HIS third album is out…
and already picking up acclaim and attention! Alex Highton talks about his new L.P. and the song, Love Is Enough. I ask the Liverpudlian songwriter what the city is like right now; how important its legacy is to him; what he has coming up in terms of gig dates – the artists and sounds that have inspired him as a musician and person.
Highton tells me how the changing world impacts him as a songwriter; if there is a treasured memory from music; if there are any new artists we should be investigating – he ends the interview with a rare and brilliant song.
Hi, Alex. How are you? How has your week been?
I'm great, thanks. I've been writing and making demos in my little studio - that's where I'm happiest. So, all in all, it's been a good week.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I'm a Liverpudlian singer-songwriter with a soft spot for Harry Nilsson.
Love Is Enough is a track that interests me. What, would you say, is the inspiration behind the song?
Well. I was sitting there, staring out the window with a guitar in my hands not thinking about anything much when the words "It's a sea lion, it's the sea..." came into my head. I liked the way the words sounded, but I thought: 'they don't mean anything'...which started me off on this train of thought about how we give our lives meaning.
This all made my head spin a bit; so, I went away, had a cup of tea and then, when I went back into the studio, the words all just tumbled out.
I believe there is footage from Darkest Hour by director Thomas Ralph. The video, in a way, seems to offer guidance and strength in a post-Brexit Britain. Do you think now, more than ever, we need to hold on to one another and find unity?
Yeah. You're probably right. Brexit is the stupidest thing we've done in a long time – and, as a country, we've done some stupid things...
PHOTO CREDIT: Graeme Wilmot
How do you feel the way the world is changing impacts you as a songwriter? Do these uncertain times make you more insular – or do they compel strength and defiance?!
Everything impacts in some way or another. I'm not sure I'm fully conscious of it. I just write what I want; talk about what I want to talk about and see what comes out. On different days, I feel different ways.
The way the world is going, though; it does feel like everything is turning to sh*t a bit...
Welcome to Happiness, your third album, is out. What sort of themes provoked the songs? How do you think it differs from your previous records?
The album, as a whole, is about searching for happiness I suppose. Years ago, just before I got together with my wife, I remember sitting alone in my flat and wondering whether I was happy. (I wasn't). I decided I was going to stop making stupid decisions and allow myself to be happy. (I am now).
But, in the end, you know; they're just songs. Hopefully, people will enjoy them. This record is different to the others. There's acoustic guitar for a start. I just got bored of writing on it. I could easily have made the same record again but really what would be the point.
The sound is more expansive and, even if, at times, it seems simple; it was proper-complicated to put together. There's a hell of a lot of work gone into it - from me, Jonners Czerwik (who produced it and played on all the tracks); Bear (who had to mix songs that sometimes had one-hundred-plus tracks on them); all the players who gave up their skills and time...it was a massive collaboration really. Much more so than the other albums.
Woodditton Wives Club was recorded in two weeks, Nobody Knows Anything took two months: this album took TWO YEARS...
It seems like you have grown in confidence as a songwriter. Would that be a fair assumption?
Yeah. I think so, maybe. I don't know really. Some days, I think we've made something great and then, the next day, I think it's the worst song ever written and I may as well give up. To be honest; I like being in a place where I don't feel 100% confident about what I'm doing. It's more interesting.
(I just listened to the album for the first time in ages, though, and I'm really happy with the way it turned out...).
I love being in the studio and that feeling of creating something. I just love that. Once it's done, I'm onto the next thing.
Tell me about the artists you count as idols. Which musicians were you raised on?
My dad moved to Italy when I was little and I used to and visit him over the holidays. He had (still has) this incredible collection of vinyl and I would pore over that, finding all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff. On any given day, I could be listening to Talking Heads, The Stooges; Steely Dan, Jimi Hendrix; David Ackles, Laurie Anderson; Penguin Cafe Orchestra, The Police; Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Pink Floyd; The Incredible String Band, Mahavishnu Orchestra; Getz/Gilberto, Stevie Wonder... It was quite a musical education.
As for my idols...well, there's an awful lot. You can't escape your heritage; so, I'd have to say The Beatles. But, if I think about the stuff that's always on my turntable, I'd have to say Steely Dan, Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson too.
How important is your home of Liverpool? Is the scene as active there as it has ever been? What is it like working and being there?
It is important. There's something in the water I think...
Only the other day, I went to a family party and, after a few drinks, a guitar appeared and everyone was singing. I actually did my first live performance at St Peter's Church in Woolton (where I was born), which is where John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time. I was five, it was a school choir but, you know; you take what you can.
I don't live there anymore - but it's a big part of who I am.
What do you hope to achieve in 2018?
If I'm able to continue making music, I'm happy. I'd also like Everton to win the Premier League. There’s a good chance of the former - and no chance of the latter.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
There was a gig I played at Norderzon Festival in the Netherlands. I'd decided I wasn't playing live anymore and this was to be my last show. The stage was way off to the side and I was the only act playing on it that night. Two minutes before I got onstage, there were about three people in the audience.
I looked over at my wife and said "Let's get this over with" but, as I got on the stage, all these people starting appearing. I ended up playing to a few hundred and they were singing along to the songs. That was nice.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Do it because you love it - and don't worry about what anyone thinks.
Where can we see you play? What gigs do you have coming up?
Probably nowhere...unless someone offers me an insane amount of money.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Last Dinosaur/PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Goldberg
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Yeah. The Last Dinosaur who has just brought out a very highly acclaimed album called The Nothing; Mattis Nikolai Myrland, who is a fantastic songwriter from Norway, and Tall Tree 6ft Man (Jonathan Czerwik, who produced my album) has an album coming out that I've heard some of and it's incredible.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Football (what I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm) and alcohol. Mainly, though, it's music, music, music...
PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Lahuis
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).
How about Rotifer's I Just Couldn't Eat As Much (As I'd Like To Throw Up). He's one of the best lyricists writing in English today (and he's Austrian!)......
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