The man behind the hat and scarf, and who has recently begun making some great new music as Record/Start, is Brighton resident Simon Cowan. His debut track was released on limited edition cassette via Post/Pop, and it has built up support not only here in the UK, but to places as far afield as Japan too. Some of you may know him from his previous work as he was the singer/songwriter for Manchester alternative band Carlis Star, who performed at SXSX, leading UK festivals, as well as several national NME tour dates, which included headlining their farewell show at the legendary KOKO venue in London. He has also appeared in New Tunes #37, but read on to find out more about his music, why his brother should practice his acting skills, and who he’d like to use a superpower on!
~ You relocated from Manchester to Brighton a few years ago. What led to the move, and what has Brighton brought to Record/Start?
I had run my course in Manchester and was ready to move on. I’d been living up there for about 12 years. After I called quits on Carlis Star I felt like there was not much keeping me up there. I met a lady and moved down to Brighton. I’m surrounded by music and creativity at my work place in Brighton. I’m not sure Brighton has really brought much out of me musically. I just needed a change of scenery and a bit of sea air.
~ What, if any, would you describe as the obvious and less obvious influences in your music?
Most people say there’s a real Weezer sound in the songs. I’ve never intended to set out to achieve their sound. It’s just the kind of sound I love. New music I love: M83, Splashh, The Joy Formidable, Metz, Dinosaur Pile Up, The Wytches, Future of the Left and Tigercub. I’m a sucker for a lot of old 90’s bands too like Grass~Show, 18 Wheeler, Silver Sun. I’m also a big fan of The Pixies, The Beach Boys, Cheap Trick, ELO, Led Zeppelin and The Velvet Underground. I listen to a lot of classical piano music and a Polish composer (who sadly died in 2013) called Wocjiech Kilar.
~ Your musical CV suggests you’re very talented. Multi-instrumentalist, you’re able to write and record (in a home studio), you have experience as a sound engineer, plus you’ve been involved in managing gigs and events. Which of all these musical activities do you prefer, and which is the most challenging?
Thanks very much. I’ve been recording and writing music since I was about 13 years old. I really do love recording music most, but more as a hobby than as a profession. I’ve dabbled in most other parts of the music industry over the years. I still feel like I’m at the tip of the iceberg and there’s plenty more challenges out there for me.
~ How long did it take to get your home studio set up and running, and what were the major obstacles?
I progressed over the years starting with a 4 track cassette recorder to an 8 track reel to reel then moved over to digital recording. I’ve not really invested a huge amount of time and money getting my current set up. The difficulty with recording at home is when something does go wrong, you’re on your own to figure it out. I’ve had several times when I’ve had ideas bursting out and I haven’t been able to get the recording equipment working which really stifles the recording process. The joys of digital technology! At least I knew where I was with good old fashioned analogue set up.
~ How did you hook up with Post/Pop Records?
Jed at Post/Pop records contacted me out of the blue and said he loved the stuff and wanted to release something. It happened really quickly. He’s pretty involved with the band Ash so I guess there is a similarity between our music. My debut single sold out less a couple of weeks so someone out there is diggin’ it. I think we’ll end up working again in the future for sure. He’s a great guy with an amazing passion for new music.
~ What’s the best advice you’ve received about making music?
I don’t ever really recall been given any specific advice. I’ve very much accepted people either really like my music or just plain don’t. I’ve learned to just do what I enjoy and ignore the naysayers.
~ What are your plans for Record/Start?
I’m just riding it all out at the moment, seeing what kind of feedback and offers I get which so far has been pretty amazing!! I’m deciding whether to put a band together. I’m recording as much as I can at the moment. I’ve had quite a lot of attention out in Japan which has been great. I love that we live in an age anyone with a computer can listen to your songs within seconds of putting them online. I can’t quite get my head around it.
~ What’s the most memorable gig you’ve ever been to, and why?
My most memorable show I’ve been to was watching Philip Glass perform his solo piano pieces in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music. It was a particularly dark time for me. I had called quits on Carlis Star and dealing with other personal things in my life. For about an hour or so I was transported away from everything and just mentally disappeared in to another world.
~ Are there any other new bands you that you recommend we check out?
Have a listen to Elbowdrop from Macclesfield, and also The Black Fields from Brighton. My younger Brother Alf busts some songs out every now and again but never sticks them online. I wish he would, they’re excellent.
~ If you could claim one song as your own – wiping the original from all memory – what would it be?
That is mega tricky!! At this very moment it would be Freakshow by Grass~Show. Not sure what that says about me. Tomorrow it could be Letter to Memphis by The Pixies. Actually, I’d love to claim Trompe le Monde as a whole album as mine. Is that ok?
~ Who would you choose to play you in a film about your musical life to date?
I guess my Brother Alf who played Bass in my old band. Everyone says he looks and sounds like me.
~ You’re at a music festival and the following bands clash with each other; Super Fury Animals, The Pixies, ELO, The Beach Boys, and Ash. Who do you go and see and why?
I’ve seen all of them live except ELO so I guess I’d go off and see them. However if we’re talking transporting back to 1966/1967 era Beach Boys (with Brian Wilson) I’d be there in a shot. Beach Boys 1970 – 1974 era was also pretty amazing too. Terribly underrated as a group at the time. Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar were an incredible addition.
~ If you could have one superpower for a day, what would it be?
I’d want to resurrect Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys, get him off the drugs and booze and say “please, please please record some more solo albums”. Does that class as a super power?