Music – an industry saturated with artists desperate to break through and make their presence felt. So many musicians have to be resilient enough to work all hours, travel miles and miles from home whilst hulking an inordinate amount of equipment with them, pretty much bear their souls to an audience who might often be completely uninterested, and all for very little (if any) pay.
In a world where Saturday night talent shows catapult karaoke singers into an industry where they are wrung out then hung out to dry in order to satisfy a seemingly endless public demand for disposable pop, how do genuinely talented, creative and hardworking musicians manage not to throw in the towel and walk away?
Simply put, why and how do musicians find the will to keep on keepin’ on?
I spoke with John MacLeod who, along with his band, The John MacLeod Band and now new project Attack of the Vapours, perseveres in writing, rehearsing, performing and recording. Simply put, why and how do musicians find the will to keep on keepin’ on?
LTS: OK, so, I thought I’d run a piece about AOTV…you were TJMB and just keep on making music! Is it something you feel you HAVE to do, do you think? Do you think this is typical of musicians/artists/writers?
JM: I think it is. It’s a strange business with anything creative, having something occur in your brain, which you then wrangle into existence. I think having these things pop up in your mind’s eye/ear is something that happens to EVERYBODY, but not everybody grabs it and follows it through to a polished piece. It’s fascinating to see the different ways people work in this regard.
For me, it’s always been a race to try and get into the studio, to properly get what’s been in my head down on record, which I’ve only managed once. We were very lucky with TJMB that we were all working dedicatedly on it for a year, and I’m proud of the results. The problem was we didn’t gig much after we released Unexpected Sunshine, so we didn’t get chance to schlepp it around all that much.
It’s like Douglas Adams’ theory of how to fly – not consciously thinking about flying, and “throw yourself at the ground and miss”!
With AOTV, I’m hitting the studio first with that being the primary aim of the project – I want to create a body of work first. I started listening to a band called Cardiacs recently, they were around between ’79 – ’08, until Tim Smith (frontman & songwriter) suffered a series of debilitating strokes, which put an end to their recording/gigging career. They were in the middle of making a record at the time, too. They were an amazing band, with an impressive back catalogue, and it made me think how long I’ve been playing without developing that oeuvre, and how I could be struck down at any time, so I want to cultivate a back catalogue with Attack Of The Vapours (morbidly), before something bad happens!
LTS: Essentially, why do you make music?
JM: On top of a morbid fear of death, I suppose it was the first thing that managed to inspire me to the point where I could really make something off the back of it. I draw cartoons too, and really enjoy it, but writing songs and playing them is electrifying like nothing else.
LTS: Your music tells stories/has a message. Do you set out to do this or is it a more organic process that almost seems to happen on its own?
JM: It’s a bit of both, I think. Sometimes a melody or a drum beat will drop into my head, and I’ll thread lyrics through them, often figuring out the meanings after the fact. Other times I’ll know what I want to say before I start, which is a bit harder to do. There’s an element of automatic writing when it comes to songs, and you have to figure out a way of channeling it. It’s like Douglas Adams’ theory of how to fly – not consciously thinking about flying, and “throw yourself at the ground and miss”! Generally I like to leave interesting imagery in my songs and have people connect to them however they see fit.
LTS: What sort of reaction have you been getting to the new stuff?
JM: Really positive so far, actually. I say that like I’m surprised, or as if TJMB set a low benchmark (which it really didn’t), but if you enjoyed Unexpected Sunshine, this is quite a change of pace & direction, and so I guess I’m feeling a twinge of fear as a result.
Unexpected Sunshine is a very personal record which I’d been carrying around for a couple of years before we made it. It channels a few of my musical influences, owing a lot to the likes of Bright Eyes, Gemma Hayes, and Nerina Pallot.
With AOTV, I’ve pulled the focus back, and broadened the subject matter, as well as channeling the rockier side of the music I like. This is more angular, a bit abrasive, and definitely more boisterous. TJMB was a smoother, maybe even gentler affair, I think.
LTS: Where do you play?
JM: TJMB played a lot at The Rigger in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and The Old Brown Jug was a regular haunt, too. We played some really sweet shows, like one we did at Ort Cafe in Birmingham, January 2015. It was a cosy little venue, really nice. There was an unusual one in the cafe of a swimming baths/sports centre. It had the air of a daytime German TV studio taping.
AOTV will hopefully start playing a few places soon, we’ve got a couple of local festival slots booked for late Spring, so it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves. We’ve not gigged together before, just rehearsed in time for the studio session the other week.
LTS: Worst gig anecdote??
JM: I don’t think TJMB played any real clangers or had that many disasters. We did once get booked to play for a local metal festival, because they were having an acoustic stage as well. We turned up and the acoustic stage was a metre away from where the bands played, not (as we were told) in another space entirely. The idea was to alternate between acoustic acts and the metal, but we didn’t see one acoustic act get up and play, they must have been pretty intimidated! After five consecutive acts full of screaming, we expressed our unease & withdrew from the bill!
We had loads of magic nights, and some gigs where we all seemed to have out-of-body experiences, just playing on instinct. I’ll be curious to see if that ever happens again this time around…
You can download the The John MacLeod Band’s album Unexpected Sunshine here.
Further information about Attack of the Vapours is available on their website.
An online magazine that cares about stuff, laughs about stuff, and wants you to feel good about stuff. Life's too short.