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Interview: Gill Landry (Part 2)

 
By on Wednesday, 15th November 2017 at 11:00 am
 

If you missed part 1 of TGTF’s interview with Gill Landry, you can find it back here.

After discussing the production of his new album ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, Landry touches on the vocals, which were recorded quickly, once he had established the sound he wanted to achieve. “I have a pretty deep voice,” he tells me, in case I hadn’t already noticed. “For most of my career, I’ve keyed everything up as high as I can, for [the] immediacy and intensity that comes with that. But it also loses subtlety and it can definitely lose emotion. So with this one, I brought everything back so that it was closer to my speaking voice.

“I sang [each song] like maybe twice”, he continues. “And that was the take, because I was really feeling it, and [because] I feel like when I get too into re-recording again and again, I start to lose the essence of what I’m saying. Now I’m just worried about technicalities and over-perfection. You know, some of the most beautiful singers in the world bore me to tears. I’m unmoved and I start to think something’s broken in me when I listen, because I’m like, ‘Why do I not feel this? I mean, everything’s perfect.’ And that’s why I don’t feel it, because nothing’s really perfect.” “So”, I ask him, “is it safe for me to assume that when you sing these [songs] live, that’s the kind of take we’re going to get? Essentially, what we hear on the record is what you’ll sing?”

“I think I sing them better live”, he answers without hesitation. “Generally when I record an album, I wrote the songs not too long before. [But] the more you become familiar with them, the better they become and [the better] you become at putting it across. I feel like my singing live is better in many ways because the words, and the feel, and all that are now embedded in me.” I can almost hear him smile over the phone as he talks about a particular favourite. “‘Denver Girls’ is a song I feel like I could sing for years and not get bored of.”

I mention that my parents had liked ‘Denver Girls’ when they listened to it, and Landry laughs. “I just said this the other day, I don’t know if it’s true. But I make ‘adult music’ or I try. Like, there’s kids that dig what I do, but certainly there’s a lot of, I mean, up to octogenarians that are like, ‘Oh, that’s so great.’ I love that.” [I must note, for the record, that my parents are not octogenarians. Yet. -CC]

After talking about that generational shift, we naturally fall into mourning the demise of the album as a format, which seems a particular shame after hearing one as beautiful and cohesive as ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. “It’s definitely going away”, Landry says. “And we’ll probably have to change with it. Which I’m actually fine with, because there’s a lot of songs that you write that just don’t belong on albums. Like, I wrote half a dozen more that just don’t fit with these. And I’ve got piles from before, and a lot of them are good but they haven’t fit with any specific record.” “That will be your collection of b-sides someday,” I suggest.

“Yeah, I like those. I always loved b-sides. Actually, that’s kind of my favorite thing. I was never really a ‘hit’ guy, which actually says a lot about my writing. I always liked the hidden gems. They’re more subtle, but they’re really powerful. That’s my usual jam.” He laughs. “I just recently kind of realized that maybe that’s why I don’t write any hits. If I had been listening to nothing but hits my whole life, then I’d probably be a completely different writer.

“I’m a slow burner”, he explains. “That’s my game. I’m not here to make a million dollars next year and then quit. Up till I’m dead, I want to be doing this. All the people that I worship and love as artists, I mean, they had hits early in their career that probably helped them have a long career. But it’s the body of work that just doesn’t get old and continues to stay true to their life. That’s always been my aspiration. I would be happy if when I’m 50, I could have 300 people sitting down with me in a room, in any city in this country, enjoying what I’m doing.”

I’m not sure how close Landry is to 50 (and I didn’t ask!), but I suspect that 300 people in a room isn’t an unreasonable goal for him. His upcoming live schedule includes playing support slots in America, Scandinavia, and the UK, with the goal of getting his music out to people who aren’t already familiar. I ask how well that works for him, and he answers candidly: “I personally don’t know. You never can tell, until the next time you come through.”

He mentions the possibility of booking a headline tour next year, possibly with a full band. “It depends,” he says cautiously. “It’s really all about money. At this point, the people that I want to hire cost money, as opposed to, when you’re 21, and it’s your mates and you just go out and it’s all-for-one, Musketeers-style. That’s a great time. Once you’re past 30, you gotta start paying people. And if they’re not busy, they’re hopefully getting paid enough that they’re enjoying their life. So it really has to be worth it, they have to really love your music. There’s only so many tours you can go out and lose your savings on and keep going, period. So, it’s survival.”

Speaking of headline shows, I ask Landry how a solo headline show would be different for him than playing a support slot, as I saw him do back in January. “I talk a lot more,” he says with a laugh. “Which can sound boring, but hopefully it’s not. Since a lot of [my show] is narrative songwriting, there’s a lot of stories. I started this in Sweden, if you want the whole story …” 

Landry continues, “I was in Sweden and I was doing a tour, like 15 shows in these little towns, and I’d never been to Sweden. I did the first gig, and I played through the songs, and it was a good response. They dug it, I played well, all that. But at the end, the promoter was like, ‘Everybody here understands English pretty well, but sung, it’s a bit different. You should talk, tell them what the song [is about]. They’d like that.’ So that whole tour, I mean, I got to the point where I would be talking for like five minutes before I played a three minute song. And it seemed very engaging, and people started commenting on songs, like with some information [that] gave it more depth.

“So, it’s much more personal”, he says of his solo shows, “which I feel like, with these types of songs, because they’re not pop songs, because they are stories in their own way, actually enriches the experience [more] than if I just got up with a band and hit song after song after song. They’re both fine, but I really enjoy the intimacy of solo.” You can get a taste of Landry in a recent solo performance just below, courtesy of One on One Cellar Sessions.

At press time, Gill Landry is on tour in Europe, playing dates in Sweden and Norway supporting The Americans. Readers on the UK side of the pond can see Landry very soon, supporting his Loose Music label mate Ian Felice on a run of UK dates starting on the 22nd of November in Manchester. You can find a complete listing of Landry’s upcoming live shows on his official Web site. TGTF’s previous coverage of Gill Landry is collected through this link. Special thanks to Kevin, who helped to arrange this interview.

 

Interview: Gill Landry (Part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 14th November 2017 at 11:00 am
 

American alt-country singer/songwriter Gill Landry has kept a steady schedule of live shows and studio appearances since the release of his excellent 4th solo LP ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’ at the beginning of October. He was just coming off a tour of the American West Coast with Rising Appalachia and was enjoying brief period of downtime before hitting the road again when I caught up with him for an enlightening, if somewhat rambling, chat about the new album.

Landry is currently hanging his hat in Los Angeles, which seems at first glance like an odd choice for an artist with clear stylistic leanings toward country and folk. “I’m just kind of over Nashville”, he says, “and this is the first place that grabbed me. I mean, the city itself, [and] the people. I know a lot of people here, and it just felt right. I don’t view anything as permanent, [so] I don’t know how long I’ll stay. That’s how I sort of go through life.”

The Nashville reference goes back to the recording of ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, as Landry explains. “I rented a house in the countryside in a town called White’s Creek, for a month, and I just set up a studio in there. It was in the country, about 20 miles outside of Nashville, so I could be loud, I could play until 4 in the morning, you know?”

Despite the volume of the recording process, the songs on the album are decidedly intimate and reserved in tone, and Landry played most of the instrumental parts himself. “I played everything but the fiddle, drums, and horns. And some keys”, he confirms. But he also taught himself a new instrument in the process of making the new record. “A lot of what brought this [album] together was the pedal steel, which I hadn’t played on a record before. I’ve had it for about five years, but I didn’t really get decent at it until like a year or so before this [record]. I love the sound of it. It’s the glue, I think, it sort of binds it.”

The tangible presence of the pedal steel lends a distinct folk or Americana flavour to ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, but I mention that I still had trouble putting the album squarely into a single genre category. “That’s the way that I feel about it too”, Landry says. “I think genre is really for other people to decide. Because obviously I have my limitations and I have my influences, but I’m not trying to make a folk album. I don’t even know what that means, exactly. I always did like the name alt-country. It’s country-sounding but it’s not mainstream, you know? [But] when you get to a song like ‘Broken Hearts’ or to ‘The Only Game in Town’, [this album] sounds pretty country.”

The vocal harmonies on the record also have a distinctly country twang, though the three female backing vocalists joining Landry aren’t necessarily country singers themselves. I had been particularly taken with the album’s lead single ‘Berlin’, which features a duet in the chorus with Klara Söderberg of Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit. “I met her at a Laura Marling show I was playing in Manchester”, Landry tells me. “That’s how we became pals, or you know, rough pals. And then [later] I was in Sweden, and I just called her up. I said, ‘Hey, you want to sing?’ And I went over to her house and she sang on [‘Berlin’]. She also does the banshee bit on ‘Denver Girls’. She’s an amazing harmony singer,” he says. “She has an amazing voice. Both those girls do.”

Landry’s friend Odessa Jorgensen sings backing vocals on two album tracks, ‘The One Who Won the War’ and ‘Scripted Love’, and TGTF alum Karen Elson sings harmonies in the album versions of ‘Bird in a Cage’ and ‘The Woman I Love’. Being familiar with Elson’s voice, I observe that she might be particularly easy to harmonise with, and Landry concurs. “Oh, yeah, absolutely. [She has] a very specific voice, very supportive. She’s also a great lead singer, it’s just that she has a great voice for harmony, too, I think.”

This discussion allows me to backtrack slightly to Landry’s previous album, a self-titled LP released in 2015, which featured a duet with the aforementioned Laura Marling called ‘Take This Body’. I speculate that Marling’s voice might be a little more difficult to blend with, and Landry laughs. “I think that would be up to Laura, because she has such a strong voice, period. A dynamic voice. I think if she wanted to choose a supporting role in harmony, she could nail it. She’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve. [But] I really like songs where the harmony voices are distinct, you know?”

We take another moment to chat about ‘Gill Landry’, because its character is, to my ear, very distinct from what Landry has done on ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. “That one was like a three-year chipping away,” he says, “because I was still in another band and just figuring out what I was doing.” He’s referring to his former role in Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show, but he is emphatic about that band’s influence on his solo work. “I didn’t come from the same place creatively that they do,” he says. “Like, that might as well be like an ex-wife, you know, and it’s informing your new wife, which it should not and can’t. They are separate, in my mind.” I see his point, but I feel compelled to mention that Landry’s solo work isn’t entirely unrelated to Old Crow’s musical style. “It’s not like you made an EDM record or anything”, I quip. Without missing a beat, he replies, “No, that’s my next album.”

We laugh at the idea of Landry writing songs filled with dance beats and synthesisers, but he takes the opportunity to talk about the progression of his songwriting leading into his potential next record. “I write the types of songs that I would want to hear, today, in relation to all the things that I’ve already heard and know. I don’t like beating people over the head with sound, I like being more subtle and seductive. There’s a serious lack of silence in a lot of modern music, which drives me nuts, because it’s like it’s a constant fucking party, and it sort of wears me out. And so, dynamics, I’ve always found crucial. For me, it’s what adds the mood and the feeling. I produced [my] last two [records], which has its learning curve. At the end of every one, you know more than when you started, and you apply it to the next. That comes not only with the production and engineering, but with the writing and arrangements, so I can even see the limits on this one, and I’m looking forward to making another one, immediately. I’m already writing it.”

We segue into talking about the production aspect of ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. “Mainly, I chose to produce my own records because when you hire a producer, it limits everything,” he explains. “There’s only so much money and there’s only so much time. These days, songwriter albums, you know, it’s not a huge advance from labels, so it limits who you can pick. Then it’s going to be nailed down [to a] particular amount of time, like two weeks [or] a month. And then if the person doesn’t love [the songs] like you love your children, you know, they’ll [only] put in as much time as they’re interested in.”

At this point, he seems to realise his own cynicism. “That’s just how it goes”, he concedes. “So the easy solution is [to] figure out how to record things and make your own record. This is not to speak against producers, because I think [they’re] invaluable. I’d be curious to hear what would have been different about both my last records if I’d hired somebody to do them. They would be completely different things.” He talks specifically about taking extra time to record the aforementioned pedal steel parts on ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. “I would spend, you know, sometimes hours [on those]. Without a producer, I can sit in my room for hours on end, whereas when you’re in a studio, the clock’s running. I don’t view my [own] time in a monetary sense at all in working on these things.”

Keep an eye on TGTF tomorrow for part 2 of this interview. In the meantime, you can read our previous coverage of Gill Landry right back here.

 

Interview: C Duncan (Part 2)

 
By on Tuesday, 7th November 2017 at 11:00 am
 

To read the first half of my interview with C Duncan in Washington, DC, last Saturday night, use this link.

It has been well documented that C Duncan’s second album ‘The Midnight Sun’, released in 2016, was named after an episode of The Twilight Zone, an American tv show that got its start way back in the 1950s. I had guessed that he had stumbled upon it on late night Glaswegian telly, but that wasn’t the case at all. “Actually, no. It was actually the first time I ever came to America. I was about 13, I was with my best friend from school. His dad worked in Manhattan and had an apartment there, so he flew us out there, and then we went to Florida and stayed at Disney [World] and went to Universal. We’d been on the Tower of Terror. The ride’s great, but I was so intrigued with the whole history surrounding it. Just walking into the hotel, there’s a weird feeling you get once you’re there, and it’s all a bit disorientating. I just had to check the show out. I got the DVDs and went home. I have since become completely obsessed. I’m a big sci-fi, horror fan.”

Following on from a thematically suspenseful album, I ask him if that means he’s headed for a horror-themed album next. “‘C Duncan scores The Exorcist’? No…”, he replies with a laugh. Speaking of scores, he has been asked to do the score for a documentary next year. As I’m not sure if that project has been absolutely confirmed, I’ll keep the details of it to myself. Let’s just say for now that if the project does come to fruition, it’ll be another example of how the community in Glasgow takes care of its own.

I comment that he seems to be a prolific writer, releasing albums in back-to-back years. He says he tries to write every day and when that doesn’t work out, “the way I see it, if I’ve got block, you might as be well be working on your technique, you can get slightly better recording vocals, or getting slightly better working on your chords, and hopefully something good will come out of that.” Both this optimism and attention to detail are personality traits that seem to be shared amongst all the electronic artists I’ve met and interviewed over the years, including most recently Australian producer Willaris K.

Duncan admits that it wasn’t his idea to release album #2 so closely behind the first, so we might have to wait a bit longer for album #3 to surface. I have no doubt that it will be worth the wait, as everything this Scot does comes after some deep rumination. “After the Mercury thing, there wasn’t pressure for me to make another album like that, just like the first record. Of course, in the back of your mind, you think, okay, something works in that one, so why not take elements of that and upgrade it? But actually, about 5 minutes of thinking about that, I was like, fuck it. I really wanted to do something electronic and something bigger sounding as well.

“I love great, big, lush-sounding harmonies, and with synthesisers, you can get that sweeping sound. If I had a string orchestra, I would have used a string orchestra, but I didn’t have one. So I thought, a synth can do the same thing, but in a different way. Then there was The Twilight Zone influence, I liked how icy a lot of the synth sounds were, mixed with the big choral harmonies. Once I started playing around with the synths, yeah, I have to do this.” For a further example of this, check out the video for ‘Wanted to Want It Too’ below, with a nod to the creepiness of the tv show as the song itself is punctuated with stabs of synth.

In addition to his musical gifts to us, Chris is also a talented painter, chronicled beautifully in a short film by Helen Plumb and Ben Cox for Nowness. In case you hadn’t heard, the album art for both ‘Architect’ and ‘The Midnight Sun’ are his personal works. Both have great personal significance, circling back to his connection with Glasgow and his creative environment. “I did both records in my apartment. The first record, I was very conscious of where I was when I was making the record. A lot of the album has to do with escaping, in a way. Glasgow can be very bleak at times. It’s an industrial city: it’s a very beautiful industrial city, but it’s very grey and very cold. And it rains an awful lot. Our summer consists of about 2 days in May.

“I think it’s a great thing, that’s why we’re so creative, we’re indoors all the time, you know? I was very aware of where I was, so the first record has the overview of one of the main streets in Glasgow I spent a lot of time on (Byres Road, in the West End). The first record was very personal, but it was quite obscured. You can’t really hear what I’m singing a lot of the time. It was a confidence thing. I thought, okay, I’ll make music and hopefully people will listen to that and not focus too much on the words. And if they hear them, that’s great, but I sort of muffled them slightly.

The Midnight Sun large cover

“On the second record, you can hear the lyrics more and it wasn’t gibberish like the first record. And I thought, okay, so I recorded this again in my bedroom, and into another bedroom in the flat, and I’m going to make the front cover [of ‘The Midnight Sun’] the stairwell to my apartment. It’s all very geographical, location based, because where I work means a lot to me.” Although the process of music making eats up most of his time these days, Chris admits he’s “stubborn” and makes an effort every few months to paint something significant “to keep my technique up”. Sensing a theme here? I hope so. Young artists, take note. As the old American saying goes, “How you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!”

C Duncan is an artist who puts in 110 percent into everything that he does. It’s paid off, in the forms of a Mercury Prize nomination, the admiration and appreciation by a massive band like Elbow who has taken him on tour in the UK and North America, plus countless fans being inspired and moved by his music. He’s the kind of artist who will continue making music his way, and I for one looking forward to the many musical chapters of C Duncan still yet to come.

Massive thanks to Chris for his time for this interview and his unexpected, but much appreciated vocal support for TGTF (!) at the Elbow show Saturday night at the 9:30. Thank you also to Rey and Sam for making this happen. He performs tonight alongside Elbow on their North American tour at Detroit’s St. Andrews Hall. Sounds appropriate for a Scottish artist, doesn’t it? Much more on C Duncan here on TGTF is follow us over here.

 

Interview: C Duncan (Part 1)

 
By on Monday, 6th November 2017 at 11:00 am
 

On paper, C Duncan – Christopher Duncan on his birth certificate – sounds like someone who might be pretty buttoned up and stoic about music. Born to classical musician parents, having been raised around classical music and having played classical piano since the tender age of 5, I prepared myself to interview someone who was as obsessive about Chopin’s adagios as my own father. “They had quartets, and they would come over to the house. When I was very young, my mum ran a music store from one of our backrooms, for sheet music. So loads of musicians were coming and going [from the house].” But he relates this story as a welcome memory of his childhood, possibly an early measure of comfort he would later have around the musically inclined.

Saturday night, he was in Washington, DC, for a support slot with Elbow at the legendary 9:30 Club. (The review of the show will post today at 2 PM BST.) I happily found out, stealing him away for a lovely chat before the show, that his journey from childhood to the musician he is today was never forcefully directed one way or another. His delight in making the music that appeals to his own interests and makes sense in his mind is obvious and infectious. The open-mindedness of his parents and even his teachers during his formative years helps to further explain how his creativity blossomed into developing something much his very own. He has honed what has now become his recognisable blend of startling beautiful composition and harmonising vocals with plenty of toe-tapping pop sensibility, such a beguiling blend that both music lovers and the critics have taken notice of.

Pop was something he’d embraced early on. “I did the typical kid thing and listened to pop music. I kind of had that rebellious thing against classical music, which was good, because it meant I could expand my interests. As I got older, I started realising that my parents were right, that classical music is good as well!” He also credits his professors at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), where he graduated with a degree in Composition, for not keeping the focus of his studies squarely on classical music, which he disclosed is an all too common occurrence at other music schools in the UK. “I was always encouraged to listen to pop music. All the composing teachers were interested in what was happening in pop music, and they were very influenced by it as well…they basically said [to us], ‘obviously, this is a contemporary classical course you’re taking. But listen to everything, get inspired by everything, do anything you want. It’s valid as music’… There wasn’t anything stuffy about it.” For more on his schooling at the Conservatoire, I dug up this interview he did with them earlier this year.

The Scottish city that Chris calls home also looms large in the C Duncan story, and in a similarly accepting way, feeling like a warm, welcoming tartan blanket that’s there to make everything okay. “Glasgow is a very open place for genre crossing. Everyone is interested in everything…In Glasgow, everyone knows a musician, or someone who’s in a band, or all your friends are in bands. And everyone talks about music and listens to each other’s music a lot. No-one is in competition with each other, for anything, which means it opens the door for people to try all sorts of different things.

“Glasgow is quite far away from the rest of the UK, we’re very far from London. I think as a result, we don’t really have anything to live up to. Glasgow can do its own thing entirely, which is really cool, and the sense of community [there] is really important. That’s how you meet [other] musicians, I would never start a band and get session musicians in from the get-go. Maybe later on when you needed more people. I like to have friends surrounding me.

“In Glasgow, you get to know so many musicians, and you become friends first. That’s really important. I like that in Glasgow, you’re in it together, you’re not by yourself, you’re in it to make music with other friends…it’s a very natural thing in Glasgow… So many people collaborate in Glasgow, I did a thing with a woman named Kathryn Joseph, you should definitely check her out.” If Joseph’s name sounds familiar: she won the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award in 2015 for ‘Bones You Have Thrown Me, And Blood I’ve Spilled’, the same award Duncan was nominated for the following year for his FatCat Records debut and Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Architect’. She and Duncan have also been tourmates, continuing the theme that Glasgow nurtures such relationships. Duncan also clues me on a close friend from back home having recently joined Franz Ferdinand, Julian Corrie, who also releases electronic music as producer Miaoux Miaoux. Glasgow is certainly proving to be a small world.

C Duncan circa 2014, photo taken by Warrick Beyers
Photo of C Duncan by Warrick Beyers, circa 2014,
before the release of ‘Architect’, from the artist’s Facebook

Naturally, the conversation turns to the Mercury nomination for ‘Architect’ 2 years ago. “It was very strange”, Chris says with a knowing smile. “Up to that point, we’d done lots of gigs, very small, just establishing ourselves. We had a lot of help from the BBC radio stations. That was great. But it takes a lot more than that to push things forward a lot. After that [the nomination] happened, it was just phone call after phone call, interview after interview. I was self-managed at the time, so I was trying to make do with all of that. It was great fun, but it was hectic!”

The nod turned out to be a fantasy come true for him: “I’ve always thought very highly of it. It’s becoming slightly less diverse at the moment, but I think they’re trying to branch out [in the genres]. I was always really interested in it as a kid. It [being nominated] was very surreal and really exciting… It’s been interesting, the shows we did around that time and after, the Mercury came up quite a lot. It’s real music lovers who really hone into the Mercury [shortlist]. It’s really nice, it’s any musician’s dream to appeal to true music lovers, as opposed to people who shove it on in the background. It just shows how highly people in Britain still think of music, it doesn’t matter how shit the charts are, there’s a big population really interested in music, people who are interested in that other side of music.”

It’s exactly these kind of music fans that Duncan thinks are making his support appearances with Elbow, especially here in North America, super successful. “Playing to their crowds, it’s been really fun. As the support act, generally, the pressure’s off you… Sometimes I’m very nervous, but the majority of the time, I’m just having fun, trying to give people a fun show, and something representative of my music. I know it’s not exactly the same as Elbow’s, but it’s gentle enough, and their music is gentle enough to sit well together at a gig. Some people might think, ‘ooh, that first guy was a bit weird, I’m here for Elbow, this is going to be great’, whereas some people, it’s ‘oh, actually, that’s really cool’. I think there is some crossover, and it’s been a great way to pick up fans… Elbow fans, they generally are really into music. They are music lovers, they’re not background music people, which means they want to see the whole show. That’s what I do. If I see one of my favourite bands are playing, I always go in the beginning to see who’s supporting.” A good reminder to all.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview with C Duncan, posting at the same time tomorrow. He performs tonight alongside Elbow on their North American tour at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall. Much more on C Duncan here on TGTF is through here.

 

BIGSOUND 2017 Interview: Willaris. K

 
By on Wednesday, 18th October 2017 at 11:00 am
 

The popular saying “technology is great when it works” implies that when a computer has failed, it’s always a bad result. Not so for Aussie Jack McAllister. Such an error came through when he was searching for a name to perform and release his electronic music as. “Here in Australia, we’ve got RSLs, they’re a local club where there’s a bar and restaurant etc. You walk in, hand over your ID and they scan it [Queensland has an especially strict ID scanning protocol for nightclubs, enacted this year]. Around the time when I started Alchemy in early 2016, I went to the local RSL one day, they scanned my ID, as you can see my ID is fairly scratched, my full name is Jack William McAllister , the machine printed out a receipt that had my name printed as Willaris. K McAllister. At the time I had a few options in mind but as soon as I saw that, I knew that was it.”

It might sound like McAllister has come from out of nowhere, but it’s been years of hard graft in clubs, then working diligently on his own to hone his sound to have arrived at this point. He’ s from the town of Tweed Heads, on the New South Wales side of the border with Queensland but he found himself wanting more musically. “There’s not much of a music scene where I’m from. I started DJing in Coolangatta in 2013, but it wasn’t really the music I was into, so I eventually started driving up here [to the Fortitude Valley of Brisbane] and became a resident at the then Bowler Bar, now TBC Club.”

He spent 3 years as a resident DJ at The TBC Club, one of the BIGSOUND 2017 venues where, essentially, he cut his teeth on what made for successful dance sets. “I was a support DJ. I’d usually jump on straight after the headline act to a full room of people. I learnt so much from that time, from watching what the headline act did right and wrong to feeling comfortable on stage.”

But he had dreams of doing something bigger than just DJing in Brisbane. “Throughout that time I was slowly learning to write my own music, that was from 2013 to 2015. I was at the stage where I could make music, but none was at the level where I wanted it to be, at the level of the artists I looked up to.” He knew he needed to take a different tack. “That was when I completed discarded actually writing music and went back and basically started from scratch. I had a schedule for myself after work, music theory this afternoon, technical synthesiser stuff *this* afternoon, etc. I also started piano lessons then too. I worked really hard at it throughout 2015, then started ‘Alchemy’ in February 2016, and it all led on from there.” As a project, Willaris. K is still in its infancy, McAllister only having launched it in January of this year.

McAllister played several sets during this year’s BIGSOUND, all to incredible audience response. Why is that? It could be because his style of electronic music is unique and intriguing. When I ask him to use some terms to describe his sound to a non-electronic fan, he replies, “I think the easiest one would be a blanket term: emotional dance music. If I dive deeper, there’s definitely elements of techno, house, garage, classical and ambient. I can’t really pigeonhole it, all of the new stuff I’ve written for my album so far sounds different again.”

Being different was part of the plan, he explains. “That was the main goal. Having played in clubs and seeing the trends, I wanted to put in the time to make something completely unique and unheard. If people are hearing it on the radio or in clubs, and they’re aware of ‘Alchemy’, I want them to know it’s me straight away.” It’s impressive, too, that his eclectic style music has already reached beyond the traditional electronic audience: “I’ve had a lot of people tell me, people I wouldn’t ever expect to like my music, like my parents’ friends or people who don’t like electronic music, that they’re into it, usually because there’s an emotional aspect that’s relatable.”

Willaris. K at BIGSOUND 2017
Willaris. K performing at a pop-up caravan venue on Brunswick Street Mall at BIGSOUND 2017

I was at McAllister’s BIGSOUND set at Heya Bar, where I saw him play to a packed room of appreciative dancers grooving to his tunes. Watch a clip of it here on his Facebook. We chat about his approach to his live show and the important he puts on his own performance in front of a crowd. “My main thing is how I format the set emotionally. Especially because for most of this year I only had ‘Alchemy’ out, so playing a set of 90% unreleased stuff was sometimes challenging. I usually start with pretty heavy, like in your face tracks, but then pull it back with a piano track, like ‘River Song’ for example. These extreme peaks and troughs are what I personally enjoy with live music, so that’s how I approach my own. With showcases, it can be hard, you have industry people just watching, you know? So having people dancing is really cool. I get so much more into it when everyone is ‘on my team’ kind of thing. I think that also takes down the barrier between artist and audience, just genuinely enjoying it myself.”

It becomes clear in talking to McAllister that in addition to bringing something new to the electronic music table, he’s keen on making sure his music comes from organic beginnings. This could be attributed to the unpretentious, blue-collar work he once did before turning to music full-time, where he was already thinking about his surroundings and how to make things sound more real. “I’m an electrician, well, an electrical and instrument technician. I worked in big high voltage substations that connect the New South Wales and Queensland power grids together. Each state has its own power grid, so there are six cables that connect them with a substation at each end. I would maintain them, part of that involved inspecting the trays that housed the cables out in the bush. One day I was inspecting the cables, walking along the tray, and I started recording on my iPhone. You can hear me walking, you can hear the birds, it gives you this kind of shitty recording which I like, and I ended up using that particular one in ‘Dour Nights’.”

In the studio, I jump between analogue and digital. I’ll usually just play around on my gear until something worth pursuing starts flowing, then I’ll go in and expand on it in the computer. It’s so much easier to start ideas when everything’s at your fingertips, opposed to looking at a screen with a trackpad. I love having to commit to audio with hardware also, you’ll always end up with happy accidents.”

Australian electronic music is going through a bit of Renaissance these days. Sounds Australia took advantage of the burgeoning scene, putting on a second afternoon Aussie BBQ showcase at SXSW 2017 this year to accommodate so many electronic artists coming out of the country. Gone are the days that an artist would have to leave Oz for Europe to have a chance at success. Being Australian might even be more of a positive. “There’s definitely been a post-Flume apocalypse. There’s been more of a spotlight on Australian electronic music since Flume came out. In a way, he also gave birth to a whole new genre. You hear it everywhere now, a lot of the electronic pop music now is influenced by what he started. The rest of the world is definitely aware (of Australian electronic), guys like Nick Murphy (aka Chet Faker) and (the ARIA-winning dance band) RÜFÜS are doing big shows overseas.” Beyond Oz, McAllister has already been discovered by none other than BBC Radio 1’s Pete Tong, which is quite promising.

So what’s next for Willaris. K? McAllister will be playing his first shows outside Australia, in New Zealand, at New Year’s time. With an ear for something beguiling different to offer the electronic music fans of this world, his time in the sun (or should I say night?) in Europe will come soon.

To catch up on all my past coverage on Willaris. K, use this link. All my BIGSOUND 2017 coverage is through here.

 

Interview: TENDER

 
By on Thursday, 21st September 2017 at 11:00 am
 

Have you heard about TENDER, the electronic duo from North London? In case they haven’t made it to your radar yet, here are the basics. Singer/songwriter James Cullen begins the sketch, if you will, of a new TENDER song and hashes out the skeleton from which he and Dan Cobb work from. Dan then refines the production and arrangement, moulding each song into a finished product.

At the start of this month, they released their debut album ‘Modern Addiction’ on Partisan Records. As noted in my review of it, the electronic duo’s first big impression on the general public is “admirable work”. They are currently in North America on a tour to support their new release, having already been on the West Coast of our continent before heading east and playing tonight at Beat Kitchen in Chicago. James and Dan were nice enough to do this interview with me from the road.

Originally from the south coast of England between the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth, it was 3 years ago that TENDER made their way to the big smoke. Both had spent time in guitar bands before, so I asked James if it was difficult to move into electronic from their previous projects. “I think the translation was fairly smooth and organic. With guitars and writing, you’re always trying to make the instrument sound different and new, so stepping over to synthesisers and electronic music was just a progression of that… I think it was just a new avenue for us to express ourselves. The sounds and methods feel new and exciting for us. I really enjoy finding interesting samples that I can cut into the song or make and instrument out of then allow that to dictate the way the rest of the song is written.” It sounds like, too, that their musical influences reflect an affinity for both rock and electronic: “We’ve always been influenced by bands like Air, Tame Impala, Justice, the National, The War on Drugs, plus many more.”

We turn our attention to ‘Modern Addiction’, which felt to me like TENDER were striving for a minimalist approach, reminiscent somewhat to what we first heard from the xx. I was curious about their approach to songcraft. James replied, “Yeah, for sure, that’s the approach we took. When we first started TENDER, we really wanted to craft songs that used just the right amount of instrumentation and layering without overdoing it. As time has progressed, this has changed slightly, but we still very much feel our songs have the room to breathe like they did in the beginning. Using organic bass and drums with some light synths and samples as embellishment, we can allow the vocal to work as an instrument and have the space [it needs].”


TENDER in LA from FB
TENDER and their touring band last week in Los Angeles (from Facebook)

Another interesting thing to note about ‘Modern Addiction’ is while there are clearly songs about various stages in a painful romantic breakup James went through –smartly taking the emotions and focussing them in a constructive and creative direction, I might add – they explore the decidedly more clinical topic of consumerism in their single ‘Machine’. The latter isn’t a common subject in pop music, so I asked James how the two tied together. “We feel the subjects go hand in hand, in the sense that a lot of the songs are love songs. Modern love and relationships are often dictated by technology and the ease of communication, which of course is a good thing, but I feel can lead to throw away relationships and the need for constant approval.” All good points.

As you listen to ‘Modern Addiction’, it’s impossible to escape the deep, often raw emotions in Cullen’s lyrics. Does putting his deepest, darkest thoughts on display keep him awake at night? “I can’t be entirely comfortable”, he admits. “It’s hard to listen back to for me sometimes and feels too personal, but at the same time when writing it, [it] just came out. The process of writing about it is a release and came naturally at the time. Being able to do so also allows me to look back at a moment in my life and remember how I felt.”

While some electronic music can be too cerebral to the masses, ultimately, James and Dan have a simpler message they want to relay to those listening to their new record. Dan says, “Don’t overthink things. The music is about wanting to create an atmosphere that facilitates connections. We want people to feel primitive about the album. Basic instincts of lust and dance are what we’re looking to evoke in people. The lyrics are open to interpretation in many ways for people to fit them around their own world.”

Speaking about their current North American tour, their very first, James is terribly excited. “We love playing the music live and being able to show people a different side of the band. Being able to travel to such great places and meet fantastic new people is one of the biggest motivations for being in music. America is such a diverse place we just can’t wait to see as much of it as possible.” After playing Chicago tonight, TENDER will cross the border once again for a one-off show in Toronto before returning to America for stops in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. To get a taste of what they’re like live, check out their live performance filmed at Low Four Studios at the old Granada Studios in Manchester on the day of the release of ‘Modern Addiction’.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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