Interview: Daniel Land and The Modern Painters

PinkNews logo surrounded by illustrated images including a rainbow, unicorn, PN sign and pride flag.

Daniel Land and The Modern Painters are due to release their second album, ‘The Space Between Us’, on 28 May 2012. In an exclusive interview with, lead singer Daniel Land talks about his musical inspiration, his coming out and why he’d like to work with Brian Eno.

“I’ve made music in various different guises since I was about thirteen or fourteen,” Daniel tells me, “but the desire’s always been there for as long as I can remember. I‘ve always felt I needed some kind of vehicle for self-expression. I also always had this secret ambition to be a vocalist, but it took Graeme a couple of years to get me to come out of my shell as the band’s lead singer.”

The Graeme he’s referring to is Graeme Meikle, one of The Modern Painters’ three guitarists. The story of how they met is fairly amusing. Daniel and Graeme formed the band after a chance meeting, on Daniel’s 21st birthday, at Manto’s Breakfast Club in Manchester’s gay village.

“We had mutual friends and, bizarrely, amid all this pumping, hard house music we connected while talking about bands like Radiohead, Spritualized and the Cocteau Twins. Graeme’s straight, but we struck up a great friendship that night. He saw something in me that I kind of knew was in there, but which I was shy about. It took about two or three more years after that for us to establish our basic sound.”

I tell Daniel that shyness, or at least the under the surface variety, can be a recipe for success. A heady mix of vulnerability and good song writing was cited by many as the key to Dan Gillespie Sells’ success with The Feeling.

“I think good artists always write about things that they’re in two minds about,” says Daniel. “And I’ve never been in two minds about something more than myself. I’ve changed a lot as a person over the past few years in sort of wanting to be a bit more open. Initially I had a problem hearing my own voice, but as I’ve grown more and more confident we’ve been able to push my vocals further to the front of the songs.”

Oddly, Daniel’s personal transformation has nothing to do with his sexuality. He’s gay, but that’s not the journey he’s describing, which is more about his interaction with the wider world. His vocals are now one of the highlights of ‘The Space Between Us’ and it’s lead single ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and are reminiscent, to me at least, of Richard Ashcroft without the drawl.

“I’ve always been in two minds about talking about my sexuality,” Daniel explains. “You want to strike the right balance. On the one hand, being gay is an important part of my identity as an artist, but on the other hand I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a gay artist because that’s not my sole feature and there are four other people in the band.”

“One of the reasons I want to be open about my sexuality though is so I can talk about every aspect of the record we’ve made. Music publications typically want to know about the process, how the album was recorded and all that. They don’t want to know I was heartbroken when I wrote a certain song, but that’s one of the things I want to talk about. That’s really important to me.”

Land drew inspiration for ‘The Space Between Us’ from the collapse of not one, but two long-term relationships. He acknowledges that both pairings weren’t particularly well suited, but says that in both instances each of them were nice guys. I tell him that being able to share the true motivation behind his songs should enable him to resonate better with his audience. I also tell him of the admiration Boy George once shared with me for Jimmy Somerville’s music video Smalltown Boy. George admired Somerville’s effortlessly cool decision to be open about who he was from the outset of his career. That was back in 1984. Nowadays such declarations are increasingly commonplace.

“We live in a different world now,” Daniel agrees. “Although, I’ve been living in Manchester now for eleven years and it’s only been in the last year or so that seeing same-sex couples holding hands has become a daily occurrence. These changes have taken a long time to come through, but these days when you tell people you’re gay they’re surprised if you thought they might react badly. I came out when I was sixteen, back in 1997. Sometimes I wax philosophical about these things, but I was aware then even as someone who wasn’t interested in politics that there was a new government coming in determined to make gay rights a critical part of their agenda. It was a time of great hope.”

Returning to the here and now I ask him about his band’s latest single, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, which to me has a distinctly The-Verve-meets-Coldplay ambience to it.

“The title refers to the reality of relationships,” he tells me. “I was just coming out of this relationship with a guy who’d been cheating on me. That’s where I was when I wrote that song: dealing with the aftermath of a breakup. I do this thing where I borrow my song titles from films and forgotten songs, so that’s where the name came from.

Despite being very much a British band, Daniel’s label will be releasing ‘The Space Between Us’ in Japan as well as the UK. I ask Daniel why that is. Is there some kind of commonality between the two countries when it comes to music? To me it seems an odd pairing.

“Japan is a great territory for our kind of music,” Daniel answers. “The soundtrack for Lost In Translation, the Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson film set in Tokyo, all the music on that is from either new or old shoegaze bands. I’m not sure if our music would be classed as shoegaze anymore, but people who like that kind of stuff tend to like our music as well.”

Given he’s reaching the end of his personal journey, Daniel implies that writing and recording a future third album will likely mark the end of his transformation, as a final question I him what his dream is from here.

“The dream is to keep on making records,” he answers. “I really feel that I’ve reached 31 and found my own voice. I’m looking forward to seeing how that grows. If you’re asking me who I’d work with if I could work with anyone, well, I’d love to spend a bit of time in the studio with Brian Eno. That man really changed my life.”

“The past few years have been pretty remarkable. I’ve always made music first and foremost because I wanted to. The fact that people can listen to it and appreciate it on an emotional level is mind-blowing. I’ve kind of got everything I’ve always wanted right now and to me it doesn’t matter if it comes with a Coldplay level of fame or not.”

Daniel Land and The Modern Painters’ single ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ was released on 23 April 2012. The album ‘The Space Between Us’ is released on 28 May 2012. Both are available on iTunes.