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INTERVIEW

1) Where did your passion for music originate? 

It's hard to say - I guess that having had parents who played guitar and keyboard and hence the availability of instruments throughout my childhood has certainly helped! I have many fond memories of going round to my grandparents each week and messing around with my cousins on earlier 80's keyboard/organ/synth. We did used to put on performances of songs we found in the songbooks; I hasten to add we didn't know how to read music, so we just pressed buttons and shouted out the words, probably much to the concern of our parents!

I guess it was nice to have an audience for something we were doing and that feeling probably stayed with me!


It was many years later though that I took up the recorder and trumpet through school. There was a musical aptitude test and it was suggested that I might be good at the latter; though the rumor was that people who only just had a "musical ear" got the brass instruments!

Keyboard lessons were originally as a hobby to hang out with friends, but I ended up staying around when they stopped attending. There was something enjoyable even about learning scales - I had two great teachers and a syllabus that promoted "fun" first and foremost, in addition to learning solid music theory! The ability to have another language to converse in was very important to my teenage self, who was quite introverted and shy.

I'm not quite sure at what point my love of the instrument turned into a desire to write songs - the first experiences of this I guess were with GCSE music, in which the syllabus requires you write some original pieces in addition to study of prior works and performance. I remember writing one piece of "horror music" inspired by Friday the 13th and I also submitted a song called "The Drifter" which i'd recently co-written with first band, Public Outcry. The original recording of this is available and i'm still very fond of it!

Today I consider myself to be more of a songwriter/composer and arranger then I do a musician. So i've gone quite far along the path, from the early days of just wanting to be known as a shred keyboardist!


2) How has your writing/compositional style evolved over the years? 

I think my compositional style has been closely related to my educational experience with instruments! I had keyboard lessons for a number of years and so this meant that when I joined my first band "Public Outcry", I was approaching the songs purely from the mindset of a keyboardist; how can I make my bit sound good in the overall context. So the songwriting was very much myself or the guitarists suggesting a chord sequence and then other members working around that. 

This is a perfectly effective way of working and many great songs have come together in this way - however I was finding that I wasn't particularly emotionally invested in the outcome. It was great fun to write and perform with the guys, but I didn't feel like I was telling any sort of story or the music was representing me especially.

My musical journey took me to picking up guitar, bass, trumpet and even steel drums! I think this was particularly important to broadening my horizons through different experiences and this was reflected in subsequent projects such as One Hundred Thousand Days - a short lived but important venture into prog with some school mates.

With the following musical project Curse Of Dawn, the songs were much more a unified approach, because all of the members played bits of each other's instruments and the focus was much more on the overall outcome - catchy and different songs with a message. There was still a lot of solos and elements of wanting to show off as individual musicians though!

Disconnected Souls has been a natural evolution in terms of variety/creativity and trying to push the boundaries of genres by incorporating and layering lots of different ideas - some of which may not work for everyone! Sensory Enigma has also been an opportunity to contrast this, by focussing on simplicity - with each song having the fewest number of parts possible whilst still sounding catchy and interesting.

 


3) How do you find composition collaboratively versus as a solo composer? 

This is a really interesting question and my preference actually changes very regularly! I love both, but i'm often in a situation where i'm experiencing the disadvantages of one of the approaches and wishing that I could be in the other situation. 

With solo composition, I find it can be more difficult to get started, but once you've got your main theme or idea, it's just a case of how you develop it and the structure that supports that. Obviously there will be times you get stuck, but eventually if you're passionate enough about the topic, then solution will come. The other consideration, is that you'll always have your weaknesses - so you might write a beautiful piece of orchestration, but will the Cello part be playable? Likewise, do your drums sound like a human would play them!

Composing with others is obviously a very different beast; in my experience, no two people go about the compositional process the same way, so immediately you're in a situation where there's a potential "language barrier". So for example, I could start by coming up with a chord sequence and suggest to the vocalist/lyricist that they work from that - but, that may not given them the inspiration they need... perhaps they'd prefer to hear some examples of the synth riffs on the right instruments to get in the mood, or would prefer to have a cool topic - such as "how could we write a song inspired by the spells within Dungeon's and Dragons?"

I have the greatest respect for both approaches, whether you're a solo composers/visionary such as Mike Oldfield, or a band with multiple parties contributing to the music such as Dream Theater. In fact my respect and love is to anyone involved in music in whatever form!

If i'm collaborating with another - I want to breakdown the communication barriers to ensure that I can contribute cool ideas that work in the context, but without overstepping the boundaries.

 


4) Do your personal experiences shape your music? 

Absolutely! In fact i'd argue that it's impossible for them not too.


There's some really interesting psychology behind this topic, as well as it being a great philosophical topic of discussion! There's a concept called the map of transference, which states that any thought/feeling/decision you have in life is based on the experiences of every other one that has come before it. This can be very interesting when used to consider people's life attitudes and development over time.

I might have plans to do a concept song/album about this very topic!

How does this apply to me personally? It's hard to say, because the entire point of it, is that you're not truly independent of your life and decisions, so it's therefore difficult to reflect objectively! I guess I've had my ups and downs in life as most people have but I'm fortunate now to be in a stable position and focussing on my own goals. My my recent writing reflects that - it's more focussed on world issues, philosophical concepts and how people can generally strive to become the best person they can be, as opposed to any personal challenge or experience within my life. Not that there's anything wrong with those - but trust me, you don't want to hear me to do a romantic ballad!

 

 

 

5) Do you find you lean towards a particular genre or style influences with your composition? 

Personally I would say no - however it's all a matter of perspective! 


I love 99.99% of music/genres - I think this is probably because the only key criteria for me is that the person is telling a story or conveying a message.

I feel that my music is my unique combination of styles - if we come back to the map of transference, then everything I write, is the product of everything i've written or listened to previously. So for all I know, there might some element of an obscure folk song that I once heard on the radio that inspired me to create a heavy track such as Warring Elements.

The music we've been making as part of Disconnected Souls is closest to my goal, which is fusing metal, classical and electronic influences. I believe that these are three of the distinct pillars of dramatic music today, but they are by no means exclusive. I absolutely adore world music, hip hop and trap and some of our newer material definitely focuses more on these.
 
Fortunately i'm with a bunch of wonderful individuals, who are similarly diverse and hence we have no "rules" on what our music has to or not sound like!" The goal is usually: "how can we include X and Y within a track and make them work together?" X and Y might be different genres, instruments, vocal styles or a combination of all. 

Some of the songs end up going from X+Y = cool track to:

Complex mathematical equation written out on a whiteboard

It's been interesting received feedback on our EP - on the one hand you have comparisons in sound to Metallica and Linkin Park but I wouldn't have said that either of those were remotely reflective, even slightly! Having said that, to someone who doesn't listen to metal, then I guess that both of those bands have distorted guitar and anthemic sounds. The former is factually correct and the latter is high praise indeed!

In short - no matter what your genre or influences, I want to work with you and I hope that my experiences will help me come up with something cool that works!

 


6) What fuels your drive to make music? 

Fundamentally, it's probably the desire to connect with people. I often don't feel I'm the best at communicating in the traditional verbal way, but music allows me to collect my ideas, refine them and present them into some sort of cohesive story. Hopefully it's more interesting to listen to also! The result is my personal "truth" that has been shaped from my life experiences.

I love collaborating with people; to bring them into the story and express their perspectives. Similarly, I always like it when people ask me to contribute to their projects. It's actually a real honour and that's one of the reasons that i've decided to make myself available as a freelance musician!

 


7) Your symphonic metal band, Curse of Dawn, was more heavily live orientated, whereas Disconnected Souls focuses more on the composition. In contrast, Nottingjam Orchestra was live and improvised. Do you enjoy one aspect over the other? Or is it dependent on the nature of the ensemble?

I absolutely loved playing live shows with Curse Of Dawn, although it can be quite mentally taxing! There is still nothing that quite compares to people singing along the words, headbanging or any other display of unity with the music.

I think that through the shows we did play, I learned that this wasn't a life that I commit to doing full time, as much as I loved the music and people I shared it with. So, for someone who'd recently finished at university and wasn't sure what to do with their life - that was an important discovery.

With Disconnected Souls we have different levels of interest in playing live; I absolutely do intend for some of the songs to be performed and occasional festival/special performances would be wonderful! At the same time though, we are all very busy people. Part of the reason that we refer to ourselves as a project and not a band, is to cover the difference in approach/mindset to be around the compositional side of things. One of my goals with DS though was that we would write music that was not constrained by our current ability to play it - hence it would not be acting as a restriction. Restrictions are fascinating topic though with respect to music and you could argue that by not having any, you'll be overwhelmed by possibilities, and I must say sometimes we are in danger of that with DS. With Sensory Enigma, we try and put artificial constraints on ourselves - such as pre-planning the tempo/time signature key and names of the pieces in advance.

The Nottingjam Orchestra has been a wonderful experience to do something experimental focussing only on the performance side of things and i've loved every moment of it! I think the gift that has given me is confidence in my own skills and abilities. As you say, all of the performances are improvised, so we go out there with no songs, no setlist; not even a chord sequence - everything literally comes together in the moment! We'll usually take turns to start off the piece - whether that be through a melody, chords or a vocal section and then as ideas come to people they will join in.

Sometimes it feels like we really nail a piece - other times it might not sound as strong, but the key thing is that even if we're not feeling it, the audience will sometimes really enjoy and get into it! And that's the most important thing. I'll never forget one song where I got absorbed in the moment and played a very fast and dissonant organ solo - that involved lots of whacking both of my hands down! I've no idea how it sounded, but people went crazy and afterwards a close friend told me it was the most ridiculously cool thing he'd ever heard - high praise indeed!

One experience i'd really like to contrast the above is to work on some acapella music - as all of the above have focussed very heavily on the musical elements, so that would be interesting to balance it out with. Perhaps something in the vein of Steeleye Span? :)

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