I’m a science fiction singer-songwriter. Or maybe a weird-fiction singer-songwriter. I’d say the latter, but the phrase ‘weird fiction’ is a bit less well known so sci-fi seems a better bet. A line I used to use was “I’m what you get if early Genesis started writing songs with Nick Cave after watching too many episodes of Doctor Who”.
Occasionally I’m a live act, both acoustic and in the last year or so as a full band. But I do have a full-time job – I work for a social mobility charity in London – that means gigging is pretty hard to do. I just don’t have the time, and my main mission over the last few years has been to catch-up with my songwriting and get all my best songs recorded and released. Sunday mornings are a great time for recording, far less conducive to gigging. People don’t want to come see you play on a Sunday morning.
I’ve been accused of being a prog rock artist. I like that, but I’m not sure how useful it is because if you listen to my stuff expecting it to sound like 1970’s progressive rock, I think you’ll be disappointed. The main influences for me are David Bowie, Radiohead, Mansun, lots of heavy metal bands, various bits of folk, Meat Loaf, the musical Sweeney Todd and my sort-of-classical composition training. I know that might sound an odd mix, but the two main threads are story telling songs and nerdy clever musician stuff like funny chords and time signatures. I always think I’m trying to write music for two people. One of them likes a singalong chorus that tells a story, the other likes clever-clever musician stuff. And the two don’t necessarily like the same things, so you have to write things so the one who likes singalong choruses doesn’t notice the funny time signatures at the same time as the one who likes the funny time signatures doesn’t care they’re listening to a singalong rock song. And both of them are me.
Does that all make sense? Possibly not. But it is still true.
Who originally inspired you musically to pick up an instrument and who inspires you now?
Mine is a musical family. My mum was a music teacher in local schools, including my primary school (though she took ten years out to raise me and my siblings). My dad and brother play guitar, my sister the bassoon. So, there hasn’t been a time when I didn’t make music. I remember sitting at the piano pre-school age learning the basics. I played violin for a few years in primary school, which I think might have been the tail-end of free individual instrumental lessons in my neck of the woods before they were cut. I then took up guitar at about the age of ten. I also sang in my mum’s choir at primary school.
In my teens I got into rock music, heavy metal and 90s grunge. I wanted to be Eddie Vedder, or maybe Thom Yorke, or maybe James Hetfield. I started writing my own songs and started a band with some mates. It was called Nothing Sacred – awful emo stuff. We did one little TV appearance inappropriately on Nickleodeon – I’m not quite sure why they had us on. We were about fifteen and they asked for acts and our bass player sent them a tape cos he thought it would be funny that they heard this dodgy rock band in amongst the wannabe pop stars: but they said yes and we ended up playing on TV while 70’s disco sensation Leo Sayer rocked out on a beanbag. Looking back, it was a bit odd.
I went off to college, then uni, studied music – mostly composition – and played in a songwriting duo called Comrade Robot. Then in 2010 I started releasing music solo, and by my second album – 2012, so about 16 years into songwriting – I started to find my voice and figure out who I really am as a songwriter.
Who inspires me now? Recent artists that I’ve wanted to steal ideas from include Paul Mosley, Richard Dawson, Matt Blick and there’s always David Bowie and King Crimson, obviously.
To the uninitiated what is Steampunk, how did you discover it and what fascinates you about the scene?
Steampunk is not a kind of music. It’s a genre of science fiction that takes inspiration from Jules Verne style of science fiction but seen through a retro lens – Verne and HG Wells were writing contemporary sci-fi as it were. The name is a play on cyberpunk, which is Blade Runner style gritty near future sci-fi. The ‘punk’ bit in both alludes to the American use of the term as in ‘you dirty punk’ not to punk music directly.
My first few albums told steampunk stories. So, the music itself isn’t steampunk – and despite what a lot of silly people on the internet sometimes say there’s no such thing as a steampunk style of music – but the lyrics are.
I have an ambivalent attitude to the scene. The people are lovely, the events can be fun, but it isn’t a music centred scene. They prefer cabaret style stuff where the audience can get involved, and except on rare occasions I’ve never really felt my music fits with what the audience wants in a live setting. Prog audiences where people are really into their music and want to listen to every note suit my music much better.
At the very end of ‘Fit the Fourth’, my last album, I looped in a little hint of the opening of my first album ‘Spinning the Compass’ as if to say. “that’s finished, the loop is closed, no more steampunk stuff”. All the releases since have not been steampunk at all.
Your first album, ‘Spinning The Compass’ featured just you, and most releases since have been the same. Is it that you don’t like other musicians, or they don’t like working with you?
I can’t stand them. Preening, egotistical idiots, all of them. Don’t get me started on singers. They’re the worst of the lot.
No, not really. Partly it’s personality as I’m naturally a bit of a loner. Partly its practicality. I mentioned the lack of time, well, organising people takes a lot of time. If I’m to get the work of recording all these songs recorded, I need to be efficient and that usually means doing things myself. Having said that since ‘Fit the Fourth’ I’ve had other people collaborating musically on most releases, with ‘Demon’ my latest album as the most collaborative. You can get some great results by just asking good musicians to record what they think fits.
I’m a solo artist for a good reason – I have no interest in compromising on what these songs should sound like. This is my project, my vision, what I want to say with the popular song format. I have no desire to share that with someone else or to work at someone else’s pace. I’ll have other people play for me, but it’ll definitely be me with the final say so.
What was Murder and Parliament?
Murder and Parliament is a name I gave to an instrumental project that was a sort of heavy metal-ish, post-rock, weird ambient music. I had a load of music that had originally been written for classical instruments back at uni, but never realised. I decided to rearrange a lot of it for rock band, add a load of drums and make an album of it. It worked pretty well. I like the mix of heavy metal instrumentation and scored out part-writing. There are also some great additions from Alun Vaughan on bass and Chrissie Caulfield on violin.
It isn’t finished either. I’m slowly bringing together ideas for Murder and Parliament’s second album. I’m not sure when it will be ready, certainly not in the next 9 months, but hopefully before the end of 2020 there’ll be another Murder and Parliament album.
Unusually for a “serious” musician, you also release a lot of singles and EP’s. Why is that and where do you see the value?
I take offence at being called a serious musician! Well, not really, but seriousness is too easy, I have no interest in it. I want to be an entertaining musician, a fun musician. I sincerely believe that in art the most difficult thing to do consistently and well is being fun. I want my music to be fun.
Is it unusual to do lots of ‘non-album’ releases? These days I think the artist that only releases one album every two years is behaving pretty strangely. That’s not how the audience listens. Why not pay attention to the audience a bit more? People these days listen to a lot of audio – whole albums and playlists on a commute, hours of podcasts just when mowing the lawn or washing the dishes. And they move on to new stuff quickly. That’s where culture is, so why not give people what they want? I’ve got a tiny group of fans, but they do like my music, so why not give them stuff to listen to.
And besides, I have the ideas and the songs. If I have two songs that fit together but will probably never belong on an album, why not release them digitally? Same with the EPs. I had a load of acoustic murder ballads last year. They weren’t long enough to be an album on their own, but there were enough to make an EP, so I did. As I said, I want to get all my good songs recorded. Lots of releases are necessary!
How did you first meet up with the Great Elephant, and was curry involved?
There are two versions of this story, the public one and the real one. I’ll ask you please to print the ‘public’ one, but I’ll tell you the real one too. Just whatever you do, don’t print the real one.
Here’s the public version: David Elephant from Bad Elephant music stumbled across my third album, ‘Three Rows of Teeth’, online. He liked it, played it on his podcast and we got to chatting online. He offered to put out my fourth album ‘Fit the Fourth’, and I said yes. Really easy. David’s great to work with.
So that’s what you can print. Please don’t print what actually happened, which was this: He showed up at my house. Him, in a suit, with trunk and tusks, and these two thugs behind him, one with a Yorkshire accent the other sounding German. They muscled their way into my house, trashed my studio and made it very, very clear that if I didn’t do what they said I would be physically hurt. Then they made me sign this contract. It was three hundred pages long, they didn’t let me read any of it, and they made me sign it in my own blood.
I’m scared, Kev. Scared. And so is every other BEM artist. Except Simon Godfrey, because he’s an idiot.
Have you any desire to work with any other artists on BEM? I have always thought a joint effort with Matt Deacon could produce interesting offspring.
Yeah, in principle. I’ve co-written and performed on a song with Mike Kershaw and added some guitar to Shineback’s last album, but apart from that I haven’t done much. I’d be well up for working with Matt Deacon, though I’m a little scared of his obsession with hot sauce. That’s kinda weird.
Talk us through Demon, song by song, and what you were trying to achieve in each case.
I have actually recorded a video for each song explaining what they’re about. I’ve done guitar tabs and stuff as well. But they’re only for people on my mailing list. The album is autobiographical, just not in the lyrics. Each song alludes in some way to family, or places I’ve lived.
“Wizards of this Town” is about drunk wizards trying to fix their town through magic. It has odd drunken verses and a big singalong indie rock chorus. Definitely one of my most accessible songs. People really seem to like it. It’s inspired by the area I was working in at the time, having just left teaching to move into educational charity.
“Modern World” is the second track. It’s the longest track on the album and it’s a Frankenstein song – I stitched together disparate parts. There’s a 90’s indie rock style section, an off-beat prog rock section, and a musique concrete section that one reviewer confusedly said was “just noises”. Which is true, but then, that’s all music is! This song is there as a bit of a potted musical biography, and also as a challenge. It says – this album mixes ‘normal’ rock with a little bit of weird. You better be ready.
“Weather Balloons and Falling Stars” is the third in my tentacle trilogy. It’s an upbeat, rocky love song to tentacles. It’s also tying into older albums.
“West Wind” is the most prog song on the album. It has folky acoustic guitar, stringsy mellotron sounds and all the time signatures. Well, three of them. It is also a sequel to a song written by the other half of my songwriting duo from years back, Comrade Robot.
The middle section of the album breaks from the rock band set up. We have “Patterns of Light”, a short acoustic song that includes my sister’s bassoon and lots of vocal harmonies. Then “Cutting Up All Of Our Dreams”. For this song I sent my mum a score of what I would be singing and asked her to arrange her singers around it. This was the result. The song fades into some scary spoken word stuff courtesy of my brother in law, Joel.
This middle section with a spoken word bit is supposed to be an allusion to the middle of “Ok Computer” by Radiohead and “Six” by Mansun, both of which have a spoken word thing in the middle.
We then go back to the rock band format, with “Drop Dead’s Punching Above His Weight Again”, a song about a serial killer. This is a big homage to David Bowie and has great lead guitar from Gareth Cole who has been playing guitar a lot for me in the last two years or so. He’s also on last year’s EP ‘Spirit Box’.
“Tinfoil King” was written very quickly for February Album Writing Month. It uses crossword-clue lyrics to say humanity is rubbish. Some days it’s my favourite song on the album.
And finally, “Demon”. “Demon” has been around for a while; Comrade Robot recorded a version. I always wanted to do the big loud rock version, so here it is. It’s about various things, including a drunken night out with Pete, the other half of that duo, so the first and last songs have that theme of drunkenness in them. It also has great drumming in the middle where I told Michael Cairns to play an inappropriate, slightly sloppy jazz solo. He obliged. It’s great.
That last song is a reminder of my early twenties, being slightly glum and unsure about what to do with life.
And that’s the album. I’m dead proud of it.
So what’s next for Tom Slatter, and where can we hear more of your music?
As to what’s next – I have literally no idea. In the short term I’m focusing on telling people about ‘Demon’ and doing some online gigs because that’s a bit more practical than touring for me at the moment.
Beyond that, this is pretty uncharted territory. For the first time in at least a decade I don’t have any songs ‘in the bank’ that I definitely want to record. There’s maybe one piece of unfinished business – an ep I released a few years ago that i don’t think was recorded well enough, that I might redo – and then I’ve got no more ideas.
That means I need to go back to the drawing board and figure out what the next version of me sounds like. Which is kind of exciting? I’ve no idea what I’ll write next.
It has been a while since the man behind The Bob Lazar Story, Matt Deacon, and myself caught up for a beer. So, given that there is a new album out, it seemed like a good time to have another chat.
Given you live in Christchurch, New Zealand, and drummer Chris Jago lives Los Angeles, how did the original band get together and then how did Chris get roped into it?
After studying Audio Engineering circa 2005 I recorded “(sic)”, on my own, apart from two songs Simon Fox played drums on. He and I were both teaching at the same music shop in Chch and he is a brilliant drummer. Studio time was hard to come by then, but we were able to get into the studio at MAINZ (Music And Audio Institute NZ) and one of my pals engineered the drum recording. The rest of that album was programmed drums by myself, which were OK but not real enough.
So I roped Simon into another three tracks on the next release – The Silence of Perez de Cuellar – and used an online service for another two. I had recorded bass parts myself but then met Mike Fudakowski at a high school I was also teaching at. He’s a magnificent bass player and liked the tunes so he replaced my parts with good ones. I pretended to like Dungeons & Dragons to curry favour with him. He knew Kev Roberts, a drummer who was Head Of Music at a school near me. Fud suggested we approach Kev to put a small live band together as we could use the school as rehearsal space too. Kev was the only Dixie Dregs fan I had ever met in NZ so seemed a good fit.
We worked on four songs I had written for Space Roots and recorded them in Kev’s classroom. Around this time we also played a few gigs in Chch and Lyttelton which was fun but was an awful lot of rehearsing. Kev also recruited a great keyboard player for us – Nathan Peters, who played all the gigs we did.
As Fud and myself both had young kids (not with each other), gigs weren’t a priority. At this time I also re-connected with Chris Jago via FB. I had met Chris at Music College in Liverpool in 1993 and we played together a few times in college ensembles and then I used to occasionally sub for the guitarist of the covers band he was in. But this was a time before email had arrived, so we lost contact when I moved to NZ in 1997. He popped up on my Facebook around 2009 and I convinced him to play on about three songs on Space Roots. I also used the online service again, so Space Roots ended up having three drummers on it. But it was a nightmare putting the album together as me and the fam packed up and moved back to Liverpool for a year and my PC crapped itself. So it was a four–year process putting Space Roots together. It’s a miracle it was even released, to be honest.
I found the process of working with Chris to be very satisfying. I really wanted a bit more cohesion for future releases, as Space Roots was a bit all over the place sonically, so I got Chris on board for the next release – Ghost Of Foodstool. This EP/mini-album felt like a fresh start, after the craziness of putting Space Roots together. Chris can be very busy – he’s often playing in musicals in the States, as well as doing various other sessions. He also got the Neil Diamond gig a couple of years back. Unfortunately, Neil had to retire through poor health though, so that was short–lived. But given the quality of his playing, I’m always prepared to wait until Chris is available to do some recording.
How does your Trans-Pacific writing collaboration work?
I write the music bits with the aid of the drummer app in Logic, then send Chris these demo files both with and without the programmed drums. Then I chart them out in a simple(!) way and Chris interprets it how he feels. I might then tweak a couple of bits or add some more stuff in as his parts usually spark some different ideas. I see it as a total collaboration and love getting his parts back. He engineers and mixes all the drums at his home studio – Shabby Road Studios, and frankly does an incredible job. We’ll have the occasional Skype conversation where we’ll secretly marvel at each other’s completely different versions of Scouse accents, but we usually just stick to back and forths on messenger. We share a dropbox where files get exchanged and working song names get more convoluted i.e apr17100bpm1_2nomaster etc.
It has worked out well so far. I think I’m quite easy to work with, very accommodating. I’ve only ever asked Chris to tweak something maybe twice. If he does something I wasn’t prepared for, i tend to just incorporate it, make it work for me. I can definitely cause steam to escape from his ears though. Occasionally my charts haven’t quite matched up to the demo recordings. I used to write charts for him by hand, but for Vanquisher I used Sibelius to produce much neater charts. It was way more accurate too, as it was just a case of loading a midi file of the Logic projects into Sibelius and it would spit out a lovely looking chart.
You have previously described your band as “purveyors of tritonal wankery, and offer an oasis of ProgMathsyFusion to soothe your weary earholes.” What do you mean and how would you describe yourselves in terms of other artists?
Tritonal wankery came about as I wrote a lot of riffs with Tritonal jumps in them at the time. If anyone ever gets a package from me in the post, it usually has a sticker on it that says “Purveyor of Tritonal wankery“. ProgMathsyFusion is a description that covers a lot of musical ground. Definitely, Prog moments, although I’m not a massive fan of Classic Prog. I like Mathsy music full of odd timings like Zappa. The modern iteration of Math Rock is completely different and not my thing. And there are bits of fusion spread about, but not endless wanky solos.
I find when I have to describe the sound of The Bob Lazar Story, I usually just write “for fans of Zappa, Keneally, Cardiacs, GG.” A diverse group. No one sounds like Zappa, but he’s a massive influence. As is Mike Keneally. I came to Cardiacs quite late on, only about five years ago, but they were a musical epiphany for me. Super complicated yet direct and in your face. Amazing melodies and ensemble playing. It turns out that Tim Quy who was percussionist for Cardiacs, was a fan of ours before I had even heard of them, which blew my mind. I’d say apart from Zappa, nothing has ever floored me as much as Cardiacs tunes have. Absolutely mesmeriszng.
Although we get lumped into the Prog genre, which is all good with me, I’ve only listened to a tiny bit of Yes, never heard ELP before and I’ve tasted a tiny smattering of Jethro Tull. I like a few Gentle Giant songs. I grew up listening to Metal then went down a small jazz road for a bit before someone played me some Zappa. I can take or leave all his comedy stuff, but the super tight, busy ensemble work is what I’m really into. Echidna’s Arf (Of You) could be my favorite song of all time. But how do we classify that? I do love classic Gabriel era Genesis though. Foxtrot is a perfect album. I know that one well, plus The Lamb stuff. But that’s about it for me and Prog. I think I prefer music that defies categorization. Mr. Bungle would be a prime example – California is a real masterpiece. I listen to a lot of French stuff lately – Poil, Hardcore Anal Hydrogen, Ni. All crazy stuff. Progressive in the sense that they do stuff that is very different, very original. Lost Crowns, who are also with BEM, really tickle my fancy too. They play all the notes, seemingly all at the same time, but pull it off spectacularly. I guess they might fall into the Psychedelic category, who knows? So all these bands are definitely influences for sure. However, I think TBLS sound like TBLS.
What is your obsession with Foodstool?
I used to have a stool in my music room that I would bring into the lounge to eat my dinner off. It became affectionately known as Foodstool. The first album had The Progressive Adventures of Foodstool on it, and as a fan of conceptual continuity from my Zappa-love, I thought it would be great to include Foodstoolon every subsequent release. I have no intention of ever stopping. Foodstool was stolen from our garage while we were in the UK. I’m lucky I had a photo of it. I traced this photo and coloured it white for the front cover of Ghost Of Foodstool. You can also get Foodstool t–shirts from our merch page. I’m toying with the idea of FoodstoolHot Sauce. But who would want a food product with the word stool in it? Not every idea is a great one.
Why name the band after Bob Lazar, what fascinates you about him? Does he know there is a band carrying his name?
I’ve been fascinated with the topic of UFOs since I was a kid, and when Bob went public with his story in about 1989, I heard about it even though there was no internet back then, and the topic was essentially an opportunity for ignorant folk to chime into serious conversations with “Little Green Men” asides and overall snarkiness. Even Roswell wasn’t known about much back then. I actually released an album in 2004 under my real name with songs that turned out to be prototypes for subsequent releases. However, I thought it would appear like I was some sort of singer–songwriter so decided on a name change. Not sure why I thought this would be a good idea. Maybe I thought I could draw in the UFO crowd as potential fans. I was definitely playing the long game, and now I feel this is finally paying off, as Bob Lazar is back in the mainstream news again. There is currently a doco on Netflix about him, and he went on Joe Rogan’s podcast recently. My Twitter followers went up 25% in a month (as of writing, we are up to 525!) and I get tagged in many conversations on Twitter as a lot of people assume I am Bob Lazar. (@boblazarstory) (525!)
Bob did get in touch once to enquire about our name. I sent him a download code. He likes the music. A few years back he said they were making a film about him and he would try and get some of our tunes in it. I never took him seriously. At least I think it was him. He’s a very intriguing character, and if it was all bullshit, you’d have to wonder what was in it for him. He hasn’t benefitted financially from it. He keeps a super low profile but is still harassed by the alphabet soup agencies. If true, his story could be one of the most important ever told.
The Bob Lazar Story has been a band, then a duo, and this time Mike Fudakowski has again become involved. Why did he leave and then come back?
Fud was heavily involved in an 8 year long Dungeons and Dragons campaign and couldn’t be disturbed. He escaped with his life, just, and I brought him back on board for a few tunes. Also, during recording Self Loathing Joe and Baritonia, I was super busy with being a Postie and was getting burnt out due to stress and whatnot, so I found it easier to just get on with the music side of things myself.
Please explain the rationale behind the rather eclectic song titles on the new album ‘Vanquisher’
When I was back in college, I couldn’t think of names for tunes, they were just numbered. How fucking pretentious, right? I sometimes ask friends and fans for suggestions. My pal KD (stan) Baxter came up with In The Woods With Tony Iommi for the last album, and he’s come up with Hooves & Broken Biscuits for this one, although I’ll bet he will claim not to remember. Song titles are fun, particularly when there are no lyrics to suggest anything. I will break a couple down for you.
Pongville – I play cards every week with some mates. This is a reference to a rule in the game. I thought, if I do this, then they might buy the album.
Eleven – I can’t stand Stranger Things. Plus, it’s in 11/4
Goodbye Victor Tripaldi – An admin from the Progressive Rock Fanatics page on FB was being verbally abused by a guy, so banned him, and followed it up with “Goodbye Victor Tripaldi”. I suggested it would be a great name for a band. Got over 20 likes for that, wow. So hopefully, once I post this song to the page, someone might buy the album.
Two For The Rest – this is an oft-repeated phrase at the Port of Lyttelton where I work as a cargo handler. If the ship has finished loading, they sometimes opt to keep two guys on the wharf and send the other four home. Hopefully, when some of my wharfie mates see this title, they might buy the album.
Operation Full Klinger – I left my old job through redundancy. I had a long term plan of convincing my bosses I was crazy so they would have to pay me to leave. It worked better than I thought it would, as life imitated art and I actually went a bit crazy for a while. Just at the right time, as we were going through a round of redundancies. I had told a couple of workmates of my plan at the time and dubbed it Operation Full Klinger. Hopefully, they will remember this and might buy the album. There seems to be a pattern here.
Project Top Secret & Eyes Only – This is for UFO buffs. Hopefully, they might buy the album.
Tony!! – Self-evident really
If the cover art of the last album, ‘Baritonia’, was the coffee stain of the mug from ‘Self-Loathing Joe’, what is the meaning behind the artwork this time?
Once again, conceptual continuity comes into play. The coffee stain is actually on the white stool from Ghost Of Foodstool, so it goes back even further. The link to this new album appears when you take the disc out of the tray in the digipak. I have taken the coffee stain and reversed it on top of itself, creating a striking portrait of myself.
The chili pepper on the front of Vanquisher is that shape for a reason that will only be revealed on the next release. I can say no more. Apart from telling you that I’m mildly obsessed with hot sauce. Going further back, the flying saucer from the first album “(sic)” appears inside the booklet of The Silence of Perez de Cuellar (another UFO story, google it). Space Roots is the outlier here. No connections to previous or subsequent releases. Although every release has the little chicken with the speech bubble somewhere in it.
How did you become involved with the Great Elephant?
About three years ago, BEM kept on popping up on my feed, signing bands left, right and center. I wanted some of that juicy action. So I sent David Elephant an email with a link to the Bandcamp page and said: “I think I want to be on your label.” He got back to me the next day and promised me the moon on a stick. And here we are. The Bob Lazar Story might very well be the smallest act on their impressive roster, and David has probably regretted his impulsive behavior ever since. BUT HERE WE ARE.
I love that BEM has a roster of really quite diverse and sometimes very unusual artists.
There are some very like-minded musicians on BEM, can you see yourself playing with any of them?
Like I just said, we are probably the smallest act on the roster, so I’m reluctant to suggest collaborations, in case it’s seen as a ploy to boost our profile at the expense of theirs. But if anyone were to ask me, I would most likely be into it. Unless it was Tom Slatter. He’s weird.
Simon Godfrey literally shits music, he’s so prolific. As is Tom Slatter. He’s obsessed with Steampunk, whatever that is. I like the direction We Are Kin have moved in, more synthy, less guitars. I like that The Fierce And The Dead do their own thing and don’t worry about not having a vocalist. Their continued success is encouraging for other instrumental acts out there. I can see myself playing with any and all of these people. I can also see them looking at me, and asking themselves “who is that?”.
The album is out, are you going to be performing anywhere in the near future or do you just see this as a studio project?
No plans to gig. Rehearsing is an issue, as is scheduling. I’m a shift worker and essentially on call every day until I have worked six shifts in a two-week cycle. These six shifts often get stretched out over the two weeks, so it’s hard to plan things. Plus, Chris lives in LA, which makes it tricky. I’m happy just recording tunes, even though I have enjoyed playing in the past. As I mentioned earlier, rehearsing takes a good while with these kinds of tunes, so an extraordinary amount of commitment would be required from all parties concerned.
What is next for TBLS?
I have an EP of totally batshit stuff in the works. Vanquisher has turned out to be a slightly mellower affair in parts, so I left some more, shall we say, crazy tunes out so as not to mess with the flow. I shall be developing these ones and then I’ll try to convince Chris that it’s a good idea for him to play on them. Besides that, I shall continue to badger people into listening. It’s hard work these days. Spotify and streaming, in general, makes it hard for anyone to make any money doing this kind of thing. Praise the lord for Bad Elephants.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Elfin Bow, whose wonderful debut album I have enjoyed immensely. Many of you will not have previously come across her, but her songs are wistful and simply beautiful, but she is not just a singer, as hopefully the words below will convey.
Who is Elfin Bow, and where did the name come from? Why use a stage name at all?
Whenever anyone asks me about Elfin Bow, I know they are thinking that it’s the flamboyant stage costumes, the homemade headwear, the top hats, the art, the music, the stories. And in some ways that is what has become associated with the name. But it’s definitely not an alter ego or someone who I wish to be, it is who I am. For me, Elfin Bow is the permission to explore my creativity and artistry as fully and unapologetically as possible; permission to ask questions, to take risks and make mistakes. I follow my intuition, my creative urges that come from some ‘other’ place and I walk through doors of opportunity with confidence, knowing that if I trust the process, more creative adventures await. I recently made a film with my cousin, Victor Pennington, asking, ‘Who is Elfin Bow?’ We filmed me performing songs, creating art, costumes, wearing different outfits and hats, walking in the woods, waxing lyrical in the sunset…. but as we were making the video, I began taking things away in my head: What if I could no longer sing? What if I lost the use of my hands? What if my hair fell out? What if I were forced to leave my home with nothing? These may seem like dramatic questions but each time I asked myself, ‘Would I still be Elfin Bow?’ And of course the answer was, ‘YES!’ My creativity may be (and has) been tested but will never leave me. It will always find a way to connect, to find meaning, to enhance my life experience. It always does. And because it is not just a stage name, but the name I use for all my creative endeavours (like working with schools and community groups), Elfin Bow gives permission for others to be creative, to think a bit differently, to feel inspired, to make mistakes, to be human, to be honest, to be real. If I’m gonna stand for something, I’m quite happy for it to be that.
The name came from an old sketchbook, from a decades-old page with weird sketches and drawings that I have no recollection of doing at all. I was getting married and changing my name from Elizabeth Kearney to Elizabeth Jones – both lovely and respectable names – but not ones that inspired me to step into that creative confidence. I guess once I took on Elfin Bow, it was like I had given myself the green light to not put my own projects on hold anymore. As an art teacher, mum and wife to an outstanding musician and songwriter, Gary Edward Jones, I had constantly taken on the role of facilitator, helping others explore their creativity and achieve their potential, whilst leaving my own dreams and desires on the bottom of the pile. Elfin Bow symbolises that moment of turning life on its head. To walk to the edge of the cliff and stepping off to see if you can fly. Of stopping worrying what others think. Of being the kind of mum that doesn’t feel guilty about dragging her son to the recording studio for another Saturday recording session, because she is passionately modelling what following your dreams looks like. Elfin Bow stands for not trying to be like anyone else but creating your own space to thrive in, passionately and authentically.
What are your earliest musical memories, and who/what inspired you to start playing music?
My earliest musical memories would have to include the sound of the old pianola piano that took centre stage in our house. My dad would pick up the perforated rolls in charity shops and bring home all kinds of classics by the old masters; Chopin, Beethoven, Sibelius, as well as popular 1920’s tunes like Tea for Two and random finds like The Star-Spangled Banner. It wasn’t an automatic pianola. It had heavy pedals that would unfold from the belly of the beast, and we had to pedal like crazy to make the tired bellows (fixed up with sticky plasters) breathe life into the music. You could have the front open and see all the mechanisms rotating or shut it all up and pretend to our schoolmates that we could play like Rachmaninov. Needless to say, my siblings and I not only developed huge calf muscles, but also a love of the piano.
It will come as no surprise, then, that I started playing and composing little ditties on the piano from a very young age. Despite having lessons, they were always too formal for me. I wanted to feel the music, not count it. I wanted to hear the soaring romantic chords, not know what they were called. Technical knowledge of music would time and time again fall out of my head and, although I did GCSE music, I couldn’t have continued to study it under a system that seemed to favour skill and knowledge over musicality and improvisation. At the fork in the road, I abandoned music, in favour of art. Many twisty-turny years later, I found that music was quietly knocking at my door, reminding me it was there, patiently waiting for me to let it in.
When I finally started writing songs, after my fine art degree, I had no idea what to do with them. They didn’t seem to fit anywhere. No one seemed excited about them, except me. I knew my face and body shape didn’t fit into the mainstream music industry, and I didn’t want to be there anyway. I started a musical collective with some other musical fine artists, and we had a studio for a while. We all had different influences and we played a couple of gigs, but I felt like I was wearing the wrong musical clothes, I just didn’t fit. I heard a friend talking about how his dad regularly frequented a folk club. I had no idea what that was, but I found one on Facebook and took some friends who I had started jamming with on Friday nights after work and went along. I finally felt like I’d found a place to try out my songs. The best bit was that people listened, like really listened. They were so supportive, and my confidence quickly grew. I cut my teeth in folk clubs, festivals, open mic nights and venues all over the place after that, performing in duos and bands until finally taking full creative control as Elfin Bow when I was forced to leave my job as Head of Art in a secondary school, after a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
Why did it take so long for you to decide to become a performer?
I was such a quiet, shy child, but I think there was always something there, deep inside, yearning to express myself. I still think I’m discovering it now! I guess, I never identified with the egotistical showman thing, the stage school kid, the loud one. I knew if I was to ever perform, it would need to be about something else. I learnt from my artistic escapades that the work isn’t complete until it is experienced by the viewer. I dabbled in some pretty weird performance art at university, where I was reaching for something I couldn’t quite fathom, but I hid behind a video camera instead of performing in a live setting. My friend discovered a book of songs here grandmother had written, and no one had ever heard them. I was struck by the tragedy of that. I don’t want my songs to fester away in a notebook. I want to breathe life into them, even if it is with a pair of tired old bellows!
You undertook a fine art degree. What inspired you to follow this path?
I had quite a narrow art education at school (even at ‘A’ level, I thought all artists were dead as they were the only ones we studied!) However, when I started my foundation course in art and design (after two years of studying for a Bachelor of Education and then giving birth to my first son) I discovered the YBA’s; young British artists like Gilliam Wearing, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst etc, who had been making sensationalist waves (pun intended as their first exhibition was called ‘Sensation’) and I was introduced to conceptual art. I had had two artists before me in the family, my dad’s brother who passed away when I was 4 and my great uncle, who I also never met. They were both very talented painters and left a legacy of incredible work. That is what I had grown up with, but seeing that art could be anything I intended, completely liberated me and my learning curve was incredibly and excitedly steep. My tutor sent us to private views of artists exhibiting in Liverpool and got us involved in the first ever Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art, with which I volunteered for over 6 months, seeing every aspect of making an international exhibition. From curating to building an exhibition in a disused space, from assisting artists from all over the world to install their work, to seeing the inner workings of the office, it was a very seminal moment for me, demystifying the process of being an artist. I could see myself doing that, so I took the path which led to Fine Art.
My degree course was another life experience that taught me how to be resilient, how to stick it to the man, how to keep on creating in adversity and how to stand up for myself in my own way. It was not always pleasant or easy, in fact the philosophy of the teaching seemed to be that we needed something to fight against in order to make good work (as if life isn’t hard enough) and to be honest it took a huge amount of effort to get through it. I learnt a lot about myself but I was exhausted by the end of the three years. I came out of it with a 1st, despite nearly poisoning the examiners with some jam tarts (that’s a story for another time!)
You have mentioned the importance of certain people and writers such as Allan Kaprow, Elle Luna, Brene Brown and Tara Mohr being incredibly important as part of your growth. Can you explain what they mean to you for those who may not have come across them?
Allan Kaprow was a New York artist in the 1960’s, who hosted ‘happenings’ in his loft; performance art disguised as real life, with the audience completing the work by being there. He wrote a collection of essays on the ‘blurring of art and life,’ about how art can come to imitate life so much so that it doesn’t even look like art anymore. At the time I was exploring nostalgia of childhood and community, inspired by artists like Rirkrit Tirivanija. I had created a kitchen in the art school gallery, where I invited people to make apple pies with me, from scratch, using apples harvested from the trees in my childhood home. There was no social space in the building and the community was very fragmented. The smell of the pies cooking brought people out from every corner and it was a wonderful way to interact with the space and the people working there.
On graduating, I approached my work in schools in the same way but gradually became more of a teacher than an artist. I read all kinds of books on radical education, thinking that I could question and challenge the status quo; a peaceful ‘agitator’ if you like. My own ‘blurring of art and life’ – and a very poignant dream that showed me why all that I had learned would make me a great teacher – led me into a third stint at uni and a teaching job where I resolved to be a passionate advocate for critical thinking, independent learning and creativity.
You mentioned you had to give up teaching after the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, was it this which made you “walk to the edge of the cliff and stepping off to see if you can fly”
I loved my job. It came at just the right time when the recession hit in 2009 and all my work with schools would have dried up, with drastic cuts in funding. I gave it my all, whilst still trying to be a practicing artist and a budding musician. By my sixth year, and as head of department, the workload trebled, policies became idiotic and I was fighting daily to keep my department valid and relevant in a political system that was favouring core academic subjects over the arts. It was a fantastic school in many ways, but I was exhausted, and my body finally told me to stop. My life came to a standstill and I spent 6 months in and out of hospital until a final diagnosis of Fibromyalgia was given. I went from being a 100-mph woman, mother, teacher, artist and wife, to being on a truckload of meds and feeling like I’d dropped off the world in a matter of months. Refusing to believe this was it, I decided to come off all the medication and treat myself with yoga, mindfulness, meditation and nutrition. It was a long road. I read every self-help book, surrounded myself with inspirational people and made a vision board of how I wanted my life to be.
I discovered incredible women like Elle Luna and Brene Brown, whose words spoke directly to me about taking control of your own life. Tara Mohr wrote a brilliant book called ‘Playing Big,’ which showed me how to step into my fears with confidence and create the life I wanted, before feeling ready. It was just the encouragement I needed to leave my job and create a career in which I could look after myself more. Although I still feel the weight of that diagnosis, it doesn’t define me, or stop me. My desire to create is far far greater than the need to give in. Fibromyalgia is not in the mind – there are very real, debilitating symptoms – but the mind is a very powerful tool that I have learned to harness to keep me living life as fully as possible.
I’m still working in schools. I’ve been on a circular journey of being an artist, teacher, artist, teacher, artist teacher…. and with every rotation, comes new insight and learning for me. I’ve learned that you might visualise your dreams, but you can never imagine the twisty turny, exciting roads that will get you there. Doors open in places you’d never expect. Haha! We’ve come full circle back to stepping through doors and trusting the process. I like circles… and trees.
The music industry – well, any of the creative industries – are not for the thin-skinned or faint-hearted. I’ve always known that no experience is wasted. And I know that the fibromyalgia, the battles as a teacher, the inspirational people who have led me to a higher consciousness and the knowledge I have gained, have all led to me being a resilient creative, better able to survive the ups and downs than I ever could have when I was younger. I know I can fly, and I’m excited about all the challenges that are still to come.
How would you describe your songs to someone who has never heard you?
Why is that always the hardest question? I can list some of the words other people have used to describe my music… pastoral psych-folk, twenty-first century folk, fairytale folk, storytelling that shape shifts between the real and the imaginary, stories that draw you into another world…. I was once told that I needed an ‘elevator pitch’ so at a push, I would probably sum it up with ‘pastoral psych-folk songs and stories, told through mandolin, guitar, banjo, piano and voice. People have likened me to artists such as Kate Bush, Sandy Denny, Tori Amos… sometimes I can see why, but to be honest, I just try to occupy my own creative space. I’m quite happy to jump in and out of boxes that people try to put you into define you.
Your debut album launch included more than just music, and it was also recorded and released as a DVD. Why approach it in that manner?
Once a moment is gone, it is gone, unless you retain a version of it by documenting it. Of course, it is never the same as being there, but I was conscious of creating a more lasting record, especially because I was attempting to recreate the album live in its entirety. When I recorded my debut album, it was important to me that it wasn’t so over-produced that it couldn’t be performed live. I wanted a real, honest representation of what could be a great live experience. I do love all the different versions of your songs that exist when you play with different musicians, who bring a different flavour to the songs. But on this occasion, I had most of the musicians that recorded my album, with the exception of Saydyko Fedorova and Oscar South, who had both moved to Ireland. The bass was played by David Griffiths and Skeet Williams joined us on banjo. I don’t have a regular band but have a raft of extremely talented musicians who I can call on when needed. On this occasion, the only time we were all in the same room together and had an opportunity to rehearse the whole set was during soundcheck on the afternoon of the launch. Now, you might say that’s brave, but really, it’s a testament to the trust I had in these guys to create an amazing moment.
Feeling ambitious (or was it a moment of madness?) I hired the Epstein Theatre in Liverpool, a 380-seater venue; historical, magical and beautiful. I felt it was perfect to showcase the album in a grand, yet intimate feeling, setting. The night was carefully crafted with a storyteller, Alice Fernbank, who opened with a story, told through the eyes of Edith Grimshaw, followed by an intriguing set by Bryony Elizabeth and Jonny Darnell on harp and guitar. I had thought of everything from sound, to lighting, to photography, but no video. At the eleventh hour, I reached out to Alex White (SkyFade Media) who filmed and edited the event. It was a labour of love for sure and I am forever grateful to him.
And then as if that wasn’t enough, I had moved to Wales and was getting requests from fans to have another launch there. My taste for theatre had been awakened, so I created a multi-sensory, immersive experience at Theatr Clwyd. We raided the prop store to create Edith Grimshaw’s living room as an installation, complete with a real, live Edith (played by Karen Campbell) living in the space. Community art workshops I ran on the day produced drawings that were projected during the show and Karen and her ten-year-old daughter also performed a spellbinding dance as Edith and her younger self. What the whole experience taught me was that it is possible to delve much deeper into your songs and stories, uncovering layers of meaning. There doesn’t just have to be one reading of a song, an album, a character or an event and that shelf life that we attribute to a ‘new’ album can be a long as we choose.
How did you get involved with Keith Jones, FdeM, and what was the reasoning behind recording “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”? What was the experience like?
I walked into the smallest record store in the world, VOD Records in Mold, North Wales, and met its wonderful owner, Colin. He started stocking my album and later contacted me to say that someone had bought it and was playing tracks on their psychedelic radio station. When I checked it out, I saw the FdeM logo on their website and asked Colin about it, he promised to introduce me to Keith, which he did, and we got chatting. Whether you believe in fate, chance, serendipity or whatever, I think of it as threads that you pick up and follow to see where they’ll lead. Sometimes they are joined to other threads, sometimes there’s that door of opportunity. This thread led me to a wonderful new journey of discovery which I am still very happily traversing.
Keith asked me if I did any covers of 69’s or 70’s songs. When I mentioned Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, he got very excited and asked if I’d like to release it on 7” vinyl. Being the door-walker-througher that I am, I jumped at the chance. I had been performing a version of the song with just me on mandolin but knew that I’d love to experiment more with it and put strings on it. When I asked Gary Lloyd to help me with it, he said, ‘How do you fancy recording with a symphony orchestra?’ Again, I jumped at the chance, booking the session without knowing how in the world I was going to pay the huge costs. Three weeks – and a lot of hard work disguised as fun – later, I had raised £5k with another crowd funding campaign and travelled up to Glasgow with Gary to record at the Royal Concert Hall’s New Auditorium. The whole experience was sensational. I loved every minute! On returning home, we got a band to work on other sounds until we were happy with what we call our ‘love letter to Sandy,’ honouring her prolific talent and pure voice. Talking about revisiting songs and finding new depths, on the B-side was my first ever single, The Wisdom, reworked with the Orchestra. In the same way that performing with different musicians’ changes songs, I love how the recording process can present an opportunity to reimagine songs in a new way.
The FdeM fans really got behind me on this, helping with the crowdfunding and supporting me on social media. FdeM build great and lasting relationships with their fans and their loyalty is rewarded with access to a whole array of amazing and exclusive products. I’m honoured to be a part of that.
What’s next for Elfin Bow for 2019 and 2020, where can we hear you perform and buy your music?
I have written my next album which I’ll be showcasing live before starting the recording process. I find it a great way to test out audience reaction to songs. I’ve written a lot on the piano and I’m still experimenting with different musicians to see how the sounds will develop. So far, it’s extremely exciting. In the meantime, I’m heading into the studio to record an EP in September.
If you already have tickets, you will see me live at the 17th Dream of Dr Sardonicus Festival of Psychedelia in Cardigan. If not, you can catch me at Bodfari Woodland Skills Centre on 30th August for an intimate unplugged gig in the woods, The Well Inn Festival, Holywell, on 7th September, The Barn, Ledbury on 4th October (double headliner with Rise) and Thornton Hough Village Club on 5th October. I’m always on the lookout for interesting, quirky places to play with listening audiences. I’m also working on some incredible joint gigs with Little Sparrow and Daria Kulesh.
I hang out a lot on the World Wide Web so I’m easy to find. I love connecting to like minds and kindred creative spirits on my Instagram and Twitter pages (@elfinbow), Facebook (Elfin Bow Music and Art) and my website (www.elfinbow.com). My music is available on CD and DVD from there and it’s also on most streaming and digital platforms.
Hello, Blake thank you for doing this interview as Power of Prog has been following your music career for some time.
PoP: Tell us, who is Blake Carpenter
Blake: I am me Haha, no, I am just a person who lives for music or should I say lives because of music. Music is the heartbeat that keeps me and us alive.
PoP: How long have you been a professional musician, and what professional training have you had if any
Blake: Been creating original music for about 35 years, been pro (making pennies for playing) since the early ’90s. I have a few lessons on guitar under my belt but that is about it, I hate class.
PoP: What was the defining moment in your life that sparked the eternal flames to become a musician, and was it, anyone, we might know
Blake: When I was 4ish a neighbor in the apartments me and my mom lived in had a son in Vietnam, he had KISS albums and his mom would listen to them, me and my mom were there one day and she played Destroyer and I was hooked, I started singing then.
PoP: When did you release your first album and what was it called.
Blake: My first album was in a project called Naked At Birth with another guitarist, we were an acoustic duo and it was released on cassette in 1991
PoP: How was the experience of recording the first album vs. the new album Jack: A Different Tale
Blake: Oh my, the first album was in a basement studio in Portsmouth, Rhode Island and with friends in tow, all I had to do was show up and sing. The last album, Jack, was all done in my small makeshift studio or in the drummers house (recording the drums) and I had to mix and master it all and I am not sure I did it the same justice as I did with The Road To Avalon as I was and still am very disappointed about what happened with The Minstrel’s Ghost (TMG)
PoP: How many albums have you released thus far and which one are you the proudest of
Blake: Altogether I have one album out there, one with Naked At Birth, one with my band OGMA from the early 2000s, three Minstrel’s Ghost albums, one Voice of the Enslaved album one with Coalition, one with Jack Potter, one with The Petri Lindström Project and two with Corvus Stone. I would say I am most proud of The Road To Avalon as it is probably the best produced.
PoP: Why is The Road To Avalon so special to you
Blake: Again because The Road To Avalon is the best produced but also it is a story I love.
PoP: What’s the difference between fronting your own projects or fronting someone else’s
Blake: Fronting someone else’s project can be a blessing and a nightmare. A blessing since all I need to do is sing and perhaps write a few words, a nightmare because I may have to write a few words LOL
PoP: Name all the bands and projects and release that you have been part of till now
Blake: Naked At Birth, OGMA, The Minstrel’s Ghost, Corvus Stone, Coalition, Jack Potter, The Petri Lidström Project and oh yeah, Telergy, that was a very short speaking bit but really friggin cool album to be a part of.
PoP: What influence your song writing
Blake: Anything really, love, hate, war, politics, magical things, it just depends I guess on where my head is when I put pen to paper.
PoP: What is the story behind your latest release Jack: A Different Tale
Blake: It is a play on Jack the Ripper with a fictional back story about his growing up. I wrote it largely with my own childhood in mind but that is for another day.
PoP: Who are the musicians on the new album Jack: A Different Tale and what rol do they play
Blake: Troy James Martin on bass and vox on News, Mike Troupe on drums and vox on Born, Jartse Tuominen on lead guitar and myself on all other vox, keys and guitars.
PoP: We understand that Jack will be the final releases by TMG, is this true and why have you decided to close this chapter in your life
Blake: The end of TMG is not something I wanted but something that happened. We had a live band thing happening it was going great but as is often the case things went sour and after so much work that I put into it I was crushed emotionally, it let Jack sit for almost 3 years before I finished it and once I did I felt like I needed to let TMG go, at least for a while and definitely what it was, if the ghost is reborn it will be something completely different from what it was.
PoP: What’s been the most challenging obstacle for you as a musician
Blake: Releasing a physical product, I can never make enough cash to do it or do it right. The Road To Avalon was a fluke and caused some issues personally to get it done.
PoP: You often use many different musicians on your releases, how do you choose an artist to be on a particular album or song
Blake: Honestly, if they want to be on it and have the sound that fits then they are welcome, that is it. I am not a snob, you don’t have to be a virtuoso to play with me, I sure as hell am not one.
PoP: Name 10 albums that should be part of any serious record collection
Blake Answers: 1 XANADU – Soundtrack 2 STYX – Paradise Theater 3 Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon 4 The Smiths – Strangeways Here We Come 5 Loreena McKennitt – The Visit 6 INXS – KICK 7 KISS – ALIVE 8 David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars 9 The Cure – Disintegration 10 Any Vangelis album
PoP: What was the last album you listened to
Blake: Omnia – Pagan Folk
PoP: Word has it you love and collect vinyl, what’s your Holy Grail, the one LP that you have always wanted
Blake: I have Xanadu and KISS Alive, I would just like to get all the rest of the KISS albums on vinyl, I only have 9.
PoP: It’s been said that vinyl has a warmer sound, I don’t subscribe to that. So my question to you is, how would you describe listening experience between Vinyl and Digital including CDs, and Downloads
Blake: Everyone has different thoughts on that, music is music, as long as I can listen to it and it is clear. I like the feel of vinyl, the size of the art and the smell. I also love cassettes and I am building that collection. CD’s I can take or leave.
PoP: Describe what success means to you, not as a musician but as a person
Blake: Success is what you make of your life and what you leave behind. In the end, are you proud of what you have achieved should be your last question to yourself
PoP: If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be and who would be your warm up act
Blake: Red RocksAmphitheatre in Colorado and I would be just fine warming up for U2, Stevie Nicks a close second, U2 is probably the best show ever put on at Red Rocks and was my introduction to the venue and Stevie Nicks concert there was awesome too.
PoP: You are known as a multi-instrumentalist, what instruments do you play, and which one gives you the most joy
Blake: I play guitar, mandolin, bass, keyboards, tin whistle, recorder, harmonica, bodhran, djembe, I have a set of bagpipes but need to get em cleaned up and reeds put in, and I would love a bouzouki but I guess voice is my main and can give me the most joy cause I do not need anything but myself to play it.
PoP: You are working on the 2nd Voice of the Enslaved (VotE) release, what can you tell us about this project and release
Blake: If I can get it done (all my studio computers have shit the bed) it will be anti nuclear anything cause that shit is the end of all.
PoP: What musicians will be involved in the new VotE album
Blake: Petri Lindström will be filling the bass position again, I will be doing drums, keys, and voice and I am still not sure about guitars.
PoP: How has the music landscape changed since you have become a professional musician
Blake: As far as I am concerned it has gotten tougher, not easier as some would lead you to believe. Although a musician no longer needs a label the competition and cost have increased 1000 fold.
PoP: Did MTV kill the radio star, or is it the ease that anyone can obtain music on the internet in a matter of a moment or two
Blake Answers: MTV made radio stars, without MTV nearly every band from the ’80s would have never made it the way they did
PoP: What advice would you give to the next generation of future musicians
Blake Answers: Don’t, hahaha, just kidding. Work hard play hard and know that it is gonna suck for a long time before it doesn’t suck so much
PoP: Do you have a mailing list where fans and voyeursof information can sign up too
Blake: If you go to blakecarpenter.com there is a sign-up form there for my newsletter, it will cover any project I am working on and other stuff too.
PoP: In closing I want to thank you for taking time to do this interview with us, do you have anything that you would like people to know that we did not talk about
Blake: Well, thanks for the interview, it was a pleasure. I can say I am working on a couple of other projects besides VotE. One will be a solo BLAKE thing and the other is something called Max Nova which may or may not go out as a BLAKE thing, till then….get out into the woods to listen to and smell life
Good Day Marco and thank you for doing this interview with us here at Power of Prog.
Marco: Hi, it’s a huge pleasure for me, I’m a big fan of Power of Prog!
POP: Tell us a little about your self, your musical training and what enticed you to become a musician?
Marco: I am a man full of passions, I am curious and I always like to learn new things. Music has always been inside me since I was a child. I started playing a keyboard at 6 or 7, a Christmas present from my parents. It was one of the most beautiful gifts ever received, much better than any toy! I am self-taught and it often happens that I compose songs without even knowing what I’m doing. My instinct and musical ear guide me, always. I could not live without music. It would be a very sad world.
Pop: How long have you been a professional musician, and how many albums have you released as a solo artist?
Marco: I have been a professional musician for about 25 years. But it’s about 43 years I play! I’ve released 6 albums, 6 Ep and a couple of collections and live albums.
Pop: Let’s say I asked you to describe your musical style, how would you describe it if you were a sandwich maker?
Marco: This is a funny question! Well, a sandwich with some soft ingredient, a couple crunchy and something spicy. Multigrain bread with pumpkin seeds, salad, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, a little chili, and Fried Eggplant, with avocado sauce. So, a Psychedelic/Prog sandwich!
Pop: Tell us about your latest release “Oceans of Thought“?
Marco: There is a complex story behind “Oceans of Thought“. Initially, I recorded many psychedelic songs in Barret / early Pink Floyd / Nick Drake style and the idea was to write a concept album entitled “The Merchant of Eternal Youth“. But then I had some personal problems that had a great influence on the new compositions and even the lyrics I wrote had a different taste, harder. So I changed the title, the project, and the cover. This album talks about the difficulties that life sometimes brings us, but also talks about how to try to overcome them. It’s a record that I care a lot about because it talks a lot about me.
Pop: Who are the musicians on the new album “Oceans of Thought” and what role do they play?
Marco: Great musicians have played there, from Norwegian guitaristBjørn Riis founder of the band Airbag and Marius Halleland from Wobbler. Then the great Peter Matuchniak on lead guitar and Jeff Mack and Maurizio Antonini the beating heart of this record. The precious woodwinds arrangements by Dave Newhouse and the beautiful voice of JoJo Razor and last but not the least, Charlie Cawood playing Sitar and Dulcimer.
Pop: You often bring in many musicians for your releases, how do you choose an artist to be on a particular album or song?
Marco: I always choose a musician based on the sound I want. And last but not least talent. It is a great fortune for me to have collaborated with such high-level musicians. Sometimes it happens that I let them do everything they feel they are playing. I let them be inspired by my stories and melodies.
POP: What ten albums influenced you as a person and why?
Marco: I could say 10 albums of Pink Floyd! They have matured in me the taste for melody and Psychedelia. But surely the Grateful Dead‘s Axomoxoa, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of The Beatles are very important, If I Could Only Remember My Name by David Crosby, Are You Experienced by Hendrix and Goodbye and Hello by Tim Buckley and Porcupine Tree’s The Sky Moves Sideways. What remains are Pink Floyd albums and in particular Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. They have been part of my whole life, almost every day! Maybe it’s more than ten but actually, I should have talked about at least 50!
Pop: What was the last album you listened to?
Marco: Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dream Just now!
Pop: Describe what success means to you, not as a musician, but as a person?
Marco: Success for me means being happy to do what you do, have a woman who loves you and friends who appreciate you for who you are.
Pop: How has the music landscape changed since you have become a professional musician?
Marco: It has changed especially with regards to technology. How people listen to music. Has also changed the way of recording and producing an album. Now it’s easier than it used to be, but maybe a little poetry has been lost.
Pop: Do you see value in streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube for example?
Marco: They are a good way to make yourself known a little more. The downside is that fewer albums are sold.
Pop: If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be and who would be your warm-up act?
Marco: I would like to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London and have Porcupine Tree as a warm-up!
Pop: What influences your songwriting?
Marco: A lot of things. The weather for example. I prefer to compose when it is raining or cold. And then all the things that happen to me in life. From personal relationships to everyday problems.
Pop: You are a multi-instrumentalist, what all instruments do you play and which one gives you the most joy?
Marco: I play guitars, keyboards, bass, flute, mandolin, bouzouki, and lap steel. All the instruments give me joy. It gives me the joy to play. But my favorite is an acoustic guitar. Almost all my songs start from there.
Pop: How would you describe your profession outside of music?
Marco: I am a freelance singer for commercials, I do graphic work for various companies and I also work for a company that deals with environmental conservation.
Pop: What advice would you give to the next generation of future musicians?
Marco: Be passionate and curious.
Pop: In closing I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Do you have anything that you would like people to know that we did not talk about?
Marco: Thanks to you. I really think I said it all but if you’re interested I tell you that I love having breakfast with oat milk, honey, and almond cereals and listening to soul music!
Lee Martin is a New Zealand based singer/songwriter who has been impacting the music scene with her thought-provoking lyrics and storytelling writing style. She is South African born and has previously recorded two original albums which received ample radio play and enjoyed great success with her fans from all the corners of the world. A childhood spent listening to greats such as Van Morrison, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, etc. has greatly influenced her music. Lee started her training in classical guitar at the age of 9 and has been singing and performing professionally for the past 15 years. Lee Martin is an old soul with a versatile writing style which allows her to cross genres as she glides easily between folk, rock, blues, and country, all the while maintaining her unique sound.
Lee’s storytelling writing style is what intrigues her fans and keeps them captivated. With a new EP being released through AAA Records at the beginning of May, it seemed like a great time to have a catch-up.
Who first influenced you to start performing music?
My dad has always been an incredible music lover with an extensive library of records, and later CD’s. I remember just absorbing album after album when we visited him fortnightly and studying the lyrics. If lyrics weren’t included, I would write them out by hand (not always getting it right ha ha). I used to buy a pack of blank tapes before every visit and I would fill them with all my favourite songs by the end of the weekend, and then continue to listen to it for the next couple of weeks leading up to my next visit. Favourites were Van Morrison, Dire Straits, Leonard Cohen, the list goes on…
When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar and desperately wanted to be a singer/songwriter. I told my mother of this plan and she was told nine is a good age to learn how to play guitar. This is where the longest wait of my life started! Finally, when I turned nine, my single mother, (on a teaching salary supporting two kids) took me to a pawn shop and we managed to get a $10 guitar that to our incredibly untrained ears sounded semi decent. It had the highest action and just about killed me to play. To my dismay at the time, the guitar lessons she enrolled me in was for classical guitar but after my mother took on an extra job after hours to be able to support this dream, I just sucked it up and gave it my all. My guitar teacher soon realized that I had to endure a lot of pain on the guitar I was playing, and he was quite confident about my ability and passion, so he convinced my mother to upgrade my guitar to a Yamaha after which I just took off.
Because of the classical training, I found it very easy to play chords and pretty much immediately started writing songs about love and other things I had no idea about. My mother was my biggest fan and loved listening to my new compositions (no matter how bad I’m sure they must have been, she loved it). In primary-school I forced family, friends, and neighbors to pay an entrance fee to attend my house concert and in high school Favorites, I had the odd music concert. When I went to University, we started a Uni band and traveled the country with our music. My band was called Southern Soul and we quickly recorded an album and fully immersed ourselves into this music world. The favorite broke up after a few years with life leading us in different directions, but I went solo and kept going at it.
What material have you released?
My first album was with my band Southern Soul in 2006 and was called “Package,” while my solo album as Lee Martin in 2008 was “I Know You’re Sleeping”. I guess it is similar in a sense to what I am writing now, but I feel like my music has definitely evolved and matured. I then got married and we moved to NZ in 2010. Soon after that I had a baby, followed by another, so had a bit of a break. I slowly got back into gigging and starting over in NZ where I was a complete unknown but managed to become active on the scene and I re-released some of my solo music together with some live recordings in 2016 on an album called “Late Night Sessions.”
How would you describe your style to someone who has never heard you before?
I feel like Norah Jones and Eva Cassidy are two of the artists I have been compared to. I like writing about life, and I am a big storyteller in the way I write my songs. I love observing people and making real connections in order to tell a relatable story not only about my own life but about others as well. I cross the boundaries of genres and would say all these are applicable at some point; folk, country, blues.
Who inspires you now, both locally and globally?
Van Morrison is my ultimate inspiration as he kind of breaks all the rules. He keeps bringing out new music, performing and doing what he loves. He never stops. It’s just is who he is. Also, I love the way he crosses the boundaries of genres. He’s not worried about having massive hits or impressing anyone (I know he can be a grumpy bugger), he is just doing his thing and I love it! I also love Norah jones and the fact that she just released another album.
Locally, I adore Jamie McDell, Matty Von Voin, Marlon Williams (the list goes on). NZ has so much amazing talent.
When you perform live is it just by yourself or do you have a regular band?
I like the simplicity of performing by myself and this is what I do most of the time. For bigger shows and launches I’ll perform with a band.
What are your plans for the next six months?
Promoting this EP as much as possible and touring around NZ, Australia and back in South Africa in September.