Friday, 11 March 2016

Leaving a Legacy

My first album of new material for this year is called Legacy. It is a project that came about very quickly – one of those instances when the ideas and creativity flowed almost effortlessly, and just kept on coming.

In fact, I had no plans to make anything new just yet, but as any artist, musician or writer (etc) will tell you, creativity is like an itch that just needs to be scratched – and I’ve been doing some serious scratching!

As I discussed in my two previous blog entries, the untimely loss of David Bowie has had quite a profound effect on me. Not only did I love every aspect of his music to the core, but I also learned so much from him as an artist. The day after that news broke, I found myself sat late at night with my thoughts, and I simply felt an urge to make music. No matter what the result, it was something I needed to do. So I fired up my Mac and plugged in the midi keyboard – and that was the starting point for when became Legacy.

And David has left an enormous legacy, one that will live on and inspire future generations. His music has never sounded more alive than it does right now, and my recent re-exploration of his work got me thinking about how his work has influenced my own music and my ways of thinking and working. Bowie always struck me as a very spontaneous artist, renowned for often nailing his vocals in the first take – and that spontaneity shows in the energy of his music. One of the many things I’ve always admired in his songs is the unique view of the world they instantly allow you to see – and that is what excites me about making (and listening to) instrumental music; there are no guiding lyrics, just the music for you to interpret as you wish. 

Some of David’s most emotive pieces include the haunting instrumentals from the Low and “Heroes” albums of his famed “Berlin” period of the late 70s. What fascinates me about those tracks is how textural and how organic they sound, despite being heavily electronic. That same organic feel can also be found on his largely under-valued albums of the mid-90s, The Buddha of Suburbia and 1.Outside – two of my personal favourites, and albums that sit perfectly alongside those Berlin albums. Sometimes the music is very simple, other times it is densely layered and complex, and I often find myself wanting to get inside those layers and really hear what its all made up from. I constantly strove to find a more textural and organic sound. To me, making instrumental music feels like building up a sonic landscape to explore – parts of it are carefully and intricately planned out, others are purely spontaneous. Sometimes the destination is clear, other times you find yourself in unexpected territory. David Bowie's music has not only been a soundtrack to my own life, but had it not been for his outlook and artistry, I may have never have felt the drive to try and make my own music.

Legacy is dedicated to David. In a way, it is my personal tribute and certainly the creative process was my own way of dealing with this loss. I found myself grappling with the same issues we all do when somebody we admire has left us – those supressed questions and thoughts bubble back up to the surface, and you find yourself looking backwards; longing for what’s been and gone. But this was just the starting point for the project – I certainly didn’t anticipate making an album’s worth of material.

But every project needs an origin, and once you have that starting point, you can explore all the places it leads you, as it takes shape and finds direction.

Much of the above may sound a little downbeat, and it has resulted in some reflective and nostalgic music. But I would prefer think of the music of Legacy to be more thought-provoking rather than gloomy in any way. Granted, it is very dark in places, but in contrast, it has its equal share of light and optimism. I also wanted to work very spontaneously, keeping most first takes and leaving that slightly raw feel. It can be so easy to lose that spontaneity and immediate mood or emotion through too much refining and polishing.

Most of all, what I wanted to achieve with this set of songs was a sense of journey and transformation – whether that is a journey into the future or a rummage back through the past, is up to the listener.

While I found myself revisiting some familiar motifs in the music, most of the sound palette on the album is fresh. Only on a couple of tracks did I allow myself the use some of my comfortable, trademark sounds – simply because they were the only ones that really worked. But one of the ‘rules’ I gave myself for Legacy was to work with a new soundscape where possible. Even something like a string sound – rather than going straight to ones I’d used previously, I’d look through new ones, or try something unexpected.

I can’t remember how the title came about. It may have been one of those moments when a particular word suddenly stands out from the page of a book or something, but “legacy” popped up and seemed absolutely perfect for the project.

Assigned with the regular duty of writing sleevenotes, my good friend Richard Hayes came up with some marvellous wording that not only encapsulates the underlying mood of the album, but that compliments the music and helps throw it open to interpretation:

Life is full of experiences.  From the everyday and mundane to the exceptional and life-changing, they mould and develop us to be what we are today.

Legacy is available now, via Bandcamp.
The full album download comes with a PDF booklet containing Richard Hayes' specially-penned sleeve notes.

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