A year ago this week, my last album ‘Hermit and the NotWe’ was released. So I thought I would take a look back on it’s making and the impetus behind it.
My uncertainties were clear from the beginning
Work started on the new album in the Summer of 2015. From the start, it was turbulent for me both creatively and personally. I fell in and out of love with the songs so many times and was really concerned that I’d ‘lost’ whatever I’d ‘had’ on previous efforts. On listening back to it today, there are definitely some new and interesting ideas on there that I hadn’t explored before. But for whatever reason, at the time I found this such a difficult project to create and to produce. This was partly due to dealing with mental health issues I was having at the time (which can often help, but in this case seemed to hinder a lot of the creative fluidity I had), and the fact that I was moving away from my trusty ‘Magix Music Maker’ amateur DAW (digital audio workstation) software which I’d used for the last 10 years, towards learning a more ‘professional’ piece of software (Pro Tools) from scratch and with absolutely no previous training (thank the lord for YouTube!).
Every album I make tends to be both a reaction/contrast to the one before and also an inner commentary on whatever situation I’m in emotionally at the time. 2013’s ‘Blossom’ had had a kind of ‘metallic,’ processed ‘sheen’ to it (inspired by my love of 1950’s harmonies and song structures), so I had then consciously tried to create more of an ‘earthy’ ‘lush’ feel on 2014’s ‘Headspace,’ with strings, mandolin, ukulele etc.. So another change was needed by the time I got to ‘Hermit and the NotWe,’ and I felt the need to return to an earlier ‘rawer,’ heavier sound – the sort of noise I had enjoyed making in my mate’s garage as a teenager; unsure of what I was doing but making up for my ignorance with a passion for playing.
A strange new world…getting to grips with learning Pro Tools from scratch was one of many challenges I faced in making ‘Hermit and the NotWe.’
Musically, the album doesn’t really fit into a ‘genre,’ other than ‘lo-fi’ or ‘homemade’ perhaps. I was very lucky to have my good friend and super-talented Mike Heathcote from the awesome Brave New World to play drums on the album; and his support and unique style of playing definitely informed much of how (and why) the album was eventually made. The drums were recorded in a big village hall in the middle of nowhere, which I found gave them a really nice ‘big’ reverb sound without the need for much post-production. My other good friend from the band Chris Twigger was equally generous in letting me record my guitar parts in his ‘rock shed’ in the garden. Using the natural reverb and room sounds became an important part of the album’s sound to me – partly out of necessity because of my lack of skill at embellishing the tracks in the software I was learning; but also because I wanted to keep the feel of the album as ‘genuine’ and ‘honest’ as I wanted to be with the lyrics.
Recording drums with Mike in the village hall.
Recording guitar parts in Chris’s ‘Rock Shed.’
‘Modern Life Will Make You Ill (I Am A Cliche)’ A song about identity crisis, which typifies the uneasy feeling of the album.
Lyrically the album was a lot more conversational and less refined than previous songs I had worked on. It followed a guy in the middle of an ‘identity crisis;’ living with depression and anxiety issues and trying to find some sort of understanding of what makes him different or ‘separate’ from other people – for better or for worse. I was unsure how to phrase this feeling at the time, but discovered the term ‘curmudgeon rock’ which seemed to fit it nicely. I felt like an ‘angry young man’ who grows up to find that he is still angry, and still has plenty of ‘teenage’/’middle-age’ angst to share.
At first I was unsure whether something so raw and ‘unpolished’ would work; or whether it would result in something self-indulgent and half-baked. But after some thought, I considered perhaps I wasn’t alone in feeling alone; that maybe other people who don’t fit in would find some common ground in these lyrics. For this reason, the album became a dedication to all ‘outsiders;’ a celebration of people who are uncelebrated.
With this in mind, the title of the album refers to two kinds of outsiders. A hermit is of course someone who lives (either physically or mentally?) outside of normal society. The ‘NotWe’ term comes from my love of Doctor Who, where it is used to denote someone ‘outside’ or unwelcome (from the 5th Doctor Story ‘Kinda’).
‘Somehow,’ a kind of ‘mission statement’ for a relationship going through difficult circumstances.
For the front cover, I wanted something that would concentrate on the all-consuming media around us and its dehumanising effect on us. I used a microscope style lens over my phone camera to take close up pictures of a television (front cover) and a remote control (inside covers) to hopefully give the impression of something familiar but alien at the same time; something all around us and connecting us, and yet insular and antisocial in its effect.
‘Hermit and the NotWe’ Front Cover.
‘Crazies,’ one of the few lighthearted songs on the album, which celebrates the reality of love beyond the initial ‘lust’ towards embracing each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies.
In promoting the album, my original intention was to try and produce an amateur ‘DIY’ video for each song (without featuring myself hopefully!). But as is often the case with me, I became a bit clouded by how obsessive I’d been in completing the album and wanted to move onto the next thing pretty soon afterwards (the time when you should really be plugging and trying to get your album ‘out there’ – a mistake I make every single time and will no doubt continue to make!). I did manage to produce 4 videos though; with the help of talented friends like Ben Corry (from the INCREDIBLE Manchester band ‘The Madding Crowd’) who honoured me by coming to act in my video for ‘I’m Just Gonna Be Me.’
Behind the scenes of the ‘I’m Just Gonna Be Me’ video shoot (which was typically home-made) with the wonderful Ben Corry as the leading man.
‘I’m Just Gonna Be Me,’ an older song that I reworked and re-energised for the ‘Hermit’ album.
As I move towards finishing my next album ‘And Into the Woods,’ its interesting to revisit ‘Hermit,’ which took so much out of me at the time, but which I can appreciate a lot more now on the rare occasion that I listen to it. For such a difficult album to write and produce, it garnered a surprising amount of positive reactions from people who listened to it; which was a nice surprise, and I’m eternally grateful to people who supported me to make this album and to finish it!
If you’d like to have a listen yourself, I’d really appreciate the support. I believe you can hear it through at least once for free on my bandcamp page? If you get chance, let me know your own thoughts on the songs and the sound.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for supporting my music; your support means I can keep on doing this – many years after a sensible person would’ve given up(!).
You can check out the full album here.