Half Notion

I wrote Half Notion after reading this brilliant quote from Guillermo Del Toro.

I always say, when you’re young and unsuccessful, you don’t have the money, and if you’re not careful, when you’re old and successful, you don’t have the passion. To be put in either of those two positions is a tragedy. I think one of the toughest times in any man’s life is his twenties, because in your twenties you’re fiercely screaming who you are, but you have only half a notion of who you are. Then as you grow older, you whisper who you are, but people are closer to you, and they listen. By that time, you have half a notion, a quarter of a notion, of who you are. I think the tragedy is when you finally have all the people that you need surrounding you, and you have nothing left to say.”

Reading this passage from ‘cabinet of curiosities’ gave me a heck of a lot of comfort in my early twenties. The very idea that it’s okay to not have a clue about anything. The problem is school and society tells you that you need to get your act together swiftly, and that you need to be successful sharpish.

Passion, desire and anxiety go hand in hand whilst you’re still trying to figure it all out. Half Notion musically and lyrically deals with me living that experience.

The middle solo is one of my proudest moments on the guitar as well.

If you’re in your twenties, early or late and you feel like you are still figuring everything out, that’s fine and you’re far from alone in feeling that. You’ve got time and in the meantime, enjoy the exploration.

Dreams to Ashes

Track 1 of my solo debut album was initially written in 2015 and completed in 2018.

Musically, it’s a progressive metal track through and through with 5/4 being the opening time signature amongst other jagged rhythms and riffs.

Most of the track is guitars, bass and drums but there are moments where I use acoustic guitars, synths and other textures. The ending is particularly dense.

Lyrically, the album is about what has been called by some as the lost decade. The growing chaos and division that occurred from 2016 onwards and futures being determined by lack of upward mobility, soaring house prices and inequality, prejudice and hatred.

This opening track was one of the reasons I wanted to include the word ‘disillusion’ in the album title.

Amidst all the frustration I expressed in this track, and my observation of it all, I throw in an element of hope in there. The problems are definitely there, but many of us see them and are doing something about it. Here is to changing things for the better.

Let’s go Crazy

The famous track opens up Prince’s iconic album ‘Purple Rain’.

What blows my mind about this song is that besides the intro and outdo, it almost entirely comprises of two chords that repeat.

Between verse and chorus, Prince very cleverly arranged the music in a way to transform the energy of the song. Mainly it’s through his charisma as a performer.

The film version is also 7 minutes long!

It makes me wonder though, what are the possibilities of creation. If you could only use two chords, what would you do with them?

I think setting yourself a parameter like that, makes you approach creativity in ways you did not previously consider.

Prince did go crazy and so can you!

Creating a catalogue

I don’t really listen to playlists.

I still listen to records chronologically.

That may mean I’m a bit of an oddity in my generation, but I love listening to and appreciating the journey that has endeavoured to make a 40-60 minute musical journey that is sophisticated from start to finish.

When I find an artist I really like, I then start to explore the catalogue, I want to know all of the work they’ve made from their greats, to their goods to their not so good stuff.

The evolution of artists is fascinating and usually the ones I really like have kept on changing direction and exploring creative facets. Peter Gabriel’s career from Genesis to his solo material is fascinating.

I love the idea of creating a catalogue of work that I myself have done it and thus far have five to my name, with many more planned for the future.

To anyone reading this who is creating their body of work in any discipline, you have my respect and admiration.

And if you haven’t started yours yet and want to, today is a good day to start!

Reference points

It’s good to have reference points when you’re creating something beyond your specialisms.

I’m not a pianist or string player but I’ve been composing for both instruments over the last few months. I use my knowledge and expand upon it to get fundamentals right, namely instrument range, harmony, rhythms and idiomatic features.

When I want to take things further, that’s when I do my research.

An abundance scores from previous show the possibilities of extended techniques, engraving and ways to approach writing that you may not have previously considered.

Being creative involves listening and referring to other past works that can inspire you and influence you towards new directions.

Presets

I like presets. I tend to use them as a reference point for the kind of things I’m looking for.

The new record I’m making includes new timbres I’ve never worked with before but I’ve spent hours sourcing sounds from plug ins trying to find the right one for the particular passage or song. If I tried building every sound from scratch, I’d release my next record in a decade’s time!

With the amazing technology out there, it’s easy to get a sound you’re after, even close to artists you love. I’m always jumping for joy when I make a synth sound like Boards of Canada.

However, it’s worth reminding myself I’m not them and whilst influences are fine, it’s good to dig deeper, customise, explore and ultimately, find that which can make you unique.

It’s why as a guitarist, I’m ambivalent about digital amp profilers, I know they sound amazing, but I like the unpredictability of microphones and valve amps.

Presets are a good reference point for that which you are after. But good becomes greater when you can tweak, customise and innovate.

A change in environment and process.

I got up this morning and cycled into town after booking a room in my college.

I’m currently working on my new album and the process has been quite different to my previous works, particularly with lyric writing.

It occurred to me that most of the lyrics I wrote for my first solo album were written when I was travelling or when I was in a cafe.

Being robbed of the opportunity to experience both of late, writing lyrics has actually been a struggle and a slog.

But then, I changed my working space and environment. I also had the mic ready to lay down ideas there in the moment as opposed to writing it down and it worked a treat. As of today, I finally have a full set of lyrics for one of my new songs.

A new environment, a new approach are sometimes all that are needed for you to crack that thing you’ve been inhibited from creating.

Crossing the finish line of ‘good enough’.

I don’t own decent cameras and Final Cut Pro.

So when it came to me and the boys from Kinky Wizzards deciding to do a virtual cover together, we had to film ourselves on our phones and make do with the audio and video.

Jiff then worked his socks off on IMovie to sync it all together. After hours of working with the software limitations and tearing his hair out, he’s got it ready to ship tomorrow. (Watch this space).

It’s not ideal to not have the resources but doing it is a lot better than not doing anything at all.

Just because we don’t have the fancy gear does not mean we can’t not make something happen.

Collaboration

A few weeks, ago, I hit a brick wall.

I’ve spent lockdown relentlessly creating and whilst I’m proud of that, I’m also susceptible to getting into mental knots, especially when so much of the work I am doing is in solitude.

Cue a rest day, recharging my batteries and a walk for clarity. All of which helped, but when it came to moving my project forward, the key to unlocking it was two phone calls with my collaborators.

They were able to see things I could not, they brought a new level of energy, excitement and feedback that made me realise the further potential of the work I am doing.

Everyone who has ever made something, especially if it’s successful has had an environment and community around them to levitate their work, which is why the idea of lone genius is a myth.

Creative work happens when we do the work, but it also happens when we know to ask for help and welcome on board the expertise and insight of others.

Frustration can be a good thing.

If you are working towards a goal and trying to achieve something, feeling frustration is a natural part of the process.

The frustration of not being able to succeed in what you are doing (yet).

If you are frustrated, you are working towards flow and conscious of the fact that you are making mistakes and not quite where you want to be (yet). It can be a useful motivator, a challenge to overcome and it is very often that moments of frustration also can lead to moments of a high level of learning.

If we can perceive the process of frustration as a good thing and use ‘yet’ as a useful lever to move ourselves forward, we will reap the rewards.

Keep going.