First of all, you’re on tour with Amy MacDonald at the moment. How has it been going so far? It’s been great. The European leg has been amazing. She has been the best-selling artist in Germany for the last ten years…? I’m not too sure, but it’s some crazy statistic. To be able to go over to do big gigs has been really fun.
It’s been almost ten years since you released your first album, Hand Built by Robots. How do you think you have progressed as an artist/musician? The biggest improvement for me is vocally. I’ve massively stepped up my game since I started. I was mostly blagging it to begin with and gradually I made it harder and harder to sing in the studio. When I get out of the studio, I’m like “shit, I’m going to have to do this live all the time!” I had to get really technical on that front. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of good singers, before I was always listening to players. I never really thought to geek out in the same way with vocals. Listening to a couple of people, I think “Oh wow that sounds really cool - I could mix that with what I’m doing” which is what I had set out to do right from the very beginning.
What were the best and worst gigs you’ve ever played at? I’d say my best and my worst gigs are probably the same gig because I just love stuff going wrong. Sometimes when you do a gig and it’s perfect - everything is solid, you end up saying the same thing most nights. As soon as something goes wrong, I’m like “Ah! This is really interesting now! I don’t know how to deal with this!” I’ve had things blow up and explode – it happens. I sat down on stage at Glastonbury one year in front of 50,000 people, plugged in my guitar and it just didn’t work!
I’m sure lots of people have picked up on this – Human Love was quite different to your previous albums… That was probably the biggest sonic step I’d taken, I think because the album before had no drums on it, so I had two albums worth of drums that I thought I would just blow on one album to make it sound big. I wrote it for festivals.
In addition to your change in sound, you also cut your hair. Do you feel that the change is still in progress or was it just a phase? I don’t know, I’m really happy to wait for things to go very well by mistake. Until then, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing because I love it. I really love what I do and am incredibly lucky to be able to do it. I’m not hungry enough to put what I do in any kind of jeopardy to get more. I make a living doing music which to be honest, is still my definition of making it in the music industry. I think anything else are abundances and sometimes it hinders - it goes too far, like some people do so well, they can’t leave their own house and I’m like “is that fun? That doesn’t look fun anymore.”
You’ve taken an interesting approach towards creating your next album – What made you take on the Pledgemusic campaign? I’d kind of been keeping an eye on it for a while because to begin with, it was all about crowd funding and I kind of watched it change. Now it is like a really inventive shop that does everything I need anyone to do. I had a meeting with the Pledge music guys and basically you can just sell your stuff directly to your fans and build it from there and it’s really simple.
Do you feel a lot happier now that you have a lot more freedom to direct the path of your career? Yeah, it’s amazing for me. I recently recorded six tracks for a film and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I had people say “You obviously need this amount of money.” I was excited to be doing it. Sometimes with bigger organisations, stuff like this gets blocked, people try to get in touch and it never gets to you. I’m pretty sure that now everyone who wants to get in touch is getting in touch. I’m not stuck anymore.
What would your advice be for aspiring young artists be? My advice hasn’t changed over the years. Just love it, just enjoy it. I think if you’re doing art to make money, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and it just sets you up to be bitter and disappointed. I think people enjoy seeing someone who’s enjoying themselves. Playing the game to the point where you’re happy to play.
How do you keep yourself motivated/inspired to write? Lyrics are still the hardest thing because I take them very seriously. I’ve read the newspaper and searched the internet and gone “Right, this is the state of affairs - what do people need to hear?” This is quite a strange approach and it puts a huge amount of pressure on writing which is unnecessary, but I don’t think I would be satisfied without it. I need to feel like I’m doing something for a reason. I’m just a massive nerd. I’ve spent huge amounts of time listening to world music. If I ever feel like I’m in a hole, I just write the stupidest song. I wrote a song about insects invading a sun. It was kind of a way to remind myself that you can write about anything and it doesn’t have to be socially important. Definitely not political, because there’s a weird line to it that I’ve edged up to. I do want to make a positive impact because I’m lucky to have that kind of platform that anyone listens to at all.
Finally, if you had to create a creature of some sort - an amalgamation of a few animals/features - what would it be like and what would you call it? Roger – the drumming, instrument playing octopus with lots of mouths, shaped like a horse shoe. I’m just trying to make the ultimate performing animal. Just imagine them harmonising with each other and playing loads of stuff.