Clutch Daisy

Listen To Your Heart

    I think a lot about music. I spend vast tracts of my day, often to the detriment of other duties, utterly absorbed in the questions surrounding music. The ‘wheres’ and the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ are all-consuming topics that usually rattle around my head for hours at a time. Preparation, environment, motivation, methods, execution – these are all vast subjects relating to the processes and rituals of music, and their interdependent, tendril-like relationships can often spin off into nebulous tangents like fractal images – and that’s one of the aspects I love about the art form. No other discipline has the capability to unite and divide a roomful of people like music does.

    Music’s reach has increased a thousandfold since the advent of the internet, and the plethora of devices with which we can now access it – smartphones, tablets, computers – are expanding its grasp and strengthening its hold over us. But I don’t want to focus here on the distraction of thinking about numbers, quantities and metrics. It’s all scaleable. One could argue that U2 are one of the biggest bands on the planet, and by that yardstick, are one of the best. But we know that pervasiveness does not necessarily equal quality, or even benefit. Smallpox, cholera, and the bubonic plague had pretty successful world tours back in the day.

    The ease of access to music, and its ubiquity comes with caveats; how does one make good choices regarding one’s interaction with music, and perhaps also a slightly darker question, how are we being directed toward making the choices that are maybe not necessarily the best, but perhaps the most profitable for the originator? Do you, like me, rely largely on your peers, contemporaries, curators and pundits? How much of your discovery is pure happenstance, or better still, conscious effort? In the creation and distribution stakes, I’m not arguing for hardline purity and authenticity one hundred percent of the time – some of the greatest pieces of music have been written for purely financial gain, and have been propagated under marketing campaigns of astonishing cost and military precision. Hearteningly, the argument for patron (in the true sense of the word) over consumer is something that is becoming better understood due to the rise of Bandcamp, Kickstarter et al. I just wonder where the divisions lie for most of us. Nobody would deign to proffer that great art and viable commerce are mutually exclusive, but the fact that these two factors are ones of frequent discussion, and often of a polarising nature, suggests the questions; Why is this one thing successful or popular? What is it that is we identify with? Where is the pleasurable element, the affecting part, the joy, that the audience member, the player, the fan, the end-user responds to?

    By way of explanation, let me share how I feel about the other facet of music; the being and the doing – the immersion.

    When I’m involved in creating a piece of music, it’s the visceral element that draws me in. The feel of something guttural in a squall of feedback, the gentle delicacy of a tremolando string section, a voice cracking as it strains for a note previously denied, a crisp kick drum compressed to force a gasp from the listener. Notice how these examples are all sensory in their nature. Regardless of how our egos like to bask in the thrall of the cerebral, I believe that when it comes to music, we are still fundamentally primal, and that the draw of the innate, the instinctual, and sensory stimulus will trump theorising nine times out of ten.

    This is not to undermine the satisfaction of an academic approach to music, and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend I’m not listening to production intricacies and drumming techniques and getting satisfaction from the fact that I can identify these things. I’m a passionate advocate for listening and digesting music in a more active manner. This can deepen our enjoyment of a piece immeasurably, without the need for dissection down to the last sixteenth note. To spend time listening to a single instrument in a song is a useful and enjoyable thing to me.

    Yet passive consumption is abundant, and I’m not judging, that’s just how it is. I’m not saying there’s no merit to it either. We use music in such varied ways; to help us focus; to motivate us; to soundtrack a journey, experience, or moment; to go to sleep. There is value in all of this, and no one person will listen to, or experience, a single piece of music the same way the next person will.

    All of this not withstanding, I’m sure some of you can precisely pinpoint a moment when your consumption of a particular piece shifted from passive to active – an absolutely crystalline recollection of where you were and what you were doing at the time. You can vividly remember when that song, that now means so much to you, grabbed your attention and buried itself in your life.

    I’m guessing that what happens in these moments is that something changes within us, and my personal take on what changes, is that it’s our perception. Which brings us back to the senses. We all know how our perceptions of things can change – sometimes subtly, sometimes markedly – and the catalyst for me always appears to be external. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I reckon epiphanies are pretty rare. The sensory world around us has far more influence than we credit it for, and affects such a large part of how things appear to us. So in terms of how we create; should this inform our practice at all? Things may not turn out better – merely different. Yet we’ve all experienced occasions when we’re truly on top of our game. The buzzword-du-jour appears to be ‘flow’, and to me, it’s synonymous with instinct. You don’t overthink, you just know, and the next step comes, and the next, and so on.

    Ultimately each one of us wants to make something great. Now, whether your motivation is egoic, altruistic, or economic, perhaps we should argue that the best results speak for themselves – and not in terms of efficiency, reach, or profitability, but by way of the responses the works elicit – and that those results originate from the heart.

    The next time you go to make, or build, or write something, pause to ask yourself some of these questions. I’d be interested to hear how things turn out for you.

Music As Myth (and other stories)

I’ve been thinking about this subject a great deal over recent weeks. The instances of my finding, or being presented with, reminders which bring this notion into focus again for me, are becoming increasingly frequent.

We live in an age where information is freely available, ubiquitous, and in many cases unverifiable. There are generations out there who will come down in the wrong section of a demographic, and who will resultantly take snippets and soundbites at face value, without further investigation. They will subscribe to huge swathes of hearsay, urban legend and memes. I’ve done it myself on occasion, and have no doubt I’ll do it again. Luckily, I have peers who keep me in check, are smarter than me, and have no problem putting me back on track should my observations go awry. It’s fortunate I don’t mind appearing foolish. I don’t know about you, but this is how I learn. In short, people care enough about me to moderate my ideas back towards the empiric and experiential, rather than the realms of gossip, conjecture and hypothesis. I liken it to having many older siblings who’re curating an exhibition, pointing out the forgeries and hacks along the way.

Now, the myth-making that has been integral to the music industry machine for so many years is neither good nor bad. It’s like drugs. Merely interesting – it depends upon your application and inclination. However, the manipulation of the audience through the never-ending faucet of PR we’re now exposed to, is another thing altogether. Most people, can immediately see through the wilful opacity that these smokescreens aspire to, but some of it does enter into legend, and yeah, a lot of it is very interesting, and some of it is just plain entertainment in itself. The social damage starts to occur when all this is deemed to be normative. When bullshit attains the status of fact, small puppies die.

See, I did it there. If the last sentence of the previous paragraph was not couched in such hyperbole, it (unbelievably) may not be apparent to all that this is not a statement based upon scientific reasoning. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, just check your nearest Yahoo! answers group, YouTube comments, or even Wikipedia. Shit’s about to get real.

Previously, I have been extremely drawn to the myth of performers and artists whom I’ve been interested in. I’ve known – separate from my attraction to this aspect of the artists’ careers – that this has been window-dressed and fed to me through a prism of spin, and despite this knowledge, several times I’ve endorsed it, and even employed this method of publicity myself.

The thing is, it’s basically just gossip. It’s no more than the front pages of so many tabloids, and often as fictional as the letter pages therein. If a construct like this is what you initially use to engage with your audience, you might be setting yourself, and your listeners/viewers/readers, up for an almighty fall. There is no benefit to subterfuge, as we so often see on a daily basis. Each day, a plethora of newstand titles deliver us another cascade of sensationalist scandal. These human beings have been groomed to such an unattainable level of greatness by their media teams, that the merest whiff of controversy must immediately be used to, at best, secure a book deal, or at worst, mine the last remaining pennies before the career-in-focus goes south.

Now, you have to ask yourself, is that a road you want to take? Do you want to expose yourself (and probably, by association, your family and friends) to that kind of potentially destructive attention? If so, carry on and sign with the Cliffords of this world, but caveat emptor.

Personally, I’ve always been very open about my shortcomings, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to neccessarily share them with the world, and it’s not that I’m embarrassed, it’s just more about context. My life, in parts, would read as sensationally as the next tabloid fodder. However, my family and friends know me for who I truly am – a flawed human being – and accept me as such, and for this I am grateful. If I’d chosen to hide aspects of my life, I’d live a poorer existence. I’ll never be in the realm of politics with a background like mine, but by the same token, I’ll never be hiding under the duvet in fear.

There is a case for artifice and the remote, aloof artist. It’s no less valid than the other side of the coin. However, the responsibility still lies with you as the originator of your story.

In amongst all these nebulous concepts, there lies a deeper and far more insidious piece of propaganda, and it is that of ‘suffering for your art’. Here’s the checklist used by the old guard music industry, unenlightened teens, and readers of Mojo of a certain age (if you fall outwith these criteria, I expect you to know better):

Substance Abuse

Broken Home

Workaholic

Mental Illness

Outsider

Now. Is that not a fucking great list of topics for your average creative-type PR bod? Yes. Yes it is indeed. Is any of it helpful to either the reader/listener/viewer, or even the subject? Not at all. All it does is perpetuate the self-delusional, industry-dependent swaddling of anyone who might have something creative to offer. If, as someone engaged in art of any type, you subscribe to half of this list as being pre-requisite for talent, then your halfway to a ditch in the middle of nowhere. This does nothing for art.

And of course, there are other, more veiled, euphemistic terms for this destructive pattern of language. One in particular that riles is ‘dedication’. Lauded and held aloft as a standard for all to behold, this is not punted as being merely ‘applied’, or ‘driven-to-excel’, this type of dedication appears to mean you will give up your job, your home, your family, for the sake of art. And if you don’t, then you don’t mean it maaaaaan…

Please, whatever you do, do not approach me in person with this viewpoint. Our conversation will be brief.

Where’s Your Head At?


Usually I’m far more concerned with the actual process of ‘doing’ than the reasons behind engaging in anything remotely creative, but recently, I’ve found myself asking “why?” with increasing frequency.

I’m far from short of ideas, to my detriment I feel, as being overwhelmed by the possible tangents has been a daily occurrence lately. I’ve always looked at forthcoming situations as opportunities to invent a new artistic perspective, and subsequently, usually a new project – but the trouble with this approach I’m finding, is that I now have a million and one things buzzing around my head, and the resulting confusion often results in inertia, which is then compounded by a relatively new, niggling resistance to getting it ‘wrong’. Several tentative first-steps, that despite however clear I envision the aim, remain incomplete.

I keep forgetting that, really, there is no wrong. In fact, I’m aware and (usually) relatively comfortable with the actuality that I get things wrong, or not quite up to scratch, more often than I’m satisfied with what I do. It’s worthwhile for me to remember that this is part of my process of progress. I have to work hard to get things right. Sometimes you have to work through and discard twenty shite ideas to get one half-decent skeleton of something to be expanded on. Drafts, prototypes, theories, whatever you want to call them – it’s groundwork for solid structures later.

Yet this nascent notion of “why?” is starting to creep into each aspect of approach to any given project. I’m unsure whether it’s insidious, or just omnipresent, and that I’ve just been oblivious to it up until now.

I’ve never sought reason or justification to start work before. It’s what I enjoy, and helps me make sense of so much. I’m not looking for things to be permissible or sanctioned,  it’s more that the self-examination (navel-gazing?) has become so prevalent that it’s becoming more obstacle than tool.

Maybe it’s just a case of “pull your finger out”…

Have you ever experienced this? Perhaps it’s synonymous with working alone…?

Keeping It Peel

So six years appear to have flown past since I first felt genuinely sad at the death of someone I’d only ever briefly met. Certainly one of the few times I’m ever likely to mourn a ‘celebrity’ (at least in the truest etymological sense of that oft-used word).

To associate such profound feelings with someone who played some records, seemed anathema to my usual arms-length assessment of the media and its related industries, but there I was on a bus, in Birmingham, having just received a text telling me of the news, and feeling as though this was, a significant passing.

As a teenager, I joined those who had a pair of headphones inside their pillowcase, trying to stay awake to hear something foreign to our ears – something that would pique my interest and send me spiralling off down the fractal rabbit-hole that was Peel’s show on any given evening.

I remember being at a film-screening in Birmingham, and John Peel walking past me, then sitting down in the chair next to me! He proceeded to spill some wine on me, and then apologised profusely, whilst I looked for some kind of message in the spreading, Rorschach shape emerging on the thigh of my jeans.

Roughly eleven months later, I was sitting in the workplace of our cellist/keyboard player, Alan, making good (albeit illicit) use of their stationery, internet and inkjet printer, when we just about shat, as those avuncular tones announced the name of our band, and then the song title.

John Peel was playing our song.

When it finished, he said something like, ‘Well, I don’t know much about them, but that was jolly good…”

Thanks John. It was basically 101 seconds of noise-pop nonsense, but you gave us decades of enjoyment. Your searching, unbiased choices, were inspirational and illuminating in equal measure – shining a pithy spotlight on far-flung reaches of the musical world which would have otherwise remained, at least to these ears, undiscovered.

I suspect many of you out there feel the same.

Keep it Peel…

Back In Bangalore 2006

I saw this with my own eyes in Bangalore

Back To The Seventies

Craig and I discuss The Beach Boys by era - photo by Dubber

Last night was like some freakish timewarp, with added retro tech.

Been sorting out a few websites throughout the day, with the guidance and reassurance of my friends, Dubber and Craig. Great that I know such helpful patient people. After having sorted through my geek issues, Dubber kindly offered me a spare ticket he had for Marlena Shaw at The Hare and Hounds (my local – how convenient).

So we went along and were treated to a mind-boggling aural fondue. Like having your mind rubbed with velour that’s gone crispy. So we left after about four tunes. Shame, I was really looking forward to it.

Anyways, Dubber and I headed back to Craig’s house, knowing that he’d still be up, as his partner Val, and their son Mac, were up in Glasgow. Grabbed a bottle of whisky, and began knocking at his door, setting off the dog alarm.

Craig and Dubber sat and messed around with their iPhones, whilst I looked on, enviously coveting them, throwing the occasional hateful glance at my useless handset. I hate my phone. Craig showed Dubber the Hipstamatic app, and the night became even more seventies oriented.

I then decided it would be a good idea to do a wee parlour trick on Craig. He was definiteley freaked out by my Zoltar mind-reading act. Can’t tell you how I do it, but I did explain to him after a while, just so he’d sleep…

Dubber headed home, then Craig and I got the guitars out, had a couple more drams, and wrote a little tune for our sons. Awwww. Pretty fantastic day all round really.

More like that please.

‘Burn Your Acoustic’…

…those are the words on the roof tiles above my head in a picture my friend, Colin Heggie, took when (x) is greater than (y) were on tour back in 2003. Recently, this radical action may have been appropriate, regarding the problems which arose during the recording of the acoustic guitars for ‘Drawing Flames In The Margin’. Matt Horobin, another mate, and the guy whose talents are being heavily drawn upon in order to bring this lumbering beast of an album out of the shadows and into the light in something resembling palatable form, rightly stated that those guitars could be recorded again.

That previous paragraph may sound like I don’t have faith in this album, or that I think it’s shoddy… It’s not that – it’s more the frustration, as it’s taking an eternity to realise. 21 tunes recorded. 14 selected for the album. Strings, brass, vocals, and we’re all done, bar the shouting…

I’m actually really excited about the whole thing, as this album’s elephantine pregnancy appears to be reaching an end now. As a musician in a band, you’re constantly supposed to be on the cusp of greatness 24/7. In my experience, and from what I know of my peers, life’s not like that. The good shit takes a heck of a long time for some of us. So in expressing frustration, all I feel I’m doing is injecting a bit of reality into a long and passionate process. I’ve grown bored of the constant justification of some regarding what they’re days are filled with. Mine are full of various activities – some are extraordinary and some are mundane. I have not grown bored with the process of making music. If anything, as I’ve become older, I feel better equipped to make creative decisions, to take inspiration from the unusual, and to just enjoy the practice of playing and interacting with other people whom I respect, all the while learning, and all of us doing the thing we love.

Looking forward to sharing some tunes with you sooner rather than later…

Meantime, here’s some video of our friend Matt in the studio, making multiple passes of the end section of a new song, ‘Drawing Flames In The Margins’ :

RIP Alex Chilton

Just a great song… The lyric is gorgeous.

RIP Mark Linkous