Neil Dowd got on the phone with an exciting new artist who we couldn’t wait to share– check him out in our cover editorial in Issue 40!
So you’re currently in Stuttgart, Germany. Are you there to play shows?
Oh no, I live here. This is where I grew up, this is where I’ve always lived. I did play ashow last night though.
How did that go?
Insanely good. The stage was a revolving stage, it was insane! Whenever I opened my eyes, I was somewhere else. It was like I was drunk but without being drunk [laughs]. It was really cool, there was like 200-250 people. It was a lot of fun
Was that a one-off show or part of a tour?
Yeah, just a one-off. This local pop bureau promotor approached us and invited us toplay this ‘Sound of Stuttgart Festival’ which is like a week-long festival. So yeah, it was a big honour that they asked me.
Talk to us about your music. How would you define your sound to anyone who hasn’t heard your music?
I used to say like ‘The Cure’ but a little less sad but that’s shifted a lot. Now I’d say it’s like pop with indie and ‘bedroom pop’. Hmmm, I’m struggling to find the right term [laughs].
I’ve heard quite a few people use the term ‘dream pop’ to describe your music. I hadn’t actually heard the term until I came across your sound. How would you describe the genre to anyone that doesn’t know about it?
I’m really confused by the term ‘dream pop’ at the minute. The first time I heard the term, it was about Troye Sivan who for me is just synthy pop. The second time it wasfor a band called ‘Slow Dive’ which is like a completely different thing. I’m thinking that I’m kind of in between those two artists. If I think about it, I guess ‘dream pop’ is kind of fitting in that sense.
What would you say the musical characteristics are for ‘dream pop’?
Usually something ambient or droning in the background and generally more ‘beachy’/’summery’ vibes. Kind of like there’s a constant breeze going on. I still don’t think I fully understand what ‘dream pop’ is. But whenever I hear something that is dream pop, I know it.
At what time did you realise that you wanted to do music? How have you developed musically since then?
Well, I first wanted to do music in school when I really understood what music was and that bands do things that aren’t the normal jobby thing. I come from a tiny town so all I’ve ever known and all I’ve ever been taught in school is that the classic jobs are all there is. So then my dad started showing me DVDs about bands and I started reading books and biographies about artists and then I realised that it was a viable path.
I guess I wanted to be an artist/ musician as it was the ‘different’ thing to do, it seemed really cool to me. It scared me for a while. I thought ‘maybe I’ll do something normal instead’. Then I listened to a band called ‘Daywave’ and for some reason I just thought his music was so so cool and he was one person and he released all of his music by himself. He was completely DIY and that was the first time I came into contact with dream pop and the whole ‘DIY’ element of being an artist. So I thought I’d try to write something that sounded like him, that was my initial intention and I ended up writing ‘Half Asleep’ which was the first song I uploaded to Spotify.
That was the point where I realised that this sound worked for me, I was really proud of it, so I kept writing songs and I haven’t stopped since. I sometimes send like three songs a day to my manager because I just can’t stop writing.
So would you say you’re a ‘bulk songwriter’?
Yes, definitely. I have a 1TB hard-drive which is just filled with logic files. I never thought I’d use 5% of it [laughs]. But yeah, even if you write a few bad songs, you may like the bass riff or the way you produced the sound of the snare, something tiny, which you can then apply to the next song.
You mentioned before about the DIY work ethic of other dream pop artists like ‘Daywave’, do you work in the same way?
Yes, I write, I record, I produce, I mix and I master.
Why would you say that this approach works best for you as an artist?
I think it’s because I enjoy every step of the process. Like I enjoy writing, I enjoy recording, I enjoy mixing, I enjoy taking pictures for the cover artwork and finding the right fonts and arranging them to make it look nice and figuring out how to release a song. I ike building a tiny world around my tracks and I feel like being heavily involved with each step of the process is part of it for me. It’s not like I’m against working with other producers, like I kind of wish I could a lot of the time. That’s mainly because I’m in this small town and I’m pretty much the only musician here [laughs]. But for now, it really works for me to do everything myself.
Financially, it makes a lot of sense as well. Recording can be very expensive.
Yeah, 100%, and I’m really happy that I can. Well I’m gonna say I can, it’s not really for me to judge if it sounds any good.
I remember hearing that you travel between Germany and London every two weeks?
Yeah, two weeks would be like the average. Sometimes it’s longer or shorter, it’s not like a fixed schedule. But yeah, I try to have the best of both worlds because I have all my music stuff here (Stuttgart) and my family and my friends and then all of the exciting music/ networking opportunities in London.
Would you say that’s the thing that always draws you back to London?
I mean that’s part of it. I started coming here through my manager and started to grow like a friend base in the UK, so I’m always looking forward to seeing him and allthose familiar places and going to shows with friends. I’ve actually started running into people on the street, which is crazy. London can really small sometimes. I think it’s a combination of things that draws me back to London. There’s just this artist spirit there, there’s so much artistry going on and there’s this big lack of that where I’m from, so it’s a good change of pace.
Is there anything that you absolutely cannot travel without?
The hard-drive with my Logic files. Because it also has my Logic sound library and I cannot use Logic without it which would mean I can’t write songs and I can’t live like that [laughs]. I should probably make back ups of it.
That’s interesting, I can imagine most people probably would’ve said their phone!
I guess that’s fair enough. I mean I’d be more okay with not having my phone with me than my hard-drive to be fully honest. I’m not usually hyper productive but when it comes to music I just can’t stop working. I mean it’s not even like work for me
One of the first things that stood out to me when seeing you perform live was your incredibly personal and visceral lyrics. Could you talk to us about some of the themes you discuss through your lyrical content?
Oh, that’s a good question. I usually just write whatever comes to my mind in that moment, which is usually that nothing is my mind or that my mind isn’t working properly and just kind of having that blankness constantly. I never take a piece of paper and a pen and think ‘I’m going to write a song now’, it always starts with the instrumental or a chord progression. I’ll loop it and just set up my microphone and improvise melodies and lyrics and the instrumental will tell me what it’s about. It kind of reveals what I’m thinking or feeling that day, which normally becomes the topic of the lyrics, which is normally the general feeling of feeling nothing at all and having to do this kind of thing to know what’s going on in my head.
I really like the idea that recording vocals helps you process how you’re feeling that day, I feel like my writing style is the polar opposite.
Yeah, it happens all of the time. It’s kind of confusing but interesting to me. I would really recommend any writers to try it. You just set the song on loop and just press ‘record’ and sing over it. The first seven repeats are normally just nothingness. But then you start to remember tiny phrases and melodies you did in previous takes and your head starts to piece them together into an actual song. By that point, you’ve hadthe song on repeat so many times that you stop losing track of what’s going on and you just build the track up
Do you think that your writing process has helped you to come to terms with that feeling of nothingness?
Yes, absolutely. I normally have to force focus onto any activities I’m doing and in themoments that I’m writing I can sort of accept that I can’t focus. It’s nice that it can aid me in writing songs. I can save a project after just finishing it and I won’t remember that song until I accidentally stumble upon the voice message I sent my manager. I guess it’s like a hidden positive that it helps me to do the thing that I like.
Whilst reading through the lyrics, one that resonated with me in particular was “I’m sorry mum, I know you’re scared, I promise I’ll be fine” from your track ‘Runway’. One thing that I find really impressive about your songwriting is that the songs themselves clearly come from a personal place but still remain universally relatable. Was this your intention whilst writing these tracks?
I hope this doesn’t sound mean to anyone listening but I never think about the listener whilst writing. Sometimes I try to, but those tend to be the songs I don’t really like because they have some kind of bias to them and they’re not completely personal. I like the tracks that are a reflection of my insides. I’ve always wondered if people had that kind of connection to my lyrics.
We’ve kind of touched upon the topic already but your 2018 single ‘Honey, Let’s Just Drive’ touches upon the topic of your depersonalisation disorder.
That’s one thing. There’s depersonalition where you don’t recognise your limbs or yourself in the mirror as yourself. Then there’s derealisation which is when you don’t recognise the world around you as the world around you. That’s two things I always get confused.
Oh, I didn’t know that. I had only heard about depersonalisation through a YouTuber that I watch whom also has the disorder, thank you for the clarification.
That’s okay, usually depersonalisation is the word that’s used to describe both because the two normally come hand in hand. But yeah, derealisation is kind of like feeling really distant from the world around you, like you’re watching through a TV screen to quote one of my songs [laughs].
Why did you feel it was important for you to address the topic of mental health in your music?
I think you were talking about Dodie when you mentioned the Youtuber? But yeah, for me when she started talking about this and I knew she had it too. It was the moment I realised ‘I am not alone in this’. Before I knew this thing even existed and other people had it, I was worrying like ‘Am I going to die?’ or ‘Is this just how everyone feels and I can’t handle it like other people?’ but then I noticed that other people had it, like a few friends of mine also have it and started talking to me about itonce I started speaking about it. That was really helpful for me to know that there areother people that suffer from the same thing and that I can talk to people about. Using music as an outlet to talk about it in a way that sounds nice, uplifting and pretty just helps to talk about it in a way that isn’t dark, sad or self loathing.
Definitely, I think anything that enables people to open up and start talking about how they’re feeling is always a step in the right direction as it helps them to understand how they’re feeling. Have you got any advice regarding self-care or any activities that have been beneficial for your mental well-being?
I think self-care is one thing I’m really bad at. I think I just overpower my illness with working way too much, which is something I would never suggest. That is probably the opposite of my advice. .One thing that really helped was telling my parents and friends so that they know what’s going on, so that I don’t constantly have to pretend that everything’s fine. It’s really helped them to understand when I’m being quiet or like ‘spacey’ or not replying to people.That was one thing that was always an issue, it’s really hard for me to keep a conversation going over text. When I’m having a texting conversation, my mind just tends to shut off. Once people know that, they understand it’s not personal or because I don’t want to talk to them. I think people are more understanding than you think they’ll be when you talk to them.
It must help to create that mutual understanding between you and your loved ones.
Yeah definitely, it’s great because then when I do meet them in person, it’s so much more fun to talk to them.
Along with your tracks regarding mental health, tracks such as ‘If We Stay’ also touch upon your sexual orientation. Could you talk to us about what that track is about?
Well I come from a tiny tiny town with about 400 people living there and I kind of always knew that I had a thing for boys and girls. I didn’t understand at a young age that it wasn’t normal for the people around me, especially in that town. So my first best friend was like my first crush but I never knew if I could do anything about it for a number of different reasons. He could out me to the town and change my entire world.
So this song is sort of about that one specific thought in my head like ‘can I do something about it’ and I ended up never doing anything about it because I was too afraid and how that shouldn’t be the case. If you like someone, you should be able totell them without worrying that someone around you may have a problem with it or that you may not be a part of the community you’re a part of. Like I was 11, you should be able to have your ‘first loves’ at that age, no-one should have to worry about that. There should be no fear involved.
I really hope that for future generations, it can get to a point where these non-heteronormative relationships are just as normalised.
Yeah definitely, it’s just really annoying that some people are stuck in the past. I mean I heard a rumour that there is a tiny village around my area that didn’t have electricity until twenty years ago. They’re sort of playing catch up.
Looking through your instagram and other social media, it’s clear you have a very strongly established image/aesthetic. Would you mind talking us through your image?
I don’t really think I have a set ‘image’. I just produce and visually do things that I consume and like. I like film photography so my pictures end up looking like film photography and I like minimalism as it helps with my mental illness as it makes things easier to look at for me, less confusing. I also like using warmer, pastel colours as they make me feel happier. I guess my image, if you could call it that is just a big canvas strip of things that I like [laughs].
What inspires your dress sense?
Weirdly enough, I’ve noticed that I’ve started to dress how my parents used to dress me when I was seven. Like sometimes I come across pictures of me in like really small, cropped denimjeans which I still like and stripped and blank white t-shirt and some weird sunglasses and my hair sort of looks the same. Maybe there’s something going on there, I’m not sure. But I keep seeing things that I used to wear when I was tiny that I still wear now.
Another part is that I love buying second-hand clothes just because of the environment and it’s cheaper! I find it really fun to go to thrift shops and lots of the time, the things that I wear are the things that I like there. It’s a mixture of that and things that are more modern, clean and minimalistic that I kind of see in things that look older. I actually do watch a lot of womens fashion on YouTube and a lot of makeup. YouTube inspires me quite heavily in how I dress. It’s really a big mixture of things, I just like it when they’re comfy but nicely put together! It’s definitely a big confidence thing for me knowing that I’m dressed nicely.
You recently played a show at The Victoria in London. Tell us a bit about that show? Was it your first time playing in London?
It was actually my second time playing in London. I played my first London show at the Isle of Live showcase in March. But that was just like a three song thing so it didn’t really feel like the official first time. But yeah, it was really fun. We had a really nice and cute backstage area with a nice outdoor garden.
The sound guy was really good and all my friends came out to see me which was lovely. It was the first time we’d played all of the songs that we have planned to release this year and that was the first time we played a lot of new songs. It was the first time I heard them outside of my bedroom studio. The only other time they left the studio was in voice messages to my manager and otherwise they just sit in my iTunes and wait to be released.
There seemed to be quite a few people there avidly singing along with every word of your songs. How does it feel to get that kind of reaction to your music?
Really? I mean, I didn’t notice that. That’s really cool! It’s really insane. It’s quite hard to find a reaction because it just shows that there must be something in my music that resonates with them and that they see themselves in my music and maybe that’s why they learn the lyrics and wanna sing along. Maybe they just find them catchy or they do it to be nice [laughs]. At the end of the day, it’s still really really cool.
It’s so rewarding to see that people care. Playing live is the only time when you can truly get real live reactions. Usually it’s just like someone shared the song, which is great, don’t get me wrong – I appreciate it so, so much. But as someone who struggles with believing things are real, I can’t deny those real life reactions. It just makes me think ‘yeah, maybe these songs are something’
Do you have any more gigs planned in the UK or elsewhere?
I do have a tour coming up that is in the end of October with a band called ‘EUT’. They’re from the Netherlands. They’re really cool, we met them at The Great Escape and they are so, so, so nice and we ended off getting along really well and becoming really good friends, just from seeing them twice! We understand each others’ music and vibes, they’re just really cool guys and I like their music alot.
Is their music a similar vibe to yours?
Hmmm, on their recordings yes. Live, not so much. They definitely bring some 60s / 70s rock elements into their live show, the energy is immense.They are like a bunch of art students who met at art school and formed a band which I find insanely cool. So they’re way more artsy than myself. I’m really glad that we could see them live and get to know them before the shows, now we know it’s gonna be a great time.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years? Do you have any specific goals or aims you’d like to achieve?
I’d like to play as many shows as I possibly can. Because they’re always really fun for me. I mean just like the general goal has always been to be financially stable enough to just do music full-time. I just want to be in a good place that allows me to do music without worrying about money or the future. If I couldn’t produce myself or take care of all the other DIY elements of my art, I wouldn’t be able to do this, there’s no way I’d have the money to pay people for this. So I’m just glad I’m able to do this by myself .
Finally, Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers or your fanbase?
Hmmm, well how much can I say? Well there is a new song coming out in the next few months… It’s called ‘I don’t Know If I Ever Wanna Go Back Home’. There is a lot of new music coming. I can’t stop writing songs, I can’t stop releasing songs and I won’t stop releasing songs so new music isn’t going to stop.
Listen to Philip Brooks at philip-brooks.com