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The Sad Song Co: Blog

Nigel Powell: Attack the Blog!

Know thyself

Thursday 10th October, 2013

Been a while since the last blog. I guess I've been putting this one off because... well it's odd. For starters I'm aware that I would suggest to others not doing this - you let people take what they want from music you make, and your opinion doesn't matter so much once it's out there to the world. It's also emotionally opaque, having to analyse why I don't like (and even more painfully for a modest Englishman say why I actually do like) aspects of what I have done on my two solo albums.

A bit of background first, as in why the hell would a drummer have a solo album, let alone two? I was in a band that I loved and was very committed to for a long time called Unbelievable Truth, and was part of the writing and creative process. When the singer finally called it a day in 2000 I was still in the habit of writing, and already had some bits that were intended to be worked on with Andy and Jase (my UT band mates). With the band gone I didn't want to just stop being a musician so I started putting the music together. However two things pushed me towards making it my project. First was the trauma (I know that sounds overstated, but... I'd need a book to explain why it's an appropriate word) of UT splitting up meant I wanted to not have to rely on anyone else. But also I wasn't confident enough (jesus, what? another bracket? the UT breakup had hurled me depressionwards and hacked heavily into my self-esteem) to think that anyone else would want to be involved in any music I was making - but I still wanted to do it my way. So there.

I did get Jase involved a fair amount, because I totally trust and love him, and really I know that I'm better as a collaborator than doing everything on my own. But paranoically I wanted to keep it all close to my chest.

Miseryguts came out in 2003, although it was a slow process from the first track being finished in 2001. I sent it to lots of places for reviews (which weren't too bad) and made it available through my website, but never even tried to get involved with a record or distribution company, again through the battered self-esteem. Anyway - here's my take on what I did:

Beginning To Wonder: one of the earliest things I wrote, putting the riff together backstage at a UT show supporting Tori Amos as I recall. It's not a bad riff, but immediately we hit the thing that is my biggest hurdle to respecting my solo work. I've been fortunate to have been involved with some exceptional singers in my career. Working with Andy Yorke and Mark Mulcahy, or even the very distinctive Jamie Stuart, rather leaves most other vocalists in the world wanting. I've always thought I had a good backing vocalists voice - it always seems to float unobtrusively but audibly and not have too much personality of it's own, acting much more as an enhancer to whatever the main vocal is doing. But as a lead voice it's... ok. Just way waaayy not as good as mssrs Yorke and Mulcahy. And it's the most important thing in any band / act / recording. Songs finished. On to the next.

Ghosts: An interesting set of chords, particularly the first mental C chord which was the impetus for the whole progression. The backing was supposed to be a little like Squonk by Genesis - I like the low end simplicity of removing bass guitar and using a (sadly not real) Moog Taurus.
The "look into my eyes" vocal bit makes me cringe. My lack of confidence vocally is also represented by not being able to leave my vocal uneffected (a bit of distortion and some doubling for this song).
The mellotron / guitar solo bit was a reference to an Aimee Mann song I love. Some cool drum breaks in the end section.

Blind Man: Collaboration - Jase's crazy pitch-shifted bass parts make this song. The slide guitar riff was left over from a previous band (Mundaka) and repurposed. I kind of like the 'round' vocal. I find melodies really hard. I can make music all day and night but until there's a good vocal melody to tie it into a song music is meaningless smoke. Andy Yorke's melodies were always effortless and sublime, and once again I felt I could never truly match up. Why isn't someone else singing, dammit?

Pleasure Babies: I'm sure there's a good song in here somewhere, but this arrangement sounds all congested and depressed and doesn't do it justice. Another example of how collaboration is better - there are ideas that are good here (the Jackson 5 electric guitar for instance) that needed someone to say "that's a good idea, let's use it in a different song where it works better, eh?"
Nice intro. This song is about my 'Amy'. More super treated vocals so I (as a producer) can pretend it's not me singing. Outro is good too. Should have used those bits, built something else and jettisoned the rest maybe? Me and a Motown pop song clearly don't mix well.

Everlasting Mile: more over-production and aural depression. I really like this song, especially when I just play it on piano. But like the second UT album I was trying to do something 'modern' and 'progressive' and 'edgy' and the song itself suffers for it. The singing in this doesn't make me want to chop my own liver out and feed it to ducks (except the odd over-emoted word). Maybe I should write everything in G#. I believe I was mid-way through playing this song at the last solo show I ever did, when my lack of self-confidence got the better of me. I suddenly halted and walked out and haven't played any of this live since then. I think that was 2008.

Directions: My first post-UT release, I put this out on my website in 2001 not long after our retrospective Misc Music came out. Andy really likes this song. If we ever do any more UT gigs I might get him to sing it. I really enjoy all of the ebow acoustic guitar stuff that's going on in the background. In my mind the acoustic guitar solo was supposed to sound like Wish You Were Here. I know it doesn't. Lovely BVs from Jase.

Deep Cover: another song that sounded delicate and lovely (although fiendishly difficult) on acoustic guitar, and didn't necessarily survive the transplant to a 'full band' arrangement. Lyrics inspired by glumness and a Lawrence Fishburne / Jeff Goldblum film. Got my friend Ken Turner (no relation) in to do a guitar solo. He did 6 or so versions and I edited together all the best bits. Nice solo. Mmmmmm. Nice.
As with everything else though, it feels like the melody is written my an instrumentalist rather than a singer. It feels thought about and smart and planned instead of instinctive and touching and sincere. It's one of my main problems with this album.

Into The Hills: When I played a few shows this song became much heavier, first inspired by Loz Colbert (Ride drummer who I was honoured to have play for me) and particularly when Matt (Nasir) came in on guitar later. Better that way, really. Collaboration is an advantage, taking things ways you wouldn't necessarily have thought of without prompting. Interesting lyrics, in that they're all lovey dovey but not inspired by someone who I was in that kind of relationship with, Canadian singer songwriter Emm Gryner. The line "when you're not here the Chrysler Building is the only beautiful thing in New York" came when I arrived there to do some house shows backing her up, with the rest getting jotted down on the bus ride to upstate NY.

This Isn't What I Expected: Bigging myself up, I really like the lyrics to this song - the verse and chorus support the sentiment of each other and work as whole. And again, it's not bad, but needs a good singer and someone to tease the best out of the melody. To illustrate what I was saying before about the melodies not being instinctive: for this song I had it all but needed a chorus. So I started on the lowest note I could sing and worked my way up to the highest, as a conceptual way of making something happen. And it's fine, but I feel I can detect the artifice behind it, when all the best vocal melodies seem to me to float free of any musical intention and sublimate into just communication.

Gulag Parenting: Another lyric I'm quite proud of, since the gulag (Russian prison) parenting could refer to being psychologically trapped by your own upbringing, or being a parent yourself. I didn't really have a concept for the drums on this until I did a rehearsal with Loz and played it this way. Did I mention the benefits of collaboration? I did have to push from my mind that this was the guy who FUCKING PLAYED LEAVE THEM ALL BEHIND!!! in order not to be over daunted, but he's so lovely that it was easy.
For a purported 'prog' album (that was what I wanted to make) here's the first keyboard solo of the whole thing, inspired by Martin Orford's wonderful solo on IQ's Headlong. When we did this live we ended with a drum workout echoing a fantastic Mogwai gig I'd seen. Let's pull lots of disparate influences together, huh?

You Get My Best: The last song written for the album. The UT publishing deal was up for renewal, and this was my last best hope to keep the contract in place, so I took it in a played it for them. No dice. It was a depressing night, and no good for my esteem (of course) - they decided that they were dropping me and Jase, even though I was still writing and doing stuff (not just this, but Good Show by Dive Dive was just about to come out and we were very active, plus a few other projects I was involved in), but were going to keep Andy on even though he was determinedly and deliberately doing nothing musical at all.
This song is about my kids.

Chasing The High: This was actually written and pretty much finished for pre-UT band Mundaka, but I wanted to revive it. I'm sure I could like this if it wasn't my voice singing. I like the vocal effects on this one. Took quite a while to put together - lots of different treatments that fade in and out and take over from each other. This song is my best bass playing on a record. Really desperately wanted to be Jon Evans from Tori Amos' live band on this. Or Bruce Thomas of The Attractions in his calmer moments. I like playing bass. I should do it more.

So there you have it. I'll do album 2 another blog time. But reading it back it seems like my real problem is I just didn't really want to make a solo album. I wanted to work with other people but felt cornered into not being able to, both physically and psychologically. Would love to hear your reactions. Particularly the ego-boosting ones. :)

Testing again!, Mon 14th October 2013, 06:48:54 PM
Ignore me. Just finding out if I've fixed the broken comment box!
Anonymous, Fri 11th October 2013, 06:55:09 AM
As usual, most of my thoughts would at this point just sound like me echoing both of the "Anonymous"-es whose comments precede me. I'll just say I'm looking forward to asking Jovka for your solo albums in a few days, and complimenting you in person on this blog--not just the skilled wordsmithery, but also the admirably unfailing honesty. Oh, yeah, and happy Hug a Drummer Day! Hope those in your vicinity act accordingly.
Analisa, Thu 31st October 2013
Just saw that this comment didn't post with my name...or, rather, I probably didn't fill it in! Anyway, thanks for an amazing three shows in Las Vegas, LA, and San Diego, and for being so friendly afterward. Seeing you guys play has been one of the highlights of my year since 2010, and I hope there are many more years to come!
Anonymous, Thu 10th October 2013, 08:37:29 PM
I love these little insights into your mind. Your honesty never ceases to amaze me. I love reading musicians opinions, thoughts and feelings on songs... I personally love your albums. I wish I'd've known about them before. Early teenage me would have probably worn out the CD's!
Largely, I agree with what the Anonymous person said. You should make music that YOU love and enjoy it. If you don't like it, change it (I know that's not easy, but still). Do what you need to do to keep you happy.
I love your music, but more than understand the problems low self-esteem can have on doing the things you love. Keep your head up, you really are better than you give yourself credit for.
Interested to hear what you have to say about your second album!
Look after yourself x
Anonymous, Thu 10th October 2013
Apparently I forgot to fill my name in. Dammit.
Anonymous, Thu 10th October 2013, 08:09:29 PM
Dear Nigel,

Thank you so much for that detailed insight into your album. Very interesting to read that.
I like your honesty and the ability to describe your thoughts and fears as well as your development.
What I would like to say to you: Believe in who you are and what you do :) don't worry about your style of music or your voice. people who critisize it probably didn't take a lot of time to get deeper in to it, they sometimes judge too early, a weakness of many people. It may be different from other music and voices but being different is positive and happily there are various opinions. Imagine there would be 1000 singers with the same voice: how boring! I like your style and one of the most important things is that you enjoy what you do. So keep doing what you like, what your passion is, what your heart beats for. There are a lot of people who aprreciate it.
Looking forward to reading about your second album soon. Take care :)

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