We were lucky enough to catch up with the brilliant musician Houston Ayre following the release of his must-hear album ‘The Chronicles of Eryal Dúr’. Enjoy the full interview below.
Hi Houston, tell us about yourself?
Although it took until 2021 to get my first official musical ‘releases’, my musical life actually began in 1973 when I was recruited to join a band at college. Bands were always short of a bass player back then, so my first instrument became the bass.
I played in gigging bands in and around Glasgow from the mid-’70s to early ’80s whilst studying at university and evolved slowly into a guitarist and, to a lesser extent, a drummer. I also developed an interest in, and some training for, sound recording and built a home studio in a basement, and then after moving house, an attic.
However, it was never a serious intention of mine to play music professionally, so having graduated with a degree in biochemistry (an achievement I think I share with Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers), marriage, family and a career in business and finance put my playing days on the back burner. I had also become a Christian in my mid 20’s, and this has had the most significant impact on my life.
Roll forward into the 2020s, we all found ourselves in lockdown. This afforded me the opportunity to acquire the right technology for 21st century home recording (a massive learning curve from when I last recorded on eight-track tapes) and start composing and playing again.
And I am really loving, and getting a lot of satisfaction from, it!
What is your songwriting process?
I would say, to quote from an old cliché, that it is 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration. That said, in the last two years, I have had the unusual experience of being awakened in the middle of the night with lyrics, melodies and even chords that found their way into my first two albums. For this, I credit inspiration from God via the Holy Spirit.
But for the normal process, I principally compose on the guitar and usually start with 20-30 minutes of basic practice – scales and arpeggios – working with keys and chords that are stretching me and looking for ideas to emerge – most of the time, some patterns will emerge or chords suggest themselves to me, and I can pull together the basic building blocks of a piece of music from there.
Tell us about your awesome latest release, ‘The Chronicles of Eryal Dúr’?
‘Chronicles’ is the third album in a trilogy – the concept/storyline behind it is intended to draw the listener into a world where they are experiencing what might happen after our lives on this earth are over. Where do we go, and what ultimately awaits us?
All my work is guitar-based, but in ‘Chronicles’ I have tried to be more sparing in the use of distortion and effects and develop a variety of clean guitar sounds using simple motifs and themes to build up pieces of music in an approach perhaps more like that of a classical composer.
‘The Chronicles of Eryal Dúr’ is an impressive twenty track album. In a world where single releases seem to be the standard, what made you release a full album?
In the era of my early musical development, you bought singles if you were primarily into the ‘pop’ bands of the charts. The rock and prog rock bands of the time always released albums and only rarely singles, and if they did, the single would almost certainly be included on an album anyway.
So, I have never really considered releasing music in anything other than album form, and following the ‘classic prog rock’ notion of a concept album, all my releases to date have been albums with a central theme explored and developed through 8 or more tracks. (Apart from one single ‘Gone’ which is slightly more commercial and was my response to the conventional wisdom of the current era that artists should release singles to establish themselves).
I have now realised that there is almost no chance of an over 60 years old new entrant to the market, releasing music in the style of bands from a bygone era who were and still are in the global superstar category, establishing myself anyway!
What draws you to the prog-rock genre?
I think it was simply one of the predominant musical genres emerging at the same time I was discovering music, and although I am probably equally drawn to blues, jazz, fusion, hard rock etc., my natural composition style seems to have settled me mostly in prog-rock. Even within prog-rock, you can encounter bands as diverse as Marillion and Matching Mole or Hawkwind to Gentle Giant.
What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?
I don’t think there is one single message from the music; so far, as I mentioned, each album has had a theme running through it as opposed to a collection of individual tracks. I suppose if I hoped there was a common message from my music, it would be that the music is worth taking time to listen to, plumb the depths and immerse yourself in it – I think this would be true of prog-rock generally.
Who are your musical influences?
My earliest influences as a fledgling musician were Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Jethro Tull, Budgie, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Soft Machine and from there, the ‘Canterbury scene’ bands. By the late 70s, I was also into the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and a wide range of jazz/rock fusion and funk.
The biggest influence came around 1978 onwards when I discovered the artists of the ECM record label, and I still listen mostly to bands who were around in the late ’60s and ’70s and the great blues and jazz guitar players like BB King, Clapton, Pat Metheny, Terje Rypdal and many others.
Who are your non-musical influences?
The most important people in my life – God, family and close friends. I try to put God at the centre of who I am, which for me includes extensive study of the bible and biblical commentary (which you will notice in the themes and context of all my albums to date).
After 38 years of marriage and with two grown-up daughters, my family is to be credited with managing to rub off a few of my rough edges! The interactions with my family and close friends are all helping to reveal more to me about myself and ways I can improve as a human being.
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?
That is a hard one for me to answer as I consider myself at this stage to very much be on the fringes of ‘the industry’. But I think it must be getting exposure with so many new songs being added to the internet daily (40,000, I think I read somewhere?); how do you get noticed? Even if you do get noticed, how do you get enough streams to make any meaningful money?
What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?
I would say that you have to set realistic goals for what you can expect to achieve, have a definite plan as to how you are going to get there and stick to what works for you without having to compete with what other artists are doing.
What are your hopes for the next two years?
I’d hope to get at least another 2 or 3 albums out in that time, but I would also love to find a way to connect with an audience out there who can enjoy the music I am writing and get some inspiration from the messages within it.
FVMusicBlog April 2022