Monday Exposure: Minor Constellations

Minor Constellations – Ending (MP3)
Minor Constellations – Cassette (MP3)
Minor Constellations – Why Tattoos Are Dangerous (MP3) via MySpace

Like any sane and right thinking person, I hate MySpace with every available sinew. But occasionally I come across something so good it makes me want to give Rupert Murdoch a big, sloppy kiss.

When I stumbled across Minor Constellations’ MySpace, I was knocked out by the quality of the songs.

Minor Constellations is 17 year old Dean Engle and I caught up with him to drill him for more information. One look at his top five songs will tell you why I love his stuff and why you will too.

How long have you been making music and how did you get into playing the ukulele?

I have been writing seriously writing songs for less than two years. One of my best friends and I used to have a band called The Delicate Delegates. I wrote the lyrics and he played acoustic guitar. Neither one of us was particularly adept in our respective fields and my complete ignorance of any instrument besides the alto saxophone (which I have played for seven years) led to underwhelming bland acoustic emo.

The guitar seemed like a necessary instrument to master if I was ever going to fully realize the songs I could hear in my head. After months of C chords and G chords that made my hands hurt, I had made some progress, but not enough to write songs the way I wanted to. Also, I could not sing and play at the same time, which made the situation entirely frustrating.

In January, I decided that for my 17th birthday I wanted a ukulele. My decision to play was mildly influenced by Jen Lekman’s use of the uke in some live videos I had seen, but other than that wonderful Swede, I did not know of any other musicians who played uke until after I began playing. I have cited divine intervention as the source of my uniting with the ukulele, but proving this has been difficult.

Within two weeks, I performed at a school talent show playing a song I wrote on the ukulele called “Ending.” People were instantly intrigued by the uke, and I finally had an instrument which would allow me to write songs and play them the way I wanted to. And they really liked the song, which was encouraging.

So, Minor Constellations has only been around since January 2008, which is admittedly sort of impressive, I guess.

Which acts are your biggest influences?

My biggest influence by far is John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Many of my first songs were colored by his rhythmic, lyrical, and vocal style. Now, I like to think I have broken away a bit and started to develop my own style, but my beloved MGs are a constant inspiration.

Also, straight up radio pop music is a huge influence. One of the best songs I have heard in a long time is “Leavin’” by Jesse McCartney. There’s nothing better than a good melody.

Music from the fifties and the early rock and roll era are also hugely inspirational. “Sea of Love” has one of the best chord progressions ever and it’s G, B, C, A. I read some famous musician say that simple songs are the hardest to write, but I don’t think that’s true at all. Playing a C and then an F still sounds nice, even if it’s been done before literally millions of times. Originality, for me, comes from the stories and lyrics, not necessarily the uke playing, although recently I have been experimenting more as my skills have steadily improved.

Which are your five favorite songs?

1. “Let Me Clear My Throat” – DJ Kool
2. “When a Man Loves a Woman” – Percy Sledge
3. “Oh Comely” – Neutral Milk Hotel
4. “Baboon” – The Mountain Goats
5. “The One Dollar Thought” – Jens Lekman

Music with SOUL. That power that comes from subtle perfection. I strive for that, always, and hopefully one day will come close. If you feel a little different after listening to a song, I think that’s a good indication of greatness. And if you want to go back and listen again, I think that’s even better.

How did you get so good at writing lyrics?

I’m a big writer, and I used to write short stories. Eventually the skills I learned from my varied attempts at fiction writing began to seep into my songs. Also, I re-work my lyrics dozens of times until I find exactly the right syllable patterns and adjectives and allusions and alliteration and all of those sorts of literary devices. Many of the songs are directly inspired by situations in my life (“Invitation” is a recent example), so adding personal detail is easy, because the stories are my own. So, basically, I try really, really hard, so I’m really, really glad you think they’re good!

How can we get our hands on your music?

My music is all available for free. I record on my MP3 player’s voice recorder, so the tracks are a little rough, but if people want to listen, then I always try to get them whatever they want. I only really sell CDs at shows. Each one is five dollars and I color all over them with Sharpie markers and each is completely unique. I don’t like the concept of selling my songs, but it makes sense to sell a CD, since it’s sort of like art and at least a tangible product (hopefully that makes sense). Anyone who wants files can just message me and I’ll send them anything and everything they could possibly desire.

What are your plans for the future of Minor Constellations?

The future and present and past purpose of MC is:

To get as many people to hear my songs as possible and hopefully make those people happy.

I don’t record to make money. I record because I like sharing my songs. I could write ten CDs full of music, but if no one ever heard it, there would be no point. Every once in awhile, I have a show at someone’s house or at Border’s bookstore and all of my friends come and listen to me play for forty five minutes and then we sit around and talk and enjoy one another’s company. I write songs because I like telling stories, and as long as people listen, I’ll keep whining away.

You can visit Minor Constellations on MySpace, download the EP Some Songs I Know You Like here and, if you ask nicely, he’ll send you a batch more songs.

View Comments

9 Comments

  1. Huggie September 16th, 2008 2:43 am

    Deany! Aw im so happy for you that you got this interview! You are amazing and its about time people get to know you and your music! I miss you! Hope to see you soon! (Huggie)

  2. Howlin' Hobbit September 16th, 2008 4:04 pm

    “I re-work my lyrics dozens of times until I find exactly the right syllable patterns and adjectives and allusions and alliteration and all of those sorts of literary devices.”

    Man, I could make *such* a list of “songwriters” who should pay attention to this.

    (Not that I’m the definitive example of proper songwriting.)

    But I get *so* tired of doggerel when just a little extra thought…

  3. Cardboardfrog September 16th, 2008 4:49 pm

    i really don’t want to like this gentlemans music, i find his voice annoying and am not much of a fan of his influences, but his lyrics are well crafted and although he can’t really sing it really does bring a nice kind of honest quality to his music,
    reluctantly i find myself very much enjoying it ^^,

  4. Woodshed September 16th, 2008 7:19 pm

    Huggie: I hope many more people will hear his music in future.

    Hobbit: Absolutely true. That’s why I just ignore most lyrics. There’s a definitely flavour of ‘I’m just going with the vibe, man’ about too many lyrics.

    cbf: Not much of a fan of DJ Kool? I’m glad you’re enjoying it despite yourself.

  5. Allison September 17th, 2008 6:45 pm

    I’m so proud of you, Dean!
    It was so weird reading the interview, I felt as if I actually heard you!
    Keep up the great work , I miss you!

  6. Peter September 17th, 2008 10:13 pm

    I’ve never heard your music before, but it’s almost freakish how much i hear the mountain goats in your music. It’s like discovering a B-sides album where john darnielle picked up a ukulele.

  7. Woodshed September 18th, 2008 7:35 pm

    An A-side album if you ask me.

  8. Rob NY September 19th, 2008 1:36 pm

    This solves the question “can the ukes get you chicks?”

  9. Woodshed September 20th, 2008 3:16 pm

    Rob: The Pied Uker of Hamlyn.

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