Will do desk job for food

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The Joy of Desk

What makes you a singer-songwriter? Or a painter? Or a writer, a sculptor, an actor or dancer? At what point can we say, as artists, this is what I am? When do we get the right to tell people that we are an artist? I’ve been pondering this question a lot lately, and I’d like to share my thoughts on it, if you’ll indulge me.

What prompted this train of thought was my starting a new job. Doesn’t matter what the job is, it’s the usual stuff for me (just a different desk, chair and computer that looks the same as my old ones). I’m sure you can insert your own mundane version in there. But my point was, I asked myself again, at what point can I stop needing to do this because I’ve ‘made it’ as an artist? When can I turn and smile ‘See ya suckers!’ as I head out the door to join the ranks of professionals? The answer, if you play the odds, is, most likely, ‘never’.

So how do I process this? Do I finally give in to reason and admit defeat? Give up on that dream for good and just get on with getting ‘a real life’? Just get used to answering the inevitable conversation opener ‘So, what do you do?’ with ‘I work for a fundraising company’?

No.

There’s another way to look at this. No office job is ever going to motivate me to get up in the morning and face the day with hope. It’s not going to help me with mental health issues, defeat my demons, lift my spirit, connect me with my soul and that of others’. It’s not going to move me, inspire me, regenerate me, heal me, excite me or stimulate me. I’m just not made that way.

But songwriting does.

To thine own self be honest.

So here’s how I see it. I am a songwriter. I don’t want to be one, I’m not trying to be one, I’m not hoping to one day be able to earn the right to call myself one. I am one, and I have been since the first time, at age 13, that I sat in my parent’s kitchen with my friend Marc and put some words to some chords. I’ve never stopped doing it, and I never will, because it’s not just what I am, it’s one of the things that defines who I am.

But I no longer see any romance in being a penniless artist struggling to eat in a dank bedsit. I want to enjoy life, to live and not just exist. The world does not owe me a living, I have to earn it. In the past music has provided this livelihood, and might do again in the future, but for now it doesn’t. So I work at something else, not to replace what I do as an artist, but to support it, finance it, keep me healthy and help me develop my craft. When I sit at my desk, I’m working on my art, because I’m doing the practical, mundane stuff that has to be done to make the magic happen.

So if you see me out and about and ask me what I do, I’ll tell you, ‘I’m a songwriter’. And it’ll be true.

Both Sides Now (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Brain).

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I’m feeling myselves today

I have bi-polar disorder. Note I said, I have it, not that I am bi-polar. Nor did I say I suffer from bi-polar disorder. I am not a sufferer. Indeed I’ve come over time to view this as a blessing.

Sure there have been times of suffering, bad times that were hell to go through, times when suicide seemed the most painless option. But there have also been times of inspiration, self-discovery and triumph that I wouldn’t change for the world. Growing up was often like walking one step removed from the world, and I have always, and still do, feel like an outsider. But it’s this feeling that has made me what I am, given me strength and tolerance, understanding and motivation.

It has also, perhaps most importantly for this arena, informed my art. It has given me an openness to, and empathy for, the human condition. It brutally removed the rose-tinted glasses of youth, but then gently replaced them with a compassion for the human soul in all its fucked-up glory. And I will be forever grateful.

I am all that we are.

My illness is not the whole of me, but it is a huge part of what makes me who and what I am. I am not what a lot of people would consider normal, but then who wants to be seen as that? There is a type of existence that I will never experience, that steady everyday cruise, the planning for a future, the lack of fear of the drop. But those who live like that may never experience the sheer viscerality of life as a manic-depressive. To see into the dark pit of the human experience, then fly to its light-drenched mountaintop, to know every emotion you can know, and still be alive, creating and determined to suck the very marrow out of the bones of life.

Plus, with Vincent Van Gogh, Sinead O’Connor, Friedrich Nietzche, Virginia Woolf, Russell Brand,  Kurt Cobain, Ray Davies, Spike Milligan, DMX, Stephen Fry, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, Florence Nightingale, Jackson Pollock, Amy Winehouse and many others, I am in the plentiful company of genius.

Back to (Virtual) Reality…

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Hi, did you miss me? Did you even notice I was gone? It seems an age since I last posted, or tweeted, or whatevered. My virtual self has been asleep, but that’s because my physical self decided to get a life for a while.

In short, I’ve been being (is that even proper grammar?) a musician. Doing what I’m supposed to be doing, as opposed to networking/blogging/surfing/researching etc.

I’ve finally finished and released my debut solo EP, Hi-Fi So-Lo, and I can honestly say I am not entirely ashamed of it. You can listen to it here if you have a spare few minutes.

Not only, but also…

As well as this I’ve produced the album The Journey by Chanel Ann, a wonderful ambient artist, and played guitar on/mixed the debut EP Pray by Something Alien.

And I’m loving it. The thing is that now I’m all excited and full of ideas and plans and thoughts and dreams, which inevitably I’m going to want to tell you all about, whether you’re interested or not. So just warning you.

Hope this finds you well and have a good Christmas. Cheers, Phillip.

Found Sounds

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You really can’t have too much music…

As I’ve mentioned before, songwriting grows out of a love of songs. And that never leaves you. One of the greatest pleasures I know is finding an artist I’ve never heard before whose music grabs me, moves me, inspires or excites me. I thought that, rather than witter on about myself again, I’d share with you some of my discoveries, a taste of the stuff I’m currently grooving to.

Carlo Sines – Boomerang

If there’s one thing you can always rely on a German electronic musician for, it’s impeccable cool. Carlo Sines doesn’t disappoint. But to my ears this is not just a savvy groove. There’s real soul in here, and great songwriting.

Jarin Humphrey – 12

From tech-heavy funk to stripped-bare folk. Armed with just a uke and a stunning soul voice, 19 year-old NC native Humphrey shows real maturity in her songwriting. There’s an honesty and directness here, vulnerability paired with courage.

Cowboy Hat and that Fuzzbox Voodoo – Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the OK Corral

I’ve simply got no idea what to call this genre, but country-dubstep-blues-whatever seems closest. But whatever you call it, it’s brilliant. Tongue firmly in cheek, but real skill and musicality.

Orla Wren – Ashes From A Long Fire

I don’t know how someone can come up with music this beautiful. To write a song that immerses me in it’s aural waters. Tui is a nomadic Brit, but this is music from another place, another world. Wherever it is, I’d like to go there one day.

Tim Weary – Teach Us Something

There is a dichotomy here. That a song can feel so nostalgic and yet timeless, sounding like a memory and yet so immediate. And it’s topped of by a voice that is just sublime. British alt-folk at it’s very best.

So there you have it. A few of my current fave raves.  I’ve enjoyed sharing them with you. I’d love to know what you think, or if there’s any songwriters out there you think I should be listening to. Have a nice day.

The rules of engagement

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“What makes you think I’m stressed?”

I don’t know whether it’s the time of year, or the fact that I’m about to unleash my first release on an unsuspecting world, but lately I’ve been plagued with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Am I really any good at this? Is anyone at all interested in what I have to say? Do I look fat in the promos?

The thing is, as I look around the web and see what my fellow artists are writing, I see I’m not alone. We all go through this. It’s part of the job, and I’m no different. There’s always going to be some kind of trepidation when we are putting ourselves out there and opening up our souls and hearts. But there are a few rules I go by that help me. I thought I’d share them with you, and I hope some might be familiar or, if not, helpful.

1. Group therapy

I haven’t got what I would consider a large number of friends, but those I do have are bloody good ones. They are encouraging, supportive and patient and without them I couldn’t do what I do. Along with my family they are the bedrock on which I build everything I do and am.

2. Let me have it

I have a small number of people from whom I solicit opinion on my work. I trust them because they are honest, and understand that when I ask them what they think, I’m asking for criticism, not praise. If they think it’s shit, they’ll tell me, and I love them for it. They help me grow as an artist (and keep me humble).

3. To thine own self be true

At the end of the day, I’m a songwriter. Just because I’m not famous or earning megabucks, doesn’t mean I’m not what I believe I am. I write songs, I always have, and I always will. It’s my way of expression, my catharsis, my first and true love. So I’m not going to stop, because it makes me happy.

4. Hook up

I love talking to other artists, whether in person or online. They’re always inspiring, helpful, generous and they help me to remember I’m not alone, but part of something much bigger and better than myself.

5. Fuck ’em

First do something yourself, expose yourself, wear your heart on your sleeve, bear your soul to the world, create something, stand up and be counted. THEN you can take the piss. Until then STFU and go and do something useful, like sort your sock drawer.

So there you go. A few of my artistic ‘rules to live by’. It’s been nice talking to you. You can even talk back, I won’t mind.

Lonely songwriter wltm music lover with gtim for fun, possible relationship

from panta.rei.it

Every artist needs an audience (or, in today’s parlance, followers)

This may be hard for some to get their heads around, but back in the day when I started this songwriting lark, computer programmes had to be loaded with a cassette tape, Tweets was the name of the band that did the Birdy Song, and a mobile phone was one with a particularly long lead. 

There was also basically one route to music career success, which involved gigging relentlessly in the hope that an A&R person would happen to stumble across you and, bowled over by your sound, sign you to his label.

Now, of course, the picture is very different. Musicians can now use the vast ocean of connections that is the internet, socialising relentlessly in the hope that a music fan will happen to stumble across you and, bowled over by your sound, download your MP3.

In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tweetbook on the Facetube

Like every other musician on the planet, I’ve got a Facebook Page, Twitter account and website/blog (the one you’re now reading!). I’m getting on LinkedIn and Reverbnation, and am considering Instagram, Tumblr and even (God help me) MySpace.

The trouble is, the more I get connected, the more time I have to spend online to maintain those connections (including typing this drivel). I realised today I haven’t written a song in weeks, and Mr Jones (my guitar) sits patiently in a corner waiting to create with me.

So I’ve decided to stop typing, hit the publish button (post and be damned!) and play some music. And I suggest you stop reading this, and do the same. But please come back, I need this connection…

Three chords and the Truth (or “Lose the jangly bits”)

Willie_Nelson_1978 by Craig Terlino from thegoodamericancollective.blogspot.com

The great Willie Nelson onstage in 1978 with his beloved Trigger

I know Willie Nelson was talking about Country music when he said this, but I think it’s a mantra we can all take on. Life is complicated enough, and like Lou Reed said – “One chord’s OK, two’s pushing it, three is jazz”. Back in the ’70’s punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue ran a page with the words “Here’s a chord, here’s two more – now go form a band”. Hundreds did, and a musical revolution was born.

I suppose what I’m trying to say (mainly to myself) is don’t get hung up on the niceties, just tell your story. I think there’s a subconscious need in me to keep my left hand moving around so as to justify my place on a stage in front of a paying crowd, but really it boils down to being a prog rock fan when I was first learning to play. I’ve got to pare it back.

The jangly bits must die!

Another problem I have is access to a home studio. The clock’s not ticking, no-one’s picking up a bill and you can record at 4 o’clock in the morning. What this means is I get into that dangerous place where the process becomes more important than the song. “What if I try 50’s reverb?”, “How would it feel with the bass line played on a bassoon?”, “What would the harmonies sound like if I put them through ‘Mouse Voice’?”, (really funny is the answer, but completely unusable).

My co-producer’s wife is someone I run my stuff by, because she’s always honest. The other day I played her a new song that’s going on the debut EP. She listened through, smiled and said “It sounds like a really good song, but I can’t listen to it because of all the wah-wah-wah stuff”.

She was referring to a lovely jangley guitar line that ran through the song, and which I thought lifted it and made it really bounce. She thought it was “so 80’s”. So I tried it with the jangle turned off, and you know what? It sounded great, because I could hear the story.

I am on my way to being cured of threechordphobia.