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ANDY SMYTHE

RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW ANDY SMYTHE, WHAT HAPPENED?

Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.

What made you decide that music is a thing for you?

I heard my mum’s copies of Rubber Soul and Help by The Beatles. When I heard John Lennon sing ‘Money’ I think that clinched it! Got my first acoustic guitar from the local music shop, been an addict since…

Introduce us you and your musical history.

I started off playing at uni. Supported Texas back in the day, I think they thought who was this guy playing all these crazy songs! Busked around the world afterwards and started playing professionally in the late 1990’s in a Pogues-like band. It was like the wild-west on Kilburn high street, we needed chicken wire. Then I got the urge to write my own songs, developed my voice by working with an Italian opera singer.

Played the Borderline singer/songwriter festival which was quite a big thing and things snowballed a bit.. Mike Scott of The Waterboys came to see me play, just walked in like Bob Dylan into a cellar bar in West London. Then had record deals in the UK and USA for a while, but this business is tough… I had a great rocking band with an electric fiddle player with a purple violin… but in about 2015 I retired for a bit to do football coaching and teaching. 2022 post-Covid the comeback begun with my first home produced album ‘Hard to be Human’.

What was life like for you before music?

I was just another kid, into football and sport. Later I was travelling backpacking dude, hanging out in San Francisco and Sydney with hippy types, but I always bought a guitar in every city from a pawn shop and subjected the locals to Dylan and The Beatles… I used to get well paid by old ladies…

What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?

‘Help’ by the Beatles, I wasn’t a modern listener! I was amazed by these four personalities and how their voices jelled together, by the harmony and familiarity of it all… you could tell that the four guys loved each other, you could hear it in the energy of the performance.

Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry?

The music industry has changed so much compared to 10 years ago. I see myself as a cottage industry, I produce all of my own music at home. I’m lucky because I can play guitars, bass and keyboards and my voice can do bass, tenor and falsetto, so I can map out harmonies myself and I can write arrangements for brass and strings. I’m inspired to try and be a 20th century Harry Nilsen. War on Drugs is also an inspiration. I go out and gig on the acoustic circuit with my band, at home I’m trying to paint pictures in sound. I’d like to be playing more widely on the festival circuit with my band and would love to get songs synched in movies and shows. I’d like to be able financially to give up the day job and be a professional songwriter. Not too much to ask!!

Whats the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?

I think the people who ‘give something back’. You can’t expect everyone to ‘do stuff for you’, you have to help out other musicians whenever you can. Mike Scott of The Waterboys is a great example of someone like that, he might be pretty famous but he’s prepared to go out to gigs and help grassroots musicians.

If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?

For one song to go viral, for someone to cover a song or have one on a movie. Look at Nick Drake, a recording career of the most sublime music in complete obscurity. Then a song gets on a car advert and his legend starts to build. So very sad that it happened after he passed away, so he couldn’t witness all of the love for his music. I I’d like to think there are some songs I’ve written there on Spotify that could be standards if anyone had the time and inclination to check them out! It’s nice to dream!

Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories? If no why not?

No, I go by Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation for something is usually the right one. That’s probably my science teaching ‘head’!

What was the worst experience on stage?

I once turned up in an inexperienced duo to play a tough pub in Wembley. They were expecting a four-piece rock band, they got an acoustic act. The owner escorted us off the premises after one song, he couldn’t vouch for our safety if we did any more. He was nice enough to pay us!

Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about. 

One of the lads in the football team I run for 12 years (from aged 6-18) is now playing for Wigan and England U20, he played against Man U the other day. His name’s Martial Godo. If you saw my football coaching abilities you’d have to say that’s a minor miracle!

What makes you stand out as an artist?

I’m really lucky, I’m blessed with a big voice with a 4-octave range, I can do the head voice thing with vibrato that’s quite rare. I think I have a quirky sonic signature too, I don’t always choose the obvious angle.

I hear you have a new music, what can you tell us about it.

Yes, on Jan 26th I’m releasing my new single ‘Out of my Mind’. The song is about meeting the ‘love of your life’, but taking a while to realise it. I have a new album of 13 songs called ‘Poetry in Exile’ out on March 1st. It’s a collection of indie-pop/rock and chamber-pop/rock, the arrangements to the songs have been carefully crafted.

What was the recording process like?

Many 100’s of hours at home, often going down wrong turns, before deciding on the right path. Adding one sonic layer, then subtracting another – a process of iteration whilst trying to capture the vocal performance and keeping the intimacy. My American friend Chris Payne, contributed string arrangements and it took a very skilled craftsman, producer Dave Palmer to find the right ‘sonic spaces’ in 3d for everything in the final mixing process. It’s very difficult to EQ strings and apply the right reverb. We did it remotely together, but we were both very happy with the results.

What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?

Finding the right arrangement for the song, so that the music enhances the story of the lyrics is always the biggest challenge and doing this by yourself is really hard. So I’ve learned to take my time and use other people’s opinions.

I’ve also become more aware of sculpting the lyrics and the riffs, things I never considered before like counting the number of syllables to get the right metric, and doubling riffs on guitars and organs/pianos to give depth to the sound, to create the Phil Spector wall of sound. I now know why Leonard Cohen sometimes took 6 months to finish a lyric!

Would you change anything now it’s finished?

No, I’m really proud of this album, it was the best I could do. It is my ‘Born to Run’ or my ‘Sergeant Pepper’ moment, it was a super ambitious project. The songs needed to be cinematic and wide in their scope and the album took me 18 months. The songs reflect big moments in people’s  lives, stories of returning home, dealing with loss and grief, finding love after rejecting it, losing a life-long partner. The themes are serious and the music needed to be taken seriously and properly taken care of.

I pushed myself to the limits of what I am capable of presently doing both vocally and instrumentally, I was the most extreme version of myself that I could be. However, I also realised when I needed help and the other musicians who have contributed to the album have enhanced the songs and added their own soul and ambience, I am very grateful to them. Thanks to Hank Zorn (brass), Chris Payne (strings), Beatrice Limonti (violin), Jimmy Van Lin (violin), Pietro Chiodi (accordion) and Chloe Payne (backing vocals). I hope folks enjoy the record when it comes out on March 1st. The single is out on Jan 26th.

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

Love and Peace. Find time for others, listen to other’s points of view and find compromise where there’s conflict. Let’s make the world a better place!

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