What is your earliest musical memory?
I grew up in a very musical household in Manchester, England, in the 1970s. My dad had a large vinyl record collection. He had thousands of Jazz, early Delta Blues, Folk and Krautrock records. I remember him playing people like Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Lightnin Hopkins and JJ Cale. We would stay up late and chat and listen to music.
My oldest sister was a punk, and my middle sister was into synth and new wave, so I remember also hearing bands like Joy Division and The Human League for the first time in the 1980s. My other sister liked soft rock and MOR and had a dodgy perm and wore blue eyeliner, so that’s where I got my musical irony from.
Who or what got you into music?
I guess learning to play the guitar as a kid was a big factor. I learned by playing along to records, so even now, I do everything by ear rather than playing scales. Up until playing the guitar, I just listened to other people making music and never really thought I could make music myself. My friend at school was also learning guitar, and we were both into the Beatles.
As young teenagers, we would go busking in town and go to Beatles conventions and watch bands. It was cool that, being young kids, we could get into music venues to watch the covers bands and hang out with older musos because everyone there was Beatles freaks. My English teacher at school encouraged me to write poetry, so I have always been interested in wordplay. In my later teens, I started going to indie gigs in Manchester and clubbing at the Hacienda club, which got me into Acid House.
In my mid 20’s, I moved to London, and I got my first synth groovebox thing off a mate who was making electronic music, which was his spare Roland MC303.
Who influenced your brilliant latest release, ‘Land Ahoy’?
There are a range of influences and themes on the new album. ‘Straight to the Top’ came from having a dream about an old lady dancing in a shopping mall and singing, “your applause does not pay my rent”. Some of the others are more autobiographical and influenced by my experiences over the last year.
‘Long Hauler’ is about my struggles with having Long Covid and chronic fatigue and not knowing if I would make music again. ‘When I was a Kid’ is a collection of funny stories about growing up in the north and childhood scrapes. ‘Fifty’ represents the reality many DIY musicians face when doing gigs for £50 in front of 50 people in the back of pubs and trying to keep their artistic integrity. ‘Boris can dance’ is about our ex-Prime Minister being a narcissist and a useless leader. ‘I find this hard’ is about an old bandmate and friend who passed away during lockdown and is influenced by my memories of being in a band together and our time Djing and gigging in London during the 2000s.
”Land Ahoy’ is a full album; what made you release an album instead of multiple singles?
Recording this album gave me a chance to share an overarching musical concept and share my current influences and thoughts. With ‘Land ahoy’, I had the image of being lost at sea, dazed and slightly hallucinatory, musing about my life up to this point, then finally catching a glimpse of land and having the feeling of hope again about re-engaging with the world.
It’s basically a metaphysical take on coming through the Covid lockdown and finally, feeling landed emotionally and musically. Luckily, the songs work as stand-alone pieces as well, so they have been picking up radio plays as singles. People have their different favourites.
What draws you to the synth-pop genre?
Being able to hit a note on a synth and make squiggly noises is always enjoyable. Add some drums, a bassline and a few lyrics, and suddenly you have a synth-pop song. I like the immediate accessibility of synth-pop, and it has a more utilitarian feel than some guitar band music that can be ego and performance-led.
I guess it appeals to solo artists who want to be self-sufficient and may only be able to play four notes. Plus, there is the musical lineage and tradition of a musical genre that can embrace throw-away naff pop and gloriously arty indie sounds at the same time. Mainly though, It’s great as a canvas for my lyrical stories.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
I really respect the music of James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem. I like the way he can write a pop tune, write interesting lyrics and still be edgy and credible. I actually had a dream last night where I met him backstage at one of his gigs, and then he invited me on stage for an encore with hundreds of his other fans, and we performed a massive collective choral piece. I’m not sure that would happen in real life, but it was exciting in the dream.
The band Audiobooks and Anika are both really cool female-led acts who would be amazing to hang out with. It was so sad to hear about the recent death of Paul Ryder from Happy Mondays as he is a total legend as a bass player, and to jam with him would have been super cool.
What’s your dream venue to play?
Other than music, what are you passionate about?
I work at an art gallery called Modern Art Oxford, so I have developed an interest in contemporary art and ideas, and I love a good film and clever visual storytelling. People’s lives are endlessly fascinating to me, so a good music autobiography is generally on the go. Jarvis Cocker’s book ‘Good pop, Bad pop’ is ace.
Edgy stand-up comedy is always a real treat when I need cheering up. I am off to the Edinburgh fringe festival this year to catch some upcoming comedians. I would love to do more travel, but it’s been hard to travel beyond the UK recently with Brexit and Covid. Eating at Michelin-starred restaurants is my secret pleasure.
What changes would you like to see in the music business?
I don’t really interact with the music business, but I would really like to see the UK government take up a more active role in supporting grassroots music making. I am hopeful we may finally get to kick out this horrendous Tory government. It did nothing for music venues or touring musicians during lockdown.
I want to see a government be more proactive in providing local spaces for creativity and the arts and encourage young people to express themselves musically. Give someone space, time and resources, and they will find their story because everyone has a story to tell; sometimes, it just takes time and some support to be heard. As for the music industry, I think it has been eaten up by capitalism and the constant need to churn out content.
DIY musicianship should be allowed the time to develop its art and voice rather than just be a commodity to be sold and consumed.
How do you feel about how the internet plays a role in today’s music business?
I am far too old and jaded to have a credible opinion on the internet. Maybe I should ask my daughter. We went together to see Self Esteem play at a festival recently and heard her do a talk afterwards about female artists being pressured to constantly provide glamourous content for their socials. I guess her success has put her in the middle of the internet storm.
My relationship with the internet as a DIY artist is a lot simpler. I use it as the means of production for displaying and sharing my work and my thoughts on a pretty basic level. Interviews like this are great as a means to reflect and share my thoughts, and I respect blogs that offer that platform to DIY artists.
What would it be if you could choose one thing for fans to take away from your music?
The one thing I would choose fans to take away from my music would be the ability to hum one of my songs down the street after they heard it for the first time. Oh, and have an irresistible urge to buy my latest album!
Have you started working on your next release?
I have been commissioned to make a soundtrack album called ‘Mancbeth’. The film is based in a gangland-run nightclub in Manchester and tells the story of Macbeth in a contemporary way. Mancbeth’s girlfriend Lady M is the local superstar DJ in the club where they plot their ambitions to take over the city. I am writing in the style of futuristic dystopian industrial electro that Lady M plays out in the club.
The album references the musical sounds and heritage of post-punk bands and Acid House clubs in Manchester but also references the Shakespearean psycho drama of the play and Macbeth’s tragic misguided ambitions to be King and his eventual bloody downfall. I am involving other electronic artists in Oxford to help write some tracks on the album, and I am also currently recording three remixes for Oxford artists The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm band, Self Help and Silent Weapon so I am pretty busy!
FVMusicBlog July 2022