Mikko von Hertzen (Von Hertzen Brothers)

Von Hertzen Brothers live at The Fleece, Bristol

I’ve been much taken with the music of the Von Hertzen Brothers, ever since seeing them at the first High Voltage Festival at Victoria Park in London back in 2010. Three brothers (Kie, Mikko and Jonne von Hertzen), two others (Mikko Kaakkuriniemi – drums, and Juha Kuoppala – keyboards), as they say.

Back in Finland they play huge festivals and their albums routinely shoot to the top of the charts, but here in the UK, they remain something of a well kept secret. It’s a fate, perhaps, to which original, genre-spanning bands are more prone, with no one quite sure what to do with them or how best to introduce them to a new market. They rock too hard for some proggers, while their albums contain too many progressive rock diversions and left-field influences for a mainstream rock audience. But talent, and good songs, will always out, and it’s great to see their UK audience building.  If you don’t know this band, what on earth are you waiting for? You’ve got some catching up to do!

I recently saw the band at both the HRH Prog Festival in Pwllheli, and in Bristol on their March 2016 UK headline tour and caught up with middle brother, vocalist and guitarist Mikko. I was delighted when he kindly agreed not only to a long awaited Über Röck interview but to the following Words and Music Q&A session. So, with only minimal duplication, here goes …

Hi Mikko! Is it possible to say what rock music means to you?
It means everything; it’s the love of my life.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Elvis.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
I would say the Beatles albums: ‘Abbey Road’, ‘The White Album’, and ‘Sgt. Peppers’.

Mikko von Hertzen live at The Fleece, BristolWe were talking earlier (pre-interview) about the 1970s influences on the Von Hertzen Brothers’ music, but you’re going back beyond that in the answers you’re giving.
When I think about the pivotal moments that sealed our destiny, it must have been our father bringing home, when we were small kids, all these LPs. He was a businessman, and he was bringing home Lynyrd Skynyrd from the States, the Eagles from the States, and then from England the Beatles albums and a Queen box set with 16 LPs in it. It was like heaven for us.

So the three of you shared tastes right from the start?
Oh yeah, though of course we had our own favourites. My big brother Kie was a guitar player so he was into Ritchie Blackmore and Brian May and all that. I was more into drumming, so I was more, like, ‘Bonzo is my god’ [laughs], and my little brother, Jonne, was into pop.

Is there an artist who has stayed with you over time?
I would say Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd has had, for me, personally, the longest influence. Since hearing the first Pink Floyd album that my father brought – I think it was ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ – up to the later ones like the live album ‘Pulse’, it has had a huge effect on me.

There was a famous book written by a psychiatrist called Eric Berne called ‘What Do You Say After You Say Hello?’ I like to ask people what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
If I met a rock star? [laughs] I would say “Hello, I’m a really huge fan and I just want to express my appreciation for what you are doing.”

Von Hertzen Brothers live at The Fleece, Bristol

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan? There are so many. Like when I met Jónsi from Sigur Rós. It was one of those moments. I remember being in North India and sitting on a hill – not on top of a mountain, but just there meditating – and I put on a Sigur Rós album, the second one, and you know … how it felt. And when I met Jónsi, I tried to describe to him what it actually meant to me, and that was a beautiful moment because, you know, there was no bullshit. There was no ‘you’ and ‘me’.  It was just, like, the music has its role. So that’s one thing that I really remember. That’s one of the most precious interactions with somebody else who writes. And then meeting Steven Wilson for the first time, telling him how much I appreciate what he is doing. And also, I am a huge fan of the Cardigans, the Swedish pop band, a huge fan. So Nina [Nina Persson, lead singer] was one of the girls I was always in love with, always. And when I met her, and I could say this aloud to her, that was beautiful. [Laughs]

How did she react?
Well, she was like her usual self: “Oh thank you, that’s so sweet of you.” Can I have a photo? “Well, ok.” [Laughs]

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
Wow! My strangest? Well, I have to say, we were playing in the States at a prog festival of sorts, called RoSfest. We played a 90 minute set. The next morning I was just walking in the hotel area, outdoors, to the restaurant to have my breakfast, and I was all drowsy, I’d just woken up, and we’d had a bit of a party, and there was this huge pick-up truck coming behind me, like really roaring, and this massive guy, who must have weighed 300lbs, shouted out right into my ear “You guys fucking rock!” [Laughs] And it scared the shit out of me. I was in a panic. I thought someone was attacking me. But he just wanted to show his appreciation. That’s the one that just came to my mind now, but there are so many weird happenings with the fans, you know, some telling you their life stories, and thinking that I’m next to God and all that stuff, you know. But that one was funny.

What would you say makes a rock gig special?
The audience. It’s the audience that always makes a gig special. If there’s a good audience that’s what makes a rock show for me.

Mikko and fan

Do you have a particularly memorable gig, or gig moment, either as a fan or as a musician?
Well, as a fan, I remember when AC/DC were touring ‘For Those About To Rock’, and they had the big canons. I was about 12. I went to the Ice Hall, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever! “For those about to rock …” and then the loud bang!

And as an artist?
As an artist, we were playing this famous Finnish festival, Pori Jazz, maybe five or six years ago. And it’s a festival where people are out on an island, with an outdoor stage, and there’s all this cool jazz going on the whole day. And then, on the way back to the city, we were playing in a tent that took maybe 3,000 people. So everybody had been outdoors for the whole day, picnicking and listening to jazz, and all these people then jammed into the tent, and the sun is setting and coming from beneath the roof of the tent and lighting everybody with a golden colour. We were playing ‘Kiss a Wish’ or something, you know, one of the instrumental things, and I just remember that moment. That was beautiful because everybody was sick of hearing something very sweet, and they wanted to rock out, and they all wanted to come to the gig, and it was the best gig ever. It was such an amazingly, beautiful, Finnish sunset. You know, Finland can be beautiful too. There are a few months of the year when it’s exceptionally beautiful.

Yes, I am wary of telling a Fin how beautiful parts of Wales are.
Oh yeah, yeah. We drove to the HRH Prog festival last weekend, and it was absolutely stunning. Really, really stunning. But the thing that we have which is very special is the archipelago. There are tons of islands, beautiful, beautiful islands. So in the summertime people go sailing there. It’s so beautiful. But yeah, nothing compared to Wales [laughs].

Last question: sex, drugs and rock ʾn’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Well, you know, maybe when you’re a kid, all those things mean a lot. But when you get older and you do this more, for me, like I said, the love of my life is not cocaine or sex. I tend to be more towards the rock ʾn’ roll side of things. [Laughs] So, in moderation, everything. I don’t do drugs. I never did. But I did have … um … I got laid a few times, let’s put it that way! [Laughs]

Is there anything else you’d like to say?
No, I’m just grateful to those reading this and I think people should give us a chance. We’re a good band and we do it with a big heart. Von Hertzen is German and it means ‘from the heart’. And we always try to remind ourselves that as long as we do this from the heart, without any pretence, just being true to ourselves, it’s the most beautiful thing that we do and offer to the world.

Mikko von Hertzen

 

Cheers Mikko!

Live photography courtesy of Mike Evans. See more at Mike’s blog.

More on the Von Hertzen Brothers on their official website and Facebook page.

Check out the band’s ‘New Day Rising’ video on You Tube

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Martijn Westerholt (Delain)

Delain

 

Fans of Delain expecting a new album in the wake of recent successful tours might well have been surprised by the appearance instead of the new ‘Lunar Prelude’ EP.

I had the pleasure of interviewing founding member and keyboard player Martijn Westerholt for Fireworks Magazine. He was great fun to chat to, and more than happy to give me the low down on the EP, album plans and forthcoming live work. He also had some interesting things to say about cultural differences between audiences in different parts of the world, and even in different parts of Germany!

The interview has recently been published on the Fireworks/Rocktopia website and can be read in full here:

http://www.rocktopia.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7616:fireworks-magazine-online-74-interview-with-delain&catid=903:fireworksmagazine&Itemid=474

I’ve been really impressed with the band’s recent output and, as you’ll see from the interview, their live show. They’ve recently expanded their line-up and now benefit from the skills of ‘second’ guitarist Merel Bechtold.

If you don’t know the band, or even if you do, check out the video for the new single ‘Suckerpunch’. It augers well for the forthcoming album, which, Martijn assured me, is on the way!

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Richard Taylor – British Lion

Written by Paul Monkhouse

 

Richard Taylor of British Lion

There is a huge buzz around my home town as, for the second time in just over a year, Steve Harris brought his ‘other’ band British Lion to a small venue in East Anglia. I have seen Iron Maiden play many times in Norwich, firstly at the University (my very first rock gig in 1981) and then again under various pseudonyms at The Oval, a now sadly defunct rock pub on the outskirts of the city centre. Having been offered the chance to interview British Lion singer Richard Taylor and knowing what a powerhouse band they are, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

When I first stroll into The Waterfront venue with my thirteen year old son I find Richard relaxing on a sofa pre-sound check as he pours through the latest edition of Classic Rock magazine. Very charismatic, but seemingly utterly ego-free the quietly and thoughtfully spoken Richard proves to be a genuine pleasure to talk to and very easy, good company. With a friendship that stretches back many years, being the frontman in a band whose bass player is a genuine rock legend doesn’t seem to faze him at all but that shows that British Lion are truly a collaborative band and not just a vanity side project. When Steve strolls over later on you can sense a very real camaraderie between the two that speaks volumes.

Prior to the interview proper we discussed Live Aid, the pleasures of living in East Anglia, mutual friends who were in the superb The Catherine Wheel, which rock magazines are best, cycling, and our joint love of Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ album. As with the rest of the band, here was a man very happy in what he’s doing and enjoying touring immensely. With the sound of drums being sound checked in the background I hit the ‘record’ button…

What does rock music mean to you?
Music in general, any genre, from a youngster, it was my life, it was all I ever cared about. I had kind of an unusual upbringing and music just got me through anything that was troubling my life. So yeah, in a kind of way and not to get too deep, it saved my life as a youngster.

Was there a band or an artist who first made an impression on you?
Yeah, T.Rex, Marc Bolan

Any particular reason for that?
I would have been nine, ten years old and it was melody. That was the first thing, and from that there was so much in the 70s that came along, unbelievable songs and I just latched onto all of that. As a child seeing him on television, it was just “wow!” and I used to have a tennis racquet that I ‘used’ as a guitar as I’m sure a lot of us did. [Laughs]

Is there a particular song or album that still means a lot to you?
BBruce Springsteen Born to Run album coverorn to Run by Springsteen definitely. Again, that was another part of my life, that album, hearing that made me want to become a musician. That entire album, and the album after that as well, both mean so much to me. As he’s American a lot of my friends don’t get it, but even if you take the Americanism of the lyrics away, I find you can still relate to it. And also, although it sounds a complicated album with respect to production, the songs are three chords or four chords on guitar which I can play back to back, all of them, and that was also attractive to me. After listening to bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple that were so complicated, as an acoustic guitarist you can play great songs like ‘Born to Run’, ‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Jungleland’ on the acoustic, whereas playing ‘Smoke on the Water’ on an acoustic is not so easy.

We were talking earlier about various musicians, so what do you say to a (quote/unquote) ‘rock star’ when you meet them?
I haven’t met too many rock stars but I would most probably just say “I admire your work” if it was somebody… actually, I have met a few but I’m not too overwhelmed by that stardom thing.

What’s been your best experience meeting an artist as a music fan yourself?
I don’t know, you don’t really get to know the person if you get to meet them other than saying “Hi” and “I admire your music”. I met Brian May actually and just said to him “Hi Brian, nice to meet you”. I guess it must be the same for them, they must get bored to tears by people coming up and saying “You’ve changed my life …”

And what’s been the best response to you from fans?
Well, it’s kind of been overwhelming really, the last three tours that British Lion have done, two European tours and this British tour. When we released the debut album it was kind of controversial because a lot of people weren’t expecting it to be like that with Steve involved and that was quite hard to take. I think a lot of people didn’t ‘get’ it or quite understand what it was all about, and I think that’s still the case. But when you see it live, from the word go, especially after three tours now, it speaks for itself. It’s powerful and we mean what we’re doing and every night we give it everything we’ve got and the reaction everywhere we’ve played has been absolutely fantastic. Some places the audiences have been a little reluctant to go with it initially but by the end of the evening that has totally changed. That’s been brilliant for me and the rest of the guys as well.

So, what makes a gig special to you?
It’s two things really. Well, more than that! Firstly, I like to feel it. There’s a lot of lyrical content in these songs, especially some of the new material, and I don’t just want to stand there and go through the motions and clichés. I like to be spontaneous and just let that happen, and if that can happen then, of course, you get the audience with you as well, getting elements of the two. The last four or five dates we’ve played have been unbelievable, the crowds have been almost louder than the band and we’re still a new, young band so not too many people know of us yet. Obviously they’re coming to see Steve, we know that and are under no illusion, but like last night, when they leave they speak to you and compliment British Lion, which is what we’re trying to do.

Has there been a notable gig you’ve done that you’ll always hold high and cherish the memory of?

Richard Taylor and Steve Harris - British Lion

Richard, Steve and Paul’s son Sam looking forward to show time

There’s been a few to be honest. I always like to play quite locally if I can because I’ve got family and friends who have supported me for years and have known these songs. ‘Eyes of the Young’ particularly is twenty four, twenty five years old and when they come and see that it’s special to me, getting to sing it to them. There have been a few but I can’t really say one in particular. We have been quite overwhelmed wherever we go by the response to British Lion.

Has there been a gig you’ve attended as an audience member that really blew you away at the time and you still hold in high regard?
Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising tour at Wembley Arena. That album was written after 9/11 and I’d seen him quite a few times before but this time it wasn’t that type of show where he talks to the audience telling them stories and having fun, it was a really serious show, keeping his head down, hard rocking, and he really meant it. You got the shivers all over watching that and for what he was standing for that night. That one in particular, but I have seen lots, I’ve seen many bands. I saw Dylan but that wasn’t when he was touring an album, he just decided he wanted to go to play a few clubs and we saw him at Brixton Academy. He had the most amazing band and played every classic song you could ever imagine and that was quite overwhelming to be honest.

So, sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: a jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
[Laughing …] Big question! So, you want me to answer that? Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, I’m not into any of that … never have been. You’ve only got to look at me; I’m not that type of person.

I know we were talking about your love of cycling earlier on and I know that Steve really takes his health seriously too …
Oh yeah, he’s a great football player and he’s very conscientious about health. I do a lot of cycling and live on the coast and do a lot of running. I do a lot of walking, which is where I get a lot of my ideas from quite often, and those Suffolk skies and along by Walberswick and Southwold … in the summer some of those sunsets are quite outrageous.

So, rock music: music for all or is it quite tribal?
I think it’s a shame. I think rock music should be for everybody but I think unfortunately some people pigeonhole music in categories and if you say it has to be rock or metal it has to be a certain type of rock and I think that’s really sad. But, I think that’s maybe a younger approach and as you grow and get older … Like, I play in a rock band with Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, a band who I love and they’re incredible and I like lots of bands like that who are metal bands, but I love other stuff as well. I love classical music, I love folk music and I think it’s a shame that music does get pigeonholed. I also think that in the UK, maybe more so than any other country, we’re so fashion orientated. If you like one genre of music it has to be fashionable as well. Take Oasis, that was the fashion in the 90s and you wouldn’t let anything else in. It’s the same with certain types or rock and metal and that affects what people listen to. But again, I think it’s an age thing and if you really love music, even if you won’t admit to it … I’ve seen some Maiden fans really loving the quieter side of our music,and that’s great! Certainly the Maiden fans that I’ve met JUST love music and they like all types and that’s brilliant.

I think you’re absolutely right, not only with British Lion but with Maiden too the key thing is the song writing. Not only is there fantastic performances but you’ve got to have the songs haven’t you?
British Lion album coverDefinitely, and I think that’s what British Lion stands for more than anything. When the album was first released I got a lot of comments saying that I can’t sing – “the singer’s rubbish” – but it’s not just the fact that I was singing for British Lion, but I was also a key part of the song writing and to be honest that element is more important to me than being a vocalist. It’s most probably taken some of those comments for me to realise that by the time we record again it will be the first time I stand up and say “hold on, I have to focus a bit more on how I sing,” because some of those vocals had no more than one or two takes. With British Lion, it’s fundamentally about song writing and it’s how Steve and I first got together: we both love great songs and we write really well together, kind of differently to how he’s written before and how he’s written with collaborators before and that’s a really attractive thing. It’s taken it somewhere differently.

How do you think your music is labelled?
I think at the moment it’s just labelled classic rock but by the time we get to our second album I don’t know if it can be titled as that. With the first album you have tracks like ‘The Eyes of the Young’ and ‘The Chosen Ones’ and yeah, that is classic rock, but those songs were written twenty-five years ago. David Hawkins is a big part of the song writing and he’s much younger than me. He listens to bands like Muse and Linkin Park and he’s an absolute whizz in the studio. With Dave and Steve and myself, we all come from different angles. I hate titles…why does something have to be called something specific? I guess it just makes life easier.

I can absolutely see what you mean and as the three of you are coming in with your own influences you give the band very much its own identity rather than a cookie cutter impression of something already in existence. It makes it fresh and interesting, not only for you guys but also for the people who listen to the tracks and come along to the gigs. There IS that variety.
Yes, the people who didn’t get it the first time will hopefully get it by the time we do the second album. Certainly live people are beginning to understand it. You take other bands who have melodic singers and they put on a show but if you see what we do live we’re pretty on the edge and we really get out there and work our arses off. We’re not a safe band, we’re pretty spontaneous and people will get a shock. The album is what it is but live it goes to another level. I’m pleased about that and I think people who’ve seen us have grasped and latched onto that.

Is there a particular piece of music you’ve been involved in, thus far, that you’d like to be remembered for?
Certainly some of the new stuff is pretty special, but on the first album ‘This is My God’, that’s a pretty special song: the lyrical content, the riff. Again, that’s an old song but we’re playing a new song in the set that’s only come out this year called ‘Bible Black’ and that’s quite a special song that means a lot to me.

I recently read a live review of this tour and they picked out that song for a particular mention, which is confirmation of just that …
That’s great! [Smiling widely and nodding]

What would you say to the people who say the rock era is dead?
I think you just need to go and watch bands. Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. Just go and watch Iron Maiden next year and you can certainly see it’s not dead. They’ll sell out arenas all around the world and that’s just one band. It’s not dead, it’s more alive than ever!

What’s next for you?
We’re going to go back and listen to a lot of the live recordings from the last three tours and may at some point put something live out. We’ll also go back and carry on with material for the second album – we’ve  actually got plenty, enough for three or four albums. We never stop writing. I personally write all the time … And back to running on the beach!

Later that evening British Lion proved once more what a superb band they are, taking the packed Norwich venue by storm. With a massive Iron Maiden world tour looming, quite how long it’ll be before the next album is released is unclear. But judging by the magnificent new material played tonight, it’ll be well worth the wait.

CHEERS, GUYS!

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Tim Bowness – No-Man/Solo

Tim Bowness

Perhaps best known for his work with No-Man, a longstanding 28-year, six album collaboration with Steven Wilson, Tim Bowness has recently resurrected his solo career, with 2014’s well received Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and an astonishingly speedy follow up Stupid Things That Mean The World.

In fact, Stupid Things That Mean The World is a cracker that’s sure to feature well in ‘Album of the Year’ lists. It’s wistful, reflective, and very moving with Bowness’s voice, as I wrote in my review of the album “bringing every track within touching distance of common hopes and fears, past and present.” It’s a prime example of what words and music can do, working in tandom on an album that comes on like a reacquainted friend. I jumped at the chance, therefore, to speak with Tim about Stupid Things That Mean The World, his lyrical themes, his influences, playing live, and the death of rock. It’s an honour to be able to add his thoughts to the Words and Music Interview Series.

So Tim, what would you like to tell people about the new album?
Always difficult! Obviously, I hope that each album is a progression in some way from the last and that it shows some level of personal development. I think all performers like to feel that their career has a forward momentum and Stupid Things That Mean The World did feel as if it was taking aspects of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams further. Like a lot of my work, a lot of thought went into things like track listing and arrangement, though in some ways I would describe the final product as being a combination of accident and intention. Quite often it’s the accidental beginnings that you don’t control that provide the material you shape into the finished album.

In what sense ‘accidental’? Can you elaborate?
Well, in the sense I think everything is for me. When I write I don’t go in with a particular intention, although I did have an overall intention of perhaps developing ideas in Abandoned Dancehall Dreams further. I wouldn’t necessarily say: “Right, I’m going to sit down now and write a piece that is this, or a piece that is that.” ‘Press Reset’, for example, was something that surprised me as it went along. I certainly didn’t realise what the outcome would be when I started writing. It was similar with ‘Know That You Were Loved’, which was written on guitar in a very different way. In some ways the material is created in quite an instinctive and spontaneous way and then once an outcome emerges you shape it as best you can. So I meant accidental in the sense that there would never be a deliberate intention to write in a particular style or write a particular type of song.

‘Press Reset’ is my favourite track on the album, by the way.
‘Press Reset’ and ‘Know That You Were Loved’ were my two favourites actually because, as I say, they turned out to be nothing like I was expecting and it surprised me where they ended up.

‘Press Reset’ emerged from a computer studio experiment. I just followed it through to its conclusion and then heightened aspects of what the experiment suggested. At the end of the process, I felt I ended up with a song quite unlike any other I’d written and a lyric and lyrical subject I really wasn’t expecting. It’s a subject that’s always quite fascinated me, the idea of people who seemingly have happy family and work lives and then completely escape them, you know, due to various internal pressures and so on. And I realised that it had actually happened in my own family as my step-brother had done exactly the same thing, even though it wasn’t something that had particularly influenced me while I was writing it. It’s a subject, to be fair, that a lot of English people will know via the Reggie Perrin route. And it was quite interesting to me that in a sense it almost became semi-autobiographical, in that it dealt with someone I’d known.

I still feel a novice when it comes to being a musician, as opposed to being a singer, so it’s always a thrill to finish a song. In the case of ‘Know That You were Loved’, it was compositionally quite detailed, so I was pleased with my writing, which was something different for me.

You mentioned forward momentum just now, but your lyrics are, well, I would describe them as wistful and reflective, and they seem to have quite a lot to do with the past. Can you tell us more about some of the lyrical themes?
I think that melancholy and nostalgia are two themes that I’ve always visited in my lyrics. Even when I started writing lyrics in my late teens, and was in my first band, I think the themes were in many ways similar. The actual stories and the style of writing may be completely different but there’s always been this sort of impulse, if you like, to dwell on that halcyon time that is no more. And often it’s difficult to explain away those things because you’re naturally drawn to them. I can only think that there might be something in my history or in my family life that always means that in terms of my interest in literature and film and perhaps in the songs that I write, there’s a strong aspect of almost trying to reclaim innocence or reclaim happiness. Also, I think with lyrics sometimes, that whatever one does, one’s worst fears tend to be articulated in one’s work, almost as a form of exorcism. And perhaps there’s always a fear, certainly as an artist, that your best work is behind you, that your best times are behind you. However much you’re enjoying the creative process, however much it feels vital to you, I think that most musicians, artists, filmmakers have a gnawing sense of doubt. In some ways I think that’s good because it’s what propels people to do better or to change and it certainly provides some creative momentum.

What about the title of the new album Stupid Things That Mean The World?
The new album’s title concerns the small and seemingly trivial things that make us who we are, or help us through our lives. It could be an old toy, art/music, shared intimate language, a belief system, an annual holiday, the image or idea of someone you loved in your youth and so on.

Tim Bowness - Stupid Things That Mean The World album coverSo, yes, it concerns the myriad tiny things that in some ways make up personalities. I was also thinking of something like the significance of the seemingly insignificant Rosebud in Orson Welles’s film Citizen Kane where one incident with a toy in this huge media baron’s childhood seems to have been the key to his personality.

That said, the lyrical content in the individual songs is quite separate. For example, while it completely ties in with the idea of stupid things that mean the world – in this case, the person’s attachment to the idea of a holiday – a song like ‘At The End Of The Holiday’ is also very much a separate story about a person very separate from me. As with ‘Press Reset’, it’s almost a short story set to song.

In terms of influences, and things from your musical past, who are the artists who’ve made an impression on you?
There are far too many to mention! I still actively buy, listen to and enjoy music, so I’ve heard a great deal of music through the years. Probably the first artist is not one people would expect. It was John Barry the film composer. When I was around five or six, my dad used to take me to the cinema to see James Bond films, partly because my mum hated them, and I fell in love with the music. I thought it was incredibly haunting and expansive. Then, probably like a lot of kids even in the mid-70s, the Beatles and their offshoots, like Wings, had some level of importance, as did some of the bands influenced by them like 10cc. So I liked an odd combination of film music, experimental pop music and even some classical music from my parents’ collection. As I got older, and into my teens, that’s when rock, experimental rock, art rock – anything from Bowie to Floyd to Zeppelin to Genesis to Kate Bush – became extremely important.

Peter Hammill OverAnd obviously a couple of people who are on the new album are people whose music I absolutely adored when I was a teenager – Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music is one. Roxy Music were a major influence when I was younger. And Peter Hammill is another, because several of his albums, in particular his confessional album ‘Over’, meant a great deal to me. ‘Over’ was very intense, very raw, and in some ways showed me a completely different way of making music. It was something that wasn’t airbrushed or artificial in any way and dealt with subjects that most pop music didn’t – children leaving parents, the death of a relationship, the death of a friend, and so it was a series of meditations on things being ‘over’. It really resonated with me when I was in my mid-teens and I still think it’s a fantastic album.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve liked music by Mark Eitzel, Flaming Lips, Elbow, Keaton Henson, Bjork, Midlake, Troyka – a new-ish experimental UK Jazz band – and more I can’t remember. In terms of all-time favourites, Joni Mitchell’s Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, David Bowie’s Low, Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon would all be in there somewhere.

Your music often seems to be labelled ‘progressive rock’ or maybe ‘art rock’. Are you happy with those tags?
To a degree. I certainly don’t go in to make what’s considered to be art rock or progressive rock but my music has a tangential link to that, partly due to some influence from art rock and progressive rock, and partly due to the musicians I work with. In some ways what I do is more a combination of art rock, art pop, prog, experimental and, of course, singer-songwriter elements as well. There’s quite a strong singer-songwriter influence, perhaps, and, again, when I was growing up people like Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, John Martyn, were huge influences. But I have great respect for musicians who work in progressive rock and art rock territory, and in some ways it’s extremely nice to be held alongside those musicians, even if, musically, I’m not entirely sure whether what I do sits with that.

It would seem quite natural to me to relate to your music one-to-one, listening quietly on my own, though I also like being part of an audience. Do you enjoy playing live? And how do you think your music translates well to the live context?
I think it can translate well. Certainly when No-Man played live on the last two tours there was a real energy and a real sense that the band, as a live unit, developed an identity above and beyond the studio work. It really energised what we did. And I suppose if one were to apply terms to it now, we developed a vocabulary that was part art rock and part almost minimalist classical – we were working with a classical violinist called Steve Bingham who had very much come from a background of listening to Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Arvo Pӓrt, composers that Steven [Wilson] and I like as well. That, combined with a slightly more aggressive rock attack that No-Man had, worked really well and was incredibly enjoyable to play, and, I felt, almost pointed at a potential new direction for the band.

So, I think that the louder rock aspect works quite well, as does the more experimental, extremely intimate ambient-tinged singer-songwriter work that I do with Peter Chilvers. It’s perhaps the work in between that doesn’t fare quite as well, and what’s interesting is that when you do play live the venue and audience to an extent dictate the success of the material.

It’s an interesting process and I enjoy the two extremes. I enjoy the potential noise and havoc that No-Man at their loudest can inflict, and I certainly enjoy the near silence of some of the ambient singer-songwriter gigs that I’ve done with Peter Chilvers, partly because every word and every single sound can be heard. Usually the venues we choose are appropriate for that.

Generally speaking, I love the musical aspect of playing live because sometimes songs can come alive in a different context, they can develop in different ways, though sometimes the actual act of performing is quite an alien thing. I think for any adult human being to be playing in front of an audience is something that can render most self-conscious.

Tim Bowness

Is there a particular piece of music, or album, or performance to date for which you’d most like to be remembered?
I’ve honestly no idea. That’s always for other people to say. There are pieces of mine that I’m particularly pleased with – from ‘Press Reset’ and ‘Know That You Were Loved’ from the new album to ‘Smiler at 50’ from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams to numerous No-Man songs like ‘Things I Want To Tell You’ or ‘Days In The Trees’ or ‘Things Change’. There are a number of pieces that I’m extremely pleased I was a part of, and, obviously, if people are touched by work I’ve made there’s definite validation for making it that feels really pleasing.

There’s been a lot of talk recently the death of rock or the death of the rock era. Do you think the people who are proclaiming the death of rock are right?
I think it’s changed. I don’t necessarily think that rock or popular music is dead and nor do I think that creatively it’s dead. If people look around there are still some very interesting albums being made and there are still some statements that are quite fresh. I think there is life in it, but maybe the rate of progression, if you like, has slowed down. Not only that but I think that music that perhaps isn’t at the forefront of the mainstream struggles more than it did to be heard. It’s an ironic time in a way. We have the internet, that provides instant access to everything, and we’ve also had the advent , over the last ten years, of 24 hour music TV and 24 hour digital radio. And yet, less genres of music and less bands seem to get covered.

I think it’s interesting, when you look at something like VH1. When VH1 emerged it was an adult music channel, and initially you might find anything from documentaries on King Crimson to interviews on XTC to what might have been the chart of 1999. But probably within about three or four years, this became the constant streaming of the same videos by the same small group of artists. That aspect is disappointing. One episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test or The Tube may have dealt with ten more genres and more varied artists than the 24 hour digital channels will do now. So on some level it’s bizarre that we live in an age of information and yet we’re exposed to considerably less styles of music and therefore considerably fewer possibilities. It does seem as if the algorithm has won out over the art.

That’s certainly the case if you look at local radio. I was brought up in the North West where the major cities, Liverpool and Manchester, were very active in breeding new talent. Each city only had one local radio station at the time – Piccadilly in Manchester and Radio City in Liverpool – and yet the BBC stations and these local stations would always have three to four hours of new music every evening. When I did my original demos in the mid-1980s – and this is inconceivable now – I’d get played on a show by Mark Radcliffe. He’d play the new Kate Bush single, a track from the latest New Order album, then my demo, then someone else’s demo. It was bizarrely open and eclectic. These days, Piccadilly may have four or five radio stations, but it’s Piccadilly Gold recycling the top hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and Piccadilly itself has become more of a commercial station. Equally the local BBC station that was around when I was first making music has become more of a talk channel.

It seems bizarre that despite having more stations, fewer things are being covered, and, generally, there has to be a very strong commercial reason for something to be covered. No-Man were managed by the Talk Talk manager, and Talk Talk were a million selling band. But I remember hearing that Talk Talk were considered “too small” to be played on VH1! So a million selling band were considered not important enough, and I think that since the 90s, that level of corporate control has perhaps got stronger. Obviously, if you’re prepared to search via the internet there are many worlds of possibility, so all is not lost in some respects.

I think you’re right, though for music that you could broadly term ‘progressive rock’, there does seem to have been some sort of resurgence of interest in the last 5 years or so?
There probably has been over the last 10 years. I mean certainly with Burning Shed [Tim also runs the online label and specialist music store Burning Shed – Ed.], when we started out progressive rock was obviously one of the genres we dealt with, and definitely since we started in 2001 the interest has got stronger. My personal belief is that there’s more interest now because of what I said – that in some ways things are very diffuse, very ephemeral, perhaps more corporate, and that people are actually searching for more depth. In a way it explains the resurgence of vinyl as well. It’s the vinyl against the download. In some ways the music is everything, but a download as a commercial property has very little to it, is very easy to produce and so on, and perhaps people are going back to vinyl because there is a craft in the album cover, there’s an expense in it being done, a real sense of effort and depth in, or implied by, the format. I think that ties in with progressive rock, in that in an era that seems, perhaps, more superficial, there are people outside the mainstream hunting for something that actually means something to them.

 

Tim Bowness

CHEERS TIM!

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Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) interview

Ian_Anderson - Photo_by_Martin_Webb

Ian Anderson is a man who needs little introduction. As the main driving force behind the music of Jethro Tull for nigh on half a century, he is a legendary figure and one of giants of the rock era. But the news that he’s planning a Jethro Tull ‘rock opera’ and rock opera tour? Mamma Mia! That takes a bit of explanation. Luckily the man himself (Ian, not old Jethro) was on hand to ‘re-imagine’ matters and explain them to yours truly.

The subsequent interview was published on the excellent Über Röck website where it’s available in its warts and all glory. Charity gigs, Tony Blair, Pierce Brosnan, Peaky Blinders, Bruce Dickinson, the agri-business, genetic modification, the pharmaceutical industry and the growing phenomenon of young people at gigs … you didn’t know there was so much in it!

You can read the full interview here:
http://www.uberrock.co.uk/interviews/57-june-interviews/14928-ian-anderson-uber-rock-interview-exclusive.html

 

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