An Interview With Denni Ian
Songwriter Denni Ian recently dropped a full length album that mends genres and influences together to create something that brings a slightly dark and brutally honest alternative folk record that touches on elements of classic rock, and paints vivid pictures.
The Sad Saint Of South End is an album that sounds like Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Johnny Chas sat down to make a record together.
The record boasts some wonderful instrumentation blending in harmonicas, acoustic guitars, piano, trumpet, and more making the feel eclectic and bringing new surprises with almost every song.
Most important is that the record is full of heart and a heavy love for performing and songwriting.
The album makes you feel like you want to see Denni live in person.
There is something incredibly comforting about the whole album. It gives you a warm feeling and at times can even make you remember as memories flash in your head you had forgotten about years ago.
Perhaps it's the way he wears his heart on his sleeve and holds little back when it comes to his words.
Either way this album feels good to listen to. It's best heard with headphones and should be heard in full if possible as it does seem like it's a concept record.
Denni recounts chapters and emotions of his own life and they come through with alluring detail.
With such a potent release, we wanted to have a chat with the artist about where it all came from.
TSWS: Okay Denni, let's begin with The Sad Saint of South End. This record has a very neo-folk
style but also incorporates some ambient tones and great instrumentation like piano and
harmonica. Where did this album come from?
Where does it come from? That's a big question. I guess it comes from a long time of
suppressed aesthetic expression. It comes from a need to create something unpolished and
honest and only just barely under control. I've played music in various constellations for
more than a decade without ever playing a kind of music I felt filled the hole inside. Music
is more art than entertainment to me, and I've never had the chance to approach music as
such before – mainly due to me being a part of bands that didn't share the same ideals.
I started out writing this album because I wanted to do something that first and foremost
had its outlet in visual art and in my personal writings. I'm a great admirer of
expressionistic and minimalistic art, as well as abstract and figurative paintings. Sonically, I
tap into the visual expression of paintings, drawings, and sketches, and then adapt that into
my songwriting process – and add a whole lot of con amore.
This of cause doesn't happen in isolation to an awareness of musical genres. As you point
out, there is even an electronic ambience on the album on the single 'Killer Whales'. To be
completely honest, though: that song is mostly the way it is due to a person I knew who
was very into the ambient feel. So I wanted to experiment with having a soundscape
incorporated into the more organic and acoustic aesthetics. Think of it as an ode to a
person who is buried very deep in my heart.
TSWS: This sounds like it was quite a lot to accomplish. It's a big album. Did it come out how
Thank you. I wanted the record to sound rough, without making it sound rushed. When I
began the studio sessions, I only had the lyrics and the guitar parts mapped out. Everything
else on the record was written on the spot. Intuition was a huge part of the process. The
people invited to play on the record had not listened to the songs before entering the
studio and were encouraged to improvise their parts. It was a somewhat chaotic
experience. When you approach an album like that, it is bound to end with some rough
edges, I suppose. Still, the pursuit of polishing is not an act I’ll be practising artistically. I’m
not fishing for accidents, but I’m not trying to avoid them either, so the album came out
exactly like it was supposed to be. I hope people are left with the impression of an honest
and heartfelt presence when they listen to the record. I might approach the next album in a
slightly different way though.
TSWS: At times I hear artists like Nick Cave, Neil Young, and more. What artists really influence
I'm influenced by a mesh of artists, really. Mostly writers and painters. I'm influenced by a
certain kind of thinking, songwriting-wise, more so than any specific artists. But as broad as
they go as genres, folk and punk are the fields I feel at home in musically. While taking
pride in traditional songwriting and an organic approach to instrumentation, moving
around the spectrum of those genres is key. I'm sure is fascinated by the long tradition of
songwriting that has been executed by Cohen and Dylan, Cave and Velvet Underground.
Discovering their approach to songwriting changed my way of thinking about music. It also
led me to discover more obscure names like The Microphones, Smog and The Cramps.
They have all helped me shape my artistic raison d’être.
I also have a thing for the Russian director Andrej Tarkovskij. His films are intense on-screen
poetry — I've never seen anything like it. They move deep into, and beyond, the ever-
changing facades of human society, demanding a commitment from the spectator. He is
one of those rare kinds of artists whose art fastens itself to the human soul.
TSWS: How did all of this begin for you?
How does anything begin? Something triggered something, and I ended up on this path I've
chosen to be strolling down. I've always felt a deep longing and uncanniness, which I can't
exactly pinpoint. Doing what I do right now is the closest I've ever gotten to ease that
TSWS: This album feels very personal and real to me. Is this taken from real chapters in your
I'm glad it does. It's very biographical in many ways. I'm not a thematic artist, and I'm not
putting my personal hardships and traumas out there as it is without a filter. If you'd known
me in those different periods of my life, which is there in my songs, it might be obvious
what the songs are about. But I think it's artless if the songs' content is handled like a diary
with yourself naked in the centre. On the other hand, if it's extremely abstract without
having an unforced, unconstructed anchor of a present soul, then it's just unpoetic. Most
musicians I know are instrumentally gifted, but putting two interesting lines together
Let me in short, be very honest. I’ve struggled most of my adult life with severe
depressions, forced admission, alcoholism and a childhood Freud could get a lot of juice
out of. I’ve got a lot of unsolved issues. But in articulating all that in metaphor and allegory,
in a way where a narrative transcends the narrator without making it clear when: that is
what I strive to do as a writer and musician. To make all that present. I mean, connection is
all I can really hope for with my work. It has to be personal because music is a way to
accept existential despair without letting it consume you.
TSWS: Do you perform live?
Well, yes. I used to perform frequently with former band constellations. Still, I’ve yet to
perform an official concert as a soloist, mostly due to Covid. I’ve played small private shows
in peoples living rooms. But with the lockdown and all, it's been a while.
TSWS: What are you doing when you’re not working on your music? Do you have other
I read a lot: poetry, literary theory, classic and experimental novels. I’ve studied
comparative literature at Aarhus University for the past five years and it used to take up
most of my time. But my biggest passion is art – combined with the consumption of
cognac. I’ve been practising and exploring different kinds of visual art styles for as long as
I’ve been playing music. Properly longer actually. Drawing is a way to take in the world and
initialise the search for beauty.
Some time ago, I lost my atelier. I live in a studio apartment that doesn’t have the space for
working with larger canvases, so it has forced me to rediscover my passion for drawings.
When I’m not drawing, and If I’m not working on music, I’m writing. You could say I have a
passion for working and indulging in art. I get very anxious about wasted time.
TSWS: What will be next for you as an artist?
I got a publishing deal last year, so I have a poetry collection coming out in Spring. It will be
my first literary release, and I'm beyond excited to share it with the world. I'm also working
on a large series of drawings inspired by my lyrics' mythos. A plan for an exhibition is still in
the making. I've also spent a big part of 2020 writing my next album; studio time is
scheduled for the summer. Releasing an EP with a new side project is also in the works.
TSWS: How do you write your songs? Is it melodies first? Lyrics first?
Songwriting, and art in general really, is about giving up the fight and accepting defeat. A
finished song or a finished painting is what's left when you abandon the ring.
My songwriting process is in constant flux. Adding chords, removing chords. Adding lines,
rewriting them, just to later discard the changes. I'm writing on my material up to the point
of recording. I think about being in the recording studio like doing a sculpture: you can only
keep on reshaping the block so often. At some point, the block of material is diminished
beyond reshaping. Good songwriting is to know when to quit and move on. Some melodies
just spark certain lines while some other lines are tough to get the right melody for. So,
regarding what comes first, it's hard to keep track sometimes. I actually wrote the song
'Grains of Salt' on the spot during the Sad Saint sessions.
Right now, I'm working on a song that has close to 22 verses. Something in me just wants to
go with it, but I'm willing to let everything happen to my writing until it's captured on tape.
I've played in bands where the process of songwriting has been extremely rigid, and, to me,
it killed the creativity.
TSWS: Before we go, what would you like to say to fans of the music out there?
Well, if you’ve read up to this point, then thank you. I’m honoured that you spend
time with these struggling songs. May you take from them whatever you need.