Since it is the first day of the New Year as I write this, I should ask what you have planned musically this year; any new releases to look forward to?
“Happy New Year! I would have replied earlier, but it took me a full day to recover from the night before. I’m planning to release a single early this year, as soon as it’s ready to go. I also hope to gig even more than last year and further afield too.”
When I was in the 5th grade guitar lessons were suggested and I dutifully signed up. Much to my regret now, I hated the lessons and stopped soon after. The desire to learn obviously never came from within. Fast forward to about 3 years ago, I came dangerously close to buying Guitar Hero. Avoiding that precipice, I decided to try real guitars again. Do you have any tips? What is your favourite chord progression? If you could cover any song what would it be?
“Jings. Well, it depends why you want to learn. Guitar Hero is a really fun game and not really related to the playing of the guitar, but if you’re dead set on learning to play a musical instrument, firstly I’d recommend getting a beginner’s guitar. Something cheap or something second hand. Don’t pick up a Fender or a Martin until you’re good enough to play one! Apart from that, just practice as much as possible and take your time. If you cut corners, your hands will learn the mistakes you’re making and it’ll be all the harder to unlearn them.
As for a favourite chord progression? I don’t really have one but often a really simple progression can make for a beautiful song with the right melody and lyrics.
Well, I do cover a couple of songs in my sets now and then. I do the odd Frank Turner track, a couple of Billy Braggs, as well as The Decemberists now and then. One of my favourite songs to cover is “Not Perfect” by Tim Minchin.”
I’ve been meaning to send some questions to Kitty the Lion (as they have caught my attention recently). As they appear on your cited bands list, what can you tell me about them? Are there any other artists we should be looking out for this year?
“Hey, who’s getting interviewed here? Seriously though, they’re a great band, really lovely, catchy songs. Clever lyrics, often funny, which is obviously something that appeals to me. As for other artists to look out for…I take it you mean Scottish ones? Tragic O’Hara is always a favourite and if you’re into Scottish hip-hop, you’ve got to check out Hector Bizerk. As always, I’d recommend checking out Coat Hooks and Reverieme. They make great music and keep good company. I’m winking by the way.” Cause we’re friends I mean, not cause I’m hitting on you.”
I see that you are a fellow wordpress blogger and pretty active in most forms of social media. (Looking forward to the next ‘#shamblesiswatching’). Do you think these tools are enough for an artist to launch and sustain a career?
” I think it’s a good way of augmenting the good old-fashioned method of gigging and releasing music. I know some people never play gigs and only put out music online, which is great for them, because essentially it’s people putting their creativity out into the world. For me though, without live performances the whole thing would be missing something. I love performing live and it’s one of the most important aspects of music for me. Twitter and all that lot are fun, and helpful, but I wouldn’t rely solely on social media to sustain a career.”
How would you describe the music scene in Glasgow? It is a question we like to come back to a lot because we are on the other side of the world. When I look at the gigs and wonderful lineups a tear will start to form. But what is it really like there on the ground?
“It’s a great scene. There are always so many gigs going on in this city that I’ve probably missed more amazing gigs than I’ve been to. In general though, you can go out almost any night in Glasgow and see a great band somewhere or other. Even the open mics have a pretty high standard. Most of the time anyway…”
Locally, we’ve got Twilight Sad to look forward to on March 8. What was the last show you attended?
“Ehh…jings, I haven’t been too much over the Christmas period. Probably Deathcab for Cutie. I was supposed to go a Second Hand Marching Band gig a couple of weeks ago but a winter illness finally got me and I was too busy sneezing my face off to leave the house.”
I love the little drawing and letter included with my ‘Shambles Sails the Clockwork Sea’. Billy Bragg is another cited influence. This is evident on the song ‘Strike!’ What is your favourite Bragg song? Do you think a pop song can change people’s perspective? Is there a point in a writing a protest song anymore? (given the general state of the music and the protest industry)
Where do I start? I couldn’t just have one favourite, but the one I tend to perform live is “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward” (eagle-eyed folk might have spotted a video of me performing this one live, roaming around the internet somewhere). Pop music can absolutely change someone’s perspective. Music does that every time you listen to it; pop music isn’t exempt. Pop music doesn’t just mean Rihanna, Jessie J, and songs about shagging.
There will always be a place for the protest song. You don’t write a protest song specifically to go out and change peoples minds or to raise awareness about a subject. It’s certainly not how I do it, at least. You write these songs because you’re angry or disappointed or frustrated and you have to get that out somehow. If people hear it and can get on board with what you’re saying, if they hear some truth in it and identify with your ire, that’s a fantastic bonus.”
I’m tempted to ask you a Skyrim question, but I’ll ask about the ‘dragon slaying’ motif I think I’ve noticed. What are your dragons?
“Haha, it’s not a deliberate motif, but perhaps you’ve noticed something I haven’t. My dragons…well, if you’ve heard songs of mine like “Pssst!” or “AAARRGGHHH!” (the similarity in their titles is not accidental) or the much more succinct “The Shortest Song I’ve Ever Written is the One with the Longest Title”, you might have noticed I’m quite a worrier. I’m always trying to overcome silly anxieties and recently I’ve been making a more concerted effort to get out of my own head a bit. My other dragons…ehh…I have a love of red meat, beer, and whisky that will probably eventually kill me.”
I bought my wife (the Decembrists fan in the family) Colin Meloy’s ‘Wildwood Chronicles’ as a stocking stuffer . I noticed your involvement in ‘How to be a Ghost’. Did you do the illustrations? Have you written the song for it yet?
“Haha, well first of all, no, I didn’t illustrate it. You’ve seen my drawing, Thor! I wrote the book with my good friend and long-time collaborater, Neil Slorance. He’s the man responsible for the beautiful illustrations. If I’d illustrated it, nobody would buy it. Secondly, I don’t think I’ll be writing a song for it. It’s not really related to my music in any way.”
The Beer Song references Irn Bru prominently. Isn’t that a soda?
“Haha, aye. It’s in ‘Beer Song’. Irn Bru is the perfect hangover cure. I have a story about that song. It’s probably the most interesting thing about the song and it’s not even in it, but the friend I refer to in the song. Later that night, he climbed out of a window (he was pretty high on something or other) so I climbed out after him to talk him into coming inside. He kept going to the edge, I think mainly to freak me out. He lost his footing and was about to fall off, so I grabbed his coat and pulled him back onto the ledge. Afterwards, I swapped places with his other friend and went back into the building we were in (our local student union, incidentally) while his friend went out to try and bring him back in. I later found out that his friend left him on the ledge, where he fell asleep. He woke up around 4 in the morning, climbed back in the window and had to let himself out through a fire escape, setting off the alarm in the process.”
Lastly, we often ask a question to be asked of us. We then pretend you’ll check back and read the answer. What would you like to know?
“You mentioned that you had an Irn Bru story?”
Once upon a time, I was able to see Mogwai and Urusei Yatsura twice in one week. Meeting up with a friend of a friend of Yatsura I’d met at the first show, he’d brought along his neighbour who a young Mr. Braithwaite took a fancy to. We ended up hanging out, sitting at the Yatsura table drinking copiously and having a good time as it was Yatsura’s release show for their first full length. Heading out from the venue to find the night bus, James pulls out a bottle of Irn Bru he had obviously been carrying all night. It was a pretty magical moment, never having had one. I’ve always thought that was merely about a man and his beloved soft drink. I’m pretty sure now he must have been wanting to get a head start on taming the inevitable hangover.
I do have a beard!