Jamie Flett Music
Jim Byrne interviews musician and songwriter Jamie Flett
When I first came across you, playing live in some Glasgow music venue many moons ago. I couldn’t tell you exactly when - perhaps about 2008 - prior to your first release?. I heard, a singer songwriter sounding very ‘folky'. To my ear your music was drawing from American and British folk traditions with a leaning towards the Scottish. Principally the influence I heard was that strand of folk that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s –acoustic guitar driven songs with an etherial, meditative element.
On record however - even from your very first recordings you revealed a broader palette of musical influences and a willingness to experiment. Your first release, ‘Cold But Bright’ (2009), was mostly acoustic folk and blues. However, it had a companion CD of collaborative work with artists known for their use of sampling, loops and electronic noises; indicative of an interest beyond the acoustic folk world.
Subsequent outings have made it harder to know 'where you are coming from'. Your music has continued to evolve as you have collaborated with many different artists including, as on your latest release, the album ’Dunbar's Number' with your brother Safetynett. These new recordings are characterised by organic soundscapes, layered guitar parts, drones, harmony singing, repeated patterns, backward guitar and sampling. There are multiple dimensions to your sound and you are unafraid to roam across several genres. The Velvet Underground combined with contemporary Scottish folk music?
Last I saw you live, you where using electric guitar, banks of pedals and lots of weird sounding electronics, generating a ‘big atmospheric sound’ that filled the venue. I could still hear mysterious and etherial folk leanings - but now set within a rich sound landscape. You are clearly determined to do exactly what you want to do. That’s the kind of artist I like. :-)
Jamie Flett: I think 2008 sounds about right, maybe even slightly earlier? I would guess it might well have been the Liquid Ship with Dochan and Padraig at the tiller. I had been (possibly still was) in a ‘rawk’ band but I think I was fed up with the logistics and politics, couldn’t see where it was going or what its sound was for and actually possibly wasn’t in the right headspace at all for that and had ‘gone acoustic’ so I could just go out and play my songs (which sounds perhaps exactly as self-indulgent as it could be accused of being!) You’re probably pretty bang on with the everything else you’ve said in the intro and I wouldn’t feel hard done to at all with that explanation. In terms of ‘where I’m coming from’ maybe what you’re hearing is the sound of a man trying to work that out for himself!
Q: Tell me a bit about you and your background? Growing up?
I grew up in Aberdeen in a pretty standard way I think, or at least I don’t find anything that remarkable about it. I went to the art school up there after secondary school but I think at that tender age I liked the idea of being an artist more than making art and it resulted in me failing to produce the required amount of work so I crashed out and came to Glasgow for a kind of fresh start at the university here instead. I never moved on anywhere else..
Q: Do you remember when you first became interested in music?
Playing CDs on the brand new CD player that my dad got for my mum, must’ve been Billy Ocean, The Beach Boys and Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark! Then realising the system had a turntable I moved on to my dad’s vinyl of Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Best of The Beatles, Nik Kershaw, the first Now That’s What I Call Music, a sixties / seventies compilation of mainly guitar pop-rock called ‘Junior Saw It Happen,’ Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor and a live Jimi Hendrix one called What’d I Say? Among whatever else was there. I was in no way hip or even fussy at this point.
A friend of mine at secondary school’s big brother had an enormous and eclectic collection of vinyl that included much more left field, independent and ‘cool’ music among the pop and chart classics of the day and going round there to hear the gems my friend mined out of that was probably the beginning of my musical mind being opened properly. Hearing Hot Butter’s ‘Popcorn,’ Kraftwerk, Bauhaus, The Smiths, New Order and Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely’ - to name but a few - for the first time expanded my formative mind.
Another friend of mine at school played me loads of alternative, indie and grunge from this country and America on her cassette tape player and her big brother’s record player while we furtively smoked in her room. I’ve probably been a bit of a music snob at times in my misguided journey but the reality is that I’ve always listened to absolutely all sorts, including deeply uncool and potentially ‘embarrassing’ tunes, I just haven’t always admitted it when I liked it… ….or even didn’t like it!
Q: Was there music being played at home? Was your family involved in music on a professional basis?
There wasn’t much in the way of actual instruments being played around our house, no. The aforementioned collections of recorded music were my way in. I did much more listening than playing of instruments until quite late compared to musicians who study music ‘properly.’ It looks a bit sneering of me to put that word in inverted commas, which is not what I mean, perhaps I should say ‘assiduously!’ Or just that there is a kind of accepted path or career for a serious musician and it does usually involve starting quite young for perfectly practical developmental reasons. Anyway, I digress, as I often do and am likely to continue doing here……..
Q: What music and / or artist first inspired you to think this was something you could do?
Another friend of mine in the year or two above at school drunkenly blundered by a bus stop where I was waiting listening to my off-brand Walkman and enquired about what I was listening to. I’m not entirely sure what the answer was or what he made of it but his response was to enthusiastically give me a cassette of John Lee Hooker and sure enough, my mind was blown. He never got the tape back. I got my first electric guitar not long after that (although as it turns out, a lot of the earlier songs where you might assume John Lee is playing electric he’s actually using an acoustic but the combination of his style and the microphone they used to record him give it that electrified feel.) I made a dreadful racket that didn’t sound an awful lot like John Lee’s blues, electric or acoustic.
The other thing that got me thinking was the music teacher at our secondary school, who had offered a module in music to which I turned up and he admitted he hadn’t actually written, so he just asked what I might like to learn and we’d build the course around that. I didn’t have much of a clue so he started showing me how to record stuff into a computer and then showed me how to use a Tascam 4 track recorder. I could layer parts on top of one another so I could play and sing separately and add lead lines on top of that. Mind blown again. Didn’t take long to get a hold of a Tascam 414 of my own.
Albums, singles and EP's by Jamie Flett. Click the image to buy Jamie's music on Bandcamp.
Q: What genre of music do you mostly listen to?
These days I don’t think I mostly listen to any particular genre of music. I’ve gone through phases in my life of only really listening to one style or another but I always eventually feel the need to hear something different so I have no loyalty to any genre at all. I used to moan about disco music in what I thought was some kind of detachedly ironic way but in fact there’s plenty of disco or at least disco flavoured music that I like. I suppose there’s plenty I probably don’t like too but I’ve given up throwing out the baby with the bathwater and try to judge everything on its merits. I know this is a bit like answering “oh, a bit of everything” but I’m well aware there’s more stuff I haven’t managed to listen to than I have so I just try things out and take what I take from it. Life’s too short and music’s too long to be a music snob or stuck in a genre box anymore!
Q: What genre of music would you say you are working in?
Hehehehehehe! See above?!... Honestly I try not to think about that. When it comes to releasing material I usually have to put clumsy labels of some sort on what it is but at the time of creating it I avoid thinking in terms of genre because I think there’s a danger that if you decide that too early you can paint yourself into a corner or end up in the aforementioned ‘genre box.’ All I mean by that is that you find yourself deciding (perhaps not even consciously) that these drums should sound like this and can’t possibly be from a machine or this guitar should have more of an early tube amp twang or whatever it is because, knowingly or not, you’re filtering everything through the prism of the genre you’ve chosen.
Having said that I’ve definitely chosen a ‘sound’ for sections of material that I’m planning to record together because that can make the process easier and smoother by reducing the number of these decisions about how something should sound because you’ve kind of already decided what sort of sonic landscape you’re working in. You could argue that’s not unrelated to your genre and maybe it can indeed end up defining it but so far I’ve never set out to make my own music in a genre.
I have a friend who makes much more experimental music and sometimes when I ask him about what he’s up to he’ll say someone’s challenged him to make a ‘country’ album or he had a go at making ‘disco’ music because he borrowed an iconic disco synth so I have a listen and you can hear some of the tropes or instrumentation from the genre he’s talking about but otherwise it’s just unmistakably him and his kind of inimitable way of doing things. I’d love to be able to do that, work in a genre but remain utterly me but I don’t know if I’d end up being too faithful to the ‘rules’ of whatever music I’d chosen and you’d end up with one of those scenarios where you’ve just done a ‘insert genre here’ album and plonked yourself in it. My feeling is that the reaction to those is usually “why’ve they done that?” It’s a bit like my reaction to cover versions played in exactly the same way as the original, what is the point of that?
Q: I know you as a guitarist - both acoustic and electric - is that what you started on? Do you play any other instruments?
Aye, as I mentioned earlier I jumped right in with a cheap electric guitar starter kit relatively late at around 14 years old maybe? From what I had listened to up to that point and the few people I knew who were musicians and had instruments the guitar seemed like the coolest access point and had the expressive sound I was personally most drawn to at the time. As time goes on I’ve picked up other instruments and to a greater or (mostly) lesser degree some skills in ‘playing’ them. I learned how to use mouth organs to give me another timbre and a break from singing when playing acoustic songs live. I can puddle along to things on a keyboard but I wouldn’t say play it.
If you can play guitar, it’s not a vast leap across to the bass guitar and I picked up some tricks playing the bass for a bluegrass trio for a year or three. I have an accordion that you’ll hear on some of my recorded music, again, I can’t play the accordion but I can pick out enough to help other things swell.
I’m always looking for textures and timbres because I record at home mainly and although I love the throaty roar of my broken down hand me down accordion, I never had any intentions of being Jimmy Shand, I just learned what I needed and did the rest by ear. That hunt for texture is what leads me to try various effects pedals, on everything not just on my guitar, and more recently loops, synthesizers and drum machines.
Q: When did you start writing songs?
I think probably as soon as I had learned some chords on the guitar. I was and am a terrible music student, I have no patience for learning other people’s music. I do it because I know that’s how one learns new things to use in your own music but it’s not something I’ve ever been good at sitting down and dedicatedly approaching, though I did used to use my lunch hours to play other people’s songs on the guitar just as a way of practicing.
When I first started out though I learned the building blocks but didn’t really learn any songs or pieces of music so I had no idea how to fit them together so I suppose what I did was invent bits and pieces that just sounded cool to me based purely and only on the tiny amount I had picked up without any clue as to what I was doing. Thankfully I didn’t record much of that! Although saying that, sometimes now I wistfully wish that I could do something so pure and clueless just to see if there was something in it. That kind of inspiration becomes less and less pure the more you do learn and unavoidably filter your germs of ideas through your accumulated knowledge and experience. I think lots of artists have worked quite hard to get back to that kind of naïve, direct energy and sometimes I deliberately try not to overthink some things with that in mind. It’s easy to chicken out though when you remember your accumulated knowledge and experience. …..what was the question?!
Q: Which songs have inspired you as a writer? Who has influenced you?
Well, again, see above! I started to write a list here but that gets to the stage where I’m thinking ‘if I include that I better include this in case someone trying to get a handle on what I do and they grab the wrong handle..’ then I think ‘should I only include the stuff that fits with what my music sounds like?’ then I realise how patently absurd that is and it kind of brings me to the conclusion that people will hear whatever influences they hear based on what they’ve heard, so giving them a list of what I’ve heard probably doesn’t help much. I understand this question is supposed to give a reader an insight into where I’m musically coming from but I think it probably is the one that music-ists hate the most, i.e. find most difficult to answer or at least struggle to answer the same way more than once! This is quite a long winded way of evading it, is it working?
Here's a list of the artists whose music I’ve apparently been mainly listening to on Spotify of late (to be included or not with my clever-arse answer above, how’s that?!) –
Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Kevin Shields, Nils Frahm, Laraaji, Robert Fripp, Grouper, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Reich, Leonard Cohen, Steve Earle, Ry Cooder, Ali Farka Toure, The Be Good Tanyas, John Martyn, Neil Young, Bert Jansch, Robert Plant, Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Toumani Diabate, Richard Youngs, Gruff Rhys, Mogwai, Kathryn Joseph, My Bloody Valentine, Battles, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Broadcast, Battles, Tortoise, Dirty Three, Super Furry Animals, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Cate Le Bon, Tinariwen, Leftfield, Wilco, Will Cookson, Mount Kimbie, Floating Points, Jeff Buckley, Midlake, Thom Yorke, Alice Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billy Bragg, Richard Dawson, Peter Broderick, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Henryk Gorecki, John Luther Adams, Orbital, New Order, Pixies, Talk Talk, Mark Hollis, The Cure, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye.
Which is not an unrepresentative list but it doesn’t cover it and I’m not sure what it tells someone else other than my taste is reasonably wide ranging and I can tell you here that it ranges further too.
Q: Do you have a writing process? If so can you describe it?
Not really or not necessarily is probably the answer to that. I think it’s good to change the way that you do things reasonably regularly too, to try and avoid things getting stale or boring but also just because there are so many approaches to try.
Very traditionally I have notebooks, more than one because I started more than one at different times and that’s just what I’ve got now, it can make it a bit tricky to find something specific if I’m looking for it but it’s not unmanageable and there are many notes saying ‘see wee red book note’ or something along those lines. That in itself is perhaps an insight into the way that I sometimes ‘assemble’ things from ideas I’ve apparently had separately but that I later realise function on the same theme or maybe just work together aesthetically. I pick things up from whatever I’m reading or things I’ve been watching or listening to on the radio, that might be other music but it might be programs about anything from science to philosophy to maths. I do a fair bit of wandering about with my dog these days and that’s brilliant for freeing your mind to do its own wandering, that in turn can be great for more abstract thought, for problem solving and for inspirations that seem to appear from nowhere.
This being the modern world I also use a note taking app on my phone for lyrics or ideas and also for words and phrases that catch my eye or resonate somehow, they’re often good for titles or for expanding out into a song idea. Inevitably I also use a recorder app to grab sound snippets of the feel of a musical idea before I lose it. It isn’t always easy to write down how you played something that gave it just what you wanted it to have. The recorder’s also good for quickly identifying what might be the best feel for the same musical idea that you could play in different ways because you can hear it back to see what works.
I also do that on the fly in my recording software too, when I’ve just recorded a bassline or a synth part or a beat or whatever and I just grow a song or an arrangement out of that by layering up other elements then carving out a shape for it all. I’ve been working like that more recently but it can take a while because things can be a bit organic and shapeless for quite a while before you start to hear the form that you’re trying to allow to emerge.
This is all quite different to how I used to work out a chord progression and maybe some kind of riffs on the acoustic guitar then see what was in the notebooks that fitted the mood and metre of whatever I had and that would help to define a structure that would generally be pretty well decided before I started any recording.
I’ve alluded to my lack of actual musical training before and that’s why I’ve almost never started with a melody and harmonised chords for it until more recently when I thought I might give it a go with (predictably as far as I’m concerned) twisted results. I listen to a few of the folky, fingerpicking guitarists of the 60s and 70s and I think I probably tried emulating them but without ever learning proper fingerstyle guitar. That meant that I developed a way of playing scrambled, broken arpeggios with a plectrum instead of just strumming chords which, in my mind, added a bit of life to the playing and I transferred that to my electric playing too so it’s just ended up as my own ‘style’ whatever that is. A guitar teacher would probably be appalled at the bad habits I’ve taught myself but they’d be quite tough to break now and that’s certainly been my experience when I’ve tried learning the ‘right’ way to do some things. I can appreciate and marvel at brilliantly technical playing but in the end something about it turns me off usually so I’ve no ambition to be a virtuoso.
Maybe sometimes I find my limitations on my own chosen instrument mean I’m looking for these other textures and sounds to play with, so in recent times I’ve been using music apps on my phone, acquired some basic synth modules and a couple of drum machines and I’ve been teaming all these things up with the effects I already use for my guitar and using loops generated with a loop pedal. This has meant different ways of working and sometimes it’s a bit like playing with the toys until something interesting happens and going from there, or maybe creating one part that has something and using the other stuff to build around that jumping off point.
All this means I’m having to work out an approach to lyrics which I’d have to admit that right now is pretty fluid, so we’ll see, everything is open as far as that goes. Although it feels to me like a strange time to be writing lyrics. With everyone online, on social media, on phones messaging and writing all the time I’m finding it hard to find and decide what I’m trying to distill or what I want to say, or maybe what it’s worth saying. What can you say in the face of everyone saying everything, all the time? Who will you resonate with and how? I also feel like that probably shouldn’t matter so much or that I shouldn’t worry about it but words and lyrics have always been quite important and integral to the music I’ve made so it’s another habit that’s difficult to break.
Trying different techniques for generating lyrics has given me some interesting results but I begin to doubt them when I start to question if they’re just so oblique that what can anyone take from them? I know that isn’t up to me though, regardless of what I write and that I’m definitely overthinking it at the moment, as is clear (or not, as the case may be) from the last few sentences!
Q: How do your songs get started? Do you have a process? A consistent way of working that generates ideas? Or is it more random?
I think I’ve probably answered this as well as I can already above.
Q: Tell me about the recording process for your last album?
My last release is ‘Dunbar’s Number’ which is a joint effort made with my brother Andy, known as Safetynett. We’ve always made music as a way of socialising and also of using ideas that either one or other of us haven’t been sure what else to do with. So we would just organize to meet and share whatever we had and see if it elicited a response, an idea or a reaction from the other, if it did, it often – though not always - became clear fairly rapidly what we could do with it so I might go away and write some lyrics or Andy would come up with a countermelody or program some beats. We agreed that this material was never intended to be played live so we freed ourselves from worrying about how we could technically reproduce anything and just began building pieces by recording parts either in my back room or in my brother’s flat mate’s living room, which is basically set up as a bodged recording studio. We then shared files or did sessions together in the two different places and I worked on whatever was on my computer separately and Andy worked on what we’d recorded on his flat mate’s machine. So some of it was done together and some separately and then we had each to make our case for (read: have an argument about) what worked and what didn’t, what something might need next or whether it should be left alone and how things should be edited and mixed.
We didn’t actually approach Dunbar’s Number as a coherent group but rather it gravitated together out of a whole pile of material that we threw at the wall, that’s why there are two more releases to follow hot on the heels of it. On this one I guess these were the songs we did when we were in more acoustic-y, lyrical moods but they weren’t particularly intended to sit together initially.
Q: Do you record/produce your own records? What does that involve?
Making mistakes mainly. It’s a constant learning process. I’ve had an ancient laptop (barely) running my recording software for years and its technical and memory limitations mean I’ve stuck to keeping things pretty simple, using the computer as a glorified tape recorder which fitted with my lack of technical knowledge and skills, so if it sounded good then it was good. I think I’ve learned to be a bit more critical of the actual ‘sound’ of things that I’ve recorded and now I do listen back to things I’ve done previously and realise how rough and ready my approach has often been. For example, I hear things that I remember ‘fixing’ with software plugins that now I would just make more effort to record in a better way in the first place. Also my ambition outstripped my technical skill in a few places but I’ve made efforts to improve that. I still use an old laptop but I’ve acquired some more gear and some more understanding of how it works / how to use it over the years that makes the sounds going into it a bit easier to control and optimize so I’m hoping the recordings I’m making now will sound much ‘cleaner’ and be generally be more pleasant to listen to from a technical ‘sonic’ point of view. Whether you think the actual music is worth listening to is a whole other point altogether!
I don’t know if I would always recommend recording and producing things entirely by yourself mind you, it gives you total control but you also have to accept full responsibility. You don’t have to try and explain your ideas to someone else who may be more or less interested in helping you realise them but you do have to find a way to try and realise them without necessarily having the knowledge and skills you might need readily to hand. You also don’t necessarily have someone to bounce ideas off which can make it more difficult or at least a more drawn out process to get past problems, projects that have stalled or blocks. And there’s always the doubt, the feeling that you’re doing it wrong somehow or that it would be much better if you only knew the ‘proper’ way to do it. Taking away that burden by working with someone who focuses on that side of things can free you up to be more creative about what you’re doing musically or lyrically.
Q: If you are home recording what DAW do you use?
I’m happiest using Cubase and that’s what’s on my computer at the moment but I’ve used free versions of various things like Nuendo (fancy Cubase) or Reaper and we’ve used ProTools in proper studios and at my brother’s flatmate’s living room studio. I think my brother’s quite into Ableton now so he might do stuff in that which we would then get into Cubase to be adding other elements.
Q: I see your latest recording is a collaborative project. I know you regularly collaborate with other artists. How do these collaborations come about? What are the strengths and weaknesses of collaboration over working alone.
Paradoxically, for all that I write and record and create alone a lot of the time, music is fundamentally about communication, connecting and sharing so I think collaboration is something that I have an urge hardwired in me to do and maybe it’s necessary so that you don’t allow yourself to get entirely lost at sea or disappear to your place where the sun doesn’t shine. Possibly all musicians have that urge, a genetic reminder of what social creatures we are, there’s nothing like playing music with and for other people and creating music with other people is an extension of that. You learn about each other, about music, about different approaches, different ways to think about things and usually, crucially, you have a laugh!
Working with someone else is a great way to learn how to deal with your own and someone else’s ego which is an invaluable skill in producing anything creatively. You need to be able to compromise sometimes or defend your position at other times and pick the battles worth fighting. Admittedly, it doesn’t always work that way. Just because you may have learned some of these social skills and are prepared to compromise and discuss possibilities it doesn’t mean the other person or people you’re working with function the same way. I didn’t learn any of this stuff except through – sometimes painful – experience and I’ve been the immovable ego myself, stalling progress by my refusal to adapt or binning projects because they didn’t conform to my vision, forgetting that there were others involved who didn’t necessarily entirely share that vision and had something to share and bring to the table themselves. You sometimes have to acknowledge that you don’t have the meeting of minds that you thought you might and that what you try just doesn’t work too well. It’s good to realise that this isn’t a disaster, especially if you learned something along the way. Occasionally you just need to draw a line under it or through it and move on to something more fruitful.
There aren’t necessarily always conflicts and if there are, usually you need to find ways to resolve them, which is another trick that’s useful beyond whatever project you happen to be working on. When you get used to sharing the ideas and decisions you get more used to sharing the responsibility for the results too, so you’re perhaps more inclined to ‘think the unthinkable’ or go along with ideas or ways of doing things that you would not normally consider as valid. The beauty of that is it can actually change the way you think and can alter your approaches beyond the project you’re working on together.
Combining two (or more) creative energies can, when it works in the best way, make for the situation where the sum becomes greater than the parts, the different elements and various ideas that may not have stood very steadily on their own get reinforced by the other input and evolve or solidify into a more powerful result. If you’re really lucky, a good collaborator might even make you your lunch in the middle.
Q: When recording your own material do you use session musicians or friends or a combination.
I can’t afford session musicians! I play most of the parts myself unless I’m collaborating, for example with my brother. When we’re doing that sometimes it’s a 50 / 50 split, sometimes it’s more uneven depending on what one or other of us has got and how reactive we are to each other’s contributions and ideas. Actually, whether I’m ‘officially’ collaborating with him or not he usually plays some part or sings on the majority of the music I’ve recorded. I get friends to help out when I want an instrument I can’t hope to play well enough, like the violin, on a recording or if we’re doing a recording session and someone is there who has an idea of a part they could play I usually get them to have a go. Either that or I get my friends to come and jam with a view to playing songs live and when their parts become integral to the song in that format I want them included in the recorded version. A lot of that can depend on the timing of the writing / recording / jamming / gigging and who happens to be available. As I say, I can’t usually pay them except in lager and Guinness (other stouts are available) so we’ve always had to have versions of songs with and without different parts, sometimes that helps to keep things fresh. My brother’s flat mate and friend of ours actually recorded a ‘live’ version of a few songs in his living room studio that became an album ‘Live at the Lizard Lounge’ (available on Bandcamp!) just because of the way we played them with that group of us, which was a bit different to the way I’d recorded most of them.
Q: Did the recording process of your latest release go smoothly? If not what issues did you have to deal with?
Well, ‘smoothly’ is relative isn’t it? When I’m working with my brother - like on Dunbar’s Number, the last thing we released - smoothly means the arguments only reach a certain level of heat and we eventually reach a settlement if not an actual agreement. That’s expected and it’s just the way we work. We speak to each other in a way we would never speak to friends that come to jam or help us out recording parts because they wouldn’t put up with it! I think we’re better these days at remembering what we’re doing is an attempt at art, which isn’t usually a matter of life and death, certainly at the level where we operate with a relatively very small audience. Bearing that in mind also gives us a fair bit of freedom because there aren’t really any expectations of us and the main pressures only come from ourselves trying to reproduce what’s in our minds and wanting what we produce not to be rubbish.
All this ‘doing whatever the hell we like’ doesn’t tend to dovetail particularly neatly with music industry practices so we’ve always had to have day jobs to pay the bills, resulting in time being a valuable resource all too speedily and freely squandered. Fitting in sessions to jam, write and record means working more quickly than might be ideal sometimes and there’s a tendency to just go “that’s fine” so you can keep moving with something when ideally a bit more attention to detail would probably have been good.
Our friend Grant who plays drums for us came to a recording session at Andy’s flat mate, Kev’s living room studio one day, never having heard the music we were asking him to play on and not only supplied really convincing and committed takes with me conducting him as to what was about to happen, but the whole session was taking place at the same time as Kev negotiated by text message with his neighbour about how long said neighbour could reasonably be expected to put up with a full drum kit being played just through the wall. We came to the last song we wanted Grant to play on and Kev announced we could only do one take otherwise he’d be evicted. So we did and Grant got it in one.
What we recorded that day was rough and ready in some ways but in others it was perfect, so we went with it and used what we had instead of trying to get ‘better’ takes under less time pressure. That’s an example of how for me, often this time squeeze actually helps keep things quite fresh and interesting, both in terms of the process and performances but sometimes when it comes to pulling the mixes together and getting the best out of what you’ve got you realise the things that could’ve been done better and where the technical flaws are. It’s then a balance between how much to try and ‘fix’ in terms of sound and performances and how much of the ‘mistakes’ or unintentional elements are part of the thing. Getting that balance can end up taking the time that you saved in bashing it down quickly onto a track without too much regard for the physics of sound or recording best practice. Fitting short bursts of creativity and activity in around work, life and other projects can also interrupt the flow somewhat, means you have to kind of switch between different timelines and maybe gives you too much time to think about things in-between times. This ‘fitting in’ approach with no external pressures does also mean that things take ages. I think we started recording some of these tracks over five years ago and only really went back to finish them when we started to see them vaguely coalescing into groups.
Q: What song of your own are you most proud of or is your favourite? Why?
This is a bit like the dreaded ‘influences’ question. I’m relatively happy with different things I’ve done for different reasons but it’s all flawed and so it should be. It’s natural that I notice the things that I could’ve done better but you’ve got to move on to the next thing. Inevitably the song I’m proudest of is the one I’m working on right now because it’s fresh and exciting but you can’t hear that ‘til it’s done, at which point when I hear it I’ll be thinking about the various things I could’ve / should’ve done a bit differently but all I can do is try and learn those lessons and keep them in mind for the next thing. Successfully evaded again?
Q: What's next?
The next thing is to release ‘Hyperobjects’ which is the second album in this trilogy from me and Safetynett, after that there’s another one whose title is yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile, we’ve also recorded some more ambient, experimental music with a completely different approach which may get released once it’s been tidied up a bit. I’m also working on my solo music just now and I’m getting a bit more time than usual to actually get it done because of the lockdown so there may be something to share soonish.
When I’ve had a chance I’ve been working with Robert Macleod, the man who mastered Dunbar’s Number and the other impending albums who is also an artist on my minimicrolabel Rain Goose Recordings. We have various things simmering away but don’t get to meet that often so progress is more stately but we’re going to share some files through the interpipes since we can’t meet at all at the moment so something else will eventually come out of the projects we’ve started. There are one or two conversations happening about what other music might go out through Rain Goose from different people too. I’m not going to even mention live music just now. It’s all off until we’re out the other side of our current predicament. I’m not technically set up or sufficiently rehearsed for the live interweb gigs either. I don’t want to just play my acoustic into my phone on Facebook because I lost patience with those almost as soon as the lockdown started. I can fully understand why folk are doing them and I’m not knocking anyone appreciating them but I don’t feel that I need to add to them, that was partly why we got on with releasing the recorded music that we had, although I realise that not every musician will have three albums worth of material ‘on standby’ for an occasion such as this!
Q: Do you have any advice for beginner songwriters / musicians?
Don’t listen to me. Listen to music, all the music. Follow your own path and find your own way of doing it. Maybe ask yourself why you’re doing it and what you want to get out if it so you know honestly what you’re working towards, if anything, and what it’s worth for you to get to that. Don’t lose sight of what it was that made you begin to make a racket and if it was fame and money, be prepared to sacrifice control, possibly aspects of your identity and wade through a fair amount of shit for perhaps not quite as much money as you expected. Remember not to listen to me. Just make stuff up….