In addition to my work as an artist, I have a passion for composing my own music. In addition to recording two albums and a selection of singles and covers, I have provided backing tracks for several YouTube parodies (most notably “Redstone Active” by Phantaboulous).
I didn’t get a very good start with music at school. Though I’d always been fascinated with music and song writing, I found that music lessons at high school didn’t seem to go much further than half an hour spent messing around on a keyboard with little to no guidance about how the notes related to each other. The only advice I can recall my music teacher giving, was the occasional cryptic suggestion that my ‘compositions’ needed a few more ‘Bond chords’ (this man had an unhealthy obsession with Bond soundtracks and his classroom was plastered with posters from the spy franchise). He seemed to have no intention of teaching theory to the class.
I didn’t have serious aspirations to become a musician, but I was certainly interested in pursuing it as a hobby. What I really wanted to do was be able write and record my own high concept rock albums. In the years following secondary education, I picked up a guitar and made a few misguided efforts at recording ‘songs.’ These were unmitigated disasters, as I still had no real idea what I was doing when it came to key, chords and how to arrange anything harmonically. However, a close friend who believed I might have an undeveloped knack for writing catchy tunes, encouraged me to persevere; but insisted I had to find out about theory in order to have any chance of knowing what I was doing. Up until that point I had clung to the ridiculous notion that learning theory would be too conventional, and that as a true artist I should be able to place whatever notes I wanted together. Of course, this was just my way of kidding myself into believing I didn’t need to bother going to the effort. I eventually was able to admit how stupid such a position was, and began the task of getting to grips with theory.
As fortune would have it, living in the age of the internet, I was able to find an invaluable music theory teaching guru in the form of Walt Ribeiro. Walt’s video lessons were invaluable. They made the process of figuring out how to arrange notes vastly simpler. In the space of a few weeks I was putting together chord progressions that made sense, arranging melodies that worked within those progressions, playing with key and modulation. I took it as far as I could, reading about jazz theory, polytonality and other obscure branches of the musical tree. What I ultimately learned was that in order to really break the rules of music (or indeed any art form), you must first understand those rules, so that what you are doing doesn’t just become a complete train wreck.
Toys – 2013
Armed with this new found knowledge and understanding, I was able to achieve my goal of recording some albums. My first attempt at a conceptual song suite, Toys, was something of an apprentice effort. I was learning the process, finding my style as a producer and arranger. The songs centred on the idea of reflecting on childhood dreams, fears and nightmares that stood out in my memory. I incorporated a lot of childlike arrangements, utilising percussive chiming instruments like the Glockenspiel, Toy Pianos and various bells. The songs were fairly abstract in terms of structure, I was trying to keep things playful and inventive to further evoke a childlike quality. The most successful examples of this approach, in my view, were the cover of the folk song ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’ and ‘Big Bad Wolf,’ which adopted an almost theatrical style to musical storytelling. Over all, I learned a lot by making this first album, and I think if I was doing it again there is a lot I would change; though I’m glad to have made it and proud of the work done.
My Place in the Universe – 2014
I came up with the concept for My Place in the Universe not long after finishing up on the first album. I had been reading a lot about the boundaries of science and the philosophical questions that the gaps in human knowledge often raise, and I felt that it was a rich topic about which to write some existential songs. I consider myself to be quite a thoughtful and reflective person, as I do often sit and think about abstract ideas; things to do with the beginning of the universe, the nature of consciousness and whether or not anything awaits us beyond the physical world as we perceive it. Ultimately I realised it was an interesting angle for dealing with the theme of death (something all great art deals with in one way or another). Once I’d decided on putting all of these ideas into song, I knew I wanted to cement the album into a really strong concept piece, with a common theme and tone. I had already written the theme that ended up becoming kind of an overture to the piece (in as much as it is reprised several times in different ways and opens and closes the album) and I liked it so much that I decided to make it the centrepiece of this work. The sound I went with was a combination of classic rock orchestration, including echoing guitars and drums, alongside natural percussive sounds, juxtaposed against more spacey synthesizers.
I was fortunate enough to be able to get some guest musicians to appear on the album. These were friends I made through the SoundCloud platform. The lead guitar on “Nowhere” was provided by bEiGE and the guitar solo on “Lifestory” was provided by Purposeful Porpoise.
YouTube Music Projects
I have been involved with several YouTube music video parody projects launched by the Minecraft community. I was contacted in 2013 to provide an instrumental background track for a parody version of the Imagine Dragons song “Radioactive.” The video was being put together by a YouTube gaming channel director known as TheDragonHat, in collaboration with vocalist Phantaboulous. I quickly produced what I considered to be a very basic track, and the subsequently mixed the vocal provided by Phantaboulous. To my lasting surprise, “Redstone Active” and the video accompanying it generated a huge response (at the time of writing it has over six million views).
Subsequently, as a result of the huge success of this project. I have been contacted by and worked with several other YouTube parody projects undertaken by the Minecraft community. Although, I haven’t necessarily been as impressed by the video or vocal work that went with those other projects, I had fun with them regardless. It’s fun taking generic pop songs and rearranging them in my own style.
Continuing Journeys in Sound…
I am continuing to work on music projects in my spare time. I really enjoy the process of putting songs together, so imagine it’s something I’ll continue to do, in some capacity, for many years to come. Stay tuned!