"I really enjoy both approaches to making music – the experience can certainly be different sometimes, both creatively and practically.
FoxSleep is about exploring and realising my own ideas. As a solo artist working DIY, I get to build things from scratch and I spend a lot of time tracking demos to figure out what works best, which can be a more elaborate process. Live, it can be easier to rock up to a venue, however there’s nowhere to hide once on stage. So, when releasing and performing music with FoxSleep, everything is on me, so it somehow feels a bit scarier (but in a fun exciting way).
Strange Orchid is more about supporting and realising someone else’s ideas and doing what’s right for that. The song development is probably more organic and there’s also the benefit of having four people bringing themselves to the sum of parts. A band does require more coordination, but also has more people to share the practical workload e.g. chasing gigs and promotion. The band can make a bigger noise but there’s more gear to lug around and break mid-set! The collaboration and camaraderie are what make it all work though."
The sound for this new EP is very distinct and has some unusual progressions, what was the inspiration behind it?
"A lot of the music I write comes from trying to make something I’d like to hear but doesn’t seem to quite exist. I’ve been a musician for nearly 25 years and I grew up listening to music across rock, indie, metal and pop. I also studied guitar and I loved learning about harmony, especially where to find interesting notes and weird chords and ways to use them. Nowadays, the two things I usually get most excited about in music are good straight-up song writing and weird interesting sounds you might find in jazz. So EP#03 was about putting these things together in a coherent way. The first FoxSleep EP (Upcycler) was a bit rougher and had older material on it, whereas the second (Upstarter) was a bit glossier with mainly new material on it, so EP#03 was also about making a more balanced and representative sounding collection of songs."
You’ve released a total of 3 EPs, the whole process of writing, recording and producing, did you have any help with those projects or was this all you?
"All me! I performed all the 'live' instruments (guitar, bass and vocals), programmed everything else (e.g. synths, keys and drums) and did the mixing and mastering. I’ll often run demos and mixes past people to get opinions and reactions though.
In the future, I’d love to incorporate more diverse instrumentation as well as natural sounds (I’m thinking live accordion or double bass), so I’d certainly need help with some of that!"
When it comes to playing on the EPs, you’ve got the full band sound, how does that work in a live setting on your own?
"The live set up is currently just me and an electric jazz guitar, however I try to write FoxSleep songs with a 'song-first' approach. While I like to add different instrumentation, layers, harmonies, sections etc to recordings, I try to make sure the songs can be dialled back to a basic guitar/vocal arrangement and still work – it helps that the songs usually start as just guitar and vocals."
There are plenty of solo artists out there who are making great music, would you say you've been influenced by anyone specifically?
"Yeah definitely – I’ve got into (and rarely got out of) a lot of different music over the years, however there are specific artists who made me sit up and go 'hang on, what are they doing and how are they doing it?'
Elliott Smith was a big influence – having spent my teens writing a lot of elaborate alternative rock, discovering his music really helped me to rationalise things. His songs were beautiful and very honest, but they worked solo or with a band. He could also go to interesting places musically whilst still delivering a song: he already did what I wanted to be doing.
Elvis Costello also comes straight to mind, not just for his song writing – it was also the intelligence and attention to detail in his lyrics that stood out to me, the way he could rhyme and alliterate without sounding forced or obvious whilst still making complete sense. It was something to aspire to.
Then I’ve always loved the music of Frank Zappa. First off, his solo guitar playing was so interesting and unique. Then creatively he was prolific, unconstrained and totally committed to what he was doing. I don’t think he ever made music based on anyone else’s expectations or demands (unless he was parodying it).
I’m not sure how often these different influences come through in FoxSleep, however I wouldn’t be doing quite what I’m doing without them (for better or worse!)"
If you could play any other genre of music outside of your usual repertoire, what would it be and why?
"Something with a lot of shouting – I love 2000’s post-hardcore acts like Reuben, Hundred Reasons and Million Dead – their big rock sound between alternative, metal and punk, their song writing, and their effortless movement between melodic singing and full-on screaming. I’ve even written bits and bobs of material over the years for an imaginary post-hardcore band I never formed – I’d probably need someone else on vocals though."
How and when did you first get in to music? Was there a moment where you thought 'yes, this is what I want to do'?
"I don’t think there was ever a lightbulb moment. Music has always been part of my life, but there are times I’ve got more into it than others, depending on where life has taken me.
My earliest musical memories are probably of listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits I & II and The Best of BBC TV’s Themes on repeat in my parents’ car, circa 1990 (the theme from Bergerac is amazing). In the mid-90s, my brother and I were getting into indie and Brit-rock bands, then my parents gave me an electric guitar for Christmas when I was 11, which was the catalyst for me studying and creating music. Many of my friends were big music fans too, so we were all starting bands, making a noise and putting on gigs around Llanelli. By the time I left school, I’d done metal, alt rock, pop rock and some sort of jazz/funk/dub rock, got myself a Grade 8 in electric guitar performance, started recording music and started venturing into the Swansea scene.
I got involved in the music scene at the University of Warwick in the mid 2000s, largely doing solo songwriter stuff and postrock – after that I took up a career in research science (one of my other long-term passions). I played for a band in Cambridge around 2013 and we put out some cool demos, however I didn’t release any other new music for about 10 years. So FoxSleep is a cumulative result of many small moments where I’d think 'why aren’t I making any music?' This has also been encouraged by a feeling of right place/right time – in Swansea, there’s a real sense of there being a music community, and it feels like there’s more support out there for independent acts."
What is your process for songwriting? What gets your focus first, lyrics or music?
"It tends to be a parallel process – I write lyrics and music separately, then match things up later. I find I need to be in the right sort of mood for each part of the process, and I also want music and lyrics to sit together naturally without being forced or traded off against each other. So some songs write themselves, others stay on the shelf for a long time."
Who inspires you to play?
"Watching pretty much any live music usually makes me want to get on stage too. Also, listening to anyone who can write a good song usually gets me motivated to play or write. Some honourable mentions would be The Finn Brothers, Emma Pollock and Ben Folds. For quite a few years, Jamie Lenman has been a big inspiration, both for his music and his approach – he built on his music from the 2000s post-hardcore scene, he can write a great song, he’s all sort of genres, he’s got the industry/branding/promotion side of things down, he’s carved a niche with a dedicated following and he’s fantastic live."
Final word: FoxSleep takes the mic
My recent EP “EP#03” was described by Soundboard Magazine as “a memorable trifecta of well written and interestingly arranged compositions that skirt that perfect balance between musical ambition and the needs of the song”.
I also run a small mixing studio, so feel free to get in touch to collaborate @StudioSuperCool!
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Thanks for reading.