When I was growing up music was very much consumed via a CD and a CD player. The cars had CD players, we had CD players in our bedrooms and I was even lucky enough to have a portable player. This has now of course been replaced with USB connections, AUX chords, Bluetooth and streaming. Realistically CDs just aren't that necessary in the modern climate when we have so much available to us on our portable devices.
With that in mind, why the hell are vinyl records outselling CDs? I mean let's look at it logically; vinyls are huge, brittle, worse in sound quality, expensive to buy and can only be played on huge record players that you can't take anywhere. Add in there all the skips, scratches and imperfections that come with a vinyl record and it seems that in a world where CDs are pointless vinyls are living with the dodos.
So what is it that attracts us so much to vinyl?
As I've touched upon, it certainly isn't practicality. In fact you could almost say the fact that vinyls aren't very practical is what makes them so appealing. CDs have a clear sound quality that matches the best that our ears can hear, but what they never will have is character. It's always been an interesting debate because just about everyone seems to agree but no one can quite explain it. Records are romantic; the fuzzy analogue buzz that adds an extra layer of texture to your track; the act of laying the record on the deck and placing the needle; watching the record spin and the gentle and soothing crackles leave the speaker. Something intangible about records makes them so much more appealing than CDs. Their imperfections almost give them a human quality and their analogue nature a relatability that digital perfection could never match. Listening to a record is an experience; life slows for a brief moment as we take the time to read the sleeves, place the needle and wait for the excitement of our call to action when the music ceases and the record needs flipping.
Aside from a personal experience perspective there's also the market. As I said before, CDs are pointless and practicality states records are too. However, because of their adulation and popularity, as well as the lauding of all things retro, the market still exists. Over the past few years I've built a habit of buying physical copies of albums I particularly enjoy as almost a keepsake or memento. In instances like this people would much prefer to buy vinyl than CD. The analogue experience adds a new inflection to the music and moving back to that intangible thing, records are just nicer to have. Of course we can't talk markets without talking money. We've seen recently the resurgence of Pokémon trading cards. As people attempt to relive their youth the cards have become more popular, as a result they've become more expensive and the cycle continues. Now these cards are selling for thousands and have become a collectors item for all those that can afford them. Records are following a similar route. Although they may be fairly expensive to buy, vinyls hold their value, at a minimum usually. If you take a look online at some of the first edition prints of classic albums they too can easily fetch thousands. For this reason buying, selling and collecting vinyls has become its own hobby. You can now easily go to car boot sales and buy job lot collections of vinyls for dirt cheap before scouring through to see if you've found yourself a hidden treasure. I can see the appeal, even if you don't end up making a huge profit it's a fun gamble to make and worst case scenario you end up with a huge collection of loads of really cool vinyls.
So in reality, it's no surprise that records are outselling CDs. Vinyl is imperfect and impractical and ultimately that's why we love it. I'd say other than live music Vinyl is the best way to experience any record. The analogue warmth, although intangible, is recognised by all and it adds a whole new depth to songs. Plus for me the act of choosing a record, setting it up before sitting back and listening is a great form of home therapy and relaxes you like nothing else. For people who have never used or listened to vinyl it is basically impossible to explain, but the closest I would come is to the bond an owner forms with their horrifically broken, unreliable and smelly old car. In the end you find comfort in the imperfections and stepping into a new car, although practically a much better choice, just wouldn't feel quite as satisfying. It may drive perfectly but what's the fun in that!
As an end note to this article I'd like to give a shout out to @vinylfancollector. Our many chats about records inspired me to write this piece so for some great Vinyl content check out their Instagram page and online shop!
Ray Fulcher Interview - "I want people to think, 'Oh man, well if Ray's got his own struggles, then it's okay if I do too.'"
Ray Fulcher's written smash hits with Luke Combs, performed at the Grand Ole Opry, and now he's set up his own mental health foundation, 'Pretty Good Ball'. Maxim talks to the budding Country star about his journey so far - and where he's headed next.
Hey Ray! Thank you for taking the time out to chat today! You recently released the ‘Girl in it’ EP. The title track has a high energy that reminds me of ‘Anything Like You Dance’, while ‘Way Out’ and ‘Bucket List Beers’ are also great feel-good songs. Was it a conscious decision to make this new music uptempo and positive?
Yeah, that’s a great question! I think what I naturally lean most towards is on the slower side - writing the sadder Country stuff is what I love. But about a year ago I challenged myself to write songs that have the same depth and lyrics that really said something, but paired with an upbeat message and track. I ended up loving how these songs do feel good, but if you break down the lyrics they hopefully give the listener something to latch onto. For them to find themselves in the song is really the main objective.
One of my favourite things about Country music is the wordplay - ‘Girl in it’ and ‘Way Out’ are testaments to this with how the phrases change meaning throughout song. We’ve also seen it from you before on ‘Got It All’. Has this playful lyrical style always been something you’ve aimed to include in your music?
I’ve always been drawn to that, and I love the challenge of taking an idea and presenting it in different ways. Obviously you don’t want to do it on every song you put out, but at the same time, I do love it being a trademark of my work. If we can get it right, then hopefully it comes across in a really cool way and gives the listener different ways to process and think about it, which also adds a different layer to the song.
This year, you set up the Pretty Good Ball Foundation, which aims to improve mental health awareness for musicians, as well as offering artists free access to therapy. What inspired you to start this foundation?
For me, coming from a very small town in Georgia, I didn’t really know a lot about mental health - it was always something you didn’t talk about. No-one around me educated me on it, it was always a case of pulling up your boots and toughing things out. But last year, the pandemic gave me a chance to slow down and reflect on my own mental and emotional health. I got talking to people about their own experiences with therapy, and I thought, ‘You know what, I want to give this a try. Let’s see what I’ve been missing along the way that can help me be a better me.’ A big part of that was learning things about myself, and realising, ‘Oh okay, I see how I could have been the problem in that particular situation or in that particular relationship.’
What motivated you to focus on musicians’ mental health in particular?
Nashville can be a really tough town, especially when you’re first moving there, and as a songwriter or musician, it can wear on your shoulders. Trying to navigate all that is tough. I’d talked to my manager, Neil, about setting up some kind of charity, but I didn’t know what I wanted it to be yet. After about a month of thinking about it, it just hit me. We’d always talked about starting a foundation called 'Pretty Good Ball’, which is a line out of my song, ‘Love Ya Son, Go Dawgs’, and I remember sending him a text saying, ‘Let’s set up a mental health fund for musicians and songwriters who need to talk to someone, but can’t afford it.’ They might be scared, so this can give them the anonymity and outlet to go for it.
I also want to try and de-stigmatise a little bit. One of the main messages that I want Pretty Good Ball to spread is that two things can be true at once - you can still kick ass, write Country music and be a ‘Country person’, and still be just who you are, but at the same time recognise that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes, and that’s normal. It’s okay to talk to someone about that. The analogy I keep coming back to is that if something’s wrong with your car, it’s okay to take it to the mechanic, because we just don’t know enough about cars ourselves to fix it. Why are we any different? We teamed up with the Music Health Alliance, and they have the infrastructure to put our funding into place, and people can fill out an application to receive grants to talk to someone totally anonymously, which is awesome. At the same time, I want people to think, ‘Oh man, well if Ray’s out here talking about mental health, and if Ray’s okay with it, and Ray’s got his own struggles, then it’s okay if I do too.' That’s what made me want to put Pretty Good Ball in place, and people already seem to be rallying around it and asking questions in very much the same way that you did, saying, ‘What made you want to do this?’ It gives me the opportunity to talk to them about it and let them know it’s okay to be feeling how I’m feeling.
That’s inspiring to hear, especially given the fact that Country music hasn’t historically been hugely open about mental health. Did this make it more difficult to take that step of founding Pretty Good Ball?
There was a little anxiety about how it was going to be received, because no-one’s really heard me talk about mental health. Something I’ve learned in therapy is that the things you find uncomfortable are the things you should lean into. I just thought that, even if I’ve never navigated these waters before, on the other side of that uncomfortable feeling there’s something that’s hopefully really going to help people.
On June 15th, you made your debut at the legendary Grand Ole Opry. What was that moment like when you received the invitation?
Oh my gosh, that was such a bucket list moment. Both for me as a kid, being so into Country music, and also outside of music being such a history fan - I went to the University of Georgia and got a Social Sciences Education degree and a Masters degree where the emphasis was History - and when you combine music and history, the Grand Ole Opry is the mecca. There’s just something magical about that place. It felt a bit surreal, and you get a little bit excited and a little bit nervous at the same time. It’s hopefully a testament to how far we’ve come, and what kind of opportunity we have moving forward. It was a dream come true.
You’ve written some of the biggest Country songs of the last few years with Luke Combs - such as ‘Does to Me’, and one of my favourite Country songs of all time, ‘When it Rains it Pours’. I wanted to ask you in particular about ‘Even Though I’m Leaving’, which is such a moving song about a boy’s relationship with his father. I read that it’s not based on real-life events - if that’s the case, how did you manage to get into that headspace and tell this story in such a personal way?
That song was the first time Luke and I had ever written with Wyatt Durrette, who’s got a bunch of hits with Zac Brown and a couple of other guys. We were in there talking and we really didn’t have a good idea that morning, and then Wyatt goes, ‘Hey, I don’t know if y’all would be into this, but my son’s in high school now, and he’s gonna be going to college in a few years. I’ve always wanted to write a song for him because I need him to know that, when he does leave, I’ll always be there no matter what.’ All of us put ourselves in that first verse where you’re a little kid and you’re scared of monsters under the bed. After that, we talked about how we had a real opportunity here to impact people, so let’s figure out what the next verses need to look like in order for people to see a bit of themselves or someone they lost in the lyrics.
In the third verse, the guy’s going off to war and the dad has to stay back - in that case it’s about war, but it can also apply to leaving home for the first time and going to college, taking a job and taking a chance, or chasing your dream and moving to Nashville, where it’s your first time having that real separation. The dad is just saying, ‘Wherever you’re at, I’m still gonna be behind you’, and I think that’s a really strong message. Even the end of the song, when someone passes on from this life, the message is that a part of them is always there, and I think a lot of people can relate to that and feel that. That song has drawn more messages and people coming up to me with tears in their eyes talking about it than any other song I’ve written.
"You can still kick ass and be a ‘Country person’, but at the same time recognise that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes, and that’s normal.”
COVID-permitting, when can fans next expect to see you perform in the UK?
I’m super excited to be going on tour in the US with Ashley McBride and Luke Combs this year, as well as playing a few festivals. As for the UK, I absolutely want to come over there - before COVID, I was supposed to play a couple of small shows in London, and I was really bummed that I couldn’t come. Neil works with The Cadillac Three, who love playing in the UK, so it’s always made me excited talking to them about it. I’m looking forward to it and hopefully in 2022 we’ll be over there a lot!
Finally, we ask all our interviewees to name their favourite three songs that have a theme of mental health. What would be yours?
1. 'I’m Movin' On' - Rascal Flatts
2. 'Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On' - Jimmy Buffett
3. 'Love Can Build a Bridge' - The Judds
You can stream Ray Fulcher's 'Girl in it' EP on all platforms now!
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Kid Cudi occupies a peculiar space in music - his pioneering brand of emo-rap heavily influenced the sound of today’s heavyweights, such as Drake, Travis Scott and even Cudi’s own mentor, Kanye West. Yet most people either know him for his features on other artists’ songs, or his naughties club hit ‘Day N Nite’, and would struggle to name more than a handful of his solo tracks.
Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon albums have always dived deep into the topic of mental health, exploring territory that rappers have historically shied away from. They play as concept albums that are loosely based on reality, with Cudi personifying his mental demons as the fearsome ‘Mr. Rager’, and subsequently battling this alter-ego over the course of the project.
This final instalment in the trilogy sees Cudi returning once more to a state of darkness and “dealing with the same pain he had not felt in years”.
Kid Cudi has maintained a successful acting career alongside his music, and he purposefully gives Man on the Moon III the magnitude and drama of a movie soundtrack.
He continues the homage to film by dividing the album into four Acts: in Act 1, Mr. Rager rattles angrily against the cage of Cudi’s mind on electric tracks such as ‘Tequila Shots’ and ‘Dive’, before breaking loose in Act 2 and grabbing the mic with trademark ferocity. This is epitomised by Cudi’s foray into drill music on ‘Show Out’, which features the late New York MC, Pop Smoke, and London’s Skepta.
Even though Cudi is submerged once again into the mental anguish that pervades the original two Man on the Moon projects, something feels different this time around. Although ‘Tequila Shots’ has sobering lines such as “I won’t stop ’til I crash and burn’/Tell my mom I’m sorry”, the hook contains hints of resilience and determination to overcome his demons (“Hear me now, hey, this time I’m ready for it/This fight, this war in me”).
The turning point arrives during ‘Solo Dolo, Pt. III’, which foreshadows the woozier second half of the album that’s to come. It begins with Kid Cudi at rock bottom, documenting his struggles with addiction, loneliness and suicidal thoughts (“Can’t hear me scream/Something twisted in me/Say, ‘I’m waiting to die,’ I cry”). But just over halfway through the song, Cudi’s voice breaks through the synth haze with a little more lucidity, and the lyrics take on a more optimistic sheen (“Lord, he show me that I’m tested and I’m gonna fly/I ain’t slippin’, no, that’s not for me/Be who you are, don’t be nothin’ less, please”).
There’s an interesting shift in religious imagery compared to the start of the album, where Cudi feels frustrated that God is seemingly ignoring his prayers (“Asking God to help ‘em, are you hearing me?” & “Hm, talk to Him, He don’t speak back”). On ‘Solo Dolo, Pt. III’, Cudi begins by talking of being in Hell and waiting for the Devil to come - but then we hear the emphatic return to faith - “He’s calling me” - and this initiates the more hopeful perspective from Cudi in the second half of the song. On one level, Kid Cudi does appear to be talking literally about his faith, but this also seems to represent a sense of acceptance and trust in the path that he is on, rather than agonising over the existential questions that he mentions in Acts 1 and 2.
We see this newfound belief, both in himself and in his journey, at the start of Act 3 on ‘Sad People’, such as in the lines, “Close call, life on the edge/Ah, when the time comes, I’ll find peace”, which he then follows with a defiant mission statement - “I can find love in me”. Acts 3 and 4 are generally lighter in their chosen palettes, but given the fact that the overall mood is one of optimism, it’s impressive the breadth of pain Cudi still manages to document and overcome on these songs. He takes us through grief on ‘Elsie’s Baby Boy (flashback)’ and issues with self-esteem on ‘Lovin’ Me’, which features Phoebe Bridgers. ‘Lovin’ Me’ seems to capture the fundamental message of this project - to express our feelings rather than bottle them up, and to be a little more compassionate towards ourselves (“At times I really didn’t show/What was wrong with me, wrong with me/I told myself I cannot grow/Without lovin’ me”).
Act 3 finds Kid Cudi still struggling with his demons, but seeing glimpses of light and moments of realisation that guide him towards a more peaceful state of mind. It is in Act 4 that he enjoys the spoils of this new freedom, and the celebratory mood of the final four songs feels even more meaningful when they stand in contrast to the intensity of the previous three acts.
‘The Pale Moonlight’ is much more uptempo, with a signature Cudi hook that wriggles itself into your mind - and it would stay there, were it not for the other multitude of ear-worms that litter this project. ‘4 da Kidz’ underlines Cudi’s symbiotic relationship with his fans, and how their support has sustained him through his troubles, as well as an acknowledgment of the impact he’s had on his listeners - if an uber-successful, world-famous rap-star can struggle with his mental health, then it makes it clear that anyone can.
I’m aware that I’ve made this sound like a tragic and intense record, and in many ways it is. But take it from someone who almost exclusively tries to listen to ‘happy music’ - there is plenty of enjoyment to be found amidst the soul-searching of Man on the Moon III. In fact, it is precisely because of the overwhelming sadness that underpins the first three acts, that the final act becomes such a satisfying, full-circle moment.
However, as much as I love the music on this album, the coolest thing about Cudi’s latest offering has to be the artwork. Although it’s kind of a cliche, I really do think it epitomises the feel of the project as a whole - dark and ominous, whilst at the same time exploding with colour and vibrancy.
Man on the Moon III is available to stream on all platforms now!
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Humanity’s relationship with ‘leisure’ and ‘free-time’ is complicated. In the early stages of the digital age, when exciting new technological advances were being developed, experts predicted that in the future we’d only be working a couple of days a week, because computers and phones would enable us to complete our tasks so efficiently.
However, fast forward a few decades, and people are generally working more, not less. But why, when technology means we can get things done so much faster?
Personally, I love the buzz that comes with being productive and working towards a project. It makes me feel like I’m maximising - true to my name - my time, and I’m doing everything in my power to make the project as good as it possibly can be.
And I don’t think there’s an issue with this, because working hard to achieve your goals is great, and leads to a rewarding sense of satisfaction and pride when you reach your creative destination.
But once I accomplish the particular task I’ve been working towards, what happens then? Well, I move swiftly onto the next one - once again chasing that hit of productivity that my brain craves. If I take a break that lasts too long - i.e. more than a day - I sense a nagging feeling of guilt creeping up on me, inwardly reprimanding me for being lazy and unproductive.
I think a lot of people share this in-built productivity compass, especially in a world where there are millions of different things vying for our attention at any one time. You can’t even read an article online without being bombarded by pop-up ads and subscription offers and other ‘articles you might like’. When that feels too chaotic and stressful, we then turn to our phones for some idle scrolling, where, once again, there are hundreds of images and videos desperately trying to win over the brain’s attention.
My point is, even when we think we’re taking a break, it often doesn’t feel restful. I love checking what my favourite artists are up to on Instagram. But does half an hour of scrolling really make me feel recharged? I can’t say it does.
The other problem is, when we take a break, it’s usually still with productivity in mind. When I’m tired from too much essay-writing or research and feel my brain slowing down, I take a TV or music break. All well and good, right? But the only reason I’m taking a break at all is for the purpose of getting myself back to a state where I can work effectively again.
I think in many ways we’ve forgotten how to just do nothing. Try it now - stop reading this article, set a timer for five minutes, and just sit there doing nothing but staring out of the window.
It’s hard, right? After barely a minute, I have the urge to check my phone - just in case - and sitting with my thoughts just turns into a mental checklist of all the things I need to get done. After a few more minutes, my fingers are itching to click the ‘Gmail’ tab on my laptop, even though I already checked it ten minutes ago. We’ve trained our brains to feed off the feeling of being productive, and this often prevents us from being able to properly and truly relax without feeling guilty.
I’ve just finished my Masters degree, and everyone told me that’s a worthy cause for a short break from work - and I took their advice and took a little time off from the non-University projects I have on the go. But even on the days where I would just hang out with friends or watch TV, I still couldn’t shake that constant feeling that there was something productive I should’ve been doing instead.
Okay, so we’ve established there’s a productivity problem. But is this too deeply entrenched in the modern mentality, or is it something we can unlearn?
As I said, productivity is of course beneficial in healthy doses, so we shouldn’t completely ditch it and start sitting on the couch doing nothing every day. It’s more a case of knowing when to stop, so that you can allow yourself guilt-free leisure time.
To an extent, I think the hardest part is acknowledging when it’s become a problem, and when it’s encroaching onto aspects of your life that shouldn’t be associated with the need to be productive. For example, I’d argue that being with loved ones is the most emotionallyproductive and rewarding ways we could possibly use our time - so if even these moments are being tainted by worrying about emails and to-do lists, then this definitely isn’t healthy.
The other thing that helped me personally is - unsurprisingly - music. As you might have guessed from the title of this magazine, we’re also big fans of mindfulness. I found that a form of ‘mindful listening’ highlighted how the constant yearning for productivity was slowly and surely burning me out.
What I mean by ‘mindful listening’ is taking a step back and looking at your current listening habits. This might not work for everyone, but I found that the songs and albums I was listening to on rotation were, amidst others, the likes of 'Sunshine State of Mind' by Brian Kelley; ‘Beer in Mexico’ by Kenny Chesney; ‘More Time Fishin’’ by Thomas Rhett; ‘Tequila On A Boat’ by Dustin Lynch and Chris Lane; and so on.
Okay, so I’m listening to summery music in the summer. Big whoop, right?
But the overriding themes behind all these songs are wasting time, doing nothing and just chilling without a care in the world. That told me that deep down, even if it was being drowned out by my productivity-guilt, I was drawn to the idea of just letting go for a little while and not being so uptight about work.
It’s a simple enough conclusion to reach, but seeing my suspicions confirmed in my listening history gave me the nudge I needed to just take it easy sometimes, and not be so obsessed with being productive.
The best part is, for any other productivity junkies out there, switching off won’t be as much of a culture shock as you might think. That feeling of guilt when you’re taking time off appears because you’re conscientious about getting all your tasks done, and you’re disciplined and methodical about this. So - why not use this same mentality for leisure time? Start by scheduling in breaks and periods of rest - in theory, because you already have a conscientious mindset, it’ll be easier to stick to this schedule.
Turn your craving for productivity into a craving for relaxation.
Of course, it’s never quite as easy as it looks on paper. I’m only just starting down this road, so I’m still more often than not opting for work over relaxation, even when there are no urgent deadlines I’m trying to meet. But I’m getting a little better at it, and with practice, I’ll be able to strike a better balance. On the flip side, we shouldn’t start feeling guilty for being productive, because like I said, it’s a largely positivity attitude to have in life. It’s more about being kind and compassionate to yourself, and listening to your mind and body when they’re telling you to take a breather.
In my previous ‘Music, Mental Health and Me’ article on gratitude, I mentioned how, at the end of each day, I take a few minutes to list things that I’m feeling thankful for. Nearly always, the moments I feel the most gratitude for are times when I haven’t been productive - for example, spending time with family and friends, seeing a beautiful sunset, hearing an awesome new song, and so on.
The time we spend working is stressful enough as it is, so we definitely don’t need any added anxiety about notworking during our free-time. The likelihood is, if you’re worrying about not working enough even while you’re taking a break, you’re probably the kind of person that’s definitelyworking hard enough.
Check out my Unproductivity Playlistbelow for the perfect soundtrack to kicking back, taking a well-earned, guilt-free rest, and having another metaphorical ‘Beer in Mexico’ (even if, in reality, it’s a ‘Beer in My Back Garden’. Hmm, somehow that’s just not as catchy…).
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Whether you're new to the Heartbreak Hotel, or you're a returning visitor, this playlist will hopefully help you get an early check-out.
10. Heartbreak Anthem - Galantis, David Guetta and Little Mix
In my opinion, EDM is the musical equivalent of caffeine, giving you a sudden energy boost when you most need it. This Little Mix hit is more accurately an anti-heartbreak anthem, summed up by the opening lines - “Hello, it’s me, your ex/I called to say not sorry but I wish you the best”. It has the overarching message of ‘Que sera sera’, for anyone needing reassurance that, no matter how bad it seems, everything’s going to be okay. MM
9. Meant to Be - Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line
So putting a love song about how people are meant to be together seems a bit counter-intuitive for helping you recover from heartbreak. However, I think this song could be the reminder you need to restore your faith in love. If you’ve been through a particularly tough break up you’re probably having some pretty strong feelings against love and relationships – but the chorus line of this song, "If it’s meant to be, it’ll be" assures you that things happen for a reason. Sure heartbreak hurts for now, but it's all part of the journey to meeting that person with whom it's 'Meant to Be'. DD
8. Paranoid - Kanye West ft. Mr Hudson
Appearing on Kanye’s hugely underrated Auto-Tune album, 808s & Heartbreak, this song is one of the more upbeat tracks on the project. The verses are directed at someone who is struggling with their self-esteem because of a bad break-up. In typical Kanye fashion, he tells them to stop worrying so much about what people are thinking, and to just go out and cut loose. It can sometimes feel like a competition as to who’s handling the break-up the best, and this song just reminds you not to get trapped by that mindset - “You heard about all the word of mouth/Don’t worry ‘bout what we can’t control”. MM
7. Karma - MOD SUN
The brilliant opening to MOD SUN’s ‘Internet Killed the Rockstar’; ‘Karma’ can be just the reassurance you need. Opening with MOD wishing a string of poor fate onto his former lover for all the times he was mistreated it really demonstrates some of the frustration and anger that can come with heartbreak, particularly if you were wronged in the process. The reassuring part of the song is that after listing all the things he wishes on his former lover MOD takes pleasure in singing "Karma’s a bitch, I heard" before a repeated chant of "What goes around comes around." If you’ve been hurt, this song is just the reminder you need that the world has wonderful ways of making sure people get their comeuppance. DD
6. Everglow - Coldplay
After Chris Martin’s very public split from Gwyneth Paltrow, either party could’ve been forgiven for lashing out or holding onto some resentment - you know, regular heartbreak stuff. But Martin seems to have an incredible (and almost annoying) level of emotional stability that makes me think he might be secretly teaching meditation classes to the Dalai Lama in his spare time. ‘Everglow’ is all about feeling grateful that the two people got to experience so much life together, rather than lamenting the fact that it’s over. MM
5. Carrie Underwood - Before he Cheats
This song is the fantasy for those who have been cheated on. Whilst in the real world acts of vengeful violence aren’t the answer, it doesn’t mean we can’t dream, right? This resilient anthem describes in beautiful detail the meticulously planned damage that Carrie will exact on her ex’s pride and joy: his car. "I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up-four-wheel drive, Carved my name into his leather seat, I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights, I slashed a hole in all four tyres, Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats." You know what? I think he just might. DD
4. Next Girl - Carly Pearce
Similarly to Chris and Gwyneth, this song was written in the aftermath of a celebrity divorce. In this Country equivalent of a diss-track, Pearce warns her ex’s current partner to beware of the ways he draws you in and then subsequently ruins the relationship. This song is ideal for anyone suffering from a recent break-up, where the emotions are raw and you’re still hurting - ‘Next Girl’ channels this frustration in a playful way. MM
3. Good 4 U - Olivia Rodrigo
There are a number of songs from Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Sour’ album that could have made the cut, but this is by far my favourite. Providing all the aggression, bitterness and resentment that a break-up has to offer this song will get you through hard times (you’ll get this reference very soon). Harking back to early Paramore or Avril Lavigne; Olivia Rodrigo channels all her frustration at how easy it was for her ex to move on and find someone new while she still struggles to get past the initial break-up. The video is great too, showing Rodrigo channel her crazy side could be just the boost you need to really get rid of some of those negative feelings. DD
2. I Was On A Boat That Day - Old Dominion
This song is way too fun to really be called a heartbreak song - it’s all about enjoying yourself so much on a boat that you barely notice the fact that your partner is leaving you. It’s hardly realistic, of course, but during a break-up some light relief can be the perfect tonic to all the seriousness. Old Dominion’s light-hearted tone is ideal for this (“Was she laughing, was she crying/As she walked away?/I can’t say/I was on a boat that day”). MM
1. Sex (Acoustic) - The 1975
So this song is pretty good in its fast paced original, but in its slowed down acoustic it’s hauntingly beautiful. This won’t be the track that gets you fired up and ready to move on but it will be the cathartic crutch that helps you confront your emotions. The song tells the story of the other man; the protagonist being the lover of a woman who is already in a relationship. The heartbreak comes when we learn that he has fallen completely in love with this woman and despite his numerous attempts to open up to her she sees him as nothing more than a meaningless physical affair. The lyrics tell the unrequited love story perfectly, and couple this with Matty Healey’s stunning acoustic vocals and you’ve got one of the masterpieces of heartbreak. My description really doesn’t do it justice so make sure you listen to the song! DD
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Greetings from...The Marfa Tapes: Let Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall be your tour guides on this sonic retreat
I have to admit, when I first heard about this project, a number of preconceptions began floating through my head. A trio of songwriters recording a series of live, demo-style songs in a remote, West Texas town, with audio of laughter, slip-ups and even cows mooing in the distance being kept in the final versions?
We’ve been here before, where artists eschew the commercial, radio-friendly route in favour of a more authentic project of ‘pure songwriting’. However, if handled in the wrong way, the result can often come across as a publicity gimmick, or worse, as an exercise in self-indulgence, with obtuse lyrics that critics pretend to understand, but that only really make sense to the artists.
But make no mistake - The Marfa Tapes, a collaboration between Country icon Miranda Lambert and her frequent songwriting partners, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall, does not fall into any of the aforementioned traps. The group produce a songwriting masterclass, and the rough audio quality only serves to enhance the project, bringing a sense of old-timey nostalgia and charm to the recordings.
The tracks often end with snippets of banter between the trio, and their close friendship shines throughout the project, bringing a level of musical intimacy that is rarely found, even in established bands.
Highlights of the album include the opening two tracks, ‘In His Arms’ and ‘I Don’t Like It’, which play as lonesome odes to a missed partner. The fact that Lambert, Ingram and Randall have all been on the scene for around two decades enables them to add an emotional depth and almost wearied wisdom to the lyrical content.
The general arc of the project is one of lost love, and this does give the majority of The Marfa Tapes a melancholic air. The gentle sorrow of the lyrics coupled with a simple, strummed guitar brings a sense of peacefulness, though, rather than outright despair. This is epitomised on ‘Waxahachie’, where Lambert wonders whether, amidst a sea of personal upheaval, she can trust that the Texan town will still reassuringly stand where it always was (“Waxahachie, are you still on 35?/Are you still an all-night drive from Louisiana?”).
‘The Wind’s Just Gonna Blow’ introduces a feeling of acceptance that things never stay the same, with the challenge being to find inner stillness even while the outside world is more turbulent than ever (“Bad times, they all pass/For me and you they don’t/Dust ain’t ever gonna settle/The wind’s just gonna blow”). ‘Ghost’ is similarly moving, but adds a cutting edge and flash of anger (“Go rest in peace with every lie you ever told/‘Cause now you’re just a ghost”).
Despite all the solemnity, we see refreshing injections of humour on the uptempo ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’, where the artists can be heard laughing as Lambert sings the chorus, as well as on their rendition of Lambert’s ‘Tequila Does’, where she receives a ribbing after messing up the lyrics of the hook - the modest hilarity of which is exacerbated by the fact that ‘Tequila Does’ is currently one of the biggest hits on Country radio.
But I feel I should underline that this is not a hugely uplifting album, nor does it contain many themes of mental health. The reason I’ve reviewed it in this issue is because, for me, the key reason music can be so relaxing and therapeutic is the same reason we love books and films - it allows us to get lost in someone else’s story, even if just for a few minutes. This escapism enables us to step back from the clutter of our own thoughts and anxieties, and come back to them with fresh eyes and newfound energy.
I can’t think of another album that is as transportive and immersive as The Marfa Tapes, to the extent that the real star of the show isn’t any one of the three performers - it’s the town itself. Marfa has always had a mythical status, from the mysterious, unexplained ‘Marfa lights’ that emerge along the horizon at night, to the single Prada store that can be found in isolation on the highway amidst acres of desert. It’s been chosen as a retreat for musicians such as Beyonce, as well as being the site of various installations by world-renowned artists. Marfa appears to be situated in a paradoxical liminal space between being on the crest of cultural and artistic progression, whilst also being a sleepy, desert town in Texas that seems to exist outside of the modern world.
Due to the way this project has been recorded, and helped by the songwriting dexterity that pervades it, when you listen, it feels like you’re right there with the trio, sitting under the desert stars, enjoying the flickering glow of a fire while your racing mind slows to the easy rhythm of an acoustic guitar.
On this album, Lambert, Ingram and Randall provide listeners with a Marfa retreat for anyone who isn’t able to visit in person - which, during a pandemic, is pretty much everyone. Pack up your mental baggage and check out of reality for a little while, so you can start your sonic sojourn and recharge through the evocative storytelling and delicate melodies of The Marfa Tapes.
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We’ve all seen the mass debate that goes on surrounding autotune and its heavy use in pop music. It often gets a bad rep as we see successful artists belt out pitchy live performances whilst talented singer after talented singer fails to make it to the big time – leaving us all feeling somewhat duped. More recently though autotune has found its own place in creativity; artists like T-Pain and Lil Yachty have been big advocates for using autotune not to sneakily fix their poor vocals but to gain a specific timbre and feel. It’s become another one of the many electronic instruments in today’s musical arsenal and personally I think it’s great. Music has always been about experimentation and new technology even in the days when the all-singing and dancing piano swept aside the trusty old harpsichord.
My question is whether sampling has followed the same arc – can we call it creative or is it a writing shortcut?
The most famous example of sampling ever is Clyde Stubblefield’s instantly recognisable solo on James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’. Asked by Brown to riff a solo drum beat Clyde himself came up with the catchy fill. The way the song drops away momentarily leaving Clyde's exposed kit made it a dream for samplers over the years. The beat has actually featured in thousands of songs, most notably in hip hop, and can be credited as the hard-hitting start to N.W.A’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’. The problem for me with this side of sampling is that being a lowly instrumentalist in the band fronted by James Brown means that Clyde never really got any credit; I’m sure nearly all of you reading would recognise his drum beat, but not his name. The genius mind behind one of the most iconic drum beats of all time gets his work used on song after song regardless of genre yet he went largely unrecognised until his death – it hardly seems fair. My other issue with the mass use of the famous ‘Funky Drummer’ lick is just how common and recognisable it has become. This is not a slight on the beat itself or its composer, but more how it has been used. To me it smacks of a lack of creativity that over the span of decades the same drum beat has been near enough the staple of chart music. Yes, it’s iconic and it does sound great, so you can’t blame people for wanting to use it – but how hard would it have really been to come up with your own beat? Now that I know about the ‘Funky Drummer’ I find myself tuned into it and almost cringing every time I hear it in a modern pop song – I just can’t help but think, ‘Could you not have just spent a little time thinking up something different?’
This is furthered in today’s chart music. Over the last ten years or so it has been extremely popular to take an iconic riff, lyric or melody from an extremely popular old song and slap it into anywhere it fits. Poor old Robin S. themselves must be fed up of hearing the catchy melody from ‘Show me Love’ (although I’m sure their accountants don’t mind). It just feels like a bit of a cheat to me. Even in the songs where the sample has been used slightly differently, like an instrumental melody becoming the vocal line, it just seems unfair that you could pick out something that you know people love and fill out your song with it. I’d compare it to attempting to write a novel then filling the whole middle section with well-known excerpts from Shakespeare or Stephen King; sure the middle of your book may be amazing but I’m hardly going to give you credit for it. An example in the charts as I write this is ‘Your Love’ which samples ATB’s ‘9 PM’. This is an interesting one in that ATB is also involved in the rework but the point still stands. I must admit I do like the song but using his most famous riff as the centrepiece for a ‘brand new’ song just leaves me feeling conned; has he not come up with anything better since then? It feels like the song has been approached with an ‘if it ain’t broke’ attitude in which when sat in the studio ATB simply dipped into his files and remarked, ‘Well this did the trick last time’.
So I'm being a little harsh, maybe a lot harsh. There's still a lot that goes into a song and sampling a small part doesn't mean you don't deserve credit. I mentioned the autotune argument earlier and I could easily write a whole article about it being cheaply used to fix poor vocals, but it would be unfair without touching on the artistry of it. Sampling is no different.
Having recently fallen into the addictive trap that is TikTok, I stumbled upon a user named @tracklibofficial. On this channel famous songs (mainly hip hop but not exclusively) are broken down and the origin of the sample is shown before a demonstration of how it has been chopped, edited and re-worked. It absolutely blows my mind how these samples are used. Sure there are some examples where as soon as the original is played the sample becomes obvious, but for most of them you'd have no idea. A great one is the breakdown of Drake’s ‘Started From the Bottom’. The original play through of a classical piano piece leaves you feeling bemused before it is revealed that very particular notes throughout are chopped up, rearranged and repeated to make the famous piano melody that underpins the song. A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Award Tour’ is an interesting one too, in which three different songs are picked apart to create the backing. It’s hard to comprehend how three songs from different genres that sound nothing alike come together to create one hit. It’s even more interesting when it is a song you know well as you know how it ends up, but seeing how they fit in other songs, how they’re pulled apart and where they come from is so interesting. Although I still stand by my point that samples of longer melodies or entire instrumentals can show a lack of creativity, sampling in this sense is anything but. It really speaks to the vision and talent of some of these producers when they can create something new from something old; especially in examples like ‘Started from the Bottom’. Watching these TikToks, I find myself thinking, ‘Where did they even find that song, and how did they have the vision to pull it apart and come up with a completely separate thing?’ This is even more impressive when you look back before technology was as advanced as it is today; sampling didn’t used to be simple copies and pastes, but involved the physical act of mixing records or actually cutting and sticking together pieces of tape in order to re-work and fragment songs enough to use for something else. I can’t even begin to imagine the skill involved in precisely cutting up bits of tape whilst using them to make a new song.
I think sampling has followed the same arc as autotune, and will continue to cause debate. The reality is that, like autotune, it is both an art-form and a shortcut really depending on how it’s used. There are some songs where sampling does feel like a bit of a cheat; where creativity takes a back seat and the same repetitive tune from the 90's hits our radios once more. There are, however, songs where sampling shows creativity and skill at an amazing level. The ability to hear one song and have the vision to manipulate it to make something entirely unrelated is crazy to me, and when you start to see examples where two, three or four songs of entirely different sounds and genres are brought together to create a whole new sound, it’s hard to make any arguments about shortcuts or creativity. I implore anyone who is interested in music at all to look at some of the breakdowns of sampled songs by @tracklibofficial, or go on YouTube and find some yourself. I guarantee it will blow your mind.
Lathan Warlick Interview: How a brush with death inspired his music's message of 'God, Love and Unity'
Maxim talks to the artist blending Rap, Country - and a whole lot of positivity
Hi Lathan! Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat today. I loved your recent My Way EP, it's full of some awesome Country collaborations. What inspired you to choose Country music as the collaborative focus for this EP?
God gave me the vision of ‘God, Love and Unity’, so in order to push that vision I started to know God more and I started to love people more, and as far as the unity goes, I had to start working with people who didn’t look like me. I remember doing ‘Over Yonder’ with Matt Stell, and then RaeLynn DMed me and said, ‘Look, I love this song, is there any way we could get in the studio?’. So we created ‘Roots’, then after that, Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard hit me up and we connected. He introduced me to Lauren Alaina, Russell Dickerson, and everybody else who was on the EP. It was like a chain reaction - I take no credit for what God did with that whole thing.
I wanted to ask you about ‘It’s OK to Cry’, which has a great message of not being afraid to be vulnerable. Have you experienced the stigma surrounding men’s mental health, and if so, how did you overcome this expectation to bottle up emotions?
Definitely, you know how it is - growing up there’s the stereotype of ‘Real men don’t cry’ and ‘If you're a real man, you’re big, you’re boastful, you beat your chest, you’re masculine.’ I remember seeing my daddy cry, and that let me know that it’s definitely okay to cry. Crying is the way to release things our body has built up. A lot of times, after you cry, you start to feel a little better. When you’re holding that stuff in, it has to go somewhere, and that leaks off into you saying, ‘I can’t do this mentally’, and then you start to say, ‘I can’t do this physically’. It was on my heart so much to release that song to let people know it’s okay to be in that state, and to be down and to be sad, but that there's a way to get up afterwards. Just because you’re here, it doesn’t mean you have to stay here. That helped me out mentally - even though a lot of people hear this song and thank me for it, in reality it helped me out a lot.
In the past, you’ve called yourself a ‘positive artist’, and even when you’re documenting a difficult experience, there’s always an underlying optimism there. How has your faith helped you to always see the silver linings?
Being connected and having a relationship with God - that’s the one thing that helped me to build music like this. Now that I understand God and I understand Christ, it’s like I’m trying to help people understand who he is through my music. Since I’m helping people in this way, it’s coming out as real and raw. It’s not so much coming out as, ‘Hey, you need to get to know Jesus’, it’s coming out a lot more as, ‘Hey, I understand that you’re going through stuff in life, but let’s turn a leaf over’. You don’t have to go through what you’re going through, life could be so different. We’re going through enough negativity in life today. I want to be that person that whenever you hear about anything I did, or even just hear my name, there’s going to be something positive out of it. I also want my music to be something everybody can listen to. I don’t have to talk badly about women or even cuss in my lyrics. Whenever you hear it, it’s going to be positive and good music.
On ‘Gotta Be God’ you mention your near-death experience. After you'd gone through that, was there an immediate sense of ‘Okay, this is God’, or did it take a little more time and reflection to feel this?
I remember seeing some guys in the club that had a problem with some of the people I was with. They started walking towards one of them and tried to get something started - I immediately grabbed him and started walking him out of the door. As I was walking out, I felt a hard push in my back. When I turned around it looked like everyone in the club was fighting. I’m trying to gather the guys I came with, but then I noticed two guys walking up to us, and as they did that, everyone around them started scattering. I thought, well, if everyone is running, then I’d better run too! I remember looking back and my team had gone, so now I’m standing there by myself. I remember looking back and seeing these two guys were starting to chase me, and because I’m looking back I run right into a brick wall.
I turn around and see the two guys standing right there beside me. One guy pulled out a 45 caliber pistol and points it right in my face. His friend was telling him, ‘Go ahead and shoot him! You gotta earn your stripes’. I remember looking up, and I said, ‘God, if you’re real, then just help me out of this situation.’ I didn’t have so much of a relationship with God at that point, but I can always remember my Grandma saying if I was ever in a time of need to just call on Him. The guy looked at me, looked at his friend, and then looked back at me - and he pulled the trigger. When he pulled the trigger, the gun clicked, and then the guy standing beside him took the gun out of his hand and said, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing, let me do it.’ As soon as he cocked the gun back, a bullet ejected out of the gun - then a car hit the corner and the lights scared the guys off.
At that moment, it didn’t really register that I’d asked for help from God - none of that clicked in my mind until I started walking off. That’s when I had my first encounter where I felt the power of the Holy Spirit. I hadn’t ever experienced that before. It was miraculous.
On your 2016 EP, ‘Street Rev’, there’s a really moving song, ‘Time Don’t Wait’, which is about losing a friend, and navigating feelings of guilt in the grieving process. What advice would you give to someone that might going through something similar?
That was about my first cousin. He had just gotten out of jail, and I was helping him out the whole time in jail, sending him money. A guy that didn’t even know him shot him. When I heard the whole thing, it really hit me, because that night he’d gotten in touch to say that things didn’t feel right. But it was like 2:30am, so I thought I’d just call him back in the morning. That’s why I made this song, because time didn’t wait on me to call him and he lost his life. For anyone else going through that, of course you’re going to need some time to go through this phase. But at the same time, you can’t grieve like you don’t have hope. I was grieving like there was no hope. I was thinking that after this, it’s always gonna be bad, and I’ll always be mad at somebody. But I would encourage people, when they go through something like this, to always understand that it’s gonna get greater later. There’s a purpose for everything, even what happened to my family - I started making music after that, and started preaching to the streets that just because you grew up here, it doesn’t mean you have to live this kind of life. Just because my cousin died like this, it doesn’t mean other people have to go through this too. With his death, let me help somebody else. When you go through stuff in life, God uses it to help you get to another level and help you reach other people. The majority of the time, it’s not even about you, it’s about helping somebody else along the way.
That’s really incredible that you’ve turned the traumatic experiences you’ve had into beacons of light to help other people.
For sure. But I’m telling you, man, I’m not a perfect person - that wasn’t my first reaction to the tragedy. My first reaction was, ‘Who did it, where they at, let’s get the guys together and do something about it.' But the Holy Spirit was like, ‘I haven’t brought you from way over there to over here, for you to just go back there.’ That was another reality check for me.
"I don’t have to talk badly about women or cuss in my lyrics. Whenever you hear it, it’s going to be good, positive music."
Your mantra is “do different, be different”. What’s the meaning behind this?
When you grow up in an impoverished neighbourhood, like I did, when that’s all you see and know, that’s what you’re going to gravitate towards in life, because you’re comfortable staying in that situation. But once you do different, you become different, meaning if you change your environment and do something outside of your comfort zone, you get to be different. I moved all the way over to Virginia, and when I got there, I knew then that life was so much more than where I was in that neighbourhood. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be the same person I was yesterday - today is a new day.’
You were a welder for a number of years before making the plunge in December 2020 to pursue music full-time. What advice would you have for anyone else considering a career change that might be perceived as high-risk or unorthodox?
It’s like anything we do in life, if we’re used to doing it 24/7, we’re not ready to make the jump to do something different. You lay down at night, you get back up in the morning, you have your routine. It’s a cycle. Once God started opening the door with music, I was still at first thinking, ‘I don’t want to do that and take those opportunities’, because I was so comfortable with the railroad - I’d been working there for nine years. Then I just started following the things that God wanted me to do - and now I get to do music full-time. This is for anybody out there - if you ever start to question what you want to do, continue to seek God on it, continue to seek Christ on it. Even if you don’t immediately find what you’re supposed to be doing, His grace and mercy aren’t gonna let you fall. I had to have that in my mind - even if music’s not what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m gonna take that leap of faith. Once you take that step, God acknowledges that, and now His grace and mercy are gonna cover you because you took that leap of faith. But people are afraid to do that because they’re afraid to fail, and we shouldn’t be, because if you trust God and believe in God, you understand that you will never fail. If this doesn’t work out, another door will be opened for something else.
Your positive energy is infectious - I feel uplifted just from spending this time with you!
Like I said earlier, we go through enough negativity just in one day. I’ve seen enough death and junk in my life. Life is like a vapour, just like it says in the Bible. So everyday, I’m gonna be up here - everyday. Even when something’s trying to bring me down, I remind myself - let me uplift myself. If nobody else is going to uplift myself, let me uplift my own self.
A question we ask all our interviewees is to name their favourite three songs with a theme of mental health. What are your choices?
1. 'Gotta Be God' - Lathan Warlick feat. Russell Dickerson
2. 'In His Hands' - Lathan Warlick feat. Lauren Alaina
3. 'It’s OK to Cry' - Lathan Warlick
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Well the fact that you’re at the start of an article would suggest that the answer is neither a simple yes or no. My theory back in February was that 2020 had set the bar at its absolute lowest; that the year had been so completely dreadful that even if 2021 wasn’t a whole lot better it would still feel like a big step. I do think 2021 has lived up to that promise at least – it hasn’t exactly been a fairytale year but I’d still not go as far as comparing it to the deep dark depths of 2020.
One of my main points of hope for 2021 was that COVID would become somewhat less of a burden on our lives and give us some more of that freedom that we all crave. Even this in itself is not a cut and dry answer. Whilst we were all promised the ‘freedom’ date of June 21st, then eventually July 19th, my expectations that life would suddenly return to normal were far from realistic. With cases rising and concern brewing, it hardly feels like freedom, and I wouldn’t be confident betting against another lockdown by the end of the year. Even with the supposed dropping of restrictions we are each week met with a series of new ‘must haves’ and 'must dos’ moving forward that really makes me feel that this isn’t progress but merely a repackaging of the hammer blows we have been dealt in the past. Of course if we can stay in some sort of state of relative freedom then I’ll trade abiding by a few little extra rules, but this is hardly a guarantee considering those of us who have spent two years abiding by the rules already have only been met with more lockdowns and restrictions throughout. I must admit that whilst I am trying to focus on enjoying the somewhat free will of today, my mind can’t help but wander to a future that looks bleak. The way that things are being announced it seems to me that never again will we get back to normality, but instead will spend the rest of our lives categorised over injections and forced by politicians to bend over backwards in exchange for a small shred of life as it used to be.
Despite my gloomy writing though, I must admit that this year could have easily been a lot worse. England put in an admiral campaign at the Euro’s (despite my consistent lack of trust in Southgate) and temporarily united a nation threatened with division. And even though in my classic pessimism I packaged it as insignificant – the fact that as I write this I am able to work from the office, mix with people and go out and socialise feels pretty special. As I said in my last article, if 2020 was good for anything it was making us appreciate the small things and it has done so and more. 2021 has not been the bumper year we were all hoping for, but thanks to its abysmal predecessor I’d say that most of us feel pretty good about where we are at right now.
In my ‘Am I Right to be Optimistic about 2021?’ article, one of the things I mentioned was the insane pressure we put on a new year as being some sort of fresh start or clean slate when in reality it is just another day. Once again in 2021 I do find myself willing for 2022 to approach. It seems sad that I am wishing my time away like this, but like most people I feel a desperation to get this infamous period put behind us and to move forward. I fully believe that COVID will still be the earworm of 2022 and possibly for years to come, but I’m hanging on to that separation that a new year brings. Being able to put 2020 and 2021 in a box together and bid thanks but no thanks will be a refreshing moment for all of us, even if in reality 2022 will be no more removed from 2021 than any day is from one to the next.
So – was I right to be optimistic about 2021? It’s really hard to tell. When I focus on COVID and the current, previous and potential future situations I can’t help but feel pessimistic about what this year has offered. Like myself, many people hung their hopes on 2021 being a fresh start away from COVID, and at this current time it feels like we are years away from that. Putting COVID to the back of our minds however there is something in the air in 2021. People seem to be generally happier and, although incremental, freedom is slowly making its way back to us. We’ve all put 2020 in our rear-view mirrors and are focusing with bright eyes at the future with a greater appreciation of the small things we have now. In the sense that you have to hit rock bottom to appreciate just above rock bottom, yes, 2021 has been pretty good; but in the wider scheme of things the jury is still very much out.
Hi Tim! Thanks so much for talking to me today! You’ve recently released your new single ‘Fire’ – can you tell us where the inspiration for this song came from?
I have a habit of preferring to write slightly melancholic songs; I love the sound of the chords. I actually like mixing it up too by putting happy lyrics with sad music and vice versa. Actually, with this song I thought you get so many break up songs so I wanted to paint a picture of something you think is going down that route where the spark is gone from a relationship. It’s about what do you do in that moment? Do you just give up? Because often that is the easiest thing to do, or do you try and reignite it and get back the spark and buzz you felt originally. It’s basically about giving it another go, another shot and let’s have all the fun we used to have. It was that and also I did want to make a return to the piano which was the instrument I started on. Country music is predominantly guitar based, particularly in my experience, I’ve been writing and playing guitar music for so long; I was mostly inspired by Lady A as a band who I love and they use the piano so well! The tricky thing with this song is that I had the opening section for quite a while, so the piano line, verse and pre chorus. In that sense I could have gone different ways with the chorus so in my mind this song has about three different choruses. I could’ve gone minor and made it devastating or lift it. I wanted to lift it and be powerful and give someone that inkling of light at the end of the tunnel and that even if things are going in that direction, it can be turned around. Even if you just talk it through it can be remedied. My earliest memories of writing that chorus were with the intention to make it upbeat so I guess that idea had always been in my head when writing it.
The song focuses on the desire to ‘spark another fire’ in a relationship where it seems things have changed. In the pandemic a lot of people saw the nature of their relationships change and felt the strains of distance - how important do you think it is that people now focus on trying to rekindle the ‘fire’ as opposed to letting it go out?
I think even pre pandemic this is something that happens a lot; maybe even more so in fickle industries such as music. I’ve been doing this for a long time and in different guises as well; I’ve gone through different routes. I’ve always been in bands but I had a detour for a few years in musical theatre doing West End shows and then back in bands and now solo stuff. You lose touch with people and I personally find that really hard to come to terms with. I hate the feeling of being let down by someone and I try to not let other people down; I’m not saying I always succeed, I’m only human. My fear is the pandemic has had an effect on people’s relationships because people have dealt with it in different ways. Some people will have very much gone into themselves and taken that time to re assess what they’re doing and whether they’re happy and sometimes that does mean cutting yourself off for a bit. It can go one of two ways and some people will be aware of that and acknowledge that people just need time and that hopefully come the end of the pandemic you will be able to see that person and everything will be normal again. Looping that back around to the song; it’s that idea of maybe assumptions are being made about how that other person feels or how they see themselves and then just having that really good talk. There’s a line in the song about who will you call about things and who would you talk to about what you’re going through because that person has always been me. I think we have to take into consideration that not everyone feels the same way you do about a pandemic, a relationship, taking some space, careers or relocating and it’s all related.
The song is a great anthem for not giving in – even when things get tough the lyrics show a determination to get things back to as good as - if not better than - before. To me this feels like a great metaphor for a world moving out of a pandemic. How important do you think it is that in these tough times we can focus ahead on a brighter future rather than looking back?
It’s not easy, is it? Sometimes you see the news or you look at social media and there’s always something that is extremely saddening. You can lose hope and you can lose faith in stuff. A lot of people like to see their future and to plan it and be quite optimistic; I try to be optimistic about it but actually in that interim time when so much stuff is being thrown at you career wise or things with family, things that I’ve personally gone through massively in the last couple of years. It’s very easy for it to influence your art; I think it always comes through in your writing whether you mean it to or not. If people know you or your story they’ll ask if lyrics or songs are related to certain incidents and you think ‘Oh god not intentionally!’ Lockdown for many people has taken on different forms. For me, I have a young son so we were the three of us in a relatively small flat in London. We had a lot of time together; historically I’d been out and away quite a bit with touring and various things but now I’ve been around a lot and I’m thankful actually. It was unplanned but I’m glad I was there. With the pandemic though it’s just about managing; things can get strained at the best of times and when you face something like this it can go one of two ways. I try to look on the positive side of things for me and those around me, which can be a burden and it can be tiring. I don’t know how you get out of that cycle though, maybe don’t watch the news or look at social media, but it’s a lot easier said than done. As musicians we are heavily focused on our online presence and to be posting things on a daily basis is a full-time job in itself! It’s very different from when I was doing it many years ago. I hope that did answer the question; but that’s how it affected me and that’s all I can really speak to!
As you mentioned there, being a musician requires a lot of travel and movement but the pandemic has seen for a lot of people an enforced period of time at home which is a huge change of pace! Do you think it has changed your plans and perspective moving forward?
I would say that the pandemic forced me into a different direction and for the better quite honestly. Prior to the pandemic I had been in bands, done some wonderful things and was touring quite a lot; when my son was born I was away touring only about two months after. Things then changed so when I was out of that band situation I was around more anyway, and that wasn’t pandemic related at all that was just circumstance. I always wanted the two things side by side; I wanted to be playing, recording and having family as a massive part of that. I firmly believe they can coexist; I’ve seen it before and I know people that do it; for me that’s the dream. I would say that my best chance of having that happen is being a solo artist. Building a team and a band around the songs I have written and having that little bit of control about what makes it all tick and what makes it work for my career and my home life. I can’t just say to my wife, "I’m off on tour now are you ok to stay at home?" It wouldn’t be fair and she has a career, not in music, and that works for us but we both have to be flexible whenever we can and that’s not easy when you’re a musician and get a call to suddenly go somewhere. Timing-wise the pandemic actually happened at a very good time for me in that transition between being in a band and travelling a lot to writing and producing and living with new music for over a year before I put it out myself. That really benefited me as it gave me time, which I’ve never really had much of before due to work and home life. It did give me time to work on those two things and make them coexist and now when gigs are opening, they feel even better than they ever have done for me. I’m in the right situations and having family there at festivals is great for me, it’s where all your worlds come together and that is the dream for me. That’s what I’m trying to build on now.
The opening line ‘Tell me how you really feel’ is followed by the first verse which questions ‘Who are you going to turn to when I’m not around?’ How important do you think it is that we have those people in our lives that we can rely on in times of struggle and open up to?
I think it’s absolutely vital. That’s coming from a guy who didn’t talk to anyone about his feelings for about 35 years. It’s something I was never good at and it took me going to see someone, to talk to a complete stranger that I was paying money to, in order to actually open up. I think it was one of the best things I ever did and it’s aided me now to highlight those people now in my life who I can talk to in a similar way at least. From my own experience having people that aren’t in music or in this industry is also really important because you can get caught up in a bubble. Yes, it’s really nice to have people to talk to who completely understand your life and lifestyle, but actually having friends that do different lines of work and have big families I find really interesting. To get their perspectives on things and to just talk to them about their life. I don’t know if other musicians find this but I don’t get jealous of other musicians, I’m very happy for people when they accomplish things but the only time I get jealous is seeing people who have a more standard way of living; a beautiful home with a big garden. I’m not jealous to a detrimental point, it’s more thinking, ‘Oh that would be nice’ but also I don’t think I’m meant to be like that so you are torn! But I do think that having people on both sides of the fence is important.
You’ve had an eventful career so far and have worked with some big names – who inspires you the most as an artist musically and personally?
Good question! They’re quite diverse! Having experience of working closely with people like Andrew Lloyd Webber was fascinating – just to see the way he works and how his mind works! He was always very lovely to me so I don’t have a bad word to say about him. Working closely with Tim Minchin too who has remained a very lovely friend. I think I’m drawn to geniuses! I just find them fascinating and he is an absolute genius! Funny, talented, brilliant and a really genuinely lovely man who is supportive. Ronan Keating too, someone who I never thought I’d work with in any capacity. Very generous with his time and just a really lovely guy! They were all wonderful. I guess from a band and country music side of things meeting and playing on the same show as people like Chris Stapleton was just absolutely unbelievable, he’s got one of those voices I just wish I had! Robert Plant was unbelievable too. Just inspirational people they really are! I know there are loads more and I’ll kick myself afterwards for not remembering everyone but I’ve been really lucky to be in their presence really.
You’ve had an interesting career journey so far as a country musician having spent time in musical theatre and on the West End – can you tell me a little bit more about how that came about and then how you went from there back to country music?
I think there is actually a connection between country music and musical theatre and I know a lot of people now in country music that have a history in or a diversion into theatre. I think it stems from stories. Country fans love a story and being able to connect with the lyrics and I think that’s why people also love theatre. People want to escape and be able to enjoy someone else’s lives and experiences. There’s a lot of crossover in the dedicated fan bases of both. For me, music is always first, I’d always been in rock bands and I was a session musician in country music when I left university and then was in bands all through my twenties. I had a vague appreciation of some musicals, only a handful that I’d heard parts or certain songs from. Being a lover of massive choruses and catchy melodies it really ticked that box. As a musician myself, singing was the last thing that came to me, mainly because of nerves. I have quite a high voice and this was the 90s and I was listening to grunge and rock and it seems like nobody was singing like that so I thought maybe I’d just be quiet! Eventually people would say to me ‘Have you heard this ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ thing?' Steve Balsamo was playing Jesus and singing this incredible stuff, I remember seeing him on the Royal Variety Show hitting these incredibly high notes and crying and it was unbelievable. I remember thinking that I wanted to sing like that, or at least try! So, while I was at university, studying music but as a drummer, I essentially locked myself in my dorm room and tried to sing it! I did the occasional concert just doing this one song from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ as a bit of a party piece! Then, as more of a hobby, I decided to see if I could actually maybe write some of this kind of stuff. I wrote some modern sounding musical theatre songs and managed to get some West End and Broadway people to come and do the vocals on them for me and actually put together a couple of albums. How on earth I got those performers to do it I’ve got no idea but it was a great experience! I then had an opportunity whilst I was still living in the Midlands when they were doing a semi-professional production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and they were doing open auditions for Jesus. A number of friends told me I had to go for it so I did the audition and then got a phone call saying, ‘If you can lose some weight, you can be Jesus!’ It didn’t take me by surprise, the weight thing had always been an issue for me and still is. I threw myself in at the deep end, lost three stone in three months and performed as Jesus and loved it! That was about 2010. A couple of years later I saw this advert that Andrew Lloyd Webber was looking for the next ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ for a TV show. All my friends were encouraging me to go again and by this time I’d put all the weight back on! I ended up going to the auditions and getting on the live TV shows! I had to leave my job on a sabbatical, live in a big house in London with the other finalists and we were even flown to Mallorca to Lloyd Webber’s house. I came about seventh I think. For me it was a huge moment where I thought, ‘Can I do this for a living?’ Not just musical theatre but music in general. I ended up leaving my job and was offered a role on the arena tour of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ so I was in the show and also understudy Judas to Tim Minchin. My wife was between jobs so I actually got her a job on the show too in the wardrobe department, so we toured arenas together for a few months. When that finished I auditioned and got a tour of ‘Rent’ which was amazing. After that my wife got a job in London so we decided to move and then I could really pursue this. Within about a month I got a job on the West End in a show called ‘Once’ with Ronan Keating, which was a dream with the show involving acting, singing and playing guitar. I then did the first year of ‘Kinky Boots’ on the West End but during that time decided I wanted to go back to the band and country stuff. I set up a band called ‘The Wandering Hearts’ and just as I came to the end of my first year contract on ‘Kinky Boots’ we were ready to sign our record deal. I’ve been doing country music full time ever since that really now. I get a lot of people asking what made me go from theatre to country music but the country music came first! I wouldn’t rule out more theatre if the right thing was around but what I’m doing now is my passion.
Finally, one thing we ask all of our interviewees is to name a top three songs that relate to mental health. What would be your top three?
This Work is a Drug – Tim Prottey-Jones
Lullaby – Shawn Mullins
The Joke – Brandi Carlile
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