Luke Who’s Talking… (Interview with Luke Jackson)

Lukejackson

 Brit-Canadian singer/songwriter Luke Jackson’s sublime power-pop masterpiece And Then Some, which is one of my favourite albums of the year, didn’t actually come out in 2010 – it was released in 2008 – but it’s just been picked up on the radar over here. I spoke to Luke, who is based in Toronto, about greasy spoon cafes, working with legendary string arranger Robert Kirby, his love of Nick Drake, heavy metal, acid jazz and a-ha!

Sean: Congratulations on the ‘new’ album, Luke. It’s been a while coming out. So has it only just arrived in the UK, despite its 2008 release date?

Luke: Thanks, Sean. The album actually came out here in North America two years ago. I finally got around to doing a UK promo campaign this summer. The publicist I worked with set an arbitrary UK “release date” in early September, when he sent out promo copies. UK music journos like to feel they’re hearing something new. I wonder how many of them saw the 2008 date on the back cover? The truth is it hasn’t really come out in the UK at all. I have no physical distribution in the UK, but, of course, you can download it at all the digital outlets, and get physical copies from places in North America like CD Baby, Not Lame and my own Popsicle Store: http://www.indiespinzone.com/popsicle.html

Sean: And Then Some is your first release in ages, isn’t it? Why did it take so long to make this record?

Luke: Yes. My last album came out in 2000 and I didn’t do much promotional activity for it because life got in the way. I’d actually stopped thinking about music for a while, but I found my muse again in 2006. That’s when I started putting the songs together that wound up on the album.

Sean: You’ve worked with several notable musicians on this album – namely Magnus Börjeson (Beagle, Favorita and The Cardigans), producer and multi-instrumentalist Christoffer Lundquist (Roxette and Brainpool) and string arranger Robert Kirby (Nick Drake, Elvis Costello, Paul Weller and John Cale). How did those collaborations come about?

Luke: I’d had a lengthy email correspondence with Magnus Börjeson whose bands Beagle and Favorita I’d loved for a long time. In fact, I would end up putting out Favorita’s unreleased album on my label Popsicle a few years ago. I eventually met him in Paris where he was mid-tour playing in The Cardigans. By the end of the weekend, we were like old friends and I had accepted an invitation to Sweden for the upcoming Midsummer long weekend holiday. These celebrations were taking place in the countryside outside Malmö at the Aerosol Grey Machine – the stunning all-analogue recording studio of Christoffer Lundquist of Brainpool and Roxette who I’m also a huge fan of. I wasn’t thinking about making another album at all really, but Christoffer said I could come back and record anytime, and that was an offer that was too good to pass up. I’ll tell the Robert Kirby portion of the story in my next answer!

Luke: I returned to Sweden in January 2008 and set to work in the studio with Magnus on bass and Christoffer’s Brainpool band mate Jens Jansson on drums. We worked quickly and spontaneously to capture half a dozen songs, including Come Tomorrow, which I had begun writing the day before leaving for Sweden. I returned to London buzzing with excitement. I then sent the rough mixes of the songs to string arranger Robert Kirby. To my delight and surprise, Robert loved the songs and offered to write orchestrations for the album and accompany me to Sweden to conduct the necessary recording sessions with nine players from Malmö’s Opera Orchestra.


Sean: Getting Robert Kirby onboard was a real coup. There are hints of his work with Nick Drake on your record – particularly on the track A Little Voice. What was it like working with him?

Luke: Working with Robert was a musical high point for me. I’d put together a Nick Drake tribute night in Toronto in 2004 on the 30th anniversary of Nick’s death. No strings at the show, just a bunch of people getting up with their guitars and playing Nick’s songs. It was a fundraiser for a breast cancer support centre and I approached a bunch of people involved in Nick’s career for some raffle prizes. Everyone responded – Cally who runs Nick’s estate, his biographer Patrick Humphries, his producer Joe Boyd, and Robert. So, basically, we’d had some very minor contact and I had his email address. So when the time came to think about strings for the record, the option to get in touch with him to write the parts was there, and I took it. I never thought he’d say yes, but I’m an “if you don’t ask you don’t get” kind of person, so I asked. Working with Robert was a bit like a dream. When it was happening I couldn’t believe it was! He wasn’t just a mind-blowing string arranger – he was the sweetest chap you could ever hope to meet.

Here’s Luke playing A Little Voice at the Robert Kirby Memorial Concert, at Cecil Sharp House, London on October 3rd.

Sean: How do you feel now he’s passed away? (Robert Kirby died in October of last year)

Luke: I was really gutted when I heard he’d died. We’d been working together on a project at the time so I was doubly heartbroken. It was another Nick Drake night, five years on from that 2004 one, on the 35th anniversary of Nick’s death. Robert was to fly in from London to conduct a string octet for the show and we were a week away from announcing the concert when he died. I’m remounting the show on Sunday November 28th, with the involvement of Robert’s son Henry. It’s a fundraiser for the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. You can read about it here: www.snipr.com/nickdrakeposter

Sean: As you said, you’ve been involved with several Nick Drake tribute events. Are you a big fan of Nick Drake? What’s
the appeal of him?


Luke: Yes, I’m a huge Nick Drake fan. I think Joe Boyd sums up the appeal of Nick beautifully – and I’m totally paraphrasing here – but he says something like this: Nick’s music wasn’t popular at all in the 60s and 70s, so it doesn’t belong to that era. It’s not recognisable as being from any specific time in the way The Beatles, The Kinks or anyone else is. So it’s when you get into Nick’s music that it is happening – you own it, you don’t borrow it from another time. For me it was the late 80s while I was doing my A-Levels. I was into a lot of heavy metal, and Nick Drake!


Sean: When you set out to make And Then Some, what kind of record did you have in mind?


Luke: I wasn’t quite sure what kind of album I was setting out to make. I had a simple philosophy – if a path opens up and it feels right (and if I can afford it) I’ll follow it. That thinking took me to Sweden and brought Robert Kirby on board. I consider myself to be a fairly decent songwriter, but by surrounding myself with people who are basically my musical heroes, and putting myself entirely in their hands, I came out of it with an album that I couldn’t never have dreamed up all on my own. I’m incredibly proud of it.

Sean: To me, at times, it recalls the Beachboys/Brian Wilson, the Beatles, Nick Drake, Matthew Sweet, Nick Heyward, power-pop and The Cure. It’s loaded with killer melodies and pop sensibilities. Would you agree?

Luke: I like reading the reviews which compare me to artists I’ve never heard of. It always gives me a giggle. That’s not the case here of course, I’ve heard of all those people. I’m not a Brian Wilson or Beachboys fan at all. I don’t dislike them; I just never got into them and can’t count them as an influence. Which British singer/songwriter isn’t influenced by the Beatles? Oh yes, I’m a Londoner originally…we’ll get to that later. Did you get the CD of the album? There’s a cheeky homage to the Fab Four in one of the photos. You can download the whole booklet here: http://www.popsiclerecordings.com/um1242/Luke_Jackson_Digital_Booklet.pdf .
Of course Nick Drake is an influence, but I only really feel that we were evoking Nick on the track A Little Voice, and even then, it’s Robert’s strings that make it so. If I played you just the guitar and voice track, Nick might not even spring to mind. I was a bit of a Cure fan back in the day but I wouldn’t say I cite them at all. I like Nick Heyward’s Apple Bed album, mostly for the opening track Stars In Her Eyes, which is magic. You got me with Matthew Sweet though. His album Girlfriend is an all-time fave, as is 100% Fun. I should also mention Jason Falkner, who is a genius (and his former band Jellyfish of course), Jeff Buckley (who I flat out rip off in the middle 8 section of my song Longest Day), a-ha, who I have adored for 25 years, and my other favourite bands or artists: Queen, King’s X, Duncan Sheik, Francis Dunnery and the Swedish bands Beagle, The Merrymakers and Brainpool. Suffice to say, I could go on.


Sean: Your track This Life is one of my songs of the year – can you tell me a bit about it? I think more songs should mention greasy spoon cafes! It really captures that feel of a new relationship – sleeping in, having a late breakfast, hanging out… Is that what you were aiming for?


Luke: Thanks for that, I’m really chuffed you like it that much! Most of the UK reviews have mentioned this song in particular, which I find interesting. I like to leave the door open with songs, so people can project their own experiences and take something unique away. But since you asked about this song specifically, I’ll tell you. I was married to my wife Dora in 2002 in Toronto and shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she duly beat the crap out of, but not until she’d had a follow-up drug treatment that lasted five years and put a spanner in our plans to start a family. So we decided to move to London for a couple of years, hang out, travel, spend time with our UK family and friends. It was a brilliant time, and I sought to capture the vibe of those days with that song. We would frequent our favourite greasy spoons – thanks for spotting one of my favourite lyrics on the album, by the way! It hints at what we were waiting around for. The chance to start a family, which we were able to do in the fullness of time. We have a beautiful daughter now. Some songs write themselves – this wasn’t one of them. I have loads of work-tape material when I was beating this song into submission – four or five different permutations of the chorus. It was a real labour of love, and, compositionally, it’s probably the song I’m most proud of.


Sean: Goodbye London is a fun song – you sing it in a kind of Cockney accent! It’s your tongue-in-cheek tribute to London. What are your thoughts on London? Can you tell me a bit about the song? Does London hold a special place in your heart?

Luke: I grew up in Golders Green and started traveling to Canada when I finished school in the early 90s. I suppose I transposed my accent a few miles south and a few miles east for the vocal on the song, since it lent itself to that. I have a fairly mid-Atlantic accent these days, having spent almost half my life in Canada. I adore London, but I’ve come to realise that I can get what I need from it with a couple of visits a year. I’ve said “goodbye” to the city many times, but the song deals specifically with when Dora and I were getting ready to come home after our two-year jaunt there. I’m very blessed to be able to call two fantastic cities home. I’m as comfortable in London as I am in Toronto. I was just there last month for some shows. It was a blast!


Sean: What music are you currently grooving to?

Luke: There’s an acid jazz band from Leeds called The Haggis Horns and I’ve been dancing my daughter to sleep to their music for almost two years. Check out this cut from their latest album: http://thehaggishorns.bandcamp.com/track/love-gets-you-high. Killer, eh? I went to a bunch of shows in London last month, including a-ha playing their first two albums in their entirety at the Royal Albert Hall with the Oslo Philharmonic. I’ve been on a monster a-ha kick since then. I get some raised eyebrows when I declare my love for a-ha, mostly from people who only know Take On Me and The Sun Always Shines On TV. They’ve made beautiful albums for the last 25 years and they’re splitting up next mon
th after four shows in Oslo. The Albert Hall show was a fitting goodbye for me.

Sean: What are your current/future plans? More records? Any other gigs? What are your ambitions and goals?

Luke: I’m pretty focused on this Nick Drake night on November 28th right now – it’s taking up all my time. It’s in a beautiful 800-seat church and the onus is on me to publicise it and make sure every Nick Drake fan in Toronto hears about it. I also have to make it a killer concert! I’m promoting it, producing it, presenting it and performing in it. Beyond that I really don’t know. I’m a completely independent artist – no record label, no manager, no agent, no publisher, nothing. I’ve never had the feeling that anyone is waiting for another album from me. The last album came about because the planets aligned – I was living in London, getting inspired to write, cemented those Swedish friendships, Robert got involved. It was just magic. Part of me feels it would have to come together like that again, but really, I just have to write ten killer songs. It all kicks into motion when I take the time to pick up my guitar and write, and that’s something I haven’t done now in almost two and a half years. I don’t have a career in music – I have an expensive hobby.

Sean: Will you be in London again soon?

Luke: I may be over in February, I’m not sure. I’m really sorry you missed my shows last month. They were great fun.
For what it’s worth, I had my Handycam with me and they’re all up on YouTube here:  http://www.youtube.com/user/umrecs#p/u  

Luke: OK, that’s it for now. I’m bagged and off to bed. It’s my turn to get up early with the baby tomorrow!

Sean: Thanks, Luke.

Luke: Thanks, Sean.

 

Luke Jackson’s ‘new’ album And Then Some is out now on Popsicle: http://www.indiespinzone.com/popsicle.html

For more information, please visit:

www.snipr.com/lukevideoblog

www.lukejackson.com

http://www.myspace.com/luke_jackson

Ghost Writer (Interview with Quiet Loner)

 

Commitnonusiance

UK country and folk singer/songwriter Quiet Loner (aka Matt Hill)
releases his long-awaited second album Spectrology this month – a
stripped-down, stark and skeletal collection of songs about love,
life, death and ghosts.
Recorded in the depths of winter on a remote farm in the Leicestershire
countryside, it’s a hauntingly beautiful record with an intimate feel.
I spoke to him about how the record – his first for six years – came about.


So, your new album is finally here. It’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it?

Quiet Loner: It’s taken a very long time. My first album came out in
2004, so it’s been six years.

There have been various false starts
along the way. I did actually make a second album, but it wasn’t
right, so I left it alone.

I never thought I’d make another album, but then the planets aligned
and it coalesced. I had all sorts of issues – it’s quite difficult
to put together an album when you’re at a bubbling-under kind of level
and there are other priorities in your life.

I’ve got to make a living – I can’t completely focus on music.
It’s quite hard to motivate yourself to pull it together – there’s a
lot of work involved.

What happened this time around was that I had
a lot of songs. Once I decided to work with Mat Martin, who produced
the album, that was a real catalyst – when he got involved, it came
together incredibly quickly.

It hasn’t taken six years to make this record. In fact, it took a relatively short time.

The actual recording took three to four days.

You recorded the album in January of this year – in the depths
of winter, didn’t you?

Quiet Loner: Yes. I always knew it was going to be cold, but I had
no idea how cold it would be!

We had a massive freeze and the whole
country ground to a halt under several feet of snow and ice. It was
touch and go whether we’d be able to make it to the studio.

We recorded in a place called Wartnaby – a tiny village in rural
Leicestershire. It’s right in the middle of nowhere – near Melton Mowbray,
which is the home of pork pies and Stilton cheese.

The studio was on a farm – down the end of an icy track.
We were properly snowed in and it was freezing cold.
It took a while for the studio to warm up.


Do you think recording the album in that cold, isolated, wintry
environment shaped the sound of the record?

Quiet Loner: Right from the start, Mat had ideas about how he wanted
it to sound – as did I. He wanted it to be a very bare record – really
stripped-down, stark and skeletal.

We deliberately haven’t got any bass on the record, which is quite a radical thing to do. Even though you’re stripping things down, you’d still put bass on – but we didn’t.
We put a lot of low sounds on it, using other instruments like keyboards
and an accordion, but that means that it sounds quite icy and fragile.
When we got in the studio – and it was so icy and frosty outside – it
did have an influence, but we had a structure before we went in there.

This record was recorded live – not in-front of an audience, but
as a performance in the studio, wasn’t it? Who played on the album
with you?

Quiet Loner: Mat Martin, who produced it, plays on it. Mat plays with one of my favourite songwriters in the world – Kirsty McGee. He’s an
incredible musician – he has a PhD in classical composing, but he can
also play the banjo. That’s quite a rare combination – he can pull off
country music and avant-garde classical composing.
He’s got a very interesting approach to music.

Alan Cook also plays on the album. He’s an amazing pedal steel
guitar player, but on this record we got him to play the Dobro.
Roy Dodds (Fairground Attraction, Hank Wangford)
plays drums on the record and Inge Thomson (Bonnie Prince Billy,
Broken Family Band) made a massive contribution, too.
She’s a great songwriter with an incredible voice.
You can hear her singing on the record. It’s beautiful.

She brings a haunting, child-like quality to the record when she
sings, doesn’t she?

Quiet Loner: Yes – I’m not sure what the right word is, but she has a
certain quality about her voice – it’s unique. She’s very
instinctive.”


Did Mat Martin lay down a strict regime when you were in the studio?

Quiet Loner: Yes – I needed that. My first album, which came out six
years ago, took about five years to record. I produced that album
myself – I think it’s really hard to make decisions when you’re so
attached to your music. I needed someone like Mat to push me hard –
and he really did.
He pushed me towards finger picking [on the guitar].

All the performances are live – I’m singing and picking the guitar all
at the same time, which is technically quite difficult. I felt a bit
out of my depth as a musician, but Mat pushed me to rehearse. We had a
dedicated daily rehearsal routine. There’s no studio trickery – it’s
just me playing as it comes out. We wanted to record the album as live
as possible – and that’s what we’ve got. It does sound a little ragged
– it’s not a smooth record – but what we lose, we gain in the heart,
the feel and the realness of it.

It’s a great record to listen to on headphones – it feels like
the listener is in the room with the musicians.

Quiet Loner: We wanted it to sound as if I was sat right behind you.
My voice has been mixed high. It’s supposed to be a little bit
unsettling and spooky.  The voice is placed in the centre – it’s not a
conventional way to make a record, but it’s about the words. I’m a
songwriter whose lyrics are important to me. We put the voice in the
middle and everything else just kind of hangs around it.

Where did the title Spectrology come from?


Quiet Loner: It means the study of ghosts. I actually wanted to call
it Spectralysis, which is a made up word, but when you write it down,
you’re not sure how to pronounce it. Spectrology is a much stronger,
more definite word.

There are ‘ghosts’ on the record – one of the songs is actually
called There Go The Ghosts, but the whole album is quite a haunting
experience. There are ‘ghosts’ in the songs, as in memories, places,
and the past. There’s an underlying, unsettling feel to the record, isn’t
there?

Quiet Loner: It’s supposed to be a slightly unsettling record. There
are lots of themes on there, but the ghost thing was particularly
strong. When I was recording it – the songs that are just me on my own
– we did it at night with the lights out. It was very dark in a
big, beautiful room with wooden floors. I could see the mist in the
countryside – everything was white, foggy and icy. It was very
ghostly.

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one?

Quiet Loner: I’ve been fascinated by ghosts all my life – I’m particularly
interested in the paranormal. I’ve had some very spooky experiences.
When I was a child, I think I saw a ghost in a farmhouse in Wales.
Who knows? It could have been my vivid and powerful imagination.

 Several of the songs on the record, like Lucifer and Counting
The Days, deal with relationships and love. And death crops up, too.
The First To Fall is set at a funeral.

Quiet Loner: A lot of the songs are about people. I don’t think I am
morbid and depressing, but there is a death theme. There have been a
couple of times in my life when I’ve been seriously ill and when
you’re facing up to your own mortality, you can’t help but dwell on
it. You get a sense of how precious and wonderful life is – and I
wanted to convey that as well.

You do that on the first song – About As Precious As Life Gets.
It’s a circle of life song.


Quiet Loner: It’s a very common motif. Funerals are on the record, too
– as you say, The First To Fall is a funeral song.


You’re the protagonist of that song and you’re at a funeral – as
a pallbearer.

Quiet Loner: I wrote that song a few years ago. I’d never played it to
anyone – it’s really personal. It’s based on a true story – one of my
best friends committed suicide and I was one of the pallbearers at his
funeral. It was a very intense experience and I wrote a song about it.

As well as ghosts and death, there are lots of physical
references on the album –particularly on the song Tourniquet,
but elsewhere there are mentions of flesh, bones and earth.


Quiet Loner: Anyone who has been through an illness, had an operation
or been in hospital becomes acutely aware of the physical body – you
get used to giving blood and having people stick things in you – all
kinds of intrusions. That’s happened to me a lot. I suppose it comes
through in my writing. Tourniquet is a song that dwells a lot on
physical illness – that kind of imagery.

There is a sense of hope on this album, too, isn’t there?

Quiet Loner: I’d hope so. I think there is. I don’t think it’s depressing.
My first album was quite intense and all about the breakup of a relationship.
Although there are moments of that on this record, I think, overall,
it’s a much more gentle, hopeful and human record.

All of the songs were written over a long period of time – at
different stages in your life – but they all seem to gel together and
have common themes.

Quiet Loner: I wanted it to be a record that hangs together. I have a
lot of songs. Again, I have to give Mat Martin credit as a producer –
prior to recording this album, I’d make some great recordings of what
would have been my second album, but the choice of songs was all over
the place. It was a deranged pop album. What Mat did was to get me to
pick the five songs that I definitely wanted to do and then we pulled
everything else in around those songs.


The song Hide and Fear stands out for me,
as it’s more political than the other tracks on the record. It deals with the infringement of personal liberties
and the idea of a Big Brother society watching our every move.


Quiet Loner: I do have a lot of overtly political songs, but I didn’t want those on this album.
The reason I put Hide and Fear on the record is because it’s a bit more subtle in its imagery. It is about being watched and a sense of intrusion,
but I felt that it fits well with the other themes we talked about earlier,
like illness and physical intrusion while you’re in a hospital.
Even in a relationship, when someone’s inside your head, it can feel invasive.


You’ve been tagged as a UK Americana artist,
but the new album doesn’t sound like an Americana record, does it?

Quiet Loner: No, it doesn’t.
My first album was very much classed an alt.country/Americana record,
but I’ve tried to avoid writing songs about desert highways and coyotes.
The new album has got Dobro and banjo on it, which are
very American-sounding instruments, but I think it is a folky album.
But, then again, it doesn’t really sound like folk music.
Or maybe it does!

Do you have high hopes for this record?


Quiet Loner: I don’t know. I really hope that people like it,
but being realistic, it’s not an immediate record – it’s a bit of a grower.
There’s no big hit on it and it’s not catchy. There’s no obvious radio song on it. You’ve got to listen to all of the record.


It’s very much a complete album – by that, I mean that it’s meant
to be listened to as a whole body of work, from start to finish.

Quiet Loner: It’s a record of two sides – side one and side two.
You have to listen to all of it.
I worry that in this current climate a lot of people don’t have the patience – people don’t listen to music in that way anymore.

Is that due to the download culture that we live in?
Has it killed the concept of the album?

Quiet Loner: Yes – I think it has.
I’ve made a deeply unfashionable record and it’s not particularly immediate.
I don’t really have any ambitions for it – I’m glad I made it.
Whether I’ll ever make another one on this scale again, I don’t know.
Probably not, but I’ve definitely got the mania back for making records.
The next one won’t be as nicely produced as this one, but I’m certainly going to knock out some records in the next couple of years.
I’d like to make a much more political one next.  I’d very proud of the new album.


Finally, are you a quiet loner?

Quiet Loner: No, not at all. If anyone comes to see me play live, then they’ll see that I’m neither quiet or a loner.

Quiet Loner’s new album Spectrology is released on November 8 – on Little Red Rabbit Records.

For more information, tour dates, etc, go to: http://quietloner.com/

Listen to Ash Ballad, a song from the new album, here: http://quietloner.bandcamp.com/track/ash-ballad