Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I like to have a piano or keyboard near me, so I can just grab time on it when inspiration hits. I don’t have a set time to compose, in that I get up in the morning and by a certain time I am writing.
So in my living room I have a keyboard that I have designed a grand piano sound on which I go to most days and just improvise, making sure each song is a development in someway to what I have done before. I hone in whilst playing on certain subjects or feelings that lay deep within me that I have not explored before and have a conversation with the keys. Sometimes if my life has been going really great or really bad in the previous days something will happen on the keys where my music goes to another level than on some days when I am just tinkering around and I feel it’s not at a place to record. I often get my phone out and record demos and write concept notes, to refer back to later.
When I do a live show, I like to drop 1 or 2 of these sketches in each time, and then evolve it gradually show-to-show so it starts to work in the live context. At some point I will set aside a larger period of time where I will head to my garden studio (for my first album it was just the end of my bed!) to set up microphones and record a take on a real piano.
I am a bit of a perfectionist at recording level, which is a blessing and a curse, so that stage can take a long time. I often record each song with multiple microphone set ups then go on long walks in the countryside and see which take I am connecting to the most. No song I compose can sound the same as anything previous which is doubly hard when mainly playing one instrument. But up until now inspiration has always taken me to a new place and something that feels like me and no one else, for better or worse.
The rest of my days I like to spend a lot of time helping other artists, through general promotion and my radio show, it’s big part of how I deal with being a public musician under my own name. It’s very healthy for me to step outside my own artistic brain to help others and go with full force when I myself create.
I think ego and thinking you are the best is very dangerous if switched on too much and can make you complacent as an artist so I like to try and destroy mine so I am hungry when I compose. I like to have breaks offline, just sit in my garden and listen to everything I can hear, and sometimes count how many things that may be. It’s amazing those things you can just make out in the distance if you concentrate. I also like watching football to relax, there is something about it in it’s most idealised form which is not too dissimilar to music, specifically instrumental music. Both are played all across the world, and generally be considered some sort of universal language with the potential to bring the world together through its messaging and promote equality.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I would say solitary. I was feeling pretty lonely in this world for a a year or two in my 30’s after an amazing time in my 20s and the piano was the vehicle on my route to re-enter the world and to create meaningful connection with people.
This second album tackles many of those themes now I have perspective. I am keen to collaborate more, but doing this piano album was something I basically had no choice to do, on this Bosendorfer piano I had come across. I had to put my autobiography out in instrumental piano form as my debut album was about news stories around the world and not my story.
I am a really social person though much of the time and I am 100% keen to do more collaboration, and to perform live with people in particular. I have performed with the spoken word poet Roger Robinson and composed for string quartets and given my music out to be reworked, but there is so much more I want to do.
I want to unlearn everything I have learned, I want to almost ban myself from playing the piano for a while something my life has been dedicated too and explore new sonic worlds and meet interesting people!
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Music is a profound thing that I think transcends most of our systems of thought and law and that is the magic of it. I love that it’s universal, and people from any country can understand it, especially if it’s instrumental. I have to think that bit deeper on how to convey the message on instrumental music, as alot of people I suspect expect words on the music they hear, at least the casual music fan.
I think music is a bit of utopian escape pod from this world where often the selfish actions of some humans have made it a sad place to be. It can teach society alot about how to act in peaceful ways and give us moments of joy and relief, which are imperative for good mental health.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
As I have hinted at, I pretty much lost most things important to me that I had built up in my life at one point in my 30s. So my art is about the nostalgia for having stuff but also the excitement of finding stuff again, hopefully helping anyone else you might find themselves in that situation, although it’s not exclusively for those people of course! Whilst I love a banger as much as the next person, I would always be equally drawn to a deeper track on an album.
So for example when I heard the track "Broken Heart" by Spiritualised as a teenager it was perhaps the rawest track I had heard on losing love, at a point I had not experienced love myself yet, let alone losing it.
But being a wide listener of music I think can teach you empathy for others going through things, even if you are not, if you are prepared to really listen. It’s almost as if absorbing all these songs and messages gives you a sonic tool kit to deal with things should those things arise in the future.
Music is an echo to how we are feeling, it can help you whatever mood you are in and it’s useful to have different styles on hand for different situations and there are no rules as to what music connects to one person's heart over another.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I think it’s fascinating and has a place and I love to listen to and watch stuff in this area but I can only be me and I will always go towards gut raw emotion over anything too studied.
For example, let’s talk about Artificial Intelligence. AI is going to have many useful roles in society, such as in medicine and teaching students by actually virtually going inside a body or bringing isolated people together that otherwise could not meet. But as the world gets more robotic, it’s warming to think those still ploughing the human soul will, if anything, see their art become more potent. I would like to think that the balance of AI in music doesn’t swing too far away from human performance.
Let’s imagine a world 1000 years from now, where all performances have become robotic and not triggered by humans in anyway, then someone comes along on a long forgotten acoustic instrument from a bygone era and really connects with the souls in that room. I feel it would be very powerful, so this is why I am sometimes sceptical of a functional approach in music and a reliance on machines.
I think science can be a bit too clinical and fact based maybe, where music feels more of a burst of emotion. Both are very important, but for me science is a useful muse as a general theme but not something to totally dictate a direction. However, there are no rules in music, people should make what they want, and that may be very scientific. If there is an audience really vibing on that, then brilliant.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I’m not sure there is a difference. If you are passionate about something and it connects to someone who is also passionate about that thing then in that respect it is no different to music. It’s the same process of tweaking ingredients and presenting something so it’s as unique and lovingly made.
Music for me is a safe space where you can explore joy, melancholy, risk, memory and many more emotions and subjects that people understand. It feels limitless and one of the first creative things humans did. Imagination and creativity can be seen in many things beyond music, I am sure some people see furniture as mundane, but for some it might be the ultimate form of expression. And it certainly inspired Satie too!
There is something about music, though, that really connects to the rhythm of our soul, and the soul’s connection to the universe that I am not sure is there with other ‘mundane things’.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how its able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
My Grandad used to take apart pianos and manipulate the strings and have a system of recording these vibrations and frequencies from the piano strings. We would spend many a weekend, when I was about 11 where I would have a pen and notepad and he would be using a machine to record data and I would write it down. He would then have his piano set up so it sounded quite unique and not in the usual Western style of tuning.
I found it fascinating as an area of study, but when I played it, I didn’t like it. These vibrations in the air didn’t sound right to me, I was used to a Western way of tuning the piano. But it taught me that these sonics we hear from an early age can get lodged into to us and we don’t want change. What might be connecting deeply to us and feel “right” might be wrong for someone else with a different upbringing in another part of the world.
As to why music connecting with potentially deep messages in the first place. I am not too sure. I am not a scientist, but I do think the Earth has many frequencies and magnetic forces transmitting from it, and humans are not in touch with the earth and these things as innately as many animals are, or at least not to our knowledge. Perhaps deep down our souls really are in conversation with the Earth and the forces of the universe and music is just the conduit in focus of most people making something apparent through frequencies that we are feeling that way without us really understanding.
At this point I could read lots of studies on the Internet or in a book about this question and appear more intelligent in this answer but I wont, the above is my instant raw reaction to your question! At the end of the day I just want to play and listen to music, because of it’s obvious positive power and not overthink it and just trust in its depth.