This month I thought I’d try to put down in words quite why making traditional music has been such a headache for me over the years.
In fact, it occurred to me today that I have written an extraordinarily small number of songs in the last 10 years, and a large part of that has been that so much of my songwriting energy has been taken up in trying to record and perform English traditional music in a way which, to me, doesn’t sound shit. It has taken up so much time in trial and error. Mainly error. And I feel I’m only really starting to make progress on this.
First, let’s just quickly get the whole folk vs traditional thing out of the way. (more…)
“Well, they sparkle now, okay?”
Things that I want to write Eulogize This articles on tend to fall into a number of categories. There’s ‘things that I think readers might not be aware of. There’s also ‘things that readers are probably familiar with, but here is hopefully a new perspective on why they are so great’. And then there’s perhaps my favourite: ‘things that I think are masterpieces, but that have attracted so much hate that there is a social pressure to casually trash them’. And here comes another in the latter category. (more…)
‘Big Time Sensuality’
1993 was a good year for innovative and influential popular music. The relatively new innovation of CDs was just starting to do wonders for the music business as a whole. Not only did the new digital sound quality attract new listeners, it also persuaded music fans with vinyl records to buy their favourite albums all over again. This influx of cash meant that record companies could afford to take more risks, and albums started appearing that almost certainly wouldn’t have got record company backing a decade earlier: Pablo Honey by Radiohead and Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins, Doggystyle by Snoop Dogg and Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by the Wu-Tang Clan, Rid of Me by PJ Harvey and Modern Life Is Rubbish by Blur, to name but a handful. And on the indie label front, the previous year had seen the release of Artificial Intelligence, a compilation of artists on Sheffield’s WARP Records who would define the cutting edge of Rave-influenced electronic music for the next decade.
Even so, when Björk’s album Debut appeared, it sounded like it came from another planet. Debut, and its ‘sequel’ Post (as in ‘before’ and ‘after’) changed the cultural landscape in terms of how experimental you could be whilst still being mainstream-successful. Every single released from both albums made the Top 40 of the UK singles chart (several made the top 10) and yet the melodies and arrangements were arguably more sophisticated and left-field than anything the cutting edge artists were producing. Before long, remixes of her tracks were circulating from the most respected electronic artists: Black Dog, Underworld, Sabres of Paradise, Graham Massey, RZA, Mark Bell, Talvin Singh, Plaid, μ-Ziq. Even Thom York has cited Björk as a major influence on the Radiohead’s ‘greatest album of all time’. (more…)
This question has come up in a few separate conversations recently. And I find it interesting in that it reveals a number of camps of belief. There are those who believe that all musicians should always be paid, and to ask them to do otherwise is a serious insult. “I don’t ask you if you’d come round and do your professional job for free, or for ‘the exposure’, or for maybe a free drink…” There are the equally passionate camp who believe that all music should be for free. And anyone who charges for it is an artistically bankrupt sellout who is no better than one of the major record labels.
I also find it interesting, because when I was at school I had it drilled into me by my guitar teacher that no musician ever really makes money out of music. You’ll get ripped off by the industry, or just waste your time for pennies. We had a joke: “What’s the difference between a professional guitarist and a 12 inch deep-pan pizza? Answer: the deep-pan pizza can feed a family of four.” So I resigned myself to music just being a hobby. Then it occurred to me that it might be a part-time income. And now I’m really taking the idea seriously that it might be a full-time income.
But I still do work for free, provided it is (a) fun and (b) not a huge drain on my time. It can be a good way to meet new people, try new things, and I feel there’s no pressure because, hey, you’re not paying me! Music is like any other job: it has its quirks, and it’s less easy to rigidly compartmentalise as you might think. A mechanic, for example, might well fix a friend’s car for free, because that car is an original Shelby AC Cobra, and it is a pleasure just to touch it. But they’re not going to help you out with your Ford Fiesta. (more…)
“This is the real me, ladies…”: Midnite Vultures by Beck
Do you ever get that thing, when you’re scrolling through your music library and choosing what to listen to next, and you happen upon an album that you used to love, and you think: “Oh, I forgot this even existed! And now… I know I’m going to hate it.” That was my experience a few days ago when, tidying my office, I was looking for something upbeat and energetic that I hadn’t listened to a million times recently, and I happened upon the 1999 album Midnite Vultures by Beck.
Obviously, I didn’t hate it, or I wouldn’t be writing about it for a website called Eulogize This. But what I loved about it was absolutely not what I was expecting. Not least because this time I was really, really expecting to hate it. But let me backtrack a little. (more…)
Warnings To The Curious
Legend has it that Montague Rhodes James—late Victorian medievalist scholar, provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and perhaps England’s most acclaimed writer of ghost stories—hated all forms of modernity. He considered James Joyce a “prostitutor of life and language”, and voted against women being allowed to receive degrees at Cambridge. I have no doubt that a good part of the legend is true, although I think it’s easy to get the man wrong. Or at least, it’s easy to paint him into the satisfyingly prudish and fearful Victorian that makes us all feel sexy and adventurous by comparison.
Firstly, I think his stories are frequently funny and self-aware. He can be happily rude about golf, and university life (particularly the habits of those at ‘another university’). And most of the victims of his ghost stories—dusty late-career academics and bachelors obsessed with all things historical—seem to be thinly-veiled self-parodies. (more…)