I’d already been playing guitar nearly 10 years before I even thought about writing a song. At the end of 2018 I was two-grand in debt, at the tail end of a relationship and had just dropped out of uni; perfect songwriter fuel! By sheer fluke I heard a song called ‘Secret Heart’ by an artist I’d never heard of named Ron Sexsmith. It was the first time I’d ever listened to a song and really took note of the lyrics. After listening to it 5 or 6 times in a row, it was like an epiphany moment that’s kept me writing songs up until now.
Introduce us all to yourself and your musical history?
I’m self-taught and started teaching myself guitar after receiving my first one from a Tesco catalogue for my 13th Birthday. I wanted to learn mainly to just play along with songs I enjoyed listening to, mainly crooners like Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly. After developing a bit, I grew my hair and went through an embarrassing Jimmy Page phase that we don’t talk about anymore, and I eventually started getting a more varied taste. I can’t really pinpoint any one genre I specifically enjoy. I like everything from Jarvis Cocker to Bill Withers.
How much are you looking forward to playing live?
Apart from the odd open mic and intimate solo gig, I haven’t actually ever played on stage with the songs I’ve got now due to covid. I was never a big fan of playing live music when I started, but that was before I was as driven as I am now with my stuff. It’ll just be fun to go on a stage and see a few people who like my songs in the audience. I’m not out to sell out a venue, if one person came up to me after a gig and said they liked my stuff and no one else was bothered, then that’d make me happy.
What advice would you give other artists starting out?
You can’t really give people a push or advise initially. I had nobody to give me that initial push and I don’t think anyone else I know who does music had that either, you’ve just got to keep writing until you write something good, you’ll know when you have. You can’t just release the first song you write because it will 100% be shite. It took me 6/7 months of daily writing and practice to write one good song, you just have to keep going and you’ll get there eventually. No one is going to blow smoke up your arse to get it done.
Do you sign up for any conspiracy theories?
I like to think aliens are watching us, humans, for their own entertainment. Like Corrie, but even more mental.
What support is out there for new artists in Donny?
Not much as far as I can tell. There are a few decent live venues, but in terms of artist support there’s nothing. There’s been a few breakthroughs in Donny in recent years like The Blinders and Yungblud, but they developed their style and music in a more musically driven city. Tony Christie was from Donny as well, but he was too busy singing about Amarillo Texas. He couldn’t wait to leave the place! You’d never hear him singing about the M18, It’s just not as catchy.
What useless party trick /talent do you have/?
I once wiggled my ears for a talent show on a caravan holiday in Scotland when I was a kid. Didn’t win, although there’s contention to this day in talent show circles that it was a fix.
What was the most fun you have had on stage?
The gigs when you know you’re playing your best and people are listening intently are the most fun I’ve had. It’s a lot more intimidating when you’re by yourself, but it creates an intimate atmosphere that I really enjoy.
What was the worst experience on stage?
I did an open mic and got a pretty lukewarm reception. Then after my set these three middle aged blokes got up and did an awful rendition of ‘Everywhere You go Always take the Weather with You’ and it proper got the crowd going. Maybe not quite my scene.
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about?
I’m extremely self-conscious about my music and find it hard to tell other people that this is what I enjoy doing. Most people are supportive and take a passing interest, but every so often you’ll get someone who sneers and doesn’t get it. It can be disheartening, but you use it to your advantage. Cynical people can give you a good dose of motivation, and there’s plenty of them in Donny.
Name a four-piece band made up of legends – who would be in it? (drummer, bass, lead singer etc)
The Travelling Wilbury’s already exist!
If you could play any music festival which would it be?
I’m not a big festival guy, but venue wise I would just love to go to a gig at Red Rocks in Colorado, not even to play! It’s a massive amphitheatre built into a giant rock in the mountains.
What’s your biggest achievement as an artist?
Honestly, it’s just been knuckling down and getting my EP recorded. I had zero experience using music software or recording in general and I was learning as I went. It took a long, long time and without Lockdown it would’ve taken much longer, but It’s something I’m really proud of. I can happily say I used all the weeks and months at my disposal in lockdown doing something productive. It would’ve been much easier to just eat too much and do nothing but drink. Luckily for me I did all three.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
I’m a pretty weird guy. I get told I’m an old man in a young person’s body quite a lot and it used to be something I didn’t quite pick up on, but I get it now. Especially with the music I make; it’s got quite a vintage sound that’s definitely got my fingerprints all over it. It’s always good to stand out as an artist and do something a little different from what everyone else is doing. Every so often another Indie pop band comes out the woodwork and I’d hate to ever be associated with that type of look or music. You have to offer something different to the table. Back in Manchester a lot of people end up looking a bit daft looks wise in an effort to stand out from each other and they tend not to have much to say anyway, which is something I want to avoid. I’m really just looking at being myself and letting the music speak for me.
What’s your favourite song to play live and why?
I wrote a song called ‘Amsterdam’ about when I bought a coach ticket there by myself whilst pissed a few years ago. It’s a story song that didn’t fit the feel of the EP at all, so one day I’ll definitely get it recorded it and stick it on something, maybe as a bonus track or something. It follows all the daft things I got up to and people I saw from when I left, till when I got back a week later, kind of John Prine style.
Talk me through the thought process of the new single?
I was still living in Manchester when I wrote it (April 2019). At the time I’d already sacked off uni and basically just spent all day writing, even though the vast majority of what I was writing was rubbish. When I wrote ‘Remember’ it was a sort of lightbulb moment where it stood out from everything else I had written and I knew I was on a good track. The song changed quite a bit up until I recorded it a year later, mainly melody wise and re-tweaking a couple of lyrics. I had the American version of The Beatles Rubber Soul on heavy rotation whilst recording, which is a lot more folky than the English version and so I wanted to capture something in a similar vain. Lyrically it’s very much on the nose and open with regretful lyrics, which I tend to stray away from now, but I really like it because it captures quite well how I was feeling then.
What was the recording process like?
I cowboyed the entire process, but it was a lot of fun. It took the piss at first because I didn’t know what approach to take the song in. I was initially going for a dull lullaby which really didn’t work; way too saccharine and overly sweet. Then I tried hamming it up with a prolonged opening with harmonised slide guitar parts like George Harrison but felt like I was trying too hard. When I ended up with the finished mix, I blended Paul Simon styled Travis picking with a more Beatles’y sounding rhythm and bass section. A lot of mid-era Beatles songs don’t actually contain a drum kit, making it a lot easier for me to emulate. As a shaker I used a tub of salt from the kitchen cabinet stuffed into a pair of socks to stop the salt from going everywhere and I utilised my bed side drawer as a kick drum. I must’ve recorded the guitar solo at about 4am after 5/6 hours of nonstop recording and development of it, leaving quite a good interchange between the lyrics. I don’t like straying too far from the vocal melody line when it comes to guitar solos. The Bass is basically just root notes. Playing all the instruments yourself with hours upon hours of recording can be exhausting, but it’s well worth the 3-minute song you’re left with at the end.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the single?
Up until writing the single all my stuff was garbage and for a long while after writing it, it still was. I was worried that it was going to be the only good song I’d ever write and I’d have to give up altogether. But since then, I’ve written loads more songs, loads more crap ones, but also ones that are on par with ‘Remember’ and better in my mind. It made me realise all my hard work was paying off.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
I wouldn’t change a thing. Going back now and changing anything would be changing the creative mindset I had in lockdown at the time it was recorded, something I was trying to capture in the first place. The first single ‘Remember’ is probably the most produced on the EP that’ll come out, but a couple of the songs sound distinctively unfinished, which I personally really like. Someone listening might think, oh it needs cello or piano here, but I don’t know how to play those yet so they’re staying off.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
I’m in a really good place at the minute so I want to move back to Manchester to find other musicians to start gigging with properly, which shouldn’t be too hard. I’m always writing and have a lot of material going ahead, but there’s no rush and I’m taking it one step at a time. My music is quite niche, but I’m confident I’ll find the right ears to listen. If I could find 10 loyal fans that would be nice.