by Danielle Holian
When did you start playing music, who were your early influences and what is your music background?
I’ve been playing guitar since I was about 14, and was playing in bands pretty soon after that. I was into a lot of punk and grunge stuff, bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, for a few years before I moved onto classic rock and country influences. I was writing my own songs right from the start – they were terrible for years! But I never really did the covers thing and was ambitious from the start. Like most young musicians, I was in and out of various bands for a while before I found a couple that settled, and we were out touring and putting records out independently and just paying dues I guess. I had a major label deal with a band that went sour in the late 2000s, and since then I’ve been solo and running my own record label. I’ve released three albums so far and am currently writing some new songs.
How has going solo been different than playing in a band? And do you enjoy this direction?
I’ve been solo for so long now that it’s hard to remember life in a band. Because I’ve always been headstrong, and also pretty focused and well organised which is rare in musicians, I was often the one leading things in bands anyway so it wasn’t a huge transition for me to do things alone. I miss the camaraderie of playing in a gang with your mates, but I don’t miss the compromises and the disappointments that can arise too. I’ve been hard working enough to make things work under my own steam. I’ve had the same people around me from the start producing my records and coming in to play on them, so I feel like there’s been some teamwork along the way to where I am now.
What is your favourite song that you have written?
That’s a hard one! There are things I like about a lot of my songs, as well as lots of things I wish I’d done differently. I think lyrically, Satellite Town is a favourite of mine because it’s so personal to me and my life story to this point. But I’m also proud of the work I did on my second album Mercury State, because I was writing about the recession and hard times through some bleak songs when I could’ve made a lot more money with an accessible folk-pop record. I’m glad I can make my own choices and write about real things, rather than choosing to get co-writers in or follow radio trends like Tom Odell or George Ezra or whoever.
Which famous musician do you admire?
Why? I’m a massive Bruce Springsteen fan, so he’d be the one. I don’t think anyone has ever combined the showman aspects of rock n’ roll with the more poetic, singer-songwriter dimension more successfully. Elvis was a great performer, Dylan is a great lyricist, McCartney is great with melody – but there’s only The Boss who can do all three of those things and with his own stamp on them.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Apart from Springsteen you mean?! I’m a big Ryan Adams fan and I think Jason Isbell is a terrific writer too. If the people I admire have one thing in common, it’s that they don’t often collaborate and have a unique way of doing things, so that’s always a hard question for me to answer. Taylor Swift maybe, for aesthetic and financial reasons?!
What moment do you consider to be a highlight in your career?
Releasing my third album last year was a nice little benchmark. Not many artists get to three albums these days, and it was satisfying to start to realise I’m building up a body of work that I can be proud of. It’s been a huge amount of work to get where I am now and the bigger breakthroughs are maybe still to come.
What are your main artistic challenges right now?
I think it’s hard to be heard and even harder to stand out. There’s so much noise, and new artists are often ignored because there’s a lot of music put out there of poor quality and a group of superstars at the top of the food chain who monopolise radio, TV, press and festivals. The second part of that I don’t understand – how many times can you buy the same Rolling Stone vinyl re-issue or pay £300 to watch them play the hits from 40 years ago before you need to move on? It’s like the industry is eating itself. The tech companies like Apple & Spotify aren’t supporting smaller labels like they should be too – they could be exposing new artists to their huge audiences rather than being spoon fed the same old artists. The last few years have seen a sea change in the way people consume music, so much so that I’m not sure if the album is a viable concept anymore – playlists are king now and even a music nut rarely buys or has the attention span to invest in a sequence of 12 songs from the same album. I think singles, and a steady stream of them, are probably the way forward. So it’s pretty much a daily struggle to stay relevant, stay hungry and not give in.
What advice would you give to beginners?
Well, they should read my last answer to start with! I think most beginners now understand that being a famous musician isn’t the gravy train it maybe was 20 or 30 years ago. I guess the biggest advice is to be self-critical and not be arrogant. There’s a crazy amount of good writers, good singers, good bands out there and it’s insane to think that without producing your best songs and working hard you’re going to get anywhere. If you’re rich, or have rich parents, you’re onto a winner if you want a traditional label deal because money talks and most people in the industry are from that sphere. Covering songs on YouTube isn’t enough, because there’s a thousand other kids all doing this very second. Understand that all the Instagram pics in the world won’t compensate for a lack of good songs or hard work and sacrifice.