
If you enjoyed this interview with Danny Moffat / The Collect Pond and would like to know more about his work, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music when I was 13. I had taken classical piano lessons from age 8 and by the time I was 13 I had switched to a contemporary piano teacher who taught me to learn songs by ear. From there I started teaching myself play and sing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2, “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, and “Karma’s Payment” by a local band called Modest Mouse.
For my 14th birthday I asked my parents for a guitar and for lessons so I could learn to play Nirvana. Through practicing and performing these covers on both piano and guitar, I started playing around with chords and my own voice, and by age 15 I had recorded an EP of four original songs that I self-produced on a Tascam 4-track Portastudio. I then mixed it and burned it to CDs that I sold or gave to friends around my high school, eventually getting some airplay on the college station in my hometown of Bellingham, WA.
There’s a track on that first EP about my friend’s cat called “A Cat Named Polo” that still slaps. I remember I was using the song “Heroin” by The Velvet Underground as a reference point. I was on the debate team and someone there got me into the VU.
I got into songwriting because I found it gratifying to come up with a new song out of thin air, there’s a creative high that happens when I work on a song. It’s the same buzzy feeling you get when you’ve finished a big project or task and there’s a glow of a job well done. It’s also like that scene in the movie “Soul” when the musicians get lost “in the zone.” I’m sure it’s a similar feeling for for artists in any creative endeavor, whether it’s painting, or sculpting, or dance, etc.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In grade school I went to a joint elementary/middle school. The older kids who were there listened to 90s alternative rock like Oasis and Marcy’s Playground. That stuck with me and by the time I was in middle school, I began to emulate the alternative bands of the 90’s alternative rock scene, even though I was a little late to the party.
This was still the time when the most influential mass media was MTV. Unfortunately, the music they played was terrible, mostly boy bands and rap-rock. So when my friends were listening to Limp Bizkit and Korn, I was diving deep into grunge, punk, and college rock thanks to Napster (and using Rolling Stone as my guide). Instead of Old Navy and Abercrombie and Fitch, I was shopping at vintage clothing stores. Instead of gelling my hair into a Caeser cut, I was growing my hair out into a shaggy mane.
By the time I got to high school, it was all about file sharing and the vinyl resurgence, so everyone could kind of listen and discover and share whatever music they wanted. There were a lot more influences going around. I started playing in bands then too. Mostly jam bands that were just hanging out and not-so-much playing gigs. That was a great ritual for a while, going over to friends’ houses every week just to play music with no expectations.
I didn’t truly start finding my own voice with songwriting until I got to college and switched from electric to acoustic, mostly because dorm living didn’t cater to loud guitar playing. Previously, in high school, I was a guitarist in the jazz band, so I had a working knowledge of jazz chords. In college, I dived into the acoustic and began taking classical lessons and joined a bluegrass band.
At this point when I would pick up a guitar, I had a lot of different impulses from all the different genres that I had previously played or was playing. I would say that I started developing my own voice because I started to break through my technical limitations and influences, at about age 21 or so. I would say that I could (finally) play the songs that were in my head and truly develop “my own voice” as an artist. This is when I began writing a lot of music and playing shows as a solo artist/singer-songwriter.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
As time goes on, and my overall self-awareness increases. The more I know what my strengths and tendencies are as a songwriter, the more I know when to lean into my natural instincts and when to pull back or push outside of my comfort zone.
But sometimes I miss things and need outside input. For example, last year I was taking a song writing class from Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley (who’s brilliant album “Free All Angels” went to #1 in 2001) and she asked me if I knew my “style” of writing. I had no idea and so I asked her what she thought. She said that I write pleasant songs with pleasant melodies but needed to rough it up in places and add dissonance so that I could add more depth. That was a real eye opener.
My sense of identity as a person affects my lyrics of course and also my moniker “The Collect Pond.” Although it probably makes more sense as a solo artist to perform under my own name, I didn’t want people to just see an old testament first name (Daniel) and an anglo-saxon last name (Moffat) and have that make an impression before hearing the music. I don’t sound like Johnny Cash but if you look at my name on paper you might think I do before you heard my music. So, I write and perform as “The Collect Pond.” That said, I do own a lot of pearl-snap western casual shirts.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
To start, not having anywhere to perform as a teenager. I grew up in a mill town/college town in Washington State that had/has some great venues if you’re over 21. But the archaic and puritanical liquor laws made it so I couldn’t have anywhere to play, which hampered my ability to get a band off the ground, and was the main reason I didn’t perform much or gain that kind of stage experience or feedback.
These days COVID-19 is obviously a huge barrier to performing and gaining audience feedback on my material or seeing live shows for inspiration. It was hard to pick my singles for this album cycle because I haven’t been able to play these songs to anyone in a performance setting. So, I’ve mainly been asking friends for their opinions but I’m missing the all-important non-friend reaction, which is so much more honest.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first studio equipment was a 4 track Tascam Portastudio. Then I began working with other people who recorded me using a variety of DAWS such as Reaper, Cubase, Ableton, Pro Tools, etc. I went back to the Tascam 4 track when I started doing my own solo material after a break but it felt antiquated and hard to edit, so I started learning GarageBand. I then went to audio school where I focused on using Pro Tools so that’s what I use now. Recently I’ve been expanding my instrumental palette and incorporating more MIDI instruments into my songs, so there’s a lot more of that on Long Range.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I think the leap from analog to digital recording changed my whole outlook on making art. The fact that I can record from home, high quality, with an infinite amount of takes and tracks changed everything. Learning to use a Digital Audio Workstation took time but has been crucial to getting to where I am today.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations for The Collect Pond are mostly mixing notes from my musician and audio engineer friends. Aaron Johnson is someone I want to thank for his audio expertise. He gently pushed me to up the production value when I would show him early mixes. For example, the delay effect on “Man of Mystique” where the verse delay pans hard left and right left, bouncing between the speakers was a brilliant call. And then other housekeeping notes like needing to quantize my drums. So mostly during post-production is when I seek out collaboration.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I am a full-time freelancer for my main work as an audio engineer with my company Moffat Sound and juggle childcare with my wife taking care of my toddler part-time. I prefer to work on writing music in the morning and editing/mixing in the evening around my Moffat Sound work.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I can recall a breakthrough I had as a performer once when I was visiting a friend over the U.S./Canadian border in Vancouver, CA. I remember talking about stage fright with some friends, about anxiety as open mics, and how it seemed like no one listens to anyone. They invited me to perform for them in their living room and they would show me a listening audience by demonstration. That felt like the first anyone paid attention to my performance and to this day I still imagine their faces before I go on stage: eyes wide-open and focused, heads nodding.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think the best time to be creative is always. The biggest barrier to creativity is artistic laziness, which I’m guilty of. Putting in the work, setting aside an hour or two a day to show up for yourself, is the best way to be inspired and ensure maximum artistic output. Easier said than done though.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Musicians, given their platform, can do damage. It’s interesting watching the recent event with DaBaby being dropped from Lollapalooza and boycotted in general. Homophobia has no place in music, or anywhere for that matter. I just wish that the same standards applied for white artists that make similarly hateful remarks. Eminem has been getting a free pass for years – even by some of my white LGBTQ friends.
I think everyone has experience healing through music at some point. I must be careful with some songs that take me to an emotional place and not overuse them lest they stop working their magic, so it’s a practice of delayed gratification. But diminishing returns are inevitable.
I see the biggest need for musical to be used as a tool for healing in the places where access is limited or not available. The feeling of well-being, the high, the buzz of playing or singing music is something that would benefit everyone. Everyone should have lessons in piano or guitar or beat making for free, but that’s not the case. So hopefully one day I can start a non-profit that enables folks to learn these lessons based on income qualification.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
When marketing music is when I notice a lot of people crossing this line. For example, if there’s no one that identifies as female in a band, don’t name your band “girl something” or “something girl.” It smacks of being inauthentic.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think that the visual has always worked in tandem with the music. Whether it’s watching a performer live, or holding the cover art in your hand, or watching a music video, the visual component can enhance the overall experience for the listener. I’ve heard Björk often collaborates by describing sounds that she’s trying to make by talking about colors. Visuals can be a detriment though: bad music videos that distract from the power of the song are unfortunately all too prevalent.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
It’s amazing to me how many outspoken musicians there are on twitter that have hot political or social or economic takes but when it comes time to write lyrics, they don’t write about any of that. It’s great to write songs about love or family tragedy but it seems inauthentic to not write about how living under the former US president has affected you, which is why I led with the single “Burrow” this time around. Also, the title track to my album has lyrics about life during the pandemic, which I would also think is another collective trauma that we are all experiencing that I would imagine more people would want to write about.
We can’t all be Lorde and write happy songs because we’re living in New Zealand which has virtually no COVID and a great head-of-state, but many people in indie rock act like nothing momentous has happened in the past five years. This is one of the reasons that hip-hop is superior because the poetry feels so much more relevant than indie-rock.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
When I think of life or birth I think of the baby laughing sound in Aaliyah’s song “Are You That Somebody?” which instantly adds a pleasant jolt to the song. Last year I put my (at the time) infant daughter’s voice saying “Uh-oh” in the bridge of my song “In Between the Seasons.”
When I think of death I think of the arpeggios in Moonlight Sonata or the final chord in “A Day in the Life.” Music can offer so many transferrable emotions in a moment, but the universal ones that are unforced work wonderfully and transcend language in the way only the best art can.