Described as “two of London’s best kept secrets“, guitarist/composer Justin Quinn and vocalist/songwriter Tim Dickinson, aka The Wealden, release their debut EP – Rushes – on April 20th, which contains four tracks that David’s Bowie and Bryne would be proud of, so impressive is the art-funk-pop-rock they’ve created. They’re far from newcomers to music though, as their eclectic experiences vary from rock to opera via jazz, and to performing with Jack Bruce, Hugh Cornwell, and the BBC Concert orchestra!
Read on though, as we take in the Battle of Agincourt, the concourse at St. Pancras, obnoxious gasses, secretive hidden talents… and Seb Rochford’s hair!
~ You both have a rich musical background, but how long have you known each other, and what made you decide to come together late last year as The Wealden?
JQ (Justin Quinn): We met for the first time in 2007 when we were both living near each other in west London. Tim knew my playing from an album I made in 2005 called “Before I Forget” with Bakehouse, and as soon as I heard his solo record “A little bit of Darkness” I became an instant fan. We fooled around with different ideas for a few years, just on and off, in between our own gigs. I played lap-steel in Tim’s band The Silverlining which was an acoustic folk kind of thing and he guested with The Teak Project which was my main project at that time.
The idea for The Wealden came about after I did a gig with Jack Bruce. I hadn’t played that kind of music for so long; you know, “rocking-out”, playing “Sunshine of Your Love” at Birmingham Town hall, it was just so much fun, it reminded me why I started playing the guitar in the first place and was the motivation to start thinking about forming a band… It was a given for me that Tim would be the “front man” but it just took a while to find the right bass player and drummer…
TD (Tim Dickinson): Any opportunity to work with Justin is one worth seizing upon. There’s no definitive statement to be made, just innumerable, exciting possibilities.
~ I recently (on Fresh on the Net) described your sound as “alternafunk”, but how would you best describe your music, and what would you say are the main influences on your sound?
JQ: I usually say it’s “alternative rock”, but I like “alternafunk” I’d love it if it was something different to everyone.
I can’t remember the exact quote but Stravinsky said something about limitations being a creative gift and I sort-of feel like the process of creating “the sound of The Wealden” was about imposing limitations on what we were doing. Or to think of it another way, we decided what it wasn’t going to sound like and then worked with whatever was left over. Once we stripped away a lot of musical interference then it all felt pretty natural. I think we ended up unconsciously drawing inspiration from music we loved as teenagers. There’s definitely some Police, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, Cream, Bowie, in the mix and then some more contemporary influences like Phoenix & Everything Everything. What else have I missed Tim?
TD: You’ve missed out Radiohead, but we’ll bring you round eventually…
~ When you wrote the songs on the EP, was it an organised occasion where you sat down and decided to write a song or two, or was it more a case of being inspired or moved by something, and then getting the feelings onto paper and as a song as quickly as possible?
JQ: They mostly started out as sketches of mine, some of them more fully formed than others. I took them along to a couple of rehearsals near the village of Weald in Kent (hence the name) and we basically fleshed out the arrangements together with drummer Brad Webb & bassist Chris Hill. Tim would improvise words and melodies which he would then go away and develop. We recorded everything so we could afford to just have fun, and then just decide later what worked and what didn’t… Some of the musical ideas were off-cuts from previous projects of mine but as soon as Tim got his hands on them they took on a whole new life.
We both tend to record ideas on our phones wherever we are, so we end up with lots of small ideas for songs which we then play to each other.
~ What did you find most challenging about making the debut EP and album?
JQ: The challenges have come in phases. The writing and playing were the easy bits, but trying to be the recording engineer, producer, label manager, and coffee-boy all at the same time is enough to drive you crazy. Scheduling has probably been the single most challenging part. Ha! It sounds silly but just finding the time to finish it has been an unbelievable feat… Tim and I are always working flat-out and Brad & Chris who were integral to this first set of songs were on tour all the time, so I still can’t believe that we got anything finished.
TD: Hats off to Justin here, who is the turbine of the whole endeavour. I find any extra-musical aspect of the process immensely frustrating and almost counter-creative, so Justin has to be extremely patient with me, or just ignore me entirely!
~ Without realising it until recently, I believe I’ve seen Justin play live twice, as part of Tom Hickox’s band. The first occasion was at the 2,500 capacity Troxy (supporting Richard Hawley), while the second was on the concourse at St. Pancras train station in London! How did you get to work and perform with Tom Hickox, and what are your memories of performing in two such varied venues?
JQ: The gig with Tom came about through Brad & Chris. (again). I did a last minute gig with Brad’s sisters (The Webb Sisters) which involved lots of instruments, banjo, lap-steel etc, and I think that’s what got me the gig with Tom.
I have to confess that I asked a friend of mine to cover the guitar duties on that Troxy gig as I had a gig somewhere else, (sorry to disappoint) but I did virtually all Tom’s gigs in 2013/14 which included some big ones like Graves Park in Sheffield & Somerset House in London, both big outdoor gigs opening for Hawley…
We played so many different kinds of venues… I’ve done a few of those strange “public-space” gigs like St Pancras station over the years, once I played with some musicians from the LPO in Elephant & Castle shopping centre! It’s always very odd, musically you try to give the same quality of performance that you would in an intimate club but all around are people coming and going, some stop and stare and you have no idea if they are into the music or if you’d be better of performing circus tricks. Sometimes the first slot on the main stage of a festival can feel very similar, you may be playing to more than 3000 people but you don’t know if they are listening or just on their way to the beer tent.
Tom and I also played a few nice dates supporting Mathew E. White, my favourites were always the small ones where you knew that people were really listening… Tom’s music has a lot of nuance to it, so it only works when people pay attention.
~ Tim’s musical background and CV is highly eclectic, but do you have a musical environment that you feel most comfortable with, and do you have any interesting stories of your time with any of the well-known musicians you have performed with?
TD: I feel most comfortable working shoulder-to-shoulder with others, collaborating and being part of an ensemble. No real interest in being a “soloist” or guest artist… which reminds me of a time I was engaged to be just that, along with an ex-Strangler, who saw fit to pollute the green room with an obnoxious pre-show dump before he and the rest of the line-up went out on stage, leaving me to breathe shallowly and contemplate far far better places and far far greater things I could’ve been doing!
~ What do you both do to relax away from music?
JQ: My main escape from music usually involves some kind of elaborate “make-believe” games with my kids…
TD: I don’t ever feel very far away from music, actually, but I like a good superhero yarn if I want to escape for a little while. I often use one genre of music or music-making to escape from another.
~ Are there any other artists from London or Kent you recommend we check out?
JQ: I have to confess that I’m a little out of touch, except for projects by friends of mine, such as Arch Birds… aka Brad Webb & Chris Hill (again), while I’ve worked a little with a singer-songwriter called Dan Clews who’s worth checking out if you can catch one of his solo gigs. I’m also a big fan of Olivia Chaney who has a new album coming out soon.
~ Given your wide-ranging musical experiences, where have been the most impressive and enjoyable venues you have performed live in?
JQ: The Royal Albert Hall has to be the most impressive for me, I’ve played there a couple of times and the view of the auditorium from the stage is just amazing… At the opposite end of the spectrum the 55bar in New York was really great fun to play, the vibe is fantastic and it’s so small that the audience have to walk through the band to use the toilets…
TD: The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is a phenomenal hall.
~ If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
JQ: Blimey, that’s a big question… can you ask me again in 6 months time?
We are on the brink of trying to launch The Wealden on a shoestring budget with no manager, no label & no publisher…
I feel like any minute now Kenneth Branagh should jump out and deliver his famous Battle of Agincourt speech to the troops from Shakespeares Henry V… (one of the few things I can remember from GCSE English)
It’s a call to battle… as if we alone are taking on the whole industry, trying to break through all the noise and compete with the huge marketing budgets of the major labels. Of course we aren’t alone, for better or worse there are thousands of bands and artists trying to do the same thing all at the same time. I’d like to believe that it’s possible for quality music to trump big marketing budgets, but hey, let’s wait and see if Tim & I survive the frontline.
~ If you could curate a festival stage, what six artists would you invite to perform?
JQ: Only six, jeez that’s cruel! I could think of 60… how’s about Punch Brothers, Vicente Amigo, John Taylor.
TD: Ha! I’d curate a jazz tent, for sure. Maybe all guitar players! Maybe I’d try and get the three surviving members of Paul Bley’s Quartet (John Surman, Bill Frisell, and Bley) together. Maybe I’d just have an ECM love-in.
~ Do either of you have any hidden talents?
~ What song would you sing at a karaoke if no one you knew was watching?
JQ: Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
TD: I could make something up, but the honest answer is My Way, I’m afraid.
~ Whose hair would you like to have for just one day?
JQ: Seb Rochford (Polar Bear, below)
TD: Wait, what? On my head? In a drawer? In a locket? Nobody’s hair!