Interview: Daniel Versus The World

Written by Daniel Rourke

When you think of the DIY punk scene you tend to get the same image stuck in your head time and again; a grotty basement packed with straight white males throwing themselves about to see who can lay claim to being the most macho in the - totally none judgemental - scene.

Of course, that isn't the case if you delve deep enough. There's a growing movement to bring equality to a genre and community that is meant to be built on just that. Whether it's feminist, queer, anti-racism, anti-fascist, the chances are you'll find the right scene for yourself if you look hard enough, and that's the problem. You have to seek it out.

With bands such as PWR BTTM grabbing somewhat of a mainstream success, and local football clubs supporting bands such Petrol Girls, there's a sense that a scene that's dominated by straight white males, may be on the brink of actually becoming the all welcoming community it's promised to be.

One of the most eye catching bands in the UK queer punk scene is Daniel Versus The World. Ditching a distorted guitar for a keyboard, Daniel Versus The World breaks all the stereotypical conventions associated with the genre and serves up some hauntingly beautiful tales on their debut album 'Remember Who You Are'. We caught up with Daniel Stocker of Daniel Versus The World to find out more about his journey through music and his current project.

Burn After Writing: First up, how did you get into music, what is your first musical memory?

Daniel Stocker: My first musical memory is wearing an oversized t-shirt and my mum’s high heels while singing I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston. Nailed it.

I didn’t start playing piano until I was 19, and I taught myself, so really it was a long time before I was actually able to do anything close to a song, and even longer to write. That's my excuse for taking 10 years to release an album.

BAW: Where does Daniel Versus The World fit into your musical career, is it your first project or were there others before this?

DS: I was a singer first, and I had a beautiful little anarcho-folk-punk outfit with my best friend CJ (the artist formerly known as The Casual Terrorist, now making waves with the incredible Kinky). We were good, we had like 5 songs and then did acoustic Against Me! and Billy Bragg covers. We were called The Six String Revolution, I’m pretty sure our Myspace page still exists. Check it out, we’re probably due a huge comeback where everyone speculates about whether we even like each other anymore or if we’re just doing it for the money.

BAW: Can you tell us what Daniel Versus The World is all about, what’s your aim with the project and what messages are you hoping to get across with your songs?

DS: I started writing because I was a lost little gay boy from a small town in the Lake District. I knew no other queer people, and there was no music anywhere that spoke directly to me about my experiences. I needed to turn that out and make the music I needed to hear or that little boy was just going to be consumed by that loneliness and feeling of insignificance that can be so present in these little rural places.

I’ve carried on writing because my experiences have been so significant and I’ve changed so much, but that little gay boy is still there in that little town, looking for the song that tells him he’s going to get out of there and it will be okay.

BAW: Your debut album 'Remember Who You Are' was released late last year, what can you tell us about the record? How has the reception to it been?

DS: I played a gig a few weeks ago, and I was playing one of the quieter songs from the record, and I heard someone singing along. That was weird because that’s never really happened before. I guess that means it’s being listened to. I’ve had lots of really lovely messages and people all have their own favourite songs, that’s really wonderful.

I spent a long time on this album, and I want people to hear it as a whole piece, not just have hits and filler. It's a very careful selection of songs from 10 years of writing, that I felt were the best representation of what I’ve been doing, of the stories I wanted to tell and the experiences I wanted to share, and I think I’ve achieved that.

BAW: The record was also ran through a Kickstarter campaign, what was your experience with that?

DS: Obsessive. CONSTANTLY checking updates, plugging it, keeping it in people’s minds and pushing and pulling and doing everything to make sure I hit the target. It was an emotional roller coaster because it looks like you’re off to a great start, then it slows down, then pay day comes and a new wave comes in, then it drops off again, then in the last week the people who have been putting it off for the last two months start going: “oh crap I have to do this!” and then you’re just watching it climb and level out, then climb a bit more and AAAAGGGHH. It's really stressful, but I loved it. I hit the target with about 2 days to spare - out of 8 weeks - so it was very close.

BAW: It seems like the record is a call to arms for queer people, as it touches on many subjects such as representation. Do you feel queer people are fairly represented within your music scene and the music industry in general?

DS: I played a charity gig last week and I was the only queer person out of the musical acts, that was weird. It’s actually been such a long time since I’ve played outside of my scene that I didn’t realise how tailored I was to a queer audience. My jokes fell flat, I played fucking Cher, which might have been a terrible mistake, but I had fun. A drunk girl told me my Cher cover was better than the original - blasphemy, but I refrained from throwing my Pinot Grigio in her face because I know it was a compliment.

There’s a divide there. The queer scene, which obviously has its own different sections and intersections with DIY, punk and cabaret, is in some ways actually self-exiled from mainstream scenes. We work so hard to build and maintain our communities - which are really important to us -and the work we put out is for the people in our communities. You might not always get a crossover between the drag and the punk scenes, but for queer performers there’s definitely a mutual respect for the importance of community.

It’s probably hard to bridge that gap, and I’m not going to speak for all queer people on the scene, but I’m not particularly interested in straight white cis men or their stories that have been told a million times already. I’d love to see more queer people breaking the mainstream and having the success they deserve, but I’d rather play in a 50 person venue to a room full of glitter-covered hotties than a stadium of people who listen to Coldplay.

BAW: As well as social issues, you also touch on depression several times throughout the record, what’s your experience with writing about such personal issues? Do you use it as a coping mechanism or a way to inform?

DS: Songwriting is completely cathartic to me. It’s a tired phrase, but true; good art comes from suffering. Look at Adele. Heartbroken at 21, and she writes one of the most powerful break-up albums ever. In love at 25, and everyone just remembers the Miss Piggy cover of Hello. And FYI she didn’t deserve the Grammy, we all know it, Lemonade should have won everything ever. The end.

But anyway, my point is, I really turn to songwriting to process my experiences, it helps me compartmentalise my emotions and understand them better. I came to terms with a lot of my own anger through songwriting, and that can be tricky to really get around. So what I write is always going to be extremely personal, sometimes uncomfortably so. I’m fine with that, the music that resonates with me is music that can challenge and force you to confront your emotions, so if I’m achieving that with my writing, I’m doing something right.

I’m really conscious about not wanting to come off self-pitying. I live with depression and it’s hard, but I’m not alone in this, this is a shared experience, and I want people to be able to hear these songs and feel like we’re not alone in this. I don’t think it’s informing as much as it is sharing my story with other people who have similar experiences.

Mental health amongst queer people is statistically so much higher than straight people - with the world like it is now, go figure - so I don’t need to inform anyone on the scene about living with a mental illness. The chances are, you or someone you know already knows it. It is important to share and support each other, and discussing it and making it normal is an important part of fighting the stigma against it.

BAW: What can you tell us about the music scene you operate in, are there any artists or events you’d like to mention?

DS: I could spend forever singing the praises of so many wonderful people, bands, artists, venues, promoters, there is so much going on to be proud of and to support in the queer scene. A few big mentions I’ll drop are: Dovetown. My queer musical family, I’m so proud to be a part of this community of artists, and the work that comes from these people is consistently mind blowing. The Tuts, Colour Me Wednesday, ¡ay, Carmela!, every band that Laura Ankles is involved in, which is basically everything. I’m very lucky to have these people in my life.

Her Upstairs! is a beautiful queer cabaret venue where I held my album launch. Internationally renowned drag superstar Meth, #boyfriendjoe, and the wonderful George, have an amazing space in Camden that I’m so proud to be a part of. The variety and the talent of the acts there is incredible. They have great things to come there this year, too.

There's Brendan Maclean. He gets enough screen time anyway ‘cause he got pooped on in a music video, but I think he’s still overlooked here. He is the future of queer pop music. He’s a wonderful friend and a huge talent, so everyone should check him out. He’s also cute af and takes a lot of nude selfies so that’s a bonus.

BAW: Finally, what does 2017 hold for Daniel Versus The World?

DS: I’m talking to someone about writing for a musical! I'm not sure what will come of that just yet, but I’m very excited. I love musical theatre, and I’ve had a lot of people say I should write a musical, so there’s obviously something there. I’m hoping to hit something between Hedwig And The Angry Inch and the Buffy musical. It might turn out more like Viva Forever.

I’m also hosting a monthly acoustic night for queer musicians at Her Upstairs! It's the first Wednesday of the month, and it’ll be laid back, fun, cute, beautiful music from the best acts in the queer scene in London and beyond. It’s called Queer Goes Nothing and it’s awesome. Everyone come. Wear glitter.

Other than that, I’ll do some gigs, work in my actual job in the real world, and try and get through 2017 just hoping that something terrible happens to Teresa May and Donald Trump, or Lady Gaga runs for president or something. She’s got my vote.