Name: Joel Pike
Current album: A Certain Tide
Labels: Futuresequence, P*dis-Impartmaint, Fairsplit publishing
Musical Recommendations: Bing & Ruth (David Moore) The recent Tomorrow Was The Golden Age is literally the best thing I’ve heard in ages, I love the album and regard it very highly as a superb body of work.
Nonsemble (composed by Chris Perren) - Go Siegen Vs Fujisawa Kuranosuke is a really wonderful release that sounds complex and lush, it makes me think a perfect balance, sort of like Godspeedyoublackemperor meets Andrew Norman, but equally new and unique in itself.
Balmorhea - Stranger is a seriously under mentioned / praised album, it’s again a massive feat of writing and performance. The music flows like a river a fills you with a sense of life such that I can’t recall on any other album.
When did you start writing/producing music – and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I was thirteen and I bought an electric guitar, a poor stratocaster copy with a terribly high action and a cheap practise amp. I formed a band with friends at school and we made loud and often tuneless noise. The music we listened to was mostly rock-metal like Metallica and Aerosmith but grunge was also happening at that time so Blind Melon and Nirvana were much loved. Nirvana at that time was the most influential as it exposed me to a much more creative and expressive form of music. I’ve been in bands and written music since that age, almost always veering towards the more experimental side. Sufjan Stevens's Come Feel The Illinoise has probably had the biggest impact on my music writing career and has been a catalyst to my solo instrumental music amongst other influences.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In the various bands I was in, we always tried to create a new sound which drew influences from expressive music around at the time so learning from artists breaking ground was very much in parallel with music writing and performances. I also think seeing music live was something that greatly affected me - especially about a decade ago with festivals like ATP, seeing Eluvium & Cornelius, and early Sigur Rós gigs, I found that instrumental music was a really valid and unbelievably great experience live. I was already gigging a lot with a band I was in and live performances were always the aim so I began to look at my own instrumental compositions as potential live music which in turn led to more definitive song writing. Sufjan’s instrumental tracks that are littered throughout his albums, often being quite short, were also significant in inspiring early writings that eventually led to the beginning of Tiny Leaves. I feel I’ve learnt an awful lot from him and couldn’t quite believe that someone could come up with such a huge piece of work like Illinoise; it became very much a benchmark in composition for me. My voice came from years of experimenting and song writing with a variety of instruments until I began putting the same ideas to a piano. This was mostly during my lunch breaks while I was working in a school. The piano felt fresh and allowed me to convey what I wanted to through the music. This was coupled with my love for processed guitar sounds; I put them together to create my solo works under the name Tiny Leaves.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The biggest challenge in the beginning of Tiny Leaves was finding the time and energy to write new work and finish tracks. Due to the arrival of children and full-time work, I had to write late into the night and in small snippets of time like on lunch breaks, hence the early EP title In These Narrow Spaces. Almost all of A Good Land, An Excellent Land was conceived during these short lunch breaks, whilst noodling on the piano. I had quite a bit of recording experience from past involvement with bands so always knew if I could get the work finished I’d get into a studio to record the material. During this time I met James Welch who was doing some part-time music technician work at the same school. He had recently built a recording studio and that's where our partnership began.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I’m a big fan of sharing the recording and engineering processes with professional and experienced hands so I can focus more on the writing and performance of the music. I have a live-room studio in my garden with some recording facilities which is where all the initial laying down of ideas and creating tracks happens. I mostly prefer to use analogue and real instruments rather than plugins and so am geared up for that. I do use Reason a lot to put tracks together and sketch in string parts but only in the initial phase. My room has an upright piano and a reed organ which has a beautiful bass sound, amongst my guitars and pedal collection. I also use an old fender acoustasonic which has the best delay in It's SFX unit. This sound is really important and features on all my releases. It's location is crucial to the writing process as the natural environment of the garden surrounds the studio and although not always ideal, the sounds of birdsong and rain often are heard through the roof!
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
My recently acquired upright piano is a great addition to the space and is already having an impact on my writing. I’ve also been working with an EHX Cathedral pedal which is superb and will feature amongst other sounds in new works. I still love to write through jamming and improv sessions with other musicians, so working with a new violinist in who lives nearby will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the next pieces.
Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
I’m so thankful for the orchestral instrument plugins that allow me to put melodies into my work at the writing stage as I don’t use scoring to write music and don’t have formal training to rely on. I guess in this sense they are invaluable but equally I don’t want them to sound too good or ever to replace the real thing as the connection with the instrument and the life in It's sound is vital. I also am discovering that much more can happen in experimenting with the live instrument which means sometimes jamming out ideas with real musicians. Ideally, I would always use this approach. There must be many more solutions and sounds to discover, I’m looking into developing live sound more, especially from a real piano in terms of delay and other processed effects. I know this could trigger a whole treasure chest of sound capabilities. I have used some live sound software from New York composer Christopher Tignor (Western Vinyl) whose Mnemonica software is amazing and free for anyone to use. It was featured on my 2014 Reed release.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
With both A Good Land, An Excellent Land, and A Certain Tide I’ve tended to begin writing separate melodies on either piano or guitar. After I’ve got a healthy collection I begin to listen again and further develop these melodies. It is here that I often find I’ve written two melodies in the same key which differ slightly, and although written at different times, they can come together to form a bigger piece. I then get more ruthless in deciding which melodies are good enough to become part of a larger work. I tend to then go into strings and other instruments, writing using midi. Sometimes the melody has always been there say for the cello, other times it can take many attempts, deletes and rewrites before it feels right. I also like to leave space for improvisation in pieces. When the tracks are around 90% complete I tend to then get the work scored and look at how to record the pieces live and in what setting. I love to leave some room for things to happen to the tracks as they’re being recorded so they have life still in them and have an element of excitement and freshness about them.