Rising Star – Simon Kent
What are you currently up to? (recording, gigs, plans)
Most of my time is taken up promoting the album, “Pillo”. I am playing at The Fly in London on 14 May, I have some local radio interviews and live sessions booked up through May and June…and I’m also rehearsing with my band. I don’t have a major label supporting the release, so there are also lots of business things to co-ordinate…it’s really busy! Spare music time is spent writing songs for my next album and getting used to my new Pro Tools recording studio set up.
Could you take us though the songs on your debut album ‘Pillo’ please e.g. ideas behind the songs, song writing process etc.
“Pillo” evolved after a very difficult time for me, musically and personally. I had been through this traumatic period in my life, and I was suffering with panic attacks and acute anxiety. I had split up the band I had been in for many years, and I hadn’t felt able to sit down and write music for a long time. I faced the choice of walking away from music or starting to put a solo project together – I felt that I had things I needed to say, and I decided on the latter.
Once the decision was made, I realised very quickly that my main priority was to write as honestly as possible, I could see no point in creating anything based on artifice. It’s a big challenge to lay your self bare on an album, but I would say that this was the pre-requisite for me once I decided to put the album together. I think honesty translates through art and people tend to connect with universal feelings and emotions from the heart. I also felt that I had always had to compromise myself and my music in the past, and this sense of honesty has given the project more meaning and turned the process into a voyage of discovery in many ways.
Although the Miloco sessions were completed in just one week, the song writing process was more organic, and many elements of my original demos survived through the various recording processes and feature on the master recordings. With some of the songs I had a clear idea as I was writing of how I wanted the finished recording to sound – pieces like “Evie” and “The Earth Is Mine”. Other songs demanded a fair amount of experimentation and rearrangement before they were in a state where I was happy to consider them as a completed work. This was therefore sometimes a frustrating, but ultimately rewarding, process.
Spaced Out Refugee – This was the first song I wrote for the album. It is about the onslaught of a nervous breakdown; the lyrics just poured out and really made sense to me. It was the start of a healing process of sorts, the start of coming to terms with things that life throws at you. I also knew that I wanted to write a big single with a really big chorus, and this is the first release from “Pillo”.
Turned To Rust – This song is about questioning what life and relationships are all about, and how important they are in the big scheme of things. It’s about realising that you have to let go of people a little, become a little less selfish, to make a relationship work. Musically, I really wanted an epic song which built to this huge climax and then dissipated, something that really suited the lyric.
The Earth Is Mine – One of the last songs I wrote for the album, and a really important song for me personally. I was listening to a lot of ambient music at the time, things like Mark Hollis’ solo album and “Music For Airports” by Brian Eno. I was reading about the destruction of the environment and I decided to set a very simple ecological lyric against a piece of music which was as beautiful and simple as I could write.
Never Mine – This was influenced musically by things like Zero 7, Faithless and Massive Attack – I wanted to introduce some ‘electronic’ elements to the album. This created some challenges (getting the song to sit alongside for organic material), and the song probably took more re-working than any other track on the album.
Heal Me – “Heal Me” was the last song I wrote for “Pillo”, and fittingly it was a return to the lyrical territory of “Spaced Out Refugee”. I was reassessing how I felt about life and realising that I still had work to do to steady the ship. I wanted a very intimate feel for this song.
Blissed – “Blissed” is an instrumental, ‘space-rock’ track. I formed my first band at school with one of my oldest friends, Timothy Drysdale. We hadn’t worked with each other for a few years and decided to get together at Tim’s house to record a piece of music spontaneously, with no pre-defined goal. This was basically an experiment to see if we still had some writing chemistry. We routed 2 keyboards, my acoustic guitar and a transistor radio through a mixer and straight into a 2 track cassette deck. Tim created this wonderful bass riff which plays throughout the track, and we just played live over the top of it…the first take is the version on the album.
Wake Me Up – We tend to spend a lot of time searching for something which will make our lives more rewarding, with the result that we can’t just stop and enjoy the here and now – I think that this is really important to try to address.
Believe In You – I think that when you are faced with challenges in life which start to affect the way you function as a human being, there comes a point where you either sink or swim. This song is about finding the strength that helps you pull through. Musically, the song again explored more ‘electronic’ elements, things like “Teardrop” by Massive Attack were influential to me.
Silence Between Us – “Silence Between Us” is about the pain you feel when you realise that a relationship is over. The song came very easily to me, I wrote the chords on my acoustic guitar and the main lyric ideas came more or less with the music.
Evie – This was written to celebrate the birth of my daughter, Evie, around the time of “The Earth Is Mine”, and musically covers similar territory. I was trying to create a piece of great beauty which expressed the amazing feelings I was experiencing.
Dream Drowning – This is a love song, thinking about those moments that you just want to last forever. I wanted to create a dreamy, meditative piece of music – something along the lines of “Blissed”. I layered keyboards, guitar and samples over a simple bass riff, and the chords don’t change from start to finish.
Waves – One of only two songs which weren’t recorded at Miloco (the other is “Blissed”). I spent a day at a friend’s studio in Portsmouth, and was expecting to re-record some vocals on an old song. Instead, we decided to build a new piece of music from scratch, and the track was mixed the same day. I recorded about ten minutes of acoustic guitar with Jon playing drums along with me, and I then layered bass, piano, harmonica, e-bow, anything lying around in the studio really, on top. It resulted in this jazzy instrumental.
You managed to get respected producer Phil brown to help on your album. He came onboard after sending you sent your demos to him. Did you ever think he would come back to you and did he add to your album everything you had hoped he would?
Although Phill is a big name in the music world, I did sense that he would feel some affinity to my music. The Talk Talk albums Phill had worked on, especially “Spirit Of Eden“, had been such an influence on me that in a way it would be surprising for us not to share common ground. Phill is a really cool guy and I treasure the week we spent at Miloco. He has been around the music business for so long, and worked with some great artists like Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and on and on. Phill made it very clear during our first conversation that he didn’t feel the songs needed ‘producing’, and that he felt I should dictate the arrangements and instrumentation, while his input would be to pull the mixes together. The end result is an organic, beautiful album, so I would say the result has been all that I had hoped for.
What have you got planned to help promote your album?
There are live shows (the next is at The Fly (London), radio interviews and live sessions planned for the summer. We have also set up a free download of a track which is not on the album, “Burning The Candle”, available only from my website.
Who have been influences on you musically?
There have been so many influences…Elbow, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Talk Talk, Mark Hollis, David Sylvian, Coldplay, Faithless, Massive Attack, Zero 7…
What have been the live highlights so far for you and who ideally would you like to tour with & why?
Last April I was persuaded to play my first solo show, an acoustic performance supporting Midge Ure. I played the handful of songs that I had sent to Phill Brown, and the set was really well received. It was a highlight because it really forced me to start thinking about live performance again. I also really enjoyed playing a couple of festivals last summer. Who would I like to tour with…well, if my one goal was to communicate to as many people as possible then it would probably be Coldplay…and for my own selfish reasons I would love to play on the same bill as Mark Hollis and David Sylvian.
How do you view the internet and downloads etc. Does it help artists like yourself get established?
Yes, it can help with getting noticed, but at the same time it is a big challenge just trying to keep up with the evolution of the music business…which can bring it’s own problems, like free download sites, which make it very hard for a new artist to earn a living from popular music. The main advantage I have found is that I have managed to retain control aver my art. I have not had to compromise over how my songs sound or whether they should be included on the album; I haven’t had to worry about whether the album sounds ‘contemporary’ or not, and I have been able to record and write in my own time without outside pressures.
Any good rock ‘n’ roll tales to tell?
When I was in my last band the usual sort of ‘band things’ went on…but to be honest, I’m not very ‘rock ‘n’ roll’! When the rest of the band is partying, I’m usually reading a book or listening to music. I don’t touch drugs at all anymore (not that they were ever a big part in my life). I could tell plenty of tales about other people, but I don’t think they would thank or forgive me!
Message for your fans…
I would say a big “thank you” for all the support I have had in putting the album together, hopefully see you at a live show this year!