Artist Feature: Gavin Dunaway


Standard operating procedure. When something stimulates a reaction, we must reflect – on our personal feelings and experience as well as all available information – before formulating our reaction.

– Gavin Dunaway

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

GD: I was born outside of Washington, DC, in Northern Virginia, and spent 27 years trying to get out. I kid, but it’s very hard to get away from the DC area – there are good schools and government jobs; the suburbs are safe and comfy. And a little dull. On a professional (for a living, I’m an industry journalist) and on an artistic level, I needed something more, something bolder. I still love my hometown, and the choice to move to New York (really Brooklyn) was a tough one, but I’ve been here six years and have never felt more at home. A few years ago, I found an amazing deal on a big apartment in Bushwick near the Jefferson L, and I’m sitting pretty near my rehearsal studio as the neighborhood rapidly transforms.

 The main reason I migrated to Brooklyn was to extend my rock’n’roll dreams: I’ve been playing guitar since I was 7 and jammed in bands for longer than I can remember. While I jumped around from band to band for a while, my main focus now is the group I lead, Libel. I try to blend my love of 70s glam (e.g., David Bowie) with 90s post-punk (e.g., Fugazi), while sprinkling socially conscious lyrics on top – examining the contemporary state of identity; the decay of the middle class and domination of the plutocrats; the slide into hyper-reality; and even the volatility of love amid cultural confusion.


What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

GD: Standard operating procedure. When something stimulates a reaction, we must reflect – on our personal feelings and experience as well as all available information – before formulating our reaction. Technology has encouraged us to respond without reflecting (I’m looking at you, Twitter), turning so much of our culture into a series of knee-jerk reactions with little depth. Indeed, I think many of us are so lost in the flood of information that we desperately seek guides to follow and allow them to tell us what to think – about politics, art, etc. Reflection withers, response dominates – we’re all desperate to be heard, and ultimately validated, in an ocean of voices.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

GD: I tend to let songs gestate for years; crafting both music and lyrics require a great deal of reflection before finalization. For example, I’m finishing up lyrics to a song focused on gentrification. When I finished the first draft, I thought, what is this trying to say – gentrification is bad? No, it’s more complicated than that. Am I just merely describing what I’ve seen in Bushwick the last few years? If so, is there a message below the straightforward chronicle? In the end, I realized the lyrics reflected the callousness of the gentrifiers (which includes me) to transform areas without any – wait for it – reflection on the environment they are disturbing. And then we move on when we get priced out or just… bored because the area turns into something we don’t recognize (or like).

 So my creative work feels much more dedicated to reflection, and encouraging others to reflect and develop their own responses.


What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

GD: On my plate right now is a new Libel album, tentatively titled, “Targeting the LCD.” It’s a thematic cousin to last year’s release, “Music for Car Commercials”; while the title of that album remarked that the best way for musicians to bring in money from their art now is commercial licensing, “Targeting the LCD” laments that popular music (and by extension, popular culture) is being made and marketed to the basest consumer. You can argue whether that’s a new thing, but I think artists, producers and distributors used to have higher opinions of audience intelligence. I need to talk it over with Libel’s visual consultant (and my wife), Michela Buttignol, but I’d like the album cover to be an illustration of a hand holding up a very shiny lollipop.

 Next up, I’d love to finish my suite for the film, “Metropolis.” I’ve long been fascinated by guitar-based rock with a sci-fi feel (see Hum, Swervedriver), and the idea of building something future-sounding out of analog instruments and rock structure seems to correspond with the vision of “Metropolis” and its filming. Just as Fritz Lang used a variety of modeling and cinematography tricks to create a future world, the electric guitar can produce all kinds of sonic trickery. And the storyline is timeless, particularly relevant to our contemporary class gap.

Who or what inspires you?

That goes in waves; musically, I’ve recently been obsessed with early 80s Talking Heads, mid-70s Bowie and even classic Parliament. I’m fascinated by how these artists built catchy yet strange sonic compositions off of very tight rhythm sections. So the latest Libel songs are funky and danceable, with shades of dissonance and noise to disorient.

Lyrically, that’s tougher – I don’t really put a lot of faith into the quality of lyrics from popular music. I long thought of myself as a prose guy who occasionally wrote lyrics, but now I think of myself more as a lyricist. Poet? Not going there. Pink Floyd and Radiohead have been huge influences on the subject matter I tend to tackle – alienation through technology, the madness of modern life. But I’m also intrigued by contemporary art (a trip to MoMA is always good for inspiration) and philosophy – my songs “Simulation” and “Simulacra” are odes to Jean Baudrillard.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

While I may be the driving force behind Libel, the group would be absolute crap without the contributions of my collaborators over the years: Julie Rozansky, Jonathan Hanson, Brian LaRue, Nick Bzroza, Justin Gonzales and Benji Reynolds. I can’t thank each of them enough for adding their brilliance to the Libel sound.

Shout out to…?

GD: Definitely my wife, Michela – she has become a fifth member of Libel via her artwork and visual consultation. A former member complained about a disconnect between our heavy sounds and her seemingly cheery illustrations (I’ve had more than one person ask if we’re a folk outfit), but I think they go together well because for both there’s much more below the surface.

Libel - Music For Car Commercials

 I’ve always found something haunting in her work – her image choices and use of charcoal and certain colors suggest nothing is as innocent as it may seem. For example, the “Car Commercials” cover and the “Tomorrow’s Children” video – transforming synchronized swimmers from 50s musicals into illustrations mirrors how we morph our ideas of the past (particularly ones we didn’t live through) to make them seem rosier than they were. It’s a rendering, not real.

 Art should defy expectations. Unfortunately, I think we live in a world where our expectations are so rarely met that we seek consumable art that is exactly what we ordered. Call it Burger King (“Have it your way!”) syndrome.





Reflection and Response.

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One thought on “Artist Feature: Gavin Dunaway

  1. […] This corroborates my theory that music means less to contemporary listeners on an aesthetic level. Since audio technology has basically enabled all of us to have soundtracks, we treat it like background music and don’t mind getting served more of the same. Of course, I just posited that the music criticism/promotion machine encourages a strict genre narrative regimen, so the lack of engagement with samey-samey music may not be the listener’s fault. In addition, I suggested elsewhere that popular music has become dumber because the people trying to sell it to us don’t have high opinions of our intelligence. […]


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