Neverending Grace: An Interview with Daniel Victor

Neverending White Lights is a new original musical concept that redefines the term “band” by Daniel Victor, a Windsor, Ontario native who injected varying acclaimed vocal artists from around the globe into his music. Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace and Nick Nexum of 311 are just a few of the artists that make appearances on Neverending White Lights’ new release Act I: Goodbye Friends of the Heavenly Bodies.

We recently had the opportunity to pick Daniel’s brain, whose five years of arduous labour has resulted in one of most deeply moving, spiritually charged, and authentic albums we’ve heard in recent history. JXM sat down with the talented 26 year old to discuss the record, angels, afterlife, and grace.

JXM: On your site, your bio notes that “musically, [you] know [you] have more talent, experience and business smarts than any number of mediocre pop and rock bands you’ll find in rotation on mainstream radio or MuchMusic.” Yet your music is also being promoted on the same mainstream media outlets. Do you feel differently now that your music is being played on these same mainstream media outlets?

Daniel: No! I stick to what I said! This wasn’t meant to be a mainstream record, or project. What I wanted to do was put out my first record and kind of cut my teeth on it and develop an underground following, get some credibility and continue to make these records and then do something myself in the form of a solo record. Though Dallas [Green of Alexisonfire] is on the very first single [The Grace] and he’s popular, I think the reason it’s doing so well across the country right now is that the song is pretty strong and just really connects with people. That in turn puts me on the same plate as Nickelback, Madonna, or whoever is on MuchMusic these days. So it definitely feels a little weird, especially when I look at the charts because I’m right up around Green Day and all these other bands that are hugely successful, and its not quite registering in yet that I’m in that market. But I think it’s good to see these mainstream media outlets accepting something that was a little left of centre. The fact that they’ve embraced that and Neverending White Lights is different, I think that means there is some hope for the music industry.

JXM: The album is formatted and structured much like a piece of literature from its composition to its execution such as the chapters or movements, so, were there any novels or stories that may have inspired this? Or are you a voracious reader and your music has come to reflect that?

I do read, but I tend to read non-fiction. I don’t really read a lot of stories or novels per se. The record itself was inspired by spirituality, life and existence, the thought of our place in time, the thought of dying, and those types of things. I took about five or six world view classes at the University of Windsor, and they really got my mind working. So when I graduated I bought a whole bunch of books about what’s wrong with religion, the problems with organized religion, problems with Christianity, and you know, what world view might be best. And the more I read, the more I realized nobody really knows anything about what’s really going on because we are so divided. And everybody has their own set of beliefs as a culture, and then there are people who have their own set of beliefs as themselves, but nobody really stops to think that that’s the truth because it’s kind of depressing. So we all just cling onto what we think will fulfill our lives and we live our lives according to those rules and hopefully we get to where we’re going in the afterlife, but its just that whole concept that kept me up for a long time and a lot of those lyrics on this record are inspired by that.

The album does tell a story about life and death and it’s separated into movements based on the themes of the lyrical content within those movements. It opens with The Hour which is almost like the hour of birth, the birth of the record, the birth of a human, and the birth of yourself. And the very end of the record, A Pale Nation Sleeps in Misery is the point where we’ve gone through our lives thinking we’re uncomfortable with who we are and what the world really is.

But I don’t think [the record] is all gloom and doom. Just because you write a song that reflects the themes of death, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a sad song. I’m not talking about people dying I’m just talking more about angels and the ideas of what’s beyond this world and what’s beyond our comprehension, so I think its an inspiring topic for a record.

JXM: Based on the strong religious sentiment in this work, is spirituality and the supernatural something you firmly believe in?

Daniel: I am definitely a very spiritual person. I think spirituality is something people have to find within themselves and I think people should definitely challenge themselves to what they think they are living for, what the meaning of life is, and what makes you live a life that is actually fulfilling to yourself besides getting up and going to work and coming home. I think people need to really examine themselves. Actually in The Grace, it’s about a man who is dealing with his own inner demons and his problems and he’s looking for an answer and he’s looking towards angels to guide him to whether or not he should end his own life or continue to live. He wants something to live for in a sense. So some of these songs end up being little stories, or examples of the main theme of the record.

JXM: You said that a few songs that didn’t make this volume were “honed to perfect finish.” For instance, Throwing Chairs with Jonathan Foremen from Switchfoot. Were they removed because of thematic differences, and do you think any of these songs may resurface at some point?

Daniel: That was one of the first songs that we had for this album three and half years ago. As songs were being added to the album and as it got bigger and bigger, that song was always there. So to lose it in the end was very upsetting. The reason why we lost that song is an example of the record industry being a business. Not everything will work out for the sake of good music – sometimes money and politics come into play. Switchfoot had an album coming out close to the time that we were going to release this album. Despite the fact that they’re releasing on a very large scale and we’re releasing on a very small scale, and that I’m an independent and its only coming out in Canada, and that I’ve written a song on the last Switchfoot album and this song has been in our hands for over three years, they [Switchfoot’s record label] still said you can’t have the song – despite all six of these factors. They don’t even own the song. I own the song.

And Throwing Chairs actually fit this album so well – it was the original track three, so we had to shift the songs around and make the album work again. It was focused on the same themes as this record that it just feels out of place on another album, so I don’t know if I will put it on the next one, besides the fact that I was told, quote “you can never have it now” by the label so they were obviously upset with me about something…

JXM: After the mess with major labels, and being told the record wasn’t “radio,” how much of the final record is not affected by the criticism of labels?

Daniel: This record was made completely under my own terms, and I think that’s why it sounds the way it does. If I had gone to a major record label and said “let’s take 16 artists and I’ll write the music for it,” and they’d say “okay, we’ll give you x amount of dollars to do it,” we’d probably get some really trendy artists, some underground artists, some popular artists, and put them all on a CD and we’d sell it out and it would be a big hit. But then they would be in control of how I was doing it, and it wouldn’t have been the same. This album, I put so much blood, sweat and soul into making it. That’s why it sounds the way it does. It’s all very closed in terms of how it was made – it’s all done in this one space, in terms of the song writing and production. It was only in my house that I could wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and go downstairs to the basement and lay it down, and then have it come out on the album. Whereas if I was paid to go into another studio and record companies were free to come in and say “let’s do this or let’s not do this”, it just wouldn’t have been the same. I took my time – I took five years on it. I guess for the next one, if a record company comes into play, they would have to let me do my thing, otherwise it’s not going to happen. I’ve had some interest from a couple of labels, and I won’t sign with anybody unless I’m going to have complete control over what I’m doing.

JXM: You once said that you wanted to use Neverending White Lights as a platform to lead to a solo album or something on a larger scale. What would be the differences between your solo work and Neverending White Lights?

Daniel: Did I say platform? *chuckles* What I meant was that I wanted to show people, including myself, what I was capable of doing with music and having a talent that was all encompassing, meaning I could produce the record, perform all the instruments on the record, write the songs, implement the artists all myself, with nobody else helping, which is more work than anybody else would want to take on. Which is why I got sick and lost all sorts of weight and wasn’t well for a while, but it proved a lot to myself and I think it’s proving a lot to people that may think “wow this is one guy.” He’s playing, he’s writing, he’s performing, and he’s producing and gathering all of these different artists and putting them onto the record. That says a lot about him, so what would he have to offer now on his own record? If you came out with your own record, what would be the difference between you and the band next door? You’d be fighting each other for a place in the spotlight. I think Neverending White Lights was a way to show people what makes me different.

But I don’t want to make a conflict between Neverending White Lights and what I’m going to be doing with my solo material. They’re completely different. They’re even sonically different. With Neverending White Lights I want to continue to show off my production skills, and my ability to pick really interesting artists and place them in really interesting songs. With my solo record I want to make music that’s different but more personal, and now I have a chance to do that to a wider audience because of this record.

JXM: With the solo album, would that mean the end of Neverending White Lights?

Daniel: No, no, no! I titled it Act I, so I could go to Act II, Act III, Act IV, and so on until I can’t make records anymore. It’s not going to sound like the first record because there are different singers. You’ll always have talent out there. Whatever bands are coming out today could be on Act III. You could always, always approach people to sing so I think I’ll be making these records for as long as I could possibly make them!

JXM: Why have you chosen to refrain from doing the vocals yourself on the majority of the tracks? Can we expect to hear more of your voice on Act II?

I thought the beauty of the record is that you don’t get bored of me singing or any one person singing. You get to enjoy a whole bunch of people singing. So it grows on you and it doesn’t get old. You don’t get tired of it by the end of the record because there’s always something new to explore, and there’s always a different flavour that each artist is going to bring to a song. That was the whole idea.

I think I do plan to sing one song a record. At this point I like that idea, just to keep my soul in it vocally. But definitely I think it’s going to be no more than one song, and I’ll have all these artists sing the rest.

JXM: Because you’re collaborating with so many different vocal artists, what does that mean for touring?

Yeah, that’s the hard part! I’ve got a live band and we do our best to reproduce Neverending White Lights as a live band. What I’ll do is call some of the artists on the record to see who’s interested in coming. And when they come to the show they’ll sing their song on the album and then I’ll also ask them to pick one of their favourites and sing them. Because really, with Neverending White Lights, anything goes and you can do that. Jimmy sang the Dallas Green song The Grace when we played London and Windsor. So it’s just even cooler to not only have these different artists on the record but they’re now covering each other’s songs from the record. Anything goes. Where I don’t have access to these artists, I will be singing the songs but I’m not going to try to imitate them. I’m just trying to interpret their part live. So for the majority of the show I will be handling the singing and I do my best to bring the meaning of that song to the audience. It doesn’t sound exactly the same but again I think that’s part of the whole appeal.

JXM: You’ve talked about losing your appreciation for an artist or band once they’ve become commercially viable, do you fear you will fall into the same trap?

Daniel: I was reading something on the Alexisonfire message boards where they were mad that The Grace was on MuchMusic, and they said, “MuchMusic found something cool and now they’re going to ruin it.” And its not MuchMusic they’re attacking, I think its just the idea of mainstream media, such as hit radio or hit music video television, where they’re taking something that was essentially made to be kind of left of centre and now they’re blowing it up and making it big. The music doesn’t change. It doesn’t change the quality of the music. It just opens it up to a bigger audience and I’m definitely interested in having a bigger audience so that’s why I’m feeling very positive about it. But anybody who is into keeping their music on the “unknown” they’re not going to be down with that.

I’m the same way, if a band I like gets really popular I don’t really like them anymore. I can’t help it, so I may be falling into my own circumstances. When everybody knows them, the problem is even your neighbour is going to have the record, and I don’t want my neighbour to have the record! That’s the band that I like that nobody else likes! You know what I mean? I hate it, I absolutely can’t stand it when that happens, so I guess that’s kind of what’s happening with my record now, so I guess I deserve it. I deserve to lose those fans…*chuckles*

JXM: That pretty much wraps it up. Thanks so much for your time, and it’s been really nice talking to you!

Daniel: No problem, it’s been a pleasure!