After my review of Tim Bowness’ excellent latest release i got together with the man himself to ask him some probing, journalistic type questions…
1. Your new album ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ is due to be released 17th February, how would you say this differs from your three previous solo releases?
I think the main difference is that I was working towards fully realising the story, rather than making a Tim Bowness (or No-Man) album.
‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ emerged out of demos I’d written and compiled for a follow-up to ‘Schoolyard Ghosts’. Steven (Wilson) was too busy to commit to a No-Man album so he offered to mix what I came up with. I was forced to make a solo album (or my idea of what a No-Man album could sound like). The reaction to the album was very positive, so I embarked upon making an album that came out of ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’, but accentuated the extremes and what it was I thought was ‘Tim Bowness’. I see ADD and Stupid Things as strongly linked, whereas my debut solo album (‘My Hotel Year’ from 2004) always felt like a patchwork compromise as it comprised offcuts from several separate projects I was working on.
‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ is as much a themed and coherent album as ADD and Stupid Things are, but it sprung entirely from the concept and the music was written to enhance the lyrical themes. In some ways, it’s my version of a Moonshot album!
Because the album deals with someone who made classic ‘Progressive’ music, it gave me an excuse to take the bits of that music that I still love and integrate them into my own music.
2. The album was mixed and mastered by Steven Wilson, how involved were you in the process and who makes the final call on when the album is considered finished?
I make the final call. Basically, I give Steven the material and some instructions and he weaves his audio magic. All creative decisions regarding arrangements and how the album should sound and flow are mine though. Steven’s great to work with in that he’s very quick, very good and knows what I like / want.
3. We have both agreed that there is a definitive ‘Tim Bowness’ sound, would you say this has been there from the start or developed over the years and the different releases?
I think that my ‘signature’ vocal approach and sound has been there since the early days of No-Man. It’s a blessing and a curse in that it’s an instant identifier, but one that’s strong in a way that people either love or hate.
I would say that vocally and lyrically I’ve subtly developed over the years, while the contexts I sing over have often frequently changed.
4. Where did the ideas for the album come from and how do you go about writing the songs?
As I say in the Album Notes for the album, I’ve always been fascinated by the iron grip holds over fans and musicians alike, and how supposedly adolescent obsession can become a lifetime’s prison sentence for some of us.
It‘s a requiem for a type of music, a type of musician and a particular form of music production (the album).
I was interested to know how the fact that people don’t financially or culturally value music as much as they did in earlier eras impacts on musicians who grew out of the 1960s revolution (where music was vitally important on so many levels and in so many sectors of society). Also, I’m interested to know how playing to an older audience just wanting ‘the hits’ affects a musician who once believed they could change the world with their music. Of course, some of my own fears are wrapped up in the story.
5. Do you have a personal favourite track on the album (mine is ‘Worlds of Yesterday’) or is that like asking a parent which of their children is the favourite?
In this case, it’s more difficult than most, because I think it works as a whole album as much as anything else. I suppose my favourites would be Worlds Of Yesterday because of the solos by Bruce Soord and Kit Watkins, and You Wanted To Be Seen because of its unpredictable shift. I also really like Bruce’s solo at the end of You’ll Be The Silence and Ian Anderson’s stunning contribution to Distant Summers.
6. When you finish an album is it consigned to the past as you move on to the next project or are they more than just musical compositions to you?
They are more in that I’m completely obsessive and immersed in my albums when making them and some of those albums remain very close to me. That said, I do tend to immerse myself in a project, and once it’s out listen to the official release all the way through on headphones and then move on to the next obsession/album.
7. Do you prefer the process of making a solo album to collaborations like No-Man?
I enjoy both. I really like seeing where I can take my music as a solo artist, but I also like the collaborative aspects of No-Man, Memories Of Machines, Bowness/Chilvers and other projects. Alternating between both works because it means there’s a sense of constant movement, rather being stuck in the same groove.
8. How did you come to sign with InsideOut for your solo releases?
I was really lucky that a few labels liked the album and wanted to release it. I went with Inside Out because the core people at the company were so enthusiastic. Kscope were very positive about the album, but admitted they wouldn’t do much with it in terms of promotion and that they’d just market it as a No-Man offshoot. By comparison, Inside Out (who have a slightly different audience from Kscope) said they’d put it out, do their best and see what happens. In other words, it was less predetermined. They’re really easy to work with as well as being proactive, so I don’t regret the decision.
9. Your career started in the 1990’s, did you always want to be a musician, how did you get started and who were your early influences?
I was obsessed with music from my early teens onward. Along with books and films, it was a great escape from a pretty miserable adolescence.
I started singing at 18 with a band of friends and by 19 I’d moved on to a band of older musicians in Manchester and was making music of a more ambitious nature.
One of the most influential albums for me when I stated out was Peter Hammill’s Over. It gave me the belief that an audience could get something out of the music I wanted to make. For a couple of years, the Peter Hammill influence was strong, particularly on my singing style.
Outside of that I loved Kate Bush, Gabriel/Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, David Bowie, The Beatles, Roy Harper,10cc, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Gentle Giant, Yes, Al Stewart and some of the more fashionable bands of my youth such as Associates and Joy Division.
10. What’s different about being an artist now compared to then? Is it harder to get started in the music business nowadays?
Much, much harder (and it was never easy). When I started I could walk up to major DJs (Mark Radcliffe being one) and get my demos played on the likes of Piccadilly Radio. It did take a few years to get a decent deal and a foothold in the industry though.
11. What one piece of advice would you give to up and coming musicians?
Truthfully, I wouldn’t know where to begin as the industry has changed so much over the last two decades.
12. Which other musicians do you listen to now?
Too many to mention. I’m still an avid music listener and purchaser, so over the last few months even, I’d have listened to music old and new from George Gershwin to Arvo Part, Michael Chapman to Leonard Cohen, Opeth to Big Big Train, Elbow to Mark Eitzel, The Strawbs to Labi Siffre and so on.
13. The advent of the internet, streaming downloads etc. Do you think this is a good or a bad thing and why?
It’s both. I still buy physical items and love the intricacy and possibilities of album artwork, but I also use streams to discover music that I may want to buy.
I don’t feel streams encourage detailed listening or an engagement with music / ’the album’ as an art form. On a personal level, the move towards streams (and ‘single’ streams at that) pushes me even more towards making detailed artwork and sonically rich ‘album experiences’.
14. Your specialist online label/store Burning Shed that you run with Pete Morgan is considered a success story, how did you come to set it up?
It developed out of two things, No-Man’s Mail Order company (we sold exclusive releases to a mailing list and it operated from Steven’s and then my house), and an idea I had for a label (to make cost-effective, idealistic side project albums). It evolved into hosting No-Man’s and Porcupine Tree’s online stores and grew via word of mouth from there.
15. Is there one artist you would love to have on your label?
Lots! Elbow, Sigur Ros, Brian Eno, Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Mark Eitzel, Arvo Part, Camel and dozens of others.
16. Will there be a tour to support the new album?
So far, I have a support slot to Marillion at the UK Marillion Weekend, but nothing else planned . As it worked so well in 2016, I might do some more co-headlines with iamthemorning. Outside of that, it would be great to do a full theatrical production of ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ if there was interest in it.
17. Which do you prefer, making records or playing those records live?
I enjoy both experiences, but probably prefer the control of the studio environment and the thrill of coming up with something unexpected that inspires me.
18. Finally, what lies ahead for Tim Bowness?
There’s going to be a second Bowness/Chilvers album, which is a continuation of ‘California, Norfolk’ (from 2002) and quite different from ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’. There’ll also be an album with pre-No-Man band Plenty; an arty Electro Pop confection!
I’ve also written material with Kit Watkins and would very much like to follow on from ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’ on a solo level and see if I can take some of the sounds and ideas on the album further.