Tuesday, 10 January 2017

HOW TO MAKE AIR ITSELF - F*CKING BAMBI

Fucking Bambi



There's no question. Bambi is a sad old lament. It's the most recent song that made it onto the record and it's probably the most personal too - perhaps for both reasons I find it hard to write about. Suffice to say it's littered with autobiographical distress signals but, having said that, I think the lyrics are quite funny - even intentionally so - in places. I guess I’m trying to do a lot of things with this song musically and lyrically (ie: by my standards, it's ambitious). I hope I pulled it off. It's a favorite of mine off the record.

Massive props to Daniella (Grimm) who played the violin on this song and who was so patient in interpreting my (non -violin playing) vision of it and innovating around those ideas in such a personal way. Her playing through the 'pessimists jig' at the end of the track especially kills me.



Monday, 9 January 2017

HOW TO MAKE AIR ITSELF - AIR ITSELF

AIR ITSELF



The title track (obvs.) and a song that has been with me for a while. The band and I recorded a version of it on the Present Perfect EP (2015) but the one here is closer to my original conception of it. I struggle to feel completely content with anything I make but I am quite proud of the lyrics I wrote for this song.

Vincenz Kokot (My Sister Grenadine) provided most of the ambient sounds and percussion you hear. Not many people can have said ‘I love the sound of an old music carousel mounted precariously on an amped up electric guitar body’, but I can.



Tuesday, 3 January 2017

HOW TO MAKE AIR ITSELF - ONE OF US (II & III)

SINGER (ONE OF US II)



This one might be familiar to anyone who has seen a concert in recent years. It often involves me singing a-cappella and wandering amongst the audience trying to burn off nervous energy. Here it’s in a kind of folk/drone setting largely provided by Daniella Grimm's violin and and effects. The vocal melody came to me walking along the street in 2012 I think. I have that half fear that I may have lifted it inadvertently from a turkish pop song emanating from a car stereo on Sonnenallee, although listening back to it, that seems highly unlikely.

ENEMY (ONE OF US III)



The unreliable narrator shows up again on One of Us III. This song, like Reckoning developed out of a commissioned piece for the funding of my last record. Vince Kokot played the glockenspiel. When I finished writing this song I somehow didn’t feel like it was mine. Now, for the same reason, I feel it's more mine than most.

Both the song’s texts owe a debt to Jorge Luis Borges’ wonderful disturbing short story Borges and I.




Saturday, 17 December 2016

HOW TO MAKE AIR ITSELF - STONE


STONE 


Contrary to popular belief and common sense I've always thought, to a certain extent, that writing oneself into a corner was an important, even necessary, thing to do. Not just because a corner is often the territory of your own peculiar obsessions, desires and fears - but because the implied negativity of that act is something that people tend to avoid or overlook - in both cases it's a rich resource for writing. Not feeling entirely comfortable with what one writes seems a quite an important part of the process.

I do feel like a lot of the writers that I admire are writers that explored their personal corner of the room long enough for one of those walls to yield another room  - or at least by confining themselves conceptually, they were able to illuminate their obscure territory sufficiently to make us re-interrogate that overlooked area in ourselves - like the point at which a microscopic image begins to uncannily resemble a telescopic image (and vice versa).

Sometimes I feel like songwriters are the most promiscuous people, their muse is drawn from all kinds of sources in a way that would seem dilute most other art forms and make them seem rather scatty, anecdotal or superficial (of course this is also the pleasure of them as well - that they sometimes get away with it so marvellously). Perhaps it’s my ‘education’ that inclines me to write in the opposite way (and I confess that sometimes I hate it -  my position and the writing) - but I’ve also felt a degree of gratitude and surprise that my own corner keeps yielding something to me, it keeps surprising me and occasionally that barren territory seems to get replenished against all expectation.

So in short I see this song Stone as giving the illusion of movement, it feels like a song of distances and of a journey - but it's actually kind of jogging on the spot or standing still. Or perhaps it's a dance, albeit a slow dance in a corner, but a dance nonetheless.

Vince (Kokot) played some wonderful damaged cymbal on this track as well as the glockenspiel and ukulele. Yan Fabre provided the otherworldly voice of the musical saw. Together, they feel like the air or the weather of the whole song. 

EVERY WEEK OVER THE COURSE OF THE CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN I'LL BE POSTING SOME THOUGHTS ON EACH SONG THAT FEATURES ON THE RECORD AND HOW IT WAS MADE.


IT WOULD BE MASSIVELY APPRECIATED IF YOU SHARED THIS SONG AND SUPPORTED THE CAMPAIGN TO TURN IT INTO A BEAUTIFUL 'REAL' THING OF THE WORLD (ie: a packaged LP/CD)


Saturday, 26 November 2016

HOW TO MAKE AIR ITSELF - SOUL MUSIC

THE SONGS

SOUL MUSIC 




Soul Music is a track that’s been loitering around my brain for years. The initial idea was inspired by a wonderful line of David Berman, 'won’t soul music change, now our souls have turned strange’ (Silver Jews - We Are Real). I remember coming up with the initial refrain as long ago as 2012. Some listeners may recognise it, albeit in a different guise, from last year’s Present Perfect EP. I’m not sure this is the definitive version of the song (is there ever?) but it’s certainly closer to my original conception of it. I think of it as a kind of damaged ballad or a supernatural duet set to a waltz on ketamine.

It's the song likely to start the LP and I guess it serves as a good introduction to the sound world of the whole record. This is one of four tracks that I worked on with the very talented Vincenz Kokot (My Sister Grenadine). The basic textures and ambience you hear on the record came together quite early and effortlessly in his rehearsal space. I recall him running radio static and tones from a tiny casio through all manner of effects over my two note ‘riff’. Daniella Grimm (Earnest and Without You) later added some wonderful violin to the carpet of sounds - more on her amazing work later. The rest of the arrangement I owe to Dorian's patience, red wine and sleepless nights exploring the cheap but satisfying effects of garageband and maxed out amplifiers.

Lyrically it’s a song built on a kind of reflexive self-questioning people might be familiar with in a Mute Swimmer song - the limitations of language and the seeking of some kind of spiritual agency or emotional catharsis through music and I suppose, by implication, leaving that an open question within the song to which you are listening. Soul Music also introduces the idea of an unreliable or uncertain narrator that could be said to be a theme throughout the new record.

EVERY WEEK OVER THE COURSE OF THE CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN I'LL BE POSTING SOME THOUGHTS ON EACH SONG THAT FEATURES ON THE RECORD AND HOW IT WAS MADE.


IT WOULD BE MASSIVELY APPRECIATED IF YOU SHARED THIS SONG AND SUPPORTED THE CAMPAIGN TO TURN IT INTO A BEAUTIFUL 'REAL' THING OF THE WORLD (ie: a packaged LP/CD)


HOW TO MAKE AIR ITSELF - RECKONING / LEONARD COHEN


RECKONING / LEONARD COHEN


 

Reckoning is a rare thing. It’s a song that came to me to when I needed one. It was written, or at least it found its feet as a commision for the crowdfunding campaign of my last LP, Second. (Thank you Rita)

Structurally I guess it’s the most traditional song on the LP and there was a period where I almost abandoned it because it didn’t seem to fit. It was only when I recorded the bowed drones and backing vocals that I felt it began to speak to the ambient environment of the rest of the record. 
I had an idea for the piano part in the refrain that I thought was dumb, but then I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I asked Dorian to play it. He fleshed out the rest of the parts at the eleventh hour with his usual subtlety and calm.

I see it as a song held in a kind of strange purgatory between mourning and celebration - it's a reflection on time and aging and what it means to continue regardless of all impediments or reasons not to. Like many of the pieces on Air Itself (and elsewhere in the Mute Swimmer back catalog) it’s also a song about a song - the joy of singing and a sense of communion in (sung) self-forgetting.


Reckoning wasn’t intended as the track from the LP to share with you first but after the news of Leonard Cohen's death last Friday I felt it ought to be. A large part of my desire to write a song at all, I owe to him and, even though he’ll always remain several ‘hundred floors above me’, I think this song in particular owes him a special debt. 

LEONARD COHEN

As a seven year old going through my parents record collection I recall the impact of his face first. It was the out staring face of a singing convict with a shaved head smoking a cigarette in a prison toilet cubicle. I had fabricated this story based on the LP cover of Leonard Cohen’s Live Songs (1972). I looked in equal parts fascination and terror. I remember thinking that I wasn’t ready for it, for ‘him’ - I wasn’t sure what this man was going to tell me - if it was ‘age appropriate’. (I self censored and opted for the less intimidating Fate for Breakfast by Art Garfunkel instead).


I don’t know what happened during the following year, but as an eight year old I must have felt somehow ready and when I placed the needle on the record the voice that spoke to me was one of profound doubt and fear and questioning - it was also a voice I trusted implicitly, a cracked voice full of struggle, compassion and wisdom. I never recovered from that voice and I never wanted to.

‘I’ve been listening to all the dissentions, 
I’ve been listening to all the pain 
And I feel that no matter what I do for you
It’s gonna come back again
But I think that I can heal it
I think that I can heal it
I’m a fool but I think that I can heal it 
With this song’.
(Minute Prologue, Live Songs, London, 1972)

If anyone taught me that a song could be somehow unfathomably, intrinsically important - that music could speak your life back to you, reach you in a way that nothing or no-one else could - it was Leonard Cohen. I’ve found so much solace, humility and wisdom in his work I can’t find anything approaching the adequate words right now. Suffice to say the only relationship I had with him was through his work (and as an amazing orator I feel that I must include his speeches and interviews in that) and the great joy of art I suppose is that that relationship is fundamentally unaffected by (his) death, it doesn’t end. His songs and poetry will continue to act as a some kind of ultimate measure to me as a writer - and the rich, (dis)honourable life he appeared to live, an example I find difficult to locate in anyone else I’ve never actually known. RIP.

EVERY WEEK OVER THE COURSE OF THE CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN I'LL BE POSTING SOME THOUGHTS ON EACH SONG THAT FEATURES ON THE RECORD AND HOW IT WAS MADE

IT WOULD BE MASSIVELY APPRECIATED IF YOU SHARED THIS SONG AND SUPPORTED THE CAMPAIGN TO TURN IT INTO A BEAUTIFUL 'REAL' THING OF THE WORLD (ie: a packaged LP/CD)




Tuesday, 15 November 2016

HOW TO MAKE AIR ITSELF

HOW TO MAKE AIR ITSELF 





















Air Itself was recorded by Dorian Taywood in a former stable, now underground club/cinema next to the S Bahn line in the former east of Berlin. We mixed it there, at my place and in an old farm house out east towards the Polish border. Since the recording was done without a budget it was undertaken as and when possible and convenient for everyone involved - roughly an evening a week - without the pressure of pro-studio time.

Despite the conceptual constraints I often impose on the songs Air Itself is I think a quite personal, intimate sounding record. It’s hard not to describe it, by comparison with recent releases, as a solo album - yet this is far from the truth. The LP’s sound was very much shaped by the musicians with whom I was lucky enough to collaborate.

Unlike my last full length LP here it's acoustic instruments that predominate - nylon and steel string guitar, ukulele, glockenspiel, musical saw, violin and piano all feature. Nonetheless it’s hard to call the album an acoustic record. I was looking for an ambient, immersive sound world to place these songs into - and through some mysterious and circuitous process of experimentation and collaboration I began to find it.


EVERY WEEK OVER THE COURSE OF THE CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN I'LL BE POSTING SOME THOUGHTS ON EACH SONG THAT FEATURES ON THE RECORD AND HOW IT WAS MADE

IT WOULD BE MASSIVELY APPRECIATED IF YOU SHARED THIS SONG AND SUPPORTED THE CAMPAIGN TO TURN IT INTO A BEAUTIFUL 'REAL' THING OF THE WORLD (ie: a packaged LP/CD)