The Upside Down

There’s a reference here but it’s not ‘Stranger Things’

The title was inspired by a quote from ‘Mary Poppins’ the musical where she describes the Banks family as an upside down family.

So much of the story of Mary Poppins is about the tension between a Father’s duty to business, working life and his family.

There are plenty of instances where this has been the case in real life where there are complex problems within a family set up that can sometimes end up buried and cause long term resentment.

Lyrically, it is one of the most complicated topics I cover in the album. The idea of disillusionment and how choices can impact any family but how introspection and seeking resolutions with empathy and forgiveness is a way to come to terms with everything.

The story of Mary Poppins has a wonderful arc for Mr. Banks. I wish that arc can be true for life itself as well.

Myopia

Myopia was written in response to short term thinking from people in power. Another track that justifies the word ‘disillusionment’ in the album title.

Initially, the lyrics explore the trap of making selfish decisions that in turn, leave other people in worse off positions and exploited. Another running theme is about profit being a priority above duty.

The big closing moment that finishes this track is in regards to our climate and the mess we are making of the planet and whilst positive strides have been made, there is still a lot of lip service, empty promises and unsustainable processes going on.

The use of the word ‘Prudence’ has declined in the last few years but I think it should become fashionable again.

I certainly wish that we all behave in a way that is more prudent and less myopic.

Grey Day

There are days when you wake up and feel like rubbish.

It could be just a horrible phase, a rough period or clinical depression. Nothing exact as such.

I wrote this song about those kind of days.

The voices in your head that keep telling you that you’re not good enough are winning (I call this ‘resistance’) and you are left with little energy to do anything else other than wallow.

The thing I’ve learnt is that things always get lighter when you take a walk and open up to someone about it.

Men in particular are awful at this, and it’s becoming more prevalent in the media how false sense of masculinity and bottling up feelings is doing more harm than good.

I wanted to write this song to express the fact that’s it’s okay to have these kind of days and it’s also okay to talk about it.

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.

Penny For a King?

Penny for a King?

A product of isolation.

My fellow musicians, Rich and Dean (who are currently based in Hong Kong) decided to put an album of original songs together, to which I had the pleasure of working on.

The album is a mixture of rock, grunge and blues with a plethora of attitude. There are riffs galore and it was really fun to mix.

You can listen to it via the following links:

https://music.apple.com/gb/album/a-product-of-isolation/1552187720

Building technical control

One of the best books I ever used to learn to develop and expand my guitar technique was Troy Stetina’s ‘Speed Mechanics for Guitar’.

He’s a monster guitar player but explained perfectly in the paragraphs amongst the exercises as to why we were doing the exercises and what benefit they had.

An entire section of the book was dedicated to the left hand whilst the other focused on the right. Amongst them were details on finger movement efficiency, dexterity and independence as well as a wide range of different movements that are idiomatic for the electric guitar.

The main idea that was re-enforced throughout the book was that speed is a pointless goal unless you aim for accuracy as well.

As I worked through the book along my metronome as a teenager, there were things gradually improving throughout the entire manner to which I played. I felt more in control, used the required amount of energy but nothing excessive and could play passages I thought were well beyond my ability.

These technical exercises played and still play a vital role in my journey for control on my instrument. Looking at the little details and the small steps you can take to level up is always something worth dedicating the time towards.

The Ravel Affair

I am currently attempting to write my first string quartet. It is a significantly new creative path for me and very challenging but nevertheless rewarding.

Upon my research of different quartets, Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major is one of my favourites. I consider it to be a beautiful piece with extraordinary passages and details typical of Ravel’s musical personality that would continue to evolve later on in his career.

What I find remarkable about the story of this piece is that it was his final submission to the conservatoire de Paris and Prix de Rome competitions to which both rejected the piece. Aside from having mixed reviews from the Parisian press, his teacher, Gabriel Faure, to whom the piece is dedicated to, dismissed the last movement as ‘stunted and in fact a failure’. Ravel himself believed that the quartet was an inadequate realisation.

Thankfully Debussy, whose own string quartet piece, which was written ten years previously and most likely had some influence on Ravel, wrote to him a letter with some words of encouragement and insisted he did not touch a single note of the piece he had written.

From what I’ve read, the truth appears that Ravel was an unconventional character with unconventional approaches to musical composition that was difficult for the conservatoire’s ultra conservative director to accept. He had enough resilience, or indifference to any other criticism than his own to keep going on his own path and it just so happens that the frustrations and failure he dealt with led him to propelling forward in his career and eventually being revered as one of the greatest French composers of all time.

Sometimes, art and the work created just so happens to be received in a time where the culture is not ready to accept its value. Some works find that appreciation is manifested at a later date, in some cases even beyond the life of the artist. Ravel’s String Quartet is now one of the most played chamber pieces.

The reason I like stories like this is that it reaffirms that steering your own creative path and focusing on what it is you want to achieve is better than changing what you do and who you are merely to fit in.

More often than not, innovation comes from the outside.

Thrashing through bad ideas

One of the interesting things about teaching composition is that it requires students to get used to exploring sounds, options and ultimately dealing with the fact that initially a lot of what they try isn’t going to work straight away.

There is a criteria you can set, you can work within parameters and music theory and other knowledge can certainly help in making choices that are suitable, but with that knowledge is also the willingness to take the rulebook and throw it away as that leads to innovation and originality.

Some students are so fearful of this, that it requires a Herculean effort to put anything down. To create, we need to get used to putting down bad ideas and then thrashing through them.

Almost always, there is potential to find something worthwhile amidst the ideas that are laid down, that is where thrashing can happen. What is worth keeping? What can we develop here? Will this work better if we get rid of this part or save it for later? What if we try this or that approach? How can we make this better? A myriad of questions to ask and plenty of creative possibilities.

Being open to the creative possibility is key and it comes when we give ourselves an environment where we can thrash through what we have without any judgement from the outside world. Just you and the work, and maybe some trusted people to advise you along the way.

‘Perfect’ Recordings

I listen to a wide range of recorded music. In fact, I would go so far to say that I have listened to music that spans the history of recorded music. From Vinyl to Cassettes to CDs and now streaming.

What is interesting about recorded music is just how fast the technology has advanced. You can hear real stark differences in the recording quality of music so much that you can hear incremental advances through each decade. One of the most particularly fascinating period was during the 60s to 70s where artists such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix were making records alongside the evolution of mixing desks having more inputs, as well as the development of electronic equipment.

The turn of the century did see a turning point with the development of computers and software. Namely through mixing in the box, via software and then the egalitarian way in which everyone could essentially record music on their laptops via DAW and plugins. It is really great that everyone has access to this technology now and create for themselves.

The knock on effect has been fascinating, and one in which recording quality and aesthetic has been a very interesting and highly debated topic. There are plenty of arguments for the fact that recording in earlier decades was better because generally more expensive hardware and microphones were being used in purpose built studios. There is the digital vs. analog argument and the listening of music has also been a fascinating topic. It is more likely that your average listener hears music in a car stereo or on ear buds than they do a decent stereo system. I remember becoming conscious of this when Steven Wilson started smashing Ipods in numerous ways and decrying the quality of Mp3s. He was right, Mp3s are awful but streaming in some ways has solved this due to the fact that most streaming services play songs at 320kbps.

When I teach, it is funny to see how aware the kids are of autotune and how blatantly it is used in tracks and generally, they do speak of it rather unfavourably. The choice to use it appears to be a timbral or aesthetic choice as opposed to one that merely corrects the singing pitch. The prevalence of it in genres such as Trap are significant.

If you listen to pop music today, the production of some tracks has been done with mathematical pinpoint accuracy to which everything could be deemed ‘perfect’. Quantising, pitch correction, rhythmic hooks – but the defects still occur, some of which could be considered significant. Over-compression being a big one or the lack of human authenticity in the performance. It is unlikely that you will hear a pop song today with anywhere near the same warmth and charm as a Frank Sinatra record.

During my ACM days, one of my lecturers got us to listen out for discrepancies in Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’. The vocalists heard about 12 in the first 90 seconds. That doesn’t make the song any less good, in some ways, it can be argued that they are enhancements. The same case could be made with some of Lindsey Buckingham’s vocal screeches in ‘Go your own way’ and the heightened emotion that comes as a result of them.

They fundamental thing that makes this such a fascinating area of discussion for me and one I love working within, is the subjectivity. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ record.

Ultimately, it comes down the intention of what we create, how we achieve that intention and doing our level best to get as close to that as we can.