Once upon a time...... (2007)
Pencil Songs (2010)
Hi, how are you?
Fine thanks. A little bit caffeine buzzy but basically Ok.
Which instruments do you play?
Guitar and Piano mostly, but also some bass, drums, flute etc. most things really apart from violin family.
What made you decide to be a solo artist and not want to be in a band?
Well. I didn't really decide it but that's how it happened. I kind of like a guitar style which does bass and melody so perhaps my band mates felt left out. Also I like odd timing changes and clever harmony and would probably need a band who have deep knowledge of world music and classical harmony. The kind of band I'd like I haven't been able to attract, but hope to sometime.
Do you work with the same musicians when recording as you do when performing live?
Well I've only recorded once properly, but I play with them live when we can.
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t yet heard you?
I always try and always fail. I usually say that it's kind of folky, but that where normal folk is quite woody, mine is a bit more foresty. Which doesn't make much sense except that I find forests some how more mysterious than wood.
What have you been up to recently?
Usual stuff. Gigs, running the open mic, trying to get more guitar students, making music videos, trying to get a manager, applying for gigs, researching where to go next with this music madness. Day to day stuff. Not writing too many songs though. Not like usual. Only written one good song this year. But everyone likes it.
What can your fans look forward to in the next 12 months?
Well. I don't really have too many fans at the moment to be honest, so my fans can look forward to becoming my fans. I will be releasing five music videos, performing regularly, and trying to cause some controversy to get in the papers.
Did you always want to be a musician/singer when younger?
Not really. I'm told I always liked to entertain and was a bit of a loner, playing with toys by myself. I didn't really know what I wanted to be and definitely fell into music rather than choosing it.
Photograph by Takuya Furukubo
What music did you listen to while growing up?
I'm still growing up. But 0-10 I listened to capital gold in the car (with Dad) and Motown at Mum's family's parties - They're Guyanese. My Dad fancied himself as a bit of a Rick Nelson. (He has the same initials too). As a teenager it was Blur, Radiohead and Weezer mostly as I rebelled against my brother's and parents tastes. Didn't find the stuff I liked in my twenties till my twenties.
How long have you been involved with writing & performing music?
13 years. Started as a deep thinking school kid with his first electric guitar aged 16.
What was your first music making experience?
Destroying the toy drum kit I got when I was ten. (I think it was intended for 5 year olds.) I learnt piano at school.
What is your current equipment?
My current guitar is a Simon and Patrick folk guitar with heavy resonance. It defines my sound and I've had it and we've moulded into each other over the last 8 years.
Are you self-taught or did you have lessons?
As I said I had piano lessons but gave up when I was 14. Guitar I'm self taught after a friend showed me the riff to My Iron Lung on a nylon guitar, but had friends around that time who played, so in the beginning we all learnt off each other.
If you had an unlimited equipment budget what would be on your shopping list?
I'm not really to bothered about equipment to be honest but a sound card that could mean I could record a whole room of people at once would be fab.
Do you use the same equipment live as you do when in a studio?
I've only been in a studio once and, Yes.
Do you have a set routine when writing and recording or does it depend on each track and the inspiration?
Well I've only recorded properly once and each track was different. But basically it's the same. You want to catch a vibe, you want the song to come out in recording or writing without too much forcing. Though you want to be Zen so by the time it has come out, you've adjusted to it's (the songs) desires, and it is defined and happy.
Which software/recording process do you use?
I'm not a fan of computer based rhythm. I like oceanic rhythms with ebb and flow. I record with microphones and ideally at least one other musician so we can lock into each other and wrestle out some kind of beautiful thing from the air of that moment as the song tries to be born inside the recorded dimension.
Would you sign with a major record company?
Well. Yes. I'm totally anti-corporate. Never buy anything and I'm quite out of the system. But if they offered me a busy touring schedule, and the freedom to exist as an artist, I would have to accept. There would be many demands from my side though, such as - No adverts, No high cheesy production. I'd have to have major input on the production. No huge billboards with cheesy smiles. Probably unlikely that I'd be suitable for a major label anyway.
Do you have any new recordings planned?
Well, just did the last one not long ago and the pot is dry. The next album is ready, but need time and money to record, so hopefully end of 2011.
How much involvement do you have with the arranging and production of the songs when recording?
This time, I did it all. I tried working with producers, but they all love the cliches. I don't believe in doing what everyone else is doing anyway. If everyone else is doing it then it's already there so why do I need to do it too! Next time though, I'd like to work with a sound engineer. But finding a personality to work with isn't easy, because I'm not pushy, but know very well what I want. So producers usually either annoy me by giving too much or not enough.
Is the production side of things something you’d like to get involved more in the future, maybe working with other artists?
Production for me is a huge event. Potentially you're making something which can last a long time. I'd love the idea of cosying down with a group of artists for 6 months to really get right inside the songs and lay it all down beautifully. That's like adream.
Do you find the process of recording enjoyable and does it get easier the more you do?
It's enjoyable if you can forget the world around you and fall into it. As an artistic process it's quite time consuming. Writing a song can usually be done in 6 hours or a day, but recording takes much longer. If you can afford the time and space to get into it, i find it really enjoyable. I've only done it twice and the the second time was much better. Don't think it was easier though, because when you have the basics under your belt the goals get bigger.
Do you try to capture your ‘live’ sound on recordings or do you think that the ‘live’ sound and recorded sound should be different experiences for your fans?
They are completely different anyway. For a live sound you have to be outside your house, in a room with other people. I talk on stage, but not on a recording. However, a recording should I think be alive. And I try to capture an alive sound when recording, so that the listener, if so inclined could listen beyond the recording and imagine us playing the song. At a gig, there is more scope for the odd mistake, and in terms of notes a recording should be near perfect, but slight imperfections in other ways will make the recording always sound a bit different.
Photograph by Steven Knight
Do you have any favourite tracks on your album?
I like all the tracks. My favourite is probably Happy 42, but I also really like the sausage roll song, and in the car like doors on the shores, but basically I like it all. I didn't want to make an album with any stand out songs. I gave them each the same amount of care in the recording and in the writing, and feel they each have their own unique personalities, which I like all equally.
Do you write songs/tracks only about personal experiences?
Not always about personal experiences, but definitely always from personal experiences. Sometimes though you're filled with some emotion and you don't know what it is and words come out that seem to be unrelated to you, but like a dream that expresses deeper feelings through seemingly abstract images, so with song-writing i find, that the mind sometimes creates symbols and stories about aspects of your experience that maybe you don't even know are going on. Sometimes songs seem to pre-empt the experience they're about.
Do you find song writing easy or difficult?
I don't usually try to force songs, so when they come they do seem to come easily, although when they do come, I pace around the house bursting with an energy, and it's a kind of pain in a way but quite pleasurable too. And sometimes I have to wait ages for songs, which isn't easy.
Is there anyone who you would like to collaborate with on writing songs or performing?
I do collaborate with people performing, but I'm quite indifferent to it. I can't imagine collaborating on songwriting, though I did write a song once with a girlfriend and that was magic. That was her song though, which I helped get out. If someone could help me get some songs out of my soul that I can't at present i'd love to work with them, and if I could do the same with them, well that would be a great partnership. Where is this person? I don't know.
Who are your favourite songwriters?
John Lennon is my favourite for his really personal, post Beetle songs, uncovered with clever words, or quirky images, but somehow always outside of chiche. One of my favourites is Jimi Hendrix actually. I love his images and song shapes.
Which countries have you gigged in?
England, Wales and Scotland. That's terrible. I haven't even been to Ireland. I'm afraid of gigging abroad because I've always thought that my songs were too based in the lyrics. I'm gonna try France and Spain though. Thank you. That's my challenge for the new year.
Which countries would be at the top of your list to tour?
Mali and around Africa. Why not? A lot of my inspiration comes from there and I think we'd learn alot.
How do you promote your music and get your music out to new fans?
Which music promotion websites do you use and do you have a favourite?
This is an area I need help. Please tell me.
Do you think such sites and the internet are good tools for independent and unsigned artists?
I don't know. The internet is like a tube station and packed trains are whizzing by all the time. Being on the internet has made me think that I need videos, because just listening with your ears, which is what music normally is, doesn't seem compatible with the pace of the cyber-highway.
With all the various websites out there for independent and unsigned artists, is there still something that is missing from them that you think would benefit the lesser-known artists?
I'm really not sure.
How do you relax?
I'm quite relaxed anyway, but also hyper, so I relax by walking around the city or country, reading books, going to mum's house (although there are always jobs to be done there), hanging out with friends, going on trips by bus to other countries. It depends on the day and the level of relaxation needed.
What's your best/worst experience at a gig?
My emotions go up and down a lot. I once had a solo gig and lots of people came, but the whole time on stage I was thinking how bad I was. I could hardly contain my frustration. I walked home very depressed. Best gig is hard to say. My album launch was great because everyone came, and the room was packed and everyone was really supportive, I didn't play amazingly but the energy was beautiful. Also had a great gig when everything else was going wrong, but on the stage it all came out and the band were fab, I'd toured all summer, so I was on form, the bassist kept joining in with unrehearsed, but perfect harmonies and we all went on a great big trip.
Do you get nervous before a gig- how do you calm down?
I do get nervous before a gig, but don't have a set routine of what to do about it. Every gig is different.
What else do you do apart from being a singer/songwriter?
I'm presently trying to branch into other fields - writing a short story, tried scoring a film. Also I teach guitar and piano. It's hard to figure it all out at the moment with such an uncertain future.
Would you like to be a full time working musician or are you happy with things as they are?
I want to be a full-time working musician.
Has your music been used on any film soundtracks?
Actually, the film i tried to score didn't work out. She chose me because of a song she liked a lot, 'Do You Notice', which she used when the credits roll in the film. I'd love to be used by more film makers.
Is composing for film & tv something you’d like to get involved in if the opportunity came along?
Oops. Well, as I said, I did it once. I'm going to try again in the near future. Thanks for reminding me.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
That was my first ever interview. Very different from the interviews I've daydreamt about. Hope you enjoyed it. Have a good day.
Neil in a Bubble photograph taken by Neil Warburton