Part 1

Name: Rick Startin (of The Wood Demons)

Nationality: British

Occupation: system tester at PRS for Music / musician

Current Release: 'Angels of Peckham Rye'
Recommendations: Lullaby for Clarinet and Strings by Kol Simcha / She Did Not Turn by David Inshaw

The Wood Demons have bandcamp and Facebook pages, where you keep up to date with their music and events.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

At the age of about 16, inspired the rock music of the early 70s, my influences started with Deep Purple but soon expanded to cover a wide range of heavy, psychedelic and progressive rock, electronic music and late Romantic classical music. At that point, I realised that music could be more than the pretty tunes that my parents had always listened to, and could be visceral, powerful and expressive as well – and I wanted to participate in that. I feel that I am now approaching the pinnacle of that with the band The Wood Demons.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

That was certainly the case with me, and I’m not sure that there actually are distinct phases to it: we all carry our influences around with us at all times and what we produce reflects that unless we make a very conscious decision to do something completely different. The relationship between copying, learning and creativity is a highly complex one that evolves and varies with time, and even now I find myself producing music that I realise is hugely derivate and therefore have to abandon.

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

When I was young I didn’t have any compositional challenges: I just did whatever I wanted to and thought it was all wonderful (with hindsight, it wasn’t). Over time I have found myself exercising more and more quality control with the result that I produce very little these days, as the challenge that I set myself is to come up with patterns, melodies and chord sequences that haven’t been done thousands of times before. As far as production challenges go, they have changed hugely, from having limited resources which stretched my creativity at the start to having far too many options to choose from now.

What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

It’s only recently that I’ve had anything that could be called a studio, although I’ve been making home recordings ever since I began playing. I started with very limited sound-on-sound overdubbing with two cassette recorders, moved onto doing the same with reel-to-reel tape recorders and then progressed through 4-track cassette machines and 8-track digital recorders to my current DAW setup. My most important pieces of gear are the Tele Plus and PRS Custom guitars, the Novation Ultranova synthesiser, the Nord Stage 3 keyboard, the Yamaha QY70 sequencer and last, but not least, the Manikin Mellotron emulator.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

I make use of technology in a fairly hit-and-miss way, hooking various things up through MIDI to see if I can find something interesting. Machines can be great at producing something unexpected and of course they’re ideal when absolute precision of timing and rhythm is required, but they can never come up with the subtle variations and emotional expression that human beings involuntarily produce.

Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

It varies enormously. Some compositions can be completely guitar-driven, while others can be the result of programming synthesisers, tweaking parameters and then seeing what happens. The straightforward and virtually limitless multitracking facilities of my current DAW setup also make it easy to improvise multiple parts and then pick up on any particularly pleasant patterns and intervals when playing them back.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?

File sharing is pretty much the only option available at the moment and there’s a lot to be said for it: there’s no necessity for explanations, material can be listened to over and over again and there’s a concrete record of what’s been done. Having said that, there’s nothing to beat inspired collective improvisation and we all miss that terribly.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I don’t really have a fixed schedule; especially as full band rehearsals are not currently possible. Before February 2020, The Wood Demons
used to meet about once a week, but I also practised with one or two other bands and played frequent gigs with The Rejects. I would say that my schedule might be better defined around the rehearsals and gigs that I played interspersed with time spent away from music while I do my weekday office job. Outside the job, my mind is always returning to music and the exciting projects I collaborate on.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?

In the case of Indian Summer (off our first album), it came from wanting to write a hypnotic and powerful psychedelic rock song. It started with creating a background drone and then playing around with ideas on guitar over a repetitive bass and drums pattern – the guitar part gradually coalesced into the tapping motif that opens the piece, and then the title, melody and chorus all came to me at about the same time. From there on it was easy to add lyrics and finish off the arrangement. I’m not usually so lucky.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

I wish that I was in a creative state of mind all the time but unfortunately that’s not the case. The modern world is full of distractions from electronic communications and social media, and I generally have all sorts of unwanted thoughts whirling round my brain. I normally find it necessary to set aside some time where I will just set up my gear, concentrate on creating music and ignore everything else. That’s not to say that ideas don’t occasionally come to me unbidden but they’re too easily lost again unless I’m able to record them immediately.

How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?

Unless I’m writing in an ambient/chillout vein, most of my music is very much written with live performance in mind and therefore a certain amount of space is left for either individual or collective improvisation. There are no hard and fast rules about this, however, and the ratio of composed to improvised music depends on the needs of the piece.

How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?

The two are very much tied together in what I do, particularly in the case of electronic composition where the sounds themselves can frequently point the way to the melody or harmony that works best with them.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?

The most common overlap with hearing is with sight, and we all know the ability of music to colour the mood of a piece of visual art that is otherwise neutral, although we need to already have an idea of what sounds (for example) “sinister” or “tranquil” in our own memory banks for that to work. There’s a lot of mystery about how these things combine, and one question I often ponder is this: what do people see when they hear music?

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

It may sound trite, but my principal motive for making music is to make this confusing, ugly and frequently terrifying world a slightly better place to be in for the person listening to it. That might be through creating beautiful sounds and images that can be enjoyed at home, or it might be through the joyful interaction of performers and audience at a live event – although unfortunately that sort of experience is impossible in current circumstances.

It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?

I think that’s impossible to tell, but music will always be around while we can hear.