SARAH NIXEY first won the hearts of audiences as the lead singer of BLACK BOX RECORDER; 18 years since they got on ‘Top Of The Pops’ with ‘The Facts of Life’ and seven years since her last solo album ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’, Nixey is back with ‘Night Walks’.
A nocturnal body of work set in a metropolitan sub-world where everyone dodges the dangers of reality, the album was inspired by Nixey’s bouts of insomnia during a recovery from illness.
She said “All the songs are set at night time and it felt like I was going on night walks when I was writing them”.
Co-produced by her husband Jimmy Hogarth, ‘Night Walks’ is a sophisticated amalgam of everything SARAH NIXEY has ever been musically, with a Roland Jupiter 8, Minimoog, Casiotone 701 and a Hammond M102 among the instrumentation used, all fed through Leslie amps and captured on a Studer tape machine. As a result, this record has air and presence, a quality missed on many modern day home studio digital recordings.
The album’s key song is the chromatic flavoured ‘The Zeppelin’, an observation on warfare where the characters are either at war with themselves or with each other. In typical SARAH NIXEY style, there is that impending if seductive sense of doom over the drone-laden backdrop…
However, beginning ‘Night Walks’, the neo-Motorik ‘Coming Up For Air’ discusses the delicate subject of teenage mental health illness and parental love, but touchingly acknowledges the pain while offering support and encouragement.
Meanwhile, ‘Burning Bridges’ is not a JAPAN cover but a lively offering of synthetic disco driven by clattering drum machine, which despite Nixey’s previous dalliances with electronic pop, comes as something of a pleasant surprise and with a timely socio-political message.
Also conveying socio-political concerns, the sparse but more guitar oriented ‘Merry England’ covers the gentrification of London and Brexit, with Nixey’s voice sounding particularly rich and assured.
Continuing a brilliant musical ‘Journey’, this appropriately named tune is like one of those glorious Eurocentric numbers that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Taking things down, the acoustically centred ‘Love Is Blue’ offers some Bohemian filmic drama before the short celestial spoken word title track. The throbbing sequencer filled ‘Dancing At The Edge Of The World’ is Nixey’s own ‘I Feel Love’ with a classic NEW ORDER digital drum machine template thrown into the mix, crossed with falsetto and deadpan speech.
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum and layered in Hammond organ and muted guitar within a brush filled rhythmic setting, ‘Neon Moon’ beautifully reflects what it says on the tin.
Harsher in tone and more reminiscent of BLACK BOX RECORDER, ‘Tiger Woman’ features a powerful statement about a woman who doesn’t have a care in the world, while similarly sharper with bluesy guitar motifs and loud bangy drums, Nixey asks people to ‘Follow Me’.
Closing with ‘The Planet Of Dreams’, an electric piano is joined by some six string accompaniment with the surprise of flute and E-bowed guitar alongside minimal sweeps of vintage synth, as Nixey divinely offers hope in these uncertain times.
“Mostly, I wanted to tell stories and create a little metropolitan sub-world where I could escape to, and my listeners could eventually come with me”, Nixey said of ‘Night Walks’, “It’s an album that’s supposed to be listened to in its entirety, which is possibly a big ask these days.”
Although having a mix of electronic and acoustic based tracks, ‘Night Walks’ exudes a satisfying sonic cohesion that will please anyone who has ever been interested in the Dorset-born songstress’ work; it is undoubtedly SARAH NIXEY’s best solo album to date. Former BLACK BOX RECORDER band mate Luke Haines once said how SARAH NIXEY “had the ability to make all men fall in love with her”… well, it is time to fall in love all over again!
After a seven year absence, SARAH NIXEY is back with a nocturnal new album called ‘Night Walks’.
Written whilst struggling with insomnia during a recovery from illness, her songs are set in a metropolitan sub-world where everyone dodges the dangers of reality.
For this new album, Nixey made a conscious stylistic decision to move away from her previous solo albums ‘Sing, Memory’ and ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’ by respectively not focusing solely on electropop or live instrumentation to realise a captivating collection of lush avant-pop songs.
With her strict school teacher persona, Nixey first won the hearts of audiences as the lead singer of BLACK BOX RECORDER with Luke Haines and John Moore on songs such as Child Psychology’, ‘The Facts Of Life’, ‘The Art Of Driving’, ‘These Are The Things’ and ‘The School Song’; their work was recently celebrated with the career spanning ‘Life Is Unfair’ boxed set released by Caroline International.
SARAH NIXEY kindly embarked on a night walk with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to chat about her new album and the current state of the music industry…
Earlier this year, there was a BLACK BOX RECORDER boxed set ‘Life Is Unfair’ which you contributed to and then a guest appearance with Luke Haines and John Moore at The Lexington in London, how was it to go back to that period again?
I was very happy to venture into BBR’s archives and listen to some of my favourite songs from that period. We had a good time putting the boxset together and spent ages compiling it all. I like the look of it and it feels complete now, to have everything in one place, and I’m looking forward to the vinyl version later this year.
That Lexington gig was all very last minute. Luke called me the night before and asked if I wanted to do it. I was excited but nervous, as I hadn’t been on stage for years, and we hadn’t rehearsed. It felt good though, and I have always loved being on stage with Luke and John.
It’s been seven years since your last album ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’? Were there other things you wanted to do or had the writing process become more challenging?
My original intention was to release more songs fairly soon after ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’, and I did continue to write, but getting into the studio was a bit more of a challenge. Unfortunately, I was ill with oral shingles, misdiagnosed several times, and a few complications followed as a result. I ended up in hospital and I’m still taking medication for nerve pain across my face two years later. I had to get back into shape vocally, as this all took its toll on my voice – the medication kept drying out my mouth and throat. I worked really hard with a singing teacher who specialises in performing arts medicine and learnt so much about how the voice works and vocal health. Eventually, my voice got stronger and I have more choices now, with regard to how I can express myself.
It wasn’t just the illness that kept me from the studio. My time recording demos at home became really difficult too. I’ve got three children at home and I wanted to be available to them as much as possible, which meant not being in my home studio so much. My husband and I also started a recording studio business which I run, and that takes up quite a lot of my time. At one point I did wonder whether I would ever get back to music, but the songs were there, waiting to be recorded and I was determined to release them.
I still have this very strong need to be creative and I get very low in mood if I don’t write or record for a while. Writing a song and recording the demo, getting all the parts in place and the arrangements right is such a pleasure, and ideally I would be doing this full time. It can be extremely frustrating having to put everything aside to go about my domestic life, but that’s the way it is for now. I chose that path and somehow I have to make it work.
Your new album is called ‘Night Walks’, so it does what it says on the tin?
That title came from the fact that I have had insomnia for a few years. Sometimes it feels like the night really does walk, as opposed to run. All the songs are set at night time and it felt like I was going on night walks when I was writing them – little journeys around a lost part of the city and glimpses into lives of forgotten characters. I had a bit of an obsession with a particular area of London I lived in for a while called Fitzrovia. I started reading up on its history and all the artists that lived there, bohemians from a bygone era, writers and heiresses – just moments in their lives – and then used segments in my songs, along with other ideas.
I’ve always liked getting up in the night, when no one is around, and most of London is asleep. I used to drive around town or get a cab in the early hours and enjoy the city at night. Now, I just go to my home studio, and write and record whenever I can’t sleep. It’s a great time to get things done and think clearly, without any interruptions. It’s also very addictive, getting up and working when you know that no one is going to bother you. It can’t go on for long periods of time though, otherwise you end up with shingles.
‘Night Walks’ has been described as “a blend of electronica and classic 1970s analogue recording”, so are we talking vintage synths, reel-to-reel tape and a giant mixing console here?
Absolutely. We played around with a Roland Jupiter 8, Mini Moog, Casiotone 701 and a Hammond M102 through a Leslie 144. The tape machine is a Studer A800 MKIII. I used Neumann U47 and Telefunken V76 vocal mics, and that giant mixing desk is a Neve 8058 MKII. Also, various reverbs and delays too, which I won’t go into here.
‘Coming Up For Air’ discusses teenage mental health illness and parental love which is quite different from the harsh lyrical frankness of ‘Child Psychology’, has this been shaped by being a mother?
Not necessarily. I have always been around mental health illness. Some of my family members and close friends have had really hard times due to their mental health and I have a huge amount of compassion for them. I haven’t always completely understood but I do what I can to help them.
The chorus in ‘Child Psychology’ is a very British, wry response to a young woman recounting her privileged but unhappy childhood. I laughed when I first heard that song, although I do realise that not everyone shares this humour. By contrast, ‘Coming Up For Air’ acknowledges the pain and offers some words of encouragement. Perhaps the tough love chorus in ‘Child Psychology’ is too brutal now, given that we have seen a rise in child and adolescent mental health illness with this generation of young people. In 1998, when I was a young woman myself, it seemed quite amusing.
I hope ‘Coming Up For Air’ raises awareness around mental health issues in general, as it’s still something that we need to talk more about and address properly with more funding, and more understanding. My cousin took his own life last year and it rocked the whole family. He was surrounded by people that adored him, and yet he was utterly lost. Some songs have the power to let people cry and a few people have told me that this song has helped them in that way. That means a lot to me.
But there’s a song called ‘Tiger Woman’, is that about strict parenting or something else entirely?
‘Tiger Woman’ is about a woman who doesn’t have a care in the world. I was reading about a bohemian model and dancer called Betty May, and this song kind of wrote itself, overnight. She’s strong and daring, beautiful and graceful all at once.
With everything that’s going on socio-politically, England is one of your lyrical topics on songs like ‘Merry England’ and ‘The Zeppelin’?
‘Merry England’ is definitely a socio-political song. I started writing it when I was reading about the post war slum clearances and it got me thinking about all the gentrification going on in London at the moment. The EU referendum result was announced just before I finished writing it so the chorus ended up taking that in too.
‘The Zeppelin’ was the first song I wrote for this album and it set the tone for all the other songs. War is a strong theme throughout – all the characters are either at war with themselves or with each other. There is a sense of impending doom, but one way or another, they survive.
How do you think your voice has changed over the years, have there been any new techniques you’ve been trying for this album?
I’m constantly working on my voice and I look after it so much better now than I did twenty years ago. I like to think it’s getting richer, and I’m exploring more ways to express myself these days, but I will leave that to my listeners to decide. For a period of time around ‘The Facts of Life’, my singing became very breathy and, whilst I have kept that aspect of my voice, I have made steps to move away from it on some of these new songs.
I am more aware now of how my voice works and what I need to do to keep it in shape, so that I can continue to sing in the future. I’ve read so many books on singing and attended a few courses – I am now a voice nerd. I teach my children to sing and their friends, and I work with their school sometimes too. I’m currently reading about singing and the imagination. Plus I’ve also been developing my musicianship skills, and continue to do this on a daily basis by playing the piano and studying music theory. I am a constantly learning and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.
By the sounds of things, ‘Night Walks’ appears to be a collection of everything you’ve ever been musically, all rolled into one?
Yes, that’s what I was really aiming for. Sonically, at least.
Mostly, I wanted to tell stories and create a little metropolitan sub-world where I could escape to, and my listeners could eventually come with me. It’s an album that’s supposed to be listened to in its entirety, which is possibly a big ask these days. I know that most people listen to songs, but I love listening to whole albums from start to finish. I’m not someone who listens to playlists. Perhaps I’m becoming old fashioned, or maybe I always was.
Since we last spoke in 2011 about how illegal downloading was changing the music consumption landscape, streaming has taken over with the issue of artist recompense being a major talking point, what are your own thoughts?
The business of music is full of people who do not care about music. They are literally there to make money and that has always been the case, but it seems all the more so now.
I’m not sure there are A&R people anymore at record labels – just business managers. If you have managed to get a good following on social media and have an album already recorded, then you may get signed. I think years ago, interesting artists were signed because someone at a label loved what they were doing, knowing that they may never make huge amounts of money. How many artists are getting this kind of support now? If you’ve got a lot of money (or your family has) to fund your projects, you may be ok.
You can make an album in your bedroom, but I think you can only do so much on a laptop. If you want your music to sound good, you need to spend some time and money on the right studio equipment and getting the right people to work on it. How can you do that if you don’t have the resources and there aren’t any A&R people ready to listen? Right now, I have more questions than answers.
The music scene is all about the musicians, writers, producers and the fans, and all the people in the background helping them get to where they want to be. The music business makes money out of the music scene, and the big record labels used to control the market. That’s all changed. The internet has helped break down the barriers between artists and their audience. Listeners can find bands and singers they love much more easily. This is what needs harnessing, and perhaps in the future, streaming corporations will be bypassed altogether, so that we have point to point contact, with fans buying directly from artists. For now, the corporations who control streaming should be challenged at every opportunity. The right deals can be struck. It feels like a constant battle though.
But the market for vinyl appears to have re-opened, is this something you are personally interested in, especially as from your BLACK BOX RECORDER and solo catalogue, ‘England Made Me’ was the only album ever originally issued in this format?
I think vinyl is becoming more popular but it’s probably a niche market. Perhaps what people are doing is listening to music on their computers and phones, and then buying into the physical product sometimes, if they want the artwork, or just like the idea of having something tangible. ‘Night Walks’ will be released on vinyl, and I’m really excited about having it in that format. I play records at home and love the sound of vinyl – it’s a personal thing. In reality, I think most people want the convenience of digital music.
Will ‘Night Walks’ be supported by any live shows? Is performing something you actually enjoy?
I always loved performing in plays and musicals when I was young. I even studied Drama for my degree and spent a year in a theatre company before Black Box Recorder. We toured as a band, and I’ve played lots of solo gigs too. Playing live has taken a back seat to writing and recording more recently. It also became more difficult to fit in with my family life. I have to put my family before everything else, otherwise I’m not happy. I also have to help put food on the table, and running a business contributes to that, and I put in the hours there.
Also, playing live now costs way more than I get paid and I don’t have a record label behind me with a tour budget, so I have to weigh up whether a gig is worth it financially. I need a band if I’m going to do it properly and they all need paying. Rehearsal space, transport, hotels etc… it all costs, and unless I get some kind of financial backing, a tour is no longer possible. I may be able to play some acoustic gigs, but really, I will have to see how things go. That’s the reality of the situation, and it’s not ideal.
But there’s nothing like standing in front of an audience who want to hear your songs. I miss that.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its grateful thanks to SARAH NIXEY
‘Night Walks’ is released on 7th October 2018 by Black Lead Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats
Sarah Nixey first became known as the lead singer of BLACK BOX RECORDER, a trio of mischievous popsters who succeeded in being banned from both Radio 1 and MTV in 1998 with their second single ‘Child Psychology’ and its bluntly delivered line: “Life is unfair. Kill yourself or get over it”.
From the debut album ‘England Made Me’, other titles such as ‘Girl Singing In The Wreckage’, ‘It’s Only The End Of The World’ and ‘Kidnapping An Heiress’ showcased the dark but sexy, ice maiden allure of this Dorset born ex-drama student and only added to her appeal.
Recruited by THE AUTEURS’ Luke Haines and former JESUS & MARY CHAIN drummer John Moore into the band because “she had the ability to make all men fall in love with her”, SARAH NIXEY raised blood pressures as she delightfully recalled the traumas of many an adolescent boy in 2000 on their Top 20 hit ‘The Facts Of Life’, a track apparently inspired musically by Billie Piper’s ‘Honey To The B’!
With prominent use of the creepy instrument known as ‘The Saw’ and various synthesizers, the similarly titled album also featured ‘The Art of Driving’, a story that brilliantly used road safety metaphors to describe the brash attempts of a hapless boy racer to bed the object of his desire. The Roadcraft manual had never sounded so arousing!
Her well spoken sexy school teacher demure was taken a step further in 2003 on the more electronically driven long player ‘Passionoia’ with ‘The School Song’ and its unforgettable array of classroom catchphrases like “wipe that idiotic smile off your face – when you’re here you do what I say!” and “line up by the pool… yes I know it’s February – you lot need a bit of toughening up!”.
Other highlights included a stark observation on the pre-internet dating world of personal ads ‘GSOH QED’ and the now prophetic, highly humourous synth girl anthem ‘Andrew Ridgeley’.
As BLACK BOX RECORDER went on hiatus, in 2005 she recorded a beautiful cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY whose James Banbury became her main collaborator on her 2007 debut solo album ‘Sing, Memory’.
Meanwhile the duo’s other member was none other than ZTT conceptualist Paul Morley and ‘Sing, Memory’ was released via their ServiceAV recorded media company. MIDI-ed up and into the groove, she even included an enjoyable cover of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Black Hit of Space’, thereby confirming her affinity with GOLDFRAPP, LADYTRON and CLIENT in paving the way for acts like LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX.
BLACK BOX RECORDER reunited in 2008 but announced they were splitting for good in 2010 following the release of a final single, ‘Keep It In The Family’ b/w ‘Do You Believe In God’. Now combining a busy family life with a music career, SARAH NIXEY has released a brand new independently released album ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’. Moving away from electronica, this collection is more organic with guitar, piano and strings comprising the subtle palette.
With sonic similarities to GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Seventh Tree’ and JULEE CRUISE’s ‘Floating Into The Night’, this is an album of reflection, down tempo but gorgeously accessible despite the macabre subject matter. However, this isn’t a complete break with her past as John Moore contributes ‘The Saw’ and there are smatterings of string machine on several tracks such as ‘The Homecoming’ and ‘Love Gets Dangerous’. Overall, it is a wonderfully emotive record reflecting the mood of the times.
With the imminent release of ‘The Homecoming’ as an EP, Sarah Nixey kindly spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about her career and her move into a more naturalistic aural environment. So, this is Sarah Nixey talking…
You inadvertently became a cheerleader for the synth girls who appeared from the mid-noughties onwards with the BLACK BOX RECORDER song ‘Andrew Ridgeley’. Were the words “I was brought up to the sound of the synthesizer – I learned to dance to the beat of electronic drums” autobiographical?
It’s true that I listened to a huge amount of electronic pop music when I was young, along with lots of other genres too. I grew up during the eighties and you really couldn’t get away from the synthesizer then.
This song, however, was written to tease me. John Moore knew I liked George Michael and WHAM! when I was 10 years old so he wrote the lyric: “I never liked George Michael much”, he’s very cruel! The song is about growing up in the eighties to early nineties (from Blue Monday to Black Wednesday), the political and economical landscape at that time coupled with the idolisation of eighties popstar Andrew Ridgeley.
Of course you went the full hog with your debut album ‘Sing, Memory’ which included a cover of ‘The Black Hit of Space’, plus you did a cover of JAPAN’s ‘Ghosts’ with INFANTJOY. What stands out for you about the music of that Synth Britannia era?
Stand out artists for me at the time were ROXY MUSIC, HUMAN LEAGUE, GARY NUMAN, SOFT CELL and PET SHOP BOYS. The artists I was listening to from outside the UK ranged from KRAFTWERK to early MADONNA, whose song ‘Into The Groove’ made a huge impression on me. What a great pop song!
So what happened to BLACK BOX RECORDER? You got back together in 2008 but then made your ‘Final Statement’ last year.
We’re all grown up now, in our thirties and forties, and too old to be in a pop group! BBR died a natural death.
When all members of a band start working on solo projects, there really isn’t much they can bring to a group situation, as we discovered. I think once a band member goes off to work on something solo, it’s pretty much over.
There are exceptions to that rule but mainly I think all band members have to be committed to the one project for longevity, and that was never the case with BBR.
You got on Top Of The Pops with ‘The Facts of Life’ and were a poster girl in Melody Maker. How did you find being in the limelight as a popstar?
I never felt like a popstar. I was a singer in a band and really didn’t see myself as anything more than that. I was enjoying myself, going to lots of parties and spending a lot of time doing press and radio interviews and playing shows occasionally. I was living right in the centre of London, next to the BT tower and Soho was right on my doorstep, when it was fun to hang out there. I had a good time for a while and didn’t take any of it too seriously.
How do you feel about the sexy school teacher image that has been projected of you over the years?
That all started with ‘The Facts of Life’ video when I played the role of a biology teacher. The image has never really gone away, I suppose because it’s been entrenched in some journalists minds. I will probably always be that person to some people and it does no harm. It’s a fantasy and I have played up to it in the past, which makes me a willing accomplice in the projection of this image.
You’re seen as the epitome of Posh Englishness but there’s a French side to you as showcased by your gorgeous cover of ‘Le Temps De L’Amour’. Also, BLACK BOX RECORDER’s songs like ‘These Are The Things’ often had a distinct French sounding flavour. Where do your Gallic influences come from?
I love Françoise Hardy, Serge Gainbourg, Edif Piaf and Jacques Brel. I was also a big fan of AIR and more recently I’ve been listening to Sebastien Tellier.
‘When I’m Here With You’ has a French version entitled ‘Ici Avec Toi’. Which came first?
I wrote ‘When I’m Here With You’ first, quite early on in the writing process for ‘Sing, Memory’. ‘Ici Avec Toi’ seemed the perfect B-side to ‘Le Temps De L’ Amour’ which I released a couple of years later and so we simply translated the lyrics and re-recorded the vocal. I like the sound of French words, even if my accent isn’t accurate. I’m an English woman who sounds very English even when singing in French.
You also did Jacques Brel’s ‘Le Moribond’ aka ‘Seasons In The Sun’ with BLACK BOX RECORDER, but most people probably thought you were doing WESTLIFE?
Or maybe we were doing Terry Jack’s version…
You’re back with a new album ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’ which is a move away from the synthesis of ‘Sing, Memory’ and ‘Passionoia’?
It is a definite departure from what I’ve been coming up with for the past decade. I needed to find a new way of working and the sound for this album was really a result of that.
I may well go back to electronic music but for now, this is where I’m at sonically.
Can you tell us what is the title track is about?
The song ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’ is about girl gangs. I read a newspaper article about a gang in Birmingham who had stabbed a man in a bus shelter and wrote the song using that report as a starting point. It’s a mother talking to her daughter. There’s a huge amount of distance between them and the mother is trying to make sense of what has happened. A lot of my ideas come from reading newspapers, films, books or stories I’ve been told. They are great sources of inspiration for me and it beats writing about my life all the time.
‘Miss Sauvignon’ could be your own ‘Some Velvet Morning’, it becomes quite epic in the middle…
A friend confided in me about her husband’s drinking habit. She felt that alcohol was the mistress in their marriage and had named her ‘Miss Sauvignon’. Even though the song isn’t strictly about that particular relationship, ‘Miss Sauvignon’ makes an appearance in the middle, which is why it gets a bit excitable then. I wanted to bring the character to life and create a little whirlwind in the stillness and controlled lullaby nature of the rest of the track. The moral of this is, never trust me as a friend.
You’ve described ‘The Burial Of Love’ as the saddest song you’ve ever written?
Yes because it’s about the death of a period of time in my life I shared with someone, never to be repeated and lost forever. A death that I was not prepared for and didn’t want, but was ultimately inevitable.
And you’ve thrown in a murder ballad too?
‘Gathering Shadows’ is written from a story I was told when I was young about requited love. A man kills his lover and her teenage son then he turns the gun on himself. The person telling the story in the song is the man’s child and forever carries the burden of shame from this double murder and suicide.
It wouldn’t be a complete album for me if there wasn’t a murder. I watched far too many episodes of Agatha Christie’s ‘Poirot’ when I was younger.
You have a new EP out of ‘The Homecoming’. On it is a minimal electronic styled dance mix by MICROFILM which is very different from your original version. How did you decide upon having a quite radical reworking for clubs, especially when the parent album is so organic?
MICROFILM are a band I’ve been collaborating with for a few years now. I think they’re brilliant and their remix is so inventive and poles apart from the original. They’ve created a whole new song really. That’s what I love about getting other artists to do reworkings. It doesn’t matter that it’s so far away from my track; in fact I like it all the more because of that.
The HALF COUSIN remix of ‘Black Rose’ almost sounds like avant-garde Bluegrass. How much freedom do you give someone when a remix is commissioned?
I like to give complete free rein as it doesn’t make much sense to me to stipulate what I want. I think it’s important to let the remixers do whatever they feel is within their capability and to their artistic taste. I asked Kevin Cormack from HALF COUSIN as I love his own songs and knew he’d do something really imaginative. His remix of ‘Black Rose’ really is very special.
Which recordings from your varied catalogue are you most proud?
I am proud of my new album, primarily because I put it together myself. Full creative control is immensely satisfying. I generally like the songs most people rarely comment on. ‘Frost At Midnight’ from my new album is a favourite and ‘Wonderful Life’ from ‘The Worst Of BLACK BOX RECORDER’ rarities collection. ‘The Collector’ was the first song I ever wrote so that is pretty special to me too.
BLACK BOX RECORDER’s version of ALTHEA & DONNA’s ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ has to be one of the most bizarre and amazing covers ever. You’ve always reinterpreted the work of others, would a covers album ever be artistically on the cards for you?
‘Uptown Top Ranking’ was recorded with a similar view to ‘Le Temps De L’Amour’. An English woman who sounds very English when singing / speaking in Jamaican Patois.
The general response to that song was people either loved it or hated it. I remember recording the vocal with a terrible hangover, in one take. I just couldn’t do anymore that day. In terms of a cover record, I wouldn’t rule it out. I think it would take some time to choose the right songs, but I’d enjoy it – I like working with other writers’ material.
You appeared on ITN news a few years back to voice your concerns about free downloading and now the music industry has changed radically, even since ‘Sing, Memory’. Many acts now issue any number of remixes or tracks free online as a promotional tool. How does an artist of your standing survive now with less physical product actually being sold now?
I think there is a difference between offering a free download when you’re promoting a record and someone uploading your album and letting the world know that it’s available free of charge, without the artist’s consent. Around seven years ago, one of my friends was producing a news piece for ITN about illegal downloading and asked if I’d give my opinion. My point at the time was that people were beginning to listen to music differently and that needed to be acknowledged. But I was also questioning whether the sharing of music in this way was going to help artists in a difficult and changing industry.
It’s nearly always been the artists who get the least out of any profits – see Steve Albini’s ‘The Problem With Music’ and with downloading on the rise, it looked like it would hit artists even more. Subsequently, I think the internet has almost put an end to 100 years of selling music as a physical commodity – whether it be vinyl, tape or CD. But even though many young music buyers will never go into a record shop with their pocket money and buy a single, legal download sales seem to be on the rise.
Technology has also changed the way people create music. So much can be done within the home now, on a laptop, which means it can be cheaper to put an album together, plus easier and quicker to release it. Recording studios are closing down everywhere and children are learning to use Logic at school.
I think now there are so many options for artists, it can be difficult to find the route that’s right for them. The old model of signing to a big label for an advance (but giving away creative control) still exists and works well for some, not so well for others.
I have chosen the self-written / recorded / produced / released path and Cargo Records distribute plus take care of the press and marketing. I retain the rights to my music and I have complete creative control. Not every artist can do this or has the interest in releasing their own music. They need to find their own way and get financial backing if they can.
Writing your own songs and getting them licensed are possibly the ways forward financially for artists. I’m not sure that there are any clear answers. Most musicians I know either have other ways of making money or now make records for their pleasure only. Thankfully, I’m very fortunate in that I don’t have any concerns about my situation and I can carry on releasing music as and when I want to, for the love of doing it.
So what next for you?
I have more gigs planned in London later in the year. I will release one more EP and then begin work on my next album. Who knows where I’ll go with that.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to SARAH NIXEY
‘The Homecoming EP’ can be purchased from the usual online digital outlets. The ‘Brave Tin Soldiers’ album is available as a CD or download. All are released by Black Lead Records.