RGM INTRODUCING WE INTERVIEW SOLO ARTIST JON SANDMAN
What made you decide to start the band?
I’ve always had a musical ear (just my left one) but shortly before leaving for university, I started writing songs on acoustic guitar and ukulele. I’ll be honest, it was mostly to impress a girl. I also owned a trilby back then. Thankfully, things have gotten much better for me since.
I’ve written a lot of music over the past decade, but it didn’t get much further than SoundCloud. I released my first ever single on Spotify with my alt-rock band ‘Pylon Heights’ (at the time, it consisted of just myself and my best friend Chris) and a few songs later, I decided it was time to release ‘Plans’, an EP that I wrote while at uni. I guess that was officially the start of my solo project.
Introduce us to you and your musical history?
Okay, let me set the scene. It was a dark and stormy normal weekday. My parents probably decided that I should play an instrument in order to make me more cultured, since I was playing my Gameboy an awful lot. Next thing, I’m in a musky music room at school one lunchtime, trying to play the euphonium. I eventually landed on the cornet, and as much as I hate to blow my own trumpet, I had a real knack for it. After that, it was weekend after weekend at Saturday music school, playing in orchestras and bands. I also started piano lessons and did a few grades, and later I picked up the acoustic guitar as part of my songwriting process.
What’s one question you’re sick of being asked when interviewed?
‘Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?’
😂 Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
Yes, I believe that all music curators actually know each other, and get together behind my back to joke about repeatedly asking me if I sign up to any conspiracy theories.
Good answer 🙂 What useless party trick do you have?
I can do quite a convincing French accent, but what I’m actually saying is complete nonsense. I also recall one night at university where I convinced everyone at a party that I was Slavic. Unfortunately, some clever sod asked me to prove it by doing a Cossack dance. That’s where it all fell down. Literally.
What was the most fun you have had on stage?
I once played an old man in an original musical called ‘Craft of the Cooper’ at Edinburgh Fringe. In the finale, I had an extremely emotional musical number and I died at the end of it. I turned on the waterworks, and I remember seeing an audience member crying.
Aside from that, I conducted a pop & gospel choir called ‘Jazzmanix’ while I was at the University of Southampton. It was great fun. I could groove around like an absolute idiot, try and make the choir smile, and I didn’t have to look at the audience because I was facing the other way.
What was the worst experience on stage?
I think, repeatedly trying to start a song in the wrong key, because it was so dark that I couldn’t see what fret I was on. We’re talking maybe, 4-5 false starts. Shook me to the very core.
I also have a distant memory of fluffing a trumpet solo during a concert. Horrible. It didn’t take much to knock my confidence back then.
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about?
Despite my lyrics and the way that I write, I don’t read much. I also don’t listen to much music, when I think about it.
If you had to describe your music to an alien how would you describe it?
My friend once described my music as: “For an idle Tuesday, lonely Wednesday or a scary Sunday.”
I have no idea what this meant really, so probably would do fine for an alien.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
I have range: I can go from a brooding and deep baritone all the way to dusky, breathy harmonies. I also write, arrange, record, mix and master everything myself. I’m not a total control freak – just a busybody. I like learning how to do all the things, you know?
Aside from that, I think I write quite introspective and literate lyrics. I love irony, and wordplay, and often my songwriting approach is almost just about making the words flow – a bit like a ‘dot-to-dot’. I like to follow the thread, and just see where it takes me.
Right now, what’s pissing you off the most?
Social media, and the sheer pressure to produce content for it – especially as a musician. It seems to me that there’s a big expectation to have a constant flow of content. I’m working my butt off and trying to make things that resonate with other people’s feelings and make them feel less alone, but some video of a parrot making weird noises has 1 million views. I just wish I was that parrot. Give me a tiny little acoustic guitar, and I’d be making waves.
Also, myself! I’ve had a pretty intense period of reflection after a recent breakup, and I realised I had way more emotional baggage that I was giving myself credit for. I don’t normally bother people with how I feel, because I feel like I have a lot of control over my emotions, so they essentially don’t matter. But it’s been a pretty rough couple of years, and there’s been a lot to unpack in the past couple of weeks. It’s been the worst “unboxing” video ever.
What’s your favourite song to play live and why?
I’ll be honest, I haven’t played much of my music live just yet.
It’s taken me a while to pluck up the courage, but I’m hoping to force myself out to play a couple of open mics around Oxford over the next couple of months, especially to promote my upcoming EP and the singles that I’m planning on releasing. In the past, I’ve overcomplicated things. It’s been refreshing to just sit down with some of my released songs and demos, and realise that they can stand up on their own, even when stripped back and acoustic.
I hear you have a new EP coming up, what can you tell us about it?
‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ is a collection of songs that I’ve written over the past 5 years that I think belong together. The title track, ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ is all about that mysterious connection that you feel with someone: “If you move one of us / you have to move both of us”. It’s somewhat cathartic for me to release, as I try to let go of the past, and move on from some of the sadness that I’ve carried with me for quite some time in the form of each of these songs. Each of them has a positive twist, though. I’m an optimist.
Talk me through the thought process of the single ‘Dear Friends’?
I wrote ‘Dear Friends’ back in 2017, to capture how I was feeling as I moved away from home for my first job. It’s mainly about all of my university friends growing apart and going their separate ways, but it also makes me think of my home and my family. I was really quite lonely at the time, and I think this comes across in the lyrics and the vocal delivery especially. The ending is just this huge, emotional release.
What was the recording process like?
I recorded all of the parts in my bedroom, but when I revisited the session, I needed to re-work the vocals. The drums are actually all sampled, but I worked really hard to make them sound like they were ‘in the room’.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the single?
It’s much rockier than some of my other music, and leans heavily on distorted electric guitars. Getting the tone and balance of this right was quite difficult, but since initially writing and recording it, I’ve learnt a lot more about mixing, mastering, and production techniques.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
No. I need to move on!
What are your plans for the year ahead?
I’ve had a bit of time off releasing music, but having kicked off this year with a new Pylon Heights single and my first solo release in 2 years, I’m keen to start getting through my backcatalogue. I’m really proud of some of the stuff I’ve written recently, but I feel like I need to build up some momentum first.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Not really. If you like my music: share it with your family, your friends, your dog etc. Also, let me know! I love hearing how my music might have resonated with people.