Neil Dowd speaks to a trio of musical acts this week – enjoy interviews with each of them, from the 2000 Trees music festival.
So, we’re here at 2000 Trees Festival where you have brought ‘Lenmania 2’ to The Axiom Stage, how are you feeling about it?
I feel really good, yeah. I mean I only got about three acts in and then I had to come here to talk to you lovely people. But you know, I enjoy talking about myself, almost as much as I enjoy watching bands [laughs].
Am I correct in thinking that, much like the ‘Road To Lenmania’ shows you played last week, you had full freedom over the line-up of that stage for today?
Yes, I did. Well, I usually pick the acts that come on tour. I’m at the point where I kind of get a veto on that, which is great! But Lenmania is a much bigger deal, it’s seven or eight bands and I get to pick them all. It’s a great joy for me, because some of them I will not have heard of before going into the process. It’s really a joy and effort between me and my management. They say ‘How about these bands’ and I say ‘How about these bands’, in the end I get final say. But there’s a lot of bands playing, even today, that I hadn’t heard of that were suggested by various parties. So it’s very exciting for me.
I was at the O2 Academy Islington show on Sunday and I noticed that there was a broad mix of acts in terms of genre. Do you think there’s a specific thing that grabs your attention and makes you think “I want to tour with them”?
I think they’ve just gotta have something. Like, I didn’t specifically pick those three bands because they would represent a variety, but they do anyways. So maybe there’s something subconscious. So not consciously, no. But who wants to listen to the same band five times at a gig? I think really think the other three bands, myself included, are sort of fuzzy and heavy, whereas Orchards have this nice, light feel about them. I think it was really great to have them on just before me. It broke the show up.
Exactly, it felt like all of the bands brought their own thing to the table. Like Frauds’ set had a very strong comedic element to it.
Yeah, they’re very weird. Very funny.
So, the ‘Road To Lenmania’ shows were in support of the release of your latest album, ‘Shuffle’, that came out last Friday. Can you tell us a bit about the album? Sure. Well, it’s a covers album. Which, if you say it these days, people look at you and it gets a bit of a sceptical reaction.
Which I find very sad because the cover album is an established tradition in music. It makes sense for musicians to celebrate the work of those that inspired them. It’s like, why not? And the covers album used to be less frowned upon. I think in the world of pop, it’s much easier to bring out a covers record but somehow in rock, it’s become a bit of a dirty word. So I wanted to, not only make my own, because I love all of the music so much. But I was also hoping to rehabilitate the genre of cover album in general. My fondest dream would be that this has maybe opened the door a bit to hear other records like this. Because my favourite bands, Black Peaks or even Biffy. Everyone knows Biffy do great covers. I would love to hear a Biffy covers record, like can you imagine? Or my good friend Frank Turner, he would kill a covers record. I would love to hear that. So I wanna hear these records from my favourite bands. In fact, one of the artists I cover on my record, Annie Lennox, she did a covers record. It’s called Medusa and it’s one of my favourite albums. So I’ve covered artists who have themselves done cover records. Cyndi Lauper also, it really is a rite of passage that I’m happy to be a part of.
You’re right though, there definitely is this whole stigma surrounding the cover album.
Definitely, it’s sort of seen as a little bit of a joke, or it’s ironic. I don’t really believe in the concept of irony. Either you like something, or you don’t. The BBC have this whole like slightly ironic “come in and do a funny cover”. I love the BBC and I always do a cover when I’m there. But because I love it, there’s no irony. I don’t think I’m capable of irony. That’s one of the reasons why I used to love going to the BBC to do sessions because it’s a little bit of an opened door. It’s sort of expected to pull out a cover. And then I thought “why not have this feeling every day?”. So I did it.
Obviously, it’s still fairly fresh and new, but do you have a favourite track from the album to play live yet?
I really like Killer because it’s very slow and it takes its time and it builds up. I really relish having the time to take a lot of care in what I’m playing and singing. I mean really, I wish I was just the singer. I play the guitar because I have to. With Killer I get a bit of space to let the song breathe and I like the way it builds; so at the moment, I’m really enjoying that.
If I remember correctly, you mentioned that you had been filming a music video during your set at the O2 Academy Islington on Sunday, can you share any more information on that with us?
Well, making a music video used to be something you did once per campaign, maybe twice; certainly at the independent level. You would have money for an album and one music video, and it was a big deal. Whereas now, the entire currency is music videos. With YouTube, you can make a music video for everything you do. I’d love to make an album where I did a music video for every song. The last record I made, I think we made eight promo clips. It’s always been one of my favourite parts of it. So these days, wherever I go, if I’m shooting a live performance or anything, I’ve usually got someone with a camera handy and if we can grab five or ten minutes in a soundcheck or whatever to shoot some live footage that could possibly be incorporated into a music video for Youtube, because the outlet is so voraciously consumed these days; then I welcome the opportunity to. I edit the videos myself these days. I have those skills. So if I’ve just got tonnes of footage, I can reach in and grab and if I have a spare week, [chuckles] which is rare, or a spare afternoon I chop something together to keep people engaged.
So we weren’t shooting anything in specific. I just thought whilst we were there in the soundcheck we could get some shots. I had Scott with me who did all of the press and videos that you’ve seen already. We’ve got some stuff in the can. Unfortunately, it was sort of at the expense of Orchards’ soundcheck, which I really hated to do. It ran over a little bit. I don’t think it affected them. I think they managed to get a full soundcheck. When the big bands take the piss out of the little acts, it’s not always possible for the little bands to get a soundcheck and to be honest, a lot is riding on the main band. But whenever I can, I try to make sure the other acts get a soundcheck and I was very sad to cut into theirs. But it was only by like five minutes and they still sounded great.
One thing I’ve noticed with your shows is that you’ll play an acoustic set to open the night, with the setlist being completely picked out by the audience. What inspired that idea?
That was an idea that my management had. They said, “Why don’t you get people to pick parts of the electric set?” and I thought that’s quite dangerous, as the electric set has to be quite finely tuned and put together. I’m playing three parts at any one time, and my drummer is playing two or three parts at any one time. So to put someone else in charge of that, they might pick songs that aren’t quite so conducive to that live arena. Whereas with an acoustic set, it’s just me and a guitar and I can largely do anything that people throw at me. So I said, “let’s take that idea and maybe they can pick all of the acoustic set, which is much more flexible”. Just as a way to get people involved!
Do you ever get songs that you’re not expecting to?
I was very surprised by the picks. They mostly picked songs from the band (Reuben), which is fine. Those songs mean a lot to people. I mean, I was surprised they picked anything from my solo records at all. I was very flattered to find that out. Both cities picked Fizzy Blood, I think they were expecting me to go full metal on the acoustic guitar [laughs]. I faked them out with a jazz version. Cities On Fire was an odd song that I really didn’t expect to play, which was nice to hear. I mean I’m always flattered that people want to hear me play anything.
What kind of things do you find yourself doing in your down time to look after yourself on such a high intensity touring schedule?
I just clamp shut. I don’t take to anyone in between. Everyone thinks “ah he’s just in a bad mood”. But I’m just trying to save my voice.
Finally, what is one piece of advice you would give to a band who are just starting out in the music industry?
Don’t wait. If you’re holding out for some big record deal, don’t. What you have now, it is vital and important. Just get it down and get it out there. Connect as instantly as you can and if you have to do your growing up in public, that’s even more valuable. People will grow up with you. And if your first EP is scrappy and short, that’s great. And if your next album is a two-hour-long prog-opera, excellent. It’s all valid. Just don’t wait.