Alternative Friday

because great new music doesn’t always get the exposure it deserves

Photo by Stefania Rosini

Phil Simmonds is a songwriter, producer, musical director, multi-instrumentalist, and session musician from London, who’s worked with the likes of Jessie J, Leona Lewis, and Australian singer Conrad Sewell. Having relocated to LA, he’s added to his workload by moving front and centre to create his own incredible music too! The Chronicles of Saint Arc series is the result, a cinematic, artistic, and mesmerising three-part epic of extended tracks that draws you in and never loses you… a mean feat in music. He’s already appeared in a couple of Mixtapes, however his latest challenge is to face a Q&A, so read on to find out more about the series, moving to LA, the Sultans of Swing guitar solo, and expensive coffee!

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~ Where are you right now and what can you see?
Sitting at a coffee shop in Los Feliz (LA). It’s late, I can see a lot of traffic. Nothing too crazy! – A few palm trees, a few dogs!

~ The Saint Arc series is a stunning piece of work, so where did the idea come from, and why did you choose to make the music in this concept style, rather than as a traditional album of individual songs?
Firstly, thank you! Honestly that means so much. I didn’t mean to write the “Saint Arc” series. I wrote the first song (which was In the Oak, and is technically the 3rd ‘movement’), and just carried on writing – I’ve produced a few records for people in the past, where we wrote the record and produced it in song order. I guess for me, the concept is that the next song has already been written by the song I just wrote, and I know how I want to feel after listening to the last song. It’s a long-winded process to explain but makes sense for me.

And I still can split up the songs and release them as a traditional album, I may do that later, but I want people to listen to my music how it was intended to be heard, and yes, very much to the detriment of the record’s “exposure” in the “traditional” sense. Everyone is scared of a 20 minute song.

 

 

~ How did the composition process begin, and what instruments were at the heart of the initial songwriting process given that you’re proficient on so many?
Ok, so I had just bought a piano – it was a 1908 P. A. Starck Cabinet Grand (the tallest of the uprights). It’s the piano you hear so much in Part 1 – it sounds it’s best on “Drive” for sure!!! The piano has “Starck” written on the front, and I guess “Saint Arc” was the personified version of myself in my piano! – That’s how I saw it!

Each part of the series is based around a different instrument. Part 2 features a 12-string Taylor guitar we had lying around the studio – and Part 3 is pretty much all around a Gibson 339 with a TC Helicon modulation verb pedal! – So I mainly wrote each part on those! – plus a few outliers, depending how I was feeling at the time.

~ What proved to be the biggest challenge when making the series?
I think just staying sane – the writing is dark at times, and I for sure lived what I wrote about, as I was writing – and not allowing anyone or anything to influence me. Saint Arc at the end of the day was for me, for processing my experiences – I’m really happy people are responding to it though. I have an album that I really need to make that’s a bit more for the masses, which I’ll be doing in London at some point in the near future at Kore Studios in west London.

~ You live in LA now, but what led to the move?
I’ve always wanted to live here, there’s a cool undercurrent of excitement in this city. It’s also the most competitive city, which has its pros and cons. I also moved out to be Musical director for an artist called Conrad Sewell – I’ve been producing out here and touring with other artists for years, but Conrad gave me the opportunity to make the solid jump and stop commuting.

~ What’s the best part about living in LA, and what do you miss most about London?
I have a great group of people around me! Creatively just incredible too! – But that being said, that’s what I miss about London too! I don’t think it matters too much where I live, as long as the people around me are just good people and I have that musical kick and drive around me. For now, that’s LA – I do think I’ll be living in London again at some point though. I miss the seasons!!

~ Is there a musical instrument you can’t play that you’d love to learn?
Drums – for sure.

 

 

~ Are there any other new bands or musicians local to you in LA that you recommend we check out?
Talker – I produced her song that’s coming out soon called “Passive” – But she’s released her debut song called “Collateral Damage” worth checking out – could be up your street!! [it is, thanks]

~ What’s your earliest musical memory?
Ahh! I don’t know! Playing guitar at home when I was 10, trying to learn the “Sultans of Swing” guitar solo from a tab book when I’d just got my first guitar!

~ Who are your musical Guilty Pleasures?
Anything nostalgic for me rather than ‘guilty pleasure’! So – Paul Simon, Sting (solo & The Police), I’ve been listening to “Solid Air” by John Martyn a lot this week – but that’s not guilty!

~ Aside from music, do you have any other creative skills?
Not really!! I just get stuck on the music stuff!! – I occasionally skate some of the parks out in LA, but haven’t done it in a while.

~ What’s the least ‘rock musician’ thing you’ve done in the past week?
My week’s been pretty standard. I went to a private screening for the new Ed Sheeran film that comes out in a few weeks for the Producers Guild, Not very rock and roll, but fun! Great film.

So that, or just endless meetings drinking way too expensive coffee.

We return from our summer break spoilt for choice where this Mixtape is concerned, as it took quite some time to reduce the longlist down to these ten gems. So press play, and feast yourself on the usual array of assorted sounds, which this time include some alt rock, jangle pop, & indie dance, as well as a bit of soulful drum ‘n’ bass! Enjoy…

 


Hana Vu – Shallow
Holy Pinto – Very Adult
Giant Party – Red Button
Henry Nowhere – Problems of the Heart
Leslie Lewis-Walker – While You Sleep
Phil Simmonds – Faithless
Only The Poets – Even Hell
Bryde – Fast Awake
Blue River – The Life
talker – Collateral Damage

The Fresh on the Net school year has come to an end again, and we’re now on our summer break, however I’ve been through my little black book for the past 11 months and, as always, there’s been a huge array of excellent music submitted to us during that time.

So, from the 5,000 – 6,000 tracks I’ve personally heard, I’ve created a playlist with 10 of my favourites for your enjoyment. The bar is therefore very high, so press play, and take in some alt rock & indie, troubadour storytelling, surf pop, post-punk, and more. Enjoy…

 


Howl & the Hum – Murder
Himalayas – Sigh on a Hurricane
Honeymilk – Havslaten
Lewis Bootle – Routes
October Drift – All Broken Down
The Cheap Thrills – Codependence
San Blas – Drive
River Purple – Ready to Fall
NeedShes – Time To See
Lloyd Llewellyn – Long Way Down

photo by Olivia White

 

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Over the past year or so, York based 4-piece The Howl & the Hum have been crafting some truly memorable music, which combines dark hypnotic rock with some raucous and addictive melodies, as well as witty wordplay. They first appeared here back in the February Mixtape when I came across the superb Portrait I.

 

 

That put them on my radar, however it was the subsequent release of the slow building alt rock epic Murder that really blew me away. I first heard the track when they uploaded it to Fresh on the Net in May, where after a few listen it was stuck in my head, became my main pick of the week as moderator, and where it went on to triumph in the voting! Never have bus stops, pyjamas, & Tesco value lager made such an impact!

 

 

They get an Emerging… piece however, in part because I’ve finally seen how they bring all these songs together when playing live, and it was a mesmerising performance, full of energy, and a powerful stage presence led by singer and guitarist Sam Griffiths. It was so good that at the end I wanted then to start all over again. Ones to watch!

E’spaniel are a jangly synth pop trio from the north east of England, comprising of Christianne (above left) on vocals & guitar, Karen (middle) on bass, and Leon (right) on vocals, guitar, drum machine & keys. They first came to my attention thanks to the infectious brilliance of their track Talking Shop, which opened up the April Mixtape. They’ve just released their debut album, Entra Solo, which came out on July 2nd, and now face a Q&A, so read on to find out more about the band, the record, plus nappies and a superpower solution to help with parking issues!

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~ Where are you right now, and what can you see?

Christianne: I’m at work, and I can see a tree outside my window, a bunch of people at desks in a large open plan office, and decorations out for the World Cup.

Karen: On a bus going to work. I can see a bookies to the right and a new Aldi being built to the left.

Leon: Sitting at home, in front of the laptop, Iran v Spain, 0-0 – half time whistle blows as I’m writing this sentence.

~ What’s the musical background to the three of you, and how did you get together?
We’ve known each other for years and played together in local bands before, but started E’spaniel to create something fresh and new with more of an electronic feel. We’ve also played in lots of other local bands independently as well. We ended up as a three piece through playing with quite a few drummers over the years, and we decided to use a drum machine with pre-recorded synth just to keep us playing in a band together.

~ How long has it taken to write, record, and put the album together?
It was recorded in Blank Studios in Heaton, Newcastle by Sam Grant, and was mixed and produced by Steve Whitfield in Leeds, who has done lots of work with The Cure, one of our favourite bands. It’s taken a few years to create – we’ve lost track of dates, perhaps intentionally. The process has been lengthened with one of us having to write and programme the drums and synth.

 

 

~ What proved to be the biggest challenge when making the album?
Getting to grips with the technology (drum machine, software and the laptop) to ensure that we could recreate what we did on the album in a live setting, and learning as we went. For example, we didn’t realise that we needed to use an audio interface to play the music live with. It’s been trial and error really. We nearly purchased an eight track portable studio thing which would have been a disaster in the making.

~ What’s the one album from your youth you couldn’t live without?
Christianne: Sugar – Copper Blue
Karen: The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
Leon: The Velvet Underground – LIve 1969 Volume 1

~ If you had the choice, which famous person would you love to get to drive the E’spaniel tour bus, and why?
Christianne: Well, my pick would be the Hound from the Game of Thrones (Rory McCann). I’ve read that he can play several instruments, including the drums, so would be handy if the drum machine broke down. He’s a funny guy too, so would keep us entertained, and have you seen the size of him – he could carry all of our equipment and no one would give us the old ‘well I only made £10 on the door, so here’s £2.50 towards your petrol’ ever again. My other choices would be either Peter Kay, or Steve Pemberton or Reece Shearsmith from the League of Gentlemen – I don’t think they would be as effective in the carrying gear or extracting petrol money stakes, but they would give us some good laughs and chit chat which would help the time pass.

Karen: Chris Packham because he’s got impeccable wildlife knowledge, good music taste, and a fine collection of threads. He could make those long journeys really wild.

Leon: Definitely Karl Pilkington because he would make long journeys fly over and you would get free ‘life’ advice. He’s a genius, and could also contribute to stage sets and song arrangements I reckon. Wouldn’t carry equipment though, he’d make a rubbish excuse to get out of it.

 

 

~ Are there any other new bands or musicians in the North East that you recommend we check out?

Yes… Outside your House and (shameless plug for Karen’s other band) The Artisans.

~ If the three of you were asked to curate a festival stage, what six bands/artists would you invite to perform?
New Order
The Bangles
British Sea Power
Belle and Sebastian
My Bloody Valentine
Pixies

~ Which of you would win the award for the least ‘rock musician’ thing you’ve done this week?

Christianne: I think I would, (and Leon?) for changing nappies.

Leon: Yeah, changing nappies alongside cleaning up cat vomit.

~ If you could each have a superpower for a day, what would it be?

Christianne: Mine would be to stop time, so I could get all the things I needed to get done, write some songs, watch a film, and still have a bit of time left over to catch up on sleep.

Karen: A mind reader, well it would be interesting wouldn’t it?

Leon: I would choose the good old ability to fly. I absolutely hate sitting in traffic on the way (and coming back) from work so if I could fly I’d get there in 5 minutes. No parking issues either.

~ What do you have planned for the second half of 2018?
Promoting the album, continuing work on the next set of songs, and hopefully some touring.

It’s not just an eclectix mixtape this month, but a global one too, as we travel from Leeds to LA, the Welsh valleys to the Russian Federation, and further. Along the way we take in everything from sunshine inspired indie to electro pop, and groovy rock to a cinematic slow burner. Enjoy…

 


Marsicans – Pop-Ups (Sunny at the Weekend)
Needshes – Time To See
The Cheap Thrills – Accident Prone
Tempesst – A Little Bit of Trouble
Phil Simmonds – Drive
E’spaniel – Lucky Strike
Shyer – Compliments
The Pitchforks – Waste of a Day
Joseph Hammill – Infant Hercules
True Adventures – Brasil

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Samuel Jack is a London born singer, who spent a few teenage years in Johannesburg, but is now back in the UK, and is based in Dorset. He makes soulful piano-led pop with the most powerful of vocals, as first highlighted when his debut EP came out in 2016, led by the wonderfully gospel influenced title track Let It All Out.

 

 

Since then he’s been picked to open the legendary Avalon Stage at Glastonbury, as well as to spend time writing even stronger and more emotive songs, with soul, blues, and even Mowtown influences. He took another step forward when he kicked off 2018 with Kill All The Lights, which is a truly commanding three and a half minutes of music, and has an engaging video to accompany it.

 

 

He’s now brought his recent singles together, added a few new tracks to the mix, and released his latest EP, Fire and Ice, a 5-track offering that surely provides enough evidence that this is a songwriter, vocalist, and musician who is heading towards great things. One to watch…
 

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