Name: Candy Dulfer
Occupation: Saxophonist, composer, improviser, performer
Recent release: Candy Dulfer's “Jammin' Tonight”, featuring Nile Rodgers, is out now. It is the first single off her upcoming full-length album We Never Stop, out October 28th 2022 via Mascot / The Funk Garage.
If you enjoyed this interview with Candy Dulfer and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I mostly get inspired by live performances by other bands, strangely enough. If I see bands kick ass, whether they’re my heroes, my peers or even beginning bands, it always inspires me. And it doesn’t just improve or inspire my own live performances, it also inspires me to write, or to change things in my career, or to change the tourplanning and so much more.
The best explanation I can give is that I think that live performances are so real, so obviously in the moment, that I feel that it’s the real deal I’m measuring myself and my achievements to. If they can do it, I can do it too, or differently, or better or whatever. It also just really excites me to see a great live show, it gives me energy, hope, a horizon, and even if I don’t get an exact idea, it can still give me the right mood or energy I need to create anything.
Live playing is the core of my musical being, and when I see bands play an interesting or great gig it just gives me an idea of the possibilities, or limits that can be crushed.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
If I work alone, I almost always envision the end result first before I do anything, What ideally would I like to achieve? What should it do, for me, for the audience?
But, there are times that I create with other people and then I just react to what they come up with first. They can play a note or a chord, and then without thinking I will play or sing something that seems fitting, or takes it to another place or level.
I love working that way too, it’s very spiritual, spontaneous and it rules out any egoïstical mechanisms. It’s just about creating something beautiful together. No time for thinking, I love that.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions’?
It’s embarrassing, but I need my surroundings to be comfortable: nice temperature, good acoustics, nice lighting, a good reed on the sax and a nice little reverb on my voice, that kind of stuff. So I will prepare through achieving just the right conditions.
I also need to be able to record the very first thing that comes to me, because those always tend to be the best ideas, at least for me. Sometimes I do a studio session for an artist, and the engineer wants me to play the song a few times first, through different microphones, just to see which one will sound best.
I really hate that, it makes me tired, loose my embouchure, and it really kills me when I play a great solo right of the bat and then to be told “Sorry I didn’t record it yet, I was just trying to get a sound”
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
As I mentioned earlier, comfortable surroundings; soft lighting, some incense or just a normally decent smelling room, not being too hungry or too full, that helps, a lot. Also it helps to not be distracted by other stuff like: the dogs need to be walked, my stepkids need to be picked up, a gig later that day etc.
I can only freely create if I at least have the illusion that I have the whole day free for the creative stuff that I’m doing. I personally don’t know of any artist that can create something valuable between 12 and 3 pm in the afternoon, there always has to be a sea of time in order to create one little thing that’s good.
I think real boredom and too much time on your hands is the best starting point for major creativity. A lot of artists start out young, they might be still in school, might be nerds and have little or no friends, and out of that endless sea of boredom, and that loneliness, the most beautiful things are born.
The sad thing is that once you become slightly successful, you will never be bored again, and never have limitless time again, and that’s what sometimes hurts us as artists.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I learned from being around wonderful and productive composers like Prince and Dave Stewart that every idea is a good idea initially. Spontaneous, free, crazy, those are all good words in the world of the creative gods.
Prince always gave me only one or two tries to do a solo or create a hornpart and if it took any longer than that, he didn’t believe it was any good. There has to be some spontaneous magic. He was very consistent with that and put the same rule onto himself. I’ve been known to redo a solo on my own album about 86 times lol.
Dave Stewart just approaches anything in a positive way, nothing is bad, stupid, below par or out of tune, at least initially. For me, a very judgemental and self critical Virgo, that was really hard to adjust to. But of course Dave is right: Any negativity you bring into the process, even though it’s just being realistic, or even a bit of self-effacing humour can be really dangerous to the flow.
Another interesting thing I learned is to always finish an idea, I think I first heard Marcus Miller say that. At worst you learn something from it, at best you keep going until the song is great.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Sometimes in parts that only later make up a whole song. Sometimes there’s a whole song done in one try. Both ways are fine.
When it’s good, you feel it. When it flows, when it doesn’t make you doubt or think too much, when you really enjoy it yourself, it’s done.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I love both ways actually, I like to diligently work, and craft a song, start, middle and finish, and be totally satisfied with it once it’s done. But of course I love it too when stuff just magically appears, things flow effortlessly and the end result is there quickly and surprises you. Those processes feel like real magic is working.
All that talk about being a vessel, or feeling like one, it’s very recognisable. Those are really the moments that sustain you for a long time.
Art IS magic, it’s amazing what it can do for people, for us, the artists, and it is to be protected at all times.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
If I feel a new radical idea or turn in the road coming up, I will never fight it, I embrace it. There’s a reason that that thought came into your head, and it might just be THE idea.
But, if writing together with other people you have to be prepared to let that idea go, right away, even if you think it’s the best idea you’ve ever had, because it NEVER works to co write and push an idea that all people involved aren’t okay with.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Definitely, I think the wonderful thing about being human is being part wonder and part lump of bones and meat lol.
You cannot be in a spiritual state 24 -7 and you don’t have to. It’s like a birthday cake, you don’t need or want it all the time, just now and then and then it will lift you up for a long time.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I don’t find the digital age worse in that aspect, finishing songs actually goes faster, because even if you wanted to endlessly improve your work at least the tools are now better and faster.
I still remember the days when, if you wanted a little horrible part cut out of your solo, some guy needed to stand knee deep in 600 miles of 1/5 inch tape, and cut a piece out with a pair of scissors. Now it just takes a nanosecond and that awful note is gone.
My personal idea of hell is being transported back in time, like only 10 or 15 years ago and then realizing you still have to fax your invoice, have a teeny little phone that just makes phonecalls, or having to rerecord a whole song because somebody made one stupid mistake
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice?
To me, if a song is finished, it is finished. However, then the mixing and mastering part comes around, and that process is far more difficult for me. Mixing and mastering can mess with the balance between the instruments and the role or power you want to give the different elements of the sound.
I will spend way more time making it sound like I hear it sonically, then the crafting of the song. Of that part I’m always sure, but if they’d let me I would remix and master all my albums weekly. And the worst part is, my co producer is exactly the same.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I’ve never had that feeling, because after finishing a song, I always go straight into bringing the song into a live setting with the band.
Actually for me the most exciting part of the whole recording and releasing albums process. I always feel that the album is the blueprint, and playing the songs live is the real deal
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Creating is of course different than making a coffee.
If you can let your mind and heart go on an adventure while doing something, and the process of making is not set, i.o.words nothing goes wrong if you rearrange the pieces, then you’re being creative.
If you need a manual or if it can only be done one way, it’s not creative.