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Hersh Dagmarr - Indefinite Leave to Remain Interview

Indefinite Leave to Remain is the new show by Hersh Dagmarr.

A love letter to London from the heart of eternal nomad ghost Hersh Dagmarr as he & his pianist/arranger extraordinaire Karen Newby deconstruct the songs of The Pet Shop Boys & transport them to the Weimar era.

Hersh Dagmarr is a London-based Queer singer/songwriter & visual artist. His visceral inspiration from the grand Weimar Berlin era mixed with his own experience as a club kid from the noughties & the 2010s evolves into a unique blend of jazz, dance & electronic avant-pop with elements of cabaret mixed in.  

We caught up with Hersh to discuss the show in more detail.

Where did your arts career begin?
I have always been an artist and I have always had an equal love and interest for music ( particularly singing) and visuals (painting, drawings, digital art etc..). My parents weren’t musicians themselves but true music lovers and I grew up with all kinds of classic jazz but also cabaret and of course chanson Francaise (I’m French and grew up in France). So this heritage was always lying in me somewhere.

I left my home at 17 and started seeking the stage from the get go, being in a few bands as a singer,  then I absolutely fell in love with the nightlife and I became an avid club kid and then I met a few electronic music producers and I started collaborating with them as a vocalist. Step by step I got into the art and craft of songwriting then I started getting into music production myself and to this day I have been recording and releasing my own electronic pop music. I love the art of remixes as well.

By the chances of life, I somewhat happened to go live two years in New York and that was a fantastic adventure. I adored it but only then did I really start to embrace my European background culture and more precisely my love for a more European kind of cabaret art form, mainly focusing on Kurt Weill’s songbook. Maybe as a form of homesickness.

So I actually started singing cabaret there in New York, a night called Tingel Tangel (I sang Regine’ s “Les P’Tits Papers” and Kurt Weill’s “Alabama Song”) and that night was a real revelation to me in terms of direction. I was like “Okay I have to do that now!”

Then I came back to Europe and moved to London and little by little I started putting my own shows together accompanied by pianists. I guess that’s where it all began as a career.

How did you approach a career in the arts and sound?
In the particular cabaret/musical theatre art form I am a firm believer in LIVE exposure. Getting up on stage any chance you get and HONING your craft. That may sound very simplistic but there’s just nothing like the stage to approach a career in music these days.

The simplest and the purest form. Just you and the audience. No Inbetween, no artifice, no lies. no filter, no tricks, no PR, no cheating, no knowing how to leverage or use social media to find your audience. I believe in finding your audience by being good enough on stage not because people saw you 112200 times in magazines or on TV.

That's the kind of following I am interested in anyway.
Although I do appreciate the help and the visual artistry that can go along with a PR campaign. It can be creative.
But ultimately I do believe in old school “Just get up on stage and go get them”. The organic live experience can’t be replaced or enhanced in any shape or form. Live is live and it’s risky and it’s thrilling and it’s demanding and it’s exciting. There’s just nothing like it. 

How would you describe the style of your work to anyone unfamiliar?
If we’re going to talk about my cabaret act I would describe it as storytelling through songs. I’m most and foremost a singer. But also a raconteur.  I always love to tell a story or depict a specific theme that is obviously dear to me. 

Why did you choose the music of Pet Shop Boys for this show
 I’ve always been a mega fan of the PSB and I wanted to do a love letter to London in the form of a cabaret show. I wanted to depict this feeling of finally finding a place you can call home and since it’s London, it felt like an evidence to me that it should be based around their songs. When I listen to their music I hear London. Some cities’s soul can be felt through songs and that’s the case with the songs of the Pet Shop Boys. And there is so much material for cabaret with Neil Tennant’s brilliant lyrics and poetry. The wit, the somewhat cynicism of it, the slight melancholy and the absolute romanticism of it all. The whole thing with that indefectible very British retenue and composure.

How did you approach bringing this show to the stage?
Well for my cabaret shows I happen to use this alter ego. It’s not very clear, even to me what gender they are, if they’re a ghost, a vampire or simply the souvenir of a Weimar-Berliner Demi Monde creature… I like to keep this mysterious and blurry but it is a good way to explore a theme through the eyes of this particular character. For this show (“Indefinite Leave to Remain”), I had the theme in mind and a few songs that I knew should absolutely be part of the project and I submitted the whole thing to my main collaborator and pianist Karen Newby who is also a brilliant arranger. She was keen so we started to craft about and soon enough the structure of the show came up.

For this particular show, I had all these staging ideas and it ended up being our most theatrical piece of work so far. I wanted to have a piece that was primarily a Love letter to London from the eyes of the foreigner. but with the recurrent Weimar Berlin cabaret touch and also I was very much interested in depicting a notion of finding your home, and settling. 

There are a lot of little visual symbolic elements in this show. I arrive with a suitcase as the eternal nomad and some flowers and I start dressing a little shrine as a symbol of making my home.

What research did you have to do whilst developing the show?
I always had the Pet Shop Boys back catalogue embedded in my brain and as part of my musical upbringing so I just had to tap into it. It was all there I didn’t have any specific research per se to do regarding the creative process, it pretty much all unfolded on its own. I had that vision and I kind of knew what I wanted. Also as it’s about my personal connection with London, I just had to tap into my own experience as an expat Londoner to come up with a script.
What we did do was work on musical arrangements and sequencing the songs in order to follow a narrative with a consistent emotional arc.

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing the show?
This is a hard one because obviously an audience is composed of very different people with very different ways of processing a piece but I have to say, as a singer and a musician my main focus and goal is the music and the songs. Although every little thing and detail  is important I hope that of all the elements that constitute this show the music is what people will appreciate the most and take away.

How do you prepare for a show?
If you mean the performance aspect of it, I make sure to absolutely know the script and words to the T. Usually by heart to the point I can say it in my sleep.

I like to rehearse to the point of absolute saturation lol. This is how I get my freedom and I have fun. I'm ok with a little room for improvisation as long as it's little. That's what works for me.

I’m detail oriented so hair, costume and make up are very important. For example the choice of costumes is precise and once it’s determined it has to be that one and not another.
On the very day of a show I like to arrive early enough for soundcheck of course then lay out all the different elements of the outfit (generally two per show minimum) in quite a ritualistic manner. I realise that sounds a bit uptight lol but it isn't really.

The more time to prepare the better so I love to have as many things prepared in advance. I can’t stand rushing. And god knows that for independent musical artists, NOTHING is laid out for you in advance. You are in charge of your own timing and organisation so the few hours before a show can be extremely hectic in order for all the boxes to be checked. So the earlier the better seems to be an absolute golden rule.

If you could have dinner with 3 famous people, who would you invite and why?
1John Grant because I love his work and his sensibility. I find his music and voice so deeply moving and I love his quite radically honest approach to lyric writing and I would love to hear more of his creative process and his stories as he is such a storyteller.

Also if I can include a couple of deadies, I would say :
Josephine Baker because she represents the highest form of music-hall to me and I absolutely admire her chutzpah becoming the total toast of Paris in early twentieth century amidst blatant racist times and also her incredible courage during WW2 being part of the resistance without ever losing her glitzy sense of humour, glamour and artistry.

And 3 Hedy Lamar!!! I have always been fascinated by her. Not only because she is one of the most mystifying and glamorous embodiments of an old Hollywood that I have always been so deeply attracted to but also because of her genius and creative brain which she never really was recognized for. As everyone now knows she was also an inventor and the superior mind who brought what constituted the basis for the creation of the WiFi. I just could not stop picking her brain. She is such a fascinating character.  

If you were a biscuit, what biscuit would you be and why?
A Jaffa cake because nobody really knows if it really is a biscuit or not, they could be both a biscuit or a cake or none of it and I just can relate to the mystery and refusal to fit in a box surrounding this whole case.

What keeps you inspired?
I have to say I find a lot of my inspiration in cinema and films. More particularly old American and European cinema. My favourite movie is The Blue Angel. I can’t get enough of the masterful and aesthetics artistry of it all and as a visual person it stimulates all my creative senses. When I compose music or write lyrics or even work on a musical theatre piece I always have a cinematic vision in mind.

But more generally and as corny as it sounds I guess what keeps me inspired is a love for life and knowledge. I am quite an observer so inspiration is everywhere permanently. It’s endless and boundless.

Where can people see the show and follow your career beyond?
I will bring “Indefinite Leave to Remain” with Karen Newby for three dates at the Bistrotheque in March on the 16, 22 and 23rd and tickets can be purchased through the Bistrotheque’s website and I will also be back at the Crazy Coqs on June 28th (tickets are available now through their website as well).
Also I will be part of the very cheeky Riff Raff Cabaret at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Tuesday March 12th (Tickets available through Outsavvy).

People can follow me mostly through my Instagram. That is my main platform to communicate about my projects.
It’s @ Hersh Dagmarr with two Rs. Like Hedy Lamarr she was a gorgeous star and during the war she invented the wifi and I ... .didn't!

Find out more from Hersh Dagmarr from their website

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