Hi Simon, tell us about yourself?
Songwriter and guitarist/performer since I was 16. Professional bands, touring and recording. I’m lucky enough to have had some ‘major’ record deals showed me a bit of the world. I now live in Brittany, France, with a small but perfectly formed studio I built for my work.
What is your songwriting process?
It really depends – sometimes I’m just sitting noodling on the guitar, and an idea will form. I’m a terrible ‘un-finisher’! My hard drive is crammed full of song sketches and ideas going back years – most of them will never get looked at, but occasionally I dig something up and finish it.
I recently completed a song sketch from 2004 and released it. It was part of some sessions in a studio in Birmingham that I’d done with a drummer, an old friend of mine. We’d sat around over a couple of weekends and workshopped all these song ideas I had knocking around. Every few years I look at the sketches and think I really must finish these sometim
Anyway, COVID lockdown encouraged me to finish ‘God Gave You Such A Winning Smile’ – which seems to be topping my Spotify channel at the moment, so it was worth the wait it seems. But as to a songwriting process – I think I just worry away at ideas until they either become real, or they sit there waiting to be deleted. Generally, I’m project-driven, so I need the target of an album to finish to make me sit down and really work on the songs. Hard to do when you’re a self-releasing artist with no deadlines!
Tell us about your latest release?
For well over ten years I’ve planned an album of electronic and electro-pop songs (as opposed to guitar-driven songs). I’m what’s called an “early adopter” of technology. I was using synths and later computers as soon as they were available. In the 90s, I wrote a lot of installation music for art exhibitions and gallery openings in New York, where I lived for four years. And I’ve studied electronic composition, electroacoustic music over the years.
So after the guitar-driven ‘God Gave You’ single of April this year, I started looking at the collection of electronic sketches – I’d originally planned a follow-up album to my 2016 ‘Make Us Happy’ – acoustic folksy sort of thing. But once lockdown killed off all my gigs for this year, and I realised that I wouldn’t be able to go out and promote a new album with shows, I decided to do a real ‘studio’ album, that wouldn’t need a band or musicians.
So I started work on the electronic album, and ‘It Really Is A Pity’ just sort of happened. It wasn’t one of the old sketches – I just came up with the idea that we humans are in such a state, we really have screwed up our planet, our bio-sphere.
I wondered what Aliens would think of what we’re doing? And so the idea came to me that Aliens have been living amongst us for centuries, trying to guide us, to steer us, but we’ve f*cked it up, and now they’re leaving – they’ve had enough.
So the track is a sad elegy – the Aliens – like disappointed parents – sort of “Oh dear, we really tried, but Johnny just won’t be told…!” As I was working on ‘It Really Is A Pity’ I realised that I was drawing on the influence of a track by DAF called ‘Der Mussolini’ – it has this lovely bass sequencer that drifts in and out of tune, and I wanted to reflect that in my piece, so there’s some gentle pitch drifting going on there.
And of course, it’s no coincidence that Mussolini and some of today’s leaders have something in common, and the Aliens in my song talk about ‘dangerous, madmen’.
What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?
I really have no idea about this. But hopefully some sense of humanity, and the importance of society, that we are not alone, and that greed destroys everything.
Who are your musical influences/Who are your non-musical influences?
Well too many to list! We’re all influenced by so much from the day we start hearing music. I grew up hearing my mother playing the West Side Story soundtrack album, and a lot of classical music. But then, of course, rock and roll hit me. For electronic influences, I’d have to say Tomita, Vangelis, Brian Eno, and Krafwerk of course.
For classic songwriting, I could list so many, and then realise I’ve missed so many. I’m a song man – I love a well thought out lyric and a great melody, so everyone from (of course) Lennon& McCartney to Paul Simon, via King Crimson and Genesis to La Dusseldorf and DAF – it really is too hard to pin it down.
What’s the best gig that you have ever played?
Can’t say which was the best – the most memorable and daunting was the Royal Albert Hall when I was 19 years old, and a session player for a band who were opening for a huge pop band (who shall remain nameless!) – the RAH holds 12,000, and it was sold out. I had to take the stage first, leading the band out, and start the introductory music with my guitar. I was terrified!
What is your funniest gig moment?
Tiny’s Bar, in a suburb of Houston, Texas. We (Big Bam Boo) were touring, and somehow we’d ended up in this redneck bar, booked in by the agent. It was obvious that we were in the wrong “neck o’ the woods” – owned by a giant of a man called Tiny (natch) it was a dimly lit bar-fly filled dive, with a shoddy stage and some sort of PA.
A guy arrived during soundcheck and offered us $500 not to play – he claimed that he’d booked his band ‘Cold Blue Steel’ – in to play to a big-time agent who was coming down, so would we mind not playing?
We were a long way from home and as I recall on our way to Phoenix, so said, nah, if it’s all the same to you we’ll do the gig. So we played. Halfway through the first number, I spotted Tiny approaching the stage holding a billiard cue, the wrong way round. I thought that’s it, we’re about to be whacked. He stood in front of me and raised the cue, to adjust the spotlights just above my head.
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?
Too much music, to much noise, impossible to be heard.
What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?
Don’t! Unless you absolutely cannot, will not, don’t have a hope in hell of doing anything else. You need to be so passionate about the music that it hurts not to do it!
If you’re after fame and fortune, you’re on the wrong track. Try Wall Street. But if you give music your life and soul, and dedicate yourself to it, you’ll be rewarded in ways that money can never compete with.
What are your hopes for the next two years?
Well, obviously the first thing is that we return to some kind of normality post-COVID. By that, I mean people can gather and mix freely and go to gigs and all that. But I hope that the new normality will have taught us that we need far less than we thought. But I don’t hold out much hope for governments acting on what we’ve learned, and the climate crisis is coming to bite us hard on the arse if we don’t.
Apart from the planet surviving then, I hope to get a couple of albums out and return to some live performing again – soon! I really miss live concerts. Thanks for talking to me!
FV Music Blog July 2020
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