Conversation with Now Wakes the Sea

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Now Wakes the Sea are a three piece originating from Bo’ness, Scotland.  Over a year ago, Stephen and I approached Alan McCormack about releasing his music with mini50 having been blown away by the music available on his website Having shared an unknown mutual respect for each other the inclusion of Alan on our label has been a match made in heaven.  New album ‘Bildungsroman’ is released through mini50 on Monday 26th May and has been described by Song, By Toad as being “an album which manages to use some genuinely weird and fucked up noises and still have the feel of a fantastic pop record.”  His music has also been raved about by Scottish musical limnaries such as Duglas T Stewart of the BMX Bandits who said “Listening to Now Wakes The Sea isn’t safe or predictable. There are moments of fragile beauty and of light and then suddenly you are plunged into darkness. It can be a little scary at times but it feels like going on a real adventure, an adventure in sound.”  So Now Wakes the Sea, for all they remain largely underground and tragically under the radar, are one of the most exciting Scottish artists I have heard in a long time.  Alan kindly took the time to have a chat with me about all kinds of shit.  We sort of bonded at a recent gig he did over the WWE and Eastenders but you will be glad to know we have kept that chat to a minimum!   Anyways, have a read an enjoy and do check out his new record which is available as a pre-order at the moment and available from Monday 26th May.  Even if I do say so myself, you will struggle to find a better Scottish album this year.

TSP: So, why don’t we start with the album title?  Me being me, I always assumed it was just a dialect thing (d’oh) but did a wee google search on künstlerroman which identified the links between the two but also kind of opened my eyes a little in terms of how these particular terms fit with you and Now Wakes the Sea.  Is it fair to say that title of the album is a reflection on how you feel about the world that we live in and how Now Wakes the Sea fits into the musical landscape within which we exist?

NWTS: The whole concept of a bildungsroman is that it shows a character’s struggles to come to terms with their life and their social surroundings, their disappointments regarding not being accepted by the society that has shunned them, and their eventual growth as a person. When applied to the ‘character’ Now Wakes the Sea and the musical ‘society,’ I would agree that the album showcases some of the frustration I’ve felt and the small successes and the debilitating defeats I’ve experienced as a musician, if that answers your question, but the main reason I chose that title was to focus on the growth of the music and the strength we now have.

Around this time last year I recruited Andy Truscott on drums and Thomas Campbell on bass, both of whom I spent a few years playing with in a band called Redwings, to flesh out some of my demo recordings, and what came out of those first rehearsals was something bigger, louder, more experimental and more psychedelic than any of us expected, while still retaining the pop sensibilities of the demo tracks. The pop elements prevalent on the record are definitely a result of playing with the band, and some of the arrangements on the album wouldn’t exist without those two champs.

So the bildungsroman title, and the künstlerroman title of the tie-in cassette tape, do fit in with the struggles, highs, and lows of a character or entity, but in this case it’s mainly focusing on growth. But can you grow without a struggle? It’s like Prince Akeem in Coming to America – having experienced the tough streets of New York City and the plight of poverty, he becomes a better and happier person at the end of the film; he wouldn’t have felt that had he stayed in his fictional kingdom.

TSP: Ah, what a great film. “His mamma call him clay, I’m gonna call him clay” – brings back good memories.

I digress.

I am pretty sure it’s impossible to grow without some struggles.  Perhaps struggles is the wrong word?  But lessons in life are there for a reason I guess?  Things happen to help us grow and develop and usually rejection or defeats only make us stronger.  Or that’s the theory any way.  Sometimes I wonder if they actually do.  I suppose like everything it’s how you deal with that sort of thing.  I don’t know about you but I feel when things come too easily or all you hear is praise praise praise, it’s easy to get lazy and produce sub standard art.  It’s so easy to fall into the trap of lapping up all the back slapping and arse licking and then suddenly the brilliance of album one has turned into the mediocrity of album two and the “what the fuck happened to this band” of album three.  But again, in my experience, people with true genius are the ones that no matter how much praise comes their way, suffer from crippling self-doubt, or at least are never happy with their own work even when others are heaping on the praise.

So from a one man solo show to a three piece Now Wakes the Sea is now a fully functioning band and that’s how you want to be seen now right?  Was this something you felt was necessary in terms of where you could take Now Wakes the Sea?  Working on my own with The Kays Lavelle second album has been a massively different experience to working on the first and sometimes I wonder where the songs would have gone had they been developed in a group environment.  Was the decision to become a three piece based on the way that things change and develop in that sort of set up? 

NWTS: I guess we’re getting into ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ territory regarding talk of defeats and growth, but it does depend on how you react to those defeats. As much as I try to take a Jesus & Mary Chain-esque punk attitude like ‘I’m better than you, it doesn’t matter what you think,’ I’m not very good at taking criticism, which is hard when working with experimental music that not everyone is guaranteed to like.  And it doesn’t help that I always dislike my own material anyway – I loathe it.  If someone mentions a song title, I cringe.  I don’t want to seem like a stereotypical mopey musician ‘aw man I hate everything,’ because I love the freedom of creating music and playing live, but I’m always surprised when someone buys a release or even compliments me – it just doesn’t seem right.  And yeah, when people praise something, you do find yourself wondering why are they saying that.  Are they being sarcastic?  But playing live, whether a good show or bad, is always fun.

The decision to introduce others was based on the early demos, which didn’t seem to work right when played solo.  I also didn’t agree with the ‘singer songwriter’ tag I’d acquired after the first record of solo material, and I wanted to create something poppier – if I didn’t have the band, no doubt I would’ve taken those pop songs and made them downbeat and miserable.  Originally, Andy and Thomas were only going to be with me for the album recordings, but during the production of this album and the shows we’ve played, it’s gelled together really well and NWtS is very much a band now.  Even going back over older material, they’ve brought in things that I’d never thought of, whether it’s different arrangements or different chord progressions.  Especially given that we played together for a while before, we all trust each other and can bounce off each other.  And yeah, I’m straying away from the solo performances – if something goes wrong when playing with the band, I can just blame it on them.  Can’t do that when you’re on your own.

TSP: I completely agree.  I don’t for one second believe that what doesn’t kill you necessarily makes you stronger.  There are those in life who use those defeats and those who cannot use them and then again those who cannot cope at all with the defeats and let them get to be too much.  I am not sure there are many people who are “good” at taking criticism – hence why all the back slapping and praise tends to get overdone.  Also, Scotland is so small that if you don’t say nice things about the music of others then you are a cock.  Just look at the backlash the guy who reviewed Broken Records first album received when he dared to say that it wasn’t all that good.  Having an opinion in this country, especially a negative one – simply because of its size – is a very dangerous thing, especially if you walk in musical circles.  I think there is a place for constructive criticism and learning to understand that and use it is a very positive thing.  Like most things, I guess it depends on how the criticism is delivered that has the impact.

I am not quite as extreme as you are when it comes to how I feel about my songs.  I want to like them.  I want to believe they are good.  I am not sure I ever get there.  Or I listen to other stuff that I think is brilliant and then go “shit, I will never be that good”.  Sometimes the ears of others is where to lay your trust.  Although millions of people love One Direction and I’m not sure I would say their stuff is any good…  Man the whole thing is a giant head fuck….which brings us nicely on to the album itself.  Whilst it sounds like a collaborative record between yourself, Andy and Thomas it also sounds as if the whole thing was particular difficult for you to create, record, perfect and deliver?  I think I described the art and music as head fuck before – is that a fair reflection?  It certainly seems like you have gone through a lot to get this record finished and the journey has, at times, been challenging and difficult?

NWTS: A few years ago, a highly acclaimed Scottish band released a much awaited album and it sounded awful – the songs were good, but it was listless and pallid, yet I felt afraid to say that due to their friends, their following, and the enemies I’d make.  I later confessed this to someone and they told me everyone he knows thinks that too – they just keep it secret.

But I think that’s where being so harsh on my work helps.  If something doesn’t sound right, it’s put aside for the time being.  If lyrics aren’t up to scratch, I move on.  With the band, we had trouble transferring a solo song from the record into a live track, so I took it off our setlist after around two run-throughs.  I like a fight, I don’t like perfection, and I like the frustration of creativity (there are around four different versions of the opening track all with distinct, varying sounds – I could never get it to sound like I wanted in my head), but working like this, feeling fine to put something aside, gives me more time to focus on what I think actually sounds good.

And I do appreciate the input of Tom and Andy when working – we feel open enough to say if something is struggling to work or if a chord or a note or a drum fill doesn’t sound right.  I am still the sole songwriter in the band, but the collaboration aspect comes when I play my demos and we see what we can do with the basic song.  I trust what they can bring to the music and I let them loose.

From the beginning I had an idea of how this record should sound.  Then about a third of the way into production, I realised that what I originally had in mind was not the record we were creating, and I was stuck for a while, wondering what I actually wanted to create.  If you have total creative freedom and have something definitive to deliver, ask yourself, “What do I want to do?” and you’ll find yourself questioning everything.

I got more interested in the manipulation of audio and it became more psychedelic.  Imagine what The Beatles must’ve been thinking when they made Tomorrow Never Knows.  It was an attempt to see how far we could push standard ‘rock’ instrumentation and what noises we could make with basic, and sometimes broken, equipment.  That was ultimately what I wanted, but we only got there through trial and error.

A big influence for me was Joe Meek and his nonconformist production techniques that resulted in recordings that sounded both familiar yet distant and obscure.  Dub artists like Lee Perry and King Tubby and Scientist were also big influences for all of us too.  Mixing poppy tracks to sound empty, spacious, deep and heavy, thick and full of loose rhythms drenched in analogue delay, snare hits popping with spring reverb, filtered vocals bouncing left and right.

That’s why I like the short mixes I put up on Mixcloud  that showcase our interests and influences; there are so many bits and bobs that go into our music that someone might not notice, it’s nice to shine a light on them.

TSP: Yep, I don’t think this is exclusive to Scotland but, because of the size of the place, I do feel it’s a lot more prevalent.  I always admire the people willing to put their heads above the parapet and say what they honestly think, although I do wonder if it’s worth the hassle.  I stopped playing the game a long time ago though.  I think so much of what is produced now just adds to the noise and is not worth shouting about.

Interesting you say you like a fight, you don’t like perfection, and yet, much of what you say suggests a perfectionist at heart.  Huge self criticism is usually a sign of a perfectionist.  And then the other trademark of hating what you have produced once it’s out there.  I think in this musical age we all work within our own limitations, so I am not sure perfection exists at our level but it does sound to me that you are unwilling to let go of music, put it out to the world, if you are unhappy with how it feels to you?

Anyways, let’s talk a bit more about your influences.  Looking at previous work ‘Bildungsroman’ feels like a massive step forward in terms of growth and development.  You have already attributed this, in part, to Andy and Thomas’ involvement in the development of the record but even without their contribution it feels like you were approaching this record in a rather different way.  Production techniques and influences obviously played a big factor in the end sound but who are the artists that inspire you to make music in the first place and also inspire your approach to songwriting?

NWTS: I like the fight and the struggle because I don’t like things to be easy.  I like to challenge myself.  If something can be completed easily, you risk falling into the trap of running on autopilot – if I’m frustrated and annoyed by something, throwing ideas around, moving from one track to another, and having to fight with technology or instruments can lead to creative situations I’d never have arrived at or thought about previously.

Of course I am something of a perfectionist and I will never release music I consider to be less than what I’m most capable of producing at the time, but when it comes to performing live – bring it on.  I like the uneasiness and the tension, I like things to be ramshackle and unexpected, and I don’t simply want to be ‘covering’ the album tracks – if you want to listen to them, just listen to your iTunes.  So I’m not quite a perfectionist when it comes to live performance – I love and admire great improvisers and I try not to plan gigs too much – but when it comes to releasing music, I definitely want to put out something that, may not sound like the dictionary definition of ‘perfect,’ but it’s what I consider the best I am capable of.

In terms of the approach to the record and the way I worked with the songs, I was heavily inspired by the work of Van Dyke Parks, particularly his orchestration on Joanna Newsom’s Ys, but also his record Song Cycle and his work with Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.  He has a way of playing with countermelodies that, at times, can sound dissonant and abstract, but quickly turn themselves around to fit perfectly with the musical basis.  I love his use of little flourishes, small fragments of sound that appear briefly and then are never heard again. His lyrics are brilliant too – I wish I had the same way with wordplay as he does.

I’m heavily inspired by what I listened to when I was growing up too.  During summer holidays when my parents were working, my grandparents and I would go on daytrips soundtracked by cassette tapes of fifties and sixties hits, jazz and swing, wartime-era acts like Glenn Miller and The Andrews Sisters, and brass bands.  I definitely remember, I must’ve been around three or four years old, and my favourite song was Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham & the Pharoes.  And the Summer Holiday soundtrack by Cliff Richard was one of my favourites.

So with this record, I was trying to bring all these influences and inspirations together, but still keeping a lofi Now Wakes the Sea element in there.  It also ties in with the ‘bildungsroman’ theme of youth and growth and coming of age.  But whenever I sit down to write music, no matter what project I’m doing, I always go back to fifties and sixties acts for inspiration.  Johnny & the Hurricanes, The Everly Brothers, Del Shannon. Acts showcased through the previously mentioned Mixcloud series.

TSP: I think that comes back to what we were discussing earlier about people who get constantly told they are great.  That can lead to some serious auto pilot and boring new work.  I think struggling with things, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself can only ever lead to good things.  Whether that can then translate in to something you want to release, well, sometimes that’s going to happen and other times just the experience of the challenge can be rewarding in itself.  You mention instruments – how do you approach song writing?  I always loved Tom Waits talking about stepping away from the piano to write songs and finding different paths on instruments he was not familiar with. Do you feel that?  I am thinking ‘God’s Light Withdrawn’ and your casio keyboard.  Do you make deliberate attempts to step away from the guitar when song writing or are most things written on guitar then deconstructed/developed on other instruments?

Man that’s fascinating.  I don’t think many artists would be so honest about having Cliff Richard as an influence!  But I get where you are coming from.  I think more and more as we get older we seem to get sucked back into the music we grew up on?  Or at least I have had that experience.  Not that Graveyard Tapes are influenced by Abba or anything, but with the other stuff; glacis and the kays there is definitely a harking back towards the classical music my parents listened to when I was young.  Maybe it’s a natural progression.  My taste went from punk, through grunge, to more melodic stuff and suddenly became more abstract and fascinated by “alternative” work.  But under pinning it all was this love of classical that I think never went away.  And it’s funny now you mention your influences, it’s all there.  All those 50s and 60s acts could easily be referenced in the new album, whilst the record retains a freshness of a current feel to it.  That’s a beautiful achievement if you ask me.  Do you find when the brain has a brain freeze mid recording/writing (as happens with me) that going back to the artists you love can have a cajoling impact – whether consciously or subconsciously and help recreate the passion for the music you work on or do you have to have a complete break from the music you love when creating so as not to be “too” influenced by it all?

NWTS:  The Tom Waits quote about stepping away from the piano leads directly into what inspired God’s Light Withdrawn, where I was stuck with a bit of writer’s block and set myself the challenge to see if I could write a short EP, music and lyrics, within the space of two weeks, solely on a children’s casio keyboard.  I never planned to release it, but I really enjoyed the experience of having a blank canvas, extreme limitations, and a deadline.

But songwriting can come from anywhere.  The majority of the time, I sit aimlessly with a guitar watching Eastenders and a little progression of notes will stick out, and like I said previously, I take a lot from 50s and 60s acts, so I like playing with chords from that era.  However, my guitars are tuned to an unusual tuning (I think I may have invented), so once these chords are transferred into my tuning, they sound twisted and unusual.  Something like The Shore & the Coastline for example – the catchy main melody is actually just the high notes of my chords, notes that wouldn’t normally be accesable in a standard tuning.

And as for lyrics I, like most musicians, carry a notebook with me and often find myself writing down little phrases and pieces of overheard conversations.  I also spend a lot of time at night in bed writing things into my phone that, in my almost somnambulant state, don’t really make sense, and over time I’ll notice things that are connected, despite coming from totally different places.  Then I like to attempt to cover these words with hazy metaphor to the point where it almost becomes nonsensical, which I really like – I love having vague lyrics that can more sum up a feeling or emotion or a place or a memory rather than simply telling a story.  Songs like The Shore & the Coastline do tell a story, but the lyrics also convey more than just going for a walk.

I feel that’s almost contradictory to what I was saying about being influenced by fifties and sixties pop, where the lyrics are very straight forward and often incredibly cliche, but it’s more the musical aspect I’m listening to, picking out chords and basslines.  Given the limitations of artists from that era, it’s incredible what they’ve produced using such basic gear.

Sometimes I feel you can get some good ideas when writing come from listening to music you love, even if you end up ripping it off – it can be interesting seeing how you cope by trying not to sound too like what you love.  That’s when working with Thomas and Andy comes in handy, I can come in with an idea that sounds exactly like something I know, without telling them what it is, and they can bring their own personal ideas in. 

TSP:  I do tend to find it essential to step away from the piano from time to time.  Of late, on the Kays stuff I have been either using my crappy wee organ to write or alternatively starting with the drum machine or just a noise, processed through my dying orange micro amp.  Matt and I used the dying orange amp sounds a lot on the first Graveyard Tapes record.  In fact, the first track Gravebell is only noises from dying orange micro amp!  I find this way of working hugely rewarding in song writing terms and fully understand what Mr Waits was saying.  Another thing I found useful was to just sit and play, hit play and record on a tape player whilst I played and see what happened.  Then sift back through all that stuff to see if anything worked or jumped out that could be developed.  Again, the second Graveyard Tapes record has a lot of improv on there.  2 hours in the Reid Hall just jamming, then working out tracks from the stuff that was actually good.  Pushing the boundaries is important I think.  Pushing yourself to work with new ideas of how to write songs?  I think that’s what I loved so much about God’s Light Withdrawn – that it was all on a kids casio keyboard.  You wouldn’t know because it’s so accomplished so it feels much more complicated and then when I found out I just loved it all the more.

I am with you on the lyric front.  I read a lot of poetry.  All my lyrics tend to be pretty abstract.  I don’t really feel comfortable being really open and upfront.  Then I listen to somebody do that sort of writing well and think ‘fuck those are good lyrics’, but I am drawn more to the abstract.  Are there any poets, lyricists you particularly admire?  Any you rip off?!  I have been heavily influenced by the poetry of Bukowski and Carver but of late been reading shit loads of Margaret Attwood’s poems – when I should be working – and also dipped my toe in the dark waters of Sylvia Plath – but you have to be in a certain place to cope with that!  I also have always loved Thom Yorke’s way with words.  If I had to choose a lyricist who inspires me most it would definitely be him.

Music has changed so much I guess from the 50s/60s.  It’s a bit like technology in general.  From the time I was wee until now the world seems to have exploded with new technology and sometimes it’s easy to forget how things were before.  The advances in technology have obviously allowed music to travel in a very different direction than the past but I suppose it’s still important to ground yourself a bit and remind yourself of how it used to be?  I saw a performance of a Ligeti piece at the Usher Hall a few years back and it could easily have been Matt Collings and his lap top/guitar and not a string ensemble on stage.  You do have to remind yourself that it has all been done before and using acoustic instruments, not technology.   But do you have to embrace technology in the modern world?

NWTS: Oh yeah, I don’t just use guitar to write songs. I spend a lot of time playing with electronic music, things that no one will ever hear that I only make for my own amusement, and sometimes I can find a synth noise or a drum loop and think, “That’d sound great with the melody from… ”  And so some songs are based around or inspired by just sounds, basically.  Originally, on the solo demo of Original Bone that I put together to give to Thomas and Andy, the drums had been sampled from a song by a great K Records duo called The Blow, which came from one of my solo Ableton electronic jams.

Regarding poets, I’m a huge fan of John Betjeman to the point where I’d say he’s probably my ultimate favourite poet of all time ever.  His work has a great use of rhythm and pacing and evokes such great feelings of melancholy mixed with humour, I can think about them and analyse for days.  He actually recorded a few spoken word records in the sixties with instrumentation behind him, and it goes from sounding ridiculous and camp to bittersweet and sad.  Another literary influence would be James Joyce.  I love his writing style, the sort of slumberous, dreamlike way you can read his prose, and his use of wordplay and puns.  I’ve never read much Sylvia Plath, to be honest.  I have a great little collection from 1974 called British Poetry Since 1945 that I like to dip in and out of – it’s full of people I’ve never heard of and would never had read had I not picked it up in an Oxfam.

I don’t really have an opinion on technological advances and grounding yourself – just make noises.  I don’t care where it comes from or what produced it.  I do find myself amazed when you get acoustic instrumentation that sounds like nothing you’ve heard before, though.  Penderecki, Partch, all the white noise-esque dissonance that opens Scott Walker’s Scott 3.  I love that, but I don’t care where it comes from.  I’m not really sure that was a question, or if my ‘answer’ is acceptable enough.

I have a question for you. Do you find, or have you found, inspiration for musical work in your children? Ed Harcourt released a beautiful song last year inspired by his son called Hey Little Bruiser, which will only grow in poignancy as his child ages, as the only instrumentation in the song is piano from Harcourt and violin from his wife, the son’s mother.  “I got to say that the apple don’t fall too far from the tree – you’ve got your good parts from your mother and your bad parts from me,” a lyric I’m recalling from memory and possibly getting wrong.  Or, since having children, have you found it more difficult to find inspiration?  Of course you will be busier and have less time for yourself, but have you found any direct influences or references to parenthood working into your music?

I don’t particularly have any distractions (not that I’m saying your children are distractions!) stopping me from being creative, apart from an ongoing battle with debilitating and disabling depression, which does creep into my work and only gives people more ammunition to call me a ‘moany bastard singer songwriter,’ but I feel it’s difficult to not address it, and if I didn’t mention it, my work would somehow feel false.  Have you felt anything similar with regards to not mentioning children, parenthood, increasing responsibilities?

TSP: Maybe it was an unacceptable question cause I think your answer is perfect.  I am with you.  Make sound.  See what happens.  I think that’s the best way to be and best approach to adopt.

As for your question.  Man, I think kids change you in the most profound, intense and awesome way.  And I am not a believer in the whole “i am too busy cause I have a family” excuse when it comes to creativity.  Yes, it does get in the way of getting out and being involved in things but in terms of creativty they are not an acceptable excuse for a lack thereof.  I hate people who blame family and kids for stopping them doing and achieving what it is they want to do and achieve.  If you want something enough you will find the time, make the time and make things happen.  Ali and I are both creative – she is a writer – and there was an acceptance that time would be much more limited but that we would still focus on what we wanted to do and make sure it got done.

But to answer your question 🙂 I think the impact they have had on me in every way is inspiring and that can only translate in to positivity in my work.  I don’t know if I like the Ed Harcourt approach of shouting about my kids.  I like the fact that I know that in my heart and mind they have made me a better person, a more focused person.  And I am sure that this translates and inspires the music I now create.  But it is not the focus.   If that makes sense.  I still love to explore themes such as loss and hope through music.  I love to explore ideas.  In fact, just this morning I have been working with a group of school kids and we had to talk about a building that is special to us.  I chose the modern art gallery in Edinburgh.  The reason is the sign across the front “Everything is going to be alright” because every time I see that I think exactly that.  It calms me.  That whole building and experience does.  On the other side of the road, the Dean Gallery has a big sign in the grounds “There will be no miracles here” and it got me thinking about the contradictory nature of these messages and then it hit me.  They are perfect together.  When my dad was sick, we knew he was only going to sicker.  There would be no miracles.  And yet, what everyone wants to know is that everything is going to be alright.  and no matter how long that takes once somebody is gone – it is true.  Everything is going to be alright.  I think I spend a lot of time pondering death, loss and the hope that can be taken from this.  If something was to happen to me I think that’s what I would want people to hold on to – everything is going to be alright.  I am even reading White Noise by Don Dellilo at the moment – if you know that book you will know where my head is at at the moment.  So yeah, every day I wake up loving life.  My girl, my kids, and yes, they do inspire me but they do not form the focus of my songs or words.  I kind of feel like David Lynch in that my music is always considered quite dark, but that doesn’t mean I am a dark person. I just like exploring the darker side of life.  Perhaps I once was dark.  I give credit to my wonderful family for changing that.

Sorry if I just took this into a morbid place.

Not sure if you want to talk a bit more about your ongoing battle with depression?  I have a friend who uses music primarily as therapy.  Do you find that music is theraputic or is it just something you have to do regardless of how you feel?

NWTS: I love that you bring up the ‘If you want something, you will make it happen,’ approach. I totally agree. I’m unemployed and know I will never be a full time, professional musician as it’s so difficult, but a little part of me won’t give up on that.  So I get up at a reasonable time each morning, I write, I play guitar, make noises, I write some more, I make music, I create. I remember reading a Johnny Marr quote that said, “Inspiration won’t come to you unless you’re working,” which I think is perfect.  You’re not going to get anywhere sitting in bed watching The Simpsons.  If you have that passion inside you, you’re going to do it no matter what.

I also really like the way you’re saying having a family has affected your life, the person you are, and how it exists as an inspiration but it doesn’t find its way into your music in the same way that Ed Harcourt does/did.  It’s interesting to see how people take in the world around them and process it into art.  I guess that’s kind of related to what I was talking about earlier, about taking snippets of overheard conversations and phrases that have been stuck in my head and things I’ve seen and finding a connection, then almost putting it through a blurring filter.

I don’t think I find creating to be therapeutic, it’s just an impulse – I have to be creative.  I just have to.  I can’t stop it, it comes out whether I want it to or not.  Again, I touched on that where I think I said something about getting frustrated that I couldn’t get the sounds I heard in my head into reality.  .

TSP: Inspiration won’t come to you unless you are working and you won’t get better as an artist unless you spend time working on your art.  Not only working on your own art but immersing yourself in the artistic fields that your art exists within.  You know it was Will Self who said the best writers were serious readers – and I think the same can be held true with musicians.  The best musicians are the ones who immerse themselves in music and not just a certain style or genre, but a whole range of styles and genres.  Immerse yourself, know your craft, work hard and be inspired.  Then, be inspiring.  And let that inspiration be whatever form it takes whether that is kids, overheard conversations, the sounds of a city…whatever.  Simple fact is that it is easy to make excuses as to why you cannot create but those who are driven will not let that happen because it’s bullshit.

I am wary of letting my life spill into my work.  I am not that interesting.  And whilst I draw on the experiences as an artist and I find inspiration in the growth I have felt as a person – particularly since my two little boys were born – I tend to be more interested in ideas and concepts than in actual experience when it comes to lyrics.  If it ever does make its way into my work it is most definitely through a blurring filter…..which is a fucking amazing term making me think of the invisibility cloak you develop when drunk 🙂

Let’s have some fun – what would be your top 10 dream line up for a festival?

NWTS: I remember when I found this group of artists associated with the mini50 roster, I was amazed that there were others with a similar musical vision as mine. Creating music that might not sound like mine, or even sound like each other’s, but almost like we shared a manifesto.  It was incredibly inspirational to know that others existed who were trying things that were unexpected, who were taking traditional song structures and arrangements and experimenting with them. I’m not just talking about Mini50, but other local musicians I discovered around that time, and this was way before you got in touch about releasing my music, so what an honour it is for me to be putting something out on a label as inspirational as your’s.

I have a voracious appetite for music.  I always have music on, often to my girlfriend’s annoyance!  I’m constantly searching through blogs of obscure, out of print releases by everything from 60s synth experimentalists to 30s blues records by unknown guys who released this one thing then got stabbed in a bar brawl, but also up to date and current music. I find listening to Top 40 chart music interesting – I enjoy listening to how pop music evolves and the production techniques used on big budget studio tracks.  And I’ve seen Lady Gaga twice. I think there’s something worth listening to in everything, it just depends how you listen and what you listen for.

And the lineup for Now Plays the Festival would be:

  • Neil Young playing On the Beach in full
  • Tom Waits playing Small Change in full
  • Swans, the most visceral act I’ve ever seen
  • Joanna Newsom, with an orchestra
  • Van Dyke Parks, solo, piano, storytelling, wordplay
  • Sonic Youth, for a noise pop onslaught
  • British Sea Power, with foliage and bears
  • Deerhunter, for shoegaze pop bopping
  • Wilco, would make a great late afternoon show
  • Low, the harmonies, the guitar tones, no need to say any more

Also performing: Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, Akron/Family, The Drones (Aus), Carnivores (ATL), Native America (NO), Courtney Barnett (Aus), and a traditional British brass band tent. None of those Mini50 guys though.

TSP: Man, it’s what I always wanted the label to be.  Filled with like minded artists.  Exciting artists who see things that little bit differently.   It’s so exciting to see where the label has come frmo to where it is now.  Massive credit has to go to Stephen for that.  Since he’s come onboard things have got a lot more exciting and our roster has also got a lot more exciting.  So it’s an honour for us to work with artists like you and all the others who are on our label.

Our festivals would have some cross over.  So the lineup for Mixtapes from the Graveyarsd would be:

  •  Neil Young playing Afetr the Goldrush in full
  • Tom Waits playing Mule Variations in full
  • Wilco, because they are the best live band I have ever seen
  • Radiohead because no band is as exciting
  • The Antlers
  • Portishead, playing 3 in full
  • Micah P Hinson
  • Mogwai, because I am a Mogwai junkie
  • Father John MIsty/J Tillman – doing songs as both whether he likes it or not 🙂
  • The Flaming Lips, to close and have one big massive party.

Also performing: Brendan Benson, Damien Jurado, Explosions in the Sky, The Low Anthem. The Low Lows, The Twilight Sad, The Felice Brothers, The War on Drugs and Kylie Minogue.

Sadly not able to play but wishng they could: Sparklehorse, Elliott Smith and Vic Chesnutt.

So maybe we should think about finishing up now?  But before we do is there anything else you want to share about Now Wakes the Sea?

NWTS: If the situation arose, two of the three band members would happily only eat crisps for the rest of their lives.

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