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Music Interview: Alutepena Hughes-John ‘Lockdown’ Out Now!

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Pena Hughes-John

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We caught up with musician Altuepena Hughes-John following the release of the superb EP ‘Lockdown’. Read the full interview now!

How did you first get into music?

At school, I wasn’t really that good at anything (subject-wise), was bullied practically every day, and I always used to look forward to the Music lessons. I found I had that I was naturally drawn to music because I saw it as escapism from my day to day life. When I reached my late teens, I purchased a mini keyboard which helped me write my first batch of songs and the rest, they say, is history.

What is the first song that captured your attention as a youngster?

‘I am the Walrus’ by the Beatles. I always marvelled in what (seemed like) a nonsensical set of lyrics could draw you in. The music I found to be very hypnotic and flows effortlessly (including the middle 8 of the song leading nicely back to the chorus). The orchestration, the music affects all gelled together.

I found this song to be so genius and well ahead of its time. However, many people have covered this song (including myself at an Open Mic once with my Ukulele and a house band. No matter how many versions of this song is out there, no one will ever come close to the magic of the original. 

Who influenced your latest release ‘Lockdown’?

By some strange coincidence, I’d just written a blog entry on this very subject yesterday morning for my website titled: ‘Lockdown’: The Story behind the song.

Not so much ‘who’ but ‘what’ and that ‘what’ being Covid-19 and the UK Government’s attitude towards it. Cliff notes version, ‘Lockdown’ was written purely out of frustration on my part back in April of this year. Looking back we were forewarned that this could happen here, but at the time, the Government were busy trying to sponsor a bong for Big Ben to celebrate Brexit Day!

It was the casual way that this pandemic was handled from the very beginning from getting the substandard PPE to crass statements from the Prime Minister such as “take it (Covid-19) on the chin”. I try not to write many ‘political’ songs, as mindful that many of us have different views, but this was a subject that really got under my skin in terms of the UK’s unorganised preparation – despite being warned many times that this will happen if we didn’t get our ducks in order. If the Government had taken heed at the very beginning, it could prevent the vast number of fatalities. Heck!

Even the Commonwealth of Dominica (where my family are from) has no fatalities to Covid 19. What is that they are doing right that the UK is getting wrong? Dominica (and many other countries – another example being New Zealand) took this pandemic extremely seriously whilst the UK Prime Minister saw the whole thing as one big joke, with his blustering jokey statements. Woah! That was a mega rant there.

‘Lockdown’ was recorded at The Lodge Recording Studios, what was the process like?

I generally find recording at the Lodge Recording Studios to be a very therapeutic experience mainly because the recording process on this and indeed, many of my songs generally go as seamlessly as possible. Max Read (engineer, owner, ‘jack of all trades all-round good bloke’) understands where I’m coming from musically. We spend many sessions bouncing ideas off each other during the recording process at The Lodge. 

For ‘Lockdown’, I already did a basic home recording of the song with just myself and the electric guitar. I must add that I’m still learning to play the guitar – prior to lockdown, I had just started 1-1 guitar lessons, but these obviously had to stop because of the lockdown. I hand over the stems of the track to Max, who adds it to the mixing desk and from there, we start to build on what was recorded.

The majority of the time, I end up having to re-record the guitar parts due to Max not being entirely happy with how they’ve played on the home recording. He then adds some guitar parts himself (mostly the aggressive ‘chug, chug, chug’ and the power chords) plus the bass.

All of this is done to a drum track which superseded the dull one two one two basic drum pattern of my home recording. These are later replaced by real drums, played by Karl Thompson.

We see you are releasing EPs rather than singles going forward, what sparked that choice? 

I used to release singles in the past but once I commenced recording my album, made the decision that any releases from it will be in EP format as opposed to a single. Singles are great, but I have many songs that didn’t quite make it onto the album or in the past done alternative versions/mixes. EPs gives me more scope to showcase those songs. 

If you could open for any artist/band who would it be?

There are many artists that I could name, but the one I’d love to open for would-be Toyah. I grew up listening to Toyah during my teenage years and absolutely loved the way she sings. Such power, such conviction and thoroughly enjoyed her music.

In some of my songs, I have had a few people in the past saying that I do sound like Toyah. (Not intentional. That’s just the way that I sing, especially if I’m singing aggressively on the track.)

What motivates you to make music?

It was the breakup from a long term relationship that inspired me to return to music.  I see music as a form of therapy and find it much better to express myself through the songs I write.  Sharing my songs in front of others (whether this be an Open Mic or Festival) and receiving appreciation for them is what motivates me to continue with my musical journey

What are your other passions aside from music?

Steampunk! I’m a big Steampunk fan and was introduced to it at an Open Mic I did in Surrey a few years back by the Open Mic host, Ben Henderson. He runs the Surrey Steampunk Convivial, where it’s a weekend of complete barminess. From crazy games such as Nonsense Football to Teapot racing.

You’d have to attend one of these to understand, and even then you’ll come away laughing at the eccentric activities that go on. I was first invited to this by Ben to perform a set. This followed by me slowly cultivating my image and as I was a Goth in my teenage years, decided to mix and match my costumes.

It was through Steampunk that I began making some of my costumes and got my sewing machine back to work. I wasn’t a stranger to costume making as I used to make samba costumes back when I was a dancer in the samba dance scene. With Steampunk, in addition to the Festivals, Ben introduced me to photoshoots wearing our Steampunk costumes. 

If I’m not writing and performing songs, you’ll see me behind the sewing machine, making my next Steampunk creation, would could even be in a future music video!

If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

The ‘manufactured’ music industry. If I could change something about this industry, it would be to put an end to manufactured branding. Shows like the Y (oops, meant to say: the ‘X’) Factor and the Voice are literally killing music. It’s as if to say, bands and vocalists need to look and sound like THIS in order to succeed. We’ll throw in the auto-tune and various effects to make their songs plastic enough. Drummers? Musicians? Nah- who needs them, we can use samples and get the software to do the singing for us.

I’ve yet to see a band consisting entirely of various computers as with the manufactured industry it is mostly them that are the stars. We just need image pleasing bods to lip-synch the song instead and ‘voila’ you have the modern-day ‘recording’ artist. With the manufactured music industry, ‘real’ artists treading the boards, doing the hard graft (touring, self-funding and promotion) are now finding breaking through that ‘manufactured’ wall of fake-ness in order ‘to be heard’ is one big challenge.

What new music are you listening to at the moment?

The only ‘new’ music I listen to is courtesy of the various Online Radio stations showcasing new artists, mainly Indie radio stations such as Lonely Oak and Wigwam. They’re the stations which provide a good soundboard to upcoming bands drowned by the music industry noise.

Away from Indie, I do occasionally listen to electro-swing (songs using vintage music instruments with a modern twist). From the Steampunk side, Moth provides some very interesting songs using unconventional instruments. I’m after ‘different’ in terms of music; the same ole, same ole just doesn’t cut it with me.

What musical plans do you have for the next two years?

For the next two years? I’ve got quite a lot of things ‘on the go’. After this album that’s due to be released in January (which is Volume 1 of 2), I will recommence work on the second volume, with a view to releasing both of them as a double album in time for next Summer for the ‘Festival’ season. (Fingers crossed the live gigs can recommence as 2020 has been a shoddy year in terms of the entertainment industry.) 

In addition to my ‘main’ project, which is this one, I would like to continue work on my other music projects. I have three different music projects which have been placed ‘on hold’ because of these two albums. One of my other projects, ‘The Heartfelt Dreamland Project’ which is my other little (music) baby. This particular project, are a series of semi-instrumentals with vocal harmonies, strings with heavy influences of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”. Again, these are recorded at The Lodge Recording Studios.

There are the theme EPs that I mentioned earlier. I hope to be able to get these recorded at some point too, and as for my ‘main’ project (this one), my plan is to eventually have all the songs on my double album in video format as a screenplay but that…will have to be at the bottom of my music ‘To Do’ list for now. This Steampunk Gothette here likes to keep herself busy musically. It keeps me out of mischief!

FV Music Blog November 2020

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Twitter: @alutepena

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