“Start Everywhere” – Second Video from The Arctic Is Burning

The second video from my new album, The Arctic Is Burning, is now up on YouTube. The album is out on Sept 2nd, but can be had right now by subscribing at stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe.

The delightful humans at No Treble wrote about it here.

The title, Start Everywhere, is taken from an anarchist manifesto – ‘to change anything, start everywhere’ – in terms of our story about catastrophic climate change, it’s an invitation to think realistically about the scale of transformation needed in how we live on the planet in order to extend the viability of sustaining human life at the current scale. How that gets translated into improvised instrumental music is the topic of a much longer post than this, maybe we’ll get into that soon…

The track list for the album is:

  • Business As Unusual
  • The Arctic Is Burning
  • Wildfire
  • Start Everywhere

…so after contemplating the scale of the problem and the permanence of the change to how the world’s climate behaves, we then need to think about the scale of the response.

For now, here’s the track – enjoy, and if you want it now, along with 48 other albums, two books, and a whole ton of exclusive video – plus EVERYTHING I release in the next 12 months, please check out the subscription.

First Video From Forthcoming Solo Album

Right, two bits of news. Firstly, here’s the first video from The Arctic Is Burning. This is the opening track, called Business As Unusual:

The video angle is NOT ideal – so here’s how and why it exists…

My entire process of recording, gigging, practicing, developing ideas, collaborating is pretty much the same. I play with a view to the end result being a thing that’s worth listening to. I spend VERY little time just ‘noodling’, and if I find a thing that needs work, or a new technique or idea that needs developing, I’m constantly shuttling backwards and forwards between focused training on that thing and putting it into contexts by playing actual music with it. Same when I’m playing with other people – I’m not really down for just jamming for fun, when the alternative is to play stuff that other people would want to listen to as well, and have just as much fun doing it! 🙂 improv≠jam.

As such, I record – and film – pretty much everything I do. Lots of it gets deleted, lots of it is kept. Because it’s improvised, there are no do-overs. If the recording is great and the video is so-so, I don’t get to redo any of it. It is what it is. That’s not a bug in the system as much as it is a feature – the purpose of the video is less about making a slick promo for a release and more about inviting people who are interested into that process. Pretty much all the video I’ve got on YouTube is just a camera pointed at me recording a thing. Some of them are onstage, some of them are here in my ‘studio’ (AKA bedroom), but the purpose is something akin to what Brecht called ‘Verfremdungseffekt’ – or ‘the distancing effect‘ – the idea with that was to have the ‘playness’ of a play as visible as possible to prevent people getting lost in the work and instead helping (forcing??) them to maintain the sense that they were watching a theatrical production and engaging with it in that frame rather than with the fiction of the characters. So he had stagehands moving scenery around in the middle of scenes, not hidden in between, and actors addressing the audience. These videos function as though you’re just watching me play, and rather than being a ‘behind the scenes look’ at a thing that then gets turned into a big show, or gets polished up for a production, this is what it is. The only level of translation that goes on is mixing and mastering (generally EQing, compressing and de-noising, though I do occasionally level out particular notes in a recording by drawing in a volume curve – if you’re a subscriber, you’re most welcome to compare this video with the much less mixed version uploaded for subscribers a couple of weeks ago, the day after I recorded it ) 

So, it’s a document of me playing it, an invitation into the process of it happening, and hopefully enough of a curiosity to be an entertaining addition to listening to the music 🙂

…Failing that, feel free to put it on in a background tab and carry on reading Facebook while it plays. 😉

Which brings us to news number TWO, which is that subscribers have received their exclusive prerelease of The Arctic Is Burning today, a month ahead of the release date. So muggles get it on Sept 2nd, but y’all can join our band of merry makers of magic by heading over to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe and signing up – you’ll immediately get the new album, plus 48 (I think!) others, access to a ton of video, two books, and a bunch of other discussion about where the music comes from and how it’s made.

The subscription is how this music is even possible. There’s no sustainable model for this kind of practice either in an old school ‘release everything to shops and do radio and magazine promo’ kind of way, or by dumping it all on Spotify and seeing thousands of listeners result in a couple of hundred pounds a year and no way of justifying the time it takes to do any of this. The subscription offer is ridiculously cheap in a ‘per album’ kind of way, and offers great value for money in an ‘access to a streaming catalogue’ kind of way, only instead of you renting access to that catalogue, it’s yours for life, whether you continue to subscribe or not. Bargain, huh? Go check it out. And I hope you enjoy the video x

Steve Lawson releases 30th Solo Album in 20 years, The Arctic Is Burning

[Here’s the press release for my new album, which will also serve as a blog announcement, because hey, why write two different versions of the same thing? Ergo, Steve would like to apologise for egregious use of third person, if you’re not reading this with a view to cannibalising it for your review or the news page in your magazine 😉 ] 

The UK’s leading solo bass guitarist, Steve Lawson releases his 30th solo album, The Arctic Is Burning on Sept 2nd 2019. The album thematically picks up where 2018’s celebrated Beauty And Desolation left off, once again weaving a narrative relating to climate change around a set of improvised, unedited solo performances.

“It’d be tough to demonstrate in a concrete way how the theme and the music are linked, if someone was being cynical about the presence of a narrative,” explains Lawson, “but improv is always about something, even if you’re just responding to the things you’ve been recently practicing and how they sit in relation to other music that you consider meaningful. For some people, those ways of relating are technical or genre-specific, but for me the desire is – at least until the technical side falls apart – emotional. I want to make music that makes me feel the way the artists who move me make me feel.” He continues, “I want the brokenness of The Blue Nile or Talk Talk, the sense of place of Bill Frisell, the honesty of Joni Mitchell, the anger of Bruce Cockburn, the wilful naivety of The Minutemen, the pristine poetry of Jonatha Brooke, whose music is such a natural and flowing extension of whatever she’s singing about…”

Indeed, across the four tracks on The Arctic Is Burning, Lawson’s melodic turn is towards a slightly more straightforward rock-based language, in contrast to the some of the obtuse harmonic complexity of Beauty And Desolation. The album is not without it’s moments of dissonance and angularity but they tend to be crescendos to otherwise more pop-oriented melodic adventures, rather than the backbone of the entire track. “I’m not entirely sure how that happened – the subscriber-only album I released in the run-up to making Arctic… has plenty of the more angular freaky melodic stuff on it, as well as some very prominent field recordings that are entirely absent from this album. One of the joys of being ‘pan-idiomatic’ is that I have a dialectical relationship between the continuity of my own voice and the disparate range of genre signifiers I can drop in and out of.”

The role of the Bandcamp subscription is never far from Steve’s explanation of his music, frequently inspiring extended Twitter and Facebook commentary relating to the ongoing sustainability of making niche music.
“It’s SO obvious to me,” he says, “we just don’t have a streaming model that offers anything like sustainable economics to niche artists. It’s a world that doesn’t reward artists who form communities, just those who chase ubiquity. It’s great for people whose music-making aspirations are towards producing fodder for playlists or chasing pop stardom, but if your music practice has no path to a couple of hundred thousand listeners a month, forget being able to feed yourself with it. The Bandcamp subscription is absolutely the economic and social lifeblood of my music making world. The subscribers provide not only the financial resources to make the music, but an orientation – a direction in which to project musical ideas. The myths around creative freedom can end up with artists spouting all kinds of nonsense about just chasing our muse, but ultimately there’s a direction to what we do, whether that’s our peers, radio, our existing audience or the malcontents who post abusive comments on YouTube. For me, it’s been vital to cultivate a space where people who are materially and psychologically invested in what I’m up to get to encounter more of it than I could ever release to the wider public, and where we get to talk about it and go back and forth over its meaning without it clogging up more generic social media forums. The subscriber community is growing steadily and provides a level of continuity to my practice of documenting all the music I make. I get to release upwards of 8-10 albums a year because of them, plus extra video!”

Indeed, being that prolific, it can be a challenge to decide what to release to ‘muggles’ and what to keep just for subscribers, especially with some of Lawson’s own personal favourites still squirrelled away in the subscriber allocation – “My album from 2017 with Bryan Corbett is easily in my top 2 or 3 favourite musical things I’ve ever done, and I’m still waiting for the right time to put it out. I should just get on with it, cos it’s not like it’s suddenly going to be a hit whenever it happens, but I do like to leave a few months between each public release!”

2019 marks the 20th Anniversary of Lawson’s first ‘proper’ solo gig (“I’d played solo tunes in other settings before,” he explains, “but never a whole show to people who’d paid just to see me!”) – so 20 years on and 30 albums in, we get to experience all over again why he’s been one of the most talked about British bass experimenters for those two decades. The musician Bass Guitar Magazine described as ‘Britain’s most innovative bassist, no contest’ is still pushing boundaries, and exploring just how far the scope of live solo performance with nothing pre-recorded can be pushed. The Arctic Is Burning reaches new heights while still being instantly recognisable as a Steve Lawson record. Here’s to the next 20 years!

The Arctic Is Burning will be out on Sept 2nd 2019,
exclusively via Bandcamp at music.stevelawson.net

For interviews contact Steve directly.
For press photos click here.

New album news – LEYlines V out now

Right, I’ve got a ton of half-written blog posts about all kinds of stuff, but here’s some news that’s exciting!

We’ve just released LEYlines V – the fifth album by me, Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek. It’s the 2nd set from the that gave us LEYlines IV, which came out a month ago, so if you want to recreate the gig feeling, just listen to the two albums about 15 minutes apart, buy yourself some very reasonably priced drinks in the break and have a chat with some likeminded oddballs about what you just heard 🙂

The gig was at Tower Of Song here in Birmingham, almost exactly two years ago, and as I said when LEYlines IV came out, represented a pretty significant leap forward (or maybe sideways!) for the band (see this blog post for more info on the LEYlines history). Everything we do is fully improvised, and so there’s no sense that any of us need to maintain any continuity gear-wise from one gig to the next, so we always turn up with a different set of sounds. Andy has his ‘LEYlines kit’ which is a hybrid set-up of percussion and small drums (best seen in this video from our duo album Over Time) and Phi uses LEYlines as an R&D space for new sounds and approaches to processing and manipulating his guitar sound… to quite extraordinary effect…

For my part, these two albums have some of the most OTT ‘fusion-esque’ playing I’ve ever done on them – there are a lot of moments where Phi and I have swapped our traditional roles, and while he’s providing texture and harmony, I’m playing crazy lead lines 🙂 You can listen for yourself here:

You’ll notice that there are two different editions of the album, with different artworks, subtitles, and even the way the tracks have been cut up… It’s one of the joys of LEYlines as a project, that we get to really mess with conventions around what an album even is (and we can’t even be consistent about how we render ‘LEYlines’ in text form! ha!)… Is the music inextricably attached to that title and artwork? Are those just emblems or avatars – metadata that helps us tell stories with it?

With a project as resolutely uncommercial as LEYlines (yet equally resolute in our commitment to its sustainability), we get to experiment without the sense that we’re somehow missing out on thousands of pounds of lost revenue to confused improv fans unable to find the definitive version of this particular music! It’s a joy to make music with people as curious about this stuff as I am. We’re all ploughing through the range of possible paths for creative musicians in the digital era, and together we get to try things out, see what works, see what’s got harder and what’s got easier… And LEYlines is one such space of the explorable.

So, if you’re a subscriber, you’ll already have the subscriber exclusive graffiti edition. If you’re not, you can subscribe within the next week to get it, or you can check out the version embedded above from Phi’s Bandcamp account, and get it as a single album from him… He’s running a special offer where you get LEYlines IV as well bundled in if you buy it very soon… so maybe hop on that.

We’ve got a couple more LEYlines recordings in the bag, and are planning some more shows very soon – now that I’ve stopped teaching at Kidderminster College, I won’t get to see Andy  and Phi on a weekly basis, so making sure we get regular opportunities to play together feels even more important than ever – they’ve been such a huge part of my musical development over the last 6 years or so, and are two of my closest friends, so I have no inclination to let go of this amazing musical sandpit that we’ve created here! Expect more LEYlines action, live and recorded, very soon! 🙂

As always, I’d emplore you to check out Phi and Andy’s music via their Bandcamp accounts – Phi’s studio record from last year, Reality Is My Plaything is truly the album of a lifetime – 10 years in the making, and just an extraordinary achievement. Likewise, Andy’s body of work is full of incredible music, and his latest project, Kundabuffa is an exploration of the intersection of improvisation and electronic soul and jazz that just keeps getting better and more remarkable.

shop.pyzmusic.com is Phi’s Bandcamp page
andyedwards.bandcamp.com is Andy’s.

band photo of the trio LEYlines

New Single – Recorded Yesterday, Out Today!

Right, I just released a single. When I woke up this morning, I hadn’t planned to. What I had planned to do was to mix the track I recorded last night. Like everything I do, it’s a one take, unedited improvised performance. All the drums are played and looped live rather than being a pre-existing loop, and everything else is bass. The field recording was triggered during the performance, rather than added afterwards. So everything is happening in response to everything else. Here it is:

I mixed it today, experimenting with getting a really huge low end on the synth and the kick, and loved the way it came out. So as well as adding it to the subscriber-only album Stepping Stones, which is gathering together all the things I’m recording towards releasing a new solo album and making them available as they happen to subscribers, I thought I’d put this out as a separate single so everyone else can have it too 🙂

All of this music is released as episodes in an unfolding story. I’m less interested in how it fares as a standalone entity, and am more interested in it as an emblem, an avatar, a signpost of where I’m going and what I’m up to. That’s why the subscription is my focus. Convincing you that a particular album is worth buying is way less interesting to me than inviting you into the process of it all happening, and forming a community around that. if that’s interesting to you too, check out my Bandcamp subscription.

It’s a ‘pay what you want’ release, so you can pay or not as you feel able/inspired, or you can subscribe and get everything I put out in the next 12 months, plus 48 albums from my back catalogue. And if you subscribe before the weekend, you’ll get the new LEYlines album, LEYlines IV, included. After that, you’d have to buy that separately...

I love living in a world where music can be made and released in a matter of hours – it’s about 14 hours absolute start to release with this. If you want to play it on the radio, or do anything else with it like that, please feel free – let me know if you need more info…

And the title? That came from a Tweet by Vernon Reid. 🙂

New LEYlines Album Out Now – LEYlines IV – with Two Ways To Get It

Phi Yaan-Zek, Andy Edwards and myself are LEYlines. Or we do LEYlines. I’m not sure whether LEYlines is an entity or a process, but whatever it is, LEYlines is us and/or how we make music 🙂

And we have a brand new live album out, recorded at Tower Of Song in Birmingham in 2017. This is the first set, and the second set will be out next month, as LEYlines V! And there are two ways you can get it:

Firstly, it’s out as a stand-alone Bandcamp release via Phi Yaan-Zek’s page: that’s where you can listen to it and buy it, and Phi’s running a special offer to get LEYlines V with it too (when it’s out next month). Here it is, hit play and stream it while you read the rest of this:

Alternatively you can get it as a subscriber to me on Bandcamp – it comes with different artwork (pictured), and as a single track instead of being chopped up Phi-style, but it’s the same music.

BUT you’ll need to subscribe this week, cos next week, it’ll cease to be part of the back catalogue offer for new subscribers – all existing subscribers will keep it (there’s no mechanism within Bandcamp for taking stuff back – it’s yours forever once you’ve got it!) but this won’t be part of the bundle you get for signing up after the weekend. If you want it then, you’ll have to buy it from Phi even if you subscribe at a later date…

So, go check it out, then have a look at stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe for the rest of the info on the Subscription. It’ll be more than worth your time and money 😉

Photos From The Second Stourbridge Festival Of Improvised Music

I had the great pleasure yesterday of playing at the Second Stourbridge Festival Of Improvised Music – I went to the first one last year as an audience member, and took Flapjack along. We had an amazing day, so I was delighted to be asked to play this year. I got to play alongside some absolutely stellar musicians, including Paul Dunmall, Steve Tromans, Bruce Coates, Sarah Farmer, Xhosa Cole, Trevor Lines – people whose playing I’ve been a fan of for a long time.

Of course, I also took my camera, so here are a few pictures – hopefully I’ll have more gigs with these amazing musicians soon 🙂

2nd Stourbridge Festival Of Improvised Music

Streaming Exclusive – Steve Lawson and Michael Manring album!

Yesterday was Michael Manring’s birthday (Happy birthday Michael!)

To celebrate, I’m making our duo album – which is still only available to own via my Bandcamp subscription – streamable for a limited time. Here it is:

“Language Is A Music” was recorded at a house concert in San Jose on January 29th 2012 – it was, like everything Michael and I have ever played together, entirely improvised – no discussion of start points etc. (I wasn’t even sure we were going to play an entire duo show – when we got to Bob and Kelly’s house and were setting up, I said ‘shall we do solo sets and then some duo playing at the end?’ and Michael said ‘nah, let’s just play it all duo!’ – I think we did a solo tune or two each somewhere in there, but this was the bulk of the show!) 

If you want to get this album, along with 47 (or so) others, and everything else I release in the coming year, subscribe via Bandcamp.

 

The End Of An Era- Finishing A Teaching Job

So yesterday was my last day of one of my teaching jobs. It’s one I’d had for about 6 years (my longest ever non-self employed job), and one that was the beginning of my return to teaching actual courses rather than one-off masterclasses after a break of over a decade.

The real joy of it was working with these guys:

Phi Yaan-Zek and Andy Edwards are both such excellent teachers and musicians, and between us I don’t think we had a single conversation in the 6 years I was there that wasn’t on some level about how we could making teaching better. It was such a joy to work with these guys on trying to come up with innovative methods to help music students connect with their creativity in ways that were conscious of the cultural and economic environment they were moving into, but not deterministically bound by those constraints when considering the role of creative practice in changing culture… We were constantly looking for ways to inspire the students to dig deep into themselves and pursue something other than purely commercial measures of meaning and value for their work. And, judging by the parade of extraordinary creative people we helped release back into the wild, we did OK.

The context wasn’t ideal – HE in the UK is a tough area to work in right now wherever you are, all the moreso in a provincial college with no underlying commitment to creative practice or focus on the arts. We, like everyone else around the country in the many, many institutions like ours, were constantly trying to make something worthwhile for the students. There were times when we were REALLY good at that, and times when we struggled, but we still punched (and the course continues to punch) WELL above our weight in terms of the circumstances we were (are) in. The course wasn’t reliant on me for what made it good (Andy’s extraordinary legacy in inspiring music students in the West Midlands stretches back decades before he met me!), so will continue to provide a worthwhile education to the students there. And, while there’s a ton of nonsense that I won’t miss at all about being there, I’ll dearly miss these guys, and Meldra, who more recently came on board to teach the vocalists, and brought so much wisdom and experience to the team.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll know that Phi, Andy and I are LEYlines – so it’s not like we’re not going to be working together still making music, and I’m probably going to end up Skyping the pair of them to argue about Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Phenomenology and Aesthetics, and how the hell we turn this or that scheme of work into a course worth studying…

But for now, we’ve got a LEYlines album coming out this weekend, gigs to organise, and I’ve got a PhD to write that I’m 18 months behind on (the real reason I quit my job there). And come September, I’ll still be working at the one college teaching gig I’ve kept on, at BIMM here in Birmingham.

(BTW, this also means I may have more time for some more private Skype students, so if you want a bass lesson or two get in touch…) 

Catching up with LEYlines Albums So Far

As announced yesterday, there’s a new LEYlines album arriving in the next week or so (actual release dates are bourgeois and should be rejected 😉 )

band photo of the trio LEYlinesIt’ll be available initially via two mediums – to my Bandcamp subscribers (click here to subscribe via Bandcamp now), and via Phi Yaan-Zek’s Bandcamp page. This is how we’ve done all the LEYlines recordings – I get them for subscribers and Phi does the public release, sometimes with a limited edition CD run, sometimes without…

So let’s recap the albums so far – here’s our first album, recorded in 2015:

This was the first time we’d ever properly played together collectively – having taught alongside each other for a couple of years at this point, we had really done much playing as a trio at all. We did a short improv thing for the students early on, but never an entire performance, and certainly not in the studio. We had limited tech with us, and Phi had no guitar amp, so the sounds were reamped in the studio. There’s some minimal editing going on here, and Phi overdubbed keyboards in the same spirit as the original improvisations, but this was the start of something special, as well as reflecting the freshness that can happen when you don’t have your usual pile of technology.

Next up was LEYlines II, from 2016:

This was another improvised-in-the-studio-recording, but this time we had all of the toys, Andy was in a separate drum room, Phi and I were in the control room, and on a couple of occasions, Andy didn’t even know we’d hit record… This goes to some really strange places, and shows the breadth of what can happen when our different musical worlds collide…

On the same day, Phi and I recorded The Quiet After The Drums when Andy went to pick up his kids from school… This is only available currently as a subscriber exclusive, but maybe Phi will do a bundle with the upcoming releases and offer it as part of that too 🙂

Next up from the LEYlines stable was Over Time – a live duo album from Andy and I – this was initially a subscriber release, but is now public, and not part of the subscriber back catalogue – this happens with a lot of the collaborations. They go to the current subscribers at the point of release, but aren’t bundled with future sign-ups. So you need to sign up ASAP to get everything.

Which brings us to the last LEYlines album – LEYlines III, which was recorded live at The Swan in Stourport when we opened for an evening with Neil Murray – Neil is the legendary bassist with Whitesnake and Black Sabbath (amongst many others) and was playing some tracks and talking about his careeer. A pretty odd setting for an improv trio (at least, for those who don’t know about Neil’s impeccable 70s jazz-rock credentials) but the recording came out really well, and clearly a wall of dudes in Whitesnake t-shirts acted as a good audience backdrop for us to play to… 🙂

So this summer, we’ve got LEYlines IV, V and VI on the way – if you subscribe now, you’ll get them all on the day of release direct from me. If not, they’ll be available as individual albums from Phi’s Bandcamp, where you can buy the albums above too if you want to catch up… Right now, LEYlines I and III are also available in the subscription bundle, so you’ll get those too if you sign up today. BARGAIN!