Interview on the Creative Process


Happy Christmas, friends! holly-1756

Just because there isn’t enough information to read on the internet lately, I thought I better post up the full/unedited interviews I did for and Yorkshire Times a few weeks ago on the creative process and working in music. So I’ve merged them as one for you here:


What was the first song you learned?
Jelly on a Plate from the ‘Tune a Day’ book. It had 2 notes. Very sexy.

What is your happiest musical moment?
Sitting inside a pipe organ chamber whilst my Dad was practicing Dracula-like pieces and having my hair blown back by the blasting wind from the pipes. Literally, moving.

When did you realise you wanted to write music for a living?
I just always have been writing music. I learned to play music at the same time I learned to talk, so it’s just my way of talking really. My better way. Forgive me if I sound pretentious, but I’m better communicating my answer as: I never realised I wanted to talk for a living. I just…talk. But when I grew more confident in my speech, I met with the desire to be heard, and eventually found something to say. So I talked a little louder via a microphone, a 12-track recorder and the Internet – and someone heard me. They asked me to speak the emotional narrative over their film, and that’s where my voice seemed to resonate best, and what I’ve been lucky to live off ever since.

What piece of advice would you give yourself if you could go back to those early writing days?
Stay curious. Write something everyday. Record…material is valuable.

Who or what inspires you to keep following your musical career?
Seeing ordinary music-making people like myself making new musical discoveries. It reminds me to just keep turning over rocks, because I might just find that great sound or song, as they did. So everyday I expectantly turn rocks. Most days I put them back!

At what stage did you realise a career in music was feasible?
Is it? I’m still not sure how I have a roof over my head after living off music-making for this long. I just get on with what I’ve got in my hands really, learn how to grow it from others, take a few risks, take a day at a time, and somehow I pay bills with it. I keep thinking I’m going to get caught out and told to get a proper job. But so far this thing keeps going, and I’m very grateful for that. Especially as I can’t really do much else – I even got fired from a volunteer cafe once! Devastating day.

Any advice for someone starting out in making a career in music?
It’s not something you’ll really get handed out at a job centre, so you have to think outside of the system we’re sold in this boxy culture. Instead, find what you’re good at and figure a way to get paid for it. Why spend your efforts building someone else s dream when you can build your own? – you’re a free man/woman. Sure, it’s not the easier path, and living on the edge of breakthrough and breakdown everyday isn’t for everyone. But if you really want something, your passion will probably make the way ahead for you. It’s why everyone’s break-in story is so different and personal to their strengths and skills, so it’s hard to give a straight answer, but it leaves room for you to be creative in your approach.

The main thing is to create a really, really great product. The best you can. Invest in that. Cook up something with a distinct sound or scent that draws people to your stall. Don’t be lazy in anything you make because you only get one ‘first impression’ to your composer name. It’s fierce competition out there, but when preparation meets opportunity, you up your chances. Especially if you lend chance a hand by making lots of friends in the right industry. They may even become your evangelist if you’re nice and do a stellar job.

Doing your time in free work is important. I bought industry-standard studio equipment with my student loan, mastered it, then blasted into the local film school offering to score everyone’s film for free. I scoured my land for opportunities and even offered to score peoples wedding videos or entrance music. Anything! Those experiences were more important than any institutional education I’d had, by a long way. And it also helped build up my starter showreel. But have a limit – grow yourself out of free work, it doesn’t do anyone any good to drag out a season. Money is a good motivator, but for me it shouldn’t be a focus. I won’t be seduced into thinking that whatever doesn’t make profit or acclaim has lesser value. It keeps me sane, and keeps art from tasting like fast food!

What is your writing process?
Good old fashioned pen, paper, and piano. I have to find the sound inspiring first. I make sure LogicPro is set up ready to record if my hand can’t keep up writing. Then I just let it all flow out – the good, the bad and the ugly. Then go back over it all and pluck out the sparkly bits like a magpie collecting tinfoil magic. I never know what it’s going to be, sometimes a song, an instrumental piece, or just a theme. I just keep refining and refining till it completes itself, becoming what it wants to be. That is, when I don’t have a tight brief with a four-hour deadline!

Where do you look for inspiration?
If I’m writing for motion picture the inspiration is all in the film. For songs, I often get the inspiration from inside the music. Maybe a chord sequence or a little rhythm I fall into will spark the beginning of a song. Generally I make sure to never close my ears or eyes to anything. Ever. I find less value in judging something and more in appreciating or understanding it. It helps me find inspiration in the weirdest of places. Often, inconveniently, when I’m falling asleep…and ‘ping!’ But staying open to all kinds of music, even music by toddlers, just means I can generate more shiny things to my eyes. Because for me, a composer is just a hunter, an organiser, a problem solver, a decision maker and a magic catcher. The more you can see, the more you can catch and use to build something beautiful to you. My tools are my questions. Especially the most curious of them all: “How”?

If your music were a person, what would their personality be? Where do you think it would live?
The person would be a more liberated me. Maybe living in a cave of weird treasures or a secret land, dressed in floaty theatrical clothes, bouncing off the walls, splashing coloured paint and dancing to the beat of the rain without a care in the world. I’m a secret hippy.

If you had to cite your biggest three influences, what would they be?
The world, sound, and the piano.

What song do you wish you had written?
Definitely one of the classics. God Only Knows, or You Were Always On My Mind, or Edelweiss. No…Bowie’s Life on Mars! I can’t pick! Anything with a beautiful and shapely melody.

If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
I’ll say John Hopkins. He creates some incredible sounds and atmospheres from electronics. Truly Brian Eno’s protege.

You also play for a few bands, what would be your tour must haves?
I’m pretty low maintenance as long as I have warmth and a bouncy ball to play with. But maybe some single origin, Venezuelan, 77% dark, fairtrade chocolate delivered on the back of an oompa loompa wouldn’t go amiss.

What makes a good live show?
Energy and authenticity.

Do you think instrumental skill is important for performance?
In some ways. I think it’s important to learn an instrument till it’s no longer a separate thing from you. For me, the point of a musical instrument is not for playing. It’s for facilitating. That’s the purpose of any ‘instrument’ really. To me, a great performance is when you can’t see the instrument, you can only hear the person speaking. A great musician can still make a bad instrument sing. So yes, skill is important for breaking that language barrier, I think.

When did you first get the performance bug?
I’m not sure I ever have to be honest. I feel most natural in a studio or writing at the piano with no one around. Performance is a different art. If I try, it has it’s fake tones and fears, so I just pretend I’m in my own little cocoon when I’m delivering music. If I have to.

What has been your favourite performance to date?
Besides my performance of ‘Mr Blue Sky’ in first school assembly, I’d have to say it’s been in the shadows – when I knew people weren’t listening. Like in a cafe setting or behind someone speaking. Seems that’s the only way I can display every colour of me in public. Music is just the most intimate thing for me so it takes a lot of trust for me to reveal or perform. If honesty and integrity aren’t in the performance, to me it’s just clatter. And I’ve made a lot of clatter, but very few moments of honest reveal. Something I need to work on! 2015: grow your stage legs, girl!

Thank you for sharing your insight, Vanessa James.
Thank you. And to whoever has actually read this!


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