Sunday 26 November 2017

'The Hissing and the Hum'

I wanted to write because for me at least it feels like finishing a fifth album is a 'landmark' of sorts. Because those old-fashioned record deals were usually five album deals so I always thought that after five albums it was a big moment for some reason. I released my first album, 'Bless' nine years ago. I would just like the people who retain an interest in my music to hear from me I guess. Like making a speech! And speeches should be light-hearted yet heart-felt, reflecting on the journey undertaken and the lessons learned, and conclude with a thank you to the caterers.

The journey has been bizarre but beautiful. It has taken me from England to Scotland, France, Germany, Canada, Romania, Ukraine, the US, Poland and the Czech Republic. It even spawned a child - Free Swim

A brief timeline: in 2009 I had almost all of my musical equipment stolen on day one of recording album two, 'Glow Worm', in London. But despite driving home in tears that night I soldiered on and made just enough money from that record to spend a euphoric summer in New York a year later where I wrote album 3, 'Marble Sun'. In 2011, I travelled from Romania to Berlin via Ukraine and Budapest writing album 4, 'Lie Back and Think of England'. And in 2014 I left England for what could prove to be the long-term to the country in which I am writing this - the Czech Republic. 

Why did I leave England? Shortly, I would say that I just wasn't very happy, hadn't been for quite a long time, and had found that whenever I left England, it really brought out the best in me. I realised that I didn't want to be the best I can be just once or twice a year, but every day. I headed for Canada because I had a good friend there and it would act as a gateway to visiting all the US musical cities over a number of years. I couldn't get a work visa, so returned to Europe, got a Teaching English qualification in Prague, a city which I quickly fell in love with, and settled therein. 

Why hadn't I been happy in England? After difficult and conflicting experiences at private-school and university it then became suffocatingly impossible to articulate and justify to colleagues in a succession of surreal 'day-jobs', and to family, what creating music and being a songwriter truly meant to me. 

'Have you heard of Myspace?'. 'Why don't you try the X Factor?'. But the question I came to dread most was 'how's the music going Paul?'. Inside I just wanted to say 'Wonderful. It's always been wonderful and I can't imagine how it won't always be wonderful. When I'm writing and recording songs and albums my asthma vanishes, my fingernails grow, time disappears and I feel beautiful. It's always felt that way and I think it always will.' Maybe it was paranoia but it felt like they were asking from an 'industry perspective' so I would blurt out these awkward, bumbling responses about late-night radio play or tepid interest from indie labels they'd never heard of. 'Oh that's nice, well, good luck with it. How long have you been working here now?'. 

Week after week, month after month, year after year. That 'industry perspective' mentality infected me - I began to feel that that was the only way by which my music could be deemed a 'success'. But I had some angelic friends and I cherished time with other musicians who totally 'got it' and were so supportive. Just knowing that they truly understood why I was doing what I was doing and not questioning it in anyway, or expecting it to be or become something more than what it is - simply an expression of gratitude to nature for the gift of life. 

Five Android Albums and one EP in nine years. Add to that an album and five EPs for Free Swim during that time and an album and two EPs with Arcs. It's what I love to do. Some friends have told me that my output is quite 'prolific' but for me it's just me doing what I do. A songwriter writes songs. Right?

Yet I have also felt huge creative guilt and regret that I don't have an 'art school' mentality which could have made my music more consistently innovative and interesting. There have been clunky dabbles with the music industry which left me very frustrated and disillusioned. I embraced the DIY ethic but in truth it was an annoying distraction having to try and manage, release, promote and maybe even perform the music when I didn't really feel like I knew what I was doing on those fronts, and then learning from the mistakes when it was probably 'too late'. But my close friend Emma Fox once said to me 'judge every project by what you learn' and it is the best piece of advice I have ever received. Because it reminds you that the whole process is just a journey - just a ride. It was just all the bullshit that got in the way of that which made walking that path so bloody stressful - all my hair literally fell out! 

What has been perhaps the greatest gift however, is the fact that it is now wholly possible to record albums at a fraction of the cost than in decades gone by. Twenty years ago (when I first listened to 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space', 'OK Computer', 'Deserter's Songs' and 'Radiator' and fell in love with the concept of 'the album') it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to record and release an album globally. Now with a relatively small investment you can record an album at home and release it on iTunes to living rooms across the world. 

So underneath that difficult time in England where I had just wanted to write, record and release in peace but had so often felt like I was a disappointment because I wasn't commercially successful, this magical thing had been taking place where the costs of producing what I wanted to produce were coming right down to a lab-technicians wage. And thus I've recorded relentlessly as anyone would if the thing they loved to do suddenly became completely affordable having for so long seemed so helplessly out of reach. I slowly learned about music production thanks in great part to patient and supportive friends like Phil Bashford, though it will always be a source of quite deep frustration that I wanted to study music production when I was 18 but for complicated reasons, couldn't. It meant that with most of my releases I was always a little disappointed that the albums didn't 'sound' as good as I wanted them to. But I'm getting there. If I compare the sound of album 1 to album 5, the progress is, I hope, quite noticeable.

The biggest lesson I learned on the new album, 'The Hissing and the Hum', was to take a six month break between tracking (recording the songs) and mixing, and I have my close, talented friend, Will Howes to thank for that. It meant I could edit and mix the album with completely fresh ears, almost as if I was mixing somebody else's record. 

The album's sound was largely inspired by a music promotions company I discovered in Prague called River Promotions. They invite mainly kraut, stoner, psyche, prog and surf-rock bands including Thee Oh Sees, Follakzoid, Qujaku, Wooden Shjips, Acid Mothers Temple and many more to play in Prague. The venues are pokey and filthy and wonderful and I've come to recognise familiar faces in the crowd. At the gigs I can feel the kind of magical urgency of a 'scene', and the hissing of the treble and the hum of the bass have made me rediscover my love for live music in which I can simply bask, and not, as a songwriter, analyse and spy.

If you do download the album (Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp) I really hope you enjoy it. 

Sincerest of thanks to the caterers,

Paul x

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