Hi Neil…..welcome to the Clunk universe
Hi David, thanks for having me here!
Neil, as Grandparents we like to buy our Grandchildren something noisy, such as a drum. Is that how you got your first taste of drumming, a present from somebody when you were a wee lad?
When I was about 8 years old I was really into Adam And The Ants and a couple of years later I moved schools and the kids were all into Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. It was something about my new rock friends and the fact that they were taking guitar lessons at school that made me decide, as 10 year olds do, that if I learned to play the drums then we could make a band. So, as I remember it, it was a purely pragmatic decision. I announced it to my mum and to my surprise she said she’d find me a teacher and if I was still into it in three months then she’d get me some drums. I spent my three month parole playing a kit made up of an empty bucket for a bass drum, an old practice pad for a snare drum and biscuit tin lids for cymbals. I stuck at it and was rewarded with a second-hand 70’s Premier kit for Christmas that year.
You have been busy during lockdown making a new album. Has it come about because of lockdown or was it already in the pipeline?
I’d written a couple of songs in January and February and borrowed an interface so I could record onto my laptop. So the idea to do something was there, but at that point I had one very low quality mic and zero know-how.
As lockdown proceeded the town I live in was dead; no tourists, no cars, nobody going anywhere or doing anything and my drum teaching work mostly dried up. All the gigs that Bilge Pump had planned were postponed too. So with a rapidly dwindling income and nothing to do I applied for Universal Credit and also got a grant from a musician’s charity. My landlord was very sweet about letting me pay what I could afford of the rent too.
Once I knew I wasn’t going to be starving and homeless I quit striving and relaxed into the slow pace of life. This allowed me to get completely immersed in writing more songs and learning how to record them. I got really into the process of trying to become proficient enough on the chosen instruments to execute the ideas that I had. The beauty of home recording is that you can do as many takes as you want till you get it right. No time time pressure or anyone listening except maybe the neighbours. So there was a little bit of self-consciousness… I tried to wait till they’d gone out to walk their dog before doing the singing.
The album is called Doorbell Disconnected. What made you choose this title? Have you disconnected yours?!
The title is a line from the last song on the album, ‘Humbled We Become’. I wanted to use it as a metaphor for being out of reach, cut off, no longer available, etc, but as it happens, yes my doorbell is disconnected. It’s slightly annoying when I miss parcel deliveries, but on the whole it’s worth the peace and quiet. Lockdown enabled me to become the hermit that normal life wouldn’t let me become.
The album sounds great. Have you done all the work yourself? Do you play everything?
Thank you, kindly.
With the exception of the backing vocals on NYC Marathon (sung by my friend Louise Hallgren) I played all the instruments, did all the singing and recorded and mixed it.
I was simultaneously learning how to use a digital audio workstation on my laptop throughout the whole process. I begun with knowing how to create a track and press record. Pretty basic. Then I took it from there, learning whatever else I needed to know as I went along. I really couldn’t have done it without the amazing support of my friend, Michael Ward, who knows his shit and had the patience to explain things to me and answer my beginner’s questions.
Although I’ve been in and out of studios a lot, I was only ever dwelling on playing drums. Being told about microphones and recording techniques mostly went over my head. I was surprised at myself in a big way to finally get around to focussing my attention in this direction and overcoming some sort of technophobic feeling.
What about the lyrics…..did anything in particular inspire them? How did you go about it? Music first, then lyrics? Or vice versa? One idea at a time or a mish mash then pulling it together?
I pretty much took a different approach with each song and I was discovering the process as I went along. It’s been enjoyable in that sense, going with the flow and seeing different results through different approaches. As a result, the lyrics are a melting pot of
the personal, ideas from books, films, experiences, things I’ve heard on the radio or podcasts, lines from diaries, streams of consciousness, thoughts about the current situation we’re all in and as a way to transport out of it through the imagination.
Some of the songs ended up being quite straight-forward story telling type lyrics, others used imagery to create a mood and some used a bit of both, hopping around from being direct to more allusory.
As I’ve never really done this before, having only ever got as far as a few fragments of ideas without getting them over the finish line, it was all new and quite thrilling. So some songs came together lyrics first, others music first. Some fell together really quickly and others took a lot more hammering out to get to the point where they felt finished. I was relying on instinct to know when they were finished. And I was relying on some sort of intrinsic quality control to know whether they were any good – the Cringe Test. If it didn’t make my toes curl when I listened back the next day then it was okay.
A few friends gave me feedback too when it was a work in progress. It’s strange to create something in isolation and then to let others hear it. Quite a terrifying and vulnerable feeling, but it helped me steer it along and gave me a bit of confidence to keep at it.
Have Emlyn and Joe heard it? What do they think of it?
Yes, I sent it to Emlyn and Joe when it was finished. They both gave me a tip of the cap.
Is there anything upcoming from Bilge Pump? New album on the way?
We had a few new ideas for songs which were coming together at the start of the year, but then from March we couldn’t travel or practice so it all stalled. We shared some files and I sent Joe some drums so there’s something ticking over in the background, but a new album seems like a long way off at this point.
If we were to come to your neck of the woods for a weekend where would you take us? You are the Entertainments Committee!
I live on the coast, in Saltburn, so if the conditions were right I’d take you down the promenade and hire wetsuits and surfboards and take you out to catch a few waves.
Are there any bands/artists that you recommend we give a listen to?
I generally just put the radio on and listen to whatever my friends put under my nose, but I like Pet Crow and I enjoy Rattle when I see them live.
Thanks for taking the time for Clunk, Neil. Looking forward to seeing you doing your thing again as soon as possible.
Thanks, David. All the best to you.