My album ‘Blood-Red Spark’ is the first I’ve released since ‘Nights Bright Days’ in 2013 (then re-released by Hidden Shoal 2014). I’ve made two EP’s since then and collaborated with other artists (Liminal Drifter and Todd Tobias, both on Hidden Shoal). This album was jointly released in December 2017 by Hidden Shoal and my own Powderkeg Records.
I made my first demo 23 years ago and my first album in 2004, so I’ve been making music for a long time, most of it on the margins of the UK music industry and I suppose it was inevitable that I would have questions for myself going into this album. But along with those questions and self-doubt was also an extensive body of work behind me and the confidence that goes with that – mostly, in my case, to become a lot more playful and relaxed with my work. By that I mean I’m much happier now to play with ideas, to edit mercilessly, to move ideas from one song to another. And to not worry about a song being too simple – I used to be a lot more baroque I think! Making an album is this seemingly endless process of writing, discarding, writing, discarding. Then comes this wonderful moment, it was about two years in for this one, when I listened to everything and realised that there was a shape, a form and a direction emerging. There was a heartbeat to it and that became the album’s over-arching meaning and direction for me.
My previous two albums both had themes running through them – ‘Divining’ was inspired by water and ‘Nights Bright Days’ by night, dark, transformation and Orpheus. ‘Blood-Red Spark’ wasn’t written in the same way. I didn’t start with any over-arching idea of subjects I would write around, but more with this very strong sense of emotion and how I wanted the album to feel and make me feel as I wrote it. Gradually ideas of ‘Conceal/Reveal’ (which became the working title for it) – of disguise, trickery, smoke-screens around emotional revealment – started to emerge through the songs that I was writing.
The blood-red spark of the title is lots of things for me – it’s the spark of creativity, of compassion, sexuality, desire, ideas, of sensuality, and emotional connection and heartbeat.
I’ve always been drawn to the sensuality of sound and wanted to go deeply into exploring that with this album, both with my voice and with palettes of synth pads, beats and textures. I wanted to give each song it’s own particular world, but also make a cohesive cinematic atmosphere for the whole, so some sounds are used across different songs.
I didn’t want to break this atmosphere up with any piano-based songs, so the piano became part of the texture and acted for me as an emotional spark or anchor in certain songs. I feel that the piano is my ‘other voice’ and sometimes it is just too emotionally weighted in a particular way, on its own, for the song I’m writing. So it felt quite freeing to use it lightly sometimes too, for texture, as in ‘Mercury Trick’.
I think the sensuality of sound makes sense to me as an all-body experience – I can’t listen to music I respond to or write music I’m fully connecting with without that sense of whole-body-mind immersion. I think for me the sensuality is also inseparable from harmony and harmonic shifts. I’m constantly looking for those chords that I can lose myself in somehow, and I find that I need a particular kind of harmony to bring out the best in my vocal performance. Harmony for me is emotion – if I can find the emotion in the chord then I’m happy. Sometimes that can take a very long time….
I wanted to bring more of a sense of freedom and relaxation with my voice into this album. I let myself be as experimental as I wanted and as intimate as I felt I could be. I’m still discovering new things about my voice which is kind of amazing to me. I’ve had five official singing teachers over the years, all very different and all of whom gave me something invaluable. The rest I’ve learnt through listening to singers I admire and through solitary experimenting. One of the things that really struck me when I was recording this album was that I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to sing a lyric well that doesn’t ring emotionally true. So that idea of emotional connection flowed into the singing in an intense way and I took a lot of time to work on lyrics. I used to always start with the lyrics first, but not for this album, this one was mostly feelings, ideas and atmospheres that then needed translating into music first.
What I was striving for with this album in particular was for the music to take me to another place, to hold me and ground me in this somewhere else of my imagination. I really hoped that this would translate for listeners into an immersive trip that also connects emotionally.