FEATURE: Order, Order! Why Modern Music Would Benefit from Its Own Democratic Government

FEATURE:

 

Order, Order!

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ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash

Why Modern Music Would Benefit from Its Own Democratic Government

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THIS is an idea I tossed around last year...

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I am looking out at our own government and, for want of a better expression, feel they are making too many mistakes – there are harsher words I could attribute to their brand of leadership! It has been a shambolic and chaotic past couple of years and, as we plunge into this year with a mixture of fear and anger; I have been thinking how music can exert more influence. It is not, as I have stated, potent enough to change society as quickly as we need. Another concept I have been playing with is a music charity/body that, not only brings old and new music in an organised and effective way – it helps raise money for charities, causes and musicians. This idea, then, feeds into that: a cabinet/structure in modern music where specific people are designated to parent various aspects of the industry. At the moment; a lot of power is exerted by few: record labels, streaming services and big-business seem to have more control and influence than anyone else. They need to have that dominance, I guess. Artists need representation so, if we were to undo the current order; that might lead to devastating disorder. I am not suggesting we rid music of all the oligarchs, huge labels and streaming services: simply, introduce new bodies, people and departments to music. Look at any government and there are various ministers for each department...

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IN THIS PHOTO: The White House

We have someone in charge of health (apparently!) and education; a Foreign Secretary and local politicians. Music is a huge and unwieldy industry that is in need of organisation and a certain compartmentalisation. I am suggesting we assign our own ‘ministers’ to protect various parts of music. For one, I would like to see a Minister for Venues. It does not have to be a single human taking on all the responsibility: several people, in each part of the U.K., could take on the role. It would mean they’d be charged with studying venues and their profitability. They could launch funding initiatives and discuss ways to preserve them. We have ministers in Parliament who are assigned to the arts – it is hard to know what impact they are making on their music industry. I worry, in such a huge industry, there is a lack of organisation and discipline. I feel venues, and their frailty in certain regions, is something we need to tackle. The minister(s) could take on other roles but it would be a full-time role where they would travel around their area and, not only ensure the venues are protected and growing – they would think of initiatives and ideas to increase its status and survival chances. London, especially hot with venues, might have several appointed arbiter: smaller regions would only need the one (person). That is not the only area of music that could benefit from governance.

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Mental-health and wellbeing are concerns that never leave my mind. I worry artists and music personnel are suffering and having too much pressure put on them. The debt placed on our health service, because of stress and psychological issues, is profound. It is that ‘silent demon’ that stalks and bites – something difficult to control and temporise. I feel, because there is a lot of mental-health concerns in music; we should have a department that looks after that side of things. It would be a combination of medical professionals – G.P.s and psychiatrists – alongside councillors and advisors. Not only would they pitch for funding – to ensure we can provide better care for artists – but raise awareness and provide direct support. Whilst treatment and one-on-one discussion are needed: working with other departments to reduce the epidemic of mental-health, and its nefarious tongue, is paramount! I feel this government could operate through bicameralism: having one ‘government’ in the U.K. and another in the U.S., maybe? There would be local representatives, which I will come to, but it would not be localised and entirely run in Britain. Like our own government; I feel having people in charge of education and international affairs is important. In terms of ‘education’; it would be a combination of pushing music back onto the syllabus; ensuring there is a more visible musical programme on our curriculum. We could visit schools and ensure students are being taught music as part of their daily education – not just having access to these courses through higher education.

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Putting music back into schools is vital. Funding could be raised and discussions held with our own Government. We could affect change so that music education is not reserved to those who can afford it – and limited to colleges and universities. There are music syllabuses in schools but it is not as prolific and widespread as it once was. Education involves, as I will show, integrating with other departments – raising awareness of big issues affecting the industry. From a simple audio standpoint; ensuring older music is preserved and brought to new negotiations is important. Someone could look after streaming services and look at how older and new artists are represented there. Maybe, they could look at various trends in music and predict where the industry is heading. There is a lot we can teach musicians and listeners alike; maybe having archivist that would look at bygone music and ensure its potency and legacy remains. Alongside various educational considerations is a moral and conscientious bent. There is a lot of sexism and racism in the industry - and a need to stem it. Not only do many in music need education and informing – what they are doing wrong and how we can improve – but the industry as a whole needs to change the way it views female artists and minorities. Raising schemes and discussing reorganisation would be good. That might be ways of having more female artists in headliner spots; ensuring there is less sexualisation and discrimination; ensuring, too, there is parity in the business!

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The same goes for minority musicians: making sure they are not overlooked and given the same opportunities at award ceremonies, in the industry and at festivals. Having a Minister for Festivals, like (a) venues representative, could foster and support new festivals: ensure existing ones run smoothly and are provided as much funding and promotion is provided. This would be a smaller role but one that could link with education, too, and raise issues surrounding festivals – drugs deaths and weather-related issues. It is a wide spectrum (education) but a role that definitely needs to be created. I have mentioned, already, local representative and how they could change music – and link with the Education representatives. Each town/city has a music industry. From gigs and promotion through to educating and encouraging new musicians in that area – so much good work that could be done. It might sound like a lot of work but there is a need for structure and progression. In terms of foreign links; I mentioned how the U.S. could adopt a similar approach. A musical Foreign Secretary(ies) could build bridges with other nations: promoting British music and, in terms of other artists and potential touring acts; liaise with them and – with the support of venues – arrange performances. British music is well-known around the world but a lot of our unsigned/new artists are restricted to the U.K. An envoy/cultural attaché would provide the link between nations: bring stunning international sounds to our shores.

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The idea for any (proposed) government body would be those international links. I would like to see British representation in London, Manchester; Bristol, Brighton and Glasgow. There would be bases in each city and concentration here – spreading out the departments and ministers/secretaries so everything is not focused in London. The same goes for America: New York and L.A. (maybe two bases in each); Nashville and Austin would be great locations – maybe branching into Seattle and Detroit, too. I want Australia involved too; have bases in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane; Perth, too. Not only would we concentrate on live and recorded music: T.V. and radio would have representation, too. They are crucial outlets for music (radio especially) so promoting stations and creating easy links between radio/T.V. producers is key. Working with the biggest radio stations; events could be created to promote their great work; linking them with other stations around the world – ensuring we augment our finest T.V. and radio brands. For artists; there is always that desire to get their music heard and played. It can be hard finding an audience and willing ear! Having designated people working with musicians to forge ties – and get their material heard – is another important point. In addition to all these departments/points must come business and social aspects.

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By ‘business’; I mean focusing on music business and finance: from record labels/deals through to the way artists are paid; trade and ties with international sources and contracts. Ensuring there is finance available, as I will finish up with, is crucial. That can be anything from artists being paid on streaming services; ensuring there is capital going into venues and festivals – looking at the wages of radio and T.V. talent (ensuring there is an attempt at parity). One of the other big departments – there will be lots of smaller chambers – is the social side of things. Again; this is quite broad. Someone will be employed to create greater social links and collaboration between artists. Not only would we look to create more social gatherings, events and opportunities: looking at social media, and the way it is run, is pressing. Maybe creating a bespoke site that integrates social media and something musically bespoke. It means a musician/fan is not online longer than they need to be. A site would produce information, useful tools and software; options that allow fans to connect with a great range of music – artists the chance to bond with others and find chances in the industry. That is, pretty much, the outline of the proposal – other departments, facets and details would come in if the idea became reality.

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I feel there is a real need for something huge and committed that deals with every part of music. The considerations would be, I guess: how is integrates and communications with the Government; how it will be funded and sustained; whether its ‘core’ – where it is all run from – would be a physical base or online presence. It would be a separate entity from our Government. The music cabinet – not sure what it is called yet! – would try and work with the Culture Secretary and Prime Minister at various points. It is prudent, when implementing changes to the music industry, there is conferencing with Downing Street. So we do not contradict the Government – or clash with them; weaken the work being carried out – there would be conversation and cooperation. This project/government would not be part of our elected. There would be mutual understanding - but the reason for launching this is to do work our Government are not! Making it all a fiscal reality is the biggest challenge. One hopes the government would designate a certain budget for this movement – as we are not undermining them; merely adding support and taking on great responsibility – and the desire to get more involved with music (in all genres and settings) should be reason enough to reap the reward. Like streaming sites and commercial stations; a lot of the funding would come from sponsors and big businesses.

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That is not to say (this government) would be corporate shills and money-grabbing types: we would work with them and ensure our ethics and motives are pure. I am looking at corporations like Samsung, Google and Microsoft – maybe Amazon and Facebook. In exchange for a yearly stipend – and subsiding – there would be chances for brand promotion, advertising and commercial expansion. The details are slight at the moment but it would not see banners and slogans painted on cars (metaphorically-speaking): there would be a contract drawn that meant musicians, fans and the businesses themselves would all benefit…without anyone having to sell their soul. That may seem impossible but getting that capital from the big businesses ensures the music government can survive, expand and make effective changes. In regards the physical manifestation of the initiative – many wonder what shape it will take. We cannot, unfortunately, build anything as grand and commodious as the Houses of Parliament. It would be a split between online visibility and physical presence. The latter is most important: making sure there are actual bases for the proposal/government. (They would be situated in the cities I mentioned earlier). It would start as offices but, as the idea grew; more would spring up and we could be more ambitious with size/locations...

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I am keen, even though it is a music-based enterprise, to link closely with film and T.V. Not only is it important to get high-profile actors and figures involved; there is a visual aspect to music that has existed for decades. Putting more money into music videos means we can create stunningly imaginative works – ensure new artists have more money to create something terrific. Linking with actors means there is a communication channel between artists/directors and talent. It would open up new chances and horizons. I am interested seeing whether there is the possibility of a music show/channel; something that can find backing/funding from a big service like Netflix or Amazon. It is not only personalities from music and film I am keen to act as ambassadors of this government. Incredible supporters of music like Barack Obama – not the first name you might have considered! – could lend their voice and, with services like Spotify, take music to new lands – and help make real changes in the industry. It is all ideas and propositions at the moment but I feel, in time, the only way we can affect genuine shifts in music – including getting more working-class musicians into the mainstream; more working-class journalists at big papers – is to work together and form something productive.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Former U.S. President, Barack Obama

I know something good could happen and, if it started out as a social media-based poll – how many would object to such a government? It would work a lot more effectively and democratically than our own and, as finances come in and changes are made; it could push into other areas of society and make a difference. That is not to say the world will be changed: one cannot discount the possibility something big could come about! It is about starting strong and ensuring the flame is not extinguished. It might take years before something real and visible comes into the world: money will need to be found and serious organisation undertaken. The music industry is a wonderful thing and is inspiring countless artists to add their voice to it. The swell and diversity of the industry, coupled with problems and conflicts, means something needs to be done. There are great charities, bodies and people who help guide and shape music but, the larger the industry becomes; the more hands required. A bespoke musical government would alleviate some of the pressure and recruit musicians, professional and musical fans into the government – a democratic and eclectic body. If music, and all its layers and levels can have that consistent and multi-department care; I feel a stronger and more equal industry can come about. We could poll the masses (to get feedback) and I am confident, when the ballots close, the result will be something…

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IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of L.A., U.S.A.

EVERYONE can agree on.

INTERVIEW: Timsters

INTERVIEW:

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Timsters

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THE past couple of days have been an international affair…

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that is no danger of slowing down! I have stepped from the U.K. into Europe; over to Canada – it is now back to Europe! French artist Timsters tells me about his new single, Gone, and how it came together; how all those sounds and flavours unify and flow; the artists/sounds that compel him – and what it is like running the label, Elephant & Castle.

I learn more about Timsters’ creative process and what the next step is; whether he grew up in a musical household; if there is more material coming this year; the three albums that mean the most to him – and whether he has any personal goals in mind.

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Hi Timsters. How are you? How has your week been?

Hello! I’m great. My week was so cool - as my new track, Gone, was released on Tuesday (last). It’s always very exciting.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?

My name is Timsters. I’m from France and I produce Electronic-Pop music steeped in urban art.

I spent my childhood in a little city lost in the countryside - so, I’ve always fantasised about the big urban area. I also created the French label, Elephant and Castle, in 2017.

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Gone is the new single. What can you reveal about its story and background?

Two years ago; I didn’t know where I wanted to go: my life was a complete mess. I did some kind of experimental work; many little productions. One of them was the beginning of Gone’s creation. (It’s Called DHWYDU (Don’t Hate What You Don’t Understand); a John Lennon quote…you can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEZ4Xl3PGm0).

I had spent a lot of time working on my melodies and musical arrangements; but, then, I wanted to deal with sounds, ambiences and experimental textures in depth. 

After that; I built some melodies and co-wrote the lyrics with the French artist, Praa.

It mixes styles and moods to create something extraordinary. Was it a hard song to put together – or was it quite natural?

The first part of the work was a kind of research: finding textures by mixing synthesisers with many samples I recorded. Indeed, I travelled a lot across the world and I took the habit of recording lots of ambiences in big cities.

So, producing this track was quite natural - as all the sounds were already there.

The song has elements of acts like Empire of the Sun and Pnau. Are they artists you are inspired by?

I only know the big single of Empire of the Sun, Walking on a Dream.  I don’t know Pnau - but I sure will go listen to them.

The video looks like it was interesting and fun! How involved do you get regarding the concept? What was the reason behind Gone’s treatment/look?

The music video was directed by the brilliant Gaultier Durhin. We wanted to show an artist creating in his workshop confronted by his own creation – from which he’s trying to escape. It shows his process of creation, as hard as it can be, and finally making the choice whether to keep his work or destroy it...

Will there be more material coming later this year?

I’m gonna release a new music video in March - also directed by Gaultier Durhin. I’m working on my first L.P.

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Tell me about the label, Elephant & Castle. Are they important to your sound and ethos? How supportive have they been?

I’m the founder of Elephant & Castle. I produce all the artists on the label for now. It’s a great adventure. It feeds me and inspires me so, yes; it definitely affects my work.

We are a family - and I’m so proud of that.

Did you grow up in a musical household? What music were you raised on?

My father is a musician: he taught me how to play the guitar. But, when I was a teenager, most of my musical inspirations came from MTV. Ha ha.

I listened to a lot of Pop Music.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Praa/PHOTO CREDITOusseynou Cissé

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

Praa & Armando Young.

If you had to choose the three albums that mean the most you; which would they be and why?

Kid A Radiohead

It’s the record that led me to experimental music.

L’Homme à Tête de Chou – Serge Gainsbourg

 For his sense of narration and his avant-gardism.

Peter and the Wolf – Sergei Prokofiev

My first musical emotion.

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Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?

Before touring, I want to finish my album. Producing the artists on the label takes me a lot of time, too. But; I can’t wait to share my songs with a live audience.

Any New Year’s resolutions made this year? What do you hope to achieve, personally, in 2018?

Travel, multiple artistic collaborations - and spend more time with my friends and family.

Do you feel you have come a long way as a writer and performer since your earliest days? What are the biggest changes you have noticed?

I’ve been practising music since I was ten...

The hardest thing is to keep faith in what you are doing, in what you are. Collaborating and working with other artists is what gave me confidence in my work. Thanks to music; I lived great human experiences that taught me a lot (and made me grew up).

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What advice would you give to new acts coming through?

Collaborate, share; keep your singularity…just be yourself.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

PraaModeling Clay

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 Follow Timsters

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INTERVIEW: Falling Ghost

INTERVIEW:

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Falling Ghost

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THIS is the last of my interviews that…

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is held over from last year. Although Be Careful What You Wish For has been out for a few months now; I was eager to speak with Falling Ghost about the song and its origins. He talks about Manchester and how the city inspires his work; the sounds and artists that influence him; whether there is any more material coming – this is his debut single.

I ask about that unique moniker and how he has transitioned from his band, SYLVIA; what it was like working with John Davies on Be Careful What You Wish For; why Falling Ghost produced the song himself; advice he would offer up young artists – and what gigs he has in the diary.

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Hi, Falling Ghost. How are you? How has your week been?

I’m great, thanks and, yeah; it’s been really good so far, thank you.

For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

Sure. I’m a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer from Manchester. I’ve just finished recording my first solo album.

Can I ask about the moniker?! Where does ‘Falling Ghost’ come from?

It’s actually the name of a song I wrote for my old band, SYLVIA. When I was thinking of a name for my new solo project…I just liked the sound of it.

Be Careful What You Wish For is your debut single. What is the inspiration behind it?

Musically, I was influenced by a lot of classic early-1990s Dance tracks with big synth sounds and heavily-processed drums - something like Killer by Seal and Adamski is a good example. I just love the atmosphere of it. Prince was also an inspiration; especially some of the tracks from his Sign o’ the Times album. I was also influenced by certain tracks from the XX’s first album.

Lyrically, I was going for something quite abstract and epigrammatic. I borrowed a few phrases from Saul Bellow’s Herzog. But, the general idea is one of realising the importance of what you have as opposed to what you want.

What has it been like working on the track with the guys at Regent Street Records?

Working on the track was actually really hard.

It took me ages to get a sound I was happy with. It started out as a guitar track - but, then, evolved out of all recognition as I continued to work on it. I must’ve started the song from scratch about one-hundred times; trying out different instrumentation and production styles before settling on something I was happy with.

Working with Regent Street Records has been good. They just let me get on with it really – and, as an artist, that suits me well.

You produced the song yourself. As a producer and multi-instrumentalist; do you think having that control means the music is more meaningful and pure to you?

Yeah, it does because, ultimately, you're responsible for absolutely everything on the track. So; it feels like more of an achievement - and is more satisfying when you finish something you’re completely happy with and then even more so when other people like it as well.

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John Davies mixes the song. What was it like collaborating with him in that sense?

It was great, actually. John’s one of the best mastering engineers in the world - so it was amazing to watch him work and to work with him on my album. He’s also a really lovely guy and we got on well.

Was it difficult going solo after a successful career with the band, SYLVIA?

Yeah. I found some things difficult...

Sometimes, it’s just useful to have other musicians around to bounce ideas off; it can give you another perspective on things. But, then, it’s also a lot easier to get things finished when it’s just you as there aren’t lots of conflicting opinions - and you don't have to arrange your life around other people. Being in SYLVIA was great, but I just think I was ready for a new challenge and it was time to move on.

Manchester is your home and plays a part in everything you do. How important is the city and its people to you?

I’d say it’s hugely important: Manchester’s an amazing city and has a great spirit; I love it.

When you think of all the great bands that have come out of Manchester, it inspires what you do. Music is such a massive part of what Manchester’s about: the city’s past and present - that as a musician - it’s a great environment to be in. I think, where you grow up, always shapes who you are and then that feeds directly into your art…so, in a way, they’re inseparable.

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Can you tell me the musicians you grew up and inspired your own sounds?

Ah…there are too many really.

I was a big Beatles fan when I was growing up and I loved a lot a sixties bands like The Doors, Bob Dylan; Frank Zappa and Motown. Then, I got into a lot of the Manchester bands and 1990s guitar-bands as well as EDM, Classical music and all sorts of other genres. I was always a big Prince fan, as well. At the moment, my biggest influences are Radiohead, Massive Attack; M83, Burial; Flying Lotus, Björk; Joy Division, Grizzly Bear and the XX.

But, I’m also inspired by lots of other things like literature and painting, too.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Cosmo Pyke/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

At the moment, I find a lot of mainstream British music a bit underwhelming - probably because major labels aren't taking risks anymore...because they literally can’t afford to - so it becomes a bit of a race to the bottom.

That said, there is still plenty of interesting music being made: you just have to look a little harder than you did before. I love Cosmo Pyke, King Krule; Stealing Sheep; Sampha, Novo Amor and Jorja Smith.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Is there any advice you would give to artists coming through right now?

I think you need to be able to do everything for yourself; from producing your own music, sorting out your artwork and videos; booking your own gigs and doing all the social media stuff. If you can do all that then you’re not beholden to anyone...

I also think it helps to have a good work ethic.

Can we see you perform anywhere soon? 

Yeah. I’m next playing in Manchester at The Eagle Inn on 14th February with a band called Hayes & Y.

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What do you have planned for this year? Will there be more material?

Yeah. This coming year is going to be pretty busy for me. I’ll be releasing another few singles and videos and then, eventually, the full album. I’ll also be going out on tour around March. I’ve also started my next album - so I’m writing and recording every minute I have to spare.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

I really like Brazil by Declan McKenna. It’s a really catchy song - and has been stuck in my head for the last week.

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Follow Falling Ghost

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FEATURE: Spotlight: Jade Bird

FEATURE:

 

Spotlight

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Jade Bird

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I will put some boys/bands into this feature…

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soon enough but, right now, a sensational female artist comes to my heart - one who has enjoyed a flow of upward trending. I have been reading interviews Jade Bird has conducted recently – including one with the BBC – and she has a real charm and accessibility that leaves ego at the door and opens its arms. The twenty-year-old, it seems, is rapturous, (very) funny company – friends tell her, if music does not work out, she can become a comic! It might seem, when reading these features, Bird does not take things seriously; she prefers fun as opposed to personal revelation and insight...you would be wrong. There is a warmth and a captivating aura that emanates from her but, balancing the humour, is an honest artist keen to explain her process. Her voice has been compared to Patti Smith and, usually, such name-dropping is exaggerated and lazy. In the case of Jade Bird; that honorific is justified and well-founded. It is hard to categorise and label her music: critics have tried and, rather restrictively, labelled her as a 'Country' artist. One hears Punk and Alternative sounds in her music; one gets impressions of early-2000s Pop – that is especially true on new single, Lottery. The young talent was going through writer’s block prior to laying the song down; trying alcohol and various other ‘cures’ to get her spark back. The chorus came to her and, with lottery-based metaphors in her head; the rest poured out of her. The young songwriter knew she had a hit and, whatever the reason for the revelation was, the brief writer’s block passed – she also read a series of band lyrics in order to get her songwriter-mind back in gear.

Bird was raised in a family that moved countries and had a military background – she was especially inspired by the strong women in her family (her mum and grandmother, especially). Bird’s rise to prominence started, like many, with pub gigs and open mic. nights. These were harsh and not instantly profitable. It was a valuable experience but, in an area of Wales that did not have a huge music scene; chances to perform bigger-scale gigs were hard to come by – to audiences who were not always receptive. The break came when she was offered a place at the Brit School. Bird settled into the place but would balance school work with gigs. It was a tough thing to cope with and there was a time when she made a confession to her mum: how was she going to manage and progress in music. After recorded songs in a friend’s bathroom – the acoustics, as she claims, were incredible – she cut a demo for her management and, without pause, she was shipped to Woodstock to record an E.P. (Something American) with Bat for Lashes’ producer, Simon Felice. Glassnote signed the singer and, with her career on the ascendancy; she was in a fertile and inspired mood. Bird, herself, claims to have notebooks filled with songs and ideas - hundreds, in fact! She is part of a Glassnotes stable that includes Chvrches, Phoenix and Childish Gambino: hardly minor names you are unlikely to have heard of - just the label to encourage Bird to foster those sketches and imaginative writings.

Her debut E.P. was well-received and, with songs like Cathedral in her arsenal; she was starting to prick the ears of some important sources. The track, seemingly, fell out of nowhere: the idea of jilting someone at the altar, wearing a big white dress, seemed like a great idea. The track, in a way, shares D.N.A. with Bat for Lashes’ concept album, The Bride. Bird adds her own dynamic and voice to a vivid and beautifully realised song that proves any past droughts are gone and buried. A spot on BBC’s Sound of 2018 is only the start of things: Bird has appeared on Stephen Colbert’s U.S. chat-show; she has big gigs coming up and, on Lottery; there is a new sense of style and purpose coming through. As Jade Bird noted when speaking with BBC: Lottery is the only song, more-or-less, on Spotify’s New Music Friday that featured real drums. Most of their recommendations are Electro/Pop artists: their songs tend to provide processed beats. That difference and originality is something Bird should be proud of. There are a lot of promising young female songwriters emerging; each with their own style and angle. I feel she has something the competition does not provide: a personality that seduced journalists and emanates from every note. You can hear Bird and that big smile; a curious mind and debating heart that wants her music to connect with every listener. All of these components – and the immense talent she possesses – means the on-the-rise songwriter is going to be…

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ONE of 2018’s biggest propositions.

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Follow Jade Bird

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INTERVIEW: iamhill

INTERVIEW:

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 iamhill

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FROM Belgium; it is off to Canada…

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so I can catch up with imahill - it has been a little while since I featured her last. She talks to me about her new single, GIAR (Give It a Rest), and the story behind it; what we can expect from the GIAR E.P.; why a particularly destructive lifestyle pattern forced the artists to take a step back; what the music scene is like in Canada right now – and whether iamhill will come to the U.K. soon.

I ask iamhill about her musical upbringing and inspirations; why she recorded her latest E.P. in a series of late-night sessions; the new artists we should be connected with; whether there are any goals for this year – if daily life and movements impact and inspire her musical creativity.

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Hey. How are you? How has your week been?

Hey. I’m good! I had a great week making music with some incredible artists.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

I am Hill. I’m a Canadian independent artist - and I make Experimental-Soul music.

Tell me about GIAR (Give It a Rest) and its writing. What inspired the song?

GIAR was written in a bit of a daze? I was just singing gibberish and it became a song on its own. I realized what I wanted to say very late into writing it. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, I guess. Lyrics are from the perspective of someone being suppressed by patriarchy.

Take that how you will…

It appears you were going through burnout during that time! Was it helpful writing and finding some perspective?

Yeah; sometimes space and creative time are really powerful for evolution and, when you’re making things for yourself, it is incredibly rewarding...it gives back.

Do you think, in a way, you were losing a sense of perspective and control?! Going to nightclubs and partying until 4 A.M. – was there a moment you felt like you needed to take a step back?

Yes. It can escalate quickly when your lifestyle is that unhealthy. I’m grateful that I had good people around me in the times when I was being an asshole.

They reminded me what matters.

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GIAR is from the E.P. of the same name. What can you reveal about the other songs/themes that will be addressed?

A few have already been released! Weak and On Camera are both already available online: the rest, you’ll have to wait for. There’s a lot of music I need to release over these next few years...

It’s built up...

I believe the material (for the E.P.) was recorded during the early hours. Was this the most productive time to record? What sort of technology and instruments did you use when recording?

Not really the best time to record when you live in an apartment building - but I don’t think anyone was living above me at the time; so I lucked out and didn’t get any noise complaints. I work in Protools and recorded using native instruments, and my Oberheim synth, for GIAR. Other music, I’ve made with my pals Giordan Postorino, Morgan Gold and Fred Brenton - and a lot of my stuff I made with Mike Schlosser in Toronto.

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How much inspiration do you take from day-to-day life? Do beats and rhythms come to you when you least expect?

Beats and rhythms happen in the studio: lyrics and melodies often happen when I’m driving, which is annoying. Ha! But; I’ve learned to write on the spot by now, so I can produce whenever I need to.

I don’t need to wait for inspiration (unless I’m exhausted…).

You are based in Canada. What is the scene like where you are? Do you think Canada is producing some of the best artists around?!

Canada is the fuck*ng best. I love my hometown of Edmonton - it is stacked with talent.

Which artists did you grow up to? Did you bond with music fairly young?

Yes, very young - but I grew up on (only) radio and Disney music until I moved away for college.

Then, the world opened up to me…

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IN THIS PHOTO: 6LACK/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

What I’m listening to right now is 6LACK; Billie Eilish and Blastfamous USA.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Eilish/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If you had to choose the three albums that mean the most you; which would they be and why?

James BlakeJames Blake

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

BANKS - Goddess

Because I love them in their entirety - and they changed the way I digest music.

Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?

You can catch me at SXSW this March.

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Will you come to the U.K. soon? Have you performed here before?

I haven’t, but as soon as I’m able...I’ll be there.

Any New Year’s resolutions made this year? What do you hope to achieve, personally, in 2018?

In 2018; I’m going to learn to code; play more guitar and travel to Asia for the first time.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

N.E.R.D. (ft. Rihanna)Lemon

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INTERVIEW: Pale Grey

INTERVIEW:

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 ALL BAND PHOTOS: Bettina Gente

Pale Grey

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MY blog is getting rather international…

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as, today, I talk to a Belgian band! They are not any old Belgian band: I have been getting to know the guys of Pale Grey. They talk about their new single, Late Night, and working (on it) with Serengeti. I ask them about the music scene in Belgium; what we can expect from the forthcoming album, Waves; the music/artists they are inspired by; what tour dates are coming up – and how they managed to make such a big change since previous single Billy.

I ask them about new acts to recommend; whether music was a bit part of their upbringing; how they all got together; whether the band have formulated any resolutions; how they enjoy any downtime – any advice they would give to new artists.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi, we’re fine. We had a busy week and are really excited to play Eurosonic Noordeslag festival in Groningen.

For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

We are a Belgian band and we are doing a kind of Indie-Hop-Pop music thing; mixing Rock, Folk; Hip-Hop and Electronic stuff together.

Tell me about the song, Late Night. What is the tale behind that song?

We wrote a song for an artist we really love (Serengeti). We’re in contact with his mgmt. and we had the opportunity to propose the song. He was really into and he sent us his part.

We wrote a chorus after that and the song was finished.

It features Serengeti. What was it like working with him?

It was like a dream becoming true...

There are big differences between the song and your previous track, Billy. It seems like you keep fresh and mobile! Do you think it is important to remain nimble and changeable?

We don’t like to limit ourselves.

We like to have the opportunity to do what we want...and that’s the reason. We’re also really into a lot of different music - it’s the reason we like to do different stuff as well.

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Waves, your forthcoming album, is out on 2nd March. What kind of stories/subjects are addressed on the album?

We like to write stories about what we hear around us. Our lives are quite easy but, around us, we have some people who are really ‘daily’ heroes: you know; people who suffer but find solutions.

So incredible. 

Tell me how Pale Grey got together. Did you guys all know one another from way back?

At the beginning, we were only two (Gilles and Max). We were not in the same school but our road crossed every morning. We were staring at each other with some questions like: “Who is this guy with band T-shirts?” Then, one day, we spoke together and we found out that we’re listening to the same kind of bands. We started the band and then the two others joined us after that.

You are based in Belgium. Are there quite a lot of new artists playing in the country? Which areas are producing the best work would you say?

Yes. Belgium is a small country but there is really a lot of bands. We are based in Liège - and there are a lot of good bands there.

We are used to playing with them at lots of good festivals.

Tell me about the music you each grew up on. Which artists have played the biggest role?

Since we were teenagers; we always have been into Indie-Rock music: bands like Radiohead, The Notwist; Why and Explosions in the Sky had a lot of influence on us.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Declan McKenna/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

Declan McKenna and Hector Gachan.

If you each had the chance to select the one album that means the most to you – which would they be and why?

Neon Golden The Notwist

Elephant Eyelash - Why?

The Wilderness  by Explosions in the Sky

Hail to the Thief by Radiohead

Is there any advice you would give to fellow artists coming through right now?

Follow your dreams and your taste - and don’t try to sound like someone else: find your own way.

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What tour dates do you have coming up? Where can we catch you play?

We’re about to start a European tour.

Find us here:

18/01/2018: Eurosonic Noordeslag  - Groningen - NL

05/02: TUL - Louvain-La-Neuve - BE

01/03: La Parenthèse - Nyon - CH

02/03: Treppenhaus - Rorschach - CH

03/03/18: Ebullition - Bull - CH

04/03/18: Cafe Bar Mokka - Thun - CH

14/03/18: Oasis - Le Mans - FR w/ Girls in Hawaii

15/03/18: El Mediator - Perpignan - FR w/ Girls in Hawaii

16/03/18: Atabal - Biarritz - FR w/ Girls in Hawaii

18/03/18: Rock System - Louvain-La-Neuve - BE

22/03/18: Die Kassette - Dusseldorf - DE

06/04/18: CC Engis - Engis - BE

07/04/18: Ik Zie U Graag - Mezz - Breda - NL

Do you each have any ambitions of resolutions for this year at all?

Playing as much as we can.

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Will you all get any downtime at all? How do you spend your time away from music?

Some of us have a real job (besides the band). We like seeing our friends, girlfriends; families...

Finally, and for being good sports; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Hector Gachan UNTITLED '91

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FEATURE: A Dangerous Allure: How Opioid Overdependence Is Taking a Huge Toll on Music

FEATURE:

 

A Dangerous Allure

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

How Opioid Overdependence Is Taking a Huge Toll on Music

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I wanted to talk about other subjects this weekend…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

that included the power of lyrics and how they can comfort us in challenging times; some of the great changes I anticipate in the music industry; an act I am especially excited about right now – a few other things thrown in. Today, right now, I am angered somewhat. Tom Petty died last year and, whilst it is tragic and heartbreaking; something more alarming comes to mind: the fact he died of an accidental drug overdose. His family are trying to raise awareness of a problem in the U.S.: how opioids and painkiller addiction is taking lives. It is something I am seeing too much in the music industry. Prince, in 2016, died of an accidental opioid overdose: the same reason Tom Petty was taken from us. The death of The Cranberries’ lead Dolores O’Riordan took everyone by surprise recently – the world waits to discover why she died so suddenly. She spoke about health issues and how she had to cancel gigs (in the past) because of pain – she was wielding a guitar on stage and, through overuse and exertion; she had to take a break. The medicinal solution to this issue is opioids and painkillers. It is not exclusive to the U.S., as we can see. One cannot assume O’Riordan died due to an overdose - but there is the possibility that is the case. She was in London to record material and was excited by the prospect...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Petty/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Although she battled mental-health issues; it would be rash to think that contributed to her death – especially, given the reason she was in the U.K. and the fact she seemed in a positive frame of mind. The Irish musician spent years with a heavy guitar and was an active performer. It was inevitable there would be certain repercussions and effects from that lifestyle. Doctors, I guess, have to prescribe the medication they feel will best treat the ailment. The same is true of Petty: he was suffering various conditions and was very ill before he accidentally overdosed. Petty suffered a massive cardiac arrest and had painkillers and anti-depressants in his system. His wife and daughter, Dana and Adria, revealed Petty suffered mobility issues. He had movement issue as a result of fractured hip but continued to tour – determined not to let his fans down. He performed as much as he could and, the more he got out on the road, the worse the pain became. His death was not a way out of that cycle: he was upping his intake to suppress the pain; unaware of the toxicity and lethal effects. Maybe we can apportion some blame to the music industry itself: it is putting too much demand on artists and, for those who have been in the industry for a long time; they are more susceptible to injury and serious damage.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lil Peep/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Lil Peep, a U.S. rapper, died last year because of a fentanyl and Xanax overdose. Perhaps the reason for his death was different to that of Petty – maybe it was a recreational thing; seen as the ‘done thing’ in the Rap community – but it has claimed a life. I refute that assumption. I think the rapper had emotional pains and anxieties: that drug took the edge off and, as his pain worsened, his dependency increased. It was a senseless loss of someone barely out of their teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted the epidemic: in the U.S., over 42,000 people were killed by opioids in 2016 – this is more than any other year on record. Petty’s death was a shock; Lil Peep’s passing was tragic. Every death associated with opioid overuse raises alarms and adds to the tally. Prince was, unfortunately, part of the 42,000 people who were killed by opioids in 2016. He overdosed on fentanyl and, having incurred medical issues because of his performing lifestyle and susceptibilities, paid a huge price. One does not know – as he died at his Paisley Park home – whether he was in extreme pain and needed to eradicate it; maybe he was hooked on a cycle of overuse as a preventive measure. Doctors do offer warnings - but should we be looking at the addictive nature of these drugs?

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IMAGE CREDIT: Heroin.net

I cannot ethically claim Dolores O’Riordan is the latest casualty – it is merely a suggestion – but we are seeing more and more musicians either taken by opioids or suffering because of them. Tom Petty has grandchildren - he did not want to tour forever. He knew that lifestyle was unsuitable for someone in their 60s. He was a consummate performer who put his all into every performance, though. The needs to please every fan and give his all, naturally, affected his health and physical wellbeing. He was physically unable to bear that pain without the assistance of prescription medication. The more he was demanded; the greater the need to see Petty take to the stage – the more physically demanding his life became. He may not have been aware of the number of opioids he was taking: it may have seemed logical to exceed the dose, so long as he did not go to extremes – maybe not thinking what the cumulative, long-term effects would be. You can say the same in the case of Prince: in order to record and mobilise his music; the icon needed to numb the pain and ensure he was able to perform. It is tragic when one considered these deaths were accidental. The musicians themselves were not ignorant: proper warnings had not been put out; they were unaware of the addictiveness of the painkillers and what effect it would have.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Prince/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Maybe Petty and Prince took a few too many pills. They did so not to self-destruct and end their lives: they were in pain and that they saw it as a way of getting rid of that. Maybe that is a semantic obfuscation: neither artist was suicidal. I am not sure about Lil Peep - but I assume he was not trying to end his life. He was in pain, psychologically, and felt it was the best way to take the edge off things. The problem of opioid overuse is acute in the U.S. Doctors are prescribing it to patients and, without underlining how serious the problem at hand is – how many are dying because of overdosing – they will continue to dispense them without considering the ramifications. In some corners of music; there is a rather casual and disturbing ignorance regarding drugs and recreational use. Artists like Lil Pump have boasted about their opioid use and see it as a minor thing – his contemporary Lil Peep did not have the same brazen and foolish approach to the drug. The U.K. is seeing cases of artists getting hooked on opioids; some overdoing and others seeing it as the only recourse to crippling pain. Rather than retire from music and rehabilitate: they are being prescribed these drugs and, without thinking, popping them to ease the pain. From that, we can ask two questions...

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

The first revolves around the physical demands of music and whether, when an artist starts feeling the pain of constant touring, they need to take time out and not push on. That might be a battle against stubbornness - but the results of ignoring the warning signs are claiming the lives of wonderful artists. It might hurt them in the short-term (in financial terms) but we need to promote the message that this is okay. Being healthy and safe is more important than doing irrevocable damage to yourself. Fans might be disappointed but that is the compromise that needs to be taken. It is understandable being torn between that desire to preserve self and satisfy the fans’ demands. We need to get a message out to musicians that, if they feel pain and are prescribed opioids; they need to rest and not take more than the stated dose. It seems there is an addictive quality to some of the prescribed medications – this provokes a question. Should we look at drugs like fentanyl and seek to limit their use? Maybe another drug would be a wiser option? I am not going as far to say physical therapy would be an effective alternative - one cannot get the same benefits from homoeopathic measures and simple rest. There is a reason why people are prescribed painkillers. If there were a few deaths here and there; we could let it lie and not get too affronted: the fact thousands are being lost to opioids means we can no longer ignore the pandemic!

At the very least; there needs to be campaigns and discussions that highlight the figures and human toll. It is not scaremongering or radicalisation: merely a way of providing disclosure and facts. I wonder whether artists like Tom Petty, Prince and Lil Peep – and O’Riordan, perhaps – could have lived (a lot longer, at least) were it not for the opioids they were prescribed. It is a complicated issue and one that is not black-and-white. The music industry is open to all artists and, if you are a legendary artist of many years’ standing; the road and stage are open and available, still. The result of the years in music – and the physical strain it places on an artist - means they are turning to painkillers simply so they can perform to their fans. I am worried the industry is not doing enough to dissuade artists to avoid needlessly pushing themselves and, if they cannot continue due to pain; ending their careers before they needlessly overdose. It may be impossible but we cannot sit back as musicians are taken from us. It is clear there is an issue to be tackled. The sooner affirmative action is taken; the more lives we can save…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

IN the future.    

FEATURE: Infamy as Child: Social Revolution and Sexual Evolution in Music

FEATURE:

 

Infamy as Child

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IN THIS PHOTO: SZA/PHOTO CREDIT: Rex

Social Revolution and Sexual Evolution in Music

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I hope we have got to the point where rote…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

sexual encounters have a diminished role in music. Brash sexualisation is not an optimal position for today's music: at a time where morals are being questioned and high-profile celebrities are being examined, accused and punished – can we expect some of music’s disgraced hang-ups to exist and influence?! I have been thinking about the past year in society and how we have got to where we are. Actors, directors and various male figures have been brought to the fore: accused of sexual indiscretion and stepping over the line. There have been arguments about where the line is: what constitutes consent and how do you define ‘acceptable’ physical contact? The answer is a lot simpler than the argument suggests: any form of unwanted contact is unacceptable. The controversy around the #MeToo movement and the furore surrounding Aziz Ansari. The comedian has divided opinion and blurred lines regarding sexual consent and truth.

Sarah Solemani, in The Guardian, added her voices to the debate:

Let’s get real about what a social movement actually is. It does not come organised, strategised, streamlined and clean. It does not come neatly presented by experienced journalists and authorised by legal ombudsmen. It’s messy. It’s chaotic. It ebbs and flows and expands and retracts because it’s a human phenomenon. It takes place in the streets and in unofficial publications, and is propelled, most crucially, by a collective imagination. And historically, the imagination of a movement is led by the young. This is where we are now: the hard bit, the exciting bit, the bit that counts”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Aziz Ansari/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There has been a lot of debate around this case: whether he is in the wrong and why the backlash against him is unjustified. It is the latest case study in a growing narrative that raises questions and calls for greater discussion. I am not going to throw my hat into the ring and offer an opinion regarding Ansari: I wonder whether the ongoing story will impact music and change the way we discuss sex and physicality. I will bring in another article from The Guardian – where they look at the way music has changed since the Robin Thicke/Blurred Lines ‘regency’ of 2013. The questionable suggestions and seedy mantras seemed, to the naïve and mindless Pop fans, like ordinary words that held no real meaning. To those listening clearly – including the estate of Marvin Gaye; they successfully sued the song’s writers over copyright infringement and intellectual theft - there was something very wrong working under the skin. The article added another dimension to my thought’s train. I have noticed a shift: a move from the overtly sexual to the more tempered and safe brand of sexuality. I have written about misogyny in music - and whether sexual equality is possible.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Christina Aguilera/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I was concerned, last year, that we would enter this year seeing a rise in the salacious and undisciplined approach to sex in music. Whether it is the Dirrty-era Christina Aguilera; images of a young Britney Spears cavorting in a school uniform (…Baby One More Time); the sexual liberation of Beyoncé on her eponymous album – can we support that kind of imagery and vocabulary given what is happening around us?! Beyoncé’s brand of self-expression and sexual freedom is different to the somewhat ill-advised and overly-explicit form of Pop we saw from Aguilera and Spears. You can say, in each case, there was no harm done and it was an innocent bit of fun. The artists were trying to sell records and, during that time, we did not have the same sort of concern and problems arising. None of those songs has corrupted society and set the course of sexual equality and consent back: looking at these songs, however, and one gets a rather bitter taste in the mouth. I am one who feels there is a thin line between sexual expression and going ‘too far’. Certain artists (like Beyoncé) are showing their femininity and taking pride in their sexuality. It is hard to say whether other artists are exploiting their bodies for commercial gain – or they are presenting their own version of self-confidence and emancipation.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Dua Lipa/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is not only reserved to female artists: male musicians have muddied the waters and, in certain genres (Rap and Hip-Hop especially), we continue to see an alarming amount of explicit images – in music videos – and profane songs. I feel we have cleaned up a lot over the past few years. Modern Pop singers, male and female, are talking about sex in different ways. We still see a few scantily-clad and teasing videos/songs – new artists like Dua Lipa are showing their femininity and discussing sex in a very open way – but there are fewer artists that raise eyebrows. I think the unseemly case of Robin Thicke helped move Pop/music away from a very bad place: the nature of consent was questioned and we have tightened morals, to an extent. I am still seeing too much sexism and over-sexualised content in some areas of music: for the most part, changes are being made and, with the spotlight and augmentation of new female artists; there is hope greater parity and understanding will come into music this year. The Guardian article I read raised interesting points:

“…But pop’s portrayals of sexuality have been complicated – and muted – by an unusually eventful half-decade. Intimacy has been corrupted by technology and anxiety. Female artists are redefining sexuality. Would-be seducers must acknowledge conversations about consent and gender politics. Provocateurs who aren’t progressive are soon rumbled. R&B is grappling with what pleasure looks like when black bodies are under siege from police brutality and cultural fetishisation. And LGBTQ listeners are demanding more than rote heterosexual hook-ups. This immediacy is nothing new – pop has always either shaped or reflected the social and sexual mores of its era – but the outcomes are”.

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The game is changing – it NEEDS to change – and music cannot commercialise male artists who take a very chauvinistic and unwise attitude to sex – thinking they can touch a woman because their ego and status are huge. As I said; I am not going to put my boots on and wade into the waters of the #MeToo campaign. There are debates and arguments from both sides; revelations and accusations are coming through – the shockwaves and impact from women speaking up has not only reverberated in film/T.V. Music is accountable and, whilst not as culpable in terms of sexual indiscretion; artists cannot conceivably return to the manufactured sexuality we saw in the 1990s and early part of the last decade. There is manufactured sexuality from both genders: it is more potent and prolific in female acts; perpetrated and controlled, to an extent, by male-run labels and directors. There are still lurid and softcore videos/songs in music but far fewer than recent years. What I am noticing is how relationships and the nature of sex is changing. Modern artists like Rina Sawayama are talking about other areas of life: social anxiety and the effects of the Internet; dealing with more pressing and personal viewpoints. Transcending from sexual promiscuity and near-the-bone artists: today, artists, female and male, are talking about matriarchy, empowerment and morals.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Beyoncé’s Lemonade pointed the finger at a cheating spouse (although she has claimed, in some sources, it was not about Jay-Z’s infidelity); young up-comers like SZA and Cardi B are addressing other aspects of their social life. Rather than talk about getting laid and going out to meet a guy – they are talking about Netflix-and-chill preferences and cosying up for the night. That might be a rather binary and simplified conclusion: there are plenty of artists who still talk about the club and riding-until-they-drop; male artists who are materialistic, obsessive and porn-y. Female artists are still exploring sex but employing it in different ways. Whether an alleviation of stress; a cessation (of sex) due to anxiety and the pressures of music – more ‘modern’ influences are coming into play. Artists like Sawayama are talking about social media, technology and a night in with her phone – using metaphors and double-meaning to portray something sexual through electronic communication. Black artists, including modern R&B/Pop artists, are challenging the racism in their country. With Obama out and Trump in; there is great repression and the need to speak out. Racial aggression and (those of colour) being overlooked means a lot of black artists are talking about the fight ahead; battling the oppressive government and their ignorance: sex still plays a part but it is taking a back-seat to other concerns.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Julia Michaels/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

At a time where we are aware of L.G.B.T.Q. issues and cultures; sex and music are evolving and stepping away from the less developed and educated days. A lot of modern Pop/R&B songs are being penned by L.G.B.T.Q. writers: with that, listeners are being informed of the spectrum of sexuality; the complexities inherent in modern society – learning more about emotional issues rather than sexual desires. Maybe the Internet has made us more anxious and anti-social; we are staying in more and slavishly deferring to the control of our devices and tablets. Modern female artists like Sigrid, Billie Eilish; (even Dua Lipa) SZA, Kelela and Julia Michaels – as was outlined in The Guardian’s piece – are not letting men speak for women; they are aware of their sexuality but are more concerned with solidarity and depth. These artists do not flash their bodies and see themselves as inferior and the hunted: they are empowered and intelligent women who enjoy relationships and sex but are using their platform to talk about the struggle of their gender and what changes need to be made. Some might look at this assumption and think the music scene has gone tame. Sexual explicitness was once the cornerstone of Rock: listen to bands like Led Zeppelin and one blushes through a large section of their back-catalogue. Music took a while to evolve and look inside itself but, because of recent developments; the need to change and proffer artists with greater wisdom and conscientiousness is evident.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Led Zeppelin/PHOTO CREDIT: Rex

We have seen sexual shifts in music over the past couple of decades. From the bold and forward bands like TLC and En Vogue – who were modest in their fashion but talked about sex in an open way; ensuring they were safe and not allowing the man to dominate – to the little-left-to-the-imagination breed that includes Britney Spears and Rihanna (years apart but similar ideals)…we have come to a point where modernisation, greater understanding and a more complex, mature attitude to sex has defined the music we hear. It does not mean we have lost libido and are too scared to talk about one-night stands and the thrill of the chase: the language is smarter and prurient; the broadness of the sexual spectrum has added colour and conversation; technology and the changing nature of modern relationships means things, to an extent, are more digital and less physical. The greatest change we have seen – and evolution that will happen this year – is a greater sexual equality and artists, mainly male, thinking twice about how they address women and consent in music. One cannot allow grabby hands are ego-boosted artists the freedom to talk about sex in a very obnoxious and troubling way. We are seeing a social revolution occur where male stars are no longer immune from professional castration and exsanguination.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

I have brought other voices into my piece because they are noticing what I am: music is discussing sex and relationships differently to years past. There is a lot of debate around various accusations where one draws the line: who is to be believed and how far is ‘too far’. Whilst there are some clear-cut culpable: there are a lot of others making the news where the reality is far from clear-cut. This obfuscation needs to be tackled but, for music, artists are seeing what is happening and thinking about what they write – lest they be subject to recrimination and accusations. This is a good thing and, the more we tackle loose morals and questionable sexual motives; the sooner we can create genuine change. The debate around sex and unwelcomed notoriety in the entertainment industry impinged on the music scene: 2018 is going to be a year where we will see some great steps take place. The more conscious musicians are to what is happening around them…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

THE richer the music scene will become.    

FEATURE: Life on Mars? Will We Ever See Another Icon Like David Bowie?

FEATURE:

 

Life on Mars?

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ALL PHOTOS (unless stated otherwise): Getty Images

Will We Ever See Another Icon Like David Bowie?

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IT might not seem the timeliest of questions…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Terry O'Neill/Getty Images

but David Bowie’s name is never too far from those who adore music. A couple of weeks ago, we had a bittersweet remembrance: on the 8th (January), we marked two years since Blackstar was released; two days later; we had to remember the two-year anniversary of Bowie’s death. In a distant world full of alienation (in our alien nation); there is an odd chill and loss following Bowie’s death. It is not as though we were all expecting something biblical back in 2016. Many could argue Bowie’s best days were past him: 2013’s The Next Day was a well-received album but it has been a while since a new Bowie album bowled critics over. His 2000s/2010s period is not considered his finest, I guess. Blackstar, however, changed the game. It was an extraordinary album (I should stop using the past-tense) that took everyone by surprise. We only had two days to absorb the album before Bowie’s death – a double-blow that people are still reeling from. 2016’s Blackstar was the last revelation and revolution from the wheel re-inventing songwriter. Although he was ailing and not long for the world; Bowie addresses death and vulnerability unlike any time in his career. It is one of the most experimental and ambitious records of his late-career cannon. Jazz horns and incredible sweep; epic songs that are among the most scintillating and stunning he has ever recorded. The fact he managed to record an album whilst suffering from cancer is amazing in itself.

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The master did not want to let the illness to define him and rob his spirit! Of course, mortality and the afterlife were investigated by Bowie. In some numbers; he envisaged himself looking down from Heaven (or space) and viewing the world from the other side. It is heartbreaking to think we will not see another David Bowie album: a fresh incarnation that addresses a new phase in life. One of the biggest questions, following his death, is whether he can ever be replaced. Many see Bowie as a true original: a unique nebula that has changed music and popular culture but, in the manner he did it; meant there was nobody else who could match him. I am not saying we need a like-for-like Bowie clone: merely someone with the same endeavour, stylistic intelligence and evolutionary process I have chosen David Bowie because that evolution is not limited to the music: look at the fashion and ‘look’ of Bowie and here is a man who was always thinking about the next stage. Not only was the musician a talented actor but he was a painter and bit of a visionary. In early interviews; he forecast the effects the Internet would have on our lives; how it would change communications and take a much bigger role in society. Bowie’s meeting with Lindsay Kemp – who would have a big impact on Kate Bush’s life – introduced him to dance, theatre and the avant-garde.

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This theatrical reawakening connected with a young man looking to forge a persona. It wasn’t until 1971’s Hunky Dory when we started to see the inventive and persona-led side of Bowie come through. His music was innovative before that – it was this album where we began to see sweeping Pop and that mix of low and highbrow. Sexuality, art and the kitsch were investigated through the album. Changes is, perhaps, the most autobiographical cut on the record: a song where strange and wonderful artistic revelations were blossoming inside the musician. Songs such as Life on Mars? and Queen Bitch opened eyes to a man who was unlike anything out there. He was, ironically, ‘out-there’ and on his own plain. 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is about a fictional androgynous, bisexual Rockstar who acts as a messenger for extra-terrestrial being. The character of ‘Ziggy’ is part-Iggy Pop and bits of British Rock ‘n’ Roll singer, Vince Taylor. Bowie wanted to create a character who was like an alien: someone who had dropped from Mars and was settling on Earth for the first time. The androgynous clothing and looks; the outrageous fashions and bold moves – another step forward and change from David Bowie. There has been changes and shifts prior to Hunky Dory: this creative period was the most experimental and radical of the songwriter’s career.

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Glam-Rock and pantomime fed into; there was Heavy-Rock and Jazz-Folk – a heady brew and concoction of sounds and genres. Armed with Mick Ronson’s muscular guitar; Bowie and his band created something singular yet familiar. It was the work of David Bowie but it was a new incarnation. 1973 was not a time for Bowie to rest: the prodigious songwriter moved onto Aladdin Sane: its cover was one of the most iconic of his career. It was a less intimate record than Hunky Dory: it is an urgent and bracing album that took risks and chances. If the music was charged and new – songs like The Jean Genie and Cracked Actor were like nothing he had ever crafted – the image of the man was a slight upgrade of Ziggy Stardust. The lightning-bolt decals and radical hair was a similar alter-ego – it would be hard to make such a huge leap given that short timeframe. It was, however, Bowie moving once more and trying out new things. In the 1970s, with stars like Marc Bolan popular at the time, there was that curiosity and sexual revolution; the androgynous figures who broke ground and, through Glam-Rock, added something new to music. Incredible fashions flowed and it was a heady time for those willing to break the rules. 1974’s Diamond Dogs was one of the last iterations of Ziggy Stardust.

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The look was still, sort of, there but Bowie was taking in new inspiration. A marriage of Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell) and Bowie’s own vision of a post-apocalyptic world – it was an album that was the last hooray of his Glam-Rock period. It was his first album since 1969 to not feature any of his ‘Spiders from Mars’ backing band. Bowie saw the album as more personal and ‘him’ than anything he has ever done. It was, in kind, a ‘protest album’ that dispensed with his older images and moved into the next phase. Diamond Dogs’ raw guitars and views of urban chaos brought nihilistic lovers and desolate lands. It, in a way, foreshadowed the Punk revolution that would kick-off in 1975 - and opened the eyes of rebels like Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious. Although critics were not as hot over Diamond Dogs – compared to records like Hunky Dory – it was another retooling and look. Maybe critics were unsure how to see the album: the fact Punk had not really exploded meant Diamond Dogs was ahead of its time – if only by a few months! Bowie’s 1990s/2000s work has plenty of new creation and musical shifts; it was productive and celebrated – the last real evolution was his exceptional 1975-1977 one-two-three: Young Americans, Station to Station and Low.

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The new ‘Plastic Soul’ sound Bowie was interested in took shape on Young Americans. Recording took place in Philadelphia and, with producer Tony Visconti; it brought in a variety of other artists – including singer Luther Vandross. Bowie sourced from the music-halls and, as he would do did during his time in Germany, took from the local sounds and fashions around him. Bowie was proud of the album and saw it is a survivor against the assault of Muzak-Rock and derivative sounds. It was a “white limey” reinventing U.S. soul and bringing it to new faces. Station to Station was a transitional album that is seen as his most significant and best. It was the vehicle for his persona, the Thin White Duke, and followed Bowie’s role in the film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie developed the Funk and Soul sounds of his previous album on Station to Station; presenting synthesisers and motorik rhythms; bringing in influences of Neu! and Kraftwerk. It remains one of Bowie’s most accessible albums of all – it has impenetrability and complexity but resonated with critics. It is seen as a landmark album and one of the finest records ever. Low (1977) was the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti (the ‘Berlin Trilogy’) and marked a move towards Electronic music and the avant-garde. Side one contained shorter, direct songs: the second side was more instrumental and experimental.  

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Bowie was struggling with drug addiction during the recording and some felt Low was a muddled and out-of-sorts record. Retrospective reviews have highlighted how influential and transformative Low really was. Heroes, also released in 1977, was the only one fully recorded in Berlin. It continued his work with Electronic elements and an ambient approach – bringing in darker atmospheres and passionate statements. It is one of his most determined, positive and uplifting statements. After the appropriately-named Low; people wanted something a bit more – something more spirited. Bowie delivered than and, in doing so, crafted another genius record. It was YET another sonic alteration and growth; a slight trimming of his wardrobe and the ever-curious songwriter taking inspiration from new bands and people. There would be other terrific Bowie albums and reinventions – 1983’s Let’s Dance saw him attempt black Funk and end, what was considered, one of the greatest winning-streaks in music history – but “Heroes”, perhaps, was the last really big statement. It is amazing to think of the amount of work David Bowie put out. Between 1971 and 1977; Bowie released NINE albums. 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World was the tremendous indication of what was the come: a fantastic record that really got under the skin and introduced the world to David Bowie. 1979’s Lodger saw Bowie bring World music into his chest but it was not considered as big a revelation as previous work – although the quality was still there and amazing critics (1984’s Tonight was a clear sign that the steam had run out and a rest was needed!).

It would be inconceivable to expect any modern artist, band or solo artist, to produce an album every year! The fact Bowie not only did that but, with every record, create something unique means we can never really expect anyone quite like him. What I DO want to see if an artist – whatever configuration or genre – to take the initiative and pick up Bowie’s torch. He did not make changes and create such a legacy to have it heard and admired – and not have anyone learn from it and make a change. Bowie wanted to change the world (and did) and push the boundaries of music. Maybe too much ground has already been broken – genres covered and boxes ticked – but that doesn’t mean modern artists need to stick with one style or ‘face’. Yes, some artists do evolve between albums and do something daring: too few make radical changes and take risks in music. Regarding Bowie’s fashion and images; how many modern artists have the dare and innovation to try something like that in today’s scene?! I would say nobody has the same mannerisms and mindset as Bowie. That is no bad thing but have we got to a point where homogenisation and structure rule music?! We need a lot of things to happen in new music: crafting innovators and daring icons are among them. One would not expect something paradigm-shifting and world-changing: merely, an artist who goes that one step further and has that interchangeable desire. Bowie was unique but we know how influential his music is. It has been inspiring generations and has, in its own way, progressed music and broken barriers. I hope there is someone out there who picks up his mantle and realises how sorely music needs the kind of spark David Bowie gave to music. Maybe the ‘Internet Age’ has lateralised and transformed music so those rebels and innovators struggle to make an impression. I know, out there somewhere, there is a musician who can launch and develop a career…

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IN the guise of David Bowie.   

FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Pearl Jam - Ten

FEATURE:

 

Vinyl Corner

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lance Mercer 

Pearl Jam - Ten

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THIS is a segment where I select an album…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Pearl Jam (1991)/PHOTO CREDIT: Lance Mercer/The Hell Gate

I think sounds best when played on a turntable. There are a few records that achieve their maximum potential when you drop the needle and let the vinyl goodness wash over you. In a previous instalment; I looked at Joni Mitchell’s Blue – one of those albums that is sublime when played on a C.D.: it achieves new realms of delight when spun on a record player! You only need look at the sales figures and facts around Pearl Jam’s Ten to know why the album continues to inspire so long after release. It is the debut album of the Alternative-Rock legends – many feel they have not equalled the brilliance and impact of that initial recording! A lot of the songs began as instrumental jams between the members of the newly-formed band. Eddie Vedder – their acclaimed singer – would then put his lyrics on the top. Songs looked at the nature of depression and abuse; homelessness and death – in 1991, when Grunge was in full-swing; these kind of songs were quite common and popular. Nirvana released their debut, Nevermind, in the same year: the latter became a megahit success for the Seattle band; Pearl Jam’s Ten was more of an 'outsider'. It is not quite Grunge: the sound (they make) harkens back to the Classic-Rock and Alternative bands of the 1970s, to an extent...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Pearl Jam (1991)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is grizzled and grimey but cleaner and more stadium-aiming than the likes of Nirvana. At a time when U.S. bands were ruling the planet; many could forgive critics for overlooking Pearl Jam – so hectic and busy was the scene back then. There were many, at the time of the album’s release, who accused Pearl Jam of trying to jump on the Grunge bandwagon, Jeremy, one of their big singles, is a definite attempt to replicate the same sort of sounds as Nirvana, Soundgarden and their contemporaries. Any accusations that song was trying to mimic should remember this: it was recorded and released before Nirvana’s Nevermind. Pearl Jam were responding to something in the air: a feeling and sound that was much-needed in the music world. They helped popularise Alternative-Rock and bring it more into the mainstream. Released on 27th August, 1991; Ten has shifted well over ten-million copies. It is the most commercially successful album of the band’s career and, in 2018, is still being incorporated into music. I hear a lot of bands with a Ten mindset: those big, dramatic songs all scored by a gravelled and impassioned voice. Vedder, to me, represented an alternative to the likes of (Nirvana’s) Kurt Cobain. It was less intense a performance, perhaps – in terms of volume and shouting – but a more rounded voice.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Those deep tones could elevate into a falsetto: it could do soft and contemplative; rising to the heavens and taking the listener somewhere extraordinary. The band’s tight and exceptional performances meant the album became a huge hit in the 1990s. San Diego musician Vedder, before the album was recorded, heard demos his bandmates had recorded. Guitarist Steve Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, alongside Mike McCready and Matt Cameron (the drummer with Soundgarden) began to put the songs together and, with Vedder, mould Ten. Several of the album’s songs began as instrumentals: Vedder added lyrics later (after he joined the band) and, with regards their content; the singer claimed it was about living in the moment. Depression and murder are addressed – but the album is never overtly-dark and repressive. It is about the realities of life and the openness of the human soul. He did not want to hide his feelings and, instead, allow the listener into his mind.  It is a record that takes risks and is dating – Why Go talks about psychiatric hospitals – and compelled a generation. Tracks such as Alive became anthems for youths at the time – in no small part because of its inspiration and uplifting sound. Alive – about a boy who discovers the man he thought was his father is actually his step-father (his real dad died years before) – was taken from Vedder’s own experience. When he was seventeen; Vedder found out his father was actually his step-father – and his real dad has died a long time ago.

I have thrown a spotlight on Ten before but, as I seek for something equivalent in the modern scene; my mind goes back to the 1991 album and how important it is. We have not really seen a band like Pearl Jam for some years. I know there is a demand and room for a group who can produce the same sweeping songs that deal with weighty subjects. We have some great bands coming through: none have the same clout, roar and drama as the U.S. band. There was something about the album’s timing that stirred up excitement. The stadium sounds of the 1970s – and all their heavy-riffed songs – mixed with 1980s Post-Punk and some of the of-the-moment Grunge movements. It was a cross-decades release that, unsurprisingly, appealed to a broad demographic. Bands who thought like Pearl Jam were given the impetus to rise and play – new idols were showing them the way and opening up their mind. The album was a huge hit that saw the band much-demanded and busy. They opened for Red Hot Chili Peppers (during their Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour) and were splitting their time between Europe and North America. 1991 was a fantastic year for music and one where new artists, if they produced an album strong enough, got the chance to play some incredible gigs; support some big names and get their music played across the world.

It was a vibrant and stunning time for music. Maybe there is little of the wit that made Nirvana stand out from the crowd: Pearl Jam are a more serious and overwrought band. The music and lyrics connected with people; the fantastic band interplay meant they were playing around the world; the music has endured and survived this long – and continues to influence bands. The eleven-track album (the original release) had some Grunge shades but stood apart from the zeitgeist at the time. If Pearl Jam had tried to compete with Nirvana; they might not have enjoyed the same success and made the same impression. As it was; the band took their own path and created a wonderful record. It is seen as one of the finest debut albums of all-time: other definitely put it among their choice albums ever. It is cited by critics as a ground-breaking and extraordinary work of brilliance. This is all true - but what resonates inside me is how the songs come alive on vinyl. Ten sounds fantastic however you play it: on vinyl, it assumes a new life and promise. It is intense listen but one that changes the listener. You cannot casually hear the album and let it swim into the background: it demands full involvement and concentration from its subjects! I would urge people to get the album (on vinyl) and let it do its thing. Twenty-seven years after its release; Pearl Jam’s keeps offering up revelations, insights and joy-bombs. It unfurls and teases; it brings you in and lets the music wash over the skin. It is a masterful work from a band who, in the space of a single record, helped bring Alternative-Rock…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Pearl Jam (1991)PHOTO CREDIT: Lance Mercer

INTO the mainstream.   

INTERVIEW: Chiara Berardelli

INTERVIEW:

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Chiara Berardelli

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SCOTLAND is back in my heart…

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.as I speak to Chiara Berardelli about her new music, desires for this year - and her upbringing in the Highlands. She talks about her time there and what life was like for an aspiring musician. Her forthcoming album, Seamonster, was recorded in Glasgow’s West End – Berardelli tells me about her experience there and the themes that go into the album. I ask her about the new single, Deep Sea Hibernation, and whether there is a story behind it.

She talks about her influences and favourite albums; how she came into music; whether she feels she’s developed since her debut in 2010 (Don’t Be So lovely); if we can see her tour anytime soon; advice she would give to new artists – and how her personal struggle with involuntary childlessness has impacted her forthcoming album.

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Hi, Chiara. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi, there. Good thanks...though, I’m a bit upside-down. I just came back from New Zealand - and I’m sleeping all day and awake all night!

For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

My name is Chiara Berardelli and I’m a singer-songwriter. I write mainly on piano - but also guitar when I need a change. I tend to write about life and how it affects me. My songs are pretty personal, I guess: although, sometimes, a book, play or a conversation can inspire me.

Deep Sea Hibernation is your latest single. Can you tell me about the song and the story behind it?

I was listening to the news on the radio the day they woke up the Rosetta probe - which had been asleep for two years as part of its space mission to land on a comet. The newsreader referred to this as "deep space hibernation" - which I thought was an amazing phrase.

At the time, I was feeling very low and the idea of hibernating for two years - until the storm blew over - seemed very attractive…so the story struck a chord with me.

I know regrets about motherhood are at the heart. Was it cathartic exploring something upsetting and deeply personal in that song?

I find writing a song about a personal issue is always cathartic. It’s a way of externalising feelings and thoughts and, finding a way of putting them into words and to music, somehow, makes them one step removed from deep inside.

I hope that makes sense!

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The album, Seamonster, arrives in March. There are nautical suggestions. Were you inspired by the sea and the underwater?

Seamonster is more of a metaphor, really.

I always wanted to have children and, when it didn’t seem to be happening for me; I think I coped by stuffing down the feelings and being in denial. Then, at some point, the sadness about it all seemed to come from nowhere (like a sea monster) - rising from the deep and turning my life upside down.

I believe the album charts some up and downs. Was it hard being so honest and revealing on the album? Do you feel you learned anything about yourself during recording?

I don’t find it hard, to be honest. In my songs, although, sometimes; it takes a while to find the right words to use. I think there’s (probably) only one song on the album, Sanctuary, which makes reference to what the album is about: the rest depict emotions that, I think, could be about many different situations.

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There is one song, Days, which I found very exposing the first few times I performed it live. It’s about loneliness: the days when, as a single person, all you notice is couples everywhere – and, when I first sang it in public, I felt sort of ashamed. I don’t anymore, though, and it’s becoming a wider-discussed issue…so that’s good.

It was recorded in Glasgow’s West End. What was it like during that time? Did the energy and unique persona of Glasgow affect the record in any way?

The studio I recorded in is part of an artists’ community in the West End of Glasgow. It felt very inspiring to make my way there every day. I worked with a fantastic producer, Johnny Smillie, and I loved every minute in the studio…well, almost every minute!

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You grew up in the Highlands. Which artists first struck your ear? Was there a local music scene when you first got interested in songwriting?

I was pretty isolated, musically, in the Highlands to be honest. We lived on a remote farm and music was pretty hard to come by. If there was a local music scene then I didn’t find it!

I mainly listened to the charts, then - but anyone who wrote songs and performed them on the piano, like Billy Joel and Elton John, was an inspiration to me.

Many journalists overlook Scottish music. Do you feel more of us should spend some time investigating the music Scotland is putting out?

In a word, ‘yes’! Glasgow is a good place to start...

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How do you feel your music has developed over the years? Do you feel you are a more confident and changed songwriter to the one who released 2010’s Don’t Be So Lovely?

Yes, I do.

I think I have more objectivity about my own songs - which is something that comes with time. Maybe, the biggest change, though, is in the studio. I’ve got more used to the process of taking the song I’ve written on one instrument and opening it out to involve other musicians - as well as the actual recording process (which is an art in itself).

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

I confess I haven’t been listening to much new music recently as this album has sort of taken over the last two years! Before that, though, I was listening to a lot of Tiny Ruins: a trio from New Zealand. They’re not new - but were new to me - and I heard them first at Celtic Connections.

They make beautiful songs - and I love her voice.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins)/PHOTO CREDITGeorgie Craw

If you had the chance to select the three albums that mean the most to you – which would they be and why?

Ooh; that’s hard…ok

Lagoon Blues - The Bathers

I used to listen to it for hours when I moved to a remote Scottish Island - and was seriously wondering why. It got me through!

Dummy by Portishead

Something about the mood of the album: it’s like a wave washing over you. I never get sick of listening to it…

In Rainbows - Radiohead

There are always some new layers to discover when I listen to this. Again; never tire of it.

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Is there any advice you would give to fellow artists coming through right now?

Believe in yourself. You have to start from there; don’t compare yourself to others: you are unique...

Develop your own songwriting and sound.

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What gigs do you have coming up as we head through 2018?

We’re playing at The Speakeasy, The Voodoo Rooms (in Edinburgh) on 25th March and The Glad Café in Glasgow on 30th March.

There’s going to be a U.K.-wide tour in the autumn.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

How about Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens - Tiny Ruins

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Follow Chiara Berardelli

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TRACK REVIEW: The Ries Brothers (ft. Ted Bowne) - No Place I’d Rather Be

TRACK REVIEW:

 

The Ries Brothers (ft. Ted Bowne)

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PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Stocke

No Place I’d Rather Be

 

9.6/10

 

 

No Place I’d Rather Be is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRbfPMxvGQA

GENRES:

Reggae; Pop; Alternative

ORIGIN:

Florida, U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

13th October, 2017

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The album, The View from the Outside, is available via:

https://open.spotify.com/album/1ZUi48Ss5kFMjUnik0WfZO

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THERE are a lot of questions on my mind...

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PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Stocke

I need answers for. I have been looking around the world of music and am looking/yearning for something to direct me. In terms of jobs; I am seeking something music-based that will allow me the chance to get into London. Until I get there; I am hunting around for new artists to review; sounds that are different and I have not encountered before. The Ries Brothers are not what I would traditionally look at – their sounds are a departure from the type of act I normally investigate. I am a bit late to their music. I was meant to review them last year but, because of the wait and list of artists before them; it has been pushed back to now. That does not really matter. The music they are putting out is fresh and relevant – regardless of when you come to look at it. I want to talk about a track from the brothers but, before then, I will look Florida and music from outside the big areas of the U.S. I will come to look at music whose messages look at self-comfort and finding hope out in the world; young and talented artists who are prodigious and already gained acclaim and incredible gigs – despite them being fairly new (a few years or so) in their career. I will also look at artists who play awesome gigs and get their name beyond their local area; where The Ries Brothers go from here; how they will progress this year – variety and sonic range on an album. It has been a while since I have looked at an artist from outside of Florida. It is hard to depart from areas like L.A. and New York. I have become too involved with those parts of the U.S., and so, I wonder what is available in other regions. One might think of Florida and struggle to name many artists from there. Rob Thomas (of Matchbox Twenty) is from Florida but there are some great upcoming acts that are worth a look.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Stocke

Ecostrike and Pull the Plug are two new artists from the state that are getting people talking and showing promise. The latter has the odd demo here and there but it seems this year will be a bigger one for them – as they look to get into the studio and make their Hardcore music a reality. That genre has a lot of competitors in Florida. Put It Aside and Final Say are other acts to watch: their blistering live sets and original take on Hardcore means they will have a very busy year. It is amazing seeing all the great Rock and Hardcore coming through. Florida has a healthy Blues scene and there are terrific Pop artists emerging. Orlando is producing artists like Tiger Fawn, Chandler Strang and Fiona. There is the Laney Jones & the Spirits and Sales; Panther Camp and The Pauses. Jacksonville, where The Ries Brothers hail, has seen some fantastic artists emerge from the area. Lynyrd Skynyrd and Shinedown are from there; Burn Season and Evergreen Terrace; Limp Bizkit and Yellowcard. It is a varied list of artists but it seems the heavier side of the dial is favoured in Florida. There are artists playing every genres but the folk of the state favour things a bit sweatier and harder. The Ries Brothers have a great Rock sound but they are capable of performing softer and more rounded music; colourful and varied sounds – ranging from Folk/Pop meltings and something funky. I will talk about their exposure to bigger stages and other states but it seems the Florida duo are continuing the fine legacy of the state. They have performed a lot of local gigs; played with some like-minded acts; learnt a lot from the music around them. Maybe Florida is not as bustling and productive as California or New York: it does have some incredible artists who are going to get into the international consciousness years from now. The Ries Brothers are among them, for sure. They have come a long way and made changes as they have grown more popular. I feel they will come out of the state before long – not before they play a lot more gigs and show the state why they are such an incredible proposition.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Stocke

I will come back Florida in the conclusion but, before then, I wanted to have a look at The Ries Brothers’ music and why it departs from what I assumed. They are a young duo who, one feels, would play Pop music or something commercial. Their sounds are alluring and complex but there is simplicity and accessibility that means every listener will get something from them. On View from the Outside; the boys talk about isolation and feeling overwhelmed. They want to look at struggle and finding a place in the world. Regardless of what is happening, how talented you are and how far along you are in life – we all struggle with issues of sadness and fitting in. The boys are very young – Kevin Jordan is still a teen – and the guys are looking at their lives and seeing the darker sides come through. They are a successful act; but they still experience heartache and struggles. That might sound weird to an outsider – everyone, I think, assumes musicians are happier than most of us – but there are the same issues and problems inherent. It is inspiring listening to music from young writers that look at deeper topics. They could have gone for something cheap and commercial: instead, they have created an album that looks at self-worth and isolation. That does not mean things are dark and relentlessly strained. The music has plenty of freedom and uplift; there are wonderful moments throughout and each song gets into the head. The sounds range from calmed and reflective to something more strident and knuckled. They began playing local shows in Tampa Bay (where they are from) and were playing to a few hundred people. Things have got bigger for them but they still perform around Florida and have not forgotten where they are from. What amazes me about their music is the maturity and depth you get.

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One could forgive some cliché love songs and ordinary vibes: the boys ensure every song gets under the skin and they focus on something more meaningful. The music on their L.P. ranges from Reggae-Rock and mainstream Pop to Blues and Folk; they cross into Rock and Alternative territory – all of these movements are natural and assured. Wherever they go; the boys do not lose any focus and authority. If the music skips and steps into different avenues; the themes do not stray far from the meaningful and important. There are suggestions of love and youth in the album but the most important thing is giving the listener something more meaningful. That sense of meaning is lacking from modern music. We are still hearing too many songs of love; songs whose lyrics are predictable and boring. The Ries Brothers are more concerned with connecting with their audience and ensuring they have someone looking after them. They have been through the mill and faced challenges; their worth and place in life have been tested – throughout it all they remain dogged and determined. The indiscriminate nature of ill fortune and luck means we are all vulnerable to it. Their music provides common sense but there is a carapace and comfort to be found. I will move onto a new subject soon – but it is worth noting how different the young duo is to everything out there. The fact they sound so confident and committed must come from the opportunities they have been afforded. Their talent has got them a long way so far. Few artists get to share the stage with such big and important names. One of the most impressive names on the C.V. of The Ries Brothers is CHICAGO.

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The music legends shared the stage with The Ries Brothers for two hours. Allman Brothers’ Butch Trucks is another name they have been alongside; REO Speedwagon and even Sly’s The Family Stone have seen their music fuse alongside the Florida duo. They are merely a few names that they can boast about to their family and friends. They have not got ‘lucky’ and been ‘in the right place at the right time’. Their talent and ability have got them that far; the music they are putting out means they have been able to perform with a varied list of musicians. Their album cross-pollinates and covers a number of genres. I feel it is important, for every artist, to show invention and not be confined to a single source. If The Ries Brothers were all about Rock and representing the ‘typical’ Florida sound, then that would mean their chances would be few. They might get a chance to play with a few bigger acts - but the fact they have played with an eclectic assortment of legends means they are doing things most other acts aren’t. You can hear Funk and move in their sounds – which is why that Sly’s Family Stone gig came about – and the CHICAGO gig, I feel, is because the boys are inspired by the band. You can hear elements of the epic U.S. band in their own music. The young lads are contemporary and modern but they look back to the past and some of the artists they grew up on – and the tastes their parents acquired. It can be quite nervous and pressuring having those high-profile gigs under your belt that soon. They have certainly deserved them but many might feel some cracks will come in. I have seen bands who have shared the bill with big bands before. They have relished the chance but, when it comes to subsequent gigs; they fail to match the giddy heights. The initial glory fades and, before long, those bands are playing smaller shows and unable to rekindle that same stature and wonder.

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I am not saying this will happen to The Ries Brothers but they have a wonderful opportunity to learn from these gigs and go forward. It is clear the music world is reacting to them; there is a great vibe coming from Florida – few are immune to their brilliant music. I feel there is a chance for the guys to play other stages in the U.S. and the U.K. They have, as I will mention, played New York. That is a state they could really clean up in. I would be interested to see what sort of reception they could accrue if they played The Big Apple or somewhere like L.A. There are some fantastic mainstream artists out there, I think, would benefit from having The Ries Brothers support them. The bands they have already performed with are older and more established. As the duo are current and fresh; maybe a combination of established and new artists would be a good mix – meaning they could reach new audiences and learn something from legends. I am not sure what form that would take but, I guess, the underlining message is for the guys to get their music as far as they can this year. They will play Florida and local areas but, if they want to get it to national ears; their gigs might have to see them travel further afield. Maybe they already have this cemented but I wonder whether Florida, in the long-run, might be the best state for them. The guys, between them, have studies and family in Florida. They will want to stay there for a bit but I feel New York is a better fit for the boys. They can get further chances to share the stage with big names but, in somewhere like N.Y.C., The Ries Brothers can flourish and hone their music.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Stocke

The fact they have played Arlene’s Grocery means they have been in one of the most venues in New York. That is a space the late Jeff Buckley performed in – it was one of his final gigs. It is a modest spot down in Station St. and one of the finest music venues in New York. It has a rich heritage and legacy. So many incredible musicians have performed at the venue through the years. Not only has Jeff Buckley played (and owned) there; a lot of new artists are cutting their teeth there and getting a great reception. The Ries Brothers have already performed at the venues. Not many can claim they have played Arlene’s Grocery! Not only have they played at Arlene’s Grocery but at another legendary New York institution: Iridium. The performance they put in there was lauded by critics and, with Vini ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez in attendance; many people are still talking about it. Lopez is a founding member of the E Street Band – not someone you would ever turn your nose up at. The guys have played some Florida gigs recently but I know those New York dates will be ringing in their ears. There is something alluring about the bigger cities that means musicians are compelled to lust after them for years. New York is somewhere the guys could thrive in. Maybe it will take a little while to get to that point: they are still relatively new and will want to carve up their local scene as much as they can. Even though their alum is two months old; the music from it is still being played on radio and getting them gig requests. I would like to see them push more towards New York because, I feel, that will see them get into the mainstream. They remind me of another insanely talented duo: The Lemon Twigs. Brian and Michael D’Addario make up the duo. There are other musicians as part of their live sets but, what you here on record, is the chops and voices of the brothers.

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They have amazed critics with their genre-fusing sounds and utter confidence. They are really young themselves and, on Do Hollywood, showed they are one of the best new acts around. Charlie and Kevin Jordan have the same sort of spread and audacity as The Lemon Twigs. They recorded their album in St. Petersburg, Florida under the watchful eye of Ted Bowne (of Passafire). He guests on No Place I’d Rather Be and helps make the album a huge success. The only exception was Street Lights – that was recorded in Los Angeles by The Jackie Boyz. That track is more Pop-based and is a departure in terms of their sound. It fits into the album but you notice the production differences. The brothers have been writing for over five years and collaborate with a series of musicians on their L.P. It is an arsenal that, I feel, can see them get into the national spotlight before long. Maybe they can get a shot if they are in Florida: moving to one of the bigger cities would get them where they need to be earlier. L.A. is another option they could explore. Neon Signs’ Jazz sounds; Road Map’s look at growing up and transcending from childhood is an emotional number – they could thrive in the bustle and incredible scene of L.A. I feel they are stronger than most of their local peers. Many of them are too limited and keen to uphold the great Rock/Hardcore sound of the state. The Ries Brothers can do anything they set out to do. This year should be the moment they grab that chance and go as far as they can. With a successful and popular album out there; there will be international ears that want to discover their sounds. I will look at where they might head but, before then, a look at a song I was compelled to write about: the incredible single, No Place I’d Rather Be.

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Among the thirteen tracks on View from the Outside is the wonderful No Place I’d Rather Be. It is a song that features the talents of Ted Bowne – although, it is the voices and input from The Ries Brothers than stands out. The song starts with pops and island-vibes. It is a tropical-sounding song that has that Reggae vibe and laid-back attitude. You get the modern production polish but, unlike most mainstream songs; there is not that endless repetitiveness and hollow sound. The sounds build and the mood is crafted and chiselled. The guys ensure the song grows and lets the listener imagine and wonder. You hear the opening notes and are relaxed but intrigued. It is a bright and physical start that gets the eyes bright and the voice ready. Before you slump into the beach-side hammock with a rum in hand – not a cliché view is it?! – you are seduced by the bliss and cool that comes from the guys. Using electronics, simple beats and guitars – one experiences that colourful wash and warm ocean. Your mind is definitely on a beach and, to me, the song puts me in mind of the fading light. Maybe the sun is going down and people are starting to head out for the night. The sun is still hot but the beauty of the night begins to draw in. This all swirls around the brain and, with that force and beauty in the bones; it is hard, for me, not to think of something more sexual and sensual. One’s inhibitions are lost and the mind does wonder. When the vocal kicks in; the sound matches the composition. It is a high-pitched cool-as-hell performance that is soulful and smooth. Our hero is in the van and hitting the road. It seems the need to encounter a fresh destination is on his mind. Maybe me abandonment of love and sex is a little hasty. The drumming hero lets his voice swoon and implore.

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He is thinking of a girl and a way of escaping the day. He wants to get away with her and succumb to the moment. I know the song is about, to an extent, isolation and feeling alone but, when you consider the lyrics being laid down; I could not help but imagine two lovers escaping somewhere private. Given the Reggae kick and sunshine-spice of the composition; the vocal is impossibly chocolate-rich and sensualised. No Place I’d Rather Be impresses because it is not trying to follow the huge songs of the mainstream. Rather than go in with phat beats and over-polished production; aimless choruses and something cheap and tacky – the guys take time to create a song that has genuine heart and quality. The beats are a mixed of processed and natural. That combination works wonderfully; the guys throw in electronic sounds and a few piano notes. The song flows constantly and is a sumptuous, rich affair that gets the body winding and grooving. Bowne enters the fray with his vocal – adding a genuine Reggae soul and captivating touch. “We can take a slow ride/in the sunshine” he attests. His vocal is faster and more freewheelin’ than our Florida hero. Instead, against the slowed-down and lover-boy soulfulness sound; here is a vocal that adds urgency and rush. Ted Bowne has many years’ experience and uses all his skills on the track. He fits into the ranks naturally and ensures The Ries Brothers’ single has enough zest and physicality. They are in no small danger of sexuality and oomph. You get that leaking from the speakers and emanating from every note. It is a wonderful brew of smoothness and intent. Our boy wants to release his pains and get involved with the girl. He wants her to himself but it is not only about sex. The hero wants to be happy and find solace with his girl. The song’s chorus brings the sunshine and gets right into the head. It is impossible to ignore it and deny its powers. I was gripped from the first time I heard it: by the n-th time around; I was drugged and hooked for life! No Place I’d Rather Be is a stunning song from the Florida brothers – a standout cut from their album, View from the Outside.

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There is a lot to recommend about the Florida duo. I have had the review request in my diary for a while but, with things getting in the way; the chance to fulfil it only came about today. I am glad I have arrived at their feet: they are one of the best new U.S. acts I have encountered. The multi-genre, pioneering music is getting them a lot of love in Florida. I feel the national market calls and, beyond that, they could come to the U.K. I think they would do well here and get a lot of gigs. Their album is already out there but that does not mean they need to wait until the next release before coming out here. They will, I assume, release more singles from the record, and so, that gives them the chance to play them here. We could feature them on our radio stations and get them to the media. I am not sure what their plans are but they might want to think about that in the future. I am impressed by their music and know they are working really hard to get it out there. The only suggestions I would make regard their photos and worldwide ambitions. They are covering a large state (Florida) but, as they grow and broaden their horizons; other parts of the U.S. will a better fit for them. I know they are thinking ahead but I wonder whether they will consider a trip here. I know money and demand will limit what they can do – but getting their music to the press here will create that demand. I am excited to see how far they can go and which U.K. venues they can play. It is all good right now. Another way they can get their names out there is getting their faces out there. There are a few press photos included – I have grabbed a few others from their Facebook – but I would like to see a lot more from them. More professional shoots would give them a better chance of getting featured. It does not need to be anything extravagant and bold: a few local shots that are good-quality and varied would entice writers and win new fans. They have a lot of photos but most of them are live snaps – they are not great quality and not the kind of shots journalists want to use. It is a small thing but something a lot of musicians are overlooking. I know they will rectify this but, in reality, their music is strong enough to see them succeed. View from the Outside is a wonderful album; No Place I’d Rather Be a strong and compelling single. As this year warms up and gets underway; I expect the Florida natives to…

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MAKE a gigantic impact!

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Follow The Ries Brothers

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FEATURE: Joy Division: Has Music Lost Its Sense of Fun?

FEATURE:

 

Joy Division

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ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash

Has Music Lost Its Sense of Fun?

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THE answer to the question, I guess, depends on whether…

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you view things in binary terms. One can say things are not the same as they were and, when it comes to the mainstream; maybe there is not the same festivity and frivolity as past decades. It is a complex debate but I think there is a definite shift between the mainstream Pop artists and talent elsewhere. It is not as though the 1980s and 1990s were banquets of good times and uplifting anthems: plenty of downcast songs were around; if it was all fun and glee then that would be cloying and pointless. I have been looking at the music coming out at the moment and there are a few sparks here and there. Some have criticised the lack of genuine excitement and innovation in modern music. In some genres, such as Grime and Alternative, you might see flickers of progression and the unexpected but, when it comes down to it – most of the results are quite serious and angry! I am pumped new bands like Shame are coming to the forefront. They seem genuinely able to capture a mood and desire for change and motivation. I have heard few bands able to get under the skin and get me excited – the last was Royal Headache a (fair) few years ago now. I am sure their careers will be long but their qualities and kudos come from other areas.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

They are angry but intelligent; they document the realities of life and youth but, although there is wit and humour; it cannot be accused of being too much ‘fun’. Perhaps that is a drawback of genres like Punk and Rock. That said; genres like Pop and Electro/Dance, the most reliable when it comes to fun music, has become a bit more serious lately. There are hotly-tipped acts like Sigrid and Billie Eilish – they are going to take some big steps in 2018. They are fantastic teen artists who are pushing Pop forward but you have to wonder whether, in a bid to be seen as mature and against the commercial grain, they are sacrificing a certain frivolity for depth and meaning. That may seem an insane criticism – being serious and intelligent is more important than shallowness and empty fun – but, if you see music as a complex and diverse scene – should we not have more fun to balance out the seriousness and study?! I worry too much emphasis is being played on making songs downbeat and emotional; trying to get into the heart – rather than make the body and mind dance and jump. There are acts around in the mainstream – like Tune-Yards, Superorganism and The Go! Team – who I am excited about. Invention and alacrity run through their sounds; they fuse genres and sounds to provide the listener something wildly exciting and engaging.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Shame/PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Kendall/Loud and Quiet Magazine

They are proof modern music can be serious and good without being too po-faced and lacking energy. I will come to the differences between older scenes and music today but, before then, a look at a BBC article that has been on my mind. They have been looking at modern Pop and noticing a movement towards something slower and sadder:

In a 2012 paper entitled Emotional Cues in American Popular Music: Five Decades of the Top 40, E. Glenn Schellenberg, and Christian von Scheve analysed two key elements in hit pop songs. Taking the biggest hits in the Billboard charts from 1950 to 2010, they charted a song's tempo - how fast the backbeat is - and whether it is in a major or minor key. As a rule of thumb, music which is written in a major key tends to sound happier, and minor key songs sound sad.

This isn't a foolproof measurement of a song's overall happiness - some of Coldplay's most sob-worthy choruses are in a major key - but they did find that the public taste is towards more minor key songs with a slow tempo, such as Naked by James Arthur. Even the major key pop songs have got slower, suggesting fun is becoming a scarcer commodity, highlighting, as they put it, "a progressive increase of mixed emotional cues in popular music".

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IN THIS PHOTO: Superorganism/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Songs have become less tonally interesting and complex: modern songs are simpler, angrier and more personal. The melodies being used today are not as rich and varied before; there are fewer chord shifts and there is a homogenisation of musical discourse – songs are becoming steadily louder and easier to understand. Maybe this is because, in order to grab attention, songwriters are going for something instant and uncomplicated. There is so much competition and choice: can anyone risk being overlooked if they go against the tide and provide songs that hark back to past days? The diversity of transitions between note combinations has decreased over the past fifty years. Artists are no less talented but the scene has changed. Artists, now, are expected to get their songs heard and racking up streaming numbers; appeal to demographics who do not want to dig too hard to find pleasure. Tomorrow; I will look at why we need a modern-day David Bowie in our midst: an innovator and icon that can last through the ages and compel generations. I do not think that is impossible. Now, we are seeing too many brief and transitory artists: few are sticking around and enduring for as long (as Bowie). Innovation and progression do not need to mean you lose a sense of fun and captivation.

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Maybe, as the BBC article investigated; we are seeing a general weakening of the music scene. Do we favour sounds from the past? Is modern music able to last in the imagination?

“…That said, it's interesting to note the results of a 2014 poll conducted by Vanity Fair, in which 1,017 adults were asked a series of questions about their musical preferences.

When asked which decade has the worst music, their responses fanned out in broadly chronological order, with the 2010s getting 42% of the vote, the 2000s getting 15%, and the 1990s, 1980s and 1970s coming in fairly equally with 13%, 14% and 12%. This might lead a casual reader to conclude that the people polled were all of a certain age, but it seems to be an evenly held opinion. Of people aged 18-29, 39% voted for the 2010s, while the figure for the over 30s was 43%, which indicates most of the fun is in digging up old songs, rather than keeping up with the new”.

Most of my tastes go back to past days: I keep digging up big 1990s Dance anthems; themes and bangers that compelled me when I was young. I am listening a lot to Oasis and Blur; to dizzying 1980s Pop acts like Madonna and Talking Heads. I know those decades had their fair share of depressing artists but I can rely on older music to get the spirits up and blood racing. A few songs from the past few years, naturally, has left their mark and made me smile. Maybe the rules have changed and the consumer is looking for something different.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

Whereas, before, complexity and lyrical exploration was the mark of a great song: now, tracks are becoming more compressed and ‘economic’. Fewer words are being utilised and there is a push towards repetitiveness. Listeners will skip past a song – on Spotify or YouTube – if they are not hooked and won within a few seconds. The first minute of a song is crucial: people will wander off if there is not something immediate thrown at them. The brain likes familiarity and knowing what is coming next. One would think, in an attempt to achieve that, songs would be able to look back to glorious days and how those tracks lodged in the head. A lot of modern Pop has become sadder and self-examining. There is a tendency towards the first-person: songs are less about communities and crowds; it is to do with the self and an individual’s mindset. Does the move from overtness and bonding the masses to a more confined and personal style of music mean it has to become more emotive and serious?! I can understand a need to project truth and a certain anger as the world becomes more tense and unfair. The planet has always been in a bit of a state: turmoil and division are not new or out of the blue. There is a fear ‘fun’ has to be cheesy and juvenile. It does not have to be that way. Over the past few weeks; I have looked at bands like ABBA: able to summon enormous fun and energy whilst writing undeniably detailed and deep songs. It might sound simple on the surface but there is exceptional musicianship at the core.

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We know Pop music is being put into the fore this year. It is a good time to examine the artists who will make a difference – and seeing what sounds they come up with. Acts like Sigrid can bring fireworks and sunshine but she is among a band of artists providing a more mature approach to Pop. You can argue the current crop – including Katy Perry and Lady Gaga – are exciting and vivacious but, when you listen to their music; do the songs stay in the head for all that long?! It is difficult to see how music can change so that artists eradicate depression but ensure their music is nuanced, meaningful and important. We need our musicians to speak about what is going on in life; not worry about traditional configurations and demands – many are too eager to follow the pack and produce something simple, repetitive and commercial. I do not have the answers myself but, aside from a few artists who remind me of a time when music was fun, incredibly exciting and moving – the scene is busier but I wonder whether there are other reasons behind the downturn. I have brought in some explanation and facts but maybe the truth is simpler: modern music is more concerned with the first-person and personal woes; the days of getting-the-masses-grinning music is reserved to certain genres and artists.

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We have older music if we want to get the face grinning and memories flooding back. Modern music is great but I am fearful there is less fun available for those who need escape and disconnection. We all spend our days working, busy and stressed: the desire to unwind and submit to music is at the top of my mind when I get home. Because of that; I am straight onto YouTube and listening to my favourite songs – most of these are from an awfully long time ago! I can feel myself in need of relief and seeking something that gets my eyes wide and mood elevated. Some modern artists do that but most are suitable for introversion and anger. Those great solo artists and bands provide great music but I do not really go to them for a blast of excitement and happiness: they have their place and unique role. Maybe this is something we need to address as we embrace change and new artists: ensuring music does not lose its character and fun amidst the rush and hastiness of the modern industry. I have not lost hope but I feel there are questions we need to ask. If we want listeners of all tastes and ages to remember music of today years down the line – rather than look back for comfort and reliability – then we need to ensure there is a fair balance of the serious and genuine pleasure. I cannot be alone in wanting music to put me in a better mood and get make me feel happy. If we can make changes, even small, towards a return – in terms of mood and complexity – to the music we turn to for safety; I feel things will be a lot better all-round. How that will be done is a different point. There is the promise of an upbeat-revolution but, in order for it to truly take hold, we must get out of the current ruts and be brave enough…

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TO break the rules.   

FEATURE: On the Comeback Trial… Are All Band Reunions a Battle Against Disappointment?

FEATURE:

 

On the Comeback Trial…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Are All Band Reunions a Battle Against Disappointment?

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WE all know how those big films end...

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Whether it is Fight Club’s split-personality revelation; the bombshell that upset a generation of children watching Bambi; the exceptional twist that came with The Sixth Sense – all of us remember those epic-ending films and ask ourselves whether we really saw it coming or not. Now, in the age of full disclosure; we struggle to avoid spoilers and having our expectations shortened – it is hard to escape the assault from the media and how anyone can share anything online. Music suffers from the same problems. Albums do not contain twists or plot-turns: the sounds and sensations we witness can, though, flabbergast and excite. Reviews and teasers take some of that surprise and happenstance away. Whilst a lot of great music arrives unexpectedly; there is one angle and area of the game that is becoming more predictable: when famous bands reunite. I have been ‘compelled’ by those Pop bands of the 1990s/2000s that have come together, one suspects, to relive the magic and ecstasy of their heyday – one also suspects they are more motivated by money and flagging solo careers. I heard a story about S Club 7’s Paul Cattermole selling his BRIT Award – I guess life outside of music is not treating him so well! Other members of the long-gone band have forged careers (of varying fortunes). Rachel Stevens had a short-lived solo career before getting married and giving birth.

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IN THIS PHOTO: S Club 7/PHOTO CREDIT: Alamy

I doubt she will record anything else in the future – she does various T.V. appearances but is limited to the role of ‘reality T.V. contestant’. Tina Barrett did some acting roles but she is back in a slim-lined S Club 3 – alongside Bradley McIntosh and Jo O’Meara. It is a bit sad seeing three-sevenths of a formerly okay-ish band trying to recapture their best days. I am not sure whether they are even recording new material – or playing their older songs on a rather ‘modest’ touring scale (small clubs and venues). I doubt the seven members will ever come together – few people care one way or the other. The band had some good hits back in the day, but now, it seems rather fallow and sallow. It is a pale and empty version of what they were: the commercial lure and value of nostalgia has brought other bygone artists back together. A lot of the bands from past days split because of faded fortunes and tensions. It seems there are lingering issues between former member Cattermole and current S Club 3 member O’Meara. The former claims the latter is a bully – someone too controlling and spiteful. Other Pop bands, like Blue and Five, have tried a reunion but have been limited to some rare performances and misjudged singles. I know the music industry has changed since, say, the 1990s but it does not seem to resonate with those who were successful back then.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Spide Girls/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Why would anyone think a retooled S Club 7 or Spice Girls could succeed?! There has been endless chat about the Spice fivesome returning to the fold. They really only created one decent album (Spiceworld). The band formed in 1994 and started to flag once Geri Halliwell left – in 1998, the girls had to adapt to life as a foursome. There has been a poorly-received musical from Jennifer Saunders; endless rumours and big-money tease. I hope they never do reform as it would be a rather weak version of who they were. The fact the Pop bands like Spice Girls and S Club 7 were popular is because of when they were performing and what they represented. Now, the game has Little Mix and Fifth Harmony; Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift – updated versions of the Pop bands I was growing up around. It is a more modern and fresh scene and one defined by a crucial consistency: it is very much for the young. If the sight of once-famous Popstars gyrating around a stage appeals to those who cannot really hang onto the past – how will they fare if they make an honest attempt to fit into today’s mainstream?! Most of the hottest Popstars of the day are in their teens/twenties – maybe, you have some validity when you are in your thirties. The members of former bands are, largely, into their late-thirties and forties.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Unless you established bands like Foo Fighters and Coldplay, for example; there is little commercial validity (being in a band) when you are a certain age. That sounds all-sweeping but how many bands in their forties/late-thirties can you name? Most are younger and, in a scene dominated by solo artists; there is far less demand for the traditional group – far less those who have broken up and are reforming. New hopefuls like Shame and Yonaka are providing hope: if they broke up and returned a decade down the line; one feels they would not get a second glance! Steps formed back in 1997 and enjoyed a run of success during the decade – they recorded past the 1990s but critical focused waned following their debut, Step One. Many felt, when they split in 2001, that would be it. Claire Richard and Ian ‘H’ Watkins left on the final night of the band’s Gold: Greatest Hits tour. They might be one of the few bands who had a hard split and returned harmoniously after many years apart. Last year’s Tears on the Dancefloor was the second album from Steps 2.0. – the same members who last recorded together on the 2000 album, Buzz. 2012’s Light Up the World was mostly covers-based and did not fare well with critics. It was a departure from their previous work and was seen as alienating and weak. Last year’s follow-up was, by comparison, a finer effort.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The songs are original – albeit, with a writing a team penning the songs – and contain some of the glee and invention of their first incarnation – even though the members are all comfortably in their forties. I am not sure how they will sustain a career given the demands of the modern market: maybe they have another album in them before attention goes away. It is not only Pop bands reforming that shows there is more trial and diminished returns – inherent in a comeback – than success and a natural continuation. Other 1990s bands like Space (who reformed and split again in 2005) Blackstreet (they did not split but were A.W.O.L. for a long time!) have had mixed success: Reef, Cast and Shed Seven have come back from premature ends and reformed with success. Shed Seven, especially, are enjoying new recording and gig opportunities. Their music is not a repeat of where they were in the 1990s: last year’s Instant Pleasures was a critical hit and showed they could mix it with the best of the new breed. Whilst I argue there are some disastrous and ill-advised returns: there have been reunions that have actually worked and continue to foster great material.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Shed Seven/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Eagles reunited and recorded for a while before Glen Frey’s death. Squeeze recorded new material after their split – although they have not been talked about for a few years. The more successful among the reunited include Blondie and Fleetwood Mac. Aside from big bands of the 1990s like James getting back into the studio and recording new stuff – some of those decades-old bands are enjoying a new lease. Blondie’s last first-phase ended with 1982’s flop, The Hunter. Many did not think they would return: 1999’s No Exit, with Maria as a stunning example of what they could capture, was a more successful and better-received L.P. It wasn’t until 2003’s The Curse of Blondie until critics were back on board. Led by the always-alluring and talented Debbie Harry; Clem Burke’s phenomenal percussion and Chris Stein’s epic guitars – the bond they shared, and mutual respect present, means the next phase lasted longer than many expected. Even after another eight-year gap; the band returned with Panic of Girls – an album that did not get a huge amount of love. Last year’s Pollinator was a stronger effort and, following such a long gap; many argue that time apart (since their previous record) did them good. Blondie are a band who has created some of the best albums ever – 1978’s Parallel Lines among them – but their modern versions have been a little mixed.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Pollinator suggests they are back on a solid foundation and have found writers/producers capable of keeping their fortunes and spirits alive for many years to come. I have not even mentioned bands of the 1980s like Spandau Ballet, ABC and Duran Duran who have reformed but, in a time that has forced them to adapt – and drop a member in the case of Spandau Ballet – they are changed and out-of-touch with today’s music. It all sounds a little middle-aged, lifeless and pointless. I admire a band that still has friendships and is keen to keep on recording. The material they produce, however, is always going to be compared to what made their famous -   they will never capture that magic and create anything as good as that. I wonder whether there is a point beyond money and trying to remain relevant. Fleetwood Mac are an usually exception of a band who have never really gone away. Their recording output is not as prolific as one would hope – Time was the last album before the band took a hiatus. 2003’s follow-up might not be considered a reformation record. Many claim the band never split: they have left gaps between albums and there was no acrimony. Tensions reached their peak around Rumours/Tusk (1977 – 1979) and, since then, they managed to keep on recording and going.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Fleetwood Mac/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch

I wonder whether they will ever get back into the studio and release another album. The band are performing - and on the road - so it is clear they still have affection and passion for what they do – Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie even recorded an album together last year. Stevie Nicks was the only band member not to appear on the record – maybe a sign she is not willing to get back into the studio quite yet. I know the band have overcome hurdles and survived some blow-ups. I wonder whether they will go from touring and gigs to getting another record together. It is always hard finding fresh inspiration that is going to get you into the minds of critics and fans – even if relationships are okay between the members. I think bands that reformed do it for a couple of reasons. Punk acts like The Pretenders (mostly Chrissie Hynde from the original line-up) do it because they love music and do not want to live in the past – unwilling to trade on past glories and cash-in regarding nostalgia. Some of the Pop bands I mentioned do not want to enter a new phase and produce great material: they are more concerned with trying to rekindle some of the fame and attention they had in their first phase; unable to produce anything significant, modern or relevant. It is, therefore, a mixed-bag when it comes to reunions.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Smiths/PHOTO CREDITPictorial Press Ltd./Alamy

Some of them can work – Blondie and Fleetwood Mac – but more of them fail and, at the very least, are not as exciting and quality-laden as you’d hope. Alongside those reunited bands are those many of us want to get together: The Smith, Oasis and Led Zeppelin among the most talked-about. There is a fear that the bands could not create material that justified the build-up; relationships are strained (Oasis and The Smiths unlikely to see their leaders on the same stage); whether they will do it for music or the money – cynics will jump on the fact these rumours are attached with multi-million-pound gig offers and recording contracts! I hope the bands do not get back together - as it will taint their legacies and, like The Stone Roses (and a couple of rare singles), it will not materialise into anything long-term and productive. The members are all getting on and many have their solo careers. We must accept bands break up for good reasons and it is always risky trying to relive the past. There have been some successful-ish reunions but most are seen as gossamer-thin compared to the heady days when they ruled music – fading and ageing members who seem out of touch with the current scene. I love looking back on great bands and artists that inspired me growing up: I do not want any of them to come back together and try to repeat what they did all that time ago! Maybe Oasis could pen a few good hits but it is not the 1990s anymore. Music is looking for fresh artists and something unexpected. Whilst it is tempting to imagine which bands could come back together; the reality is the finished result is a bit sad. I admire their reasons for coming back to music – even if it is just for cash – but, when all is said and done; sometimes it is better to leave these bands…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Oasis/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

BACK in the past.   

INTERVIEW: Fernweher

INTERVIEW:

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 Fernweher

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I have interviewed a few artists from Italy…

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but none have the same ingredients and components as Fernweher. I have been speaking with him about his new track, Frozen Beauty. It has a stunning video – and one I was eager to know more about – and prefaces the E.P., The Son of the Black Ocean. I ask Fernweher about the E.P. and what we can expect from it; whether there are gigs coming up; how he feels being settled in the U.K. (he is in Belfast at the moment) – which new artists are worth exploring.

I find out which musicians/albums have been most important to Fernweher; why comparisons to James Blake are not exaggerations; advice he would give to new artists of the moment; whether he has any downtime away from music – and whether he made any resolutions this year.

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Hi, Fernweher. How are you? How has your week been?

Hello there! As you can imagine, this week, for me, is very exciting. My debut single has been released (on Friday) and, in five days, I've reached around twenty-thousand views on YouTube - and I am receiving many lovely messages from people that are enjoying my project.

This makes me feel very happy.

For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

I am a twenty-three-year-old guy from Italy, living in the U.K., and am an aspiring music producer.

I started studying Classical and Jazz music in Italy when I was eleven - focusing on piano and singing lessons. Then, I developed a passion for songwriting and Electronic music. Nowadays; I’m studying Music Production because, in the future, I’d like to work as a composer for movies and T.V. In the last two years, I have been working on my first solo project called The Son of the Black Ocean - which is anticipated by the single Frozen Beauty.

This is going to be a conceptual E.P. containing five songs - which I self-produced. It is inspired by the work of my favourite artists: James Blake and Björk.

Frozen Beauty is your latest single. Can you tell me about the song’s origins?

I wrote the first-draft of this song in my hometown of Bari (in Southern Italy). International artists don’t have real opportunities to grow - and I felt stuck in a paralysing mud where each day was exactly the same as the one before. I was surrounded by people who were forced to (pretend to) be happy…but, I have never managed to integrate myself into this ‘fiction’.

Frozen Beauty is my melancholic chant: like the howl of a wolf who feels lonely and afraid of the future.

The video is very striking and dramatic! Was it fun filming it? Who came up with the storyline?

First of all; thank you so much! I’m really sensitive about it because, for me, it’s not just about the song but the whole project itself...

It took three days to shoot the video and it has been a very fun and constructive experience. The video was shot in two of the most beautiful places in Apulia (Cisternino and the Salento coast) - which was elected most beautiful region in the world by National Geographic. I wrote the storyline myself together with the song - because it’s a visual project and, in the video for the second single, the Frozen Beauty story will continue.

In the video, I tell the story of two lovers – metaphorically, ‘The Ocean and his Shore’ - who run to each other to meet. (‘His’ instead of ‘its’ to represent the personification.). Their race represents the path of our lives hindered by demons. Each of these fantastic creatures embodies future fears, failures; different directions, changes (the growing waves) and even death itself.

It is not our daily race that scares us but what will happen next: “This is a new day how does it feel?” “Our love is immortal/we are frozen beauty in this world” is the hymn that the Ocean is singing to his Lover - referring to a love which is locked-frozen in time and consequently immortal. When they finally meet, filled with hope pictured by the lantern’s light; the demons are half-way-ready to take their lives. The multiple finales refer to the possibility of choosing different directions in life: will they meet or will they let their choices possess them?

It’s up to you to decide (until the next video will be released).

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The E.P., The Son of the Black Ocean, is out later this year. What kind of themes do you explore on that E.P.?

It’s an E.P. containing five songs and they are all connected by the same themes: the connection between the self and the universe; the importance of water.

Each one of us, from birth, establishes a physical and spiritual connection with all that surrounds him - and the answers can be found only in this personal connection with the great black ocean: the universe. However; the universe is too complex and mysterious to be understood.

(The flow of things is hidden from our gaze).

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Water, on the other hand, shows us that nothing is stable: that time and the evolution of events always win; so we must prepare ourselves for an endless transformation. It is exactly here that ‘The Son of the Black Ocean’ is born. He surrenders himself, passively, in the black water-uterus. The currents will carry him away deciding his path. Dipped in water for a long time, he ends up losing weight; leaving a part of his energy to the ocean. He was trying to learn how to perceive energy (for how) it flows directly into the universe; aspiring to reach a level of pure energy in an empty place without the influences of the world - a personal spot where he was able to focus only on sensitivity and reality.

Cultivating this sensibility was his mission.

Will there be any more singles between now and the E.P.’s release? What do you have planned?

The answer is ‘yes’ - but I don’t want to anticipate anything honestly. It’s a story and it needs to be followed to be understood...

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Your work involves building layer after layer with instruments – before you remove everything to the bone. What was the reason behind taking this approach?

To start; I’d like to point out that I’m working a lot on sounds and (on how) to recreate dark atmosphere. I was told that the intro is too long and that the vibe is a little too slow and atmospheric - or that the voice processing detracts from the richness of the voice. The thing is that my goal was to recreate a minimal and ethereal dimension to focus on simple feelings - and give to the listener the chance to paint his own image. The main melody is not more important than the background voices.

Each sound has its function; just like the British artist James Blake did with Dubstep: with stronger sounds, major changes and an ABAB scheme For me; it would have been just another Electropop song (and this is not the case).

You hail from Italy – but you are based in London now. What was the reason for coming here? What are the main differences between Italy and London?

To be honest, I've always preferred to write songs in English - since all the music I listen to comes from the U.K. or U.S.A. I moved here to follow all the incredible artists that are realising new music in the U.K. - and creating new trends and to study music production. At this very moment, I’m based in Belfast.

I’ll be back in the U.K. very soon.

I hear shades of James Blake in your work. Which other modern artists are you inspired by? What music did you listen to growing up?

I’m so honoured hearing that. Really!

James Blake and Björk are my biggest inspiration but Bon Iver, Sigur Rós; Radiohead and FKA twigs are also among my favourite artists.

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IN THIS PHOTO: River Tiber

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

In the last two years; I discovered River Tiber, SOHN; Sampha, Moses Sumney and Active Child - which I really recommend checking out.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sampha

If you had the chance to select the three albums that mean the most to you – which would they be and why?

I like to create lists of my favourite albums every once in a while…and I know exactly which are the most important ones for me:

The Colour in Anything - James Blake; HomogenicBjork; 22, A Million - Bon Iver

I don’t like to explain why; because these kinds of things are personal - but I can say that each song in The Colour in Anything is perfect. Everything is connected and it’s not just Electronic music - but a reinvention of the Soul genre itself. Moreover; its poetic writing leaves me confused and fascinated every time I listen to it.

As for Homogenic; this album is a masterpiece and it’s the perfect combination of Classic and Electronic music. The main theme is the wish to rush headlong into a life lived to the fullest; an unbridled yearning for the sublime (“State of emergency/is where I want to be” she sings on Joga).

22, A Million, instead, reflects, exactly, the alienation of our time - and it is a great reinterpretation of Folk music in this contemporary era.

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Is there any advice you would give to fellow artists coming through right now?

My only advice is: don’t follow any trend or record-label-rules. Music is magic and you should make it your own.

What tour dates do you have coming up? Where can we catch you play?

For the moment; only the first single has been released - and I’m not playing anywhere until the whole project is born.

Do you have any ambitions of resolutions for this year at all?

My goal for this year is to introduce The Son of the Black Ocean and the story behind it to as many people as possible…especially here in the U.K. My ambition, instead, is to have one song of mine placed in a movie or a T.V. show.

That would be a dream.

Will you get any downtime at all? How do you spend your time away from music?

I’m not even thinking about this…

Now that Frozen Beauty is out; I’m only thinking of doing my best to create something beautiful.  When I’m not producing any music, it’s because I’m travelling, studying or working to finance my music projects.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

I Need a Forest Fire - James Blake (ft. Bon Iver)

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Follow Ferweher

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FEATURE: The January Playlist: Vol.3: Supplies That ‘Fix Me’ (Listen to Your Friends)

FEATURE:

 

The January Playlist

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kylie Minogue/ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images

Vol.3: Supplies That ‘Fix Me’ (Listen to Your Friends)

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THERE are dips and highs…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Tune-Yards/PHOTO CREDITEliot Lee Hazel

when it comes to the world of new music. This week is pretty big - but does not quite have the same muscle as when David Byrne and Jack White unleashed new sounds! Justin Timberlake, Jorja Smith and Beck are on the block; Declan McKenna, U2 and Tracey Thorn have new songs/videos out – as do Editors and EELS.

I have collated the best new releases from the week – included are cuts from Beth Ditto, Bleachers; Kylie Minogue, Tune-Yards and Young Fathers.

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Justin Timberlake - Supplies 

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Jorja Smith (ft. Stormzy) - Let Me Down

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PHOTO CREDITV Magazine

Bleachers - Alfie's Song (Not So Typical Love Song)

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Beck Fix Me

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Declan McKenna Listen to Your Friends

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Gengahr - Before Sunrise

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Tinashe (ft. Offset) - No Drama

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Tom GrennanSober

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The Chainsmokers – Sick Boy

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George Ezra Paradise

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U2 Get Out of Your Own Way

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PHOTO CREDITRahi Rezvani

Editors – Magazine

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Moon Taxi Nothing Can Keep Us Apart

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EELS – The Deconstruction

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Kylie Minogue – Dancing

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Rae Morris Lower the Tone

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Tracey Thorn – Queen

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bella Howard

Burna Boy (ft. Lily Allen) Heaven’s Gate

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The Wombats – Cheetah Tongue

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Betty Who Ignore Me

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Moose BloodIt’s Too Much

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Beth DittoI’m Alive

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Young Fathers – In My View

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Fall Out Boy – Church

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Troye Sivan The Good Side

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First Aid Kit – Postcard

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The Go! Team – Hey!

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Tune-YardsCoast to Coast

The VaccinesI Can’t Quit

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Hinds - New For You

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BØRNS - Dear BØRNS

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SUUNS - Watch You, Watch Me

TRACK REVIEW: Ferris & Sylvester - Better in Yellow

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Ferris & Sylvester

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Better in Yellow

 

9.4/10

 

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 Better in Yellow is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbCW4e4T4FI

GENRES:

Folk; Singer-Songwriter; Blues

ORIGIN:

London, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

17th November, 2017

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I shall not obsess too much about…

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PHOTO CREDITDaniel A Harris Photography

the fact Ferris & Sylvester are a duo. I have spoken a lot about two-piece acts – so I shall not go back to that well too much. What I do want to look at is the bond between Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester. I will also talk about sounds that reflect New York’s Greenwich Village/the 1960s; pairing two distinct personalities into a cohesive whole; how a consistent act can ensure they are kept in the mind; why the likes of Ferris & Sylvester should feature on the big ‘ones to watch’ lists; how the London-based duo will progress from here – and how their visual aspects aid and heighten their music. You only need listen to the music of Ferris & Sylvester to know they have a deep friendship and understanding. I am not going to speculate whether the connection runs into a romantic territory – I am not a tabloid journalist – but you can see a real affection and love between them. You know they are committed to one another – but that respect and bond are all to do with making the music as good as it can be. Every new act I look at; I explore the sound on offer and how it came to be. The duo met as solo musicians and, over time, established this ingrained partnership. Since early-2016; the stunning duo has made big steps and changed their sound. They have a solid foundation but it has taken in new shades and influences over time. Every song of theirs I hear; I can hear that kinetic energy and the close ties Ferris & Sylvester share. They are always on the same page and have a democratic working process. If it was a duo where a passion/sexual relationship was involved; perhaps there would be fewer compromises or fewer risks would be taken. The fact the London duo produce music that flies and flows leads me to believe they place the songs themselves above everything else. Sure, they are close-knit and together but the deepest connection they have is the need to get their music out to the people.

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What amazes me is how complicated and simple the relationship, at all once. The duo produces music that sounds easy and accessible but, when you listen hard, you can hear the work and effort that goes into it. There are layers and different angles; it is a heady brew that throws so many colours into the pot. It is an intoxicating and arresting spread that, I imagine, is the result of a lot of conversation and experimentation. I might be wrong but I feel there are a lot of extensive rehearsal sessions and that pursuit of excellence. That is the hard part of the bond: the easy part is how the music flows and sounds effortless. You know the duo has that trust and comfort at the heart of their bond. The music runs free and both players have the chance to express their identities and truths. Both, as I shall explain, come from different musical backgrounds; they are motivated by separate genres so, when coming together, lesser duos might lazily and sloppily combine those sounds. Ferris & Sylvester have those discussions and ensure there is an even balance. When in the writing/recording stage; the two converse and make sure there is no imbalance. There is equal weight and a sense of fairness so both performers are happy and able to express themselves. When you hear the songs come out of the speakers; you get the view there are never any cross words or frustrated debates – although they may flare from time to time – and nothing gets in the way of the pursuit of excellence. I hear a lot of duos and the two are either in a relationship or friends. The former, usually, means a lot of familiar, samey music – they do not make huge sonic leaps early – whereas the friends are more wide-ranging but less intense. Ferris & Sylvester manage to achieve both sides: they can produce heartfelt and deep music but it has a sense of emancipation and playfulness. It is a hard balance to get right – one the duo manage to nail and own.

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I want to talk about the Greenwich Village-inspired sound a number of artists are utilising today. There are a few acts, like First Aid Kit, who put together some of Bob Dylan’s Folk sound and infuse their own beauty and direction into the music. There are few who overtly employ the sort of sounds one would experience in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s. There are Blues and Folk licks; a passionate wave and exceptional guitar-work. The songs have melody and bright choruses but there are intelligent verses and richness. It is interesting to hear a contemporary British twosome tackle a distinctly American sound. They deftly take from the classic-era of New York Folk and bring in the colour and rare energy you get from modern-day London. One hears their music and their hearts and bodies stay in the U.K. – the effervescent and colourful buzzes, rushes and shades. New York’s Greenwich Village, to me, is symbolised by something more passionate, intellectual and pastoral. You get the history and heady sensation of older-days Folk; the modernity and urgency of the current times. It is hard listening to modern music and casting your mind back to the past: summoning scenes and visions that are eye-catching, filmic and romantic. You get that with Ferris & Sylvester: they have that affection for classic sounds and a time that kick-started a revolution. It is not only, with them, about 1960s Folk and revisiting that era. The guys, on Better in Yellow, show they are willing to keep that classical sound but put in a lot of modern colours and ideas. It is hard to achieve that balance of old-and-new but, throughout their career, I have seen them evolve and blossom. I will move onto other subjects but, before then, a look at why the New York/Greenwich Village dynamic is one more acts should be exploring. I have been listening back to bands/artists who are either inspired by that time or were part of it in the first place. Dylan is the one that springs to mind; Jeff Buckley, in the 1990s, updated Dylan’s sounds and, in New York’s East Village, seduced crowds with his stunning covers and modern Folk/Rock brew.

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Movies have looked at musicians like Judy Collins, Peter Yarrow and Tom Paxton: idols who ruled Greenwich Village and changed music forever. They were seen as ‘protest’ artists but that is a lazy label for acts who were doing something meaningful and showing a conscience. The need to transcend celebrity status and project ego was a result of the shared community and respect that scene had – artists who were affectionately driven to do something new and brave. The gigs were human and open; they were about bringing people together and articulating something deep within everyone who attended. We do not really have a scene like that anymore: many argue we should do something to revisit a time when there was a bond between musician and a sense of rebellion. We have artists who protest now - but there isn’t really a solid and distinct movement like the one in the 1960s. Ferris & Sylvester are not politicised, as such, but they are inspired by the sort of love and harmony that was being created back then, there. They have the desire to produce music that casts one’s mind to the N.Y.C. harmony; the spirited gigs and the sort of possibility that hung in the air. I want to see more modern acts assume this mantle. Times are tough so we need attempt to forge a movement that can address what is happening around us in a very honest and productive way. I feel, through time, artists like Ferris & Sylvester will be able to do that. They clearly know their music history and why movements like that – the 1960s Greenwich Village scene – made such a difference.  

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I have mentioned how Ferris and Sylvester (very formal with my naming!) have distinct personalities. Issy has softer tones and takes more from Folk. She puts me in mind of modern artists like Laura Marling and legends like Joan Baez. There are bits of Joni Mitchell and Carole King – some of the greatest artists who have ever walked into music. Archie’s Blues background provides a more spirited and electric edge. The mix of acoustic and electric was daring when Bob Dylan took to the stage in the 1960s and faced a divisive and unsure crowd. It is not quite that risky now but, in terms of quality, there are few acts around who can mix soft and energised and keep the music fresh, developing and original. I am interested looking out at the world of music and how it is developing. We look back as much as we do forward: artists are splicing together embers of past decades and allowing their own music to parabond with their influences. That is how much has been since the start but, the more artists that come into the community, the harder it can be deciphering which are worth sticking with – and those who are merely promising. Ferris & Sylvester get into my ears because, when listening to their music, I am transported back to the 1960s and '70s. I am planted in the modern time but get all those classic sounds racing into the brain. There are a lot of duos were the two players are very similar and samey. I hate to go back to Royal Blood but I think, when considering how little they evolved between their two albums, it is their like-mindedness that is responsible. They are unwilling to break from the meaty riffs and stadium-sized sounds that put them into the public forum. Others, away from the mainstream, are similarly stilted and limited. The best duos – and bands – are those who can bind two distinct personalities and channel that into a cohesive unit. I have mentioned, musically, how Ferris & Sylvester’s members differ. In terms of personalities and ambitions; they are on the same page.

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I am interesting thinking about their childhoods and which artists were played on their parents’ stereos. I can imagine Ferris was subjected to a mixture of 1960s Folk and some of the idols of the 1970s. There would have the classic, everyone-heard-them artists – The Beatles and The Rolling Stones – but the progression of Folk (from Bob Dylan and James Taylor through to the examples that came through in the late-1970s) and changing face of Pop would have inspired the young hopeful. She would have felt a connection with those artists and felt a simpatico. We often fall for certain artists because they speak for us; their mind and hearts align with ours and there is something about their sounds that runs deeper than any personal/human connections. Sylvester would have engaged with the more vibrant and raw artists of the Blues. Maybe the 1940s examples – more acoustic in nature – would have played a minor role. I feel artists like Eric Clapton and people like Jack White would have made their mark. The way the duo come together and unites their influences is the stunning part. You would feel distinct players would struggle to find an understanding and sense of cohesiveness. Because of their sense of respect and affection; you get music that seamlessly tangles and conspires. I am fascinated seeing where they go from here: Better in Yellow is the sound of now and one of the strongest songs the two have ever created. Since their early work, The Yellow Line EP, they have made big steps and assumed greater confidence. They were working with producer Youth in those days – a pretty big name to have on your side! – and were recording in Spain. Now, their Made in Streatham E.P., shows a geographical and sonic change. Its title is very much of London; the sounds and more developed and eclectic – the result of increased performances and greater creative imagination.

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That E.P. departs from the glamour and sunshine of Spain. It was laid down in their South London flat and shows new influences and direction. They are taking a lot from the people and city around them.  Every change and rumble gets into their head and inspires their drive. I can imagine the two – whether connecting as lovers or friends – listening to a lot of old music and discussing their tastes. They would put that together with current sounds but you get a sense the pair have that deep love of what came before. I can hear that come through in the E.P. and, as singles get closer together – they are recording more and putting out material much more readily – it seems they are becoming more determined. I have seen a lot of ‘ones to watch’ polls come out the last few weeks. There are predictions arriving that tell us what we should be listening to this year. NME is the latest to release their one-hundred chosen acts for the year. Their cover features the likes of Shame, Banks and Pale Waves. There are a lot of cool and vibrant acts out there but one feels there should be more artists like Ferris & Sylvester on the list. Maybe their rundown is based more on fashion and chart potential – although each act mentioned is very good and has their own sound – but I feel there is too much emphasis on profitability and commercialism. I am excited by the likes of Shame and feel they are one of the few acts – like Pale Waves – who cab genuinely put something unique into music. I hope they do not chase the Spotify dollar: artists often obsessing more over streams and figures than making inspiring and progressive music. I see something in Ferris & Sylvester that leads me to believe they can be staples years from now. I feel the London-based duo will make big steps and, in years to come, become headline favourites.

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They have already achieved much but, as 2018 unfolds, that will only get better and strengthen. Their music is getting into some important ears and, with each single; they are bringing something new to the plate. I was going to review London Blues but, seeing as I asked them a few weeks back, they have a newer single out. There are differences between the songs but both have a real sense of potential and unity. They can bring festival crowds together and inspire new musicians. Each track (Better in Yellow) has its own direction and shows how far the songwriters have come since their debut. The Made in Streatham E.P., to me, will be about the realities of South London and hopeful musicians making it in the modern world. One of the reasons I feel the duo will be among the best artists to watch is the fact they take care of the visuals. Their music videos are fresh and imaginative; they are scenic and compelling. The same can be said of their photos: they cast the duo in different settings and are always colourful, bright and alluring. There are a few dodgy shots – a few blurry ones that have, somehow, slipped through the net – but most of them are clear and interesting. I feel a lot of the artists being tipped for greatness lack the understanding and appreciation of visuals. If they are being elevated and primed for greatness; one feels they need to consider the necessity of visibility and imagery. That might sound shallow but journalists and fans will connect deeper with a musician that is willing to show their face. Ferris & Sylvester are out in the open and give information away; they put photos out and want their followers to see what is going on. This year is a big and important one for the duo. They have some great gigs coming out and, with that E.P. dusted, they will look to embrace the summer and attack the opportunities up for grabs. I know they will think about more material but, right now, it is about getting their names heard and discovering channels they can exploit. I know they will be championed and heard but, with so much competition out there, it can be hard to stand out and effect. I know their hard work and creative ethics means, before long, the tastemakers and stations will connect and (lovingly) play their music.

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PHOTO CREDITDaniel Alexander Harris

The teed-up percussive sticks lead to a countdown – or count-up, more like – that leads to leads to some slightly off-kilter vocals. They are wordless but have a distinct ‘sound’ that means they are urgent and a little off-tune; infused with plenty of emotion and curiosity. The duo comes together to tell a story of someone who looks better with their hair down. The focus – seemingly female, you’d imagine – does not suit that bowed-down, shy look being projected. They are wearing dark and boring clothes and hiding their face away. Our heroes know (they) will look better in yellow: something more engaging, alive and confident. It is the story of someone who, for some reason, has shied away from people and had their confidence knocked. Although you get the sense an individual is being addressed: it is a more general song that compels those who are down-trodden to open their hearts and let the light back in. If greens and blues and calming and nurturing: yellows and more expressive, energised and frenetic. I get the feeling both of our performers have been in the same position. They are not willing to share their pains that personally but, in the form of a central heroine; they seem to vocalise some of their own pains and insecurities. The composition retains their blend of Folk and Blues; it has a peppiness and spirit; it is lifting and melodic. The vocal blends – Ferris had a deeper and sensual voice; Sylvester slightly lighter and softer – give the song so many different strands and complexities. You get loads of emotions and sensations when hearing the duo blended in harmony. The ill-fated and suffocated girl does not suit black and that downturned smile has been there for too long. The London duo is choosing a new wardrobe and suggesting a fresh emotional dynamic.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Rookes

The girl has thrown her clothes away and, rather than it being a teenage tantrum; this is a crisis of confidence and identity. You get a real blast of festivity and energy when the chorus comes in. There are horn blasts and strummed guitar; percussive rhythms and a real groove. The vocals are light and strident; it is a catchy and incredible sound that gets into the head and compels the mind to wander and imagine. That is what all great songs should do: put the listener somewhere else and get them to envisage their own story. I was thinking about the reason why the girl has been feeling down and hiding away. You sense someone who used to have such a flair and hope - but maybe love and a bad time has dented her sense of worth. There are Blues riffs and stunning solos as the duo urge the girl to keep the yellow on – not sure why she dispensed with that colour and followed a darker path. Maybe she feels a lack of self-assurance and is not sure whether she can come back. I said the song has a more general tone: one can implant themselves in the scene and extrapolate something relevant and meaningful. I was caught out by the changing music scene and fabric. We go from horns and Folk to something Blues and sexy. As the video’s heroine – responsible for those opening vocal notes – has yellow paint poured on her head (managing to smile, despite the fact is must have been uncomfortable!); there is that transformation and realisation. She is awakened and knows things have to change. The chorus keeps coming back as the duo are keen to enforce that message and let the truth be known. Nobody will come away from the song without some form of reaction. It is a track that puts a smile on the face and shows what a solid and engaging presence they are. Ferris & Sylvester have come a long way – and will continue to do so – and, as this year goes on, have the chance to play Better in Yellow to a lot of people. It is another terrific song from a duo who are among the very best in the country right now.

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Before February; the guys play OMERA (30th January) and will perform at Green Note on 15th (February); hopping to The Magic Garden on 25th. Those are some important London gigs – and it sees them perform alongside some great acts. They sold out Battersea Arts Centre and, by all means, had one of the best gigs of their lives. It is clear there are eyes and hearts being thrown in the direction of Ferris & Sylvester. The likes of The Guardian, Rolling Stone and MOJO have paid tribute to the band – declaring them geniuses and artists who deserve mainstream success. They headline Camden’s Green Note and, from there, will have their sights set on big success. There is momentum behind them and, with every song, they are getting bigger and more noticeable. Better in Yellow is another stunning song from the duo and an indication of where they are headed. I imagine there are going to be a lot of big gigs and good times for them throughout 2018. I wonder whether an L.P. is the next step from them. That might be a good way of ensuring they pick up more reviews – the media is more interested in albums rather than E.P.s – and getting their music featured on radio. They have a couple of E.P.s under their belt and will be thinking about the next phase of their careers. I cannot wait to see where they go because, with every move, they are getting more assured and confident. This year has just begun but there are those racing out to provide their hot-picks and recommendations. There are familiar names coming through – Sigrid, Tom Grennan and Billie Eilish among them – but there are those, like Ferris & Sylvester, that deserve to be among them. They provide a more refreshing take on the sort of acts being proclaimed right now. The biggest music magazines and newspapers can see the potential: let’s hope everyone turns onto their music before long! Better in Yellow is a bright, stylish and incredible song from a duo that is very much…

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IN fashion right now.

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Follow Ferris & Sylvester

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INTERVIEW: July Jones

INTERVIEW:

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July Jones

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THERE are a lot of great artists coming through…

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that means this year’s music is in very good hands. I have been speaking with July Jones about her new track, SOLO. It is a fantastic track - and one I was keen to learn more about. She discusses her musical rise and how she has changed since her earliest material – and why she decided to settle in London.

I ask whether SOLO is the sound of where she is now; if we are going to see more material emerge; those new artists worth a longer glance – whether the music from the past is more influential and important (than that) of the present.

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Hi, July. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi. I’m fantastic, thank you! It’s been very musical - like every week. I've been in the studio almost every day; definitely eating way too unhealthy…but making some amazing music.

For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

Of course. My name is July Jones (yes; like the month of July). I’m a Dark-Electro-Pop artist and songwriter based in London, U.K.  

SOLO is your new track. Is there a story behind that one?

Haha, of course: behind every track I put out there’s a (sometimes embarrassing) story. SOLO is about terminating a long-term relationship and kind of getting through the process of moving on. It definitely feels very lonely and cold once you break up; so I went back and forth in this relationship just because I was holding onto somebody. I got mad about it and this song came out. It was written in less than an hour - so the process was very fast.

The embarrassing part of this one is that my ex-girlfriend is actually the video director (on the music video) for SOLO - which is about her. We are still really close and she’s my best friend in the world.  Our workflow and love for art is so strong that we just don’t actually care about the break up. As long as we have a sincere, artistic and amazing product in the creative…it’s still embarrassing to tell, though; people find it hilarious.

The song has a very contemporary and vivacious vibe! Was it easy putting it together? Will it lead to more material?

Thank you. Yes!

SOLO was the first song where I felt like I found my musical style: from there on, it just exploded creatively. I have some great new tracks lined up for the rest of this year that really reflect my sound and personality - each with their own visuals.

In terms of sound; it was easy putting together on the day - but to get to the Electro-Pop sound I wanted; it literally took me my whole life. I’ve been working so hard to find who I am. I’m so proud of myself for growing so much, so fast.

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I hear shades of 1980s music in the single. Are you inspired by artists from the past? Who did you grow up listening to?

Thank you. I’m definitely inspired by the past - but I’m more inspired by the present. I love current artists and take inspiration from various genres. I absolutely adore artists like The Weeknd, Lorde; Dagny, Billie Eilish; Halsey, Lana Del Rey and 6lack.

Every single one is different - but I definitely take inspiration from all of them.

It seems like, on Bad Influence, you are embracing more R&B shades. It is a departure! What was the reason for taking a new direction? Do you think this song is the ‘sound of July Jones’?

I still love Bad Influence but it was never a song that defined my style. We knew that while putting it out there - but we are still super-proud of the track. At the time; we decided we would either put it out at that time or nobody would ever hear it.

It’s all a part of a process.

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Debut single, Jump in the Water, resonated with fans and the uninitiated alike. How does it feel knowing that song got such a lot of love?!

Jump in the Water was my first release - and I couldn’t be more proud of it...

I knew no one in England back then when I was writing this particular song. I travelled to Bristol to a producer four-five times and paid him everything I had to help me produce the track - but it worked out really well. I think it got as much love as it did because it was sincere: I really meant what I was writing and I was opening myself up to the world.

Also, loads of my friends are gay - so definitely enjoyed the video. Haha!

You are a champion of L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Do you feel more musicians should act as patrons? Is this something you will dedicate more of your time/career to?

I think those kinds of decisions really depend on a person/artist: if someone doesn’t want to expose themselves and wants it to be only about the music, then that’s how they should be. As long as they feel comfortable and accepted in the community - I don’t think anyone is obligated to promote it. It’s a beautiful community to be a part of. I’m actually so glad I turned out gay and became a part of this.

Thanks, mom!

London is where you are based. How important is the city and its people?

I feel like anyone that lives in London has a love-hate relationship with it.

London can be tough to live in: it’s expensive; it can be dirty, aggressive and lonely. But, at the same time, it’s real; it has all the opportunities and people you can wish for - you just have to dare to ‘jump in the water’ and take them (see what I did there).

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IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Eilish/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

How much time do you have?! I can recommend all day…

There are seriously so many talented artists but, if I have to choose; I’d definitely say Billie Eilish (she’s blowing up already) and MEMBA (amazing producers).

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IN THIS IMAGE: The logo for MEMBA/IMAGE CREDIT: MEMBA

If you had the chance to select the three albums that mean the most to you – which would they be and why?

The Weeknd - Kiss Land

I love the artistry, the production - this album is a bit inspiration of mine

Lorde - Pure Heroine

She brought something really fresh to the table: there’s a lot of simplicity in the sound of the album.

Rihanna - ANTI

In love with the heavy production of the album.

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Is there any advice you would give to fellow artists coming through right now?

Be real to yourself; find your true strengths and weaknesses and work on them. Don’t deceive yourself into believing you’re perfect at everything - you’re probably not. Focus on what you’re good at and make that (be) your advantage.

At the same time; work twice as hard on your weaknesses.

What gigs do you have coming up as we head through 2018?

I just played a gig at Metropolis Studios (which was fun). Apart from that; I’m doing a mini club tour and will be gigging across the U.K. in the coming months - so keep an eye on my Spotify and socials for news.

Do you have any ambitions of resolutions for this year at all?

Make music, take risks and be truly happy.  

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Thank you! Billie Eilish - Bellyache

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 Follow July Jones

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INTERVIEW: Albert Man

INTERVIEW:

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 Albert Man

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A fresh year wouldn’t mean much if I failed to catch up with…

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Albert Man and ask him about his latest musical happenings! I speak with the songwriter about his single, Say Something Loving, and whether this means more music is afoot. He discusses his 2017 and what it was like working at Sticky Studios; what we can expect from the Say Something Loving launch-night; some new artists he fancies – and records/artists who have inspired him.

I ask about whether he has advice for new artists and, looking at his own music, how he has improved; what he thinks of the modern mainstream – which artists were coming to his ears at a young age…

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For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

I’m a Northern singer-songwriter living in London - playing and writing Pop songs on keys; performing both solo and with a band in London (and further afield). I created a new music festival called Music Makers Festival (www.musicmakersfestival.com) last year with my manager and wife (Manoja) to showcase musicians we wanted to help promote.

Say Something Loving is your upcoming single (out on 2nd February). Its title puts me in mind of a song from The xx. I am guessing the background to this song is different! What is the story behind your track?

I came up with the idea for the song or the first few lyrics while I was travelling on the Tube. The idea came from just seeing the way some couples spoke to each other. I think everyone needs something loving said to them every so often. It’s about not forgetting to do just that no matter how long you’ve been in your relationship.

I think, sometimes, people forget that especially in the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives and, hopefully, listening to this song will encourage people to be nicer to the ones they love (smiles).

What was it like working with Adam Coltman at Sticky Studios?

I really enjoyed working with Adam at Sticky Studios. We got on well and had similar personalities; not to mention we look pretty similar too (smiles) A great-sounding track just came together really quickly. Adam was just on it; he knew exactly what I was after and we worked really well together in the studio. Sticky Studios is very well-known for some incredible artists that have recorded there such as Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes; One Direction, Christina Perri; Paloma Faith and Wiley - and it’s where Ed Sheeran recorded all of his early work.

The official launch, on 7th February, takes place at 1901 Arts Club. Is that somewhere you have played before? How are you feeling about that date?

I have never played there before - but Manoja always finds special places for the events we run together. We wanted to find something intimate for this single launch and, when we saw this really beautiful old Victorian house, we knew it was the right venue for this event. There’s a grand piano, too, which is always a special treat for me (smiles).

I can’t wait to play it on the night - and I think all my wonderful artists supporting me on the night will be playing a few songs on it too. The venue is a short walk from Waterloo Station – so it’s easy to get to. I think everyone is going to love the venue!

You can still get tickets for the event at www.albertman.com/tickets.

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What can we expect if we come along? Can we expect some exciting support acts?

Definitely, I have to mention the grand-piano again (smiles) which you don’t get at most gigs (and I’ll be playing with a full band). I also have two brilliant support acts: Hattie Briggs (Fender Undiscovered Artist 2017) and Saarloos from Dublin; a new collaboration between Brian McGovern and Craig Gallagher (both of whom have supported Gavin James on tour). I am excited about this event - as I think it’ll be a special one with this combination of the beautiful venue and amazing musicians joining me on the night.

Will there be more material arriving? Is there anything in the pipeline?

Glad you asked! I have loads of new stuff...

It’s just a case of getting the funds and time to get back in the studio. Also, I like working with different people and in different studios; so still looking for the next producer and studio to work with.

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How would you say you have grown as a musician in the past year? Do you feel like 2017 was an important year for you?

2017 was a very important year for me. Manoja and I try to keep goals every year - so we have a good idea on what we are trying to achieve. I released an E.P. and live-album. My E.P. launch-night at St. Pancras Old Church was sold out. I played twelve festivals over the summer including The Great Escape, Camden Rocks; Liverpool Sound City, Reverb Festival; Tramlines and Standon Calling. Also; I organised my own music festival with Manoja called Music Makers Festival (www.musicmakersfestival.com).

I think, as a musician and songwriter, I keep evolving and I think I am a better songwriter now than when I started. I learn a lot from my previous songs - and the new ones feel a bit more grown-up than some of the earlier ones. I wrote loads of new songs at the end of 2017. I’m so excited to get them recorded.

Tell me about the musicians and sounds that you were inspired by as a youngster. Which artists compelled you as a child?

I always loved David Bowie, Elvis Presley and The Doors. I also was a big fan of Talking Heads, Joy Division; The Staple Singers and Huey Lewis.

I think they all influenced me a lot as I was growing up.

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What do you think of the modern scene? Do you think the mainstream is as strong as in past years?

I think, maybe, we have too much choice and music is too accessible making for more-fickle listeners. It’s great to see some really talented artist like Rag'n'Bone Man in the mainstream, though - so there’s always brilliant new artists out there.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Million Miles

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

Million Miles: https://www.facebook.com/milmilesmusic

Howard Rose: https://www.facebook.com/howardrosemusic

Billy Lockett: https://www.facebook.com/billylockettmusic

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IN THIS PHOTO: Billy Lockett

If you had the chance to select the three albums that mean the most to you – which would they be and why?

Nevermind by Nirvana

Because Smells Like Teen Spirit was a song that really struck a chord with me when I was a kid.

David Bowie’s Hunky Dory

For being such a mind-blowingly brilliant album with lots of piano in it.

Pulp’s Different Class

Because Jarvis Cocker’s a lyrical genius.

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Is there any advice you would give to fellow artists coming through right now?

Don’t rely on anyone else to do anything for you: learn how to record your own demos and make your own website, videos and posters etc. It is very much D.I.Y. when you’re an independent musician - and it is fun learning all these new skills to represent your work the best you can!

What other tour dates do you have coming up? Where can we see you play later in the year?

I’ll be booking lots of shows after my launch on 7th Feb to help promote the single - still waiting for confirmation on some of these. The next gig after the launch is a house gig at The Drawingroom (in Chesham) on 10th March.

You can keep track of my upcoming gigs at www.facebook.com/albertmanmusic/events or www.albertman.com/gigs.

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Do you have any ambitions of resolutions for this year at all?

I would like to get one of my tracks played on a T.V. show or movie this year and organise a tour outside the U.K.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Let’s have a bit of Talking Heads and Burning Down the House (smiles).

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 Follow Albert Man

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Official:

http://www.albertman.com/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/albertmanmusic

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/albertmanmusic/

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/albertmanmusic

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/albertmanmusic

Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/artist/3EmYYAAyNTytyQvyhkE75o

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/albertmanmusic

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 PHOTO CREDITS:

Top photos of Albert Man were taken by Arnab Ghosal (http://www.arnabkghosal.com/)

The photo of Albert in a red T-shirt was taken by Nick Kent (http://www.nickkentphotography.com/)

The final. black-and-white photo is courtesy of Manoja Ullmann

INTERVIEW: Will Varley

INTERVIEW:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Brett Walker 

Will Varley

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TODAY is a day, in terms of interviews, defined by some…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Brett Walker 

‘older’ submissions. My second interviewee of the day completed his answers when his last single, All Those Stars, was released/being promoted. Will Varley has a new song out: Seven Days shows he is on a roll and will provide a stunning album. I talk to him about that album (Spirit of Minnie) and the inspiration behind All Those Stars. Varley discusses his musical background and artists he is inspired by; what he has planned for this year – and the advice he would offer to new artists coming through.

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Hi, Will. How are you? How has your week been?

Pretty good. I’ve mainly been learning to drive. Got my test tomorrow.

For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

My name is Will Varley and I write stupid little songs and watch daytime T.V.

All Those Stars is out. Can you reveal the inspiration behind that track?

You know when you hear, on the news, that they've found a new planet and they say it's sort of like Earth…and you get a bit excited? Then, they tell you it's forty-three-million light-years away and your heart sinks. That song is about touring, working; trying to find your way and thinking, in the great scheme of the universe, that those stars aren't really that far away at all.

Spirit of Minnie is your new album. What is the story behind the title? What sort of themes and stories inspired the record?

I met a taxi driver in Minneapolis one night in winter - it was the coldest place I'd ever been. The air felt like ice when you took your hands out of your pockets. The album is named after a song on the record - and the song is the story that taxi driver told me.

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The L.P. is out on 9th February. Will there be any more singles/videos realised ahead of the release?

Yes. There will be another couple of tracks released before then.

The album is produced alongside Cameron McVey. What was it like working with someone who has been in the same studio as Massive Attack and Neneh Cherry? How important was his input regarding the album’s sounds and sensation?

It was very cool.

He's got an amazing way of working - which was fascinating to be a part of. He's been crucial to the sound of the new album and I'd love to work with him again.

On 9th February, the day the album is released, you play Shepherd’s Bush Empire. How excited are you about that?

It's the biggest show I've ever played as a headline.

For me, that show is a huge marker to work towards: a moment to take stock, see how far things have come and, possibly, how far things can go. I used to walk past the Empire on my way to open mic nights in Shepherds Bush back in the old days.

It's genuinely unfathomable to me that I'm headlining there in a couple of months.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Brett Walker 

2016’s Kingsdown Sundown gained acclaim and applause. How do you think Spirit of Minnie differs? Are you still exploring new territory and sounds five albums in?

I hope so. I think it's important to keep moving. If you stagnate too much you start to chase your own tail - and it felt really important to me to have a vague sense of fear going into this new album.

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How did you get into music? Was it something you were fascinated by at a young age?

Everyone is fascinated with music...

Some good friends of mine had a baby recently and it's incredible how the baby responds to music and not much else. I suppose though, in terms of my own music, it was my dad playing records in the car when we were kids that introduced me to songwriting.

Which musicians struck a particular chord with you?

Neil Young, Bob Dylan; John Otway, Tracy Chapman and Billy Bragg...I could go on! These were the records my dad was playing in the car - and these were the records that got me hooked on writing songs.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Seán McGowan

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

I'd recommend checking out both the supports on the tour: Seán McGowan and Ida Mae. They're both excellent.

Other than that: Cocos Lovers, Low Chimes; Xylaroo, Gecko and Molly's Lips

(There's too many to list...).

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IN THIS PHOTO: Xylaroo

If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?

Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan, Elephant Lands by Cocos Lovers and Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen. (That would probably be a different list if you ask again tomorrow). I couldn't tell you why. We'd be here for hours.

The question 'why' and music are not the best of friends.

Aside from February’s gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire; can we see you perform anywhere soon? 

Yes! I'm touring in the U.K., U.S.A. and Europe up until spring, and then, I'll hopefully be at lots of festivals next year, too.

All dates are listed at willvarley.com.

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What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

Get a good guitar-case. It'll keep your clothes dry and, if worst comes to the worst, it will double-up as a sleeping bag...

Also; don't worry if the darkness comes: it's exactly what you were looking for...

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

The Final Tug in Your Unravelling by The Hellfire Orchestra

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Follow Will Varley

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