stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Making music sustainably in the Internet age

September 4th, 2018 | 3 Comments | Categories: Uncategorized

Have a listen to my new album while you read (it’s a long post): 



2008-2012 was the tiny window in which the Internet looked like it really might be some kind of utopian amazing thing for independent artists trying to find a likeminded audience. With Twitter and Facebook in the ascendency, and neither of them messing with what you saw in your feed, there was a genuine meritocracy and an amazing space for indie artists to help spread the word about each other’s work without it impinging on their ability to reach their own audience. I put out a couple of records in that time, and they’re still my biggest selling digital albums. That’s no coincidence.

Then it all changed (in case you’re writing about this for college, the music economy can not reliably be divided into pre and post napster. The changes happened way more often than that, and as above, there were moments when it looked really good for us…) – Spotify came along. Initially without a mobile version or caching, it mostly replaced radio and a lot of people used it to find music to buy elsewhere! (some people still do, just fewer of them). But they pulled enough people into the streaming idea, and the prevailing industry wisdom was a really un-nuanced view that saw ‘legal streaming’ as the answer to torrenting stuff, rather than as a real and present challenge to buying stuff. Soon Spotify started ramping up the frequency of ads to make it really unpleasant without a paid account. (imagine being an advertiser who paid for an ad that purely existed to annoy people into getting rid of those ads? What a world…!)

And alongside that, first FB and then Twitter started to close off unfettered access to audiences. FB were blatant. On a given date, they introduced an algorithm that meant not everyone who was signed up to your artist page would see your stuff. Bands were literally having to cancel tours after having thrown their lot in with FB instead of a relatively costly email list, only to find that instead of 50K people a day reading their posts, it was less than a couple of hundred. Yup, it was that severe. No real warning, no room to manoeuvre, just ‘pay up, or no-one sees your tour dates’. And as most bands haven’t budgeted for that kind of contingency, there were tours booked on the assumption that 50K people would be engaged in knowing about and talking about them to help build an audience that crashed and burned.

Twitter was more subtle. First there was the shift of their ‘recommended’ users away from friends of the people that worked there that they thought were interesting (remember when brilliant and fascinating indie artists like Zoe Keating and Imogen Heap were on the recommended people to follow? The good old days…) Instead it was corporate accounts and reality TV stars. We were all being encouraged and subtly engineered away from forming meaningful open conversations with our friends and instead following celeb accounts, who in turn were paying for ‘promoted’ tweets, faked trending hashtags and the like. I still hold that the biggest enemies to conversation on Twitter are us all following way too many people, and the entirely bogus thought that our time is best spent trying to sum up how shit politics is in pithy Tweets that will salve the nagging feeling that we’re all going to burn. Seeing endless retweets and now seeing people’s faves in our timeline further ruins the experience…

And iTunes, once the supposed shining crown jewel of digital music shopping online (if you ignore all the BS with 128k files and DRM at the start), acquired Beats Music and morphed it into Apple Music. Their own streaming service, in direct competition to iTunes. They clearly give no shits about iTunes store, and would rather have the residual payments for people re-listening to old stuff than help current artists fund their work (TL:DR of streaming economics – it makes perfect sense IF 99% of the value in your body of work has already been released and sold in the past. If you’re a major label who also owns a publisher, then making money (and scraping metadata) from all the people who listen to The Beatles and Michael Jackson and Abba and The Eagles and the thousands of hit songs from yesteryear is WAY, WAY more profitable to you than those same people listening to vinyl or CDs that they bought in the last century. So you throw all new artists under the bus for that publishing money, and then pretend that the fight over higher royalty rates is one you even care about so the new artists don’t all leave. And if you can grandfather streaming into a record deal that still gives the label and publisher most of the money despite nothing being released, then you can make even more money and the artist gets basically nothing (see Peter Frampton’s viral complaints for evidence). Some indies are doing OK from streaming (if you keep all your rights and get some good promo elsewhere) but there’s no solid model for it as yet… In a nutshell)

But, through all of this, one only music entity kept growing, kept getting bigger, and better, adding music journalism, subscriptions, discovery… While Spotify was posting millions in annual losses and faking artists so they could stack their own playlists with shitty music that was published in-house dishonestly, Bandcamp grew and grew. $317 Million dollars to artists as I write this, and no losses. Also, no billionaire owners…

For me, as that fleeting utopian window faded, Bandcamp came up with the subscription idea. Offer people more music, more video, more interaction for an annual fee. The subscribers still get albums to download and keep (it’s still the bit of this that matters to me the most – nothing that anyone gets from me on Bandcamp is rented. It’s theirs. You aren’t paying for annual access to a thing that can be taken away. It’s yours (and in my case, it’s all Creative Commons licensed, so you can share it with your friends too – it makes no sense to me to criminalise people helping to spread the word). If Spotify goes down, all those curated playlists and all that data you’ve built up is gone for good. If Bandcamp goes down, all the music is yours (and equally valuably, my listeners are on my email list, so we don’t lose touch like we did on Myspace or MP3.com)

So what of releasing an individual album like I did yesterday? For me it has a number of functions. It’s good for me to stick a flag in the ground once a year – here’s what I’m up to, y’all – for those who aren’t already into what I’m doing, it’s a chance to explore it at album length. And for those who like some of what I do and not other bits, it’s a chance to buy an album at a sensible price and not have to subscribe to a bunch of music you don’t like just to get it!

YouTube for instrumentalists has developed a culture of wowing people with super clever tricks and monster technique. All fine except when it stops people from making any other kind of music. I’m acutely aware that my stuff on YouTube is never going to go viral. But I’ve also no plans to start making circus videos as adverts for something else. Great if your art leans in that direction already, but I’m more concerned about a diverse ecosystem for the arts, than forcing everyone into a particular mould to go viral.

Bandcamp doesn’t have that. I’m not trying to get a specific number of listens/views/clicks to make it meaningful. It is what they describe as ‘high friction’. It’s not designed for 20 seconds of wow before clicking out to somewhere else. The attention is on the art. And the invitation is to pay for it and help make more of it possible. If someone buys my new album, they aren’t paying off a budget for making or promoting it, they’re helping to make the next one possible. That’s why the monthly income from subscribers is so amazing. I worked out that I’d have needed somewhere north of 11 million Spotify plays to make what I’ve made on Bandcamp. That’s never going to happen making the music I make. I’d have to be thinking of ambient playlists as my target audience to try and make any money on Spotify at all. And that’s not what I do, it’s not what’s interesting about what I do, and it’s not why the people who subscribe to me are there.

My thinking on how music works online evolves a lot over time (dig back into my blog and you’ll see many posts where I was v much pro-Spotify at one point, and earlier than that where I had a really regressive and insane view of file sharing) but the knowledge that there’s no better environment for the sustainability of independent music online than Bandcamp has remained solid since 2009.

Thanks to everyone who made the defiant step of buying my new album. It would’ve taken me many, many thousands of Spotify plays to get the same level of income, and the ad campaign to get those plays would’ve eaten up all the money I made from it. Instead, a small group of people have made this record viable, by helping me to cover with download sales the money I’ve lost in the last week or so through illness-induced canceled teaching. That’s pretty amazing, and I’m grateful.

I’m not going to get rich, I’m not aiming to be famous, or to go viral. I just want to make more interesting art that reflects the world it exists in, and finds the people who care about that. Bandcamp is making that possible. Join the quiet revolution 🙂

→ 3 CommentsTags:

Brand New Video – Beauty And Desolation Album Title Track

August 6th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: Uncategorized

The second video from my forthcoming solo album, Beauty And Desolation, is the title – and opening – track. Starting the album with this track is an invitation – an invitation to slow down, to step off the treadmill, away from the obsession with clickbait and scrolling and getting an endorphin rush from continual updates, and instead to take 8 minutes out to go on a journey. The album’s theme centres around things that are beautiful but which can ultimately cause immeasurable harm, inspired by this summer of record heat and sun in the UK (yay warmth!), but it being evidence of pretty catastrophic climate change. The cost of getting a tan in your back garden just got significantly higher… So there’s beauty in the music, but also tension, there’s a searching, questioning, mysterious quality to much of the harmony, as it explores that interplay between beauty, warmth, light, and the scorched earth we’re seeing elsewhere… 

Musically, the track features my fretless Elrick SLC signature bass, processed through my MOD Devices Duo. The album features a mix of ambient/electronic tracks and more hip hop, wonky groove-based tracks. The contrast is exemplified by the contrast between this track and the first track posted from the album, Transcendence And Decay, which follows Beauty And Desolation on the album : 

Beauty And Desolation is out on September 3rd 2018, but early access is available to Bandcamp subscribers at http://stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe – along with 40 other solo and collaborative albums from the last 18 years of my career.

→ No CommentsTags:

First Track from Beauty And Desolation by Steve Lawson

July 27th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: Music News · New releases · Subscription news

If you’ve been following my social media ramblings for the last couple of months, you’ll know that I’ve just finished a new solo album, titled Beauty And Desolation. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out, and I’m really looking forward to it being out there in the world. So here’s the first video from it. The album was all recorded live in the studio, and I’ve got footage of five of the 7 tracks – so this is the actual studio footage of the track being recorded, rather than some kind of elaborate recreation of what’s actually an entirely improvised performance.

Here’s the press release for the album, which has already been re-blogged by the good people of Bass Player Magazine.

STEVE LAWSON: BEAUTY AND DESOLATION

BIRMINGHAM, UK—It doesn’t take much to get Steve Lawson talking about improv, and on the eve of the release of his 27th solo album, Beauty And Desolation, he’s eager to riff on the relationship between improv and the studio. [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:

Launching the Steve Lawson Listening Club

May 16th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: Music News · Subscription news

I’ve just started a new thing as part of my Bandcamp subscription. I’m calling it the Steve Lawson Listening Club, for want of a better name (alternate suggestions welcome!) and it’ll work a bit like a book club but for the music in the subscriber back catalogue offering. Every other week, we’ll take one album from the back catalogue that everyone has, listen to it, I’ll contribute the back story, some context, a bit of extra info about how and why it sounds the way it does, will see if I can dig up photos and video if it was a live gig, and everyone else can pile in with comments, reviews, questions and discussion about that particular album.

This stems from an oft-repeated comment on the subscription which is that there’s more than enough for a subscriber to listen to with the new music that comes out each year (normally somewhere between 8-10 albums, plus a bunch of extra exclusive video content between releases!) that the volume of music that just comes as a bundle with your first year’s subscription is overwhelming in its vastness. I get this for sure, so here’s a way to delve into it.

The discussion will happen via the message feed on the subscription page (as soon as you sign up you get access to all the past messages, exclusive videos and other discussions) and you’re all invited to sign up and join in. Maybe the results will one day get compiled into a book of extended essays and commentary on my body of work 🙂

Anyway, head to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe to join the fun!

→ No CommentsTags:

Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Part 8 – Lobelia

May 13th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators

After a break, Vol 8 of this lil’ exploration of the collaborators who changed my music life, and today I’m going to tell you about Lobelia.

In 2006, I made a conscious choice to move away from playing to rooms full of bass players. No shade to the bass-monkeys, I just needed to get away at that point from the perceived expectations that a room a whole bunch of people who play the same instrument as me brought to any gig, and the weird/meaningless stylistic comparisons to what other people are doing with the bass. So I started to look at house concerts as an alternative. I’d done them before (my second ever solo gig was a house concert, hosted by the parents of one of my students), but it hadn’t been a focus in the interim.

So when Lo and I met at the beginning of 2007, and started to plan some shows together, they were a mix of venue shows and a few house concerts. Some of the venue shows were fabulous, but many of them were far from ideal. The template for our initial collaboration was a combination of some of things I’d been experimenting with with Cleveland Watkiss and Julie McKee in bass/voice duos beforehand, coupled to Lo’s songs and our shared love of doing unusual cover tunes (it’s worth noting that the interim years have made quirky covers the de facto novelty currency of the music-Internets, but that was far less the case in 2007 🙂 ) – we found that the very specific setting that worked best for what we had as a duo wasn’t really compatible with the standard bar/cafe/rock club options (for the most part – we did have some great gigs on that first tour, but many were really tricky) and that the best shows we played were the house concerts. They were also WAY more viable financially. Clearly no-one was going to get rich doing them, but on a tour when we came away from a couple of the venue gigs having made less than $10, house concert economics were a godsend.

So what was – and is – so great about working with Lo? I think what amazed me from the start, and still does, is how naturally she adapts to the intersection of improv and songs – whether it’s covers or her own songs, we have always been pretty loose with how arrangements would work, and her ability to turn whatever I threw at the song in question into an amazing performance was really inspiring. It freed me up to experiment with songs the way I would an improv, or one of the skeleton compositions of my own that I was playing at the time – to minimise the amount of material that constituted ‘the song’ and allow us both to create something new, unique and specific to the setting we’re in (which is, after all, my most basic of reasons for improvising) – that project of working out how to bring the best of improv’s localisation to a set of songs that people might recognise is one that has made me a better improvisor, and allowed me to explore what makes a song work in a much more nuanced way. Being able to adapt tempo, arrangement, sounds – and for Lo, even lyrics (!) to the situation makes for a hugely compelling music-making experience (and also allowed us to think about how some things that are perfect for the moment don’t work as recordings…)

So thanks to Lo, I was able to bring together my love of songs and my love of improv in ways that I could only have hoped for. Long may it continue!

→ No CommentsTags:

Who Has The Right To Critique Your Work?

May 11th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: Musing on Music · tips for musicians

…This is a question that comes up for young artists all the time. The mechanisms for getting your work out there, in an economic setting where there’s a particular level of audience size that one needs to be able to make enough money to keep doing what you do, bring with them an avalanche of comment. Some of it comes from reviewers – gig reviewers, album reviewers, people who write about your particular field as their job and amateurs who just have a blog they keep for the love-or-spite of it. You’ll also get feedback from people who love what you do and feedback from people who are all too eager to tell you how you’re doing it wrong. Social media may give everyone a voice, but it doesn’t in any way mean we are obliged to absorb or even listen to their opinions…

So, while acknowledging that in some way resourcing and encouraging that kind of commentary is necessary to audience growth, how do we as artists maintain a sense of who we are and what we do aside from that, and how do we gauge which of the feedback might actually be useful to us? After all, I’ve had utterly glowing OTT reviews that I thought were WAY off the mark, and some critical reviews that I thought were completely fair. And I’ve had a very small number of reviews that actually taught me something about my own work. So how do we discern the difference? How do we decide who to let in and who to ignore? And as things progress, how (if we even should) do we build a team of people around who we invite to reflect on our work in ways that we listen to with a view to actually acting on their advice?

It is – not to put too fine a point on it – an absolute minefield. All the moreso if you’re in any way insecure about your work already. Anyone who’s had anything posted on YouTube that’s had more than a handful of views will know what a cesspool of vindictive and spiteful misinformation it is. I’ve seen friends of mine insulted in all manner of ways on there, and have had a ton of ‘why the fuck are you wearing nail varnish???’ comments as well as the ‘that’s not what you’re supposed to do with a bass!’ comments…

That end of things is irritating, but fairly easily recognised as not useful in terms of defining what you’re up to in your own work. Nothing useful comes of trying to salve the bile of a disgruntled YouTube dickhead… So who gets let in? Whose words get to be considered as useful?

I don’t think there’s one answer to this, but my own rule has always been that I listen to people who have previously demonstrated to me that they understand what I’m trying to do. Whether a review itself seems knowledgeable is not the thing I’m looking for. What I need from someone who is going to comment on my work in a way I can be bothered to acknowledge is the recognition that they have me being the best version of me as the focus of their comments. So anything that says ‘what you’re doing doesn’t sound enough like artist A, therefor it’s bad’ is out. Not useful. Anyone who says ‘this is amazing because it doesn’t sound like anything that anyone has ever done before’ is equally out. That’s not a useful or accurate assessment of where the value lies in what I’m trying to do.

This notion of ‘what you’re trying to do’ stems from a belief that the only meaningful way to measure the true value of an artist’s work is whether they’ve achieved what they set out to do. Whether you like it or not is useful in terms of you deciding what to do with your time, and what to lend your ears to, but a commentary on my work based on whether or not someone else would have done it differently is not useful to me. As my usual response goes when someone tells me that I should be doing an all-ambient record, or a funk record, or should work in such and such a way, I say ‘no, you should! It’s clearly you that wants to hear music in that way. If there’s something in what I do that you think fits there, you can either take that inspiration and make the music yourself, or hire me to help you get there and bring my musicianship and ideas to your project’. But they don’t get to tell me what to do with my own music.

So how does someone demonstrate an understanding?

Firstly, they ask questions. Anyone who truly cares about what you’re doing is going to ask you about it before making a bunch of observations and statements. They’re going to inquire into why you’re making the choices you’re making, what the things are that you’re working on, what your influences are and what you’re trying to do with those influences… There are a ton of different questions to be asked, and angles to be explored…

Secondly, they’re going to take the time to get to know what you’ve already done. This gives anyone who subscribes to me on Bandcamp a massive advantage over anyone who doesn’t, because I know they’ve got at least 35-40 albums by me in their collection. Now, they might not have listened to them all, but if they’re working through them with an open mind, they may well start to form a useful frame of reference for what it is I’m trying to do – I can test that through the kinds of questions they bother to ask. They’re probably going to have a better grasp on the improvised nature of the work, and the breadth of things that I’m exploring at anyone time, as well as the general trajectory of my solo work.

Thirdly, their comments are going to specifically relate their criticism to the framing of your work. It’s OK for someone not to like or understand how you frame what it is you’re trying to do – not everyone needs to like or understand what you’re up to – but if you’re thinking of inviting them to influence it, it’d help a lot of they at least had a respect for what you were attempting. Sometimes, that framing can be an obvious thing, but it’s normally pretty dangerous to assume what a particular musician is trying to do from hearing a track or two and guessing based on who you think it sounds like.

The people whose commentary you allow into your own thought process are acting as de facto producers of your work. It’s WAY more important that they understand it than that they like it. I’ve had a mixture of people over the years give me useful feedback and encouragement – some who loved it, some how just cared about me, and took the time to work out what I was up to, without really being massively invested in the music itself. Sometimes the most useful input is just a well-timed ‘dude, just keep doing what you’re doing’, sometimes it’s in the form of a question I really should have been asking myself for a while. Other times its a suggestion for some new inspiration to check out that they see may well help take me in a new direction.

None of it arrives in the form of insult, none of it is trying to put me down, and none of it is about me meeting someone else’s idea for what music ought to be.

Finding those people can take a lot of time. When you do find them hold onto them, value them and keep them close. A huge amount of the advice that you’re going to hear will be about people’s perception of the commercial potential in what you’re doing, and how to maximise that (it’s baffling to me that I get that bullshit even as a solo bass player – as if playing bass on your own isn’t enough of a statement about your lack of focus on commercial motives already?)  – if commercial potential is your frame for your work, and they are people with a track record of making those judgements in useful ways, by all means let them in – it’s not a bad thing to want to make great pop music! But if that’s not what you care about, you need to find a way of blocking out those voices, because they’ll almost always pull you back towards the consensus.

And in the meantime, don’t feed the trolls, or listen to their bullshit. It’s not going to help you find your path.

→ No CommentsTags:

Illuminated Loops II out now

May 9th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: New releases · Subscription news

 10 Months on from vol 1, Illuminated Loops II has just been released to my Bandcamp subscribers. The Bandcamp subscription is still my main mechanism for releasing (and funding) the music I make – when you sign up, you now get 40 releases straight away. And you also get the next 12 months of music. All for your first year’s subscription. It’s a crazy deal, designed to invite people who are interested in what I’m doing now to get some context and discover where it has come from. And so far that’s the only place to get the two Illuminated Loops recordings… There’ll be a LOT more recording from this project coming up later in the year… Sign up now at stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe, to make sure you get it all as soon as it is released.

This album, Illuminated Loops II, is the music from our Feb 25th 2018 show at Tower Of Song in Birmingham. As before, this recording is in some ways just a relic of the show itself – that it works so well as a standalone musical experience raises all kinds of questions about whether the fact that something is enjoyable affects what it actually is… if the music made no sense without the art happening at the same time, would it cease to be music, or at least worthwhile music? The art as a static entity is in the same precarious position – it’s beautiful and intriguing to look at, all the moreso if you know its origins, but the static version is just what’s leftover after the show. The unfolding, the interaction, the experience of before/during/after – the consequential nature of it all, of it coming into being – that’s ‘the work’, the show, the full experience.

But, having said all that, don’t let it stop you enjoying the music! I’ve been saying for a while that making music in the context of Illuminated Loops results in work that is significantly more interesting to me than anything else that I do as a solo artist. Obviously because it’s not really solo – all of this is co-credited to Poppy and I because the music as it is wouldn’t exist without her. You can definitely hear my vocabulary in there, my musical accent, but the script is one that is developed between us as we go along. The fact that the music I make serves a dual purpose – the music as a journey through time, and the sound as trigger for Poppy’s synaethesia gives me a license to go to new places… The 2nd set here begins with a looped two note bass line played in on the Quneo – I’ve never used the Quneo for bass parts before, and hadn’t planned to this time! The whole soundtrack is littered with strange and surprising sounds that are meshed together via my long-developed ‘unfolding’ aesthetic… And, in listening back to it now as I write, I remember that when I mixed it, I left in all the crackles and pops and artifacts that were present in the audio on the gig, because they were part of what Poppy would’ve ‘seen’ and therefor drawn… In a pure ‘album recording’ setting, I’d have probably edited some or processed them in other ways, but here, they’re all there as part of the sonic canvas (in case you want to do your own synaesthetic representations and draw from the same source!)  There is some video from this show around, so hopefully we’ll get that into a publicly releasable form soon, so you can see a little more of how it works!

I love this project so much, and I hope you get some sense of what’s happening from this. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see it live soon – we really need to do more of it (weirdly, the thing that’s holding it up is me getting clearance for the research bit of my PhD from the ethics department at the Uni!) keep an eye out, and hopefully see you at a show soon.

You can also read more about the Illuminated Loops project from Poppy’s perspective on her website – poppyporter.co.uk

 

→ No CommentsTags:

The Beginner’s Guide To SoloBassSteve…

May 6th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: Musing on Music · Random Catchup

TOO MUCH MUSIC?! What does too much music look like? Is it possible to have too much music? I know that there are some artists that have massive catalogues whose work I have no idea how to approach. Do you start at the beginning and work forwards? Do you jump in with the biggest selling, or just the most recent to see where they’ve got up to?

My own catalogue is, obviously, huge. I honestly don’t know off the top of my head how many albums I’ve released. That’s nuts, right?

So, anyway, to help you out, I’ve just gone over my solo output and annotated it a little as a Beginner’s Guide To SoloBassSteve – just a bit of context about each one. So of these albums are subscriber-only, so for those (and to get ALL of them right now) you’ll need to subscribe over at Bandcamp. The big thrill there is that once you subscribe, you OWN them all – it’s not a Spotify renting-access-to-streams-and-playlists thing, these are all yours. So if it takes you a few years to get through this lot, that’s OK. They aren’t going away. You’ll have them to download, stream via the Bandcamp app and even re-download if your computer dies as often as you like. The music is yours – click here to find out more about the subscription – http://stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe

So, jump in, have a read, see how you get on, I’ll link to each album so you can just click through and have a listen!

2000And Nothing But The Bass – my first album, recorded live in concert except for the last two tracks, one of which was live at home, the other a duet with Jez Carr on piano. A bit like looking at baby photos for me now, but there are still quite a few people for whom it’s their favourite album of mine. Got ridiculously great reviews when it came out, probably reflective of how few solo bass albums there were then!

2002Not Dancing For Chicken – first ever studio solo record. Was actually recorded twice, and I really wish I had all the earlier recordings still… Recorded direct to stereo two track, and destructively edited, still sounds pretty good considering. Features a couple of tunes that became live staples for the next decade – MMFSOG, Jimmy James and Highway 1. Was released while I w as on tour with Level 42, so solo VERY well on release, and got a fair bit of radio play, magazine coverage etc… remastered in 2012, to sound way better than the original, and also remove the comic sans from the artwork 😀 😀

2004Grace And Gratitude – probably still my most popular album – a consolidation of all the things I’d learned up to that point, and a pretty pivotal blend of all the elements that went into making up my sound at the time – big tunes, heavy ambient experimentation, beautiful chord progressions and weirdness! More radio support for this one, bizarrely. And I once reworked the title track for a beer advert, which sadly wasn’t ever used (mostly sad cos that meant I didn’t get paid… 😉 )

2006Behind Every Word – More composed that anything else I’d done to that point, features two amazing special guests – BJ Cole and Julie McKee, also was the first thing I’d released that had an outside co-producer (the 1st version of Not Dancing was co-produced by Jez Carr, but didn’t see the light of day because my insistence of recording with a mic’d amp was a stupid move) – this time it was Sue Edwards, who remotely monitored what I was up to, and gave pivotal feedback that made the album about 10 times better than it would’ve been…

2002/2004Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pts 1 & 2 – two very limited edition releases that came with the 1st 100 CDs of Not Dancing and Grace And Gratitude – lots of other things I was recording at the time. Started a trend for producing way more music than would fit onto a single CD…. (LLFAAF Pt 3 only exists as MP3s, and that came out with Behind Every Word) Pt 1 has my first couple of mahoosive ambient tunes on it, and they still sound good…

2010Ten Years On: Live In London – live album to mark the 10th anniversary of my first solo album. Recorded live at Round Midnight in London. Not a bad record of what I sounded like, but also the beginning of the nagging feeling that playing compositions wasn’t really what I should be doing live…

2011 – 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything – first studio solo album since Behind Every Word, recorded in Catford and Muswell Hill. Remixed a year after it came out to reflect my improved skills as an engineer. Features a couple of my favourite ever solo tunes, and features LOTS of big tunes, and a little bit of epic strangeness – mostly reflective of how my sense of harmony had developed in the interim. Some less obvious tunes in there that I still really dig…

2012 – Believe In Peace – improvised live in an art gallery in Minneapolis, proved very popular, and still gets a lot of love today. I think this was my first all-fretless album… The artwork was from the amazing display of art by Geoff Bush that inspired the music. Recorded during a Tornado!

2014 – What The Mind Thinks, The Heart Transmits – the album that SO many people had been asking for for over a decade – a single ambient piece, recorded as the soundtrack to a guided meditation on a retreat. Super-popular with people who do yoga, meditate, or who just like really relaxing music to drive or sleep to! Followed another two year-long break from focussing on solo work following the life-consuming FingerPainting project!

2015 – Closing In (subscriber exclusive) – the first Bandcamp subscriber-only solo release, this was the ideas I’d started to develop on the journey to making the next two albums, and is the bridge between the first 15 years of my career playing only bass and nothing else, and then adding in the drums and synth stuff on the next two albums… ALL CHANGE!

2015 – The Way Home/ A Crack Where The Light Gets In – Two albums released on the same day, and the first things to come out publicly featuring my new set-up with the Quneo being used to play drums and some keyboard parts. Everything was (and is) still recorded live with no overdubs, but I have the option to play other sound and particularly to incorporate more obviously the hip hop influence that has been there in the background for my entire music life… Beats and weirdness galore – a new adventure to be sure!

2015 – You Guys, Let’s Just Talk About Nail Varnish – compilation of tracks recorded for the Bass The World YouTube channel.

2016 – Well, Say Hello Then (subscriber exclusive) – a lil’ EP recorded to introduce my brand new bass (my first new instrument in over a decade. Features some lovely ideas, is better than it’s slightly rushed existence might suggest!

2016 – Referendum – recorded just before and the day after the EU Referendum here in the UK. A hopeful then despairing collection of music that still emotionally resonates and became a favourite with a lot of people. Vertigo may be my single favourite ever solo piece…

2016 – Hands Music (subscriber exclusive) – Recorded at the launch exhibition for brilliant German photographer Marc Mennigmann’s ‘Hands’ photo project. Fully improvised as background/contextual music for the exhibition, is an interesting mix of very ambient and very poppy/tuneful. Has a couple of sneaky covers in there. V popular with subscribers…

2016 – Colony Collapse Disorder (subscriber exclusive)/ The Surrender Of Time / Towards A Better Question – 2016 produced a ridiculous amount of solo music from me… recorded in the same sessions, these three recordings consolidated the experiments that began with the previous two albums. The feeling of integration between the Quneo and the bass as a combined instrument, seeing the whole thing as one big music-generating thing, is way more fully expressed here (I’m even playing them at the same time on a couple of tracks) – Colony Collapse Disorder was originally just the first half, but a subscriber suggested that it felt like the beginning of something bigger, so I recorded the second half as an other track, put them together, and that’s what we have! The beat side of things is getting more varied and the hip hop more conspicuous.

2016 – Hark/Winter – Christmas single, that doesn’t really sound like a christmas single 🙂

2017  – Illuminated Loops (subscriber exclusive) – not really a solo album, even though it’s just me playing on it. The recording of my first performance with the great Poppy Porter – Poppy has synaesthia, which means she sees sound, so she draws what she sees while I play. I then treat it her art as a graphic score. It’s all kinds of fun and results in some very interesting music. My new favourite project.

2017 – PS, You Are Brilliant – a deep, experimental record with some big tunes but a lot of pretty intense textural experimentation, and deeply strange hip hop beats. A big step forward for the new set-up and probably my favourite thing I’ve released solo so far…

2017 – Small Is Beautiful (subscriber exclusive) – the subscriber only accompaniment to the PS… only one track with any Quneo as all, lots of stuff with minimal looping and maximal mellowness. I love this, and is no doubt popular with all the subscribers who prefer my solo stuff from before I started messing around with electronics so much 😉

2018 – The Long Game (subscriber exclusive) – first solo release of 2018 is live album from the 2018 London Bass Guitar Show – both performances came out really well, and this is them. Foregrounding some of the Quneo-as-piano experiments I’ve been working with, rather successfully. Also the first solo release to feature my Elrick SLC signature fretless.

—-o0o—-

So there you go. I plan to do the same for the collaborations at some point soon. Hopefully it’ll help you dive in and find the ones you like the sound of! If you want to post your own thoughts on the albums, PLEASE do, either here in the comments, or via your Bandcamp collection so they appear next to the album!

→ No CommentsTags:

New Video – The Strangest Of Things

May 4th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: looping · music gear

Here’s a thing I haven’t posted in a while – a new video up on YouTube, called the Strangest Of Things (for reasons that may become apparent when you hear it.)

The other day, I got a new pedal – it’s one I’ve been wanting to try for a LOOOONG time, so I was excited to sit down and get some experimenting time in with the Pigtronix Mothership 2 Analog Synth. Those of you who’ve been following things here fro a while will know that I view pedals and processing as part of my instrument – change a pedal and it fundamentally changes what my instrument is. I don’t view it as processing a bass guitar, but building an instrument that makes a range of sounds in a number of ways. So sticking something as radically sound-altering as a synth pedal in there has all manner of amazing possibilities.

As you can maybe see from the pic, there’s a TON of control over the sound – meaning you can either get a very specific sound you want and leave it (the other video I posted yesterday to Instagram was more of that kind of approach, trying to get Bernie Worrell’s keyboard bass sound from Flashlight…) or you can have it at hand-height and tweak it the way you would a modular synth.

So, here’s the video:

I’m running my Elrick Gold Series SLC signature fretless 6 into a signal path that includes the Aguilar Tone Hammer, Pigtronix Philosopher compressor, Jule Monique tube preamp, MOD Duo running a wide stereo chorus, EQ and a cab sim, and then the MXR Reverb for those trapped chords in the middle. The fretless seems like the perfect instrument for experimenting with synth, as it gives you a second way to control the portamento on the notes – the Mothership 2 has a ‘glide control’ – you can hear that towards the end, where the notes start swooping up and down in insane ways – but I can control that glide as well on the fretless just by sliding 🙂

The cut-up effect at the beginning is all done in the Looperlative LP1 – the effect is ‘quantise replace’, and I’m swapping out 1/16th of the loop each time, sometimes with a block that’s an octave higher (by changing the speed of the replaced bit) and sometimes it’s pitch-shifted (but slowing down the loop by a particular fraction while the replace is happening) – it starts chaotic, and suddenly this amazing glitchy beautiful ostinato emerges! The filter at the end is the Kaoss Pad Mini – the drums and the glitch-line are on different tracks in the LP1, so I can route that synth part to the aux out which has the KP Mini after it.

The glitchy drum sounds are a sample set I assembled from various sources in FL Studio played in on the Quneo. The whole thing is improvised live and unedited.

I love this stage of getting ideas together with new parts to my instrument – it’s slightly Jackson Pollock-esque in that you get to throw ideas at the canvas and see what happens. How well defined the canvas is depends on how cavalier you are with the rest of the parameters. Here, I’m pretty familiar with that quantise replace function on the Looperlative, though as this is a completely redesigned version of the software (running on the first of the new hardware boxes! yay!) it does actually respond slightly differently… But it’s in 4/4, and it wasn’t to hard to work out what the key centre was once the glitchy line was running (though I can’t fully predict what the notes will be with the pitch shifted replace function! I mean, I could work it out, but I like the madness of it 😉 ) – so this is experimental stage 0.1 – definitely in Beta mode. Some of the synth stuff has wonky squirrelly pitch, though that does feel more like a 70s thing, given how unpredictable the original voltage controlled synths were…

More soon!!

→ No CommentsTags:

10 Collaborators Who Changed My Music Life. Pt 7 – BJ Cole

April 26th, 2018 | No Comments | Categories: 10 Collaborators · Musing on Music

Today’s influential collaborator is BJ Cole, and for someone who changed my music-life as much as BJ did, there’s precious little documentation of us playing together. This is because the vast majority of the development that happened for me while playing with BJ happened in my living room. For a couple of years we got together as often as possible to just play. Sometimes it was every other week. When we were busy, our sessions were a little more spread out. But it was time and space to experiment with a particular kind of abstract textural improv that was utterly formative for me. BJ was quite involved with the London Improvisors Orchestra at the time, which gave him space to apply his mind-bendingly broad approach to the pedal steel guitar to some pretty out music. He was also working with Luke Vibert and others on the EDM scene, so his development of his own voice was an extraordinary thing to witness – especially in a musician who was already the most influential practitioner of his instrument that this country has ever produced (for those who don’t know, BJ played the pedal steel part on Tiny Dancer by Elton John, and played with David Sylvian, Robert Plant, Bjork, Deacon Blue, Paul Young, REM, Beck, and was in the Verve, as well as making groundbreaking ambient records under his own name).

Our experimental sessions in my living room were space to push ideas to breaking point – BJ had a Gibson Echoplex, and I had my Looperlative (or probably a pair of EDPs when we first started playing together) so we could create a massive layered sound – we built, and the dismantled, a whole load of cinematic and occasionally terrifying soundscapes. The great thing about it for me was that, because we had a tendency to occupy similar sonic territory (the steel has a huge range, and as I was using the eBow an awful lot at the time, we were both producing a lot of sustained chords in similar registers) I had to listen more intently than ever to try and find the space where our sound-worlds met. Often in those sessions things would go off the deep end, and we’d end up with harsh noise (I wonder if any of that music is on a hard drive somewhere? We did record a lot of it…) It was a project that involved a lot of trial and error, a lot of rescuing of improvisations that got away from us.

The thing that I think made it most interesting for me was how successful the music was whenever we played live. Those safe-sessions in my house allowed us to push boundaries that meant that when we played live, we had a whole load of experience to fall back on, and were less apt to fall over the cliff-edge. Allowing yourself to find what happens when things get too messy, or when sounds pile up to the point where it begins to lose meaning – those are important and formative experiments. I’m deeply grateful to BJ for all the time we spent finding sounds and ideas, pushing things too far, and then applying it to a range of gigs in different combinations – my favourite of our projects was a trio with Cleveland Watkiss. We played a number of times at my night, The Recycle Collective, and it was an amazing experience and a great combinations of sounds. But I also loved opening for and sitting in with BJ’s group at the time, with Eddie Sayer on percussion and Ben Bayliss on laptop, playing the music from his brilliant Trouble In Paradise album.

It was such a privilege to get to play with a musician of BJ’s stature, but moreso a musician of his deep, ceaseless commitment to moving forward in his own creative path. I learned as much just from the experience of playing with someone who was already ‘a legend’ in the pop world, already absolutely at the top of his game, but who never stopped reaching for new things, who was ceaselessly curious about what else he might be able to do with his instrument. I carry that inspiration with me every time I pick up the instrument, and I really hope we get to play together again soon. It’s been way, way too long.

→ No CommentsTags: