RGM Introducing – Aza Brown

What made you decide to start the become a soloist?

 I’ve been let down so many times in the past, and wasted so much time in various bands ‘cos when it came to the crunch – they weren’t in it for the long haul. We’d put all the effort in, get tight, get great songs, and then someone would get a new job, or have a kid or not be on the same page. Nothing against that if that’s what you want to do, but don’t lead me a merry dance saying what I want to hear, and then when it looks like we’re gonna get somewhere chuck it all in. It’s really important to set your stall out early doors or you’ll be disappointed down the line. I’m 48 now and I really haven’t got any more time to waste on hobbyists – no matter how good they are!! I know I won’t let myself down, although it’s a lot to manage on your own sometimes.

It’s been a bit of a wild last year, how have you managed to pass time and stay sane during lockdown?

 I haven’t stayed sane – I’ve gone out of my mind, and my head’s nearly well and truly popped a few times. It’s almost as if we’re living in a simulation or alternate reality with some of the bullshit we’ve been presented with. I’ve been out on a lot of walks and epic bike rides, but there’s a couple of things I’ve especially focused on to keep the madness at bay. Firstly, I set up a Youtube Channel/Podcast called S40time (pronounced “Showtime”) all about Music, Arts and Culture in Chesterfield, Derbyshire and The Peak (S40 is Chesterfield’s Postcode). For the pilot episode I got David McPhie – who was a promoter in the 60’s in Chesterfield – bringing bands like Pink Floyd, Free, Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac and Little Richard to the Town, and he actually talked Joe Cocker out of quitting and got him his record deal in 1967! It’s been really well received and I’ve put another 5 episodes out there, with another 8 recorded, but not edited yet. Secondly, I’ve written and recorded my debut album – “Exennial” (a mash-up of Generation X and Millennial), which I’m incredibly proud of, and can’t wait for everyone to hear. It’s surpassed everything I ever imagined thanks to local producer – Danny Burton (originally from Camden but now Chesterfield-based, and who was in a band with a certain Zak Starkey – Ringo’s Starr’s son in the 90’s). Once I heard him bringing my songs to life, it really lifted my spirits, and he liked what I did with my BV’s so much that he asked me to do them all over his own solo album “Night and Day”, to which I duly obliged. You can’t get much of a compliment than that.

How positive are you feeling now we are in 2021?

 Hmmm…new year, different bullshit. It’s really hard to get excited about anything when they keep making stuff up, and pushing back reopening when it’s absolutely transparent what’s going on to anyone with half a brain. We started booking gigs again with The WonderWhys (a high-end function band I sing with who’ve played The Ally Pally a couple of times and supported The Happy Mondays when they came to Chesterfield), but they’ve been cancelled as the powers that be – in their infinite wisdom – have suggested that “it might encourage people to sing!” (and hence, spread the virus!). Twattery of the highest order!! Other than that, I’m looking forward to people hearing my singles and album – I’ve kept it very close to my chest, and I think people will be pleasantly surprised.

How has 2020  effected your mental health?

 Well, how long have you got?? At the very start of this nonsense in March, one of my best friends committed suicide. A few months later another friend did. In the Summer, a lovely lady who used to come to all our gigs and dance at the front died of cancer as she didn’t get seen in time…the supine capitulation of not just the UK, but most of the World in lockstep into slavery and unquestioning obedience has made me wonder what is real or not! My income and career disappeared overnight, and with the chancellor suggesting last Summer that our jobs are no longer viable, and that we should retrain, I wrote to my MP Toby Perkins outlining not only my case, but my fellow musician’s, and the entertainment and hospitality sectors as a whole -which seem to be falling through the cracks. My letter was passed onto Richie Sunak and also the Minister for Digital and Culture, but ultimately nothing changed. It feels like there’s an existential threat to my very being, and yet any objection to the official narrative and you’re selfish etc! In June I got absolutely wrecked and went and sat in the same tree as my mate thinking about doing the same, but I didn’t have the bollocks to do it. I’m afraid a lot of people are in the same predicament. Then my poor 19 year old cat was allergic to the only medicine that would save him, so we had to just watch him slowly wither away, helpless. All in all, an absolute pig of a year, and my mental health is absolutely shot.

How are you feeling now the road map has been announced and live gig can return?

 I’m not convinced in the slightest. I’m dismayed there hasn’t been more of a pushback from top musicians, ticketing companies and all those involved in the gigging circuit. If we don’t watch out, the vaccine passport will create a 2-Tier Society which is tantamount to apartheid. Also imagine having to jump through all those hoops just to go to a gig. Sterile gigs, sterile crowds, sterile atmospheres. No thanks. I would rather not be a part of it. It ain’t rock ’n’ roll, and I don’t like it

Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?

The biggest conspiracy theory is that of the government and mainstream narrative. I only sign up to conspiracy FACTS. On the government’s own website in March 2020, cvd-19 (I can’t even bear to give the damned thing importance by putting it in capitals!) was downgraded from it’s category of a high consequence disease (such as Ebola etc) down to the same category as the flu. It isn’t the plague they want you to believe it is, plain and simple. The 24/7 hubristic Fear Porn is disgusting. The PCR test isn’t fit for purpose (there’s video of it’s inventor Cary Mulliss saying it was being misused) and the high cycle rate used has led to something like over 90% False Positives, so it’s a PCR test pandemic. The figures have been manipulated over and over (and sometimes only revealed/admitted when sprung by Professor Carl Heneghan, for example). Why would you need to class someone as dying of cvd within 28 days of a positive test when they may have been terminal with something else, for example? Why would you need to misappropriate figures like this, and exaggerate if it really was a pandemic? How’s about 100,000 people have died within 28 days of a haircut?? It’s quite easy to mislead the public really and the media have been complicit. Then, how come the only scientists and epidemiologists we “should” listen to (like SAGE, Whitty, Valance et al) have a financial interest in PPE or vaccine companies? This is all in plain sight, yet anyone with a dissenting voice, like eminent epidemiologists and scientists all over the World are dismissed as conspiracy theorists? People are dying deaths of despair, starvation, poverty, domestic abuse, losing livelihoods, suffering terribly. The average age of all-cause mortality in the UK is 82 – yet the average age of a “cvd death” is higher! It beggars belief. No doubt, this is a terrible virus affecting the older generation and their families, yet the case of anyone else severely affected by it seems to be an anomaly, and the idea of asymptomatic spreading is an outright lie. The censorship of anything that questions the official narrative is astonishing – last week (April 24th) at least half a million marched in London opposing the measures, yet not a sniff from the Mainstream Media. I believe the response to this virus is absolutely disproportionate, and I’d suggest, like many, that the “cure” is much worse than the disease itself. I’m afraid the Mainstream Media have focused on a few crazies on the peripheries of these marches and events to portray an inaccurate depiction that everyone opposing lockdowns is a nutter, and that Bill Gates is injecting microchips to try and control you…and most of the World lapped it up, along with the other bullshit they’ve fed you. Truly staggering. When you lose your income and career overnight, the burden of proof is upon those imposing these restrictions. As it’s affecting mine and everyone’s lives I’d like to listen to a broad range of views before simply accepting the propaganda of the government. Look at all-cause mortality statistics from the ONS for 2020 compared to previous years, and you’ll soon realise quite how much you’ve been duped.

What support is out there for new artists in Chesterfield ?

 Well, of course there’s my Youtube Channel/Podcast S40time! 😉 Sheffield has a long, illustrious and revered music scene – with household names like Human League, Def Leppard, ABC, Moloko, Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, and it’s easy to see why Chesterfield’s been in it’s shadow to an extent – lying a mere 11 miles to the South. Also, nestling amongst larger populaces all around, touring bands are much more likely to gig Sheffield, Derby or Nottingham so I was hoping to go someway into redressing the balance and nurture some sort of a scene in Chesterfield by celebrating what we’ve had in the past (Shape of the Rain, Thompson Twins, TRASH) and provide emerging artists with a platform to air their respective talents, with interviews, live sessions and exposure. There’re 1500 regular contributors to the Facebook Group, and people seem to be getting behind the shows on Youtube too. With the recent investment in the Peak Resort and Canal Basin development, as well as the hotel and town centre infrastructure being heavily invested in too, it’s likely (if we get back to some semblance of normality) that visitors to The Peak District may use Chesterfield as a base, resulting in a thriving night scene and healthy live music scene to boot? Venue-wise at the moment, The County on Saltergate is a great venue for new artists, although leans towards the metal crowd, whereas The Neptune has a wider variety of different music but is only small. The Avenue used to be the largest Independent venue in the Country (2000 capacity), and that’s where my band The WonderWhys supported The Happy Mondays a couple of years ago, but it’s fallen foul of the state of things right now and I’m not sure if it’ll open again, unfortunately. Realtime Music is a very popular decent mid-sized venue which sometimes hosts original artists but mainly caters for covers and tribute bands. Right now The Derbyshire Times regularly big up artists that are coming through, and a few local magazines like S40local and Twist,  plus Elastic FM, Spire Radio and Chesterfield Radio are very supportive too. 

Who is inspiring you at the minute on the Chesterfield unsigned scene?

 With regard to bands, The Rosadocs and Clear Vinyl are doing pretty well on the Indie side of things, and Take The Seven and While She Sleeps fly the flag for the metal bands, but we seem to have an extraordinary number of singer/songwriters breaking through right now, setting a very high bar in both quality and quantity. Liam Walker, Matt Webster, Damon Downs, Andrew Bradley, Glenn Boulton, Kai Undrell and James Burt all prolific now, but Danny Burton especially so, and his solo album – “Night and Day” – about his battle with alcohol is an astonishing piece of work that needs to be listened to in it’s entirety to be believed. A massive talent. I hope he gets some recognition for it.

What useless talent do you have/ party trick? 

 Randomly, I can speak Indonesian to a very high standard. When The Chasers (an Indie band in the early 00’s) split up, I was really upset and completely turned my back on music for nearly 10 years (hence, what I was referring to in the first question!). I moved away from Chesterfield to Leeds, went on holiday to Bali and was immediately charmed by the island’s people and rich culture, and threw myself into learning Indonesian! I even imported Balinese artwork for a while and had some exhibitions – including one at Leeds University on Indonesian Independence Day. I met a lovely Indonesian girl there and we were together for 5 years, and used to speak Indo around the house, so I really learned quite a lot – I haven’t been able to use it that much for a while now, but I still keep in touch with a lot of Indo friends, and I could fluently sing the Indonesian National Anthem at a party if I was plied with enough alcohol!!

What was the most fun you have had on stage?

I used to sing in a function/party band based in Chesterfield called Crackin’ Right Foot, and every single gig was an absolute riot!! We played all the full on indie/rock classics like “Chelsea Dagger”, “I Predict a Riot”, “Mr Brightside” etc and places got wrecked (not by us, the crowds!). I couldn’t actually perform to that intensity after 4 years, and my knee kept giving way with all the pogo-ing so we had to call it a day, unfortunately, but it was a LOT of fun. The last gig was an absolutely epic, emotionally charged affair – 300 people were at Realtime Live absolutely rooting for us, singing every word and it’s all there on Youtube for everyone to see! We played West Street Live a few times too and it proper went off with stage diving and crowd surfing a-plenty! Playing The Ally Pally twice with The WonderWhys was pretty special though, and supporting The Happy Mondays in front of a home crowd was right up there too. With the originals, there was a gig we played with The Dazy Age at Christmas 1995 at a legendary student night called DropOut in Chesterfield, and I remember the cheer at the end went through me like an energy pulse – a very powerful feeling!

What was the worst experience on stage?

 We cobbled together a dep lineup for The WonderWhys at Birchover Festival a couple of years ago, and the guitarist tried a new effects pedal and didn’t know how to use it properly – as well as feeding back massively, he chose this really terrible effect that spoiled the song – I was there onstage just praying it didn’t sound quite that bad out front – and it really DID when I watched the footage back. Another time when I was at Uni over 20 years ago, we played the Student Union at Buckinghamshire Uni and the bassist was just noodling the intro to a song really slowly, but the whole band actually came in – really REAAAAALLLLY sloooooooowly – and meant to…it was really embarrassing. People in the crowd were just pissing themselves. Oh, the shame! There were about 500 people at both of those gigs ???? 

Name a four piece band made up of legends – who would be in it? (drummer, bass, lead singer etc)

 A band called Jellyfish from the early 90’s had simply the best lineup I could ever imagine, and they’ve been a massive influence on my career. It was kinda psychedelic Power Pop – really melodic, playful and listenable. They’ve gained massive respect in musician’s circles retrospectively and their 2 albums are rightly acknowledged as works of genius. The singer Andy Sturmer was also the drummer, and played standing up. Two other guys Roger Manning Jr and Jason Faulkner are now Beck’s backing band and also worked with Air and Paul McCartney, whilst guitarist Tim Smith plays with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. They were everything I think a band should aspire to be and I was lucky enough to catch ‘em in Leeds in 1993!

 If we’re talking household names though, I can’t think of many better frontmen than Jim Morrison – passion, rock n roll, great voice – it’s weird how he appeals on so many levels, whichever substance you’re on – booze, weed, mushrooms, pills – probably ‘cos he was off his head on them all whilst he was writing! For bass, I love the inventiveness of Paul McCartney, and I write baselines in a similar way, but obviously he can sing and would be able to play guitar and keys too, so a cracking addition to any star lineup. Drums-wise, I love Chad Smith from The Chili’s – really versatile, solid and funk-tinged – what a rhythm section they have! Had to think about guitar quite a bit, but then it was obvious to me that Frank Zappa would complete the lineup – really original style and complete virtuoso – could play absolutely anything he wanted. Noodling, Jazz, Classical, and all with a really way-out sense of humour. Yeah – that’s a proper decent band right there!

Who would you like to work with on the unsigned circuit right now and why?

 I would like to see what happens a bit more with Danny Burton, who produced my forthcoming album “Exennial” – there’s an understanding there that runs very deep – we’re of a similar age and there’s a lot of shared musical and cultural influences (including a massive love of India), opinions and spirituality, and we seem to bounce off each other creatively. I couldn’t have realised my dream of finishing my solo album without him, and I put the icing on the cake to his album too, including a very Beatles-y number called “Half a Chance” which I co-wrote and which came together really quickly one beautiful Summer’s day in August last year. I think we’d be quite dangerous together!! ???? Very, VERY excited to think what we might achieve…

Right now, what’s pissing you off the most? (Cant say the virus 🙂 

The censorship of anything that questions the official government narrative is astonishing – last week (April 24th) at least half a million marched in London, yet not a sniff from the Mainstream Media. Social Media really pisses me off, though. I put loads of work in – like, LOADS of work into my music and S40time, and sometimes I’ll get a few likes or comments, and then I’ll post pictures and videos of my new kittens and get a few hundred people engaging!

Tell me about your new single and how it came about?

 “Pure Water” – that terrible guitarist I was on about from that gig a few years ago (Micky) – well, we had a writing sesh over 5 years ago – he’s a good writer (not so much performer), and another guy who I bounce off – also a lovely bloke, but the way we wrote a lot of stuff (he’s co-written a couple more on the album) is I got a beat going on Garageband and he’d just play. I’m pretty good at bass-lines and feel like I’ve got a good ear, so I can arrange stuff and chop and change from there. It was something really basic but I changed the chords and the lyrics (it was originally about his cousin) so it wasn’t the same all the way through. I’ve still got the demo recorded on Garageband and imagined the drums and bass quite exposed on their own before the strings and bass came in together after 8 bars in an ethereal Urban Hymns era Verve kinda feel. The Verve kinda feel you hear on the demo, and the Verve kinda feel on the single are actually very different, but both kinda Verve-like! I’m gonna do a song breakdown on my Youtube Channel, and you’ll see exactly what I mean! Micky used to busk around Chesterfield and Buxton, and he’s essentially homeless. I put him up for quite some time, but he disappeared just before the lockdown and I’ve tried to contact him quite recently actually (with regard to royalties for “Pure Water”) but to no avail so far. I changed the meaning of the song from it being about his cousin, to words of encouragement and comfort from someone who’s got your back when the chips are down. It’s about keeping going and believing in yourself. It’s really uplifting to me, and I hope it will be to everyone else – especially at this time. I hope Micky’s alright though. I’m worried about him. Also, from my days promoting a Deep House Clubnight – Detune – in Chesterfield for 6 years, I know a lot of producers and DJ’s from the EDM scene, and I’ve actually got 8 different remixes of “Pure Water” which I’ll release as a separate EP in a few weeks. It’s amazing to have all their different interpretations on the song – I just said “take it as far away as you like”, and they have! There’s all sorts ranging from Deep House, Techno, Synth-Wave, Dub, Prog and Disco House versions. I’m very lucky and grateful to be able to give my song this treatment – it almost feels a bit like Andy Weatherall’s treatment of “Screamadelica”!

How was the recording process given the various restrictions the UK has been under of late?

 Obviously very weird, but we did exceptionally well – given the circumstances! I had a load of demo’s on Garageband, and I had to email’ em over to Danny who imported them into Logic and took control from there remotely. I had to write down exactly what I wanted in great detail from the chord progressions, to what each song was about and what kind of feel I wanted, and he played EVERYTHING and programmed the drums, and then mailed it back to me. Quite a feat, really, and I honestly wonder (grudgingly, given my views on the lockdown situation!) if we’d have achieved the same amount of focus had we not been housebound for those few months early on. During the Summer there was a window where we could get together again, but we couldn’t get in a full studio, so I just recorded the vocals round at his house. We got great results with a decent Neumann mike and some strategically placed pillows to deaden the sound and get a good dry recording – the production job by Danny after that is testament to his abilities as a Producer. Absolute class!

What are your plans for the year ahead

 I’ve got a single a month coming out for the next few months until July when I release the album. We’re very much in a “what’s next?” World, and I’m confident enough that I’ve got 4 strong singles, and could probably even push to 5 singles, but that might extend into Michael Jackson territory ???? and I think I need to concentrate on making decent accompanying videos to complement the music. I’m already on the case with that and if it’s logistically possible, I’m looking at Andalucia in Spain to shoot a video to “Afterthought” – possibly the strongest single – at the studios where they shot the Spaghetti Westerns. Very exciting! We’re getting a few bookings with The WonderWhys too, but I’ve got my album launch party on Friday 2nd July at Realtime Live in Chesterfield, where I’ll be getting some limited edition CD’s and Vinyl pressed just for people who attend, before releasing the album digitally a few weeks later. Somewhere along the line I need to shoot some intro’s and edit all the unreleased episodes of S40time from last year too – I got quite overwhelmed last year and really quite depressed, and I just had to look after myself for a while instead of piling on more pressure

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

 This whole thing came about from me writing 3 pages every morning – stream of consciousness. I started about 3 years ago, and it’s been absolutely life-changing and if anyone’s ever had Writer’s Block, I can assure you it really works. It completely sorts your life out and is a massive game-changer. There’s a course you can do with an accompanying book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, but essentially you’re writing every morning, and by getting into the practice of writing it gets rid of the daily negative chatter that sometimes leads you down the wrong kinda rabbit holes. It gives you more confidence, focus and purpose, and leads to some really great ideas – particular to yourself, that you’d never have thought of without it. I heartily recommend this not only to any musicians or artists out there, but anyone who wants to explore themselves more closely. I feel like I know myself much better now.

Also on RGM ????