The Housekeeping Society and myself were invited create an original soundtrack to a contemporary dance film that was being put together by the arts organisation CoActive. It was a really challenging process that allowed us to experiment more than we ever had done before. It was great to create music that we didn’t need to then go and turn into traditional ‘songs’ and instead let the structure be dictated by the film.
Here’s a video trailer for it that features some footage of us in the studio with our friend Gary Chilton.
And you can listen to all the audio here - it’s pretty crazy but was a real opportunity for some experimentation with sound.
I’ve done a fair bit of work with a brilliant organisation called ELFM. They are an arts charity that work with young people to create music and art projects in and around East Leeds. One of the many things they do is produce a radio show. I was invited by the lovely Peter Spafford (see picture below as i balances a melodica on his shoulder) to do an interview about creating the perfect song lyric. In this chat we listen to a few of my favourite lyrics and talk about why i like them.
You can listen to the interview below on my soundcloud, or on the ELFM website here
This is a video about some strings arranging/recording I’ve been doing for the new Housekeeping Society album. Lizzie Hussey played violin and viola and Gary Chilton engineered. You can listen to a particularly pleasing an excerpt below. This will eventually end up in the track “The Coast is Clear”
I have an incredibly talented friend by the name of Joe Simpson. He is frustratingly gifted, funny and young (in fact his only flaw is his refusal to drink lager from bottles, preferring instead some namby pamby glass). He has a new exhibition down in that there London in which he has done paintings of lots of different musicians including Brandon Flowers, Mark Ronson, Paloma Faith, Maxi Jazz, David Gray and Jamie Cullum.
Anyway he is a brilliantpainter and visual artist who I have had the pleasure of working with a couple of times. Not only did he do all the photography for my second album “Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time”, but he also invited me to be part of his amazing “Almost There” project. For this he did a series of 12 paintings that had the loose story of a road movie, he gave each painting to a different musician or band for them to create an original song. I was one of these artists along with the likes of Nizlopi and The Voluntary Butler Scheme.
Above you can see the painting he gave to me. As you can see it’s amazing. he also gave me some source tracks as inspiration, most notably “Over The Hill” by John Martyn - which is a great track. I came up with the song “Dotted Line” which is also the opening track from my third album “Someone Else’s Home”.
Above is a vid of me and the lads doing a performance of it. The project was one of my favourite songwriting experiences and, in truth, was the first step that lead to the work I’m now doing with The Housekeeping Society - this was one of the first times where I was challenged to write a song outside my own experiences - a theme that has continued with our first album “This Way to Power”, and is progressing on to it’s seaside based follow up.
Anyway, he’s generally great so London based life forms should go and support his new exhibition.
This is a demo of a song we’ve written for the new Housekeeping Society record. Musically it’s based on a soundscape that we created that keeps three notes at the top throughout (C, G and C) so I tried to come up with a set of chords that were intresting, but still kept a C and G in - this lead me to some pretty sexy dense chords. The main riff and vers is;
// C - Gsus4 - / Abmaj7 - Dm7b5 - //
Then in the chorus we modulate to the key of C minor (meaning I can change the emotion whilst still keeping C and G at the heart of the key centre);
I’m really pleased with the way the major comes back in after the chorus - sounds lovely.
Lyrically the song is written from the point of view of a suitcase, who hopes every day, that he will once more be put into use by his owner. I tried to play with the idea that you think it’s about a romantic relationship between a man and his under appreciated mistress right up until the chorus when the reveal happens. Spence suggested the image od still being “filled with last year’s sand” which i really liked and knew i’d have to fit in somewhere.
Over the next few weeks my wife and I are heading off on a trip around Scotland. We’re gonna take in Glasgow, Mull and Skye as well as a few other places, and I’m very excited. We’re doing it all by public transport so there’ll be plenty of long train journeys to enjoy the scenery and listen to a lot of music.
So with that in mind, here’s a playlist I’ve put together for the trip featuring exclusively Scottish performers. Excitingly, I don’t know some of the songs very well at all as they have been suggested by people on Twitter, but hopefully by the time I get back I will know them inside and out. I always like to make a playlist when I have a long journey, or a trip away. If all goes to plan then those songs will forever be entwined with good memories of the places I have been or experiences I have enjoyed – even now I can’t listen to “Firecracker” by Ryan Adams without being reminded of a four hour car journey from one end on Cambodia to the other, and Oscar Peterson playing Cole Porter’s “Every time We Say Goodbye” will always remind me of a beautifully hung over morning in a sun soaked morning, lazing in Central Park, New York.
So here’s the playlist; don’t be too concerned with the order as I’ll be ‘shuffling’ anyway. Also, I make no apology for the repeat use of a few Scottish artists that I’ve always loved, among them The Trashcan Sinatras (“Freetime” was the first on the list as the lyrics to this song have always made me want to visit Scotland in the first place; The hills of Glen Rosa, stand in our future…). Also, Del Amitri and their front man Justin Currie, whose album “What is Love for?” is just incredible. And no Scottish playlist (or any playlist for that matter) would be complete without a word from the bizarre but oddly moving Ivor Cutler.
You can listen to virtually the entire playlist on Spotify here; Scotland trip
1.Freetime – The Trashcan Sinatras
2.Swim Until You Can’t See Land – Frightened Rabbit
3.Many Legged Boatman – Appendix Out
4.Only Love – Justin Currie
5.Say What You Want – Texas (not very cool I know but I adore the guitar playing in the middle 8)
6.Pull The Wires From The Walls – The Delgados
7.Barabadabada – Ivor Cutler
8.Now You’re Taken – Mogwai
9.Patience of Angels – Eddie Reader
10.I Need Direction – Teenage Fanclub
11.Wild Mountainside – The Trashcan Sinatras (this is an amazing song, after a long days travel this one will be ideal when accompanied by some expensive whiskey)
12.Driftwood – Travis (not a big fan of the band but have always liked this tune)
13.Oblivious – Aztec Camera
14.Your Swaying Arms – Deacon Blue
15.Your Smile Stops The Hands Of Time – Roddy Frame
16.Whiskey Remorse – Del Amitri
17.Ae Fond Kiss – Eddie Reader
18.There’s a Touch – The Proclaimers
19.Somewhere In My Heart – Aztec Camera
20.Go And Sit Upon The Grass – Ivor Cutler
21.Oranges And Apples – The Trashcan Sinatras
22.Riddle Me This – Alasdair Roberts
23.Drowned On Dry Land – Del Amitri
24.Here Come The Ocean – Roddy Frame
25.Cody – Mogwai
Here is a little taste of some Trashcan Sinatras to enjoy
Recently, me and Gary Chilton (The engineer and mixer on the last Housekeeping Society record) went and recorded some grand piano and double bass to use in three tracks for our upcoming record.
We had to experiment with mics do get the results we wanted
and we had to be pretty creative on the double bass mics…
As I talk about in the vid there’s a lot of difference between recording real piano and MIDI piano. One difference is that recording with MIDI allows me to go in after the take and edit things in case I’ve made any mistakes (which almost never happens, honest…), or if we choose to change some elements, like changing octaves in different sections if the arrangement calls for it.
The sound though is the main difference as this clip demonstrates. The first part is the recording me and Gary did with the acoustic piano and then it swaps to the Midi piano halfway through. Please note the wealth of overtones and room noise that disappears when it swaps over to the MIDI piano.
The double bass was an interesting instrument to use. It’s a fretless instrument (meaning there’s no delineation between the semitones on the fret board) which means that the tuning is a bit more loose. Again, this is the kind of thing you would try and get rid of if you were using a MIDI instrument or even a standard electric fretted bass, but in the right context these little deviations in pitch can add a real warmth and ‘wonkiness’ to the overall feel. Here’s a little example of the bass part from a recording that Gary and I worked on in the same session.
Here is a video of some recording/experimentation I’ve been doing with a grand piano and some digital effects. I’m hoping this stuff will work in the mix of a track The Housekeeping Society and I are currently working on. On our last album “This Way To Power” we used a lot of effected glockenspiel, and I thought it would be interesting to try to treat an acoustic piano in the same way.
You can listen to an early mix of the sound effects here
As part of the promotion for the debut Housekeeping Society album “This Way To Power” each member of the band put together their ‘Desert Island Discs’. it was a total nightmare trying to pick my all time favourites, but here’s what i came up with;
Ric’s Desert Island Discs
Ok, first of all this is really hard, and every time I look at this lists I am blown away by the fact that so much of the music I love is not represented. I’ve tried to go for not necessarily my 8 favorite songs, instead choosing the eight songs that have had the biggest effect on me as a musician. So, here we go…
God Only Knows by the Beach Boys Composed by Wilson/Asher Off the album Pet Sounds
Probably my favorite song of all time; the chords, arrangement and melody are flawless. I simply love the Beach Boys and there are a few of their songs that I could have chosen, but this is the one that made we want to be a songwriter. It is complex and simple all at the same time – heartbreakingly beautiful.
Into the Sunset by Neil Finn Composed by N. Finn Off the album One Nil
Neil Finn is a musician who has been a direct influence on my writing and there are loads of songs that I could have chosen. This one wins it, as it’s not only gorgeous (I particularly like the coda at the end) but it also reminds me of a really great summer a number of years ago when it seemed to be sunny every day.
Power of Two by the Indigo Girls Composed by Emily Saliers. Off the album Swamp Ophelia
I’ve always been a sucker for acoustic music and the arrangement to this song is lovely. Really beautiful sentiment as well that reminds me of when I was at uni. I love this lyric about being “stronger than the monsters beneath your bed”; lots of love songs sound contrived, but this feels incredibly personal and real.
Zanzibar by Billy Joel Composed by B. Joel Off the album 52nd Street
Chords, chords, chords, chords – I’m all about the chords – I love them. Billy Joel was someone who really inspired me when I was teaching myself piano when I was in my teens. He’s not respected at all by most musicians but his use and understanding of harmony still blows my mind. This track is off my favorite Billy Joel album 52nd street. The chords and modulations in this tune are brilliant and I love how it takes you on a real harmonic journey.
I Wish by Stevie Wonder Composed by S. Wonder Off the album Songs in the Key of Life
I know it’s not very fashionable but I’ve always been more excited by harmony than I have about rhythm – but this song is an exception. An unbelievably tight groove makes this the best song to drive to that I’ve ever heard – no wonder it gets sampled so much. Also love the brass arrangement. Stevie Wonder is so positive; you can not be in a bad mood when this song is on.
I Get Along Without You Very Well by Frank Sinatra Composed by Hoagy Carmichael Off the album The Wee Small Hours of the Morning
Frank Sinatra is probably my favorite vocalist of all time. His phrasing and tone is incredible and, although it’s a cliché, he really makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room. I discovered this album when I was doing my A levels and it gave me a real understanding of what an album could do – it was one of the first albums I’d got into that had a real ‘theme’ all of its own. Sinatra mastered this concept album stuff during his time at Capital Records. This particular song’s lyrics are really clever and tell of a man deluding himself into thinking he’s ok – I have written about this subject in my own material many times.
Music for Airports (1st Movement) by Brian Eno Composed by B. Eno Off the album Music for Airports
This one’s a bit left of centre but I love it. It has no melody or words or rhythm it’s just one long soundscape. There’s something really magical about its minimalism that makes me constantly question everything about how I make music. As I get more experienced I get more excited about the difference between ‘sound’ and ‘music’.
The Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell Composed by J. Webb Off the album Wichita Lineman
Jimmy Webb is a great songwriter and his book “Tunesmith” is a bit of a Bible for me. I adore this song and the vocal performance by one time Beach Boy Glen Campbell is faultless. There’s something about this arrangement that makes you understand how lonely the central character is, and the chord progression is a beauty.