Saturday, 14 December 2013

I am suspended from the rafters + New Album on the way

I am suspended from the rafters with my guitar, various electrical gear and inventions in an open front two-meter-square metal container above what can best be described as a stage turned into a shallow lake of water. (Those in the front seats in the theater are provided with blankets to shield them from splashes.)

Below me, scantily-clad actresses are cavorting around in the water and splashing paint on themselves and doing things with their bodies that sends various colors of tinted water caterwauling in fantastic curved shapes through the air and the stark spotlighting.

 I am wearing a suit tailored to resemble my Hornicator in color and texture (and sparkling red shoes that you can't really see but personally I think they are cool whether you laugh or not), and here play the part of what you might describe as a kind of puppet-master/observer/musical commentator.

 Though my songs are (mostly) in English, this is a modern German interpretation of a classic Norwegian play first published in 1867, rich in strange folklore, but in many respects pertinent to our modern obsessions with speed, success, wealth, self, Facebook.  I'm still struggling to really get a hold on the German language, so though I'm familiar with the somewhat surreal story that's being told, I have to take my cues from the action more than the text. This can get tricky when all you can see is the inside of your Hornicator, or there's a complete stage blackout or a spotlight in your eyes, and your hanging cage is swinging around a bit. But it's arguably also the best seat in the house at the Theater Dortmund, and it's a wonderful privilege to be part of this talented crew lead by my friend Kay Voges, who is trying not to let descriptions commonly appearing in the press like "currently Germany's hottest director" go to his head.

Described recently as a "Punk" director (as much for his Ramones T-shirt as his directing style, to be fair),  Kay replied: "Punk ist drei Akkorde und die Wahrheit. Für‘s Theater heißt das: kompromisslose Leidenschaft.”
("Punk is three chords and the truth. For the theater, this means the same uncompromising passion.")
Uwe Rohbeck, Bettina Leider
If the whole of Peer Gynt, in five acts, is produced as written (it often has been), it typically lasts four or five hours.  Kay's version races along at a lean 90 minutes.  That doesn't mean it isn't rich with subtlety and quiet moments of beauty, and I gave it my all to make my original music follow suit.   There are some playful instrumental incidental pieces but the majority are full blown, new original proper songs (and a few tasteful covers) Some of them will only be heard in full on the album because of the pace and economy of the play.

While we were developing and rehearsing this summer I started recording everything, but being the perfectionist I am it's taken me a while to hone it all to a proper whole that unfolds satisfyingly in a purely audio form:
Cover Photo by Chris Saunders
It will be released in February but pre-release orders are being taken ahead of time,  and you get an immediate download of one of the new songs when you pre-order from HERE.

 I steered away from treading on Grieg's intimidatingly beautiful classical score written for the same play for the most part, but we felt it needed an homage or two. It is after all, in most cultures, even more synonymous with the name Peer Gynt than the play itself. It's interesting to note that Ibsen himself thought Grieg's score was too sweet, but said it "Sugared the pill so the public could swallow it."
Here's a short promo video for the play featuring an early demo-version of one of the new songs:


In case you're wondering whatever happened to the songs I started working on quite a while back now with (Dresden Doll) Brian Viglione, that album is still in the works (a lot of work to go!) and I'm quite excited about it.  Peer Gynt just came along and took over my life and as the play is still running it just makes sense this comes out first. That said, there is one track on the Peer Gynt album featuring some fantastic Viglione drumming.

 I'm proud of this new album and in it's live presentation it's had a very warm reception (I've graduated from being called a  'one man band' to a 'one man orchestra' now. Uh oh). There's some symphonic stuff, some electronic stuff, lots of guitar, and there's a new instrument I built specifically for the play called the 'Saxogramophone' on which I perform an instrumental derived partially from Grieg's 'Morning Mood'.
The Saxogramophone
In favor of doing a Kickstarter or Pledgemusic campaign for this one, I am offering pre-sales which will help get the album through all the work involved in its launch.  CD versions will be in a beautiful limited edition Digipak.

Order a pre-sale and get an IMMEDIATE DOWNLOAD of the song 'Crazy Me' here: There's also more info about the album on the bandcamp page.

If you're reading this before tuesday the 17th of December here's a special code that will get you 10 percent off any downloads or CDs I've got for sale on my bandcamp page:  HornicatorLove

In other news I'll be playing a rare one-off show in London at the Spice Of Life on the 29th of December get tickets here

As you know, I don't blog very often (this being only the second time this year) so in case I don't see you in London beforehand I'd like to wish you a Happy Holiday season from all of us in Wowtown!
As always, please feel free to leave comments below and share this post. Thanks for your continued support.


Remaining live Peer Gynt performances at the Theater Dortmund:
Sa, 21. Dezember 2013
Do, 16. Januar 2014
Fr, 07 Feb 2014
Do, 20 Feb 2014
Sa, 01 March 2014
Sa, 22. März 2014
Do, 10 Apr 2014
Fr, 06 June 2014

Thursday, 24 January 2013

America's Got Talent Invite, Must Be The Music, and my Rapid Rise to Superstardom

First off, thank you to all of you on Facebook and Twitter that responded to my question about how I should respond to the invitation to participate on 'America's Got Talent'.  I'm not going to do it, and I'll explain why. 

I'm surprised by how many of you said 'go for it', and  'what have you got to lose'.  I have a wonderful group of people that appreciate the music I make and come to the shows and buy my records and help keep my head above water.  I'm sure there are plenty more people out there that would appreciate my act and my music it if they just knew about it. That can be frustrating so I am just as enchanted as the next guy by the idea that something like this could possibly be a magic bullet of mass exposure and move my career up to that seemingly ever-evasive proverbial 'next level' or break through stage.   Several of my friends that surprised me by saying "go for it" are also artists that have significantly larger fanbases. I know I need to build my audience if I want to keep going and growing, but is it really necessary to stoop to being involved in such ugliness to do so?

 I'm also a little, but not too, surprised that so few recall that I've played this game before a few years ago when I was invited to appear on similar show 'Must Be The Music' in Britain.  I was in two minds about that one and struggled to decide, but in the end the 'what have you got to lose' voice won out. I thought well, someone's gotta stand up and let the kids know that we don't all aspire to being the next Robbie Williams or Mariah Carey, and the idea of me with Hornicator on that kind of show seemed too absurd and surreal to reasonably pass up the invitation.  I've also thought that it seems important for me to cement my identity in a larger public arena before someone in that larger arena rips me off (trusted friends have told me I'm paranoid when it comes to things like this). I even thought maybe here was an opportunity to try and battle the corporate homogenization of music by infiltrating it from the inside.  But I should have known better.  I used to work at MTV, after all.

  I mostly enjoyed the actual experience though, and I don't regret doing it, even though these kind of shows really turn my stomach and after further contemplation I think they are even more of an ugly blemish on our modern culture than I originally thought (more on this later).  Anyway, on the show I think I performed my rendition of 'Why Dogs Howl At The Moon' well.  In fact, the live audience were clapping along and howling without prompting (see email below).  They let me finish the song, but the judges promptly and unanimously voted me off.  I wasn't all that surprised. We each had an on-camera exchange of words following the performance (as is the standard thing) which I thought was priceless and in a nutshell went pretty much like this:

Jamie Cullum - "When I saw you setting up I was hoping maybe it would be something like Tom Waits"

Me: "So, in a contest where you're supposedly looking for something original, I'd have faired better if I'd been a Tom Waits imitator?"

Dizzee Rascal
: "You got the crowd going I'll give you that"
then he turned towards the crowd and said "but would anybody want to BUY a song like that?" 
(As I recall, a large part of the crowd roared approvingly, to his dismay). 

Sharleen Spiteri: "That was just a lot of noise with no melody, it was terrible"

Me: "That's what my parents used to tell me when I listened to old rock and roll and punk music when I was a teenager"

Dizzee Rascal: "It were good fer da eyes, but not fer da ears"

Me: (intending the comment for all the judges, though Dizzee seemed to take it personally) "Everything you've just said to me I could say is how I feel about your own stuff."

With that a big 'Woooooo!'  from the crowd and I was ushered off.  I left feeling quite happy about all that and thinking how great it would be if they aired all that. But I knew deep down how it was probably going to turn out, and what was actually aired in the end was about five seconds of me howling into the Hornicator and Dizzee's final comment, my response and a priceless shot of him looking dumbstruck, all as part of a quick edit montage with an introduction something to the effect of "the solo acts didn't fair so well either".  I was surprised they kept that last part, as that show is obviously really more about perpetuating/glorifying the celebrity of the judges than any new talent. But I guess they were trying to show that they knew how to laugh at themselves sometimes too.

A day later I received a couple of nice facebook comments and the following email from people that had been in the studio audience:
(Andy, I'm assuming you wouldn't mind but  if you read this and you want me to take it off just let me know and I will, I couldn't reach you via the return email address)

"Hi Thomas

 I saw your performance at The Hackney Empire and I we thought your performance was very entertaining. I liked the way you looped the samples and built the song up in stages. We could see exactly what your musical concept was all about. I hope you could feel that the audience was with you all the way.
The song was very addictive and in case you were not aware that at least two hours after you had gone the audience were still doing the Howling sounds. So much that the compare felt intimidated by this and reminded us that you had left a long time ago and to think of something else. The judges were just considered as not really up to their job as they did not make decisions as individuals and they were not exactly the best people to judge. They themselves have not exactly had what we would consider ground breaking careers. It would have been better for A & R people to Judge these kind of events because they really know what to look for. But of course on telelvision its all about image I guess.

Have a great Career Thomas,you deserve it.

Kind regards

Andy ***"

Thanks Andy.

I felt okay about having done the whole thing, no regrets. I felt the sting, but I've been doing my thing for years, played large shows as well as empty rooms, lived through some bad reviews and rejections and sometimes downright violent responses (amongst the generally favorable reactions) and have, through the course of it all, built up a reasonably thick skin.  I took a chance that it might work, that maybe what Andy saw would also go out to millions of people.  A chance that some of those people might just happen to be open minded souls tied to their chairs by burglars and forced to endure Sky 1 programming rather than go out on a Saturday evening.  Problem is, in mainstream television, they have an agenda and have to answer to advertisers.  Together they hold all the cards, and will use and edit them as they see best fit to sell their products and keep their salesmen looking good.

Something else really bothered me much more than my own little situation though, and that was being in the green room beforehand and seeing all these hopeful younger kids go through the same wringer with much higher expectations and a bit more at risk.  A lot of them needed the encouragement they were seeking to grow.  Some of them will probably never sing or play an instrument in public again. Whether they have talent or not, a lot of them don't have all the positive things I do to fall back into after they get three (or four) giant X's and buzzers flashed in their faces by 'famous' 'judges' on national television, after they give it their best shot. Let me tell you, there's something powerfully psychologically destructive in that.  I only vaguely knew who the celebrity judges were (Yes I have to admit I'm out of touch that way) but what if one of those judges happens to be a personal idol or hero of yours? Seeing it on TV is one thing, but I'm telling you, it's cartoon rejection on steroids and if you can't laugh about it and see through it it's not going to result in anything positive.

I'm not saying that their foremost intention is to be sinister (they just don't care), but  after considering it more carefully I believe that shows like these personify and perpetuate some of the worst illnesses of our modern society, especially in the US, where the myth is more along the lines of either you make it real big, or you haven't really 'made it' at all.

I don't see music as a competition.  I think such things are about as healthy and realistic as a beauty contest.  When I was in high school and they had things like 'Battle Of The Bands' I steered clear and hid under the stairs making up scary sounds with my Moog Rogue and a Boss Delay pedal. I'm still doing that sort of thing. I wouldn't have been happier playing 'Stairway to Heaven' in a school gymnasium then and  I wouldn't be happier now playing on some televised red white and blue lit Las Vegas stage. 

I'm not sure the producers of AGT even realize I'm not living in America anymore anyway.
Now if it had been the Jools Holland show that called...