Posts Tagged ‘indie’

Blur in the studio with William Orbit

Posted 22 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music

My suspicion is that the band are just testing things out rather than definitively recording with a view to releasing new material, but nonetheless, this is incredibly good news. Following plenty of teasers and rumours surrouding the possiblity of Blur recording new stuff, William Orbit – who produced 1999′s 13 – has posted the following on his Facebook page.

Hope it’s not a wind-up.

A song a week #30 (Ladbroke Grove)

Posted 05 Aug 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

Another video courtesy of Dan, and a song which is up amongst my best I think – nice and spontaneous, badly recorded, and sort of truthful and sort of dreamed. This is the 30th song I’ve written this year. It’s about West London.

(G D Em D x2)
Well there’s seconds on the clock,
kissing in the dark,
and we stole our way home from Ladbroke Grove.

Your backbone and your slip,
I wrote letters across your hips
and I kissed them with vodka-marked lips

(C D G D x2)
But darling, we’ve done all this before.
But darling, we’ve done all this before.

(G D Em D x1)
And now that I see there is hope left for me
I drink it all down and I walk through the town

(C D Em Bm x1)
And I don’t mind, no I don’t mind, if it ends tonight, after all.

(C D G D x1)
(C D G x1)

But darling, we’ve done all this before.
But darling, we’ve done all this before.

A song a week #28 (Homesickness)

Posted 21 Jul 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

Whooops; alright, so I nearly slipped this week. I am posting this on the 7th day of the allotted time period for this week, so I’m just about still on track.

Apologies for the dissonance here – I wrote this song recalling being homesick in Montreal a few years back, but cobbled together the video with footage from London Bridge. Hardly fitting stuff – but perhaps I can blag it by virtue of the song being about missing home. Let’s call London Bridge home for the time being, yes?

Here it is – week 28′s effort. Do comment, and do share. Ta.

A song a week #25 (The Necklace)

Posted 27 Jun 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Video, Weekly Song

Instead of just saying, here is my latest song, it’s about… I thought I’d use this week’s post to describe something, if I can, about my experience of writing lyrics. Specifically about the way that songwriting in this way is very different to any song writing I’ve done previously. I’m writing a song every single week of this year, and doing so, with all the time limitations that come with it, means adapting my technique according to circumstance. Previously, it would have been quite normal for me to occasionally get my phone, or a notebook, out, and jot down lyrics on the train, with the knowledge that, one Saturday in the future, I could sit down with my guitar and spend a few hours cycling through chords and looking for ways to hang the words on interesting melodies. In that scenario, there’s no urgency at all in the equation; you think through, abstractly, a few ideas, until the opportunity presents itself to do something with all that unguided preparation.

Having a deadline, naturally, changes everything. It’s unavoidably true that while, in the greater scheme of things, I regard lyrics as being unarguably more important than music, I can do less at the end of a week with a complete set of words and no tune at all than I can with a chord progression, a melody and no words to use. For that reason I sometimes idly fantasise about spending *next year* writing no music at all, and concentrating exclusively on writing words which I can come back to the year after. But this is planning gone mad. Either way, the fact remains, I’m now having to write chord progressions, bass lines and drum patterns on the train, and until Sunday afternoon, lyrics are forgotten. (Thank heavens for my iPad, which enables me to do this stuff – otherwise it’d be pretty impossible).

So I’ve had to approach words in a different way, and the whole song-writing process has changed as a result. For example, imagine that I had started off with the notion of writing a song about, say, being haunted by ghosts. Starting with the idea, it’s deeply unlikely I’d have opted for a bunch of cheerful major chords, and would instead have opted for eerie minor chords and a stilted, atmospheric rhythm. But writing the other way around, the scenario is reversed. I create something bouncy and optimistic sounding? There go lyrics about the First World War.

What happens more and more is a kind of free association, and it’s an oddly accurate way of working. I’ll record the bare bones of a song, with a few suggested melodies picked out on my guitar or in garageband, and from then on it’s the case of looping the recording and singing nonsense over the top, repeatedly, looking for harmonic clues that get me nearer to having a finished song. On almost every occasion, in doing so, I find a phrase that seems somehow apt, and it’s from there that the lyric springs. (Sometimes I leaf through a book of poetry while I’m searching for vocal melodies, so quite often the turn of phrase which sparks my imagination is not my own at all).

Anyway, this week’s song worked in the following way. I wrote the chord progression on the train between Kings Cross and St Neots on Wednesday, embellished it in the kitchen of my parents’ house in Cambridge on Thursday, added guitar at home in Brighton on Sunday morning, and worked out some lyrics that afternoon. The free association here came from finding something in the music which had that kind of mournful, country rock grief which centres on a failed relationship. There’s a wonderful lyric on the (terrific) Caitin Rose album which goes:

“remember the day that the whole thing started / and the little black box in the glove compartment”.

I found myself forming a mental picture of a couple sat in a restaurant, with the guy opening up a jewellery box to reveal… not a ring but a necklace. That was all really. But from that sudden image, summoned up through sheer free association, I present this:

Week 25 of 52; hope you like it.

A song a week: Song #11 (Vertigo)

Posted 18 Mar 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

Wheee, I came really close to not having a song together for this week! As of yesterday, I had nothing, and it took a frenzied hour on the train home from work to pull the basic frame of a track together using the new GarageBand app on my iPad. When I got home I hooked up a pair of cheap headphones (with a mic enclosed) and bashed out a guitar line and a vocal. So here is my quickest, least developed Weekly Song go far. I think it worked out kinda well in the circumstances – a bit of wonky singing aside.

The video was shot in the Jubilee Library, Brighton, on World Book Night.

Vertigo by jonathanshipley

A song a week: Song #6 (Monument)

Posted 11 Feb 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

Here’s this week’s song – it’s called ‘Monument’. I do hope you like it. Following the video (my first shot on my new Pentax K-X) is a brief insight into how I’m finding the process of writing a song a week, so far:

Some things are proving harder than others in writing a song a week. The main problem is really getting started. I tend to start off with a melody or a phrase, and start recording early, so I can chop up and improvise things around the initial start-point. It inevitably leads to a stage, around half-way in, where I conclude I don’t have anything usable. Either I can’t get a melody right or I can’t fit lyrics I’m happy with into the rhythm. At that point – ordinarily – I’d usually press save then give up, turning my attention to another idea.

Writing a song a week is teaching me the value of perseverance. I literally don’t have time to start again.So usually the best thing to do is to take some time away and come back to it, and I invariably find that doing so reinvigorates me with new ideas for melodies or words. Further, I’m increasingly stripping songs back – peeling away layers which I’ve added in the recording process so that I can sing into space – which allows me to take more liberties with harmonies and try new things out.

I’ve noticed as I’ve gone that for the most part the songs I’ve written are quite consistent musically – not in the sense of being equally good but in terms of sharing the same sonic structure; very little distortion, brittle trebly and slightly spare sounds, with lots of space. The first bunch all had dry, monotonous squelchy little basslines, which I rather liked (but have stopped for fear of making 52 identical songs). I might be overdoing the stereo seperation but I feel like at the moment I’m creating small, discrete, well-mannered little pop songs; and everything should be set apart, given space to breathe. I will get some electric guitars into things as we progress, I promise.

You can listen to all the songs serially, if you wish, via this youtube playlist.

The other thing that’s hard, I think, is lyrics. Thinking up something worthwhile to say each week is, of course, much harder than stringing together four chords and singing over the top of it. This week, to begin with, I came up with a fairly oblique set of images which were supposed to sum up something vaguely mournful. The defining visual I had in my mind was of a set of flowers and scarves laid in reminisence, which is why the song’s called ‘Monument’.

Instead of writing something very straightforward, I had a page of notes which I held up in front of me doing vocal takes, combining lines and pretty much composing the structure as I went, which worked well except for the fact that I realised, later, that I had mis-sung a line and as a consequence failed to get across what I wanted – so in the second part of the first verse I sing “and we all know it’s only among them / because she was so very young” – when I meant to sing ‘he‘. So the context is changed from the fallen to the bereaved, which is not what I wanted. With more time I would have changed it but my time ran out, so…. I think given that the lyrics are pretty vague, it doesn’t much matter.

Let me know what you think in the comments section, or over at my @weeklysongs twitter account?

Here’s the song on Soundcloud.

Monument by jonathanshipley

A song a week for 2011: Song #4 (Alsace)

Posted 28 Jan 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Weekly Song

A few of these songs seem to be taking on a fairly melancholy strain. I think that’s because it’s always easy to tap into and access sadness, creatively, but you really need to feel jolly to compose something happy. Plus I think I naturally incline towards minor key melodies. Sad music has never made me feel down, although I know it sometimes bothers others.

Anyway – this song isn’t really supposed to be melancholic; it may be about missing absent friends, but really it was conceived as more of a celebration of them. So this song is for all my friends, all of whom contribute enormously to my quality of life – but particularly for Anne-Sophie, Rich, Pete, Siobhan, Dan, Sam, Laura, Andy, Ali, Chris and Natalia – all of whom really need to just adjust their life plans and get on with moving back to Brighton.

Alsace by jonathanshipley

A song a week for 2011: Song #3 (Tapping Stones)

Posted 21 Jan 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Drawings, Music, Video, Weekly Song

So, week three of my song writing project. For those late to the party, I’m writing a song a week this year and publishing them on my blog. You can find the previous vids here (week one: ‘Inertia‘, week two: ‘Overseas‘).

For this week’s song I should perhaps attribute Pete a co-writing credit, as I was working under commission – here’s the exchange that led to the song.

And here’s the song itself. The video was crowdsourced over Twitter so I must acknowledge that there are 40 odd wonderful drawings in this which are the work of others – I was really touched by their collective goodwill and willingness to help. The song itself was written at my parents’ house in Cambridge and recorded on iPad and iMac, using the customary spread of programs (check the youtube page for info).

Here’s the song – hope you like it, especially if you contributed a drawing. Credits after the jump.

There are so many people I have to thank for supplying contributions to this: my dad; my friends Laura, Sam, Anne-Sophie, Dan, Lyndsey, Siobhan, Ali, Iain and Ellie, and the many other people who, mainly through Twitter, sent me a drawing; Antony Harding, Adam Buxton, Anika Mottershaw, Rachael Smith, Mark Burgess, Mike Phillips, @ktmatey, David Gregson, Lee Garland, @macdog73, Richard Connell, Elaine Sheehan, James Hood, Edward Bear, Bob Wolf, Missy G, Carlos Garde Martin, James Cawkwell, Rin Räuber, Jo Jarrett, Hammo, Wayne Johannsen, Huw Barrett, Meg Jones, Dan (Hero of Switzerland), David Chamberlain, Adrian Barber, Jennie Maizels, Laura Solé Albors, David Ashley, @caitabee and Stacy Jacks. One or two others, for reasons of file quality, I had to exclude, I’m afraid – really sorry. But thanks for your effort.

Others helped, meanwhile, by sharing the link and encouraging others – particularly Darren Hayman and Graham Linehan, who marshalled their followers to help. Thanks so much to you and to everyone else.

Lastly – I’m so happy that Adam Buxton contributed. Thanks Adam. And I got Ant from Hefner to draw me a stonechat; what right-thinking indie kid wouldn’t like to be able to say that?

Tapping Stones by jonathanshipley

A song a week for 2011: Song #1 (Inertia)

Posted 07 Jan 2011 — by Jonathan
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Technology, Video, Weekly Song

I’m going to write, record and release a song, via Assistant Blog, every single week of 2011. Most will probably be faintly tuneful, slow indie rock, in the manner to which you are probably now accustomed, although I reserve the right to scamper down some blind alleys and post anything that takes my fancy, from found-sound compositions to abstract electronica. Most will be recorded through my mac, using a Zoom recorder, or my old 4 track, and some may be sung into the tinny microphone on my phone or composed on my iPad.

In other words, I’m making no promises for audio quality or aiming for perfection. Barring disaster, however, every song will be produced with a lot of care. Where possible, I’ll pull together a YouTube video for each one, as I think that makes them easier to consume. If anyone would like proper mp3s of them, they should drop me a line. All songs will be on soundcloud, too. I’m going to post them every Friday or Saturday, all being well.

Here’s the first.

It was, rather uniquely for me, composed, recorded and uploaded to the web soley using my iPad – I used four programs; Multitrack DAW, BassLine, DrumTrack8 and ThumbJam. This doesn’t exactly place me at the bleeding end of recording technology, but iPad music is at the earlier stages of its development, so I’m quite proud to have produced a song this way. This is, for the record, my first ever effort at composing with an iPad, which is why it’s a bit ragged. Given more time, I’d probably go back to it – but the point of this exercise is to be productive, so I’m not going to linger. Nevertheless, I think it’s quite a nice song.

When I was recording it I was thinking of small towns, autumnal feeling: twittens and cat’s creeps, overgrown canal-banks, waste paper wafting around. I meant for the song to be slow and wistful – possibly it ended up too slow. But there it is.

Here’s my first Weekly Song for 2011.

Inertia (Weekly Song #1) by jonathanshipley

New Euros Childs LP

Posted 06 Dec 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music

There’s a new Euros Childs album out. This is very good news indeed, because his last – the freely distributed ‘Son of Euro Child‘ – was blooming marvellous; a squelchy, imaginitive hotch-potch of casio-driven lo-fi pop, which featured lyrics like “Do you like mayonnaise? / I like mayonnaise! / Do you like your friends? / Good time friends mayonnaise!”.

His new record is called ‘Face Dripping’, and I bet you it’s fantastic. You can order a copy via Euros’ website (link above) or, if you prefer, just download it for free and make use of the ‘donate’ button on his site.

There’s a track called ‘Onion Horse’.

[edit: Listened to it now. You might want to try this one before you buy. It's challenging to say the very least. Gone is the lovely pop of the last record. Instead we have lots of quacking synths and not many tunes. Suspending judgement for now, but it's not what I expected. See the comments.]

Leif Vollebekk

Posted 27 Oct 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music

This is a quick, belated heads-up on behalf of a very impressive artist I saw last month – Leif Vollebekk is a singer and songwriter I’d not heard of before I saw him supporting Caitlin Rose at the Latest Music Bar in September, but he played a quite delightful set of tuneful, contemplative folk songs, all of which tempered an irrepressible instinct for melody with some ragged, unconventional playing. He was good enough to persuade me to buy his LP afterwards – but a listen to it is enough to persuade me that he’s already improved lots since he recorded it. Catch him live, if you can. Here’s a recording of his ‘Quebec’ which I made that night.

Sorry it’s a bit dark.

You can find out more about Leif at his myspace, here.

Milk & Biscuits

Posted 30 Jul 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Here’s a very quick music tip; I’ve just located the myspace page of Milk & Biscuits – a Brighton outfit who include, amongst others, the ubiquitous Tom White (of ESP, Brakes fame) and Kayla Bell (from one of my fave bands, Foxes!), as well as at least one member of Restlesslist, about whom I know, er, nothing. Indeed, after that, I know nothing about Milk & Biscuits, except that they make quiet, spectral, low-key indie pop and are evidently rather lovely. There’s nothing in the way of a biog on the myspace, only the following:

There is something special about sitting in the sunshine with your friends on a protruding platform on the side of your home. All those secret windows, those black walls – all those lives right there – a little bit closer to you. And just between the two tallest buildings and over the sycamore tree is the Channel – blue, undulating and wild. And beyond that, France, Paris, the winding Seine. Down some rotten alley off Notredame, a black and white cat skilfully picks the last of the meat off a discarded fish. A small bird zips past it’s ear out into the square and catches a bread crumb tossed into the air by a homeless woman. From the first floor window of a bookshop across the way a British tourist looks at her feeding them – she has not a care in the world except for those little creatures, and as he reclines back on the dusty settee he remembers the last time he was home; on the balcony looking at the backs of the houses – wondering if the party in that penthouse lounge was any good.

Go check out the two lovely songs they’ve posted.

On Fred Perry

Posted 05 Apr 2010 — by Jonathan
Category General

I could never really get the Fred Perry to work for me, which is why I’ve always felt there’s something unresolved about it as a brand and as a garment. During the mid-1990s I enthusiastically embraced a whole host of clothing tips I learned from the likes of Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker and Brett Anderson, and the most significant were generally influenced by mod fashion – desert boots, three button jackets, skinny ties, etc. I probably looked daft, but I had the right frame for those clothes and enjoyed dressing up.

I know I write on here a lot about Blur, but I was never the sort of fan who obsessively collected everything by them, tried to imitate them in every way, etc. But there weren’t many kids with similar tastes to me at school and the need to assert myself as an identifiable member of a tribe was always important to me, meaning I spent as much time looking at the clothes people were wearing in The Melody Maker as reading the reviews. Stylistically Damon Albarn made the running for a long period of the 90s, which is probably why everyone – including me – dressed like him. But I make that distinction to (attempt to) demonstrate that I was more interested in looking like Blur’s audience, than Blur themselves.

Anway, Damon, particularly, seemed determined to pillage the early to mid-80s in the way he dressed, probably inspired by the likes of Terry Hall and Madness, and so his audience followed his lead and I too picked up old Adidas t-shirts from charity shops, retro trainers from Carnaby Street, horrible white Harrington jackets (see below) and even a few badly judged tracksuit tops. This more casual, laddish look – I should have realised at the time – was something I’d never really pull off. It only worked for Damon because he had a terribly fortunate combination of features; a good, strong jaw and feminine, sensitive-looking eyes. It made it possible for him to be simultaneously blokeish and effeminate. Those of us who followed in his tracks failed miserably – if you weren’t pretty, you looked indistinguishable from an Oasis fan, and if you were slight, like I was, the look was totally mismatched.

In particular, I had trouble with my Fred Perry polo. In the first instance, I wasn’t really sure what separated a Fred Perry from a Lacoste polo shirt in the first place (the distinction was important, of course) and secondly, I looked terrible when I wore it. It simply didn’t really fit. You need muscles to make a Fred Perry work, even if they’re only faintly discernible. Mine were non-existent. At the time, knowing I was a small teenager, I imagined that if I held on to my Fred Perry it would one day fit me perfectly, assuming I’d beef up eventually.

Well, I didn’t keep it forever and I certainly never beefed up. I just figured out it looked bad and persisting with it wasn’t getting me anywhere. Besides, by ’97 fashions had changed anyway and the average British indie-kid was starting to wear baggier jeans and looking less retro generally. And by that point, I’m pleased to say, I was finally starting to think less about what other people wore and more about what looked best on me. This is lucky as I spent most of the last few years of the 1990s listening to the Wu Tang Clan, whose look I couldn’t possibly imitate.

When Blur reformed last year, Damon Albarn got his old Fred Perry out of the cupboard (he’s stopped wearing it again now that his focus is Gorillaz) and all of a sudden I remembered how much I wanted that look to work when I was a kid. Damon still looked good, but I was canny enough to know I wouldn’t. Nevertheless, I did linger, at one point, over a single-tipped knit-shirt from Fred Perry, which was a finer, softer material, and an exact replica of a 1964 design that was cut a bit slimmer than the usual. Because it was limited edition, and made in Italy, it was really expensive, which was probably for the best because, of course, I look bloody awful in that style of shirt, so should know better.

Anyway. I think the only reason I still think about Fred Perry shirts is because I failed with that look in the first place, and it’s always niggled. Once again, I find myself looking at them again now, as I learn that they’re producing a new set of shirts with Liberty prints; they’re really pretty awesome, I think, and a good step away from the macho associations of the brand.

Again, however, it’s not something I could wear. Anyway – have a look.


Discovering Darwin Deez

Posted 10 Mar 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Something tells me there’s something incredibly annoying about this song (and its video) but whatever that is, it’s blocked out of sight by the sheer joyfulness of such a great pop tune. I’ve not encountered Darwin Deez, nor his splendid, terrifying haircut before, although he’s apparently been making waves with his bright, funky NY indie art-pop, which sounds like all the good bits of The Strokes without all the very many shit bits of The Strokes thrown in. Really like this – a big, grateful hat tip to the one-two combination of Claire and Anika for turning me on to this.

Graham Coxon at the Barbican, Nov 2009

Posted 09 Mar 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Last year, one of the best shows I attended was a terrific performance fron Graham Coxon, who played his ‘The Spinning Top’ LP in full at the Barbican, and revealed it in the process to be a spectacular, technicolour psych-pop masterpiece (in other words, it sounded a lot better live than it did on record – which is not to say the LP wasn’t great, too).

It was a genius show, and it also included a lovely, low-key encore where Graham played three original songs we rarely hear these days, dating as they do from his 2002 LP ‘The Kiss Of Morning’, as well as a charming cover of Elizabeth Cotton’s ‘Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie’, which he and his band dedicated to the memory of Davy Graham.

Here are those last four songs for your listening pleasure:
(Right click and ‘save target as’ to save)

Graham Coxon - Latte (Live at the Barbican)
Graham Coxon - Live Line (Live at the Barbican)
Graham Coxon - Baby, You're Out Of Your Mind (Live at the Barbican)
Graham Coxon - Oh, Babe It Ain't No Lie (Live at the Barbican)


Photo courtesy of Sara Amroussi-Gilissen, whose lovely website is here.