Tell us what influenced your sound and songwriting for your new project?
I think circumstance, more than anything. Pre-lockdown I never recorded anything at home beyond very rough phone demos. Once I got started though I really liked the freedom of being able to play around and control what I was making but as I’m sure a lot of people have done over the last couple of years, I was feeling pretty uninspired and unhappy with the songs I was writing. So, I thought I’d try and write some songs just for myself.
I actually started by doing something I rarely if ever do, and that’s revisiting old lyrics. I write quite a lot, and usually lyrics I’ve written have a very short time frame in which to get used otherwise they’re relegated to dropbox obscurity. But I went digging around and found some bits I liked. In some cases it was titles. It gave me somewhere to start.
The first song I wrote has ended up being the first song on the album. It is a quiet, picky track, that’s very wordy, not unlike a lot of The Seasons in Shorthand songs, so I wanted to do something to set it apart a little. I added in
some crunchy guitars and bass, and it had this dark, sombre feel that I really liked. The picture of the rest of the album came together in my mind pretty quickly after that.
You have performed solo many times but how did you find the recording process working without a band?
Very forgiving. I actually didn’t give it much thought, I was in my own little world really. I have a 5 year old son, so I do not get to play guitar for long at home without having to bust out the power rangers theme tune. But I came to like having a bit of imposed time pressure. If I could find an hour in the day, I would use it to record a song, and then I’d sit there and mix or program beats once everyone had gone to bed. It meant I didn’t have time to overthink everything. I got ideas down in as few takes as possible, and had to make sure I had good ideas ready for when the opportunity arose. I think it has resulted in an album that feels very natural, more concerned with the ideas being fresh than with perfect performance. Others would probably argue that I
just didn’t play it very well!
I love the title The Negative Twin, what is the reason behind that choice? Does this first single set the tone for the album?
Thank you! As soon as I wrote that line in the song I knew it had to be the title. The song sets the tone for the album lyrically I think, more than it does tonally. One thing we’ve all had lately is a lot of time with our thoughts, and that can be a dangerous thing. I’ve written a lot about anxiety before, and this album is no exception, but I’ve tried to find more expansive ways of framing that I guess. The Negative Twin is about that self-sabotaging voice in your head, the one that claws at you when you can’t sleep, and then turns up as all manner of nonsense in your dreams when you eventually do. It is the idea that we have this other competing self, looking to take our place.
Being been part of a punk rock band and also a folk band, how does Negative Twin relate to those projects if at all?
While it’s not as ‘in your face’ as a punk song, this track has more distorted guitar going on than most of the rest of the album, so I guess there’s a healthy chunk of Launch Control in there. Writing folk music has taught me how to use quiet and intimacy as power in songs too, and that’s something I’ve definitely tried to apply here as well.
Are your lyrics written as poems and set to music or does the music come first? Tell us about your songwriting process.
Almost always lyrics first. Lyrics are by far the most important part of a song for me, and I try to write something every day if I can. I don’t know if I’d say they’re written as poems, I think I’m always writing with a mind to turn them into songs. Poetry is something I love, and I’ve tried many times, but I think it’s a different discipline.
A few of the songs on this album came from me coming up with some music and rooting around for lyrics to fit to it, as I mentioned earlier, and by writing and recording everything in little pockets of limited time, the music and the lyrics came together side by side far more than they would usually for me. But my main concern will always be that the lyrics are right before I hit record.
This album is produced with Aden Pearce from Nightjjar, tell us about your experience working with him.
Aden and I have known each other for a long time. When I started playing shows with my first band Sullivan (a reeeeeally long time ago) he was doing the whole acoustic singer-songwriter thing and was the first person I can
remember us being really impressed by. And I’ve been bugging him ever since. We’ve played loads of local acoustic shows together over the years and yet the only time we’d really collaborated was when we randomly performed Jig of Life at a Kate Bush tribute night in London together.
Aden has always been a sounding board for me though, we talk about music quite a bit, and he’s someone you can always rely on for an honest take on a new song. I sent him across my tracks once I had them at a stage that was as far as I could take them with my (very) limited production skills, and he was nice enough to not only seem to genuinely enjoy them, but also to offer to mix and master them for me. If you haven’t heard his Nightjjar album, I highly recommend you check it out for fantastic production and of course great song writing.
The thing that made me really happy was that he bought immediately into the idea that I was trying to capture this natural ‘warts and all’ kind of sound. It wasn’t about over polishing or ‘fixing’ it was about putting some
professionalism and a better ear to what I had done. And, of course, toning down the absolute ocean of reverb that I drowned each song in to hide my dodgy voice. I love the mixes we’ve come up with and hope he isn’t too
traumatised by hours of listening to me.
What is your favourite track on the new album and why? ( Yes this a tough question but I’m asking!)
This is a hard question, and one where my answer would probably change if you asked me again in a week’s time, but I think right now my answer would be a track called A Printout of Task-Driven Love. It’s probably the most personal track on the album, and maybe the closest to the usual style of my acoustic songs. It may well be that no one else really connects with it, but for me it’s the rare example of a track turning out exactly how I wanted it. It’s depressing as all hell of course. And I mean reeeeeally bleak. Sold? Great.
Are there any live shows coming up you can tell us about?
For me, or the world in general? Because it’s no for both. Currently the only show that I have booked is a return of an intimate acoustic night I put on at The Rising Sun Arts Centre in Reading back in 2019, called The Torchlight Book Club. This was a night that I curated along with wonderful local promoters The Big Untidy. I haven’t even made the poster yet, but I guess I’m allowed to announce it, so HERE GOES!
We’re doing a 2nd Torchlight Book Club on March 11th , featuring me, Aden Pearce, Jamie Larbalestier, and Kate Herridge.
New album 'Scientific Automatic Palmistry' is out now, including the singles 'The Negative Twin' and 'Holy Smoke'. Cd and cassette are available via Bandcamp