Simon Waldram

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Just call me La Sol de Hierro

Posted by SimonWaldram on May 26, 2013 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (0)

I sometimes wonder if I would be more popular and/or successful if I didn't use my real name for my music and instead used some kind of band name or an inscrutable word or phrase instead. Here's why...

Every so often when I'm in a music shop or looking through the online catalogue or an indie label I'll come across a record that instantly grabs my attention before I've actually even heard anything from it. This may well have happened to you too. For me it will usually have some kind of enigma to it...maybe a mysterous looking cover or a strange band name. This instant level of interest rarely happens when I see a record made under the name of an individual...especially if it's just some bloke.

I think quite a lot of people, including myself, like to put their own definitions and interpretations onto the people making their favorite music, that way they can see whatever they want in them. This is easist to do when you know nothing about who is actually making the music. If a record is credited to an odd sounding band name and there are no credits or photos of people on the sleeve then you can pretend to yourself that it was made by absolutely anyone. Does it sound like it was made by two speed freak siamese twins in a garage late one night somewhere in South America? Then what the hell, maybe it was!

However our perceptions and idea about the music can often be subverted the other way when you know it's a specific solo artist that's made the record you're listening to. There they are on the cover, maybe holding the guitar they used to play the songs. However they want to portray themselves...moody, artistic, an icon of some sort....it's probably reflected in the photo they (or the record company) has chosed. Because of this the listener feels they have to bend somewhat to the personality of the performer. If it's just one person singing songs which seems to be about themselves then often any mystery is lost.

Here's an example of what I mean: You may or may not be familar with the music of Jandek, who has been making challenging and idiosyncratic records for 35 years without people ever knowing much about him at all. Jandek's name and reputation grew slowly but steadily over several decades partly because of the mystery surrounding him. People wondered: "Who is making this music?" "Is Jandek a person or collective?" "Is the person on the cover of the records Jandek or someone else?" All sorts of rumours spread over the years. One was that when Jandek albums started featuring other musicians in the early 80's he had met them in some kind of halfway house. A number of years back we learned that the man behind Jandek is almost certain named Sterling R. Smith. How much of an enigma would there have been behind those records if they were released under the name Sterling Smith or The Sterling R. Smith Experience? Everyone would have realised it was just a guy making crazy records at home and maybe not bothered with them. Of course they would have missed if they out had done this as old Sterl's best records are really great.

And maybe that's the point and it's just a superficial thing anyway. Perhaps some people would actually think it was pretty stupid if I went by the name of Static Moon or Eternal Burrow or The Lansing Thunder Corporation (sorry, they are all terrible name, they were just the first 3 that came into my head). After all, I would think it was silly if my musical heroes like R. Stevie Moore, Daniel Johnston or Steven Davies went by anything other than their real names. Often of course a performer's personalilty often is integral to their appeal, but I guess you have to have a big personaility for that to be the case. In my case I'm not really sure that my personality should matter to anyone listening and I hope that people can put their own definations on the songs and take whatever it is they want to take from them.

My favourite records of 2012

Posted by SimonWaldram on December 31, 2012 at 12:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I hope you've had a good year. Here are some of my favourite records of 2012 in no particular order.

Alberteen - Metal Book
Spearheaded by the brilliant single A Girl and a Gun, Metal Book is a brilliant showcase for Alberteen's patented "ryhthm and noir", from the dark rush of the title track and Tamogotchi Landfill to Phil Shaw's arch, literary lyrics. Also, All You Can Eat makes me think of the Clientele covering early Pink Floyd. You can't go wrong with that.

Kevin Hewick - All Was Numbered
All Was Numbered is Kevin's paen to Factory Records, which he was a part of from 1980-82. I get the feeling that in the past Kevin hasn't talked about these days as much as some people would have liked. However here it all pours out in a maelstrom of bittersweet memories and regrets, paying tribute to Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson and Larry Cassidy along the way, with lucidly set scenes worthy of any of the Factory related films and books released over the past few years. I really do feel that Kevin is one our best and important songwriters. He is a big inspiration to me.

Felicia Atkinson - The Owls
The Owls is a digital and limited edition tape release by one of the most talented and interesting experimental musicians around today. Constructed solely on a Microkorg, it is a tapestry of sounds that evokes nostalgic and melancholic yet hopeful emotions. Felicia releases a lot of stuff, but it's all worthwhile. Please take the time to check out her music if it sounds like your kind of thing.

Candidate - Psychic Dissonance From the Unself
Candidate are from Brooklyn, New York. Their songs have big, lovely melodies combined with dreamy, noisy guitars. You know what? Most online music reviewers are pretty terrible writers. I'm sorry if I come across in any kind of similar way either on here or on ObscureAlbums. I've been looking at reviews by others of some of these albums and the writing is just so forced and cliched. If there's any difference it would be I just write about music I love (which is never that difficult), compared to people who write for online sites who have to review whatever they are told to. I would probably find that difficult too. Anyway, my favourite songs here are One Day Even You Will Be Old Fashioned (great chorus and lead guitar), the beautiful Low Life and the terrific singles April Again and City of Hate (please check out City of Hate - it's absolutely brilliant!).

Elizabeth Bryson - Reflections In My Tea
Hailing from Maryland in the States, Elizabeth is a terrific songwriter with a wonderful voice. Her piano based songs sometimes evoke the Beatles, Elton John or Fleetwood Mac, but she definately has her own thing going on. Just listen to the anti-war Until the Whirlpool Stops or the beautiful In It's Own Time. This album has great production and extra instrumention to augment the songs too. I'm looking forward to seeing how far Elizabeth can go as she really deserves a lot of success.

Lisa de'Ville - Fables From the Spinning Wheel EP
Speaking of people who should be very successful, I fully expect Nottingham's Lisa de'Ville to be very big indeed in the not-too-distant future. Her terrific guitar playing and beautiful, crystal clear voice here showcase her wonderful, captivating songs. Folded Wing is especially great. See her live if you can - and buy this EP!

Rosie Abbott - s/t
Another Nottingham talent (the local scene here is amazing at the moment). From lovely Kinks and Beatles-esque numbers to the dark, skewed rock of Victim of My Imagination, this is a really excellent debut album.

Danny Short - Sunset Kicks In

Okay, so I said "no particular order", but this is definately my favourite album of the year, as Danny spikes his lovely melodic songs with huge masses of psychedelic noise and beauty. Just listen to Tell Me You Want Me, New Gardens and the storming, brilliant Aftershave and Perfume. I've loved Danny's music for many years now (and he's made a lot of music), but this has to be the best thing he's ever done. Terrific stuff!

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
I'm still getting into this record, but I'm very impressed. As some artists get older they get less adventurous and take fewer risks. However Scott Walker is the opposite of this and, despite being almost 70, with nothing he needs to prove at this point, he gets more way out and daring with every record. I find this incredibly inspiring and I hope he continue to do it for a good while yet.

How to write a song

Posted by SimonWaldram on September 28, 2012 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (1)

Quite a few times when I have talked to someone who doesn’t make music about song writing they have said to something like they “would how no idea how to write a song” and will talk about song writing like it’s some unreachable mystical process. This is nonsense and any songwriter who allows such ideas to be perpetuated is probably doing so for the sake of their own ego - i.e. to convince themselves they what they’re doing is special and can’t be done by just anybody. Well, I think that it can.

 

First of all, nobody was born a songwriter. However at some point in their lives, maybe when they were a kid, they were drawn enough to music and had enough imagination inside them to try and create some of their own. Secondly, you do not have to “learn” a musical instrument to make music. All you do is chose the instrument you want to use and they play it just how you want to play it. Let’s say it’s a guitar: Noel Gallagher once said about his own musical influences that "There's twelve notes in a scale and 36 chords and that's the end of it. All the configurations have been done before." Now if you want to learn all the chords and scales and keys then that’s fine. This can be important to know for certain kinds of music. If you want to keep it tuned to standard tuning that’s fine too. But you don’t have to do these things. You can put your fingers anywhere on the fretboard you like…in fact you don’t even have to use the fretboard if you don’t want to. The possibilities are endless. The only important thing is finding a sound that you’re happy with and expresses what you want to express.

 

Songwriting is the same. There may be song writing methods, but there are absolutely no rules whatsoever. I’ve never learned scales and keys because I don’t feel there is any need to. To quote Benjamin Smoke: "I still don't really understand why everyone in the band has to play in the same key. If we all have the same key it means we have the same lock, and we know (that) is not true." Even in a band it's not necessary. I admit that this can make it harder to jam with people you've never played with before, but it's still entirely possible to practice together and build up intuition and harmony (or dischord, if that's your thing). This is, of course, what a lot of punk bands did. It might be a mess at first, but when it comes together it's more special than anything any musos could do.

 

Ther are good songs and there are bad songs, but however you choose to write a song is as valid a way as any other, just as long as you’re writing it for the right reasons.. Don’t let anyone ever tell you any different.