Tool – Live at Manchester

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a show of this scale.

Tool have been on my ‘to go see live’ list for years and I’ve never had the opportunity until now. I believe the last time they played live was early 2010s with the exception of download 19.

I had seen the bootlegs and some live footage and saw the audio visual element which is astonishing but as can be expected, nothing compares to being there in person.

They started by using a gauze curtain with thin textured lines coming down. The work that went into the screens and lights was incredible and about 4 songs in they opened it up.

This is a major part of the experience but the essential element is the playing, which is at the highest possible level.

The Tool band members are in their 50s and their experience and dedication was on full display. They were totally in control and played with so much precision, it was unbelievable. Maynard. Adam, Justin and Danny are all so damn good at their instruments. The sound is unbelievable too. Adam’s combination of Diezel Amps and Gibson guitars absolutely screams whilst Danny is a drumming octopus with loads of nice touches including pitched percussion and a modular synthesiser. Maynard sings in the dark like a ghostly figure and Justin hits the bass hard whilst interacting with the crowd the most.

It was overwhelming…and loud!

But what made it even better was that the audience of 20,000 honoured the band’s request not to have phones out during the show until Maynard granted people request to take their ‘stupid effing cell phones’ at the end.

For far too long, being at a show is about the audience saying they are there than just allowing oneself to be experiencing music in the moment.

It was so good to see music of this level of sophistication being enjoyed by so many people but then again, these guys have been at it for decades, and what we witnessed was decades of work.

It gives me hope. So much music today is blamcmanche and quite frankly banal to the point of total irrelevance and swarming in a desperate toxic sea of approval chasing social media crap, but not all. And it’s about time we start nurturing younger acts who want to make music at this level.

Tool inspires me to maintain integrity, stick to my musical instincts and be ambitious.

If you get the chance to see them live, do it!

Today’s Music Business vs. Artistic Vision

I just read the Bob Lefsetz article on Today’s Music Business.

The short of it is that data on social media dictates the business above any of the music. Record labels capitalise on that which already gains traction.

And usually what gains traction needs that viral train wreck, shock value so it’s instantly shareable and can catch fire.

That’s not music anywhere near in it’s full art form.

But labels, don’t care about that, they care about money.

So, if you are keen on garnering as much attention as possible, getting mindshare and being talked about so much it leads to a major deal and beaucoup bucks, get cracking on with your short hooks on Tik Tok.

Otherwise, the better approach is to accept the reality of the situation, then ignore the business trends of today and steer your own path with your own vision.

You might not make any money at all, but you’ll be fulfilled knowing that you’ve made that which you want to make without pandering to any of the lower common denominator nonsense.

You might build an audience, a small viable audience that appreciates you for who you are and respect your integrity and willingness to dance on the edge. And if Kevin Kelly is right, 1000 true fans is all you need to get somewhere.

Dancing on the edge of failure.

There’s a common thread with records I regard as my favourite releases of the year.

And it is that they take risks.

Take ‘Pang’ by Caroline Polachek, where the album is full of wild production choices, insane use of vocals both in lead and accompaniment and unique sound worlds.

Or ‘Sawayama’ by Rina Sawayama that sounds as equally influenced by Nu Metal as it does Britney Spears and unapologetically tackles themes of dysfunctional families.

Nothing makes my eyes roll quite like music that plays it safe. Predictable choices through and through with structure, sounds, and performance.

That’s what the radio seems to lap up, and the majors for the most part. There’s a refusal by many to take risks and choices made to cater for what people think other people like.

But what I’m interested in is bold, courageous creativity that doesn’t pander for anything else. Uncompromising artistic vision made with integrity.

That means it might not work, most of the time it won’t, but when it does, that’s where the real magic happens!

Coming Soon…Live at Ratio Studios

One of the most frustrating things for musicians during this whole era has been the inability to get out and play in front of audiences.

Restrictions where we live have even made it hard for us to get rehearsals together.

After months of planning, myself, Miff and Jiff recorded a full live Kinky Wizzards set comprising of our last two albums.

We had an absolute ball making it and was in an incredible space, and we look forward to sharing it with you soon.

To the wire

My mind always boggles at the fact that Peter Jackson didn’t see the final cut of Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King until the premier, simply because they were still doing a few final edits.

The difference between work and art is that when you work you want to do the bare minimum, when you do art, you want to do everything possible.

The latter is an amazing bug, but the amount of times I’ve agonised over a piece of music, bounced, rebounced and then still finding things to tweak!

It’s sometimes good having a deadline imposed upon you. The pressure, the adrenaline and the need to get it done all sets you off on a relentless mission to get everything done in the precious amount of time you have.

Finding something that you can commit to, give your all and spend a phenomenal amount of energy on…is a blessing.

Chosen Family

Pop songs released today rarely have much sincerity or authenticity.

At least not on the level of ‘Chosen Family’ by Rina Sawayama.

And the collaboration with Elton John is extraordinarily poignant given the context of the song. (Credit to Elton John, he’s the most vocal and enthusiastic legend about new music and gets involved…respect!)

Sawayama’s debut album last year was one of my favourite releases. Musically, it’s eclectic and doesn’t cater specifically to a genre, so much to the point that a lot of labels turned down signing it…more fool them!

‘Chosen Family’ focuses on a theme that runs through the album that deals with the question of family legacy and how you navigate through your life when things with your parents or immediate family is defined by tension and a lack of acceptance.

It could be because of your sexual orientation, or Dreams for the future or anything else for that matter. In that situation, friends become even more important and whilst we can’t choose our blood relatives, we can choose the friends we have and make a family out of them, and share our stories, vulnerabilities and love.

Back in the studio

Over the last few days, myself, Aled Lloyd and Andrew Bishop travelled to mid Wales and recorded drums and guitars for my second album.

The studio we are in is Giant Wafer, and it’s an absolutely beautiful environment to create music in.

The direction I have taken with this new record is very different to anything I have done before and I look forward to sharing more details with you.

In the meantime, here are some photos of us in action.

Re-recordings

Some things can only be done once.

You can try to replicate it, all the ingredients are the same, but the same emotional investment you gave in that moment isn’t quite ticking this time round.

That always comes to mind every time I hear re-recorded releases. I have a few but none of them supersede the original.

Taylor Swift has just released her versions of ‘Fearless’ and I cross checked the two versions out of curiosity.

Everything’s been done with pinpoint accuracy where things should sound the same, but to my ears, they simply don’t!

Swift really caught the zeitgeist for teenage girls with her second album. I was busy listening to prog metal but I remember friends of mine who had her music on repeat.

There’s an authenticity and innocence in her earlier work, and 12 years down the line, I’d argue it’s nigh on impossible to recreate that magic of the original master.

Just imagine the possibility of a re-recording of any favourite records of yours. I can’t think of any scenario where that would be beneficial.

I understand the motivation and the situation with her label has been well documented, and whilst many will believe she’s been done wrong, everything that took place was legal, make of it what you will.

So what’s the intention with these re-recordings? The most obvious thing to me is the dignity of ownership. It could be and does feel like an act of defiance as well. It could be money, but all parties involved have plenty, but then again, being rich can become a hedonic treadmill.

If fans love it, that’s totally cool and to be respected, I’m just weighing in because it interests me and I think there can be a few lessons to consider.

A.) Careful about what you sign up for and what your rights are. Musicians are notorious for falling into this trap. Be enthusiastic about the work, but stand your ground if a contract looks like it’ll take something away from you.

B.) As artists, what’s the best approach with our time, to look forwards or backwards? To continue creating something new or innovative or try to recreate what’s already done?

Exiles

This song as well as ‘Anything is Possible’, ‘Continents Away’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ all explore the resolution element of ‘Between a Disillusion and Resolution’.

There is a common thread of introspection in identity, belonging, curiosity and travel and ‘Exiles’ especially deals with the idea that to find out more of yourself, you may need to venture further afield.

British people working overseas are normally referred to as ‘Expats’. The dictionary definition of this is ‘to exile oneself’.

Moving to the Middle East for four years definitely did this for me. During my time at home in Wales in 2015, I felt disillusioned and afraid that I may end up stuck in a dead end for longer than I’d ever want to be. Sometimes, a complete uproot is what is needed. And when the time was right, I always had home to come back to. I’m home in Wales again for the time being and the experiences I had have been amazing.

This song is for those who venture further afield, looking to explore, learn and challenge themselves.