Interview with David Longdon – Pt1 from 6th March 2016 – by Progradar

Real World me David and Rikard

Before I get round to reviewing ‘Folklore’, here is my first interview with David Longdon, recorded on 6th March 2016.

Martin – Good morning David, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

David – That’s fine Martin..

M – This actually came out of the blue, a friend of mine called Kevin Thompson, another one who has been into Big Big Train for a long time, had bought two copies of ‘Wild River’ by mistake (which I’m sure you won’t mind!) He advertised it on facebook and said “does anybody want it”. I’d had it in my mind about getting your solo album for quite a while, so I thought, if it’s there, I’ll definitely have it. I put it on and listened to it for the first time and I was really impressed with it. It reminded me of Lee Maddison, a north-east musician and I see it almost modern folk music?

D – That’s exactly what it is. It was musically aimed at the acoustic roots scene because I was searching for a genre that would allow me to make the music that I could hear in my imagination. I’d always liked acoustic music and experimental music so, ‘Wild River’ encompassed a little bit of both of those, there’s also some elements of prog in there too. Over the years, I’d been writing and recording with bands, working alongside a music publisher, band management, record companies and A&R people. I’d also gone through the Genesis saga too so, when it came to making ‘Wild River’, I wanted to make an album that I would like to hear. I was writing songs and getting into the whole recording process just to s see where it took me. I didn’t force a note which was possibly why Wild River took about seven years to make.

M – The title track, to me, I think it encompasses everything that you’ve just said. It’s got a bit of Prog, a bit of rock in it and it’s also got some of that modern folk in there as well, it’s just a really good song. You said it took seven years to make? You were obviously doing that among all the other bits and pieces then?

D – That was right, I’d gone though a divorce during that period and then I’d eventually rebuilt my life, met someone else and then became a parent. It’s interesting because all the people who are playing on ‘Wild River’ are old friends and people I knew from a specific point in my life. It’s a time capsule. It was also the time of moving from the 20th Century into the 21st, so the ‘Millennium blues’ were happening at that time too.

M- Were the songs written of actual experiences of yourself?

D – I was writing music and using different ways of writing. Some of the songs were based on events that had happened in my life. Falling Down was based on a conversation that I had with my father one day. Loving and Giving was autobiographical. Vertigo is about the disorientation that comes when a close relationship is coming to an end and it draws from several episodes that had happened to me. The song About Time was a stream of consciousness lyric – the lesson there was to leave the lyric rather than edit it into something more controlled. I have no idea who Turpentine is – but one day I’ll write a song about her. So the album is a mixture of influences and different subject matter.

I had spent lots of time in recording studios over the years but I’d always worked with an engineer. On ‘Wild River’ I was the engineer and I learnt how to do it as I went along. I recorded Wild River on a  Roland VS8-80. It enabled me to be able to record audio at home for the first time and I found it hugely liberating. For the first time, it wasn’t costing me money to record and I could record when i had the opportunity to be able to do so. I recorded the music on the VS8-80 and a friend of mine called Michael Brown digitally transferred it into E Magic/Logic.

M – It seems to be quite an intricate, devil’s art being an engineer…

D – It takes time and experience to learn the craft. There are lots of errors on the album. On Joely,  and I was recording Beth Noble the violinist and we were layering her violin and viola parts to make it sound like a string section. My inexperience as a sound engineer meant that I bounced some of the violin parts with the reverb, which means that the reverb is now entirely committed to the track. I can’t take it off. But it was a learning process.

There are many things like that, which you learn by doing them. I wanted the album to take the listener on a journey. I recorded the material and arranged the album to flow from track to track. The album revealed itself over time.

With Niall Hayden Kings Place Rehearsal Simon Hogg

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M- Touching on the ‘no-no’ subject of ‘Bard’ in the BBT forum and the re-mastering of that album, would you go back and redo ‘Wild River’ or, are you happy with it as it is?

D- That’s interesting because we have spoken about, possibly, reissuing it as a Big Big Train back pages thing, both ‘Bard’ and ‘Wild River’. With ‘Wild River’, its initial pressing is now gone, that’s it, the original run has sold out. The temptation is to go – ‘I want to rerecord everything’ but I don’t want to do that with Wild River. I have some good live recordings and demos taken from that time which may be of interest. I may record some acoustic versions as additional tracks to accompany the re-issue. But Wild River is what it is and I am happy to leave it at that.

We (BBT)are going to revisit at least one track from ‘Bard’ on ‘Station Masters’.

Before I met Big Big Train, I sent a copy of Wild River to Greg (Spawton) and Andy (Poole), they listened to and liked it because it showcased the acoustic side to what I do. They also liked my songwriting. We did think, at one point, of re-recording the title track with Big Big Train. That’s another option.

M- I think that would be awesome because, going back to the track, it’s even got bits of blues and soul in it as well…

D- I nailed my colours to the mast with that track! It is about the death of my father. My Dad died of leukaemia and I have felt very bitter about it over the years. I feel that he  was taken too soon. He missed too much. The chorus line, “Life is a wild river, not a long, calm stream..”  acknowledges that there are circumstances in life that will rip you up. My emotions are very raw on this track. As I have become older, I think it is how we come through these challenges that life throws at us, that makes us who we are.

M- To me, doing the Wild River track with Big Big Train would be really good…

D- That was just an idea and may or may not happen.

M –You’ve probably got enough stuff to keep you going for the next decade without thinking about anything else!

D – Yes, we’ve got some interesting stuff coming up. We are looking at least four recording projects deep into the future now. That’s a good amount of work. It’s a steady process.

M – So, getting onto ‘Folklore’ and ‘Wassail’, was it a conscious decision to go down that, shall we say,’folk inspired’ route. Everyone calls you ‘Pastoral Progressive Rock’ so, would you say it is a bit of a move away from that, to a certain extent? Or was it just the way the songwriting took you?

D- I am fascinated with the themes within folk music, not so much folk music itself. I like the ideas and structures. If you listen to folk music, it has all manner of odd time signatures within it, much like progressive rock does.

It had been a while since BBT had released a studio album because we had been focussing on Stone and Steel and also the live shows which were both expensive project and also time consuming.  I had started writing  Wassail which I played to Greg down the phone and he liked it. We had a conversation about what we’d been writing individually and eventually a direction emerged. We decided on the title Folklore because it pulled all these musical ideas together as a whole.

Folklore the track, is a song about how folklore came about, how it has been passed on through our human existence. Word of mouth, then words evolving and the written word. Evolving straight through to the digital realm and the internet and social media. We are still making our folklore.

Acoustic Quartet Simon Hogg

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M – You said you were surprised a bit by the success of Big Big Train recently, would you say that’s down to the digital age and things like facebook etc.?

D – Yes, it’s a fantastic Facebook group that we’ve got. People gather there because of a shared musical interest in the band but there’s much more to it than we could ever have designed. It’s a true community of BBT fans who call themselves Passengers. Big Big Train fans are a loyal bunch, they are demanding in the sense that they expect great things from us. They expect excellence and we fully aim to deliver.

M – I’m a member of quite a few facebook groups and there isn’t one that’s the same as Big Big Train. One question that everyone asks, new members that come to it say, it’s the most active facebook groups that they’ve ever been in and it hardly ever talks about the band it was set up to support!

D – When we’ve got something to say, we say it, when we haven’t we will still chip in now and again. People ask about  stuff and we answer it and it’s great. I love the fact that there’s no longer the wall between artists and fans. One of the best things about the Kings Place shows was being able to meet with the fans after the concerts. We are more than happy to do it and we want to talk with the fans. Those shows were our time with them and their time with us. It is a two way thing and that’s important because we value the people that buy our albums and support the band. We couldn’t have done the gigs without our fans wanting to see us play our music live. We can’t make that sort of stuff up and it is a genuinely amazing thing really.

M – Getting back to ‘Wild River’, have you thought about the possibility of a follow up, another solo album?

D – Yes, I have thought about a follow up. I have certain songs that I’ve written that I would like to see the light of day at some point. Uncle Jack was a solo song that I offered to BBT when they asked me if I would like to submit something for the band. Not your typical BBT song but that is part of my role within the band. I am a singer and songwriter, I have my own style and way of doing things which is quite rightly different from Greg’s. The contrast seems to have worked for us as a band and we think that it broadens our appeal.

Make Some Noise, which sometimes gets some stick from some fans because it was unlike anything the band had done before or since. We were finishing off recording some of the ‘English Electric’ drum tracking sessions and we had some down time in the studio. So Greg said to me have you got a solo thing you fancy bringing in to work on? I brought Make Some Noise in. Nick D’Virgilio had recorded the drums put the drums down on it, and as we worked on it Rob Aubrey was in the control room, talking with Greg and Andy, said that it is a single.

I’ve made it very clear about the origins of Make Some Noise, It was originally a solo track and the music is supposed to sound like a young band who are just kicking off and getting really excited by the power of the music that they’re playing with their mates when they were teenagers. Actually it is not as simple as it first seems.The music reflects those bands that I listened to as a teenager.

At that time, we’d been thinking about doing a video because we had been a studio based band and the video would give a sense of what we might look like as a live band. The notion of making a video for something as long as  Victorian Brickwork would be a costly thing to do. Make Some Noise is short and to the point and, rightly or wrongly, it got absorbed into Big Big Train and it became a single and a video for us.

We were not trying to have a hit single in any sense as some have suggested. That would be a preposterous notion because it is far too retro in it’s sound. Some kindly soul mentioned that we were selling out but who exactly were we selling out to? There is no big money machine hyping BBT. We are independent and we do it ourselves. So the prospect of Make Some Noise storming the charts was so off radar that it was never even considered.

M – It’s not Big Big Train but it is?

D – Yes, it is not typically Big Big Train but it is. It nods it’s head to bands like Queen, Pilot, Be Bop Deluxe, those classic rock singles. Big Big Train is a broad church, so it seems, I’m not saying we can do anything, don’t go expecting a rampant disco album anytime soon. If it suits the song subject matter and it works, we do it. We serve the music and go where it takes us.

But what would a David Longdon solo album be like?  I really don’t know.

M –  It needs to be something that’s more signature to you…

D- Exactly. So do I stockpile material for a solo album? If I don’t do another solo album for five years or so, will I still be interested in the material I had written five years ago? So, the answer is yes, I will probably do another solo album at some point. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For the time being Big Big Train is all encompassing. There are only twenty four hours in a day. if you want to hear  David Longdon you’re going to find me with Big Big Train.

Real World -Glassart

(Picture copyright Glassart Photography)

M – How did you get involved with the Martin Orford album?

D – Martin was bowing out from IQ and his progressive rock career. He was very cut up about the way that the internet had impacted on sales. He was also getting nasty emails from people when he approached those that had uploaded his music and he just couldn’t see a future in continuing. That’s what his song Endgame is about.

Martin was recording his swan song and about to hang up his cape. I was reading an article about Martin and he has  a very sharp sense of humour and he’s a very interesting guy. I called Giant Electric Pea one afternoon and left a message, telling them who I was and a little bit about what I’d done. I mentioned the Genesis story and at that point he picked up the phone. We started speaking. At the end of the call he said “I’ll tell you what,  if you want to do it, there are a couple of tracks that I’d like you to have a go at singing. If you can sing them better than him, they’re going on the album!”.

I drove down to Southampton one morning to Aubitt studios and Rob Aubrey was the engineer. That’s how we all met. After I’d gone, Rob was on the phone to Greg saying that I think I’ve got a singer that could be right up your street. That was the beginning of my involvement with Rob, Greg and Andy.

M –And also thanks to you for having the gonads to pick the phone up and leave a message..

D – At that time I was teaching music technology and I was in that cycle of being a parent, getting up at 5 a.m. nappy changing and I thought right, if I’m going to do this music thing, I need to do it on a bigger scale than I have done it previously. I had released ‘Wild River’ to mass indifference.  To be honest, it was dead in the water. Joining BBT was a game changer for everyone involved with it.

M – You hinted on the Genesis thing, would you mind expanding on that a bit more? Was that an audition set up because they wanted a new singer and they advertised or was that through connections?

D – I have a friend called Gary Bromham, who, at that time, was in a band called The Big Blue and they were signed to EMI. We’d met when I was signed to Rondor Music Publishing and we shared the same management company. Gary was working at The Farm, where Genesis record, in Surrey. He was also working with Nick Davis who was Genesis’ producer at that time. Nick told Gary that now Phil had said he was off, they had decided to look for another singer. Gary, bless him, thought about me and said to Nick that he had a recording of someone who he thought would be good for that.

Gary called me and said “Dave, I hope you don’t mind but, I think I might have got you an audition with Genesis!” I thought he was winding me up because he has a great sense of humour but, he told me what had happened and how Nick had taken my tape to Tony Banks who liked it. There was a song on there of mine called Hieroglyphics of Love, it’s been a very lucky song for me, it got me a publishing deal and the audition with Genesis. Tony waited for Mike (Rutherford) to get back from touring with The Mechanics so he could play it to him. Mike got back off tour and liked it so the next thing is to get me down for an audition and that got the ball rolling.

I went down and did the audition, they had these mixes called ‘Top Of The Pops’ mixes because there was a musicians union rule that states that the music had to be performed live so, for example, if you had a track like No Son Of Mine, you’d have the track from the album and the producers would prepare these mixes by taking the lead vocalists voice off. Then, If they did it on Top Of The Pops, Phil could add a live vocal and that would satisfy the Union’s live element of the performance. They had a few Top Of The Pops mixes of their hits and I sang Mama, No Son of Mine, Land Of Confusion, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, Throwing It All Away, I Can’t Dance and I did a live version of Turn It On Again, they didn’t have a Top Of The Pops track for that. They asked me if there was anything I wanted to sing and I said I’d like to do In The Cage from ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’.

Tony and Mike were very friendly and spent a lot of time just talking to me because, unlike Ray Wilson who had put records and video’s out with Stiltskin, they knew very little about me. They had to get that information out of me. The next time I was down they asked me to come and jam with them. They were playing excerpts of material that would end up on ‘Calling All Stations’ and I just had to jam along to it. Then they gave me a few songs to work on and write with them. I gave them a few ideas back. I also had to perform a live set with my band so they could see me perform in a live situation.

I never met Ray Wilson at all through the entire process. We’ve never corresponded with each other either. It was rumoured that they may go with a two singer approach, like Mike And The Mechanics but the fact that they had not introduced Ray and I to each other got my spider-senses tingling.  As we know, they eventually decided to go with Ray and why not? It’s a long time ago now and I’ve been a bit busy since then (said with a chuckle). As I’ve said before, Big Big Train is the Mothership and my musical home.

wassail mask neil palfreyman

(Picture copyright Neil Palfreyman)

M – Just one final question, where do you see the future for you and the band. Cast your eye over a crystal ball, where do you think you will be in ten years time?

D – There’s lots of variables that can happen between now and then. I’m 50 now so I’ll be 60 in ten years time, I hope I’ll be in good health and be able to sing in the way that I do at the moment, I hope my voice and my health stands the test of time. Big Big Train is its own muse, it is its own thing. It’s strange, when a new album starts coming together, we are write songs and build tracks and you wonder where it is all going. Greg will add something, Danny will send something in and Dave Gregory will provide a guitar part and suddenly, bang!, you go, yes, it’s Big Big Train! The good thing about the band is we are not frightened to throw in some unusual elements.

M- More live performances?

D- Definitely, we loved the live shows, they were amazing events. It was such a fantastic experience for all of us. We want to keep the shows special, we want them to be cherished as moments that people will look back on and think yes, that was something special!

M – I think I speak for the majority, if not all of, the people when I say it wasn’t just a gig. It was part of a whole weekend, people took time out to not just go and see the band live, they were coming from all over the world, it was the build up to it and the gig was just the highlight. It was more of a complete experience than just a show.

D – On the Saturday afternoon I was down in the foyer talking to the guys on the merch table. There was one man and his son who came down the escalator and saw me.  They came over to talk to me and they’d come from Bolivia! He said they’d walked, they’d been on a bus and a train. They’d also been on a plane to get to these shows in London and I’m so pleased that I met them. It was just the three of us talking in the foyer and I was thinking that to come all this way from Bolivia, it’s just incredible.

Folklore Launch

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M – I don’t think I can top that anecdote!  It was quite an experience, speaking for myself, I joined the ‘Train’ just after ‘The Underfall Yard’ and it didn’t resonate with me when I first heard it. I hate to say it but I did walk away from Big Big Train but, when I heard the ‘English Electric’ albums I thought they were absolutely stunning and went back to ‘The Underfall Yard’ and then it made sense!

D – I suppose, in many ways, people say that Greg tends to write the big, more progressive tracks and I tend to write the shorter songs. We don’t contrive the way we write, we just write what we write and then what we’ve got is what we’ve got.  We then talk about it and we come with the next direction of where we are going. We go with what’s right at the time,

Big Big Train has been an amazing experience for all of us involved and it’s given us a lot of pleasure. It is a fantastic vehicle to be working within. I like the fact that you say you came back to ‘The Underfall Yard’ having discovered something later. I guess, when we put Folklore out there may be someone like your good self who heard Hedgerow and thought it was insane, something may hit them and they may go back and discover Hedgerow again and even ‘The Underfall Yard’. You’ve got people listening to the early albums as well, you have ‘Gathering Speed’ or ‘The Difference Machine’, which is great. It’s all good.

M – For me, the song that nailed my colours to Big Big Train’s mast was Curator of Butterflies. Mike Morton of The Gift and I came to the Saturday performance and were on the front row. It’s been a song that we both find quite emotional and we just turned to each other and were in tears at the beauty of it all. The same with Victorian Brickwork, the thing that gets me about that track now is the brass at the end, I can’t understand now why I didn’t like it at first. The brass at the end just makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

D – We’ve been listening to 5.1 mixes from ‘Stone & Steel and we’ve got Victorian Brickwork on there from the London shows. In Blu-Ray high definition with the band kicking and the brass going, it hits home hard. It’s a massive noise and it can be quite overwhelming.

When I first started with Big Big Train I received these lyrics which in addition to poetic moments, consisted of technical, almost industrial, language. I wondered how I was going to approach singing them. I decided to split the lyrics into lead vocal lines and backing vocal parts. Because if I split them up, it would give me more time to deliver and they could overlap each other. I would deliver the lead vocal lines over the gorgeous music beneath and that was the key to it. I also sing them like my life depends on it – like it is the most important thing in the world. It’s not only the words, it is very much the emotional delivery of them.

M  –  I think you’re right, what a lot of people picked up from the Kings Place performances was that you were not just singing the words, you were almost living them.

D – Yes, I am completely in the moment. It’s been an amazing journey.

I’d like to thank David for taking the time to talk to me.

Coming next will be my review of Big Big train’s ‘Folklore’ album and then my second interview with David which we conducted after the release of ‘Folkore’ and the release part at Real World Studios.

 

Interview with Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter (reproduced with kind permission of Jeff Milo)

Matthew - Sam Holt

This is a complete transcript of an article featured in The Ferndale Friends, reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Jeff Milo.

All photos are by Graham Stead and Sam Holt.

Words by Jeff Milo

There is a distinct relationship between artist and audience, bands and listeners. There is an opportunity to instill inspiration, to offer escape, to alter preconceptions. That power and that connection are the biggest reasons local singer/keyboardist/producer Matthew Parmenter has contnued to write, record and publish music for almost 30 years, now, as both a solo artist and, notably, as the frontman for the symphonic-prog band Discipline.

“Any musical offering is an act of faith”, said Parmenter. “It is always rewarding to hear fellow humans say they found something palliative or profound in the work.”

Discipline - Graham Stead

(Discipline 2015)

Back before the World Wide Web dominated the distribution, consumption and business mode of recorded musical art, Discipline formed in 1987 in a Royal Oak high school. The band features Jon Preston Bouda on guitar, Matthew Kennedy on bass, Paul Dzendzel on drums and Parmenter on vocals and keyboards.

“We dabbled a bit with Punk while in high school,” recalls Parmenter, “but it didn’t take.” They excavated treasures from Sam’s Jams (formerly where Rosie’s now operates) and Flipside (up in Clawson), including seminal prog-rock records that the late 80’s mainstream radio stations were ignoring, like Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson and more.

“Doing ‘art-rock’ in Detroit made us feel a bit like a lone-wolf around town,” recalls Parmenter. But they kept at it, developing a mailing list, with actual snail-mail and allying with comparable prog-stylists in the region like Hope Orchestra and Granfalloon. In fact, it was another local goup, Tiles, who showed Discipline a lot of support over the years. Tiles’ guitarist Chris Herin eventually took the spot of Jon Preston Bouda on guitar.

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Discipline have evolved over the decades, through several records released through their own label Strung Out Records, a beautiful blend of operatic-pop, post-punk theatre and a baroque-tinged electronic ambience, primarily experimenting with a genre known as progressive-rock (or prog-rock). Some of their compositions spanned 15 minutes or longer, particularly on their dazzling 1997 odyssey ‘Unfolded Like Staircase’.

“As a songwriter,” Parmenter said, “I have become less inclined to embark on epics. I rarely write songs running more than 15 minutes any more, and 25 minutes is right out. I am still drawn to create a narrative space that exposes some particular observed tension and which, ideally, reaches an emotional summit.”

Matthew 2 - Sam Holt

On stage, Discipline embody this captivating, Morpheus-ian grace in blending psychedelic performance art with elements of classical, jazz and Brit-pop. Parmenter points to The Beatles, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel as influences for the more rock and pop sides of Discipline, while also including jazz and classical icons like Miles DavisThelonius MonkIgor Stravisnky and Béla Bartok. The experimental rock of Van der Graaf Generator was a notable influential touchstone.

“In live performance, we have learned to allow, and even to foster, a sort of intentional imperfection,” said Parmenter, “Not to say that we ever played perfectly. Rather, in the early days accuracy and being precise seemed more important. Later on, rough edges and spontaneity came to matter more. Then the performances started to breathe, get human, have soul. Too much polish…can become boring.”

Go online and you’ll find various zines, blogs and sites devoted to ‘prog’ music sending substantial love towards Detroit’s Discipline. There is truly a galaxy full of bands edging their own nuanced composites of this genre, with acknowledged pioneers such as Yes, King Crimson and Genesis.

“If progressive rock were an iceberg, most people would recognise it only by the tip they can see sticking out of the water,” Parmenter observes.

Discipline are finishing up a new album while Parmenter celebrates the release of his third solo album ‘All Our Yesterdays’ (through Bad Elephant Music) on March 11th.

US and Canada Pre-orders of ‘All Our Yesterdays’

UK and Europe Pre-order of ‘All Our Yesterdays’

All Our Yesterdays cover

 

Interview – Fedor Kivokurtsev of Echoes and Signals

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I like a bit of instrumental progressive rock and it was my pleasure to review Russian trio Echoes and Signals November 2014 release ‘V’ earlier this year.

Further to this excellent album the band have announced that they will be opening for their heroes Pain of Salvation on the two Russian dates that they are playing.

I caught up with guitarist Fedor Kivokurtsev to find out more about himself and the band…..

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Progradar: Fedor, how long have you been a musician, what started you on that path and who influenced in your early days as a musician?

Fedor: Well, it’s been a million years since my first attempt to play a guitar but, if we are to talk about something music-like, first band etc. it all started when I was 15. Now I’m 26, so…                  

To talk about main influences – it was a weird combination of some metal bands, sci-fi & fantasy books and, a bit later, another ton of classical books. Reading is still one of my favourite things to do on this planet.

Progradar: How did Echoes and Signals get together in the first place?

Fedor: I got together with my friend Alex, our bass player, and our first drummer Vladimir just to play some music. We decided that we wouldn’t have any plans, any style boundaries and would play anything we felt like at that moment. We were all going through period of certain changes in our lives and it was the starting point.

Progradar: Echoes and Signals are an instrumental rock band, why just instrumental and do you think you will ever write any songs with lyrics?

Fedor: It was not intentional but, suddenly, we found that, in 95% of cases, the instrumental form was perfect for what we wanted to express. This means that we will have some songs with lyrics in the future, but not so much. It should go naturally, sometimes words are useless, but sometimes they mean a lot. 

Progradar: Do you think it is easier writing tracks with no lyrics and how do you go about writing your songs, what inspires you guys as a band?

Fedor: No, it’s definitely not about “easier or harder”, it’s about the right feeling. All our songs are inspired by personal experience, particular situations and feelings. So, life itself is the main source of inspiration, but other forms of art – great music, books and films are always near.

Band Shot

Progradar: Does being a musician in Russia differ from more recognised countries like the UK and USA? Do you have a big following in your home country?

Fedor: Well, one thing that is very different is distances, it’s okay to drive 10 hours from city to city when you tour Russia. By “okay” I don’t mean that it feels great though 🙂  

In all other aspects I guess we all face the same problems as musicians. I never thought that location can solve the problems of a man.  All our problems and difficulties live inside our heads. 

About the audience? – it’s not so big, but very dedicated.

Progradar: How do you feel about illegal downloading of your music?

Fedor: All our music is free (or pay what you want) at the moment, so it feels ok. I mean we cannot avoid downloading and everyone who uses torrents knows that.

There are some pros and some cons but I prefer to think about the good side. It’s good promotion at least.

Progradar: Do you think that, eventually, all music will be cloud based and even digital music files stored on a computer will become a thing of the past?

Fedor: This is where it is, subscription based streaming services etc. it’s not only about digital music, but also about any digital content, software etc. However the transition will not be that fast.

The bad thing here is that the value of each piece of art is decreasing. You don’t have to go to another town to buy CD in an exclusive shop or ask a friend who has a collection of rare music… all you have to do now is just type the relevant keywords in a search bar, with all the relevant consequences. 

Progradar: You have recently announced that you will be opening for Pain of Salvation on the two Russian dates of their tour, how did that come about?

Fedor: Seriously, we just wrote a big and touching letter to the concert agents who booked PoS in Russia. They then sent our videos and music to the headliner and we’ve been confirmed. 

It was a very impulsive act since I really love PoS as a band, I love their music, energy and message. I feel some kind of a resonance. Well, every fan feels the same, don’t they? 🙂

Poster

Progradar: Knowing that you guys are big fans of the band, how do you feel about it?

Fedor: We feel awesome. No, haha. Words are just words, it’s hard to describe this emotional lift that we feel. I wish I had a chance to say all I think about this in person!.. After all, one of my dreams came true. That’s it! I wrote a big post on our facebook page trying to catch my thoughts.

Progradar: Do you prefer playing live to recording and why?

Fedor: Both, there was a moment in my life when I decided to be a studio nerd, because it’s perfect for composing, this isolated atmosphere… but, after some very important gigs, after this storm of emotions that I felt, I changed my mind.

So, both things are awesome, it’s all about the balance. Sometimes you have to spend some time alone, trying to understand what you want to express. But we should not forget that the most important thing in our life is to give something to someone. Gigs are perfect for this.

Progradar: Who inspires you musically and generally in this day and age?

Fedor: Oh, the hardest question for me!.. Right now I’m really into 70s singer-songwriter stuff, Joni Mitchell, Linda Perhacs etc. 

In general any good music inspires me!, any genre, any style. Talking about modern bands, I really love Icelandic and Japanese music, Agent Fresco and Mono for example.

Progradar: Where would you like to play live most of all in the world?

Fedor: It will be a long list! Everywhere 🙂 Portugal, France, UK, Iceland, Argentina, Japan. Why?.. Just a random selection. The world is so big and beautiful!!!

Blurred band

Progradar: If you could give up the ‘day’ job and be a full time musician, would you?

Fedor: Well, a short answer will be ‘yes’ but, if we will dig and see what ‘full time musician’ means and how many sacrifices people who can call themselves so make, it can lead to a new thread of discussions. In this life we need to try, we need to make mistakes and we need to make the right decisions.

Progradar: What is next for Echoes and Signals and where do you see yourself and the band in five years time?

Fedor: The next big steps that we need to do are two tours. Russia first, as a complete tour and then Europe. We will work hard to make it happen. Also at the moment we are writing a lot of new music, a lot of ideas flying in the air… So it will definitely lead to the new release.

In five years I wish that we will still be together, strong, writing great music and touring. Life is about the simple things, right?

Progradar: Name 3 albums that you own that you think everybody else should have?

Fedor: 

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of The Moon

Pain of Salvation – Be

Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run

Progradar: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Fedor: Thanks everyone reading this!!!!!! And thanks Martin for the questions.

Don’t forget – if you like the music, support the artists. By support I don’t mean money, I mean sharing with friends, good words, friendly messages, facebook status updates, all these things are a perfect reward!

An excellent up and coming band, catch Echoes and Signals live and download the album here : Echoes and Signals – V

 

 

 

 

 

The Man Behind the Moniker – An Interview with jh

jhpress

One lucky bonus of being the PR man for Bad Elephant Music is getting to delve further into people behind the music and getting to know who they really are. In the first of an occasional series, I have been speaking to Jon Hunt, the man behind the musical persona of jh.

We released the jh anthology ‘Morning Sun’ earlier this year and it has been well received by critics and listeners alike (see above). In a bid to get into the mind of the man behind the music, I interviewed Jon about many topics, please read on to hear what he had to say…..

First a little history……

jh guitar

jh is the nom de guerre of Jon Hunt, he writes, arranges, performs and mixes all his material himself, with the exception of some of the drums.

It is impossible to describe jh’s music in a nutshell, as the only ethos he has is to make exactly the music he wants with no regard to commercial thought. This makes him extremely difficult to market, but more importantly his integrity remains intact. His albums hearken back to the spirit of the ‘album’ as being an artform in itself, jh’s music is eclectic, honest, and quintessentially English. His recordings are startlingly honest pieces of work that reveal more and more on each listen.

There have been three previous albums, all of which have been self-released, 2008’s ‘Truth and Bullshit’, 2011’s ‘Wanderlust’ and 2013’s ‘So Much Promise’.

2015 has seen jh link up with the eclectic record label Bad Elephant Music to release a fourteen track compilation of his most iconic tracks to date.

jh

Now onto the interview itself…..

Progradar – Jon, what started you on your musical journey, who or what made you want to be a musician?

jh – My dad is a piano player, so I suppose it was in my blood, I grew up around music. I suppose I always had a good ‘ear’, there was always some sort of a keyboard around the house.

Progradar – What were your earliest musical memories and influences?

jh – One of my earliest memories was spending hours at a piano at my parent’s friends’ house and just coming up with stuff and feeling like I was being taken away into a different world. I also remember listening to my parents’ vinyl collection, and losing myself in that, too.

Quite lot of classical music actually, along with easy listening. Neil Sedaka’s ‘Greatest Hits’ was played a lot. Everyone thinks of him as the guy who did ‘Oh Carol’ and ‘Amarillo’, but his more mature stuff in the seventies was actually amazing song-writing, the arrangements and melodies. I’d go so far to say some of that stuff was an influence (not that’d you’d be able to tell!).

The first records I bought were ‘So Lonely’ by The Police, and ‘The Eton Rifles’ by The Jam on 7″ vinyl. Then my next door neighbour taped me ‘Tubular Bells’ and it all went downhill from there haha! (JOKE!)

Progradar – Your first solo albums were all written, recorded and produced pretty much as a one man project, what helps and hindrances did that cause?

jh – The good thing is, if you have a strong and/or ambitious idea of what you want, you don’t have to argue with anyone to get ‘permission’! However the downside for me is that the majority of work creating an album isn’t particularly creative. Just to record and mix the thing involves so much messing about with software, levels, labelling, saving each tiny setting and programs crashing that can be infuriating.

The bits of making a record I really enjoy are when I start layering instrumentation – For instance adding bass, guitar, or harmonies to the original idea, and you hear the song come alive – that’s a real buzz. And of course having the finished product. But apart from that, it can do your head in having to cut stuff up, crossfade, add compression or reverb, if using a drummer then getting all that right and then sorting out mixing the kit, etc.

And I’m a luddite – I like to try and keep things as simple as possible, not polish them too much, I’d rather have a dodgy take with emotion in rather than a perfect clinical performance, so it’s not that I use a ridiculous amount of needless gear and effects – the complete opposite. It’s just all the boring fiddly stuff you HAVE to do, which has nothing to do with why you made the song, what you love about the song.

Progradar – As a solo artist do you like the freedom that writing and recording your own music gives you?

jh – Yes I really, really do.

jh the sky

Progradar – You have been described as a lyrical wordsmith, where do you get the inspiration for your songs and do you sit down and physically make yourself write them or do you carry a notebook around in which you can put idea as they come to mind and flesh them out later?

jh – I usually start with the lyrics. Or at least lyrics with a melody. I have to be in the right mood but when they are flowing they come very naturally. It can sometimes take months, though. I think lyrics (in music that has them) are extremely important and I take them very seriously.

Through talking to people, I honestly think the majority of music listeners aren’t THAT bothered. But I am! On some more recent songs I have just put long streams of thought down on a laptop, then come back to them and viciously edited and moulded them to something that sounds good, but still has its meaning. I suppose it’s like poetry really. 

I did that with the title track ‘So Much Promise’ which basically is all about the mental illness that alcohol can cause some people. The problem I have now is that I’ve covered all the topics that I’m obsessed with/bothered by, sometimes more than once. I need to find some new bugbears!

Progradar – Is it easier to write the more pop inspired tunes than the more complex progressive feeling tracks?

jh – To be honest I’d say they are the same. If anything, more progressive stuff can be easier, as you can just come up with something, and build and build, it’s a great experience. Some of my best stuff has been written that way, such as ‘Making Tea Is Freedom’, and parts of the ‘London Road’ suite.

Progradar – Where did ‘Making Tea is Freedom’ come from, it seems so different to a lot of the other music that you write and record?

jh – I think it’s different to some of my stuff, but not all of it. I’ve always loved progressive rock, well, at least progressive rock that has soul and emotion. I just wanted to have a song which was like a journey, you know. As I say, quite a bit of it was sort of made up on-the-spot, and some of my best stuff comes like that, I think.

When you have something immediately and get it down, it’s obviously more true to the original emotion. That song was also kind of a statement of intent – on the first album. I remember at the time a friend said to me “Why don’t you just do a CD of your songs, and a separate CD of all your Prog sh*t”!!

That was completely missing the point – most of my favourite albums are highly varied in styles, and I pay a lot of attention to the sequencing of tracks, so the actual album is a sort of journey in itself – including the ‘Morning Sun’ compilation.

Progradar – Do you bounce your ideas off anyone before you actually finish writing an album?

jh – No, I never do. Only when mixes are nearly finished I’ll ask a couple of people that I respect for an opinion but this would only be in terms of ‘do you think the mix is alright?’ or ‘Are the vocals too quiet/loud?’, something like that.

Jon Hunt

Progradar – If someone doesn’t like your music do you take it to heart or just accept that different people have differing opinions and move on?

jh – No, I don’t take it to heart. I’m quite funny in the respect that I can put on one of my  favourite albums, and if I’m with someone who I know dislikes the band , I can completely understand WHY they hate it as it’s playing! We all have different tastes.

I can completely understand why some people could find my music highly annoying, for example! (Of course, it goes without saying I completely understand why people would really love it, too haha). It’s all horses for courses, really. I’m overwhelmed and proud that ‘Morning Sun’ has had such good reviews, though.

Progradar – I believe you have known David Elliott at BEM for quite a long time, how did the tie up with Bad Elephant come about and how  much of a culture shock was working with a label on ‘Morning Sun’ compared to your previous releases?

jh – I’ve known David since I released ‘Truth & Bullshit’ – he loved it and was a huge supporter. David and I talked before my second album ‘Wanderlust’ came out. This may even have been just before the first B.E.M. release, I’m not sure. But I was almost ready to release it, and had gigs, videos, promos planned etc.

‘So Much Promise’ I was in a bit of a dark place at the time, and actually recorded and released it really quickly, without really notifying anyone. Always a good way to market an album! Anyway, I wanted to make a compilation to round off those albums – I see them like a trilogy, really. I mentioned it to David one day over a murghi masala, and he said he’d be delighted to release it.

The real culture shock was having someone with a business head promoting jh material for the first time. I’ve never had a ‘business head’. People actually hearing (and hopefully enjoying) my music has been a revelation really. And of course folk like your good self who obviously ‘get’ the music spreading the word (before you were officially made PR man) – it’s a really nice feeling.

Progradar – Who inspires you musically and generally in this day and age?

jh – Anyone who doesn’t compromise when they make music, a lot of which I probably haven’t heard. This certainly applies to most of my label-mates, I think. Artists who love music so much they ‘have’ to make it, really. I don’t listen to as much new music as I’d like to to be honest.

I have to mention Steven Wilson – I’ve been listening to his music and seeing him play for over twenty years now. The fact that his latest album is to my mind the most complete album he’s done is amazing really, the quality of his work over the years, he seems to be getting even better. Now he’s having the success he deserves I keep waiting for the material to become pedestrian or ‘sell out’ or something but it never does – it’s actually getting better!

I think it’s amazing that an album as conceptually ambitious and stylistically varied as ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ made the top 15 British charts or whatever it was. Hopefully it will give people confidence to make more ambitious albums, and introduce that kind of thing to people who may not have heard it.

What inspires me generally? I suppose the same things as always, hope, anticipation – the unknown in life, what can be out there if we bother to look for it, travel, opportunities, love… sorry I’m sounding like a hippy now!

Progradar – Do you think it is harder starting out as a musician in the digital age compared to the days of vinyl and single releases? What advice would you give to a fledgling musician that you would have appreciated hearing when you first started out?

jh – When I was making ‘Truth & Bullshit’ I actually had a Wilson quote pinned on the wall saying something like “Thinking about things like how to get signed, genres and what people want are irrelevant. If you want to start a band with 3 bassists go for it, you want to make a twenty-minute song? Go for it. You have a lot more chance of being successful if you do what you genuinely love.” I can’t really add to that.

I’ve known some artists who copy styles, or second guess what the next thing in fashion is, or are obsessed with the fashion/looks end of the ‘industry’. It’s bullshit. If you make the most honest record you possibly can then you can’t lose. If you’re putting loads of thought into what people will want/what people will say then you’re either not that good, or you’re making music for the wrong reasons. It’s dishonest, people will see through it and it won’t have any kind of longevity.

jh3

Progradar – Do you think that the charts are relevant in today’s world of mp3’s and file sharing and do you actually take any notice? What are your thoughts on file sharing, illegal or otherwise?  I couldn’t honestly tell you if the charts are relevant or not.

jh – I couldn’t honestly tell you if the charts are relevant or notHmm – I’ve just contradicted what I said previously! Generally I really don’t know anything about them anymore. I have a feeling they’re mostly full of ‘product’ rather than music. File sharing is a hard one. Personally I want as many people to hear my music as possible. I’d like to think that if they got it for free and liked it then they’d buy a physical copy.

I put quite a bit of thought in to the artwork and concepts etc, and I consider all that PART of the album to a certain extent. No matter how talented an artist is, unless they have a huge major record deal, then you really don’t make a living from this. All the musicians I’ve known (some signed to quite well-known labels) have to do other things to pay the bills.

Progradar – You describe yourself as ‘quintessentially English’ what exactly does that mean?

jh – Firstly, I’m one of the minority of people who sings in an English accent (the default is American). Secondly, I do like the atmospheric ‘pedal-tone’ chords (which is keeping the bass the same and moving the chords over it) which can be very emotional and atmospheric. Tony Banks ofGenesis and Pete Townshend use this style a lot, so I think that’s associated with English bands. I also think my lyrics are steeped in Englishness, whether it be mentioning our Cities, describing our overcast weather or banging on about our fucked-up ‘very English’ human condition haha! 

Progradar – Do you prefer recording music or playing it live?

jh – Or playing with friends. Ask me to play covers for two hours in a pub for money and I’ll be as confident and as slick you like… it’s a job. Albeit a job that I wouldn’t describe as ‘being a musician’, but that’s a topic for another time. Playing my own stuff in front of people, well, I have a lot emotionally invested in it, and I WANT it to be good, I do panic sometimes when things go wrong.

I’m getting better, though. If the gig is right, then yes, it’s a lot of fun and rewarding. Otherwise, I hate all the waiting around (though some musicians love this aspect of it). I hate the bullshit fawning with other bands/artists. I hate promoters who think it’s fine to charge your fans £5 each to watch you play 25 minutes on a crammed bill, make a fortune on the bar take, and not give you a token drink let alone any money.

The few gigs I do, I refuse to play those venues anymore. The best thing you can do is put on your own evening, at a venue you like, with a sound-man you trust, do your own publicity. If you make it into an ‘event’ with like-minded support acts etc, then people don’t mind paying/buying a ticket for the evening. At the Wanderlust launch, I did two sets, had projections, showed the videos in the break, and everyone got a raffle ticket and before the last song I picked 3 and they got the new album.

That’s a nice thing to do, more of an event/an evening. I would love to do a few more gigs, but as I am (and have never been) a ‘hustler’ or ‘business head’, then I’ll just do things now and again, if they seem right, and if it’s likely that people can enjoy themselves and the performance can be good.

jh live

Progradar – Name 3 albums that you think everyone should own (not including your own)?

jh – Oh blimey! The first is a complete cliché, but I’m sorry – The BlueBeatles ‘1967-1970′ album for obvious reasons. So much has been said, obviously, but to me that’s where popular music starts, and also where progressive rock starts actually thinking about side 2 of ‘Abbey Road’.

Secondly I’m going to go for ‘The Last Broadcast’ by Doves. This came out in 2002, and is such an immense record – Great song-writing, varied styles, they actually describe themselves as ‘Modern Prog’ which I would agree with. Basically all the songs have interesting instrumentation, twists and turns, deep and honest lyrics and some beautiful, moving moments – it’s the complete package as far as I’m concerned. The fact that this emotional indie album actually got to Number 1 and the guys in the band look like they’ve just turned up at your door to fix your plumbing – restored my faith in good music at the time.

Thirdly I’m going to have to say everyone should own ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ by Genesis even if they hate it. Simply because whenever I mention the ‘G’ word, most people think of Phil Collins doing that walk on the video of that cheesy song. It’s not their fault – they went huge during their really commercial era, it’s just a shame that people connect the name of the band simply to that and don’t realise there’s a vault of amazing music, especially from the seventies. The Lamb is my favourite by them and one of my all-time favourite albums. I could easily have chosen three others, by the way.

Progradar – What does the future hold for jh, is there a new album in the offing, where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

jh – There will definitely be a new jh album by the end of 2016, hopefully a lot, lot sooner. Over half of it is written albeit in skeletal form and with places to improvise. I have a lot of ‘life’ stuff going on this year that I need to sort, but I always come back to writing and recording songs… it’s like my therapy. 5 years time is a scary question. I’ve always been obsessed with the passing of time, it keeps speeding up – I’ll just TRY and focus on the present, I think…

Progradar – And, finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

jh – This is my first ever interview! So many thanks for interviewing me, and for all your support, Martin. 

A really in depth interview with an interesting man, all of jh’s back catalogue will be available soon with extra goodies from the Bad Elephant Music sales site.

The official jh website

jh on facebook