In Conversation – Julia Kent


Was worried that this would get lost after the closing of the mini50 website.  Fortunately I still have a copy in word.  So for those that missed it.  enjoy

After years spent performing and recording with other artists including Antony and the Johnsons, Canadian-born, New York City-based cellist Julia Kent found her own voice. She has released 3 solo records to date, has composed a number of original film scores, as well as music for theatre and dance performances. She has toured throughout Europe and North America, including appearances at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, the Donau festival in Austria, Meltdown in London, and the Unsound festival in New York City.  Having met her at Zemlika Festival, Latvia in 2014, Julia kindly agreed to take part in the first conversation piece for mini50 records. Her new record ‘Asperities’ is released via Leaf Label on 30 October 2015.

TSP: What first attracted you to the cello, is it the only instrument you play and when did you make the decision to produce your own solo work rather than only compliment the work of others?

JK: I’ve played cello forever, and it is the only instrument I play…sometimes I wish I had other instruments at my disposal, and of course I wish I’d learned to sing…but I really love playing cello; it always feels as though it’s my voice, somehow…it has such a range and such a variety of timbres.

I’m so happy that I made the decision to focus on making music on my own…I’ve been so lucky to have the chance to play with some amazing artists, and I’ve learned so much from them. But making my own music has been an incredibly rewarding journey…it took me a long time to get around to it, but I’ve learned a lot through it as well. I feel as though being able to connect to people emotionally is the primary reason to make music, and it’s amazing to get a sense of that.

Especially with instrumental music…I feel as though when people connect to that, emotionally, it’s really special because it’s a nonverbal, very unmediated kind of emotional connection. What are your feelings about purely instrumental music versus music that’s expressed through voice and/or words?

TSP: I was totally captivated by your performance because I love the cello as an instrument. I find cellos and pianos to be similar in their versatility. I am not sure there are many instruments that can capture simplistic beauty the way they can? The combination of your music and that venue just seemed to complement each other perfectly. How important is setting to your music/performances? I suppose both in terms of when you are writing and performing. I often find I have to have the right environment to work in.

Have you ever thought about adding voice in to your work? You say you wish you had learned to sing but you have worked with some tremendous vocalists… have you ever been tempted to have a track with a voice in the mix? Not necessarily vocals with lyrics, but a voice or voices (choral)?

You say that emotional connection is the primary reason for you making music and I agree with you. I think connecting with people, through music, is an experience not replicated in other walks of life and such a wonderful thing. I once heard Jeff Tweedy say that a music concert is what church, in its purest form, should be…a coming together of people in an emotional and almost spiritual way. But the whole vocal versus instrumental thing is interesting. As somebody who creates both it’s a fascinating question about how people connect with music. I guess that having a vocal in a track gives the listener something to grab hold of instantly. Instrumental music to me has always been more of an investment time wise. I think that much is often clear at performances. Most instrumental shows I have been to are filled with people attentatively listening to the performance. Not talking, just listening and absorbing. I suppose the same is true of listening to instrumental music on a stereo. You have to engage with what you are listening to or the music can pass you by. There is so much to soak up and understand. And I guess it’s easy to let it pass by if you don’t invest time. A vocal sucks people in immediately because they want to hear it, know the words, sing along. I don’t imagine many people walk along whistling a Julia Kent tune (no offence) but they might walk along singing Karma Police or something. I don’t know. Personally, I am as moved by Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as I am by ‘By The Throat.’ I think you get out of music what you put in as both a performer and a listener. But with instrumental music you sometimes have to put in more because it’s not always designed to be easy for you. What are your thoughts?

JK: The setting is so important for me for performance, in terms of a sense of atmosphere and the way places can create their own energy. I play a lot in Italy, and often the performance venues are so beautiful, especially the gorgeous old theatres that contain so much history. in the summer, sometimes i play outside in small towns, which can be really special, because everyone in the town comes to the concert: the boundaries between audience and inhabitants, and public space and performance space become totally blurred.

For me, making music really is about connecting. I feel lucky to have the sense of being able to make a connection when I play, maybe because of the cello, which is an instrument that seems to speak to people. It resonates, somehow…

And it’s true what you say about piano and cello: with piano, it’s wonderful to have that whole harmonic range under your fingers, and of course you never have to worry about pitch (!) but it seems like the hardest thing in the world to make a piano sing.

And that carries to your next question, about voice vs. instrumental music: having been fortunate enough to have worked with some incredible vocalists, I would never attempt to sing, myself.

For me, singing is the most immediate form of expression, but, when you sing, I think you have to be totally unselfconscious about the way you’re expressing yourself. Or you have to have an amazing vocal technique. Or perhaps both.

Personally, I’m always happy to have an instrument mediating for me! I do feel as though I’m missing that instantaneous connection you can make with an audience through your voice. But, playing cello, you are in a way making music that’s within the range of the human voice: that’s why I love it as an instrument.

When I’m writing music, I often find the melody and the harmonies first, vocally, and then figure them out on the instrument. I’d love to write for voice someday…but not for my own…

TSP: Having been in bands most of my life all I was ever used to was small venues, pubs, clubs etc. I guess in a band situation, with the lights down that’s ok. However, playing in the church in Latvia, for me, was special. I don’t play live often now and that was such an eerie setting, which worked perfectly for graveyard tapes. in terms of my own piano compositions, I don’t feel confident enough as a pianist to sit and play in front of an audience really. So I have avoided performing as glacis to date. I love the idea of playing live but it’s hard enough to get people interested in what I do, let alone secure places to play!

Perhaps there is a connection between instruments and place? I don’t know how to explain this but cello and Italy seem to have some deep historic connection that perhaps makes performing there different to performing in Brooklyn? Perhaps the rich history of Italy and cello connects with people on a level that it doesn’t in other places? Is where you perform affected in this manner? Do you feel people are more receptive to your work in certain parts of the world? it certainly seems to me that the music I create resonates with those outside of the UK and in mainland Europe more than elsewhere. Italy in particular as it happens.

Piano is a truly wonderful instrument. But, like I said, I know my limitations as a pianist. Listening to truly wonderful pianists really is an incredible experience. I suppose that is true of the most technically gifted performers. What interests me most though is creation, not necessarily performance of others work. I am guessing you have experienced both. Are you drawn more towards your own work and creations as opposed to forming part of somebody else’s compositions or do you find both equally rewarding?

I have always found voice to be an instrument in its own way and actually the key thing is finding how to use it best to suit what you do. I am most drawn to those artists whose vocal is part of a sound rather than technically beautiful. I do wonder if it’s why I find most female voices a bit dull. I don’t mean to sound negative on this front but I tend to find that female vocalists usually have such beautiful voices and perfect deliveries. I am drawn more to the less beautiful. Wayne Coyne, Jeff Tweedy, Neil Young, Dylan, Martha Wainwright, Tom Waits, Beth Orton, Bjork. For me, these are all performers who have learned how to use their voice. I don’t think they necessarily have amazing vocal techniques – or perhaps they do – perhaps by developing their own style that works within the context of their work and as an instrument within the work, they have developed an amazing vocal technique? Anyways, from my own perspective, I often look to use the voice as another texture. It’s interesting to find melodies with the voice first. I get that. I often just sit down and play. See what happens. Sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s lots. How do you approach writing?

JK: I really can’t believe had to leave Latvia without seeing your show…I’m sure it was amazing!

That church was an incredible environment…it’s so special to play in places like that that where the history and the acoustics and the atmosphere really influence the performance. It’s also a bit like that with recording, for me. Recording studios, although of course they’re acoustically optimal, can often feel so sterile. When you get to record in a place that’s maybe not sonically pristine but really has a vibe it makes for something special, I think…

I’ve got to say that sometimes playing my carbon fibre cello in certain places I feel a bit incongruous. I played recently in Cremona in a beautiful theatre and of course made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Stradivarius museum. after that, when I took out my cello I felt as though I had to apologize a bit for sullying their glorious tradition with this high-tech instrument! But, in a way, everything evolves…even the Cremonese instruments were modified to suit modern playing style. For me, the carbon fibre cello is just another evolution. And seeing those beautiful instruments preserved behind glass in the Cremona museum (even though I think they are played regularly) is a bit sad. They are simultaneously fragile and so powerful, because of their history and the way they bear the traces of everyone who’s played them: they really have souls.

But, honestly, I don’t really consider myself a classical musician in any way, even though I play an instrument that’s associated with classical music. At least, with cello, there’s sort of a newish tradition of people like Arthur Russell and Tom Cora and Oscar Pettiford and David Baker stretching the expressive boundaries of the instrument. And I am so happy to have the chance to make my own music. It’s amazing to collaborate, of course, but I find working alone to be really freeing.

I totally agree with you about voices! The “imperfect” voice is for me so much more expressive, always, than something that has been auto tuned and compressed and polished into something that is supposed to approach perfection but really just can sound totally soulless.

My writing process is very much…a process. Sounds as though I work the same way you do. Sometimes I have something specific in mind, but often I just see where I go. That’s why, for me, working with looping is a great tool. I’m always interested in textures and layering and unexpected harmonic results. The only trouble with looping is that it’s so additive…I’m always trying to subtract…

TSP: What I loved most about the church was the lack of heating! My main love of the festival was how people came together to make it special. This tiny place in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and yet the church was packed and all the events were packed. It was just something truly special to see and be a part of.

I completely agree with you on the recording front. The graveyard tapes records were kind of a mix of working in studios at the university and then at matt’s flat. I always feel I perform better in a relaxed/familiar environment so the sessions at matt’s felt great. The vocals to white rooms were recorded in his kitchen! How does place affect your records? Does even the recording environment seep in to your work/change your work?

It’s a bit like using a digital piano versus an acoustic one. How does the sound change with a cello? I am not sure there is a digital piano that truly captures the sound or feel of an acoustic one. You can add all the effects you like but that natural reverb and feel just cannot really be replicated – in my opinion. Is this an issue with cello or do you feel your carbon fibre cello is close enough? Do you have acoustic cellos back home that you play?

One cellist I find truly inspiring is Richard Skelton. I am not sure if you have heard of him? If not then you should check out Landings as a starting point. I am sure you will have heard of him though, so just ignore this if you have!

The idea of subtraction versus addition is interesting. I guess the loop does make that whole thing tricky. I often find the spaces in tracks to be the most interesting. The moments of silence and pause. What is it that is being said. Often those silences have the biggest impact on me. Do you record as you perform – with the loop – or is the recording process more about layers and allowing yourself the freedom to subtract and not be dictated to by your loop pedal?

JK: Yes, the Latvia festival was really special! I feel as though I play in a lot of places where people, both promoters and audience, come together in these really amazing environments, and there’s always a beautiful synergy between the energy of the people and the energy of the place. I just played last weekend at Topolo, which is a tiny village close to Udine, in Italy, with only 20 or so inhabitants. A small group of dedicated and lovely people have been doing this amazing festival there for 22 years. People come from all over to play and to listen, and the people of the village are really involved as well. I played in the woods, with the crickets…

I do love recording at home; it just feels really comfortable and really intimate and I think for sure that’s reflected in the music. I feel as though I can take more time and more risks, in a way, because I’m in control of the process.

My carbon fibre cello is totally a conventional acoustic cello…just made out of carbon fibre. It’s got its own sound, of course, like any string instrument. I use it for touring mostly because it is just too nerve-wracking to check a wood cello, which is what I do when I travel. I can’t afford to buy a seat, which is the safer option. Travelling with a cello is always an adventure…

I do know and love Richard Skelton’s music…I think I have “landings”…but please let me know if you have other recommendations!

I actually don’t record using looping, because it’s hard to make it work as a plug-in in protools. Basically I write using looping (I use software, not a pedal), then, to record, I recreate the looping process, so things change a bit, then to play live I have to recreate the recorded recreation! So it’s sort of a circular process. But the way things evolve is always interesting. And, yes, it’s so true what you say about silence. Silence is the most important part of sound, sometimes.

Piano Day – Conversation – Alex Kozobolis and glacis

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Yesterday was of course Piano Day.  The 88th day of the year.  A celebration of all things piano.  As such, we have this little conversation piece between Alex Kozobolis and glacis for your enjoyment.

Alex Kozobolis is an English based artist.   glacis is Scottish artist Euan Millar-McMeeken.

EMM: Back in 2012, A Closer Listen compared my work to that of Nils Frahm, Dustin O’Halloran and yourself. This was my first experience of your work but I took it as a massive compliment. Looking at your work specifically, which composers do you feel most in tune with compositionally and aesthetically? Is there anyone that stands out above the rest as an influence on you as a pianist?

AK: I remember that review you mention very well actually as it was the first time my name had really ever been used to draw comparisons to anyone else’s music . It also, obviously, introduced me to your work as glacis, which I listened to and enjoyed . In fact I just had your Tohu Va Vohu score on again, beautiful and atmospheric.

In terms of composers I feel aligned /in tune with the obvious one would be Nils Frahm (particularly in his more sedate state) but there are others. A good friend Harry Edwards who I’ve had the privilege of working with musically a couple of times is a composer I both greatly respect but also one I feel musically aligned with (at least in terms of his more minimal/ non electronic work too) .
As for piano based influences – the main one without a doubt is Thelonious Monk (attaching a link to a more overtly monk inspired improvisation ). I gleaned a copy of Monk’s Dream from a forgotten corner of a friend’s bedroom back in the very early 2000s and remember listening to it profusely – in retrospect I think what I really loved about Monk was his ability to delve into discordance and somehow rhythmically remove his playing from the time of many of the tracks he was playing to yet ultimately resolve and redeem. I definitely wasn’t aware of that at that time but I think that’s probably been his most enduring musical influence on me.
How about you and influences? Musical plans for 2015?
EMM: It was kind of cool. I think it introduced us to each other’s work and also put us in contact, which was good and was nice to be compared to those artists too.
I possibly feel feel most aligned to Nils Frahm and Goldmund in that even when I am working on something with more depth to it I am constantly battling with the idea of a record that captures the simplistic beauty of the piano.  I love when things sound real.  Like you can hear everything that happened during the recording, be it a chair squeak or a bird singing outside.  I always want to capture that.  I think we are on a similar wave lengths in the music we align our work with.
As for influences.  That’s a tricky one.  It’s probably really uncool to say Einaudi or Olafur Arnalds but being honest it was their work that made me want to sit and write piano compositions.  I had spent so long in a band and listening to alternative music it was refreshing to start listening to modern composters and classical music again.  From there I just started to sit and play and things sort of happened quickly.  I never really expected anyone to pay attention to glacis. so it’s been a lot of fun.
Musically this year I have a number of glacis related work.  I have finished a solo album and also nearly finished a collaboration album with Ed Hamilton.  These will both hopefully see the light of day this year.  I am also working on a record with William Ryan Fritch, my wife Ali and artist Gregory Euclide. This might not be finished this year but it is a very exciting project. aside from glacis I have a project with Ben Chatwin (Talvihorros) called Blood Language and that record is close to completion. So it’s busy but exciting.
How about you? How did your composition with Anna Rose Carter come about?  Any plans for working together further?  And what other things can we expect in 2015?
AK: Ah yeah man, I’m 100% with you on things sounding real.
[my earliest EPs were on two very opposing ends of that spectrum – one (theme for an empty playground) was recorded through Logic on a MIDI keyboard using a steinway piano sound, while the other (the whisper) was recorded on an actual Steinway – the exact same one that was used on Take That’s first album (according to my friend who got me some free studio time) ;] .. in retrospect i dislike both of them and find them equally artificial – the midi one for obvious reasons but also the steinway one for its hyper-polished / detached sound.. eventually, and as you say – encouraged by artists like Keith Kenniff and Nils Frahm, began to appreciate soundscapes that were true to reality 😉 ]
And not at all uncool man, I’m not a massive fan of Einaudi’s work (Olafur’s i love, living room songs being the pinnacle of his output for me) but i do definitely understand and relate to the idea of other composers encouraging you to pursue composition.
The Anna-Rose collaboration actually dates back to 2013 – we’d met the previous winter at an ambient music festival in Cologne and stayed in touch.. I suggested a musical meet up and that’s where the track came from – she sat at the left side of the piano and I took the right, we played for a couple of hours.  Some bits were highly forgettable, others worked ;] we decided to make a video for the track (which resulted in the improvisation being given its title) but it was the editing and processing of that video which delayed the release so much.  Was fun and would be good to try something together again.
2015 – glacis plans sound great and will definitely look forward to hearing, am a big fan of Ed’s work + also Gregory Euclide’s artwork is stunning.
As for me and 2015 – I’ve got an EP queued up for physical release with Future Sequence, 4 tracks, compositions again as opposed to the last few years of improvised material. Can’t wait for that to come out to be honest , it’s been hibernating for ages (2013ish).  I think my biggest musical goal for this year would be find people to play live with, aka some sort of band.
Do you get/take opportunities to perform your compositions live?
EMM: I always found it difficult because I didn’t have access to a real piano and only had a digital so my early work – Lost Again on Waking – is on a digital.  Whilst I am proud of the compositions the whole thing sounds digital, not real enough, and it’s polished and crisp.  I guess when I started to let things be real it felt right.
I think Einaudi was just that.  A starting point and inspiration to sit and compose.  I have not really continued to follow his work having been drawn towards the work of more contemporary composers, I suppose. but he definitely was an inspiration. I also agree about Living Room songs but I would say Eulogy for Evolution was the one that got me first.  So simple and yet so stunningly beautiful.  I understand why some people think his work is obvious and “pop” but I think it engages in such a beautiful way and when something does that it’s not something you can easily ignore.
I came across Anna years ago and bought one of her EPs, it came as a micro cdr and she sent this fucking amazing thank you postcard with it.  Have tried to follow her work since then because i think she’s an exceptional talent.
As for playing live.  I am not sure I know how to be honest!  And no, nobody has ever asked me to perform as glacis. I think a lot of my work is collaboration so if i were to work live as glacis I’d have to figure out exactly how to do that! The collaboration piece with Ed is something I’d love to play live but as with everything, the people I work with are usually miles away.  I’d love to try and I’d really love to be asked.  None of my projects get asked to play live.  Graveyard tapes went to Latvia last year for the Zemlika festival, which was amazing but other than that I don’t think I’ve been asked to play a show in 5 years!
Would be great to do something in Edinburgh that focused on piano music or the world of experimental modern compositions we all operate in. It’s just wondering if there is a market for it. There should be.  Everyone loves mogwai so you would assume that carries through into a more experimental cross section of fans as well as more mainstream focused fans?  I don’t know.  Digitalanalogue – an Edinburgh artist – may make things better up here though as he’s on a pretty mainstream, well respected, label and may draw more attention to the music we all create.
Do you think you will get up to Scoltand any time to play some shows?
AK: Yep, you’re right, Eulogy was great – in particular 0040 was a big inspiration to me early on as well.  I mean I’d been composing from 2005 but hadn’t really thought solo piano would be anyone’s kind of thing til hearing other people like Nils and Olafur around 2009/2010 so that’s when I started to take it seriously and think *some* people may actually be interested in listening to what I was trying to do.
That’s great about the Latvian festival man, but i do hear you on the not knowing how / nobody asking part.
A couple of times I’ve been asked to play over the years have always coincided with other big things in my life that I’ve had to choose between. Also, as much as I love making and playing music I’ve always been way too conscious of other people when playing live and as a result the music has always suffered – its something I’ve tried to work at on and off but like you I also don’t have a piano so that means practice is intermittent at best – I’d love to go into cafes with pianos and just practice/play without being phased by any audience but I’d like to get my playing back up to a certain level before that – kind of a vicious circle if honest. Not good enough to practice in cafes with pianos therefore don’t practice in cafes/bars with pianos therefore feel less good therefore feel less likely to go and practice on a public piano…its something I’m very conscious of and am trying to, however slightly, counteract … so yep, that may answer the scottish gig question – would love to tour and play but probably not just yet !
What do you do outside of music man + do you find it impacts on it?
EMM: Yeah, I think I had similar thoughts. I hadn’t really started composing my own pieces at that point but I heard eulogy and thought – maybe there is something I can do. I know my limits as a pianist. so I was drawn to that elegant, simplistic beauty – still am – and started to compose. I am no Lubomyr Melnyk (not many are) so whilst I love more technically gifted pianists I still find the really simple beauty of a piano appeals the most.
It’s a two part problem.  Nobody asks me to play live and then, if somebody did I don’t know what I would say, like you, I lack confidence in my own playing and would have to practive very hard to feel comfortable delivering my compositions. But it’s also got a lot to do with the other side of things – when it comes to subtle electronics etc I am just not there.  So part of my issue is how do you take simple piano pieces, perform them live and keep an audience engaged for the duration of a set.  It’s something I would love to solve but I’ve never had to address as nobody has ever approached me to play live.
Outside of music I am mostly with my family and kids. They keep me very busy so it certainly impacts on the time I have to write music/work on music. But you know, at the same time I find my family pretty inspiring and they provide me with the support and encouragement to play. My youngest boy loves piano as well so I do find myself sitting at the piano with him now and again and it makes it feel even more important in some ways. Not sure that makes sense!
You are a photographer as well as a musician right? How do the two disciplines compare/contrast? Do you find similar themes running through your work and are you inspired by your photos to make music and vice versa?
AK: Makes complete sense man, sounds lovely.  Great that they are so supportive too.
I do work with photography and film too, yep, initially I viewed them all as quite disconnected but the more I did the more I realised I was attracted to similar things in the different fields.
Essentially, the interplay between composition and improvisation – perhaps more obvious in music but still equally applicable, I found, to photography and film. Not sure if this is the same for every composer but for me at least – everything I’ve ever composed has emerged from improvisation , and everything I’ve improvised has usually been anchored in some sort of composition, beginning middle end type thing. So I guess on a subconscious level composition and improvisation have been inextricably linked for me – and this is something which I feel really keeps me photographing. That mixture of control and freedom, the ephemeral meeting the permanent.
Also – the greatest benefit to finding a link between the different fields I work in is that I no longer seem to feel so desolate when I’m shut off from one of them – my relationship with the piano has been on / off at best, usually at the mercy of circumstance, and as much as I hate not having played one for nearly 18 months (a couple of sporadic half hour sittings aside) the senses/thought processes that music embraces and utilises feel somehow validated by the other pursuits. but the truth is I do miss music, a lot.
My goal would be to find a way of regularly working in the areas I love and feel alive in but until then I guess it’s about seeing that life in the seemingly unconnected parts.
I guess to answer the thematic side briefly – for me the link would definitely be the relationship between light / darkness – manifested as dynamic/narrative variation in the music and more literally in the photography .
Tell me – out of curiosity – do you enjoy listening to your own music ? I meet composers on both ends of the spectrum and am always intrigued to know where people position themselves / why .
EMM: I would say, for me, all my compositions are improvisations.  More than that though, a lot of what I have done to date has been about collaboration. I guess Tohu va Vohu was about that in that my compositions were a response to what I was seeing and how it made me feel.  Similarly, the project I mentioned with my wife, William Ryan Fritch and Gregory Euclide is a similar idea.  We have this collaboration starting with me, having William work on those pieces and then having my wife translate those into writing then back to me (simplistic explanation!) – it’s a fascinating process and experience. Most of the writing of that, for me at least, comes as a reaction to what I have read.  It’s not so much about composing as about improvising/reacting. I may be wrong but it feels much like photography – and I am no photographer – where you are reacting to something you see and trying to capture that as perfectly as you can without agnosing over it, like if the moment is missed then maybe the photo opportunity will be missed?  .
Anyways, I would love to work in music full time. I have been lucky enough to have had Graveyard Tapes work used on a short film in the USA earlier this year so I can see the possibilities even if I cannot, and do not necessarily know how to, reach them full time.
When it comes to my own music I am torn.  Sometimes I listen to things I am working on and think it’s all utter rubbish. And sometimes it’s all I want to listen to.  But that’s during the making of the music.  Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, I don’t really listen to my own work all that often once it’s complete but I hope others do and will continue to with the new music I am producing a the moment.
AK: I think you’re completely right about reacting and attempting to capture the moment, in both photography and music. I guess with composition its that exact process but with the added luxury of hindsight and the ability to travel back to those moments and tweak them (I guess the risk then lies in the potential for over-tweaking, or as you put it “agonising over it”)
Good stuff on the short film using your music, its encouraging when those things happen – and again as you’ve put it – they don’t necessarily map the way for us but they do give us some glimpse at the possibilities out there potentially waiting. A couple of years ago a director got in touch with me having heard some of my music on – it eventually resulted in me composing a 6 minute track for this interactive web-documentary he was heading up.  It was a labour of love for him and a real privilege to be part of but again as you’ve said – it showed me another world that one day perhaps I could find some more permanent place in. if interested (its a beautifully put together site/documentary about a small community in Greenland forcibly relocated by the US army in the 50s)
Excited to hear more from the collaboration with Ed, but particularly the album with your wife and William / Gregory. The literary element sounds particularly exciting!
I guess with piano day approaching and us talking about performance and stuff I may try to head down to rough trade on sunday at brick lane, they’ve got an open piano slot from midday (and then Erased Tapes are taking over with some of their artists). Shame we can’t both go, would be a nice opportunity for us to not only meet but also to implement some of the things we’ve spoken about.
EMM: I think music, and art in general, as a labour of love has so much value. Tohu va Vohu was an animation piece that I never got paid for. Nor did I expect paid for it.  I think with that I saw the brllliance of Jamie Mills art and was just really excited that he asked me to collaborate on it. And that for me is as valuable as gopro paying Graveyard Tapes for the use of our music. I suppose the idea that people paying for your music to allow you more time to make your music – and buy a real piano! – is just very appealing to me at the moment. I would like time to become better at piano, to learn more about technology and how to use it and to generally just improve at being a musician.
The work with Gregory, William and Ali is very exciting. It’s a slow process but it’s very rewarding. Hopefully we will have something complete this year.
It has been great to talk. I am not a big fan of interviews per se because of the format and how they are so dry and stale. I think conversation pieces are far more interesting both for the reader but also for the people conducting them. I learn much more about an artist from this form of communication than from sending a list of questions to be answered in your own time. The way this sort of conversation develops feels much more organic and natural and I just think makes for a more interesting piece.
But I guess there does have to come a point when the conversation ends!

Conversation with Now Wakes the Sea


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.

Interview – Benoit Pioulard


I met Benoit Pioulard, or Thomas Meluch, through my label boss (for Graveyard Tapes) Ryan Keane.  Having been a big fan of Orcas record (though I admit it took time) and also of his work as a solo artist it has been a real pleasure to engage in conversation with him about his work, life and how the two come together to create what he does.  A lovely, gentle soul, I hope you enjoy reading his words as much as I enjoyed chatting with him.  In the meantime, please visit his website and check out his latest record ‘Hymnal’ as well as dipping in to his back catalogue and also the Orcas  record.  Magic stuff.  Enjoy.

TSP: I guess where I’d want to start is with Orcas.  Of all the music I have listened to I saw parallels between yourselves and Graveyard Tapes (me and Matthew Collings) in the sense that the music combines one more traditional song writer with somebody from a very different musical background.  With me and Matt things just seemed to happen after we decided to work together.  How did you and Rafael come to work together, how was the process of recording and how has working on the orcas record changed/developed you as a musician?

BP: Rafael was a curator and catch-all for the annual Decibel Festival here in Seattle for many years (he’s now in more of a hands-off advisory position, as I understand), and he booked my performance there in 2009 as part of a showcase with Mountains and Goldmund/Helios that I truly loved being a part of.. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went that evening – since I had never played in front of an audience that size and he was running around doing a million things – but when we had a chance we seemed to settle on a sort of wavelength that both of us recognized.. Which may have had something to do with the fact that we were already mutual admirers of one another’s records.

Anyway, a couple months and a few emails after that he suggested that I come up to Seattle (I was living in Portland at the time), stay with him & his wife and try out some recording to see where it’d go.  We began amid some torrentially rainy weather in January 2010 with some basic guitar loop kind of stuff, lots of experimenting with pedal chains, bells, voice, and so on.  Jesy Fortino (aka Tiny Vipers and half of Mirrorring) was a part of this phase of things, too, which is why some of her (amazing) voice ended up on a few final drafts for the first record.

After a short while & once we’d constructed a few track ideas I wrote or adapted some lyrics & we wrote ‘Pallor Cedes’ (track one on the LP) and kind of hit a stride from there.  The collaboration contained/contains more interpersonal harmony than I’ve ever had working on music with others or a group, which is kind of amazing considering that we’re both pretty solitary people otherwise – Raf is just a really good director, but also crazy familiar with all the tools at his disposal, on his computer(s) and in his studio.  So the biggest growing pain for me was allowing him to record really raw, single takes of my voice since I normally overdub and use tape and/or a thoroughly mediocre microphone for my Benoit Pioulard songs.

Essentially the collaboration has always worked out to a roughly 50/50 split in ideas, where his half is more execution and production and mine is writing and filling in details, melodies, etc.. But there’s also a fair amount of overlap in other areas, so we get on well.  The newer stuff we’ve been working on since the beginning of 2013 is similar in certain ways, but feels WAY more fleshed out to me, a nice step in a few new directions that is only possible now that we know what to expect from each other.

TSP: Apart from the curating a festival, that sounds similar to my own story with Matt.  He is brilliant with the direction and using the toolkit at his disposal whilst I am just able to focus on the tune, melody, harmony.  He wants to push us as far was we can go in terms of doing something worthwhile and I am totally onboard with that whilst trying to retain the idea that we are doing something accessible.  It’s a pretty great relationship and has influenced me heavily in terms of my own work as The Kays Lavelle and glacis.

You obviously feel that the Orcas follow up record will be perhaps more mature because of your developing relationship but how did working with Raf change you as a solo musician.  Did his approach to recording vocals, for example, make you approach things differently?  Was his influence with technology something you really embraced in the recording of ‘Hymnal’.  Collaborations I suppose are designed to make you grow as an artist but does that seep in to your own work and, if so, how do you keep it from becoming too much like an Orcas record?

Seattle/Portland seem like 2 seriously creative places particularly in musical terms.  I am guessing you now live in Seattle – so what was it that made you want to move there and are there particular artists (other than raf, tiny vipers) who you could recommend that people check out?

BP: What’s part of the ‘magic’ of the experience of working with Raf is that it’s removed enough from what I do on my own that I can kind of preserve Benoît in its own little corner.. That being the case, I think my last solo record (Hymnal) might have been the most stripped-down thing I’ve done so far, part of which was due to being overseas with only a laptop, sound card and a set of instruments that I cobbled together during my first month or two in the UK.  With solo pursuits I still feel as though I’m following a path with lots of bends & a surprise here or there, but it remains a really nice one to be on.

As for Seattle, I’m pretty evenly split in my adoration of it and Portland.. Since Seattle is my wife’s preference (and I’ve already lived in Portland for nearly five years) we decided to settle here since we already have a few friends, it seems like an appropriate ‘step up’ and the scenery & hiking opportunities are arguably a notch up from those around Portland.  We’re both pretty passionate about the outdoors, so that’s a significant factor..

TSP: I have deliberately kept Matt out of The Kays Lavelle recordings for that very reason.  That said, he will be mixing the thing and knowing him will want to add a bit of the Jim O’Rourke approach to the process!  He’s awesome to work with and his input and thoughts are always welcome.

Let’s talk about Hymnal.  It has this kind of under water feel to it which I love.  The vocals feel like a part of the texture and overall soundscape rather than front and centre.  As a vocalist – I am assuming first and foremost – do you share my view that the vocal is more than just a means of delivering words?  I am a firm believer in getting the sound of the vocal right to fit the work and Hymnal feels like that was the approach required.  It kind of feels, to me like the perfect vocal record.

Only reason I asked about Portland/Seattle was I’ve been watching Portlandia a lot recently and it reminds me so much of Edinburgh.  There is an episode where the Mayor of Portland tries to encourage people from Seattle to move to Portland!  Anyways, they both seem like majorly creative centres and so I was just interested I guess.  It’s always nice to be in a place that you feel happy and comfortable.  How does place impact on your work though?  Has your work been obviously shaped by the move and actually, was Hymnal heavily shaped by being in the UK and unfamiliar surroundings?

BP: I would definitely say that I view the voice as at least half-instrument, the other half or so being the verbal delivery part. I tend to mix the vocals on my songs primarily based on the sonic image or profile of the instrumentation, which is why the variation in presence is so broad from song to song & album to album.

I’m never totally sure how much of an influence my surroundings have on the shape or style of a given recording, but I think there’s something to that.. I recorded ‘Précis’ during a cold & dark Michigan winter, and I wouldn’t doubt that that had its effects even though the main inspiration was a pretty bad breakup. Similarly, ‘Lasted’ was made at a very particular moment in which I was really sad but really hopeful, while at the same time locked inside away from the heavy precipitation of the Portland rainy season.  That’s one major boon of the Northwest, actually: the good excuse to stay inside during those seven or eight months out of the year.

‘Hymnal’ was inspired initially and consistently by the religious architecture of the UK, as well as my Catholic upbringing, so in that sense it was a pretty neat collision of various times & places for me.. That being the case, I can say with some conviction that it wouldn’t have been the same record if I hadn’t been living over there.

TSP: Man, it sounds like you have travelled a lot and lived in many different places?  I am fascinated by the relationship between place and music.  I think the environments we surround ourselves with have a profound impact on the music/art that we create – be that consciously or sub-consciously.  It sounds like the UK had that kind of impact on you?  Is it weird leaving the vastness of the USA to visit Europe or does that vastness itself result in a strange country of many, many different landscapes and environments?

You say ‘Hymnal’ was inspired by the religious architecture of the UK.  My day job – sad to say I have to have one – is working with historic buildings.  I am a bit obsessed with religious architecture.  I cannot think of many other buildings that have such an impact on your entire being as churches do.  What in particular interests you in such architecture – is it a UK only thing or just where you happened to be at the time and how has your background impacted on your career?

BP: I liked an adage that I heard while I was in Europe (Portugal specifically, I believe), which went, “100 miles is a long distance in Europe, and 100 years is a long time in the States” – sums up the major differences in scale/perspective pretty well, I’d say. =]  But the shift in culture (as well as everything else) was not a huge shock since I’d already spent 3 months at Oxford as a teenager and some time in France as a student at University.  I took trains primarily, and loved that experience to no end..  Particularly the train from Berlin to Prague and back; those were two of the most profoundly dream-like journeys I think I’ll ever take, and just so beautiful in every way.

As for the architecture, there’s really no analogue in North America (see the above adage) so it is pretty location-specific.. There’s something strange and totally humbling about walking through a tiny town where someone says, “Oh, yeah, that church was built in 1106,” you know.. Just casually.  There’s a sense of continuity in that awareness that we just don’t possess, and in my opinion it’s to our detriment.. And probably why, culturally, we (Americans) are like a bunch of petulant teenagers that think they know everything.

I spent a good amount of time & attended a few services at Canterbury Cathedral – since it was only a 20 minute train ride from one of the places I was living – and those experiences particularly affected the record.  Nothing I’ve heard elsewhere can compare to the emotional resonance of hearing their choir sing in the main chamber, and I mean this in a way that’s totally divorced from religion itself – simply as a human experience.

TSP: Train travel is one of my favourite things.  I am originally from Dundee which is approximately and hour and a half north of Edinburgh and, though not far, I love the train journey back to see my mum.  Sadly due to having a car, and the ease of using that, (because of children) my train journeys have become less frequent but I do love getting on a train and just travelling.  Before my dad died we always talked about how amazing it would be to travel across Canada by train.  Something I’d still love to do one day.  You never know!  Is there anywhere you haven’t visited that you’d really like to visit and how does touring, visiting new places, meeting new people, playing live impact on your work?

I think there is a huge depth to cultural heritage in Europe for sure.  I certainly have never said – I want to visit the United States because of it’s rich cultural heritage or the historic buildings/cities – though that might be naive.  I read that the number one reason people come to Edinburgh is the Castle – which I think says it all.  I work with historic buildings and areas in my day job – I don’t even know if a job like that exists in the USA? – I cannot imagine it but then the landscape, buildings, palette is something entirely different, like you say.   Still, I am fascinated by the United States as a place.  I did my masters thesis on tall buildings and had a look at New York and Chicago but actually possibly more fascinated by the places outwith main cities.  A long story but there is something other worldly about your country.  Once you leave the cities it feels like there is so much nothing.  I like the nothing.  I love images of run down parts of the United States – that could only be the United States – I have a book of polaroids by Pat Sansone of Wilco, which for me captures this beautifully.  Perhaps it’s the unknown, but for me exploring the nowhere places would be an amazing thing.  You just finished a tour of the USA – can you share what it’s like travelling across the vastness from place to place?

‘Hymnal’ being affected by the cathedral choir makes lots of sense.  There is something very ecclesiastical in the sound – if that makes sense?  The vocals have a particular quality to them that is very echoey – as if recorded in a large room such as you find in churches.  Was this a deliberate thing based on that experience?  I remember visiting the Sacre Coeur in Paris as a 12 year old and being in awe of the place.  Notre Dame too.  And I guess from there my love of church/cathedral buildings developed.  The symbolism of those structures is unmatched in any other building type in my opinion.  Power, money, spirituality, God – all wrapped up in a building.  It amazes me every time.

BP: Well fancy that, I’m on a train right now.. Heading to Portland from Seattle for the weekend in order to attend the 30th birthday party of one of my very best friends, before starting a new job next week.  Goodness I feel as though I’m getting old so fast already, saying things like that !  Anyway it’s a beautiful overcast day in the Northwest and my eyes are being drawn away from the screen pretty frequently by the absurdly verdant springtime landscape out the window..

I do think that travel impacts songs and style, yeah.. I mean, it’s the biggest source I have for new experiences and different perspectives than my own, of course, so that’s bound to affect everything in some way.  A few songs I’ve written have even been based largely on specific experiences of travel (e.g. ‘Arrow Drawn’ is about being on a train that ran over a suicidal someone in southern France) so that’s a direct link.  I’ve known a few people who have, just, crazy amounts of travel anxiety, but that’s something that I don’t think I’ve ever felt.. Sitting, watching, observing, etc, are all very peaceful & meditative (for lack of a better synonym) for me, and are obviously huge parts of travel, generally outweighing the amount of time you actually get to spend at a given landmark or cafe.  Broad and informed perspectives are important things, especially in times like these, so I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to travel as much as I have in the past few years.

To that end, I love touring the states and have gotten used to the pace of driving, spending 12-14 hours in the car on some days, but usually more like 4 or 5 hours – which I realize is probably still difficult to process in the European context of scale !  Again it’s totally peaceful, especially just crawling across the expanse of the American southwest and the northern tier (e.g. Montana, Idaho, etc) .. Some of the most beautiful and humbling scenery you could ever hope to see.  To me the shows I play are often an excuse just to have that experience.

TSP: Well isn’t that nice.  How long does that take?  I would love to visit both those places and I imagine the scenery is pretty amazing.  Very jealous!  As for getting older – I turned 34 last week and I sometimes wonder where time has gone.  But then again, I am so excited about what the future holds that I try not to dwell, like others, about getting older.  Each year feels like another little challenge, nugget of happiness (these days).  It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am and I just want to soak it all up.

It’s funny, I was talking to a Canadian girl last night about her driving 4 hours from Toronto to Detroit to watch hockey.  For us, that’s like driving to Liverpool or Manchester – which seem so far away.  But driving in the UK can be really beautiful too.  If you go north for example into Glen Coe and the Scottish Highlands (also great for hiking if you and your wife are keen on that) driving becomes a pleasure but to travel anywhere else in the UK I think I’d be taking the train.  It’s a very different thing in the USA I imagine.  Again, I would love to be a part of an experience like that.

Well, perhaps just a few more questions.  How does playing live influence your recordings.  Do you take new songs on the road and trial/work on them through the live experience or are most things worked up in the studio from scratch?

BP: The train from Portland to Seattle (or vice versa) is about three and a half hours, so not bad at all in the context of the west coast.. For scale, I think the train south from Portland to San Francisco is about twenty hours from end to end (!)

I didn’t start touring until early 2009, by which point I had two records out on kranky.. A proper live show is something I never thought I’d pull together, but my long-time friends Windy & Carl kept insisting that I get over my anxieties and come on tour with them – and certainly as one of my favorite groups I had a hard time turning them down.. Since then I have discovered that touring & playing is (as you suggest) an excellent way to get comfortable with a new song or idea and to develop it from night to night .. As something sits in my head – in between shows especially – I find very often that the act of thinking about a certain passage or chord change at the right moment will bring forth new ideas and help get to a stage where the song might not end up otherwise.

As a weird example, I wrote the bulk of a song called ‘Reliquary’ and a couple others last summer when I was sharing a flat in Berlin with a friend of mine – I was monumentally ill for 4 or 5 days and had nothing with me but a computer, guitar and clothes, so all I could do except sleeping and watching ‘The Tree of Life’ multiple times (don’t do this when you’re kind of sad, trust me) was to fiddle around with structures and lyrics of things I was working on.. Lo and behold it was the perfect – albeit forced – situation in which to do that, because as I felt better about where the songs were going, I felt better physically and it all tied together in an oddly satisfying way.

In other cases the development of songs has largely come from a need to keep myself entertained in the midst of playing 15 or 20 shows in a row, which necessitates changing things up a bit from night to night..  I’m just glad I’ve devised a live setup that allows me to do that, and not to have to stick to a rigid set-list for every venue.

TSP: 20 hours!  Shit, that’s insane.  I cannot even think where we’d end up if we got a train from Edinburgh and went for 20 hours solid.  I’m thinking maybe south of France!  That’s just crazily difficult for us to get our heads around here in the UK!  Even 3 hours and you are out of Scotland so in perspective it’s a bit insane!

I think I feel a little like you did back in 2009 when it comes to glacis.  I’ve been asked to perform live on a number of occasions and I have always said no.  I really feel like I am not at the stage in my career where I have the confidence to go and take glacis out on the road.  Perhaps one day I will feel like I can pull that off but I guess I’m not there yet.  As a pianist yes.  As somebody capable of producing an interesting performance worthy of an audience’s attention…not sure.  I need to work things out in my head a lot more.  But I’d love to do some Graveyard Tapes shows.  I feel there is something there for sure that would develop in the live environment.

Finally, what lies in store for you for the rest of the year.  Can we expect a new Orcas record soon?  Do you plan to get out and tour more/make it across to the UK at any time with either Orcas or solo?

BP: Compared to last year – when I was allowed an unprecedented freedom to record and perform while in the UK/EU – this year is more about proper adult responsibilities, but I’m happy to say that I’m still remaining pretty productive, since I can’t really stay away from the recording desk for long.. As we’ve discussed I had an absolutely wonderful tour in March & April – since then I’ve made all the pieces I owed people from my Indiegogo campaign (for top dollar I offered to ‘record a song for you’ and sold all five!) and been on a recently-successful job hunt, so now I work at the top of the Space Needle.  Tough to complain about the view..

And since you ask, yes, there will be a new Orcas record pretty soon – Rafael and I have been putting focused work into it since January and are aiming to be finished by summer’s end in order for an early 2014 release.  What we’ve got is quite different from the last record, but in a really good way if you ask me.. Y’know after one album in a collaboration one gets much more in tune with the interpersonal dynamic of the working relationship, and in our case I think each of us now has a really good understanding of what the other can bring to the table, which makes the process quite a bit smoother.  I don’t know about touring any time soon given the full-time job thing, but I do love playing out these days so it oughtn’t be too long before I’m out on the road again..

Interview – William Ryan Fritch


I share a label with William Ryan Fritch in Lost Tribe Sound but I am also working with him on two projects myself – a glacis album and the second album by The Kays Lavelle.  Without question, William is one of the most gifted musicians/composers that I have had the pleasure of working with.  Please check out the videos at the end of this conversation to see exactly what I am talking about!  Anyways, he agreed to do a conversation piece with me for the blog and below is our discussion that developed over a number of weeks.  Intelligent and focused doesn’t even do him justice.  His soundtrack for ‘The Waiting Room’ is simply stunning and his work as Vieo Abiungo is hard to believe at times.  Again, watch the video at the end for confirmation of this.  In the meantime, please just enjoy the read.

TSP: ‘The Waiting Room’ soundtrack,which you are about to release through Lost Tribe Sound, how did you end up working on this composition and how do you approach writing music for a documentary/film?  Does your approach to such work differ from when you are working on a straight up solo album?

WRF: Well, my primary work and source of income is doing music for film. Pete Nick’s, (the film’s director) heard about me from a fellow documentary film maker I had worked with several times. The Waiting Room had actually tried 3-4 different composers before going with me. So it was a real honor that the crew was so trusting an supportive of my work for the film, given what they had been through trying to find the right sound world for their film.

In terms of process and approach,  film composition is actually a far more familiar and natural process to me than preparing a standalone record, and  this film in particular required very little music in order to bolster and supplement it’s already powerful, candid, and transparent filming. The process for me was all about whittling down my maximalist, highly textural compositional tendencies to only what would best serve the film. The restrictions that this film presented acted as powerful creative catalyst, and pushed me to make 4-5 times as much music as necessary for the score. This soundtrack LTS is releasing fortunately will give this material an opportunity to be heard not just as a sound reinforcement to the film, but as a companion piece to it.

I guess that the biggest difference for me between composing for film and for stand alone composition is the depth of field that can or should be utilized. I want their to be many layers of counter movements and micro-details in even my most subdued pieces, so keeping a stand-alone track for an album compelling enough for me to want to release on an album is very challenging. It is easy to feel intimidated  making a long form piece when you are used to having to complete a musical thought for scenes normally less than two minutes.

TSP: It’s interesting that you are more used to working with music for film than stand alone solo albums, I guess for most artists the opposite is true.  So basically, most of the music you create has a theme, idea, documentary, film behind it which in itself is, I suppose a starting point for your records?  Therefore, do you find it hard starting with nothing when it comes to your solo work?  Do you strive to find a theme, idea to use and bend into music or do you just sit and play and see what happens?  I am interested in this because I have felt my most compelling work as glacis has stemmed from an idea or theme driving me towards a sound or rhythm or feel.  I would love to work with film but I’m not sure how I’d approach such a project.  ‬

Your solo work is so dense and rhythmic.  Was it/is it hard to generate such density and depth in more minimalist work – something that The Waiting Room achieves in some style in my opinion.

WRF: Making music has always been an immediate and joyful process for me. The themes and characters in the music develop just as easily in the afterthought is it does when I am composing to a pre-existing construct. however, finishing pieces that don’t have that pre-existing story arc is more labored for me. I have hundreds of pieces that are just sitting in the queue  90 % finished. That last 10 percent requires a larger lens view, a macro-cosmic rationale that can feel so difficult when it was produced in such a self-contained, independent way.

In terms of density and scale, I think I have always tended to hear my music orchestrated for unidentifiable ensemble play.

Even on more sparse tracks I like for there to  be a sense that something large and cataclysmic could happen. With the waiting room soundtrack there is still an air of mystery as to how big or small the sounds could get, but because these songs were generated from a far more subtle framework I felt much more open to stillness than I have ever allowed. Hopefully it can carry over in to my newer works as well.

TSP: I think this is really interesting.  Having predominantly been a song-writer with words until I began work as glacis I never really had to deal with concepts necessarily.  I always worked with ideas, melody and harmony and worried about the words later – I still do with Graveyard Tapes and The Kays Lavelle.  However, with glacis, I have found it so much more inspirational to have theme or concept behind the work.  Working on this new stuff where literature is helping drive the music is fascinating because I have a script to work from and to use as a tool to create and it feels like it’s all about rhythm.  I cannot imagine working on glacis material without a concept.  I can, like you, sit down and write music without a concept but find it hard to feel that work other than notes in the air.

I was fascinated to hear the waiting room soundtrack as I was most familiar with your work as Vieo Abiungo.  I think what you say is very true and I like the use of the word ‘stillness’ because that is something that definitely comes across.  It still feels like your work but with a different emphasis perhaps?  You say that this is something you would like to carry into future records but will there not always be the feeling to move towards the denser, orchestrated pieces?  I just finished a conversation piece with Greg Haines and we were discussing the idea of ‘the familiar’ in music.  Do you think it’s important to push yourself away from what comes naturally in order to progress as a musician?  And, if so, how do you do that?  Is there an instrument you prefer to compose with and do you find that if you compose using different instruments the output  goes in different directions?

WRF: That makes sense. It is amazing how these external structures, story boards or parameters can organize creative work. It is really nice having those mechanisms as a roadmap to keep the music from meandering off to far.‬

I think your question about incorporating more stillness in my vocabulary is a good one. I think my idea of stillness might be quite a bit more kinetic than others may consider stillness! I still want to continue using orchestral textures and densely over-layed rhythms, but I have realized recently just how much more rewarding these various elements can be when accompanied with moments of calm, disorienting quiet and pregnant ambiguity. I would too often show all my cards or rely too much on the movement of a piece to ever properly set up the surprising and unfamiliar sounds I wanted to orchestrate into my pieces.

Patience and thoughtful restraint. Those are two of the biggest things I have to remind myself of in music. I feel like those are two of the biggest impediments to broader and immediate success for me and my music. I think if I properly utilize those two things, “familiar” and/or preternatural tendencies for me will be realized in a fresher and more coherent way where the end product can be an honest, challenging work. I think it is important always challenge yourself to get to the essence of a sound you gravitate towards. get closer to it and realize it’s nuances and complexities. I think real and powerful progress in music making comes from that intimacy and commitment to the things you love not an avoidance of those things. When I start to feel stagnant with my technique or sensibility with an instrument,style of music, or song structure I most often find it is from me not delving deep enough, doing a caricature-ish rendering of something that I should represent more artfully. I think I could spend 10 lifetimes trying to follow my musical muses, and still not get deep enough, close enough, pure enough.

I compose on whatever best suits the melody or rhythm I have in my head. I have always operated under the, “if I can sing it I can play it” principle, and it has taken a long ass time to get to this point where I have incrementally improved and developed on each instrument such that the process of writing for each of them has become fairly fluid across the board. I am certainly more of a string and percussion player, but I work really hard to try and utilize all the idiosyncrasies of my raw and developing techniques on less fluent instruments in a way that is still interesting and functional in my work. Generally I am happiest with songs that start out as a rhtyhm. They tend to have more open ended structures that are less restricting than melodic concepts.

TSP: I guess it is a balancing act.  Stillness does not have to mean Silence?  I’ve always found this with my own music, the need to overly complicate the overall sound.  When I was working with a band I always wanted bigger, louder, more.  I had these tendencies to move naturally towards full and intense compositions and yet now, and probably thanks to my immersion in the ambient/neo classical world, I find myself drawn towards restraint and stillness.  I think, for me, finding a balance between these two extremes is necessary but it’s hard!

I find it really interesting what you say about getting to the essence of the sound you gravitate towards and that you could spend 10 lifetimes never getting deep enough, close enough or pure enough.  These are words of a perfectionist if you ask me.  Do you revisit your work once it’s done or are you acutely aware of this perfectionist that may look at the work through a different lens after the fact and feel like perhaps you could have done something differently that would have improved the overall work?  I know so many people who are like this and what intrigues me about true genius is that every single person I would consider a genius, and there are not many, are the most humble, self doubting people I know.  It makes their work even more beautiful to me because the critical eye is always there.  Even when something is perfect to so many others they always strive for something deeper and something more.

I also like the ‘if i can sing it i can play it’ philosophy.  I am still intrigued by the voice as an instrument in its own right rather than simply a mechanism to deliver words.  Although the majority of your work is instrumental you do punctuate your work with voices/choirs.  How important do you see vocals as being not only as a way to deliver lyrical content but also as a soundscape in their own right?

Rhythm definitely comes across heavily in your work and is something I am really curious about, though lack experience in.  The work I am doing now is the first time I have created with rhythm in my head and this is dictated by the writing that drives it.  When you took about controlled stillness, is it even harder to achieve that being so driven by rhythm and pace?

Moving on to The Waiting Room.  It’s a dense and rich record packed with emotion and standing on its own as a wonderful piece of music.  How did you set out on this journey?  To create a piece of music that could stand on its own,  to create a soundtrack that worked for the film in isolation or was there a concerted effort to achieve both these things?  If both – do you think this is always possible with soundtracks or does it depend on the film you are working with?

‪WRF: I make something then turn my back on it in a sense.  To preserve sanity and not toil in the mire of the missed potential of a piece.  That is probably why I have been so slow to take a live representation of my work on tour. It would mean me having to revisit, rehash and re-submerge myself in a sonic snapshot of my life that in many cases I often feel that I have outgrown or possibly changed in a way that it is no longer mine.  At this point in my life,  the confidence (or arrogance) that my abilities or natural ability are unique or rare.  I think the only think that will carry me to the aforementioned purity and effectiveness I desire for my music will only come from my will and desire to grow and learn from my previous oversights, impatience and hang ups. ‬

To me the voice is the measuring stick of expressiveness and timbral versatility for all instruments.  I love finding subtle ways to augment my music with singing, but with my last few albums have shied away from writing compositions that are basically just a fancy vocal bed.  Also, it is intimidating how loaded the use of vocals in music can be.  Hearing vocal dominant music is so familiar and ubiquitous, that making a song that highlights the voice is immediately put into a realm where elusiveness is dramatically diminished and in fact makes operating of a genre-less form frustrating for many listeners.  It is basic nature to judge music by it’s commonalities and conventions and making vocal based popular music is judged in a far harsher way than predominantly instrumental music of a similar ilk.  I am however having fun working on some music that is more allowing of the vocals leading the way.

Regarding rhythm and it’s effect on stillness, I do think the reliance on rhythmic motifs in my writing process has been an issue for me in achieving the desired space and openness I want have in my work.  Because of all of the overdubbing I have to do to realize my pieces songs can quickly become constructions that are very reliant on rhythmic forms to be the glue that binds all the over-layed components.  The more and more I work on structuring pregnant pauses and intentional lapses of groove into my rhythms the better I get at shaking free from the slavery of the pulse.

The Waiting Room is a film that was so well made and captured that it teetered on pure verité.  This is a difficult entry point for composer.  I chose to accumulate a world of music and sounds that ran parallel to the film in order to discover the sonic identity of the film as an allegory to the film and then cull from that work (which became the soundtrack you are referencing) to select the most quintessential sounds and motifs that fit elegantly with the film. Otherwise I would have just been looking to compose in a phone booth rather than take the filmas an impetus to create a whole sound environment and use the germinating ideas from it to fill the small but crucial function required for the score.  This is how I generally compose even for the smallest of projects.  It is not the smartest, most economical, or timely way to work, but it allows me to leave a film having made more than  just a collection  ditties or hooks.

TSP:  Based on our discussions about the voice being an instrument in its own right and being able to utilise that within the landscape of a song, whether that be front and centre or further back in the mix, do you think this quicker criticism of vocal lead music is simply to do with the words and the connection made or not with these?  I am fascinated, as somebody who sees the vocal as tool to improve the overall sound and words as coming later to harmony and melody, I do find that an interesting point to develop.

You are a slave to the beat by the sounds of it.  I think it’s hard to step away from what you know best.  Always.  But working with Matt Collings on the Graveyard Tapes record showed me that the best way to improve as a song writer and musician was to step out of my comfort zone.  The second Graveyard Tapes record will most definitely do this for me because unlike the first where the majority of ideas were mine – the majority of demo ideas to date for album 2 are Matts.  I think it’s essential that this happens.  If we want to grow as a group I think pushing ourselves in different directions is essential.  So, whilst I know I am about to step in to a bit if an unknown world, it’s really exciting for that exact same reason.  Do you feel that working with others helps you develop your skills and understanding – even if it’s getting a piece of music and working with it, does it help you develop as an artist?

Film scores etc seem to be a big part of your work.  Obviously The Waiting Room could open up doors for you in this respect.  Do you see this being your main source of work in the future?

Also, you are based in Oakland (I believe).  How much of an impact does place have on the way you create, on the music you generate and on your life and work?

WRF: I think vocals with coherent and decipherable lyric are certainly what I am primarily referring to.  There are so many potent elements that are working together ( or unfortunately sometimes against each other ) in popular song form, but i think we are conditioned to hone in to the most familiar element.  Undoubtedly the voice would be that most familiar element, and the more present and recognisable the manner it is presented the more subject, I would argue, it is to comparison with all other music that has used the voice similarly.  The upside though, is that it gives people precisely that familiarity, and it can move listeners in a way seldom done in music without that central vocal presence.

I think that is absolutely right about a bit of creative challenge being necessary for growth.  I catch myself avoiding certain kinds of collaboration that keep me out of the drivers seat.  I think it was backlash from working with Sole and the Skyrider Band where I had plenty of input, but filtered input… input that kept me from that role of “finishing” the song.  I think it underdeveloped me in a lot of ways for several years, but now that I am so comfortable in my processes and rituals of finishing a piece I am realizing that a change in mindset or a relinquishing of control in some capacity might actually help me grow in a profound way.

I have been working on this Death Blues Record  (collaboration with Jon Mueller) for over a year now.  It was the first time I had worked in a musical partnership with someone in a number of years, and I think I certainly had some growing pains associated with finding ways to open up to that collaborative spirit.  I would go to work on a new piece and just go ape-shit on a track trying to make something epic for him so he’d know how enthused I was to collaborate… and then realize just how little space I left for both his input and collaborative energy.  There really is no better way to show commitment than through trust.  We started from scratch and had him plant the germinating seed by establishing a rhythmic idea on the hammered guitar, and immediately this process breathed whole new life into the idea of us working together.  Once he had the space to establish his musical sensibility as the foundation, the orchestration that I built upon it had to establish a whole new kind of balance and contour with these new bearings.  So yes I’d say anytime I have to arrange or record to someone else’s rhythmic (being that rhythm is normally my creative catalyst) it is a great opportunity to grow and challenge my habitual processes.

I have been scoring films since 2007, and doing it as my only source of income for about 4 years now.  I have had to keep up a ridiculous rate of production in order to sustain my other musical practices.  Since 2009, I’ve been doing an average of 3 films a month!  I have a hard time seeing myself continuing this work rate/ pay rate ration for too much longer without having a complete adrenal blow out.  However, film music and composition for multi-media will probably be my bread and butter for the foreseeable future. My short term goal is to have my career as a recording artist and film composer function in a state where I can be afforded the time to make the best of music  for both worlds, instead of my records always having to take a backseat to the film work I am doing.

I lived in Oakland for 3 years and love that city very much.  However, I currrently live about an hour north in Petaluma, CA (the land of butter and eggs).  My girlfriend and I moved there to live on a farm, have space, have a garden, have a dog etc.

I love it.  It is certainly a different environment, and I think it has opened a new chapter for me musically.  It is an environment where I feel more stable, and that stability has given me greater courage to dig deeper and more critically into my art and hopefully extract the most meaningful and ancient part of myself and my music in the process.

TSP: Is that then the skill that needs to be addressed most – ensuring that all the elements work together not against each other?  For me, that’s why the best music uses vocals as an instrument and not just a means of delivering words.  The melody can be spot on but delivered in the wrong way, in the wrong tone and mixed in the wrong way – the vocals can actually kill a track when they should be completing it.   I always come back to Sparklehorse as an artist who got it right most of the time vocally but I do think it’s the perfect example of how to use a voice as an instrument within the overall sound.‬

Do you think the success of a collaboration is dependent on the two artists coming from very different worlds?  I guess if you are coming at something from the same place and in your own musical worlds you do very similar things the music can become a bit overcrowded?  I don’t know, just interested in how other collaborations work.  I think with Graveyard Tapes our success comes from the fact that Matt and I come from very different musical backgrounds but share many of the same thoughts/views on music.  Our sounds sort of smash together but somehow, with a bit of Collings magic, develop into something great but I imagine working with somebody with similar skills, vision can sometimes stifle the creative process, or at least make it much more of a challenge.‬

My goal as an artist was always to get in to film scoring!  So I guess we are working on opposite trajectories!  I just need to find a way in to that world and though I’ve had a few interesting things to work on they have mostly fallen through for one reason or another‬.

‪I guess I am just fascinated by how place shapes music.  It’s something I’d like to explore in much more detail actually.  How the environment that surrounds us shapes our thoughts and feelings and ultimately what we create as artists.  Perhaps a discussion for another time and place.‬

WRF: I think Sparklehorse was a band that had an other worldly deftness of touch when it came to mood and tone.  Their sound always felt immediately genuine, a quality I would take over virtuosity of arrangement or slick production any day.  The trick really is how do you make everything feel sewn together and unified like they did so well, while still allow room for the music to expand or contract and still give a sense that something unexpected could happen.  Because I work with such a large palette of sound so often, I honestly think I could throw just about anything into a song and find a way to make it “work”, but this is at the expense of the appealing predictability and cohesion that I feel listeners want from a band.  It is a really fine line, and it makes me appreciate artists that do it well all the more.

That is a really interesting question.  I think it is less about coming from different worlds than it is about having the right overlap of different skills combined with a harmonious sense of aesthetic.  One band that I really have gotten into recently that was a collaboration between two very distinct artists, is The Revival Hour.  DM Stith, who is probably my favorite modern vocalist got together with JM Lapham from the band The earlies to make one of the craziest and most satisfying records I’ve heard all year.  Their album was the perfect overlap of their particular talents and sensibilities.
If the product of a collaboration is something that you couldn’t have made by yourself, but still something you would’ve wanted to make had you the ability envisage it….. then the collaboration is probably a fruitful one.
It is definitely something that took me years and years to come into properly. Some people seem to be able to plop themselves right into a huge opportunity because of various circumstances, but that has certainly not been the case for me.  I know a number of gifted young composers, songwriters and arrangers that have taken the route of working under already established LA type film composers and supporting themselves for a number of years being their assistants etc  until they can break through with their own big opportunity.  That trajectory was definitely not for me, both because of my stubbornness and because my skill set is not really conducive to that kind of work model.
I chose to struggle through working on multitudes of smaller budget films to support myself where I could establish my own portfolio and relationships, and it is only now (6 years later)  starting to pay off.  If you are serious about getting into film music, I would really suggest finding young film makers and videographers you respect and touching base with them and sharing your work.It can’t hurt.  That is what happened for me, just establishing enough relationships and healthy partnerships that eventually your work proliferates along with the careers of all the individuals you’ve forged a creative relationship with.
Technically, the most challenging part of composing for film was to develop the ability to produce high quality work under circumstances that are far from ideal.  Just last week I had to go 72 hours without sleep trying to finish three films where the picture lock was not finalized until a day before the sound mix and color correction.  This meant that scenes were going to be shortened or expanded and the music, which I had labored over for more than a month had to be altered to fit accordingly….. It is just as much about being a carpenter as an architect if you know what I mean.  Their has to be that sense of pride and value in your work, but also a healthy sense of detachment where the hierarchy of things always has the film at the pinnacle.
TSP: Thanks William.  It’s been a pleasure.

Introducing No.2…Kinth


Jeff Flashinski is better known as Kinth.  Following on from the first Introducing piece Old Earth, aka Todd Umhoefer, recommended that the next person to speak to in the series should be Milwaukee’s very own Kinth and so here myself and Jeff have a good long chinwag about all things music and life.  Top guy and his music is pretty special too so be sure to check it out if you get the chance.

TSP: You have been recommended for the ‘Introducing’ series by Old Earth. How do you and Todd know each other?

JF: Todd and I formally met each other in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at an open mic about 5 years ago now.  At the time Todd was doing a project called “See The People” and going to school at MIAD. He gave me one of his CD’s and it blew me away, to this day I still have those songs regularly on my play list.  They seemed to have a similar quality to the music of Nick Drake, who might be my favourite artist ever. Both those artists seem to have a spooky beauty about them, containing something very dark and seemingly written on the edge, but in the end being more life affirming than doom laden.

That first album of Todd’s was very full, heavy acoustic guitar strumming with beautiful melodies and lyrics accompanied by piano. His lyrics and his voice really grabbed me and told of a spirit which is lonely and hurting, but still longing for something; “This is the bridge that I’d jump from if wolves were at my heels”, “We were overcome by the rhythm/We were overcome”, “I should have been aborted but my parents couldn’t afford it/The world couldn‘t afford it”, “How can you just sit there full of breath and holes? There’s still time…” Songs about memories, moments of love that have passed, songs about despair, but always good feelings, persevering and giving one the hope that something good can endure. He has one song that ends with the repeating line, “I’ll make a list of all the good things…” I love that line! I had a friend of mine recently tell me that they were very down and not happy in life. That line came back to me and I told her, “Make a list of all the good things.” She really liked that and said it helped her out, made her feel better. An example of how music can change things and people in ways unforeseen.

How did you discover Todd’s music and what grabbed you about it? How is it similar and different from folk musicians you hear in Scotland? Also, I mentioned Nick Drake before, does he have much modern popularity or influence where you‘re located?

TSP: I think the first thing that jumped out at me about Todd’s work was his voice. There is something distinct and attention grabbing in the quality, tone and range of his vocal. I love how he uses his voice, which to me is such an important thing.  If you have vocals in your songs then as important as the words are, I think you have to know how to use your voice as an instrument to become part of the texture of the song.  Pure voices never really work for me.  I need a voice that perhaps doesn’t qualify as a particularly strong element on its own but as part of the music is something hugely important and significant.  For me Todd, much like Nick Drake, knows how to use his voice as an instrument and as a positive part of the overall work.

It’s interesting you mention the lyrics Todd uses as you obviously view lyrics as a hugely important element in his work but much (most) of your work is instrumental.  Do you feel that you can deliver the same sort of emotion and ideas within instrumental music or do you have to work much harder to try and convey emotion and purpose? I personally always start a glacis project with a theme or idea in mind but trying to ensure that that is delivered in an understandable way becomes much more difficult without the support of words.  Then again, I find it’s often too easy to throw words into a track just to make it more readily accessible to people as words tend to be what most people immediately engage with.  How does your work get born and develop and what are you trying to achieve through your music?

In terms of Scottish music I find there is a distinct lack of Old Earth type figures.  I mentioned to Todd about the idea of traditional Scottish folk/punk music not really existing.  When Frightened Rabbit started I felt they invoked a real spirit of punk in what they did.  2 guitars and drums.  There first 2 records were brilliant.  But now they are on a major label and being pushed to bigger things.  I heard their latest album at the weekend and pretty much everything that made them important and exciting, to me, has been sucked from them as they are pushed towards stardom and the polished sound it so often brings.  I guess perhaps Nick Drake managed to avoid that because he wasn’t really a star until after his death and his music was what it was.  I do believe his influence on British folk music was and is still important but perhaps not so much in Scotland – though I believe he is very popular here.

I personally feel that Scotland is over saturated with music now. Anyone can form a band and because the place is so small it all becomes a bit inward looking and polarised promoting everything rather than simply the best things.  People are also not brave enough to say what they really feel about music because everyone knows everyone else and it becomes a game rather than an industry where you are treading on egg shells to avoid upsetting somebody who might be able to help you a little bit down the line.  I have strong opinions about a number of Scottish records released last year.  I believe that some records that have been championed by so many Scottish music writers are actually horrendously poor and disappointing and yet nobody wants to, or is brave enough to, say that.  I certainly don’t want to, or need to, say it because I run a label and am a musician myself and people in Scottish music are generally incapable of dealing with any kind of criticism – no matter how justified – so it makes life more difficult.

For me, if you want to improve in anything you do then you need constructive criticism that makes you better, helps you learn and challenges you.  I don’t feel back slapping or unworthy praise does anything other than inflate ego and result in poor quality products.  How does this compare with
Milwaukee? Is the focus of artists local or much wider?  I imagine America being such a massive place has its restrictions and benefits to a musician?

JF:  I agree with what you say about Todd’s voice, in fact I remember him and I having a discussion about that a couple years ago about how to treat your voice like an instrument and to listen to it while you’re singing and to try to hear it as sound.  He’s managed to achieve this quite successfully and it is amazing to see, I was extremely impressed with his last release, “a low place at the Old Place”.  His voice is so spooky and enchanting, blending with the music perfectly.

I don’t think that instrumental music can reach the same level of passion and intensity that music with vocals can.  But I think it is easier to be honest with instrumental music because you can hide yourself more, or actually I should put it you aren’t forced to reveal as much of yourself. When you sing, your soul is naked, and a keen observer can decipher where your spirit is at.  I liked what you and Todd had to say about having a public self and a private self, and musicians are the rare breed of people who offer their private self up to the public.  But doing this carries with it a great emotional risk, as we tend to keep our private selves private for a reason.  Writing instrumental music is a way to avoid risking as much of myself, but it is also a way to pursue passion in a different form.  It is easy to express rage when you have your words and you can scream them, but when you are left with nothing but sound it becomes trickier.  I think doing a lot of instrumental music has helped me to become a better musician, to appreciate silence and subtlety more and to properly incorporate them into my own sounds.  It has also helped me realise how important it is to have sounds that jump out at a person, sounds which are unique and take the listeners’ mind a few moments to process.

‘What do I hope to achieve with music?’ That’s a great question, but I feel slightly dishonest answering it because it isn’t something that I’ve ever put to myself quite so directly. I grew up loving music and listening to it all the time, that’s a trend which has remained with me my entire life. Music gives my soul the nutrients it needs, so I’ve always been an avid music listener.  And out of that came my desire to learn to play music, which naturally led to me creating and writing music.  So  I think the simple answer to your question is that I’ve always  listened to music because it made me feel good, and I learned to play and write music because that made me feel good, so I’m simply responding to and following my natural impulses.  I have thought about quitting, especially in the last few years as I’ve turned 30.  I released an album over a year ago that I had high hopes for and that got a dismal reception.

There was a much bigger event though that really made me want to quit music forever, and that was when my sister died last year.  She was always one of my biggest fans, and we shared music together our whole lives having very similar tastes.  She was one of my best friends in the world and someone I was closest to growing up.  After she died I went through a period of wanting to give up playing music completely.  The experience of enduring the days after her passing taught me many things.  That was the most horrific pain that I’ve ever felt, and I’m guessing that will be the worst pain I ever go through.  I remember vividly when I was going through it that I wanted total silence, the pain was so deep that listening to music, or doing anything, made it worse. I needed to block out all stimulation for a while, no matter how small.  I was someone who listened to music all the time, everyday, so going without music for days was something totally new for me, something I hadn’t done for decades.  I realised life is very different without audio stimulation, and the notion dawned on me that those who suffer worst in the world probably prefer silence to music.  That idea stuck with me for awhile.  For weeks I went without music, then I slowly listened to stuff here and there, and then one song in particular wholly enraptured me.  And it convinced me there is something redeeming about music, something that helps people, and can possibly guide them when they are lost.  It can revive the good feelings.  To feel joy and laughter is very important, in everything that we do in life, and music can always remind us of that.

I became convinced that I should start listening to music again, but I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to play music ever again, and I had to ask myself what I hoped to accomplish with it. The answer came as I kept discovering new things that I hadn’t tried before.  I was getting ideas and after working on them for a while I found that I was making great advances as a musician.  I felt like the music I was working on was music that was better than any I had ever made, so I wanted to keep doing it.  When I grow musically it seems, or at least feels, that I am growing spiritually as well.  This growth in song writing provides me euphoria and a joy that I can’t find anywhere else in life.  Music is a dialogue between the heart and the mind, and when you do something new it feels divine, because even when you “create” something, you don’t understand it, it comes from somewhere that you can’t explain, and the fact that it happens through you makes you feel as though there is a God and that He is talking to you.  Sometimes it seems ridiculous how little effort there is involved, just all the impulses flowing naturally.  I can’t say with any certainty that music makes the world better, but I still do it anyway.  At the very least, I think it makes me better, and that’s something.

As for your last few questions, your description of the local scene in Scotland is a spot on description of things here too, both at the local level and national level.  It’s something I used to have stronger opinions about, but that really didn’t make me many friends, so I tend to keep my mouth shut more often now.  Plus, I think it probably isn’t a good thing to think about too much as it distracts from the matter at hand, which is creating something new and interesting and full of life.  Thinking too much deflates this effort.  I can easily be eaten up by my bitterness if I let it, so I try not to go there.  I get irked by the music industry at times, but I also realise that part of the flaws of the industry is rooted in the apathy of the public, and there’s not much that can be done about that – except create new music.  I fell in love with Nick Drake at age 18, and learning about his life taught me not to have much faith in the industry or the world at large.  The general public’s response time is just too slow.  Nick Drake’s music received little attention while he was alive, but it slowly gathered support and popularity decades after he died.  This tells me that eventually quality does get recognised and appreciated on a larger scale, but it takes a very long time.

It is hard for me to say what the focus is for musicians here in Milwaukee, but I think most have aspirations for being known on a larger scale – America is all about people trying to move up in the world. I think there are a lot of beneficial things about being a musician in America, but the problem is there just doesn’t seem to be much independent culture where new and interesting ideas can flourish.  I once asked one of my musician friends a question about American culture and he responded, “What culture? There’s just stuff on TV.”  I couldn’t really argue with him on that.  It makes it hard to try to gather a following.  The nice thing about living in America is it is very easy to travel and to do DIY roadtrip tours. I know a lot of people do it, and they don’t necessarily make a lot of money, but they don’t lose money either and it is a fun time.  Also, it is easy to just pickup your life and move to a place like NYC or LA and get started there, even if you’re just from a place like Wisconsin. I’ve known a lot of people to do that too.

How long have you been playing music for? How long has Glacis been around and do you have any other projects? What inspires you about music and when do you like to write? Have you lived in Scotland your whole life? One of my favourite active songwriters is a man by the  name Richard Hawley. Over here in the states I do not know many people who are familiar with his work, but I can’t get enough of him. Does he have any popularity over there, and have you ever heard the name before?

TSP: I would probably disagree slightly on instrumental music not being able to reach the same passion or intensity as music with words. I do feel that a piano piece played well is just as emotive as a song with words. I guess perhaps the artist just has to work that little bit harder? When it comes to ambient – for want of a better word – I do think it takes skill and understanding to create something with depth.  Anyone can make ambient music and what separates the good from the bad can be that human element of understanding that what you are making needs to have a point and not just be noise for the sake of it.  Too many people seem to get that wrong.  But I do agree about the public/private self part as I think artists put themselves out there with their words – or some do at least.

If I’m honest, I didn’t start glacis to avoid words. I started glacis because I enjoy sitting at the piano and just playing.  I love finding the melodies and movements on a piano and I felt that words were really unnecessary in what I was doing – although on the first glacis EP there is a section of words on the last track which I felt was necessary to the work – so I wouldn’t rule out words completely from a glacis record it’s just that they won’t become songs as such.  So I started it for fun rather than to avoid words and I’ve been doing it since about 2010.  My first EP came out on Fluid Audio in 2011 and I had 2 more EPs out last year.  I am now working on 2 full length albums, so what began as a bit of fun in my spare time now probably takes up most of my time as a musician.

Before I move on to my next point I should say how sorry I am to hear about your sister. I cannot even imagine how that felt. I lost my dad a couple of years ago and it was the worst pain I’ve felt in my life so I guess I know a little about loss but losing my brother doesn’t bare thinking about.  I guess what I’d take from it all is your point about music having healing powers.  It’s easy to shut ourselves away from the things that make us us in times when darkness surrounds.  It’s easy to close down and stop functioning as you.  It really is.  I imagine though that your sister – by the sounds of the person she was – would not have wanted you to stop making music.  Or listening to music.  It sounds like she was a pretty positive force in your life and, in some ways, still is.  You just had to go through a process to get to where you are and it sounds like music is an essential element in making you you.  So it’s good to hear you will keep making music because it sounds like that’s what your sister would want for you.

I love your point about silence. Learning to understand silence. I think working as glacis has taught me about that.  But losing my dad definitely did.  In fact, whilst everyone else was busying themselves and “doing things”, I craved time alone and silence.  And in that silence I think I learned how important silence is amongst the noise.  The moments of pause and rest are as important as the moments filled with sound.  I do think it’s amazing how life itself can teach you how to create music. Do you find that life experience seeps in to your work?

Scotland is an odd place for a musician.  It’s so small that you can travel to any of the main cities, do a show, then travel home – mostly.  So you never really have to do road trips. You can do that in the UK of course but it needs wider planning, often the help of booking agents – which is never easy – and unless you are careful can result in a lot of money being spent for little return.  I know people who have blown lots on touring and I know people who have made money from it.  But it’s hard work getting the whole thing together let alone doing the shows.

To answer your question about my own projects.  Well, on top of glacis there is graveyard tapes a project I do with my friend Matthew Collings.  We have an album coming out on Lost Tribe Sound this March and have started work on album number two.  And then there is The Kays Lavelle.  That was the band I was in for about 7 years.  We put out an album in 2010 and then split.  I am working on album number two on my own as a solo artist.  Not sure when that will see the light of day but I am determined that it will.  So those projects keep me busy.

I have lived in Scotland my whole life yes – well apart from 3 months I spent living in Nijmegen in the Netherlands when I was at University.  Other than that period though I have been in Dundee and Edinburgh my whole life. I love living and working in Edinburgh but it’s taken me a long time to get to that point.  The beauty of the place was never in doubt but until recently it’s never really felt like home.  Not properly anyways.  I think that has played a major role in my music as well.  Does place impact on your work like myself and Todd?

And as for Richard Hawley.  Yes, he’s extremely well known in the UK. Firstly as a member of the Longpigs in the 1990s, then he joined Pulp and then he started releasing as a solo artist.  He’s extremely popular here.  I know a couple of his albums and found them really interesting though I wouldn’t profess to being a fan of any real conviction.  He’s playing Edinburgh soon actually, in the Queens Hall which is a lovely venue.

Do you find that you are inspired by a lot of British music?  All my favourite artists seem to be from your side of the Ocean – Wilco, Sparklehorse, MountEerie, Elliott Smith, Tom Waits….do you think it’s equally as common for Americans to be inspired by British music or am I just an oddball?

JF:  Yeah, I don’t mean to imply that I don’t think instrumental music can reach the same level of quality as music with vocals, just for me it touches on different sensations and moods.  For example, Chopin is one of my all-time favourites.  But the mood expressed there seems to be gentleness, fragility, loneliness, a certain mellow joy.  He is one of those who makes great use of silence, “Berceuse” is one of my favourite songs ever so I definitely think instrumental music can be great.  In terms of reaching the same levels of intensity in anger or excitement or pain, I think music with vocals can achieve that better.  I grew up listening to Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, and that music expressed a hate to me that I couldn’t find on the same level in classical music.  But still, many of my favourite songs are instrumental.

Thank you for the condolences about my sister.  I am very sorry to hear about your father. I am glad that music has been therapeutic for you as well.  As to your question about life experience showing up in my work, yeah I definitely think that happens, in my mind it’s impossible for it not to.  In the most basic sense, the mood I am in when I am creating will have a huge effect on the kind of music that comes out.  Ironically, the music tends to be opposite my mood, and this isn’t necessarily conscious either. But when I used to feel very lonely and depressed, maybe even suicidal, I would usually write stuff that was inspirational and full of hope, maybe done in a quiet way.  I would get depressed but music tended to pull me out of it, in my darkest phases I would summon something that I thought was beautiful and it would cheer me up.  I am very attracted to melody and discovering a new melody always brings me a lot of joy.

I’ve always been a voracious reader and I think that has a big impact on my music, both the substance and the amount of output.  I’m interested in philosophy and the path of human thought over time. I keep seeking to understand the world in a more comprehensive way, and reading allows me to pursue this.  Both to understand myself better and people in general, as well as how society functions now and has functioned in the past.  It seems like if I am able to keep my mind progressing, and my own understanding to keep developing, that makes my creative mind that much sharper and capable of doing something new.

When I reach points of intellectual stagnation and can’t find anything interesting to read, I find that my output suffers too and my music comes to a standstill.  So I think pursuing truth is important, even when it leads to conclusions we don’t like, or even worse, when it leads to the abyss.  But I am very lucky to have the time and freedom to be able to read a lot and to be able to pursue music, so for that I am very grateful.

I imagine that Scotland is a very beautiful place. Actually, it was my top pick for places for my wife and I to go on our honeymoon. Her top pick was Mexico City so somehow we settled on Switzerland and France.  I am wondering how you think the scenery affects the people as a whole there? How do you think it affects you? What do you think the goal is for most musicians in Scotland? How would you like your music to impact people? Does the beautiful scenery increase or decrease the ambition to want to create music?

When I read you and Todd writing about how location affects you both I felt mixed feelings in my own case. On the one hand I definitely think living in Wisconsin almost all my life has strongly impacted who I am, and that in turn has affected the music I’ve made.  Living here has made me more prone to emotional swings with great highs and lows.  Wisconsin experiences the full 4 seasons, our winters are known to get wind chills down in the negative 40’s, with occasional blizzards of snow a few feet high, whereas our summers can get scorching hot with the heat index going over 120.  These huge changes in the seasons affect the people here and are probably why I try to explore the full range of human emotions in my work.  But in another sense music has created a very intense private life for me.  I went to college in Madison, Wisconsin and much of my time there I spent living indoors listening to all the music I could get my hands on and writing music which I never showed to anybody at the time.  I didn’t go to shows, didn’t go to bars, and rarely did anything besides work and school – and music. So in that sense my outside environment didn’t have much effect on me. I kept things pretty sterile so the only thing that was really impacting me was the music I listened to, and that wasn’t local stuff back then.

Glad to hear that Richard Hawley is doing well over there! “Lowedges” is the album that really did it for me.  I do find that I like a lot of British music, but I usually don’t know that until after the fact.  I try to listen to music from everywhere in the world, but I find my favourite stuff usually comes from either the UK or Canada.  Radiohead has influenced me a lot, Camera Obscura in more recent years, Amon Tobin and Lukid are very interesting.  Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” has always been one of my favourite albums ever. I like all of the musicians that you mentioned as well.  When Sparklehorse’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” came out it touched me very deeply. I actually heard the title track on TV and I spent a frantic few days looking through all of the music stores trying to find it. When I get a song stuck in my head I have to find it and listen to it over and over and over. I am a huge Tom Waits fan too.  He blew me away with his double release “Blood Money”/“Alice” and I think he has been riding high ever since.  I have yet to see him live but that’s one of my top goals in life.

I don’t think that you are an oddball, and I think Americans listen to music all over the world, though probably without knowing it. I think there are very active music listeners like myself, but the majority of the population either just skims through the stuff on the big labels or review sites and hears new music that way, or else there are a lot of people who listen exclusively to local underground music.  I think there is some really good underground electronic music going in the US that has yet to reach the surface which interests me.  I’m probably not a good person to ask who is an oddball though, I don’t think my tastes these days are normal at all.  I spend a lot of time digging through really obscure stuff like lots of Chinese music – solo guqin and erhu – I’ve been listened to lots of accordion polka, I grew up listening to polka because my dad’s parents were Polish, plus I think the accordion is really neat. I’m going to be doing some sampling of that in the future. I’ve been listening to Swiss alphorn music, various yodelling music, some older Mexican singer songwriters – I like Cuco Sanchez a lot. What kind of music are you listening to these days? What music has impacted you greatly in life? Are there any particular themes or values that Scottish people seem to be attracted to in their music?

TSP: I grew up listening to similar artists.  I was actually at a gig just last night and Pearl Jam came on the venue stereo.  I felt like I was 15 again.  It was great! But I know what you mean about lyrics.

It’s interesting what you say about mood and music.  When I was younger, and I suppose still to a degree, I used to listen to more downbeat music when I was in a bad place and more often than not I would finish a record and be in a much better place.  I do agree that music has the power – perhaps not the heal – but to help people when things seem bleak.  Like you said before though, those who suffer most seem to want to suffer in silence.  I cannot imagine a world without music.  Complete silence must be a very strange place.

Scotland is a strange place.  Everything is really condensed into the centre of the country.  You have the Borders to the South and the Highlands to the north and then the Central belt is where most of the population is.  I was talking the other day about how amazing it is that a few hours north-west of Edinburgh and you are into real wild country.  Glen Coe in Scotland is one of the most amazing, eerie and beautiful places I’ve ever been.  I am so drawn to it.  I suppose that has a lot to do with the history and the stories but it’s really hard to explain – there are few places that hold such a weight of history for me – and I live in Edinburgh!  So yes, Scotland is beautiful and I would highly recommend it to you and your wife for future trips together.  How it impacts on musicians in this country though I couldn’t rightly say.  Edinburgh has an impact on me as a musician.  I think it’s hard not to be affected by place as an artist.  However, Scotland as a whole isn’t vital to my work.  The winter light is the main thing I think of when I think of Scotland.  Like today – sitting at my desk looking out at RoyalHigh School – once of the most iconic buildings in the city – what’s essential to its beauty is the bright skies.  You get light here like nowhere else.  It’s special.

I was lucky enough to see Tom Waits live in 2008 although it cost me £100 for a ticket!  Still, was worth every penny.  I know I might never get the chance to see him again and he was simply stunning as a performer.  I saw Neil Young that year too and whilst he was an amazing musician he didn’t have the charisma or presence that Tom Waits had.  What do you think makes a great performer?  Do you feel the performance is as important in live shows?   Any favourite shows you’ve been to and if so why?

I think it’s fair to say you have a pretty eclectic taste in music!  How does this impact into your work?  Obviously you say you are planning to sample some accordion soon but does the tradition of the music you listen to seep in to your own work?  Do you find yourself adopting some sort of polka beat in your tracks or having to filter the influence of the music you enjoy listening to into the music you create?  If you can point me in the direction of good electronic music from the USA I’d be extremely grateful!

JF: That is neat that things in Scotland are condensed more into certain locations. I noticed that was the case when I traveled in France and Switzerland too. I prefer that much more than the sprawl we have here in the States. I think one of the reasons we lack culture as a country is because we don’t have those condensed spaces where people congregate and can talk or at least see one another. A lot of people just live in their homes, take the car to work day in and day out and don’t interact with the general population at all. You really have to search out counterculture and independent community here. That is very intriguing what you say about the lights in Scotland. I definitely long to see them someday. I have this favorite writer in the last few years named Roberto Bolano, and he writes about the light in the SonoraDesert in Mexico and says it is the most beautiful and saddest place in the world. I’ve never seen either so hopefully I can compare someday. I think Wisconsin is more notable for the lack of light, we get gray skies for what seems to be 6 months of the year, though our summers are quite bright and hot. You’re lucky you got to see Tom Waits, I saw Neil Young a few years ago too at Brewers Stadium, he was doing a benefit show for Farm Aid. That was good and I love Neil Young, I think I’d be more excited for Waits these days because I feel he is closer to his prime. I keep missing chances to see Leonard Cohen as well, but I think I’d rather hear him talk than sing, he is so smart and wise. What are some other memorable performances you have seen?

It is hard to say exactly what makes a good performer. I think either having a lot of presence or having a lot of style. Being able to be comfortable and open on stage in front of a lot of people is a hard thing to do for most. To be comfortable enough to be honest and to be yourself. I just saw a band a few weeks ago touring from Minneapolis, and as they were setting up their stuff I knew I loved them already, they had a disaffected air about them that I could tell represented something genuine. I think some people can perform and do  it really well, whereas others can just be themselves and pull it off. Jacques Brel is an example of someone I love who would perform while he sang, sometimes acting out the roles of the characters in the song. He was brilliant. Sometimes I like performances, but only if it enhances the music, that’s still the bottom line for if something is good or not.

I’ve seen many impressive shows over there years. Another UK musician I love is Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, I saw them a few years ago and it blew me away. I loved his whole look and the whole entourage of his band, seems like there was about a dozen musicians playing. He seemed very much himself and in the moment, though he had sunglasses on and didn’t move or talk much. It was a good venue, Turner Hall, with a decent crowd of a few hundred for a weeknight. I had been a Spiritualized fan for awhile but that show took me to a whole new level of appreciation. The songs on record don’t sound nearly as good as though do live, because he creates such a huge wall of sound with it — the melodies scream at you. His music does a good job of balancing the pain with elation, and gives you a good dosage of both. He ended with an encore of “Lord Can You Hear Me When I Call” and that was so good, like the earth moved. Such a beautiful plea to God from Man. Another of my favorite shows was seeing Amiina at a corner coffee shop in Madison, Wisconsin. I wasn’t living there at the time and I travelled over an hour to get there by myself. The place was small so I ended up sitting on the floor, and these 4 Icelandic women played some amazing instrumental music, mostly strings and chimes and bells, though there were some electronics in the background as well. Actually they had what looked to be a square room full of instruments that they were all swapping between songs with. It was really captivating and put me in a good place, very minimal slow tunes but they all have a charm to them, it was pleasing to the soul. I felt at home in a room full of strangers, everyone was quiet and paying attention to the music.

I’ve seen a lot of amazing things at the local level too in the last five years of playing shows and going out to see different acts. Typically I find with good unsigned artists I see locally is that they are rougher around the edges but they have a certain rawness to them that makes them reach greater moments. If I’m looking to get a glimpse of what the future of music is going to be, I check out more unknown musicians on the local level, those trying to travel uncharted territories. They may not always be consistent, but they can find new and unique places sometimes that you can’t find anywhere else. Plus, when someone is more in obscurity they tend to have less restraint, anything goes. That can be bad and good, but the good that is there is different than anywhere else. What are the typical venues for folk music in Scotland?

It is hard to say how my eclectic music tastes affect my songwriting. I think that melody is very infectious and that when I hear new melodies they get lost in my psyche and re-emerge at some point in a different form. Also, I think it is helpful to look at the angle of different people from different places and different traditions, to try and see how they attempt to express some kind of joy in a world so full of suffering. By seeing as many perspectives as possible, you can see what we are all paying attention to, what unites our collective consciousness. I do have some self-interest  in looking through lots of obscure music though, and that is to try to find something that jumps out as interesting to sample. Trying to create new sounds from old sounds. I don’t know if the tradition seeps into my music, I would like it to but I am not sure if it does.

I do try and understand other traditions though, and try to separate the good from the bad in each in order to retain the essence of the good, though I’m not sure that’s reflected in the music. I also like to look at the good and bad in religion to see why they were both necessary or how they depended on each other. I’m very interested in moving forward, but by doing so by following the arc of the past, or at least using it as a guide. History is important to me, as well as unwritten history and all that escapes our attention.

The polka as of yet has not been incorporated into my stuff but hopefully that will change! The more I listen to it lately, the more I want to hear. Check out this woman: Wow! She stuns me. It’s the kind of thing that can never make it to the top of the music industry, but at the same time it is just mind-blowing. Such a pretty, sad, and sweet melody, and played with such extraordinary talent. And thanks to modern technology it is so easy to hear various stuff from anyone in the world. I mean, as long  as a person has access to a computer they can post something. What is traditional Scottish music like? Has it influenced you much in your life? What are some traditional or unique Scottish instruments? How has the economy been in Scotland? It seems like all I ever hear these days is how bad the economy is here, are you having similar problems? If so, does it affect the music scene or output noticeably? I feel like the down times here haven’t hurt music quality as of yet, but fan support for music seems to be lacking and less of a priority for people.

TSP: I haven’t read any Bolano as yet but he’s on my radar. My girlfriend is a writer so we have loads and loads of books and I think Bolano is in there. I am never too sure – but it’s a name she has mentioned a lot. Need to check out his work. In Scotland it’s more the winter light that is stunning. Although we do deal with a lot of rain when it’s really cold and bright in the winter there is nowhere quite like it. I don’t think of Scotland as sad but I love how the hills have stories to tell. In fact, it’s one of the things I love most about working with old buildings – the narrative. When you are in an old house there are hundreds of years of stories contained within the walls. I love that idea. How many people have lived there, died there, been born there, had family there. The highs and lows that have been experienced within the building – all wrapped up in its fabric but a secret to the building alone. It makes old buildings even more special in my eyes.

I’ve been very lucky to have seen most of my favourite artists live but the most memorable would be Wilco (my favourite band) too many times; Sparklehorse – which was just stunning; dEUS a couple of times; Fionn Regan; Mogwai (too many times); Radiohead a couple of times. The list is quite long. And I’ve been really lucky because I always choose my gigs carefully and so usually the performances have been spot on. I think if there was one show I am glad I got to it was Sparklehorse. I saw him twice and I am so glad I did because I never got to see Elliott Smith or Vic Chesnutt and I regret that I never did. I think Tom Waits would be the highlight, once in a lifetime, show though for sure. Total showman. Amazing musician. I really like Amiina too actually. They are Sigur Ros’ string quartet are they not? I have one of their records for sure. I imagine seeing them in the setting you did made it that extra bit special?

Traditional Scottish folk music is pretty specialised these days. It would be surprised to ever find a Scottish folk record doing well in the mainstream. Roddy Woomble of Idlewild tried to bridge the divide between mainstream and traditional and produced a stunning record called ‘My Secret is My Silence’ and more recently there is a gorgeous record out by Rick Redbeard called ‘No Selfish Heart’. Both of these records draw heavily from traditional Scottish folk music. But what is known as ‘folk’ music in Scotland these days has little to do with the origins of Scottish music. New folk/Anti folk – none of it sounds like it’s been influenced by the techniques and traditions of Scottish music. So I am careful about what is defined as folk music because the origins of our music include harp and bagpipes – and I don’t think either of those instruments are particularly relevant in modern Scottish music – though Biffy Clyro do appear to use the bagpipe on their new album – so I guess that does prove that Scottish musicians do value the traditional even when they are world wide super stars.

Times have been quite hard over here, just like everywhere else really. But I agree that music is not really affected by these hard times. Quality still permeates into our world – I guess the real dilemma facing everyone is whether to spend their money on music. That’s the worrying thing for me as
a label and also as an artist. Far too many people are happy just to illegally download music without a thought or a care as to who suffers. I think now, more than ever you have to give people a reason to spend money on your music. It’s no longer enough to produce quality music, you also have to offer awesome art and packaging. For me, that’s no problem because it’s something that has always been important to me. I will always buy the physical product if I love something because it’s much more special but lots of people will need a reason to buy physical. And now, with more and more labels producing beautiful, bespoke packages, it is harder than ever to give people a reason to buy what you make. And they should buy it because you wouldn’t expect to get a taxi for free, or your food at a supermarket, or your dog, or your clothes – so what makes art any different? Do you have thoughts or feelings about how things are going in terms of people taking music for free? Do you see things getting better or worse or just much the same as now?

Finally, what does the future hold for you and your music? What would you like to achieve both in the short and long term?

JF: I like what you say about the narrative of old houses. When I walk through the woods at my parents’ house I think about the narrative of certain spaces, and how the space changed over the last few hundred years. To think that it was entirely inhabited by Native Americans with a totally different way of living not so long ago. Makes you think how quickly the modern world has been created. I don’t know that much about Amiina, part of the reason the show was so good is that I knew very little about them at the time and they just blew me away. I think you are right that they back Sigur Ros sometimes, I know they have toured with them a bunch. Sigur Ros is another band that I would love to see.

What you say about hard times and the music industry is interesting. I do think about these things a lot but I don’t have strong feelings because I don’t see an easy answer. Downloading music for free is bad because musicians don’t get paid for it, but at the same time many people legitimately can’t afford to pay for music because it is too expensive. So if illegal downloading was strictly enforced I think a lot less people would be able to listen to music, and this in turn might cut down on musicians making money touring, which is a big source of income for them. I try and save up money for the musicians that I really respect so I can see them when they come around. I don’t know if illegal downloading has gone up or down, but it seems like most young people get their music that way still. I mean, personally I think the best thing to do to help the music industry, and a lot of other industries, is to make our economies more egalitarian. In America the richest 400 persons own as much as the
poorest 150 million, it is ridiculous. If working people actually had money to spend I think it would be going towards art and music. But it is the job of music and art to point out this folly to the masses and to get them active about it, and it is the goal of power to squash such voices which do. I’m steering into the arena of politics though and I don’t want to do that. What do you think can be done about the music industry? What could change to get higher quality music to the top? Are smaller labels able to compete with larger labels?

As for the future of my music, I will continue with it as long as I keep progressing, going in new directions and finding I have more to express through it. Right now I still have a variety of paths that I want to pursue. I’m definitely going to continue writing electronic ambient music, I think creating quietly is a good way to start because you can keep it quiet or you can develop into something full sounding.

I get a lot of my ideas for the other genres I work in through pursuing ambient music. I also plan to continue writing solo folk songs on guitar, as that’s how I started out playing live music and I still find that I have something to say once in awhile. The other part of me wants to explore newer areas of electronics utilizing loops and samples, creating louder noisy stuff. But trying to find joy in it all too and hopefully being able to inject some laughter into the music. I also plan to play in a few more projects besides my own in the future. I am hoping to form a rock band right now, and I’m also starting in a cover band for fun.

I don’t have any strict goals for what I want to achieve, mainly that I continue to enjoy it and that it is therapeutic for me. Besides that I don’t want money or fame from music, but it would be nice if there were people who listened to it. I hope that one day I’ll be able to say what I need to say in a way which is accessible to people and that people are able to take something away from the music which helps them. But goals are misleading because I don’t think art doesn’t spring from the goals we set but the pain we endure. I don’t think I feel more pain than the average person, but I think I’ve tapped into articulating it in a way that most people can’t, and so maybe that helps.

You can check out Kinth HERE.  I recommend that you do.  Enjoy

Interview – Greg Haines


Greg Haines is an English musician and composer who has been living in Berlin since 2008.  He was born in a small town in the south of England in the 1980s, where he began from a young age to develop an interest in sound and the devices used to create it. Having release numerous records on various labels he most recently released as part of The Alvaret Ensemble – a record which, without doubt, is one of my favourite of the year so far and, in May he will release his new solo record through Denovali.  Whilst on a recent tour with The Alvaret Ensemble, Greg was kind enough to spend some time each day answering my questions and engaging in discussion about his work.  It was a real pleasure talking to him and I hope that you enjoy the results.  You can check out his work both as a solo artist and as part of The Alvaret Ensemble here or here.

TSP: The Alvaret Ensemble record is one of my records of 2013 already and come the end of the year I imagine will be on my end of year list.  I heard that much of the record was improvised by the performers.  Can you explain a little about the idea behind the record and how you managed to come together to share such a, potentially complex and challenging, vision in such a successful manner?

GH: I first met Jan and Romke Kleefstra at the house of a friend and collaborator of mine, Wouter Van Veldhoven. He was organising a little house show and the Kleefstras were playing. We had been in touch through email before, and we began to tour together and play in the same evenings, which usually led to a improvised collaborative set for an encore. A little later on I met a friend of theirs, the percussionist Sytze Pruiksma, at another we were all playing. This led to more concerts as the four of us,  and slowly we began to discuss recording something together. We definitely wanted to make it something special,  with the perfect atmosphere and the conditions for a really great recording,  so we planned three nights at the Grunewaldkirche without knowing what would occur, with Nils Frahm on recording duties. The album was entirely improvised over those three nights, with no discussion before or during the sessions. Later, I listened back to the many hours of recordings and began to piece together something that eventually became our first release.

TSP: How nervous were you prior to the recording sessions or were you confident that you’d either come out with something special or nothing at all and either way the process of improvised collaboration, to see what was/is possible, was the point of the exercise?

GH: We had already played together a lot, as I mentioned, so we already had an idea of the area of music we were usually found ourselves exploring. I wasn’t nervous at all as we didn’t have a particular outcome in mind – if we had come out with nothing, we just would have accepted that and perhaps tried again another time in the future. Concerning the point of the exercise, I try not to think about those things. I mean, whats the point in anything at the end of the day? It was just a good excuse to get together with some great people and attempt to create something beautiful together.

TSP: Does this improvised approach permeate in to your own solo work or do you have a more focused and structured approach when approaching a new Greg Haines record?  I also find it extremely interesting that you say ‘what’s the point of anything’ because I guess ultimately this is true, but in terms of creating music is this an attitude you have always held or something that has developed the more successful you have become?  I guess I am interested from the point of view that a certain level of success must afford you the freedom to attack your new work with less worry about what the results will be?

GH: When I am making a solo record, its usually a combination of thoroughly planned ideas and elements that are completely spontaneous. Often I will envisage a certain sound, and a certain kind of melody or rhythm, and then just record a few takes to see what happens. A lot of the sounds of the albums end up being first takes, as often that seems like the best one.

I wouldn’t say that the more success you achieve, the less worry you have about your output – in fact I would say it was the opposite. There is always more and more pressure to better the last release, both from within yourself and in a certain respect from the public, so its a never-ending cycle. I would say the most freedom you have is probably the early days of making music for no reason, just to perhaps play to yourself or to some friends. The second you think of something as a release, I think your freedom can be limited somewhat as whether you like it or not, there is always an element of the public’s perception of what your “should” create, that is at play in the creative process. Its a difficult force to fight, but its definitely one to be aware of. If you start to worry about it, you will never get anything done, or never move forward.

TSP: I think for me I’ve always been quite selfish in my approach to music.  I am aware of course that my music is going to become available to the public but first and foremost I want to create something that is challenging and exciting to me.  I know lots of musicians who focus too much on ‘what will others want’ and then it becomes something driven by the need for approval.  I think there is a fine balance between the two because ultimately when you create something, that you want to be released, you are releasing it for public consumption and there must be an element of that in the music but if it becomes consumed by that then I feel you lose the truth of what you are.

What did you hope to achieve from music and at this point in your career have you surpassed what you expected to happen, if you expected anything at all?

GH:  Its best not to expect too much I think. I’m not sure what I expected when I started, but I’ve certainly had some great opportunities and experiences that I couldn’t have anticipated.

TSP: What artists inspired you when you were younger and are there any artists nowadays whose work you particularly admire?

GH: When I was younger, I was extremely inspired by the “Minimal” composers, like Steve Reich and Gaving Bryars. A little later I discovered Arvo Pärt and that changed everything for me – I really felt like it was exactly the music I had been searching for and it had a profound influence on me. Back then I was also listening to a lot of stuff like William Basinski and Deathprod, and of course all kinds of other music. Brian Eno should definitely be mentioned too – there is a lot of stuff he did that I think still can’t be surpassed.

These days I seem to be buying a lot of African records, and a lot of dub music. I am really listening to a lot of dub at the moment – somehow buying it is really addictive! I haven’t got so into the later “digi-dub” stuff yet, but there are just so many good dub records from such a short period in the seventies and early eighties, that I am just enjoying so much at the moment. I’ve also been listening to a lot of spaced-out German records from people like Klaus Schulze. Some of it is on the border of being a bit too esoteric for me, but some of it sounds great, especially if you are into synthesizers! I’m also always coming back to Tom Waits – if I had to pick someone to work with, it would probably be him. There is such a consistency and integrity to what he does, I really admire that. The last two Talk Talk albums and the Marc Hollis solo album have been favourites since the first time I heard them, and I think they always will be. There is just so much music that I love, I am sure I am forgetting some really important names, but its extremely diverse and hard to narrow down to just a few names.

TSP: I remember reading Will Self say that the key to being a successful writer was to read widely and be a good reader.  Would you say that is relevant as a musician too?  Does the diversity of your listening help you stay fresh as an artist and help you try new things, whether consciously or subconsciously, in your work?

Also, it’s interesting you mention Tom Waits as he’d probably be my all time favourite artist, if I had to choose one.  He once said that he had to step away from the piano because when you know an instrument inside out your hands are often drawn to what feels comfortable.  He wanted to create away from the piano to ensure that didn’t happen and to stay fresh.  Do you try to mix up how you write and what instruments you use to compose?

GH: I think I also saw an interview with Philip Glass where he was saying that there are two types of composers – those that listen to all kinds of music and those that listen to none at all. I think I definitely fall into the first category. I’m always curious to find music that is unknown to me, and I think with each thing I hear I must draw some kind of influence from it, on a subconscious level at least.

I think I have a similar predicament to Tom Waits – sometimes I feel like every time I look down at the piano, I just want to play the same things, so then I try to give it a break for a while and then come back to it fresh. I normally try to not play too much before a concert, so all the ideas are still fresh and I can still be surprised by them.  Even though Tom Waits stepped away from the piano for a while, he still came back to it later and made some beautiful music. I have a feeling that I will always be returning to the piano, but I have basically given up playing the cello these days. People keep trying to convince me to get it out of its case again, but it doesn’t feel right at the moment.

TSP: On your site you recently posted a piece about Berlin.  How important has the city been to your work?  I guess I am interested in how place can shape or influence music.  Would you say that the city has changed your music in any way given that it has clearly impacted on you deeply as a person?

Also, you have a new album ‘Where We Were’ out in May witha string of live dates to support this release.  What can you tell us about the record and how important is it to get out there and tour to support the work?

GH: Its hard to say how much of an effect Berlin has had on my music. I’ve met some great people here, and there is so much good music around, so I’m sure it has played a role in that way. Its also a city where you feel as if you have quite a lot of personal freedom, so that is definitely helpful too.

The new album will be quite a surprise to some people. The strings have been replaced with synthesizers, rhythms have been introduced…everything sounds much older and dustier. It really felt like a good time to try something completely new, although hopefully it is still recognizable as me in some places.

I love to get out there and play concerts – its such a direct way to interact with your audience and also to try new ideas. Its also great to play on large soundsystems, and variations in frequency and dynamics can be much more drastic than you can realistically put on a record.

Introducing No.1…Old Earth

Old Earth Mr Todd

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for ages.   Rather than interviewing artists I decided to get involved in conversations with them.  Something more than a list of questions sent to them via e-mail.  No, this is basically a long e-mail chain idea where we get into discussing music and talking about the things that make us excited as musicians, people, whatever.

There is no better place to start then than with mini50’s latest signing Old Earth.  His new album ‘Small Hours’ will be coming out on mini50 in Spring this year and is simply amazing.  A trailer for the album is posted at the bottom of the conversation.  Anyways,  for those who don’t know Old Earth he is one Mr Todd Umhoefer from Milwaukee, USA.  His music is hard to describe but to me has it’s origins in punk as much as folk and is a fascinating blend of guiatar and voice.  His album ‘A Low Place at the Old Place’, released last year is fabulous – a reivew of which you can find over at Song By Toad – it also made Mr Toad’s top 20 records of 2012.

Anyways, the idea of this piece is to introduce you to the work of the wonderful Old Earth and is the first in a planned series of these conversation pieces.  The next conversation will be with an artist of Old Earth’s choosing and so on and so forth.  So, hopefully over the coming year I will expose you to some amazing artists who are all linked via this first piece.  Enjoy.

TSP: You are based in the United States, in Milwaukee.   I am a great believer that music is heavily influenced by place.  How much of your music is influenced by the world and sounds that surround you, both consciously and unconsciously and if your music is inspired by place what is it about Milwaukee/America that fascinates you the most?

OE: Growing up, there were constantly planes roaring overhead, train horns a block away, a freeway about 2km west, and a huge lake 4km to the east.  I always had a sense that there was a bigger world beyond… We’re a port town.  My dad grew up on a farm, and our house is on old farmland, so those ethos play a huge roll, too. Hard working, settled, tenacious.

Once I was 12/13 years old, though, I started bussing to downtown Milwaukee regularly, looking for activity (and trouble).  By the time I was 17/18, my friends and I had a sketchy house in a sketchy neighborhood.  In the 1990s, the local indie scene was gaining national attention, with powerful, honest music.  I still admire and am influenced by a lot of these artists, and many are still around, active.  Well before my lifetime, this place had a strong underground musical tradition, and I was lucky to witness and take part in some of it.

My part of town was built by Polish and German immigrants, built by manufacturing during the the last century.  We could’ve gone the way of many mid-western industrial cities, gutted and poor.  I won’t pretend to know why we were spared, but it’s a place that could’ve easily been passed over by the arts. And whether high or low brow, we have a unique voice.  People working on the fringes of culture are allowed to peacefully exist here.

Milwaukee is about an hour from Chicago, Madison, and Green Bay, which have all attracted national (and international) acts.  I followed a lot of punk music… My teen years were spent traveling to these places and learning to become a lifelong musician. Finding community.

The most shaping factor here, though, is the climate.  Half of the year is spent indoors, hiding from the cold or the heat.  As an artist, it’s necessary need to spend a lot of time alone, and the climate fosters that… You’re not blowing off a lot of nice days to stay in the studio!

When I think of Milwaukee, I think of a lot of caring people.  Polite, willing to help strangers, being thoughtful and making the extra effort.  Many many accommodating and selfless individuals.

TSP: I love the history/narrative of a place.   Like when you’re in an old house and you know that the house has stood for a long, long time and has been home to many people. The stories it could tell if it could speak fascinate me.  And weather too.  A place changes with weather, like you say.  Do you find your music influenced by the changing of the seasons? In Scotland for example, it does get colder in winter but the most common weather change is dry to wet.  I imagine living in a place where summer is hot and winter is freezing has a polarising impact on your work?

OE: I’m sure the weather has an impact on my lyrics.  Rain comes up a lot.  I have an older lyric about a place where the rain won’t stop… I think the common experience of rain isn’t a joyful one, so I usually use it to invoke a passing, not completely devastating pain.

The heat and the cold being polarizing, sure, as well as the in-between seasons. When spring is warming into summer, and fall cools us off, we get beautiful days- days when the morning, daytime, evening, and night are all wonderful. Late-summer/early-fall is amazing here.  Makes it very hard to be in a bad mood, and despite the darker places I explore with art, I make an effort to celebrate the beauty too.

What’s the best time of year in Scotland? How do you feel the weather affects Scottish artists?

TSP:  I can’t really speak for other Scottish artists but for me it has always played a massive role.  Especially the light.  The light in Scotland is just amazing.  Especially at this time of year.  Cold, cold days with bright blue skies, that is when this country is most alive, and when I am too.  Sadly it has rained a lot this winter.

Lyrically I think you are right about the impact of weather and place.  But I am fascinated by buildings and place and identity.  I’ve always wondered about the traditional and it’s impact on the contemporary.  How Scottish folk music seems to have little real impact on contemporary yet the opposite is true in the USA?

Also, you say you explore dark places without really being in dark places…do you think it’s necessary to be in a certain mind state to write a certain way or is it possible to tap in to dark emotions without being a dark person?  I certainly have found that I can write dark even though I am extremely happy.

OE: I think there’s a folk music trend here in the US, but we have such a strong consumer-based economy that the market will seek out novelty wherever it is. There’s characteristics of traditional folk music in contemporary indie folk rock, but gone are the murder ballads, the spirituals, and the idea that a folk musician should maintain a repertoire of folk standards.  It isn’t really the music of the people, songs that they grew up with and sung with family or friends.  It’s a cute and safe sound, familiar enough to most people that you can stick it in a commercial, but soon enough, something else will become hip and take its place.

In your neck of the world, I think there’s a greater sense of history and place. People here see a building from 100 years ago and call it “old” or “historic.” Culture here is more transient.  People aren’t very settled, and that’s certainly reflected with our attitudes towards the environment or family.  It’s all focused on the individual, which is the opposite of folk tradition.

Obviously I’m a bit cynical, haha… But that leads to your next thought, about having to be a dark person in order to make dark music… I don’t think it’s a requirement, and I know people who make dark music but still manage to seem well-adjusted, but it’s complicated.  Artists have private lives and thoughts just like everyone, but the difference is we publish it.  A public persona develops, like it or not, and it can become a place to express a part of your personality you normally don’t, or it might be a way to distance your actual self from who you are when you perform.  I think denying that, and wanting to be on stage dressed or behaving like a “normal person” is a missed opportunity… It’s like naming an art piece “untitled.”  First of all, it isn’t actually untitled because it’s called “untitled.”  Moreover, it was an opportunity to throw some more language at the piece.  There’ve been millions of art pieces called the exact same thing, which is not very creative.  Saying “untitled” doesn’t maintain any mystery, it just seems indecisive.  So if you want to be an inoffensive “regular” musician that just aims to please everyone, go ahead, but meaningful art comes out of making extraordinary choices.

Personally, I put a lot of effort into maintaining an outwardly positive attitude. I try to smile at people, ask them how they’re doing, and treat them with respect.  When performing, I want to put on inspiring shows… Inside, though, I hate myself.  Passionately.  And I don’t believe “misery loves company,” because I would feel worse if I made someone dwell on their problems because of my music.  I go to the dark places because that’s where my mind is always at, and music is a release.  I think it serves as a release for others, and I might be sparing them the process of unearthing those feelings, which can be lonely and painful.  I remind them that they’re not alone, just as other artists do for me.

Do you think music tends to be a medium that attracts more dark personalities?

TSP:  I don’t know.  I imagine in all walks of life involving the arts there are dark personalities and light personalities.  I do think there is this ‘mystique’ or image portrayed of the ‘tortured artist’ but I don’t think it necessarily holds true in the real world.  Do I think there are artists who suffer for various reasons?  Yes.  Do I think this is necessary to create amazing art?  No.  I think all people suffer in one way or another and this varies in degrees, but I do not think that artists suffer anymore than lawyers or bankers or midwives or students.  And I most certainly do not believe good art comes only from dark places.

It’s really interesting to hear your views on American folk music.  I have always been of the view that certain parts of America remain steeped in the tradition of the past and that history and place are hugely significant.  I am thinking perhaps mostly of the South where traditional murder ballads and folk tales are still the influence behind so much new music.  Do you feel that it is only in isolated pockets of the states that such a culture exists?

Personally, I feel we do have a strong sense of history and place in Scotland but I find it lacking in Scottish music.  Throwing on a Scottish accent is very vogue in our music these days but I don’t really hear the roots of our traditional music in much of what is produced.  There is still a very strong traditional folk scene of course but much of that is not ‘visibly’ popular.  However, in terms of folk tradition we are certainly not about the individual.  There are “scenes” all over Scotland but then I think perhaps things become a bit cliquey because Scotland is such a small place and everything is compacted in the Central Belt.   I don’t know, perhaps I’m a bit more punk than folk because I like the isolation of working alone.

I love this “meaningful art comes out of making extraordinary choices” could you expand on what you mean?I find it interesting to hear you talk about music as a release.  That is something I can really relate to.  I have always found that sitting down at a piano is a complete escape from everything.  A quiet room, a glass of wine, dim lights and my piano.  I tend to find that’s when the best things happen.  Although, it often has to be a real piano and not my digital for things to work.  I often wonder why that is but have concluded that it’s the need for authentic and real sounds.  I like these sounds to exist in my music – so when I record I don’t want perfect, quiet environments.  I want the sound of what is real – finger nails on piano, seagulls overhead, a baby crying, a clock ticking.  It is all important as it’s what happened.  How does the writing/recording process work for you?

OE: I’m sure that there are living pockets of folk tradition, but yes, I’d say they’re isolated… However, that might be the healthiest thing for them. Thankfully the market is only able to re-sell the most superficial aspects of things, which generally keeps the soul and pathos intact.  For now, people can get away with being cute and kitsch, dressing like a 19th century saloon act, throwing a mandolin on some boring pop song… It’s sad to think that popular music willfully destroyed people making music at home via the radio, and then got away with “reviving” folk like 3 or 4 times in the last 80 years.

I’m with you about being more rooted in punk.  To me, it’s more valuable as an approach rather than defining a certain sound.  It’s doing things your way, and embracing your idiosyncrasies.  Which brings me to that quote from last time- “meaningful art comes out of making extraordinary choices.”

It’s a lot easier to make music that is familiar and thoughtless.  It’s a fearful approach. Making something honest and sharing it with other people, “flaws” and all, cuts a little too close. It’s easier to be ironic or cocky, padding yourself against criticism.  When I was in school for fine art, they used to say in critique that “it isn’t YOU that’s being criticized, it’s YOUR WORK.”  Bullshit.  If you made something truthful, then a vital part of you is living inside that work… The best artists live THROUGH their work, and I say put out or get out.  There are plenty of ways to avoid challenges and risks in life, and nothing interesting, unpredictable, unique, or inspiring comes from cowards.  This is the most valuable lesson I learned from punk- celebrate yourself, whether everyone likes it or not.

At their best, punk and folk are just vehicles to serve something greater.  I think they come from the same place… Be it a field recording of some hillbilly warbling out a song his Aunt taught him, or a group of kids watching their friends make up their own songs, it’s about raising your consciousness beyond yourself and your lifetime.

I have a similar approach to you when recording.  It’s a means to capture a moment.  People drive themselves insane (and go broke) trying to get “perfect” and “clean” sounds, and I think that’s a waste of time.  It impedes the overall creative flow (esp. in terms of where you could otherwise be in a few years time, had you simply called something finished and moved on).  If a microphone pop or a washy guitar tone is enough to ruin everything, maybe you didn’t have much of a song there in the first place.  That’s what’s so inspiring to me about old field recordings- people with warped old guitars or out-of-tune pianos have something to fight against, trying to express the spirit of the song and play their best with the one or two takes they get.  Noises and distractions happen throughout life, and when it’s time to record, you either know the song or you don’t… Maybe in the bigger picture, the NEXT session, or the next batch of songs, turns out to be what you were after.  Fuck trying to make something “perfect.”  It’s not a fair expectation, and you’ll inevitably perceive some sort of failure.  Making art is hard enough, and it’s even worse with those kind of head trips.


With this in mind, what are some recordings you’d consider to be “perfect” in their own way (be it a recording you or someone else made)?  What kind of unexpected things have happened to you during a session that turned out to be happy accidents?

TSP: I remember talking to this producer who told me about how they used to deliberately remove the sound of fingers on guitar strings because they wanted a “clean” and “pure” sound.  Which just made me think “what the fuck” because pure sounds to me are real sounds and if you remove the sound of the fingers sliding then you remove the truth and beauty of the sound to create something artificial and false.  And I want music to be real.  Like I was recording the other night and when I started to listen back to one of the tracks – which is 11 minutes long – on two occasions you can hear police sirens in the background from the outside world.  And it made me smile a lot listening back because that is the truth of the music and I want to the truth in there – so if you want to talk about “perfect”, well to me, that is perfect.

You know, it’s brilliant that you talk about people with warped guitars or out-of-tune pianos.  The Dreamend album ‘and the tears washed me wave after cowardly wave’ was one of my favourites from last year and there is a great back story to that record.  The record was recorded shortly after Ryan Graveface moved from Chicago to Savannah in 2011.  In the process of this move all his precious instruments including a cello, banjo and organ were damaged, some beyond repair, by the removal “experts” but instead of delaying recording, he just used the instruments in the condition they were in and created something truly remarkable for it.  I think it’s that kind of bravery and creativity that is exactly what you talk about when you say art should be “interesting, unpredictable, unique, or inspiring”.  That has all of those elements wrapped up in it and is also a brilliant piece of music and story telling.  A real piece of pure art in my eyes.

In terms of perfect recordings I cannot think of anything more perfect in many ways.  But I guess it comes down to a discussion as to what “perfect” actually is.   John Ruskin said “To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality” and I completely agree with that.  A bit like Dali saying “Do not fear perfection as you will never achieve it”.  Perhaps that is because there is no such thing as a perfect piece of art?  I don’t know.But surely what makes us all beautiful is comfort in our imperfections.  Nothing so beautiful as somebody who knows they are imperfect and I think that applies to art as well.  True perfection lies in the imperfections.  So to me, when music is clean and crisp and polished it lacks life and beauty.

What records do you find  – I won’t say perfect – imperfectly beautiful?!Also,i read this the other day: “I write to challenge my brain; I make music to challenge my heart.”

Why do you make music and do you feel there is a difference in the reasons behind why you create art or create music?

OE: This is a great question… I think there might be ways I can differentiate the two (music and visual art/writing), and what I might get out of one or the other, but I think they both serve a greater need to create. They’re both spiritual exercises for me… The act of creation is THE THING, not necessarily the product or the chosen medium. This wasn’t always so, and I had to break down and challenge my own thinking on process vs. product, but I’ve found that my experience is much more meaningful now. Music has become the way that I interpret and express being alive, and the visual art might be closer to a challenge for my brain, because it doesn’t come quite as easily to me (or at least, the results don’t affect people as much).But WHY do I make music? I truly can’t imagine my life separate from it. I’ve been playing guitar for the past 18 years, never going more than 2 or 3 days without at least picking it up and strumming around for a few minutes. It’s vital. And if I didn’t have a guitar, I’d just sing. I used to do a lot of open mics a’cappella, partially for the challenge, and partially to say “Well, if I get stuck without my instrument, I should be able to do SOMETHING.”

I think of the world as my studio. Wherever I can bring (or find/borrow) a pen and a piece of paper, I’m drawing and writing. When I didn’t have studio space, I’d work in the library. If I didn’t have a pen, I’d be folding the paper in interesting ways, or making a sculpture out of whatever’s around.

So we were talking about “perfectly imperfect” records… I loved the Ruskin and Dali quotes! My first pick isn’t really an official album, rather a Misfits mixtape that someone made for me when I was 15. It sounds like hell, not only because the songs were recorded and performed that way, but it’s a 3rd generation tape made from original records. But fighting through all that noise are these gorgeous oldies-inspired melodies, never intended for a mass audience. It somehow arrives at actual moments of brilliance! Somehow your brain can turn off the noise and focus on the intent…

The single most import record to me, however, was a 7″ put out by a grind band from Chicago called Hinckley (named for the guy who tried to assassinate Pres. Reagan, haha). One of my friends in high school played bass for the band, and he brought records to school for my friend and I. I’d be surprised if more than 100 were pressed… By many definitions of musicianship, this thing is a fucking mess, but, like Ruskin was saying, this thing is definitely filled with expression, exertion, and vitality. It had all the ethos of punk coded in the music and the packaging. Self-recorded, self-manufactured, the cover was an envelope with the top cut off and screen printed (and not very well, either), and there was a hand-written/typed photocopy insert, in which all the members and some friends did writings. It’s the single most inspiring thing I’ve experienced. It says that ANYONE can do this, and I took it to heart and it changed my life.

TSP: One last question before we finish the conversation piece – what are your dreams/ambitions as an artist?

OE: My dreams and ambitions? I’m living them! My dreams are just to stay healthy and continue to make music. I want to keep traveling, and being a musician made it possible for me to see most of the continental US, which is incredible. Some people have never seen anything outside of their hometown!

I want to work on more film scores. I want to see where my music can start fitting into my sculptural work. I want to keep drawing and sculpting the figure, eventually doing some fashion illustration. I want to teach more- writing and fine art, eventually teaching at the college level (that’s a goal for about 10 years from now). Probably leave the US by then.

How about yourself?

TSP:  In terms of my dreams an ambitions.  Well, I’d love to see my music become my life.  I’ve always said I’d settle for a life where I could make music and create and not have to worry about where money would come from.  I don’t need to tour or be on the road because I have my family and I love where I’m at in life right now.  But I’d love glacis or graveyard tapes or the kays to be able to sustain me.  Or indeed the label.  My ambition for 2013 is to develop the label to become something that doesn’t have to think about where the money is coming from and can offer all our artists physical releases.  That would be sweet.  I have simple dreams really.  I think I stopped longing though a long time ago and just focused on enjoying things as and when they happen.  Last year was by far my best and most successful as a musician and I am excited about what 2013 holds to be honest.


Well this was fun.  You can find a conversation piece I did with Fred Nolan for Fluid Radio here.  It’s always nice to get a bit of press for the label and our artists and for my own work, so, if you write a blog or for a music mag and are interested in mini50 records or one of our artists, please don’t be shy.  Drop me a line and we can have a chat.  Really enjoyed the format with Fred as well.  It’s something I think works well – having a proper e-mail conversation rather than just answering a bunch of pre-written questions.  Anyways, if you are interested, check it out.