Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Man in The Mirror: An Interview

What follows is an interview with myself. In order to try and offset the idea that this might become false and fabricated, and potentially more useless because of it, my method was to do it in two unconnected parts. First, I formulated the questions I would ask to musical people I respect. For the record, I had David Bowie and Trent Reznor in my head as examples of that. Second, I then put the questions to myself and answered them spontaneously. I then transcribed the responses for what you will read below. I did this as an interview because I find the spontaneous nature of that much more revealing and open than a pre-constructed or manufactured piece. And I think the interview format might also be seen as less cynical or didactic.

An Interview 

Interviewer (I): Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I wanted to start by asking you about your music. When did you decide to be a musician and why are you one?

Interviewee (E): There are lots of potential answers to this. The one I'm going to give you right now is that, at 46 years of age, its become apparent that I really can't be anything else. I'm the last person anyone would want to employ for a regular job. I abhor corporate culture of any kind and have the ability to rub most people up the wrong way in a heartbeat. So music has the advantage that I can do it without the need for social skills or heirs and graces around other people. I think I must be one of those 60s style hippy individuals, in mentality at least, in that I just want to look and point and go "Wow!". This is my round about way of saying that there is not an atom of my being that is about being economically productive.

I: So when did this all occur to you?

E: Its been a process, as most things are. I've never been a person to do the same thing for very long. That applied equally to jobs. I don't think I've ever done any job that lasted even 3 years. They would always end. Sometimes this was my choice and sometimes it was from the other side. But, for whatever reason, that's always been the way it was. I've had little consistency in my life except for what you might call my personality or character. Externally, everything has been a constantly moving tapestry. I think really in the last 10 years I've come to various conclusions and had to accept various things about myself. Its been a long and often painful process. And it probably won't end anytime soon.

I: It sounds as though music has been a kind of anchor for you. Is that true?

E: Yes, but not in the way you might be thinking. My connection to music has itself gone through many phases. I first really became aware of it as something personal I could appreciate for myself in 1979 when I was 10 years old. This was when, in my circle of school friends at least, the kids started to choose which bands and styles of music they liked. Some liked Queen, some liked Heavy Metal and I liked Ska, probably because that was when bands like The Specials, Madness, The Beat and The Selecter came to prominence. At that time music functioned as a tool for shaping my own identity and separating myself off from things your parents liked which is an inevitable part of the process of growing up. A few years later I had got instruments of my own, begged, borrowed or stolen I might add, and had written my first songs on a cheap and vandalised electric guitar. I think for me that side of it has always been about self-expression, the need to be heard, and that continues to this day.

I: So your music, as opposed to the music you listen to, is about you and your identity?

E: Well the music I make and the music I listen to both function for me in terms of identity but in very different ways. I don't really listen anymore to things to be cool or to be in with the in crowd, as they say. I might have done that a bit when I was much younger but the adult me really doesn't give much of a toss for fitting in or with regard to what others might think about my choices. On that side of things its just a voyage of musical discovery. Just in the last few months I came across all the old German Kosmische musik which I'm sure many were listening to 40 years ago. I was aware of it vaguely but the switch had never flicked on when it came to listening to it. Well I just listened to album after album of it and I couldn't believe it. It opened up whole new areas for me. And, now I think about it, I'm glad it happens that way. Its like the accidental surprises you get as a child when you come across something for the first time. You can't beat those moments. I think that we humans should basically stay children in many respects for as long as we can so I'm glad I can still have the joy of an innocent surprise like that.

I: And what about the music you make?

E: That's all self expression - well, its a mixture of self-expression and philosophy. In my case I think those two are very closely intertwined so as to be almost indistinguishable. I just completed a 7 part suite called Human/Being and its a perfect example of where I am with my music right now. It has to mean something to me for me to even bother doing it. But it also has to be about something bigger than me, some idea or concept. You know, I didn't ask to be born but I'm a part of this planet and this species and I was born with a desire to think about it and ask myself what its for and how it works and if it means anything. That's what my music is, my thoughts, ideas and ponderings on that. Not, of course, with words, but with sounds and (giggles) sometimes notes.

I: Is it therapeutic for you to do that or is it simply an artistic project for you?

E: Its definitely both. I've suffered from various forms of mental illness from at least the age of 19 and maybe even as far back as 10. I express myself in music because I need to express as a way to stay sane. But also within my personality is a definite artistic streak. I take my music seriously as art. I expect anyone who hears it to at least do the same even if they then dismiss it.

I: Do you find it easy to make music and are you always happy with the final product?

E: I have a rather eccentric view of those things. I've never been afraid to go my own way and find things out for myself and make my own mistakes. That's a slightly deceptive thing to say because for a lot of the time I've had few friends and little choice anyway. But I think some people, the way they are made, they just have to do that. And I'm certainly one of those people. If I'm mentally in the place where I want to be making music then music always seems to come out. I don't really see myself as a creator. I'm more a conduit. I've lived for 46 years and, by now, there must be a hell of a lot of self-expression built up inside me. It definitely feels like that sometimes. Its my job to put myself in a situation where I can be a conduit to let that out. (Laughs)

I: So are you satisfied with the music you've made over the years?

E: You know, I try not to think about it. That's a kind of uncomfortable question for me. When you evaluate my music you really are evaluating me as a person. Its very closely tied to my identity and who I am. I'm flesh and blood. I can be hurt. I once put a video of me up on You Tube with one of my songs, a live video performance. Well it took about an hour but the first comment was a typical You Tube comment from someone being needlessly insulting and hurtful about it. I immediately deleted the account and was inconsolable for days after thinking about it. So I don't look back over the things I've done too much and evaluate it. The exception to that is when I'm making it. If I don't like something or it doesn't feel authentic or true to me it will get deleted during the creation process. Usually, if something comes through that and gets to the end of that process then it stands as what it is: a record of that moment and that time.

I: It sounds almost like you are making a musical autobiography?

E: That's a very good way of putting it. I suppose I am. If you want to know what headspace I was in just listen to the music I made at that time.

I: I just want to take you back to the beginning of your music-making again for a moment. Do you remember the first time you performed in front of an audience? What was that like?

E: (Laughs) It was many things. Chaotic. Liberating. Exciting. Unsatisfying. One of things I remember looking back now is that I was too young and inexperienced to really enjoy it. I was so concerned with making sure I did everything right and didn't mess it up. The one thing there was no time for was enjoyment.

I: What was the situation?

E: It was a "youth club" which in this context was for kids maybe aged 16-21. The room was quite full, maybe 70-80 people. I played 3 or 4 songs, all my own compositions. I sang and played the electric guitar. A friend accompanied on synth and a drum machine, mainly because they were his and it was the only way I could add them to the sound. He had the chord progressions written down on a bit of paper resting on his synth, a Juno 106. There wasn't much time for practice and really the whole thing was just on a wing and a prayer. To be honest I can barely remember much else about it. The songs I have completely forgotten and no record of them exists. But I do remember that I was very serious about what I was doing. I wasn't messing around or doing it to impress girls or anybody else. I wanted to make and perform something worthwhile that had some intrinsic merit. And that, I think, means it must be something about me because I still feel that in everything I do today.

I: So that has always been the case then, that need to be taken seriously and to produce something worthwhile?

E: Yes, I think so. Although latterly I think that's changed to be more about being able to look myself in the face and know that I fulfilled my internal criteria for something that was worthwhile. From growing older and hearing about other creative people and reading their stories I've come to a place where chasing any sort of public approval is low down on my agenda. Or maybe I'm just lying to myself. An ex-girlfriend once asked me why I made my music public at all if I don't care what anyone else thinks about it. I don't have an answer to that so she probably had a point.

I: How do you decide where to go with your music? For example, do you plan out where to go next?

E: (Laughs) No, not at all. I'm impulsive, spontaneous, all that good stuff. An idea just happens, maybe in bed as I'm lying there or on a walk which I try to take once a day but often fail to do in a bout of self-loathing. My back catalogue is a history of ideas that I suddenly had. Lately I've started doing a lot of multi-volume things that are about bigger ideas. That was a spontaneous development too. I like the idea of musical journeys. I think that idea is both spiritual and musical. There is somewhere to go with it. I have no one to please but myself, its true. But I seem to instinctively know if an idea is going to fly or not.

I: What have you got planned next?

E: Nothing. Right now I find myself in a bit of a hole. For maybe 4 or 5 months now I've had the splinter in my mind that I'm just repeating myself. And I really, desperately don't want to do that. I tried to put away this fear by delving into new things. I tried making music randomly as an experiment. That took up a couple of months of my time and probably paid off best not in the music I made then but in the Human/Being albums I just made. I think its important to realise that not everything you do has to be "The Best Thing I Have Ever Done". Music is meant to be fun and its a process. I'm not selling anything here. I don't have fans who need to be satisfied. But, at the same time, I think if I found myself in a place where I was just making something I regarded as shit or had turned into a "making the same old thing" factory then I would stop and probably have some kind of breakdown.

I: So do you have ideas for where you would like to go musically?

E: Certainly! But that's where fantasy bumps into the shit sandwich that is reality. I started out on electric guitar and did that for a bit but then through the 90s really went into playing other people's music more than making my own. In the 2000s I was a professional DJ and that led into my getting all these hardware synths about 8 years ago or so and really settling down to actually making fully produced proper music of my own. But life got in the way. I had to sell, in stages, basically everything I had. I'm pretty much back down to the bare bones now and its starting to feel like a restriction, but not the good, creative kind. Its the "I'm in a musical prison" kind. I feel I'm repeating myself. I'd love to get back to the electric guitar and add that to my current sound. I hate to talk about genres because I always think you should be a genre of one: yourself! But in this case the sound I imagine in my head is a sort of rocky, raw, industrial modular synth-inflected sound. I guess it has aspects of what Trent Reznor has done but also the sound of the first Garbage album, if you are aware of that. You know, I don't want to sound like that. But going that way. Oh, and of course I'd also like to be singing on it instead of the constant instrumentals. I've never really experimented with my voice or the guitar and that is a really big area I'd like to go over. The problem is my life situation won't allow that. So, you know, you have to run with what you have and suck it up.

I: What music influences you these days?

E: Probably stuff that people heard 20, 30 or 40 years ago. I was never cool or at the cutting edge. In the last 6 months I've heard kosmische musik and most of the albums by Autechre for the first time. I only discovered Boards of Canada about 3 years ago. Right now I'm only interested in artists who are doing it for the art of it, who are making it for themselves to be the best that they can be. I go through stages of listening to people on Soundcloud or Bandcamp but that gets you embroiled in a lot of social media bullshit quite often as most people seem to expect follows, likes and downloads and take it personally when that doesn't happen. So I've shied away from that a bit lately. But I will say that when you do that you find that there are lots and lots of people just doing their own thing at home and you always find plenty that is good. But, really, there's too much music in the world now. You can't not be choosy because you could never listen to even one day's output in a lifetime. So I tend towards experimental or niche things that have their own integrity. That is what matters to me. Art for art's sake.


You can hear all the best music from the 2000s that I have made at

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