Wheel Of Flames

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The title of the new album is Wheel Of Flames.  What inspired that and what does it mean?

That would be telling wouldn’t it!  It’s nothing more than I had been thinking about which was ‘what if I did another album – what would I call it?’ I liked the idea of the wheel being like the planet spinning – and none of us can get off, so it’s just an extrapolation of that idea really.

Not something I thought too much about if I am honest.  The artwork then was generated by AI, with a couple of nods in the imagery to some of my influences.  In fact, most of the artwork is by AI’s hand rather than my own.

The direction of the record feels different to the last one – was it intentional?

Not at all.  It’s still me writing and recording all the parts the same as last time.  However, I’m sure that I noted in the last interview that if I were to do another record, it would invariably sound / feel different purely because time passes and you have more to say, you’ve learnt more of a technique, understand the software and the process a little more. 

Plus, most importantly I think it’s a mirror of how you feel when you sit down to record.  It certainly has its own momentum and therefore it takes its own direction to a degree.

Is there an overall theme for the record given that it sounds a bit more prog rock than the last offering?

Once again, that’s something that is not intentional at all.  I suppose with this record they are all linked together in some way, and some of them reference songs on the 1st album, and even takes in a song I released almost 2 years ago, Mending My Nets.

I felt like including it ‘as is’ would make it stick out like a sore thumb, so I got the chance to revisit and revitalise, and give it a slightly new take and direction.

What has led to that evolution?

The natural passage of time, I think.  It’s taken it’s time and its toll getting to this point now where I’m ready to put another record out.  I wouldn’t say life gets in the way, maybe it deviates sometimes, but I knew deep down from many, many years ago that the creativity is there, pushing, regardless of life’s consequences, sometimes, at whatever cost.

How do you usually begin the process of writing a new song or piece of music?

As with many creative processes, realistically the hardest thing is staring at that blank page or that blank project. At that juncture it has every possibility in the world. It’s about narrowing those possibilities down and making them finite. That’s the hardest thing. I’m lucky in the respect that I generally have an idea or direction where I want it to go. The challenge then is getting it out of my head and on to the computer via the path of least resistance.

Choosing each note, each beat, how loud or soft it will be. Choosing a tempo, a mood or feel. As soon as a couple of those drop in to place it all makes some sort of sense somewhere along the line and before you know it, you’re late for bed. Again.

What tools or instruments are essential to your creative process?

Oddly enough, not a guitar on the most part. I tend to sit at the MIDI keyboard and work out a melody around a chord structure. I also like still to work with paper and pen, although if I do get a pang of creativity whilst I’m in the car, I tell it to record a note and revisit it later. It’s all synchronised when I sit at the computer waiting to become part of something new.

Another invaluable tool is a decent coffee which invariably will go cold whilst I’m working on things. Later writing sessions work well with a glass of wine or three however. The ideas seem so much better then, but not in the cold light of day usually!

Can you tell us about the recording process for this one?

In all honesty it’s remarkably similar.  Much more difficult within the process of writing and wanting to commit an idea to ‘tape’ as such.  Nothing is truer on this one for me than the old adage of the ‘difficult 2nd album’ for sure.

That said, it’s still the case of sitting down with the lyrics, trying to dovetail them in to an idea for a chord structure or melody.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  More often than not, but sometimes you do feel like you have lightning in a bottle, so let it lead rather than force it.

How do you decide when a song or piece of music is finished and ready for the audience?

I don’t!  Sometimes you know instinctively that you’ve done enough.  If you still enjoy hearing it at the end of a recording or mixing session, you know you have it about right. 

That said, I could sit for hours playing with the mix, or over egging stuff, so one thing I have learned since last time is to let things breathe a bit more and not overkill strings or fill too much of the sound space.

If you had to choose one word to describe your creative process, what would it be, and why?

I’d have to choose two words.  Scattergun and chaotic!  It’s a bit like 52 card pickup.  See where the cards land and try to make the best hand out of what you can see.

Have you ever faced writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

More so on this one, but that’s down to the pressure I put on myself generally to hit a deadline.  It doesn’t work.  They still have to be created organically and not forced. For instance, Curse Of The Vagabond sat on the computer for almost 3 months before I knew which direction to take it, as did the title track.  That’s the problem with writing a song around what you think would be a good title.

Will you be producing a physical copy this time as you did before with One For The Road?

Not this time.  It will be a purely digital release.  I did a physical one last time as it was for charity and thought it would be nice to actually have a proper product.  I’m glad I did it, but anything physical now would be cost prohibitive.  I’d love it on vinyl, but that will never happen.

How do you approach writing lyrics? Do you focus on storytelling, emotions, or something else?

It’s a mixture of all of those whilst knowing where to draw the line on the emotional element.  Otherwise they would get far too personal and definitely would never see the light of day. I try to keep them generally on an even keel and let the listener decide on the direction either that I had been going in or the direction they feel when listening to it.

I’m never going to try and dictate and say you are wrong and, ‘It’s about this’.  I’d rather people make their mind up on how they interpret it all.

What tools, software, or instruments do you find essential in your songwriting?

At last, an easy one! I use Studio One as the DAW.  I like to keep plugins light and basic, just a touch of compression, EQ and reverb on most things.

Instrument wise, the main instrument has been the telecaster, fitted with a Roland GK3 pickup (which wasn’t used as extensively on this outing) along with the GR-55 for sonic goodness, plus the Boss GX-100 which I’ve found invaluable in getting the sweeter clean sounds.

Desk wise, I’ve dropped the Studio 24c which the last album was recorded on and gone back to the mixer, StudioLive AR16C.  That way I can EQ everything at the desk and make my life easier with the plugins etc. It’s then all held together with a Faderport 8 to keep the overall mix in check.

Do you ever revisit and revise old songs, and what prompts you to do so?

I have this time around – Mending My Nets was an interim non album track from around 2 years ago. I thought it should be included on the album as it is still relevant and would fit quite well. 

However, because of various circumstances, I didn’t have the original master file, so I thought I would go ahead and re-record the whole thing. I used the opportunity to bring some more atmosphere to it and maybe make it a little darker to fit the other tracks.

Aligning them sonically is easier that way as then a line of sight can be traced through most, if not all of the other tracks on the record.

How do you plan to continue your personal and professional development as a musician?

For me, right now I’m just happy to see where the next journey takes me.  Especially after all but walking away from music and recording in the last 2 years.  Whichever way it takes me, I’m sure I’ll be happy with it, no matter what that stretch of the journey might bring.

I’m only just now starting to enjoy the collaboration of being back in a band again, and all that open mics bring with them.  It’s taken a while to dig in to what I want to achieve and start to embrace the process again.

A real opportunity to play with other musicians who do it purely for the pleasure of it, and of course the offshoot of that is that it entertains people along the way, which is always good.

There’s definitely a very long road ahead, but I’m getting on track with it to a degree with some fabulous friends and musicians who have nurtured me back on to the creative course I deviated far away from.

It’s been thrown into sharp focus doing this project as to just how close I got to not returning to music at all.

How do you think the digital age has changed the essence of music, both positively and negatively?

I think it’s been as good as it has been destructive.  Good from the point of view that pretenders such as myself can have an album or two on Spotify and other streaming services with a relatively easy onboarding experience.

But then on the other hand, it dilutes what is out there and it’s more difficult to find artists you would like through all of the noise and clutter.  It really is a swings and roundabouts process and there are both snakes and ladders for each.  It does mean that it makes your work incredibly difficult to be heard in all that commotion, but I’m fine with that. I do it for myself, not to have tens of thousands of listeners.

How do you confront and deal with criticism, both constructive and otherwise, in your career?

I genuinely don’t.  I’m eternally grateful for those who believe in what I’m doing and are kind enough to lend an ear, or support, but equally those that don’t like what I do are equally entitled to their own opinion also.  To be fair, I probably wouldn’t like what they have on their playlists either.

Who knows? If someone comes to me with a genuine gripe, I’d like to try to take it on board and learn from it.  That’s’ what music is all about.  It’s one of those rare things that everyone can have an opinion on and all be right at the same time. I just try to do right by the song.

How have you evolved as an artist from your first performance to now?

Confidence. Belief. Respecting your peers and being humble. Really there is no more and no less than that in reality. Obviously collaborating with other players helps greatly and adds a few more things to your own playbook, but for me, it’s nothing without those four things.

Next steps?

Well, a few gigs with Delta Connection and we will see where the creativity makes a stop off next.  Might be an EP next time. Much less pressure.