The Arctic Is Burning – New Steve Lawson Album Out Today!

Hurrah! Finally, my new solo album, The Arctic Is Burning is out today – you can listen below, or click the link to listen/buy/download/share 🙂

In case you missed the pre-announcements, this is my 30th solo album in 20 years. It is, as with everything I do, live single unedited performances. I’m playing bass and Quneo – a MIDI control surface that allows me to play drums (and in other situations, piano and anything else I choose 🙂 ) You can see a couple of videos of me recording the tunes below.

My Bandcamp subscribers have had the album for a month now – if you enjoy the record, it’s worth considering the subscription. With your first year, you get 49 existing albums, plus everything I release in the next 12 months. In the last 12 months, that’s been TEN albums. Lots of the collaborations on there are exclusive to the subscription, and it also comes with a ton of video and a couple of eBooks! Head to the Steve Lawson Bandcamp Subscription Page to find out all about it.

Anyway, here’s those videos for you :

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.

As If By Magic… Three New Albums Appear On The Horizon

Blimey, it really is all go in the Lawson House Of Music. After a fairly long period of relative inactivity, we’re back in full-on music making mode!

What that means is that there are three new albums on the horizon – First up, there’s the duo album with Mike Outram, which I’m FINALLY getting round to mastering. It’s sat there for so long (we recorded it over a year ago) and I’ve been continually listening to the rough mixes that we did (some of which are on Soundcloud) and love it, but for some reason wasn’t in a position to finish it. Maybe I wasn’t sure quite how it was meant to sound… Anyway, it’s now nearly done, and should be out in a week or so… Continue reading “As If By Magic… Three New Albums Appear On The Horizon”

Exploring Different Models For Creativity: Slow Food/Infrablab compared.

Aside from the fact that I’m REALLY proud of the music on both albums, the biggest kick I’ve had out of the Slow Food/Infrablab project with Trip Wamsley has been the ability to so accurately contrast the differences and similarities in the methodology, practice and outcome of our music making.

Here they are, side by side, have a listen:

It’s rare that you get the indulgence of doing two records under identical technical constraints, as a ‘test case’ for those methodologies. Which made the experience of playing with Trip even more enjoyable than it would’ve been if we’d just been doing an album the old fashioned way with, y’know, written songs and shit… Continue reading “Exploring Different Models For Creativity: Slow Food/Infrablab compared.”

Slow Food, Track By Track, Pt 5 – Ten Years Of Listening.

Click here to download Ten years of listening.

The longest track on the album. A slow build with some pretty big transitions, and a Big Distorted Solo™. The only way to navigating those transitions is to rely on deep listening.

Trip and I have been listening to each other for over a decade. I’m always as happy to listen to him play as I am to be playing the music myself. That’s the key to improv – play with people who make nicer noises than you can imagine making yourself. Removes the tendency to over-play.

So we listen, we react, we surprise each other and play catch-up. But after a decade of listening, the surprises get easier to adjust to 🙂

There are some amazing moments in this tune, too many amazing moments to list them all here. And there are sounds that you’d be forgiven for thinking were me that are actually Trip. He really stretches out on this, and the blend between our sounds has never been more integrated and organic.

This was also the first track off the album made available to hear – over on Soundcloud, it’s annotated with who’s doing what

Slow Food, Track By Track, Pt 4 – Imaginary Robot Ninja Assistant

You can download Imaginary Robot Ninja Assistant here, and the whole Slow Food album here.

Who doesn’t have an imaginary robot ninja assistant? Fixing stuff, being awesome, ass-kicking when needed, and, uhm, assisting…

When I finally get my real Robot Ninja Assistant, it will sing like this track.

And I’d understand every word it sang.

This is how all robots should sing.

It’s a love song.

Nowhere near as dark as it sounds to us.

Robot harmony is different, y’see, not based on dodgy fudged physics. Theirs is the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.

And ninjas.

The main loop on this is, I think, me looping some of Trip’s weird noises. I don’t actually join in til about half way through. Quality weirdness 🙂

Slow Food, Track By Track, Pt 3 – Growing Up And Moving On

[sorry for the break in posts – was away at Greenbelt over the weekend]

You can download Growing Up And Moving On here, or the whole Slow Food album here.

This was the first thing we recorded. It is, I think the most edited too… Perhaps.

Nerves? Expectations?

Trip and I met 11 years ago. We wouldn’t have played like this then. We were young. Unformed. A different world.

We’ve moved on, up, out, through… Sometimes in parallel, sometimes divergent, always with a bass in hand.

It’s a slow build, the underlying loop changes not. The emotions evolve. We’re exploring, tentatively (it’s the first thing we played, remember?) Satisfied as it unfolds.

It’s good. Let’s play more.

Slow Food, Track By Track, Pt 2 – Grown-Ups At Play

You can download Grown-Ups At Play from here, and the whole Slow Food album from here.

The simplest tune on the record in terms of the techological wizardry. There’s one little loop towards the end, but most of it is just Trip and I playing, with him hitting some deep, deep bass pedals (srsly, you’re not going to hear those if you’re listening on laptop speakers or through crappy headphones. They dig deep.)

Trip and I have experimented with this kind of thing before. I think this is the best tune to ever come out of our non-loop improvs. It’s almost like we growed up ‘n’ stuff.

This is almost an old fashioned duet.

Almost.

The loop section adds a lil’ StevieSpice to the proceedings. After all, we are grown-ups.

Supersizing “Live So Far” – Three New Tracks Added To Our Live Album.

One of the joys of releasing music through Bandcamp (officially the world’s greatest digital music release platform, as voted for by me) is that album releases can be progressive.

We’ve already added ‘Happy‘ to the live album, when it became our de facto single, thanks to the awesome video. Continue reading “Supersizing “Live So Far” – Three New Tracks Added To Our Live Album.”