Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Moz-pot

I’ve had an unusually strong response this week – in both directions – to the Morning Star column about Morrissey and David Walliams. Funny, because I was expecting a much bigger response to the violently angry blog entry, which never came. I guess if you write about a galvanising figure (La Moz more than La Wally), your readership will be ambivalent. 

One of the column’s keenest critics is Jim Bob’s manager and acetastic Englishman-in-LA blogger Marc. But I find his emailed responses so fascinating, enjoyable and amusing that I must be careful not to deliberately write columns just to catch his attention – I’m ashamed to say I focused on Morrissey at least partly inspired by knowing Marc was listening to his new album (in at number 11 in the USA no less!) and would react strongly to my opinion. Anyway, we’ve spent a lot of time together and love arguing about things.

This morning, Rifa and me walked around Preston Park and it was lovely in the sunshine, hardly anyone there except a few pooch-draggers. Reminded me for the first time in ages why I love Brighton so much, contrasting with regular thoughts recently of moving on somewhere else. If only California weren’t bust. 

Hmm, I think I’ll write about Battlestar Galactica and the BBC’s coverage of the U2 album next.

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law degrees

As of this week, it’s now illegal in the UK to photograph a police officer, under terrorist legislation. No, I didn’t mis-type, if I’d meant to write ‘anti-terrorist’ I’d’ve written that. Same week, it turns out Home Secretary Jackie Smith took £100,000+ of our money on top of her minister’s salary, to pay her sister for rent on one room.

What we really need right now is a really flamboyant, imaginative, V For Vendetta or Unabomber-style one-person ‘terrorist’, to take a massive stand against the grand theft and moral bankruptcy of our establishment. Banksy with a cannon, putting into operation various elaborate ‘spank-the-bankers’ or ‘waterboard Hoon’ schemes.

It’s weird it hasn’t happened, just like it’s weird that the assassination of the oppressor by the oppressed seems to have vanished in modern times. Nowadays the only people assassinating individuals seem to be powerful foreign governments. How come, when Joe Public is so obviously bloody furious and frightened, nobody’s kidnapped Hoon or Miliband or some of the bankers or that oleaginous cunt Smith, humiliated shit out of them, left him in a Brixton backstreet and then distributed the footage to every online video service?

I know, I know, it’s obvious, a spurious question, mass media divide and rule is just as powerful as CCTV and not being allowed to even photograph a fucking cop, that’s why.

Another solution: time to fuck the law.

Obviously, we already make the law take second place to our own moral/ethical imperatives. I’ve surely written this before: we drive too fast (sometimes with no good reason). We take illegal drugs. Our sex lives start at too young an age. We steal from the office or download films. We make these decisions blending personal morality with need and a calculated risk about getting caught. Very, very few of us use the written national law as a hard and fast set of rules for personal morality.

Meanwhile, what is the establishment doing? The people running the corporate world, government and media are all doing exactly the same thing, on a grand, and, it turns out, world-recession-causing scale. Read any random page of any random issue of Private Eye and you’ll get slapped in the face by some scandalous corporate, government, media or local government illegal escapade at our expense.

They’ve lost ALL moral authority and, in itself, that puts their adjustments to the written law of this land into the ‘invalid’ box. Fuck them. Damn them to Hell. If Smith has the power to put folks in prison or kick them out of the country, she should live up to the spirit of her office, not just the sneaky, carefully-worded letter of her code.

Ah fuck it, anger is energy, have another milky coffee. 

999,999 Solutions

Buy this Dark Was The Night it’s extraordinary.

I just wrote a Morning Star column about Spotify and ended up thinking optimistic thoughts about a future for selling recorded music, for the first time in a long old while:

What if, as music consumers move away from the bother of downloading, towards building playlists and streaming tracks using legal collectively held libraries (like Spotify or Last.fm or even the BBC iPlayer), this means they semiconsciously move back into the mindset of actually having to pay for music? The legal streaming royalty may still be tiny – fractions of a penny for plays – but it adds up and is negotiable in the long-run. What it does do, that’s a massive positive, is put value back on music. You either get used to the advert breaks, or you buy a premium account.

I really like the idea of increasing that per-play royalty a large amount but allowing the first 2-3 plays of any song by any individual for free or discount. Not a new idea I’m sure.

I also love the idea, in the long-run, of a compatible, direct-relationship streaming system between artist and audience. So I hold tracks on my own site and people stream them and an automatic process by which I get paid takes place. Liberating us (again) from the middle-man of the streaming hosts.

The solution was so damn simple after all – a user-friendly front end. Maybe I’m being over-optimistic but there’s a purism about streaming I like: it’s truly meritocratic, meaning that if you write a ‘classic’ and thousands of people play it over and over again over the years, you make more money. Obviously, if someone buys one of my albums, it’s (usually) so goddamn brilliant they’ll treasure it and play it several hundred times over the next decade. Ditto lots of people I love, from Decemberists to Radiohead to Tom Williams.

But if someone buys the latest hype album on the basis of the one good song on there, they’ll probably only ever play it a few times.

Consumer benefits because they haven’t shelled out for shit. I (by which of course I mean ‘good’ music) benefit because even if my initial core audience is smaller, they will repeat-play more often. 

In other words, repeated plays are hype-proof. So there’s one solution.

Last night Jen & Jon took me to see Robyn Hitchcock – he was excellent, much better than last time I saw him playing solo. This time he had a terrific band (his UK band, not the celeb-heavy Venus 3) with Rob Ellis drumming and Tim Keegan got up as well, who used to accompany Hitchcock all the time – and also fronted one of the great lost bands of the early 90s, Departure Lounge (they were on Bella Union and produced by Simon Raymonde, I think, who, if memory serves, made them sound less good). 

I used to vaguely know Robyn Hitchcock’s Mum, I interviewed Hitchcock at WOMAD about 10 years ago. When I introduced myself he said: “Have a cup of tea,” and passed me a plastic cup. “Thankyou,” I replied and took a big swig, “I just found it.” He said.

Anyway, I listened to Hitchcock today, then various other things connected (for me), Decemberists, Yo La Tengo, Fairport, Okkervil River, Delgados, the aforementioned Keegan, Mary Hampton, Bellowhead, other stuff, then found myself heading back to Capital, wondering if it was too ‘boring indie rock’ or was lacking something with hindsight. Fuck that though: I hope it’s not too arrogant to say – or at least you’ll take it as an honest feeling – but listening to it on Spotify, I sincerely can’t understand why it wasn’t a smash hit record, it’s great. Doesn’t matter though, the next two will be 😉 and actually, that doesn’t matter either.

So there’s another solution and it’s not yet 3pm.

2009, the myth of process and what not to talk about.

Sorry this blog has been sparse (so far) this year. No excuses, I haven’t found reasons to write moving forward into 2009 and I’m confused about what to do and where to go next.

I started handing in my pile of new song demos. They vary between loud, quiet and odd/groovy in between. I like them all (or they wouldn’t get beyond my MacBook) and I’m extremely proud of a few of them, although the trademark ‘sound’ of Garageband is all over them, which I hope everyone relevent can “hear through”.

Left behind for now are what I’ve mostly been composing but isn’t useful or appropriate: nasty electro ideas waiting for a structure and improvised Keith Jarrett-style romantic jazz(-ish) piano. So you can tell, I’m all over the place creatively. In fact, I’ll probably hand in some of the piano impro demos at the end, and pitch that we accompany the next album with a second disc of that stuff, taped at the same time as recording the album. Would be ace fun, cheap to make and probably a strong extra record.

A funny thing with demos: I’m sure most people have the song completely written and it’s just the recording / performances that are ‘demo standard’. For me, the song itself is still at a demo stage, so incomplete or a work-in-progress. In particular, lyrics aren’t done. Jon Clayton will tell you (probably through gritted teeth), I’ve literally had to redo vocals at the final mix stage, when I’ve found a tweak in the lyrics that’s too important not to include.

Ach, I’m talking about process. See below. 

So here’s a million dollar question which I always resist asking… Do you prefer Chris T-T music loud or quiet? solo acoustic, full band or somewhere in between? or is it more an issue of content… Should I be writing more psychedelic nature / animal / love songs or keep up the commie shit? 

comments more than welcome, obviously, or I wouldn’t be asking

I know what some of my closer friends and family think but never really know what the record-buying, gig-going ‘fans’ prefer, or whether the split (if there is one) is even. 

Of all the things spoiling culture at the moment, I’m starting to pinpoint the worst as what I’ll call The Myth Of Process. This is the shift by which everyone thinks they know how it’s done, even though they don’t really. It’s the real damage inside the reality TV talent show movement but can equally be found in every area of culture and in the instant communication of those making culture. Interactive shows, Twitter, blogging or posting demos on Myspace are just as much a part of this as any celeb gossip columnist.

No (or very, very rare) communication between an artist and audience (or potential audience) is entirely truthful, simply because the artist wants the audience to increase. So as we increase the amount, intimacy (hey @wossy or @schofe on Twitter) and regularity of that communication, what we’re actually doing is increasing the spin / lying.

Even at my level, I’m mythmaking / spinning. I’m not going to tell you which artists I hate that I’m friends with because it’ll stuff my friendship with them (or worse, lose me professional opportunities ;p)

So the audience now almost always think they know how it’s done and, alongside this, becomes obsessed with the process itself, rather than the product. At the same time, us artists fall for the same myth. 

When musicians hang out, why don’t we talk about making music anymore? A few years ago, we’d sit around yacking about guitar pedals, snare drum compression, which towns had the best audiences. Now, to a much greater extent, we all yack distribution demographic this, PR that, business shit all around their mouths.

I’m guilty totally myself and, in a sense, have always been one of the worst offenders: a keen music industry gossip and process-hound, disguising myself as an aloof ‘pure’ music maker. But I don’t get it: do we now actually enjoy the business more than the music? Sounds bonkers but feels increasingly, heartbreakingly true.

I love the visual arts because I don’t know how they manage it. The mystery is still intact. When I hear a pop hit, I am aware that what I’m loving about the first 30 seconds is primarily a snare drum sound and a bunch of reverbs – and can make informed assumptions about how they achieved those. But with a brilliant classic painting, I have no idea where to begin with process – and don’t want to.

And that’s what we need to recapture, somehow. But talking about it – and especially asking your opinion – contributes to the opposite. Doh.