stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Steve Lawson :: Solo Bassist

May 3rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Steve Lawson :: Solo Bassist

Listen now:
Sept 18: Brand new solo album, Beauty And Desolation, out now

HELLO! I’m Steve. I’m play bass (and live electronics) both solo and in a lot of collaborative settings. I’m also a music teacher/lecturer, a journalist and am doing a PhD about audiences for improv. Here’s where you’ll find a lot of music, my blog (there’s over 15 years of it to read back through 😉 ) and info about gigs, my musical history and what else I’ve got going on.

If you’re already familiar with the music, please consider having a look at the Bandcamp subscription offer – making this kind of music means that there’s no sustainable model for music making to be built on Spotify or Apple Music – the scale of audience needed is just not compatible with making instrumental music with a bass, and releasing as much of it as I do. So I developed the subscription as a mutually beneficial way of getting all this amazing music out to you, and making it possible for me to keep recording and releasing it. No-one’s getting rich off this, but I’m still doing it three years in, and the subscriber community is growing every month. Come and join us!

While you’re here, come and say hi! Find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or send me an email! I’d love to hear from you.

 

Latest video, Beauty And Desolation (new album title track):

 

Read the cover story from Bass Guitar Magazine‘s October 2015 issue!

Recent Solo Videos:
Language And Memory  (from Beauty And Desolation)
Beauty And Desolation 
Transcendence And Decay (from Beauty And Desolation)
Small Is Beautiful (from Small Is Beautiful)
Vertigo (from Referendum)
Her Kindness (from The Surrender Of Time)

 

 

Some lovely quotes:

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Are you new round here? Want an overview? Here’s ‘Steve In A Nutshell‘.

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Timeline and Trivia

May 3rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Timeline and Trivia

Musical Equipment Used

Elrick Gold Series SLC 6 String fretted and fretless basses, Modulus Basses (6 string fretted and fretless and 4 string fretted), a Rick Turner 5 String Renaissance ‘Amplicoustic’ fretless bass, two Aguilar SL112 cabinets and 2 Aguilar Tonehammer 350 amp heads, A Jule Monique Preampthe Looperlative LP1 for looping, Keith McMillen SoftStep controller and Quneo controller, MODDevices MOD Duo for processing, MXR, Darkglass, and Markbass overdrive pedals, a TC Electronics HOF mini Reverb and Flashback delay, Aguilar Overdrive, Fuzz, Compressor, Octave, Chorus, Filter and Preamp pedals, MXR Reverb, Sub Octave Bass Fuzz, Bass Distortion, Bass Chorus Deluxe, Bass Envelope Filter, Bass Preamp & Bass Fuzz Deluxe, Subdecay Vitruvian Mod ring modulator, Pedal Train pedal board an E-Bow+, Latch Lake and Dunlop slides, Dunlop Super Bright strings, East-UK preamps, Evidence Audio cables, GoGo tuners, 2 Korg Mini Kaoss Pad s and a MOTU Ultralite Mk III Hybrid. And I carry my basses around in SlickBag gig-bags.

Musical History

1986 – got a bass and joined first band
1988 – broke arm, kicked out of first band, formed second band (EARS) – played first gigs
1989 – GCSE Music, Grade C
1991 – AS Level Music, failed – fine at composition, not so hot on history… :o) Somehow got into music college in Perth, Scotland. Teaching as head of bass at West Lothian Rock School.
1993 – left college, moved to Lincoln, tour with Canadian singer/songwriter Johnny Markin. Gigs all over Europe, played on three albums.
1994-96 – working as a pro in Lincoln, teaching, studio and live session work.
1996 – moved to London, more session work, including TV, Radio and theatre work, more teaching.
1997-99 – teaching at Drumtech and Basstech, West London.
1997-2000 – freelance reviewer/interviewer/columnist/gadget guru for Bassist magazine in the UK.
1999 – Toured Europe with Howard Jones. First completely solo gigs in London.
2000 – Released And Nothing But The Bass on Pillow Mountain Records. More solo gigs around England.
2001 – 2 Solo tours of California, including headlining the world’s first solo bass looping festival, and tour with Michael Manring and Rick Walker. Clinics for Ashdown Amps and Modulus Basses. Solo gigs in France.
2002 – Another tour in California, Released Conversations, duo CD with Jez Carr, on Pillow Mountain Records, 2 Major tours of UK Theatres and concert halls supporting first the 21st Century Schizoid Band then Level 42. Two shows at the London Guitar Festival. National TV and local radio appearances in the UK. Featured in the Sunday Times Culture Section. Released second completely solo CD, Not Dancing For Chicken. NDFC picked as one of the best CDs of the year by Aural Innovations
2003 – four week solo tour of California, gigs with Michael Manring and David Friesen, including the Anaheim Bass Bash, featured interview in Euphoria magazine, and review of NDFC in Bass Player (Feb issue). New recordings with Theo Travis, BJ Cole and Patrick Wood for future release. Duo gigs with Theo Travis. Gig at the barbican with orphy robinson. Recording in France with Vigroux/Cury/Rives for upcoming release. first italian solo gig and recording session in august. Duo CD with Theo TravisThe Arts Show, alongside Jenny Eclair and Barry Cryer. Acclaimed appearances at The Detroit Bass Fest and European Bass Day. Gigs in US and UK with Muriel Anderson. A second tour in England with Michael Manring in November.
2005 – another year another NAMM show, followed by a few promo gigs with Michael Manring in California. Dates with pedal steel guitarist, BJ Cole, and recording and gigs with singer Cleveland Watkiss, as well as more UK dates, the Edinburgh Festival and a trip to Italy. Started monthly music night, Recycle Collective.
2006 – back to California, NAMM again and some more dates and another day-long masterclass, Recycle Collective continues to be one of the best live music nights out in London, and features musicians such as BJ Cole, Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson, Seb Rochford, Todd Reynolds, Jason Yarde, Andy Hamill, Patrick Wood, Leo Abrahams, Julie McKee, Andrea Hazell. UK tours with Theo Travis, Muriel Anderson and Ned Evett. 4th solo album, Behind Every Word, released on Pillow Mountain Records. Recording in Italy with guitarist Luca Formentini. New duo formed with singer Julie McKee, for the Edinburgh Fringe. European tour in October, including EuroBass Day and European Bass Day, as well as an electronica festival in Italy. Behind Every Word makes a number of end of year ‘best of 2006’ lists.
2007 – guess where it started? Yay, NAMM!! Bass-Bash, two days of masterclasses, Modulus clinics and gigs both solo and with Muriel Anderson and Vicki Genfan. Much fun. First New York show too. European tour with Lobelia, including first time visit to Frankfurt Musik Messe and gigs in Italy, Spain, Germany and Denmark, 7 week tour of the US, 24 states, 7000 miles. Gigs at Greenbelt festival with Lobelia, Sarah Masen and Ric Hordinski. Recycle Collective relaunched in September. Playing on one track on Luca Formentini’s album, Tacet. First Amsterdam and Geneva gigs in November. Released live EP with Lobelia in December. Recorded improv album with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds.
2008 – NAMM again, with Lobelia this time, playing the bass-bash and for Looperlative and Modulus. More California shows. Back to England, playing lots of ‘acoustic’ shows with Lobelia, London Solo Bass Night in March with Todd Johnson and Yolanda Charles, . Year ended with Lawson/Wood/Dodds album ‘Numbers’ released, and some LDW gig dates round London, followed by a whole string of house concert shows in England and the US with Lobelia. 2008 was also the year of social media – 10 years of running my music career online turning into a 2nd career teaching and consulting on how it all works, including Nokia flying me to Helsinki for their Open Lab, and working on the launch of Ucreative.tv at UCA in Rochester. Finished the year with a series of house concerts in the UK and the US with Lobelia..
2009 – …which continued into the new year on a trip that included a trip to NAMM, a masterclass at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a series of masterclasses in bass, looping and ‘social media for musicians’ in various people’s houses. But I did miss the bass-bash for the first time ever. Back to the UK for more bass masterclasses and other University-based projects around the future of the internet… look out for a new solo album at some point this year!
2010 – the first half was spent looking after our new born baby, but at the age of 6 months, we took him to the US for a 7 week, 6500 mile tour of house concerts, that took us from Brooklyn to Milwaukee, Massachusetts to Lake Charles Louisiana, via Texas, Tennessee and Ohio. Lo and I recorded a live album on the tour, featuring Todd Reynolds and Neil Alexander, and while in Louisiana I recorded TWO duo albums with Trip Wamsley, released in September. The end of the year featured a sold out London gig with Michael Manring, and speaking engagements in the UK and Berlin at grass roots music industry conferences. I also released another live album, celebrating the 10th anniversary of my debut album coming out.
2011 – first half of the year was focussed on getting my first new studio album in 5 years finished. 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything was released and followed by a 2 month, 8000 mile US tour, which included shows with Julie Slick, Trip Wamsley, Tiger Darrow, Steven Guerrero, Darren Michaels, Neil Alexander, Trevor Exter and Catherine Marie Charlton. The trip also included me guest-performing at Victor Wooten’s Music-Nature Camp, teaching a bass masterclass in Virginia, and Lobelia and I being the only overseas musicians to be booked to play at the first Wild Goose festival. Oh, and  I also co-produced, mixed and mastered Lobelia’s new record, Beautifully Undone. We started selling our music on USB Stick, which has proved v. popular. A move to Birmingham in the late summer promises all kinds of new opportunities.
2012 – the year started with the release of Believe In Peace, an all-improv solo record, recorded in Minneapolis. January continued with a return visit to NAMM, 12 shows in 12 days including duo shows with Julie Slick, Michael Manring and Daniel Berkman, a recording session with Steve Uccello and a playing-and-speaking gig at Stanford uni, as well as a masterclass at LA Music Academy. The shows with Julie, Michael and Daniel were all recorded, so mixing and mastering work on those took up a lot of the following months, as well as recording for Californian singer/songwriter Artemis. May saw the relaunch of Beyond Bass Camp, and the remastering of 11 Reasons… 2012 also saw the formation of #ToryCore – a project that coupled the evil words of the Tory govt with twisted avant garde metal. One of my favourite ever musical projects.
2013 – started with NAMM and another 8 shows with Daniel Berkman, and this time Artemis joined us on vocals at every gig. It was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life to play with them both. Which is why a large chunk of the year was taken up mixing, mastering and releasing EVERY show we’d done up to that point. All 10 of ‘em. Went out to Frankfurt to the Musikmesse, more ToryCore shows & a few more gigs with Alvin Stardust depping for his regular bassist. Started teaching at Kidderminster College, and ended the year with a lovely joint tour with one of my favourite bassists – Yolanda Charles, and with a duo show with Andy Edwards on drums.
2014 – Another NAMM trip, 11 wonderful shows with Daniel and Artemis (part of a run of 14 shows in 13 days for me!). Just before NAMM I was invited to speak at the Microsoft Social Research Symposium in NYC, which was one of the most brilliant few days of my life. The duo project with Andy Edwards expanded to become ‘Andy, Steve + 1’ and we played a couple of gigs with Julie Slick, made an album with Murphy McCaleb and gigged with Jem Godfrey and Bryan Corbett – we have further projects planned. Played a super-lovely duo show with Briana Corrigan, ex-of The Beautiful South, whose solo work I’ve been a fan of for 20 years. I released a new solo album – What The Mind Thinks, The Heart Transmits. Playing at the London Bass Guitar Show and inviting Jon Thorne to join me on my set led to the release of that as a new album – Diversion. Towards the end of the year, I launched a new subscription service via Bandcamp, with the aim of finding a useful home for the epic amounts of music that I record and want to release…
2015 – NAMM in January, of course, plus a handful of lovely house concert shows with guitar genius Thomas Leeb. Released LEY Lines with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek, the first new thing that my subscribers got, which Phi released for everyone else. Did the London Bass Guitar Show again, and had another of my bass heroes Ruth Goller agree to play with me. That was fun. Formed a duo with Divinity Roxx – hip hop, improv, songs, stories, all rolled in. We had a week of playing and did a first gig in Kidderminster. The duo with Jon Thorne was expanded to a trio with Rob Turner, of GoGo Penguin, that band sounds amazing! In September, I release two new solo albums – my first proper solo album releases since 11 Reasons in 2011. A Crack Where The Light Gets In and The Way Home were really well recieved, and got played on Late Junction. In October, I was the cover star on Bass Guitar Magazine, almost certainly the only self-managed, self-releasing, self-everything solo bassist to ever get there without an association with any other artist. Still can’t quite believe it. The mag cover coincided with a mini-tour with Jonas Hellborg – we had a wonderful time playing in Birmingham, London and Leeds, and hope to do a bigger tour ASAP. By the end of the year, I’d released 7 albums for Subscribers, all of which I’m immensely proud of! The year ended with the recording of a second album with Phi and Andy, to be released early in 2016. The year also featured a few more Torycore gigs – a thing that gets better every time we do it, and more vital, sadly.

Current Musical Projects

Solo gigs and recording -::- Duo with Divinity -::- trio with Jon Thorne and Rob Turner -::- trio with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek -::- performance duo with painter Poppy Porter  -::-  Torycore.

trivia

favourite artists. – these days, it’s lots of singer/songwriters, and death metal bands. So, alternately, Bruce Cockburn, Cannibal Corpse, Jonatha Brooke, Cattle Decapitation, Joni Mitchell, Job For A Cowboy, Paul Simon, Entombed, Emily Baker, White Empress, The Blue Nile, Soulfly, Nik Kershaw, Ihsahn…

Along side that, a bunch of other things – Hope & Social, Bill Frisell, D’Angelo, David Torn, Let Spin, Michael Manring, DJ Krush, Throwing Muses, Coltrane, Kristin Hersh, 70s Miles, Beauty Pill, Janet Feder, Jon Gomm, Kenny Wheeler, Trish Clowes, Divinity Roxx, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, J Dilla, De La Soul, Terje Rypdal, KT Tunstall, The Pixies, The Cure…

top 10 (or so) favourite(ish) albums

bass influences – Current favourites are Tony Levin, Ruth Goller, Michael Manring, Julie Slick and Matthew Garrison but there are literally hundreds. I suppose, in roughly chronological order, those players that have influenced me the most would be – John Taylor (Duran), Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo/Iona), Chris Squire (Yes), Simon Gallup (The Cure), Pino Pallidino (everyone, but especially the D’Angelo stuff), Doug Pinnick (King’s X), Ewan Vernal (Deacon Blue), Steve Swallow, Abraham Laboriel, Jaco Pastorius, Scott LaFaro, Freddie Washington, Bernard Edwards (Chic), Ray Brown, Jonas Hellborg, Family Man Barratt (The Wailers), Verdine White (EW & F), Tommy Simms, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Jimmy Haslip, Danny Thompson, Eberhard Weber, Mike Rivard, Marc Johnson, Kermitt Driscoll, Mo Foster, Todd Johnson, Doug Wimbish, Yolanda Charles, Trip Wamsley, Divinity,  and loads more.

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Dark days in London town.

May 3rd, 2008 · 4 Comments

C’mon, joke’s over, Boris didn’t really win, did he?

Oh shit, yes he did. A victory for disillusionment, celebrity and the power of the protest vote. He’s not even a convincing tory.

The animosity towards Ken is startling, and he’s largely brought it on himself of late by behaving as though he was born to rule. His posturing covered over his remarkable achievements as Mayor, particularly in relation to public transport and the environment.

The only possible consolation from all this is that Ken had to flight bloody hard for just about every significant change that happened, from increases in buses and on-the-beat policing to the congestion charge. I honestly don’t think Boris cares enough to do what he’s pledged to do to reverse some of those policies. He’s a preening elitist, in the worst sense of the word, and has precious little track record as an effective politician read this article from The New Statesman for more.

What’s perhaps even worse than Boris as a reflection of the protest vote culture is that the BNP have a seat on the London Assembly. Yup, seems like all those other countries we thought were nuts for electing insane, racist hate-fueled, holocaust-denying fascists were just ahead of the game when it came to electoral fuckwittage.

Are all BNP voters fascists? No, clearly not. A lot of them are quite understandably disillusioned with a political landscape that has seen the three major parties merge, removing the old allegiances of ‘old labour’ socialism, or ‘old tory’ nationalism… Now it’s different flavours of centre right economic liberalism, and ever increasing marginalisation for those either not on the property ladder, or not willing or able to wade through the mire of spin and marketing BS to find out what else is going on underneath the heinous tabloid-fuelled political sheen…

Today’s protest voters are Thatcher’s legacy, are those who don’t remember what the far right did in the 70s/80s, who don’t realise that the BNP formed as an even further right version of the National Front, who don’t know about the BNP’s recent obvious attempts to distance themselves from the odious views of so many of their leaders and members.

Fortunately, the BNP will probably be ‘given enough rope’ by being placed on the London Assembly, that they’ll do what happened when they won 17 seats in local elections last time round… – to quote from the Mark Thomas article:

“Out of the 17 councillors, according to the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, Luke Smith resigned from Burnley Council after attacking a man with a bottle; Maureen Stowe left the party claiming the BNP “did not care for Burnley at all”; Robin Evans, a Blackburn councillor, left too, amid claims that drug dealers and football hooligans were in his branch; and John Savage, BNP councillor in Sandwell, was so bewildered by council debates and voting that he ended up supporting a pro-asylum-seeker motion. That surely has to be a first – a BNP councillor so stupid that he couldn’t even be a proper racist. Many BNP councillors have not attended council meetings and those who have, rarely – if ever – speak there.”

It’s sad that disgruntled voters with legitimate grievances that politicians have failed to address have banded together with nu-BNP – smiling, waving, fascists – many with a violent thuggish past at odds with the spurious ‘law and order’ rhetoric of the party – to give them a space on the London Assembly… Hopefully the oxygen of publicity will just reveal them to be the cynical opportunist racists that they are…

(for reference, have a look at the Mirror’s 10 reasons not to vote BNP – just wish the red-tops would provide wiki-style citations for such things… they’re collectable, but would be nice to have them in the article.)

In the meantime, hold tight, London, it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Reviews

May 2nd, 2008 · No Comments

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I’ve had loads of great press for my solo albums and gigs – have a read of some of it below!

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Behind Every Word CD Reviews –

Grace And Gratitude CD Reviews –

For The Love Of Open Spaces CD Reviews –

Not Dancing For Chicken CD Reviews –

Conversations CD Reviews –

And Nothing But The Bass reviews –

Gig Reviews –

Interviews –

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Exclusive track on Reverb Nation + gig news…

May 1st, 2008 · Comments Off on Exclusive track on Reverb Nation + gig news…

I’ve FINALLY got round to adding the latest bunch of gigs to Reverb Nation. The first of which is this sunday, at the Brickhouse, on Brick Lane in London (deets below in the gig cal widget).

The gig’s with my new trio with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds – two of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to play with. I’ve just added a fan-exclusive track to the Reverb Nation page, which you can play from from the widget below if you’re already on the mailing list, or you can just sign up! Enjoy…


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Tags: gig dates · Gig stuff · Music News

Londoners – don't forget to vote tomorrow!

April 30th, 2008 · 2 Comments

It’s the London Mayoral Elections tomorrow, and our chance to choose between the different flavours of turd on offer… As much as I think Ken has overstayed his welcome, the idea of Boris as London mayor is too horrific to consider. Not because of his affable buffoonery, but because of his horribly reactionary politics. He’s tried to rebrand himself as a Cameron-esque new Tory-Of-The-People, but it’s bollocks.

Brian Paddick just doesn’t have anything like the track record or spirit to be London Mayor, which of the serious candidates leaves Sian Berry of the Green Party – I’m pretty sure I’ll be voting Sian 1, Ken 2…

Here’s how it works – in London we have Proportional representation in this election, which means that EVERY VOTE COUNTS. This is great in terms of us feeling represented, but the downside is it means the BNP will benefit greatly from a low voter turn-out driven by the apathy towards the two main candidates.

Put simply, if you don’t vote for SOMEONE, it’s a step closer to the BNP getting onto the London Assembly. So vote. Get out and vote for the person you believe in. This is one election where voting Green actually means something in tangible terms. The Greens already have two members on the London Assembly, who have been integral to the environmental steps forward in the city. They’re looking to double that, so if you’re a green supporter, get out and help them do that.

For more on why the BNP are such a tragic option for any political situation, see hopenothate.org.uk. A lot of people are disgruntled with the way the political situation has gone in the UK of late, and the cynical opportunists at the BNP have targeted those disaffected voters with their hateful message. Don’t give them a foothold.

VOTE!

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Interaction, Conversation, Respect: the death of broadcast marketing on the web…

April 29th, 2008 · 1 Comment

I’m just back from a visit to Internet World – a trade show/expo at Earls Court for internet business peoples. It sounded interesting, so I thought I’d head down for a look.

I guess it didn’t help that they were sharing the hall with a direct marketing expo, but the feeing that one was in the belly of mammon, in a space largely devoid of creative thought or concern for human interaction and anything other than statistical dominance in a given field was pretty overwhelming.

Actually, that’s not strictly fair. A lot of the companies there were touting content management software, e-commerce solutions (no bad thing in an of themselves) and a couple of speculative social networking start ups. But there were loads that were selling a model of internet usage that just seemed sooo archaic – the basic message still seemed to be that it’s all about emailing millions of people, getting to the top of the search engines, getting google adwords in the right place, and then whatever you’re doing online will be a success…

I suppose it’s the nature of the show that it can’t really be concerned with content, because the content could be anything from health information to porn, ethical shoe-shops to online gambling, but the total lack of any visible discussion about making the net a nicer environment in which to work and play, the focus on spreading ones marketing message by whatever means made for a pretty sickly experience (I had one bloke accost me in an aisle and ask me if I wanted to buy email addresses! WTF? So spammers now have their own stands at expos??)

Bottom line was, the expo looked for all the world like a shop front saying ‘for your business you don’t have to interact with your audience/community/end users; you just have to pay us stacks of cash to put together a slick looking site for you, virally market via BS videos and downloadable games, crass adverts and paid-for email lists, and you can get on with being scared of the web and thinking Myspace is the big news in the future of internet usage, safe in the knowledge that we’ll sell any old crap just by spamming so many people that one click in a million will yield results…’

Which is bollocks. And it’s bollocks despite it supposedly ‘working’ for a lot of people. It’s bollocks because it’s intrusive in its methodology, hopelessly inefficient in terms of the amount of hours of people’s time it wastes compared to the return (time spent filtering out unwanted email, watching endlessly forwarded viral nonsense etc.) and because it’s a distraction from what those of us who actually CARE about a) what we’re producing and b) the environment in which we live and work on line actually need to do to enhance the lives of the people who come into contact with what we do.

I’m not in the marketing business. I USE elements of marketing strategy to try and make my music – and information about my music life – available to the people who want to find it. I don’t want to have to send unwanted emails to 1,000,000 people in order to reach 600 who might like what I do. Even though those are 600 people who might otherwise not find it. Why? Because I’m sick of being one of the 1,000,000 people who get spammed with BS hundreds of times a day just on the off-chance that my address might lead to someone who’s interested in the product. That ruins the web for all of us. And I don’t really care whether the address list is pure (illegal) spam, or some kind of crappy opt-in list that’s 99.9% full of people who just forgot to click the right check box, it’s still generating way too much negative web-karma for it to be of interest to me.

I try to operate online the way a rather wise man once suggested we carry out all our human interaction; ‘treat people the way you’d like them to treat you’. I don’t want to be spammed, I don’t want my email address to be a salable commodity, I don’t want to be seen as part of a wall to throw mud at in the hope that some of it sticks.

Here’s where Social media comes into its own – I can set up an interconnected network of pages, sub-communities and widgets whereby anyone who is interested can find my music, try it, engage with it on whatever level they want to and then share it with others if they think it’s of value. I’m not throwing it at them, I’m asking them if they’re interested, and offering information about the how, what, where, and why in as many mediums as I can. I can do videos explaining my methodology, I can blog about the processes involved in the music making, I can provide widgets so people can share my music with people who visit their sites or blogs or facebook pages or whatever if they are interested, and each time it’s driven by real interaction.

There’s the scattershot stuff as well – Seth Godin posted this great piece about unfocussed web-traffic – sure it makes us feel great to have 10,000 visits a day, but in all honesty I’m much better off with the coupla hundred people who actually read my blog each time I post over and above the thousands who have found my blog over the years looking for stuff about David Beckham or Bernie Clifton. They, as Seth points out, are gone in a couple of seconds.

That’s not to say that search engine traffic is bad, or stumble upon, or even adwords or whatever. The problem comes when the purpose of your site/blog/enterprise is traffic. Where what you’re making becomes about getting people to look at it, download it, buy it.

The joy of social media is that it removes the need to obsess over ‘bigger better faster more’ – it allows us to focus on deeper, richer, more important, personal, engaging, thoughtful, nuanced creation than we ever could have if we were relying on record companies, radio, TV and newspapers to spread the word about it. In the language of barcamp, it enables us to engage in UnMarketing. To tell the story around our art, our creativity, or lives and our services, and allow an informed, liberated audience to choose whether or not they want to be a part of that, and on what level they want to be a part of it.

There are loads of ways in which internet professionals can help content providers – this isn’t a rant against web designers, CMS companies or e-commerce specialists. We just need to get our priorities right, and if art is of any importance to us, then the marketing should be there to connect with a willing, searching audience and free us up to do our art better, not force us to dumb down in order to fit some loser’s ‘projection’ of the kind of big money we could make if only we targeted our content a little more specifically ‘Steve, you could clean up in smooth jazz, if only you’d get a quartet and start grooving more….’

Keeping our sights set on that which made us want to get into art/music/creativity in the first place is vital to understanding the magic that social media can facilitate. That means keeping a tight rein on those who would seek to make your art the content that drives their business venture… Or at least being honest about that relationship and understanding it for what it is (again, before I get accused of being some kind of purist, I don’t have a problem with people who make music commercially for a living, or indeed an objection to making commercial music where people want me to do it, it’s just that it’s a WHOLE other world to making ‘me-music’, and requires a very different approach…)

So for me, the kind of marketing-driven, spammalicious devoid-of-community BS I was hearing at Internet World fails in every way that the Social Media Cafe succeeds. I’ll blog more about the SMC later, as it deserves its own post, but suffice to say as a community of webby social media lovelies, it’s provided me with more inspiration, information, connections and ideas in the upstairs room of a pub in soho than the amassed fortune spent on Internet World could have done if I’d spent all three of the days there trawling for quality…

Tags: Geek

Thankyou Gordon Brown/Olympic committee…

April 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on Thankyou Gordon Brown/Olympic committee…

Someone’s got to say it, so on behalf of the various campaign groups concerned with ending the Chinese occupation of and brutality in Tibet (none of which I officially represent or am a member of), I’d like to thank Gordon Brown for a day of phenomenal free world-wide publicity, at the expense of the reputations of his government, the olympic committee, the Metropolitan police force and London as a whole.

I mean, he can’t POSSIBLY have thought that the protests weren’t going to happen can he? He must have known that the strength of feeling about the ongoing MASSIVE human rights violations being carried out by the Chinese government in, well, just about everywhere they can reach in a 3 hour plane ride, was going to spill out onto the streets, given that the nonsense that passed for a ‘procession’ was going to be tracked by every major news agency on the planet.

Someone in government handily arranged for a bunch of turquoise track-suited Chinese body guards to run stony-faced alongside the torch, like a phalanx of David Icke-obsessed ninjas, waiting to seriously kick some ass should any of the protestors step out of line. Except they needn’t have been there, because lovely accomodating Meester Brown had arranged for the Police to overreact to everything, bundling people to the ground in the full glare of the world’s media lens. So, sadly no Jackie Chan-style ninja-skills from the Icke-ettes, but still plenty of amazing photo-ops, including but not limited to:

***the dude you tried to wrestle the flame from Konnie Huq (who helpfully said afterwards that she was fine with that, given the reason)
***The genius who attacked the flame with a fire extinguisher – hurrah!
***The ignominy of the regal olympic flame being carried on a bus along Oxford Street by the Sugababes (stopping off for a ‘My olympic torch went to London and all I got was this lousy cigarette lighter’ zippo on the way)
***the other numerous heavy handed arrests of anyone jumping the barriers as assorted sport-monkeys and D-list celeb-lackeys ran past carrying that great symbol of, uhm, flameness.

Oh yes, ’twas a masterpiece of engineered publicity for the protestors, handed to them on a plate by the Government.

So thankyou, Mr Brown, thankyou. Good one Gordon, you’re a legend Gordon. All we need now is for you to admit that was the plan and for you to openly laugh at the idea that you’ll be attending the opening ceremony. For example, you could say ‘…hosted by that bunch of murdering fuck-heads? not likely!’

I’d be happy to write you a speech. For freebs.

(oh and big thanks to my local MP, Tessa Jowells, for not blowing the story early – she must’ve been bustin’ to say ‘but we planned it all along!’ all day…)

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

One True Fan – thoughts on Street Teams.

April 2nd, 2008 · Comments Off on One True Fan – thoughts on Street Teams.

One of the most linked to blog posts in the last few months in the musical blogosphere is Kevin Kelly’s piece on 1000 True Fans – it’s a great piece of writing, and quite inspiring too.

However, I’d like to get away from the numbers for a moment and talk about this whole thing of connecting with and relating to ‘true fans’. Or ‘friends’ as I like to think of them.

I’ve commented before that I really like my audience. Not because they’re my audience, but because my music seems to draw in the kind of people I want to hang out with. That is a good thing. For sure.

What often happens is that ‘fans’ turn into ‘friends’ long before any level of ‘wow I’m getting to hang out with the guy on the CDs’ kicks in. This, on a human level is also a good thing, given that the ‘wow’ factor is BS anyway. It’s a great way to make money if you can make people think that you’re somehow special/elite/of more value than ‘normal’ people – they’re probably more likely to buy t-shirts and pay high dollar ticket prices (or stupid money ‘meet-and-greet prices) but it’s pretty much total bollocks. So the switch from fan to friend is a good one.

However, those new friends who dig your music are a VITAL part of the propagation and proliferation of your music around the world. They provide a few things that are integral to any marketing strategy, paid or otherwise – experience, enthusiasm, motivation, trust, social connection, the opportunity to acquire social capital through your music (what Hugh MacLeod likes to call A Social Object).

What’s also true is that most people don’t do that stuff on their own. When prompted, they often go ‘of course!’, but unless they are a) musicians doing it for themselves, b) work in marketing, or c) are just incredibly self-motivated and externally-aware, they are unlikely to take it on themselves to start promoting what you do. The chances are that most people who listen to your music aren’t aware that telling their friends about what you do is a vital part of your ongoing income stream, and perhaps, as a result, your ability to keep producing music that they love…

So you need a place where you can let them know about that stuff, and that’s were the idea of a ‘street team’ comes in.

Street Teams have been around for years. They’re an extension of the idea of fan clubs, where people who dig what you do are actively encouraged to – and given the tools to – tell other people about what you do. The name obviously comes from the idea of getting out there and handing out flyers and sticking up posters – and people who are willing to do that are worth their weight in gold to an indie – but more useful and immediate, and certainly a more accessible form of support and interaction for the ‘regular’ fan would be the idea of street team as social media team.

In our culture of attention, people need peer approval to find where the cool shit is on line. Most of my new music discovery these goes comes via links sent to me on twitter, facebook, email and IM. There are people who act as new music filters for me and send me the stuff they like. I do it for my friends all the time, currently through To The Left Of The Mainstream.

So creating a space where you can share ideas with those people, offer suggestions, keep track of actions carried out, and hopefully get some community happening is a good thing. And gives you the chance to reward people who help you out a lot.

I’ve had a street team for years. My street teamers have access to a whole load of MP3s unavailable elsewhere, and some of them have been able to get on the guestlist for sold out shows and such like. They get to order CDs earlier than everyone else, and in exchange, I ask them to spread the word.

Up until yesterday, my main point of contact with my street team was an email list, where I would send out all-too-sporadic emails asking them to do things. It got some stuff done, but gave no room for feedback and cross pollenation. I had a street teamers forum on my site too, but because of the mailing list, I neglected it, and so, largely did they…

So yesterday I sent out a message saying it was moving there permanently. I’m not going to send out the emails any more, and instead will interact with anyone who wants to help me out in the Street/Social Media Team forum on my site.

So, if you want to sign up, head over the forum on my site sign up for the forum, then send me a message via email or forum PM and tell me why you want to join. It’s not a cryptic question, it just stops the list from being an impersonal opt in.

The question here is not one of building 1000 true fans, but is about giving the people who like what I do but don’t think like marketers a space to explore how they can help me out. Ideas for spreading the word, and some insight into how it works. Not many people know that just by adding a blog post or website page to stumble upon, they can send upwards of 500 new people to see my site. If 10 people stumble it, it can have a massive impact. Same goes for fowarding pages to facebook an myspace friends, reTweeting information about new blog posts etc. on Twitter, and posting links to stuff on their own blogs.

As well as all the more traditional street team stuff such as sticking up posters, emailing radio stations and magazines, handing out flyers and bringing friends to gigs.

I’m thinking later this year of doing a Street-Team only gig in London… will have to see how that pans out.

A blog like this one, or even Twitter can act as an informal Social Media Team suggestion place, where your listeners and friends can get links to click, or can forward posts like my post about the two free albums to their friends, but it’s definitely a good idea to provide a space for clearer discussion about actual promotion…

Tags: cool links · Music News · New Music Strategies · site updates

Bruce Cockburn interview from Nov '99

March 25th, 2008 · Comments Off on Bruce Cockburn interview from Nov '99

Back when I was writing for Bassist magazine in the late 90s, I mainly used interviews as a chance to meet up with my musical heroes. The bass ones were easy to sort out, but on a couple of occasions I used the magazine connection to interview my guitar playing heroes as well, and did this interview for Guitarist magazine. Given that Bruce Cockburn is my favourite musician of all time, and probably the songwriter whose songs have had the most real-world impact on my day to day life, it was always going to be a little hagiographic, but I think I’ve kept the ‘you’re amazing, tell me about being amazing’ type questions to a minimum.

This is my original transcript of the interview, which is a fair bit longer than what actually got printed, I seem to remember. It was just after Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu had come out, and was conducted in the restaurant of some hotel in Ealing, I think. Bruce was a fantastic interviewee, and this is one of my favourite interviews to read back. A couple of my questions are a little crassly put, but it was 9 years ago, so I’ll cut myself some slack. I’ve met him a few times since, and he’s always been a very friendly, funny person to meet…

Bruce Cockburn Interview
(Reproduced from the November 99 issue of Guitarist Magazine)

Impossible to pigeon-hole, but equally brilliant whether finger-picking ragtime instrumentals or giving it what-for on a distorted electric, Bruce Cockburn’s artistry continues to climb 30 years into his career.

Once described by Melody Maker as ‘Canada’s best kept secret’, singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn has, over the course of 25 albums, built up a substantial following world-wide and is a bit of a superstar in his native Canada. He’s had 20 gold and platinum records, won 10 Junos (the Canadian version of Grammies), and does seriously big tours, but remains a cult act in the UK (albeit a cult act capable of playing the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank last time he visited these shores!)

Bruce’s body of work ranges from lilting country folk to the dark brooding punk and reggae influenced political ranting of his eighties albums. His recent move to the Rykodisc label has been accompanied by a shift back to the jazzier acoustic sound of his late seventies albums. Always focused, Bruce is one of very few singer/songwriters to last 30 years with no embarrassing period whatsoever.

Initially inspired by Scotty Moore and Buddy Holly, followed soon after by Chet Atkins and Les Paul, his guitar playing encompasses a huge range of styles, taking in ragtime and blues influences but combining them with jazz, country, rock and avant-garde in a unique melange that perfectly supports his heart-felt prose.

– When did you start playing

I started playing when I was 14 which was 1959.

– Why?

Scott Moore – the early Elvis records. Buddy Holly… well, the sound of the Crickets – I didn’t really associate it with particular people it was just music. That’s what got me excited about music. I started taking guitar lessons at the age of 14 and was very quickly introduced to other kinds of music. The teacher I had was into country swing like Les Paul and Chet Atkins, and all the tunes that were on Willy Nelson’s ‘Stardust’ album were the tunes that I learned to read music on the guitar with, to learn chords and all that stuff. The first tune I can remember actually working out off a record was ‘Walk Don’t Run’ by the Ventures. It just kinda moved on from there – I got interested in jazz pretty quickly, and through that moved into folk-blues. By the time I got out of high school I was doing some rudimentary finger-picking and was starting to compose music, and dabbled in writing poetry. I went to Berkley for three semesters out of a four year course, and did what all honourable Berkley students that are any good do – drop out! Last year they gave me an honorary Doctorate so I finally got my degree. When I was at Berkley I was shown by John Lennon and Bob Dylan that you could actually put poetry and music together and make something.

– So Dylan was the catalyst?

That’s what interested me about it. I had no interest in imitating the songs I liked – old Elvis songs, ragtime tunes – those were the product of a time and place and an experience that I had no part of so it made no sense to try and write those songs. It was OK for me to sing them, that made sense, but not trying to write anything like it. But it hadn’t occurred to me that you could do anything else until Dylan came along, and it was like ‘Oh wow, you can actually say stuff.’ So I started writing songs. When I left Berkley I joined a rock ‘n’ roll band in Ottawa where I had grown up, made up of a bunch of folkies that I knew, and we all were writing songs at that point, and that’s when I really started taking it seriously. It kinda grew from there’

– So that was the beginning of the solo career?

Yeah, except I did it with my wife at the time. At first I wasn’t really on the road – we were on such a small circuit, that it didn’t qualify as on the road. There were clubs in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal that I could play and the occasional folk festival, and in the early says that’s what I did. I was in bands for the second half of the sixties but had started to do solo stuff in the latter part of the 60s. ’69 was a fairly busy year for me as a solo artist, and that’s when the first solo album was recorded. In the spring of ’70, I bought my first truck, I was started to get paid for gigs so I had some money. It cost three thousand dollars, which was a big deal at the time. And we put a camper on the back of it, and spent the next five years driving back and forth across the country, staying with my in-laws or my parents during the winter and hitting the road again as soon as it warmed up. So for 7 or 8 months out of each year we’d be on the road.

– Was there a sense of the emerging Canadian sound?

There WAS an emerging Canadian sound, but there wasn’t really a sense of it. People started thinking about it after the fact.

– It must have really pissed off the Americans.

That Canada had all the best song writers? I don’t think anyone thought about it – in those days you didn’t say you were from Canada – most Canadians were embarrassed about Canada. Most Canadians didn’t know that Joni Mitchell was Canadian, or that Neil Young was Canadian. You’d say it to people and they’d go ‘What? Nah, that’s bullshit!’ It’s like ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth???’ Same thing.

There were a lot of us around that time who thought this was a bad thing who were right behind Joni, Neil and Gordon Lightfoot, who was the first to opt to stay in Canada rather than to move to the US. It was a cliche of Canadian culture that in order to be accepted by Canadians you had to prove yourself somewhere else first – you could do it in England or the US, but not in Canada.

But there was kind of a wave of nationalism that we were all affected by at the time that said it shouldn’t be that way, so I just thought I’m going to build up whatever audience I can in Canada before I think about going anywhere else, and then we’ll see where it goes. Over the next ten years – it took about that long to build a strong national audience, but by the end of the 70s I did have that, and I was also starting to work outside of Canada, a little. But hardly in the states at all – it was Italy and Japan at first. The states did really start to get interested in me until ’83 when Stealing Fire came out, when we started to do national tours.

– Didn’t you get some adverse press for Rocket Launcher?

No, it got no adverse press, it got nothing but positive response – it blew my mind! The Religious Right to my mind said nothing about it. I got the odd letter from somebody who were disappointed in it. One woman I remembered writing saying how could I write an anti-American song like this – her husband was a jet pilot and didn’t I know what awful things the Russians were doing in Afghanistan? Well yeah I do, but it doesn’t excuse what you guys are doing in Guatemala, and it’s not your husband who’s guilty, it’s other people.

I got the occasional letter like that, but what I also got was a huge amount of air-play for that song, which I hadn’t really had before – the one exception being Wondering Where The Lions Are which got played in the US as well as Canada. WWTLA was the first song I’d had that got big time national air-play in Canada and it got on the Billboard chart in the US. But whereas it was the start of something in the Canada, in the sense that the next few records I put out also got a lot of air-play, in the States that didn’t happen, so with Rocket Launcher it was like starting all over again. And that time it did take, and it’s been progressively better since then.

– How did your music develop through the 70s?

The finger-picking that I’d learned to do was based on Mississippi John Hurt and Manse Lipscomb, mainly, and other old blues guys like that, but I’d also learned how to play more complex chords. When I went to Berkley I went majoring in composition, with guitar as my instrument and I had this notion that I’d be a jazz musician – I hadn’t thought about it one way or the other, but that seemed like the thing you do when you went to Berkley! And then I realised part way along that I wasn’t prepared to do the amount of work, and I wasn’t interested enough in jazz harmonies per se to pursue it the way they were teaching it. But I still loved jazz and continue to love jazz, and whenever there’s an opportunity jazz creeps into the music – more now than ever, partly to do with increasing command of the instrument over the years, and partly to do with exploring options as a writer.

– Did you continue to study?

I didn’t study formally in anyway – I taught myself this and that. But I listened to a lot of stuff – you mentioned the world music thing – through the late 60s and into the 70s I was listening to music of every culture that I could get my hands on. I was particularly infatuated with European Medieval and Renaissance music – you can hear that in the records. I was also listening to African records, Tibetan Ritual music. I guess I got started on that track at Berkley because a lot of the jazz players were interested in Arabic music. That interest in Eastern music was prevailing in the jazz scene at the time and I got totally captivated by it.

So the guitar style was partly having started with a blues style that featured alternating bass with a melody over the top or a droning bass with licks over the top, the melodies and the licks got more complicated, and the harmonies never were as simple as blues harmonies so. So on top of that would be a song like Joy Will Find A Way, where the guitar part is an attempt at duplicating an Ethiopian thumb harp piece that I had on a record – it’s not the same notes, but an attempt to get that feel into it. I found that a lot of African folk music suited adaptation to finger picking guitar, which wasn’t lost on the Africans either, but I hadn’t heard African guitar music then. It was obvious to me that you could take these complimentary drum and xylophone type instruments and translate that music onto the guitar, and that became part of the style and then everything I heard that I like really.

And then in the 70s I discovered Reggae and then Punk came along and revitalised rock ‘n’ roll for me and so then I started getting those elements in there to.

– Was electric guitar an anathema – with prog rock etc.?

I used it a bit – all through the 70s there was also the Stones, don’t forget, so there was goo guitar around of the sort that I related to as roots based. And there was good jazz guitar, although there was a period in there where I didn’t listen to much rock or jazz – I completely missed David Bowie, for instance, until Heroes in the late 70s, then I went back and discovered the rest of what he’d done. Then I started to look into rock music again. Yeah, I missed a lot, but I also gained something in the freedom I had from that influence at that particular time. When the influence came around it was affecting me as a more developed artist.

– So the addition of electric stuff happened around Humans, or Inner City Front…?

Inner City Front was really the big one. There’s electric guitar on many of the earlier albums, but it didn’t start to take over until I was playing with heavier bands with more drums and more emphasis on rhythm, and then it was an irresistible pressure to pick up the electric guitar – to hear myself on stage for one thing – but also to keep up in intensity with the other guys. There was a big learning process in there. on Inner City Front I got away with it, but there a lot of learning in front of people going on. I was applying the same techniques to the electric as I used on the acoustic, but there’s a big difference in touch and it took some time to kind of get the feel for it.

– Was there a parallel between the music and lyrics in that development?

The earliest album that has a real noticeable amount of electric guitar on it is Night Vision, which is also a dark kind of record and I hadn’t thought about it but I guess that’s true, it does contribute to it, though unconsciously – I must contribute to what I was doing. The choice wasn’t unconscious the connection was’

The tone of the albums really changes with Humans, which also coincides with my divorce, and the end of a decade and a point in my life that was partly triggered by the divorce and partly not where I spent a lot of time looking at how my inner being related to the big picture, the cosmic picture, and it was time to include other people in that search for an understanding of relationship. To put it in simple terms, as a christian if you’re gonna love your fellow mankind you gotta know who they are, you can’t love them in the abstract. So it was time to kind of be among humans. It started with the album humans and the songs there come from those first travels in Japan, and Italy – the first ventures outside of North America, and the greater understanding of human interaction on mass which translates into politics, and that carried through into inner city front, and all through the 80s.

– Your one of the few artists who was around in the 80s, when all the world’s singer songwriters went electric, who has no embarrassing period…

I was pretty careful, but I look back on certain of those things with a little embarrassment, but only a little – more the live gigs that the records cos there were more chances taken on stage than in the studios.

– Influences –

The Clash, Bob Marley that whole new wave thing had a broad non-specific effect but I remember thinking on Trouble With Normal, on Tropic Moon, and I could figure out how to get the right feel, so I remember thinking, ‘what would the Clash do with this?’ so I did what the Clash would’ve done with it, that was a conscious decision in the studio – it doesn’t sound very much like the Clash at all, but you can hear that mental process’ Bob Dylan was still an influence – Blood On The Tracks – he hadn’t had much of an influence on me for years and then Blood On The Tracks came out and that was a big album for me. Life in general – at that point I was starting to write life and looking outward’

– But there’s a musical sophistication that goes beyond those influences, more of a Peter Gabriel kind of vibe –

That has partly to do with the producers on that album, although I listened to a little Peter Gabriel, though I don’t think it was as much Peter Gabriel as listening to the same things that he was listening to and translating them. The producers, John Goldsmith and Kerry Crawford, who worked on World Of Wonders and Big Circumstance – their understanding of album production was bigger in scope than I was used to working with, and that’s one of the reasons why I was interested in them. So they got bigger sounds, and used more instruments and tried out more ideas, the music lent itself to that. At that point I’d been in Central America, and been to the Caribbean a bunch of times and I had more direct influence from those cultures – see how I miss you, down here tonight, world of wonders – on that song the imagery is all European, but the music is Afro-Caribbean.

– Influence of the Stick?

That had something to do with it as well. That was the thing that interested to me about the Stick. I was excited when I discovered that I knew someone who played it. With Hugh Marsh I’d explored the possibilities with Violin and Guitar, then Hugh’s brother Ferg (Fergus Jemison Marsh), turned out to be this incredible Stick player who was very Tony Levin influenced with the bass strings, but added on all this treble stuff that you don’t hear Tony Levin doing, and it seemed to me that there would be incredible textural possibilities with that part of the stick and guitar. So that became a big deal.

During the period that I was writing the material for Stealing Fire, I’d rented a little office space that I’d go to to practice and or write each day, and I had a little drum machine so I’d set up drum rhythms, and I have the lyrics and I’d be pulling at the lyric and the rhythms and that would spawn the guitar parts, and I got Ferg coming over and work on Stick parts that would go with the guitar parts, and then I’d modify the guitar parts if he had something better than I did. So the presence of the stick was in there early on in the process of building up to ‘Stealing Fire’.

– There are strong polyrhythmic possibilities with the Stick –

and then when you start adding drums to that the trick is to get people to start leaving things out because you can get so many things going at once.

– Guitars – who were you listening to?

I don’t think I was really listening to guitar players much through there. Since about 1960 I haven’t really tried to learn anything off a record in a ‘OK, how he’s doing this’ kind of way. I get influenced by the feel of things and I sort of take what my ear will grasp and then I mess with it, so the learning process has been slow, but also kind of less conspicuously influenced by any one person that it might other wise has been.

– And that helped to maintain originality?

It has had that effect, I don’t think I did it on purpose that was, it’s just my nature to do things that way. I would hear things I like, and any time I heard one I’d either find a way to do it my way or it would just become a kind of general influence – there were lots of people, Mark Knopfler was the most conspicuous fingerstyle electric player around, but I was always sort of slightly uncomfortable with that, even though I really liked his records, everyone would be telling me that I played like Mark Knopfler, once I started playing electric guitar, and it kind of was a little irritating, so I made a conscious effort where possible not to sound like Mark Knopfler – there was already one of him and we didn’t need another one.

– You started fingerpicking on the electric before Knoplfer, what lead to that? Naïvité’?

There was no question in my mind of ever picking up a pick – there was no reason to. I’d played electric guitar when I was in rock bands in the 60s, and I’d had lots of experience playing electric guitar with a pick. But through the 70s I’d developed enough facility with the guitar that it just seemed like OK now how do I apply this to this other instrument, and by the end of the 80s I’d sort of almost learned how to do it!!

– It gave you a unique sound, and a continuity between the electric and acoustic.

They’re not polls apart

– sometimes it’s pretty hard to tell which you’re playing.

yeah, depending on which guitar I’m using – the National Resophonic that I’ve got is an electric guitar but I’ve got it strung with acoustic gauge strings and it has this chunky sound that has much of the attack of an acoustic.

– What electrics were you using in the 80s?

I had a couple of Strats, and a couple of hand made flying Vs, made by Emory Deyong, in Canada. They were really nice guitars, with humbucking pickups, but I’ve always had a problem playing Gibson style electrics cos the necks are to flexible and I’d always bend them out of tune, I grab them too hard, whereas Fenders, or anything with a Fender feel didn’t present that problem so I tended to lean that way. Also the attack on Fenders in more finger friendly, more like the acoustic.

– A kind of natural compression to the sound?

yeah, so it suited’ it easy to overplay an electric guitar when you’re used to an acoustic, whether it’s fingers or a pick. One of the most flagrant historic examples of that is Django Reinhard – when you listen to his records on electric guitar they sound horrible next to the genius tone, not to mention the content of his acoustic playing. He’s whacking the shit out of the electric and it hurts! And I did the same thing -everybody that switches, has to overcome that same tendency which was made easier on certain guitars than on others.

– After the darkness of Big Circumstance, you came back with a far more commercial album in Nothing But A Burning – a shift to new country?

The term new country got invented after we made that album, but the conscious effort made in those songs was definitely a shift. I’d had this big dry spell and at the end of the 80s, from the middle of 88 to the end of 89 I didn’t write anything,

– was that scary?

It was very scary, it was sort of like well OK, either I’ve got to think of some drastic thing to do or I’ve got to go and learn a new trade! So I decided to declare myself on sabbatical, I was gonna take 1990 off, which I did, and I just announced to the world that I was going to have no public involvement with anything, and I more or less did that. And within a week of having started on my sabbatical I started writing, and I wrote Child Of the Wind, and the songs started coming that ended up making up ‘Nothing But a Burning Light’.

But there’d been this big clearing of the slate before that, like the whole 80s was cancelled. The thing that I’d realised during that dry period was that I’d be looking around at songs and I noticed that I had no virtually no songs that someone who was an untrained guitar player could sit down and make work, and I thought that was kind of a lack, so I deliberately made an effort to write songs that you didn’t have to play like I do to make them sound good, you could just strum the chords and they’d still work. So Child of the Wind was like that, and most of the other song on NBABL fit that description. That was on purpose, that had the effect that it wasn’t an attempt to make the songs commercial, it was to make the accessible to someone that wanted to have fun playing them. And that kind of carried over into Dart to the Heart, and then I kinda dropped it – I got bored with that!

– Any label pressure?

No – well, record companies like radio air-play – but nothing that affected the content of the songs, or even really the way we recorded them. The choice of T-Bone Burnett to produce those records was a process that involved the record company, but we had a list of people and he was on everybody’s list. The sound of those records owes everything to T-Bone, and to the particular to the writing of the songs that set that up.

– Burning Light is an amazing sounding album

Nothing But A Burning Light came out really well. Dart To The Heart we didn’t get as lucky on, although there’s still a lot that I really like about that. But NBABL was one of those instances where everything falls together exactly right. It was such a great band on there – Keltner and Michael Been, Edgar Meyer and Booker T.

– Two albums with T-Bone on the major.

..and the Christmas album which was done sort of in between, which I produced though I owe a lot to T-Bone for that, for the inspiration of his attitude towards production more than any of the technical stuff. I guess it was the same as my process of learning from guitar players, I didn’t study what he did, but I picked up an understanding from him of how to focus on the essence of a song without screwing it up in the process of adding instruments to it. there are many many ways that you can mess with a song in the studio so there’s something very important about uncovering that essence and keeping it in the forefront.

– Was that a chance to re-indulge your love of folk music?

Well, in a way.. circumstantially I guess’ The Christmas album was something I’d wanted to do for 20 years because I’d loved that music and thought I could do something with it, but it took that long to get somebody to pay for it. We were doing these radio shows out of New York, we did 5 in the end, which became the Columbia Records Radio Hour, which became a monthly show that they did, I ended up doing all the Christmas ones.

– And you duetted with Lou Reed on Cry Of A Tiny Babe????

I know, it amazes me too – you should have been there when it happened. We’d rehearsed it but he was reading the lyrics off. There we were playing the song, and it came time for his verse and that’s what he did, and I just started laughing as you can probably hear on the ensuing chorus.

– New York was a favourite of yours?

Yeah that was a great album – I don’t really know the body of Lou’s work’ you know who else I really liked through that period was Laurie Anderson, or course they’re now a pair which is pretty interesting. She did some marvellous stuff. I don’t go to many shows, especially big shows, but I remember going to see her at Massey Hall in Toronto and it was maybe the best show I’ve ever seen, for sheer entertainment and content’

– now your on Rykodisc – it sounds like your back in a love affair with the guitar…

It’s what came out of the experiment – it starts with Dart, or maybe even Burning Light. It’s like I said, but the end of the 80s I’d finally learned what to do with an electric guitar, and you can start to hear that on the records, and it continues, I’m still learning all the time – the more I learn, the more I want to do with it, though the new album doesn’t feature that much electric, there’s a couple of prominent bits, but the Charity of Night features some extended leads and stuff. It’s the first time I’ve felt confident enough to allow myself to do the jazz part of the record – I’d always imported other people to do that, you get John Goldsmith on keyboards, or Hugh Marsh on violin adding the jazz into it, but as of the Charity of Night it was time for me to try and do some of it myself, though on the new album it’s not so much on the electric but the two instrumentals have a lot of improvising in them. I’m just letting myself play – we’ll see what happens when we put the band together to tour’

– And live? At Greenbelt the guitar playing was really front and centre…

That’s always been part of the live shows – Dialogue With The Devil, although I’m playing different thing in the solo part of it, it’s basically the same way I was doing it in 1974. To some extent those little lead things have always been in the shows, more so than on any of the records, and with the band shows there’s always been more electric guitar leads, until now when it seems to be evening out a bit. It’s fun to play, you know? It’s partly getting older and allowing myself more freedom. I’ve always had this built in limitation of things supposed to be a certain way, I’ve a limited concept of how things can be and how stretchy you can make things, and over the years that’s gotten a lot looser.

– The record sounds unfettered. Fun, passionate and full of energy.

There wasn’t much restraint – the restraints on me are my technical ability more than anything, and I suppose ones technical ability limits to some degree what you can imagine, at least in my case it does! It doesn’t stop at the same place, but you hear things projected from what you know how to do.

– your guitar now is a Linda Manzer, right?

I had a Larivee – I had the first cutaway guitar that Larivee ever made. Larivee was the first Canadian guitar maker to work with steel string guitars, and he developed a whole style of guitar making that owed nothing to Martin or Gibson, having a different concept of bracing, ‘n’ all that. And Linda along with a couple of other people was one of Larivee’s apprentices for a while – there were three of four of them who were spawns of the original Larivee thing, only Larivee has moved into more a shop thing, with helpers – not a factory as such, but more like that than it was. Linda continued to make guitars on her own.

I had two Larivee guitars, and a David Wren, who was another Larivee apprentice. I had two Wrens, one got destroyed in a fire, at a rehearsal space, which was right before one of the tours of Italy, so I had to play electric guitar – my telecaster was all I had left, and the Italians were really pissed at that, and were yelling out ‘acoustica, acoustica!!’ They didn’t want to hear me playing electric at all, and didn’t believe that my guitar had been burnt – they thought I was putting one over on them.

Anyway, I ended up moving from that to a Manzer. I’d experimented with a few commercial guitars that people were trying to get me to use, and I didn’t like any of them – that was in 86/87. The guitar that Linda made me then I had until the beginning of this year and I traded it back to her for a new one with slightly different characteristics. It was a particularly deep bodied guitar with a cedar top, slightly wider than average neck to make room for finger-picking. When I got it that’s what I wanted, but over the years as I started switching back and forth between electric and acoustic more often, I started wanting my acoustic strings to be closer together so it wasn’t such an adjustment moving back and forth. I found to that I developed a problem over the Charity of Night tour I started getting a problem with my right hand fingers, and what had happened is that because of the extra body depth – we’re only talking about a 1/2 inch but with a guitar that’s significant – the top corner of the guitar was pressing in the nerves in my forearm and over the 10 years that I’d played the guitar it had started to cause problems with the nerves in my arm. So I approached Linda about getting another one from her and she makes a kind of guitar that’s sort of wedge shaped – narrower on the bass side. You sacrifice some bottom end tone, acoustically, but no-one listens to guitars acoustically any more live anyway – very few people even know how to mic one anymore’ The wedge shaped one is not extra deep, mainly because survival is more important than the bass end! That’s what I used at Greenbelt – it’s slight, and not really noticeable to the casual observer, but it does have enough of a slope that it doesn’t put pressure on that particular spot. I knew this from playing the Dobro which has a very thin body and I wasn’t having any trouble playing that so duh! Make the connection, it’s obvious! But so ended up with the new Manzer, which I really love. As I said, it sacrifices a slight amount of bass tone acoustically, electrically, with the fishman pickup that’s in it, it sounds as good as any other guitar with a Fishman. Just the latest generation of piezo. It’s got a really nice neck – it’s a beautiful guitar to play.

– Mic and line in the studio?

Normally I would just mic it – we probably did some of it plugged in, but we never used it, it’s kind of more for safety – if we get a little noise on the mic, or we have to punch in…

But I don’t really like the sound of it plugged in when you don’t have to have it – it’s there live because there’s no other way, but the new Manzer is not what appears on the new album – that’s a Collings that I have that I’ve had for three years. It’s the one that like D28, big body. You hear that on the Charity of Night and on Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu, because the new Manzer was still too green – it hadn’t opened up yet’

– Electrics on the album?

On Blueberry Hill, it’s a black and cheesy Charvel Surfcaster, And a Strat that a friend gave me that she’d had lying around is doing a lot of the leads of the album.

– which artists have you seen recently that class as ‘ones to watch’?

Ani Defranco well enough known at this point that she’s not really one to watch unless you haven’t heard her yet in which case you’d better! But she’s to me the best thing happening now, in terms of acoustic style songwriters. And Kelly Joe Phelps is running right up there behind her. They’re both completely original really interesting players playing very different styles of music, but very distinctive in their approaches. For guitar players, Bill Frisell – he’s somebody that I would go out of my way to see live, and Marc Ribot – the Cubanos Postisos Record – that’s an incredible record. I saw him play in New York at one of those weird avant garde gigs and he was excellent – those are the kind of things that interest me. James Blood Ulmer is someone else that interests me greatly, and has done since the 80s.

– are you influenced by the avante garde?

I like stuff that’s out on the edge, I’ve always liked that. I’ve never seen myself as being there, but I’ve always wanted to be.

– Any plans to work with Jonatha Brooke again?

I’d love to, but there’s no plans to at the moment’ She’s a fantastic writer and singer and a great person. She’s someone who uses a lot of different tunings but really uses them interestingly and doesn’t just play the same thing from tuning to tuning. She’s got a great sense of sonority.

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