1. What are you currently up to? (recording, gigs, plans etc.)
I’m getting ready to release my second single, Masquerade on September 10th. It’s a song about ladies who take their clothes off for money (and the hapless men who orbit them). Hot on its heels will be the album it’s taken from, Great Falls, which is out later in September. I’m also rehearsing up my band for a special gig at the 100 Club on September 19th. Apart from that, lots of songwriting for the next record. We have about 20 tunes in the pipeline at the moment. I want to go into the next album with about twice that number.
2. Could you take us through the new album ‘Great Falls’? (e.g. ideas behind the songs etc)
Great Falls is a real place in Virginia, USA. It’s a short drive from the studio where I recorded large chunks of the album. I went there on my first day in America. I picked it as a title because of the double meaning: the idea that a fall, or an accident, or a disaster, or whatever, could be great. Lots of the songs seem to celebrate heroic failure. On the album, we have Homes For Heroes, a song about a soldier returning from Afghanistan who shares a pint with an ex-con who’s just ended a long stretch in prison. It’s set in the Vulcan, my favourite Cardiff pub, which is shortly to be demolished and rebuilt in a museum. We’ve also got Banknotes, a song about the financial crisis, written about five years before it happened. There’s Diamond Tears, a song about an Eastern European immigrant estranged from his children who ends up fighting with his own reflection. We’ve all been there.
3. How did you get BJ Cole and Paul Frith to guest on your album?
I asked them. I found BJ’s email from his website and emailed him out of the blue. Paul is someone my producer Thomas Johansen recommended. Both of them did amazing work. BJ plays pedal steel on The One That Stayed Behind and Diamond Tears. And Paul arranged and conducted the strings on Hurricane Jane and Cressida Road. In both cases, I just sat in the control room, marvelling at their talent.
4. How easy/hard is it to get a decent run of live dates? Have you managed to break into the festival circuit or are endless gigs in acoustic tents maybe not the best way forward?
It depends on the dates, to be honest. I could be playing three times a night for the rest of the year but I don’t know what it would achieve, apart from sapping my energy and distracting me from stuff I enjoy doing more. I’m more in the quality camp than the quality camp: I’d rather play ten fantastic shows a year, in conducive venues with great sound and a great atmosphere, to a sizeable audience of people who want to be there. So that’s what I do.
5. Do you find it easier to write songs based on your own personal experiences and have you ever considered possibly writing for/joining a band?
I don’t know about easier, but it’s certainly more rewarding. It’s bit broader than just personal experiences – lots of the songs on Great Falls are about my view of the world, not just my view of myself. But it’s all about me, either way. I do already write with other people. In fact, my first ever song was written with a mate from school, so it’s a way of working that I’ve always felt very comfortable with. I’ve worked a lot over the last few years with a singer called Sian Cross (www.siancross.co.uk). She’s got a single out in a few weeks called Lady Angel, which I co-wrote with her. I’ve been writing with Hannah Berney in the last month too – she was one of the finalists on the first series of The Voice and she’s from the same village as me in Wales. In terms of joining a band, I’ve been in several over the years and have almost without exception found it a bit demoralising. The exception is the band I’m in at the moment. We arranged all the tracks from the album as a three-piece, me on piano, Mark Ferguson on bass and Sam Stopford on drums. We recorded like that too: the instruments on Cressida Road for instance were recorded as one straight live take with no click track. When we play the songs live, it really does sound exactly like the record. But it’s not just the best band I’ve been in musically, it’s also the best personally. It’s the most fun I remember having with my clothes on. I think you can hear all that on the record. So, although this is a solo project, and everything goes out under my name, in reality, it’s been the most positive, collaborative, enjoyable and fulfilling team effort I could imagine.
6. Has the internet helped you get your music out there or has it in some ways hindered it by websites offering free downloads? Do you still rely heavily on CD sales as opposed to download?
The internet is vital in terms of promoting yourself and building a profile. But it’s impossible to sustain financially. I’ve had thousands of plays on Spotify but I would struggle to buy a Mars bar with the income it’s generated. In terms of CD sales vs legal downloads, it’s about 50/50. Both are important.
7. What have been the live highlights so far and why?
My favourite gig so far has probably been the last time we played at the 100 Club towards the end of last year. The whoops and hollers were insane: it was like playing to an American crowd.
8. You famously guested on flute on a Morrissey album. Which other artists albums would you love to guest on if given the chance and why?
Neil Finn, the songwriter behind Crowded House, has done a couple of albums with an ensemble of musicians including Johnny Marr, Eddie Vedder, Jeff Tweedy, Phil and Ed from Radiohead. They all head down to his place in New Zealand for a fortnight with half finished songs. They finish them up together, record them, then do a string of shows which they record and release as a live DVD. I love the idea of being in a big old creative melting pot like that. I think it would be joyous and inspiring. And if Cathal Coughlan from Microdisney and the Fatima Mansions needed a piano player, I would pay him to do it.
9. What made you want to start making music and who have been your musical influences?
My mum and dad had four records when I was a kid: the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums, ABBA’s greatest hits and Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits. If you mashed them all together, it would sound a lot like I do now.
10. What do you enjoy doing in your time away from music?
What is this ‘time away from music’ you mention? Seriously, I love watching Wales play rugby home and away, I love catching up with my mates, but the best thing of all is the precious time I have with my two kids.
Anything else to add and a message for your fans…
Thanks for all your support. I hope you enjoy Great Falls. I’m very proud of it.
In his show broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 10 May David Randall played a further selection of artists and albums included in the new Features series, “2020 Vision”.
Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
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Featured Albums w/c 25 May (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 FM Synchronized (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 THE ROCKET DOLLS The Art Of Disconnect (indie)
14:00-16:00 BEN KUNDER Searching For The Stranger (indie)
Power Plays w/c 11 May (Mon-Fri)
THE MERCY KILLS Alone (Golden Robot Records)
DEAD REYNOLDS By Your Side (indie)
THE JAILBIRDS Watery Grave (Golden Robot Records)
ALI MASS & MICKY MOODY These Times (Last Man Music)
MASSIVE WAGONS Bangin In Your Stereo (Earache)
UDO We Are One (AFM Records)
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