Oliver Richard Speaks Out About His New Single and the Art of Balancing Presence & Absence April 02 2014, 0 Comments
Written exclusively for the Indie label, these two tracks offer an intriguing glimpse into the artist’s brain. Entirely different from one another- vacillating between wicked guitar riffs and haunting melodies backed by almost poetic lyrics—I was captivated from first listen. Not long after, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a 2013 Video EP (The First Take Cover Sessions) featuring covers of well-known songs including none other than The Dead Weather!
When he's not fielding collector inquiries (ok, mine) regarding recently discovered hand-written lyrics sheets available in singles originally sold from his web-site (and hopefully to be sold at future live shows!), Richards has been preparing for a busier 2014 than his introspective, song-writing year of 2013 entailed. Selected as one of several artists to be featured on a recent Grimtale Records project via the label's first (and only?) cassette release, he is in the process of finding a label to release his already recorded full-length LP. In advance of the varied and excited things to come, Oliver Richard has kindly agreed to participate in the following Q&A…
So, as a relatively new solo artist in the eyes of North America, please be so kind as to tell our readers a bit about yourself… Born? Raised? Background?
I was born and raised in Scotland, by the North Sea. Music has always been with me in some way or another. I see it like a marriage or a faith: there are the years of plenty and then there are the years where you are starving. I went to school, then university, studied Neuroscience, graduated in 2011, then sacrificed that on the altar of music. I played my first show in 2009, acoustically, got a lot of love and gig offers, and started to play live in Aberdeen weekly. In 2010 I went electric, promptly lost most of my local fan-base and the gigs dried up. I was too loud and sonically unpredictable for the city’s ersatz Americana scene, and too difficult to define for the rock band circuits. 2011 was a year of writing and roadtesting new material live. 2012 saw me record what was now an album’s-worth of work, but due to a grave technical error, I lost it all that winter. I then swore off live shows for 2013 until I had re-recorded the album, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the songs took on a new life that year. Somewhere during this enforced exile, Grimtale Records offered me the chance to do a 7” which I grabbed with both hands.
What set you on your musical path? How did your solo work evolve?
I received piano and cello tuition from an early age. I would get up early to practice those instruments, and then go to school. Music was purely an intellectual exercise back then (although I was too young to know it) and just another aspect of education. It was a bit like learning the alphabet or times tables or something– you just got on with it. However, that changed when I was about eleven. I turned on ‘Top of the Pops’ to see this man with red hair singing and playing a keyboard. Then out of nowhere he ripped into this electric guitar, and an avalanche of sound piled in. It was Muse playing ‘Newborn’ from their new album, Origin of Symmetry. At that moment the stars aligned, and my heart and guts caught up with my brain, so to speak.
Who have been primary influences in your songwriting style?
I find it difficult to pinpoint influences in my own work when it comes to other artists. Perhaps it’s because if I ever consciously hear or feel an idea entering another musician’s sphere, I try to steer things away from that direction. I want to create material that feels unique and representative of me, as far as possible, without sacrificing any authenticity or becoming contrived. In a way, the music I love exerts a push rather than a pull when I’m writing, like a repulsive influence... I’m not saying that I am working in some genius vacuum where I cannot be influenced by other music, but rather that I’m blind to it by and large, and possibly the worst person to ask...
I’ve really enjoyed your Grimtale single ‘Triggerfish’, especially the b-side ‘Far From the Day’. Can you expand a bit on the song-writing process for those songs? What was the inspiration behind either song? Did you have preconceived ideas about what they should be or did they just evolve in the process?
-Triggerfish has odd roots. The guitar came together whilst watching “Blue Valentine”. I was playing along to the film with a baritone guitar, and out of that came the majority of Triggerfish (albeit about ten times slower than the final cut). The lyrics started with an article I was reading by Billy Connelly’s wife. She was talking about snorkeling and mentioned triggerfish - a species I had never heard of before. I wrote the word in my notebook, thinking they’d been given their name due to hair-trigger temperaments, which was wrong. It’s apparently because they have a trigger-like mechanism on their back which allows the fish to ‘lock’ themselves into holes when threatened. I saw a parallel here with human behaviour which led to the lyrics as you hear them now.
-Far From The Day was a song I finished in 2012 after concluding the writing for my debut album (which is not released as of yet, but has been recorded). Ultimately, it was a song without a home when I was offered the 7” opportunity, so I was glad to get it out there. I began writing it around five years ago, and it took a long time to complete, with the lyrics becoming the main sticking point, as they so often are for me. I can labour over a single line for literally months, which was very much the case for Far From The Day. There was a lot of crafting and shedding of dead wood with that song.
As you may know I absolutely love The Dead Weather so I am curious as to what in particular inspired you to cover their ‘Rolling in on a Burning Tire’?
I decided to do a stripped down video EP whilst writing my album, to give people something to watch/listen to whilst I was preparing my songs. From my then weekly live shows, I had accumulated a large collection of covers, and elected to choose five of these for the video EP which I would upload to Youtube. I called it “The First Take Cover Sessions” on account of fact that I performed each one only once, whilst filming and recording it. I wanted the videos to shed light on different facets of my musical output and tastes, and as Jack White is a source of inspiration for me, I chose to represent him during the sessions. Of the few songs of his I had covered live, I felt I had done the most interesting stuff with “Rolling in on a Burning Tyre”, by reducing a four piece, hard rock band’s extremely textural song to its bare bones. I liked the feeling of playing the riff, and how it almost tumbled into Dick Dale territory. Moreover, I thought it would be an interesting choice seeing as “Rolling...” is a non-album Dead Weather track.
As a solo artist in today’s musical climate, how important has social media been to promoting yourself and getting your music out there?
I have a troubled relationship with social media. I enjoy the easy dissemination of information (especially for gigs and live shows) but I’m a reluctant user, by and large. I normally subscribe to the ‘less is more’ attitude when it comes to artists and their online presence. I think too much activity can become a wall of white noise which will undermine your intentions of promotion. On top of that, it is so easy to get caught up in the meretricious things, like how many hits/likes/views you have. I never want to become the man who spends more time managing and promoting his online profiles than working on the music. However, I recognise there is a balance to be struck. I tried the zero tolerance approach to social networking when I was starting out, and all that did was unnecessarily tie one hand behind my back. With social media now entrenched as an everyday way of life for the vast majority of people, it is too valuable to be ignored as a way of promoting one’s music. I think the real trick is achieving a balance between presence and absence.
How has it been to watch your first tangible single unfold in, primarily, an avid collectors market?
I found it very exciting... Releasing music has become incredibly easy, riskless and virtually costless in the last few years. If you have a recording, that can be uploaded to the internet in minutes, and often for free. Whilst this initially would seem thrilling for the aspiring musician, I would argue that more often than not, this process devalues the music itself, regardless of quality. It comes back to the idea of white noise - everyone’s doing it and you just become part of that expanding miasma of uploads, free downloads, likes, shares and obscure streaming sites. Therefore, releasing my music on 7” has been really enjoyable as I have been part of something that is slightly different and stands apart from the crowd. I’ve still made the tracks available on Youtube and Soundcloud, etc, as it is vital for me that these songs are available to everyone, and not just squirreled away by collectors, but to have them officially, physically released is wonderful. It’s the best of both worlds: the convenience and accessibility of digital, alongside the comparative permanence and value of the collectible, tangible vinyl. Working with a label that does physical releases also indicates to folk that there’s someone out there with enough faith in your music to take an actual risk and stick their flag in the sand. That can prove contagious.
It is my understanding you have a few things (including a possible full-length LP in the works)… anything you care to share regarding these projects?
I finished recording my debut album at the end of 2013. It’s ten original tracks, and features an expansion of the sound displayed on my debut 7” with Grimtale Records. It will get mixed some time this year, but right now I am concentrating on my next single with the label. It features two new original songs, neither of which are album tracks. I wrote them in February, and am really happy with the way they are shaping up. Once these songs are headed to the pressing plant, I'll start looking into a label release for the LP. I also recently contributed two tracks to Grimtale Record’s first ever compilation album. One of the songs was the audio file from my “First Take Cover” video of Grinderman’s ‘Star Charmer’ (available on Youtube). The other was an original arrangement of the traditional song “Darling Cory” which I recorded in the studio last year. I’m particularly proud of that track as it displays the general direction in which my music has more recently being moving: loops, samples and textures woven around the spine of guitar and vocals.
Again, so much thanks to Mr. Oliver Richard for taking the time to participate in this post and for answering The Official Five WaxO’s Gotta Know Questions!
1) First vinyl memory?
Playing with my grandpa’s turntable. I must have been about 5 or 6. I knew nothing about it or its function. I just remember those strobe dots round the rim of the platter...
2) What is an album you regularly spin for your own enjoyment?
If you’re asking if there's an album I tend to only listen to specifically on vinyl (as opposed to any of the other mediums) it would probably be Yann Tiersen’s ‘Dust Lane’. It is simultaneously one of the most uplifting and melancholic LPs I have ever heard. It’s perfect for vinyl as the tracks flow into one another, it has huge dynamic range (therefore it suffers in the car) and has a very clear sense of two halves. It is gorgeous.
3) What was the last album you added to your collection?
St Vincent’s 'St Vincent'
4) What was your favorite album or new artist from last year?
Queens of the Stone Age. They’ve been around since the stone age, but after watching the video for “I Appear Missing” on Youtube, I was finally convinced to take the plunge.
5) What artists are you looking forward to hearing more of this coming year?
Anything at all from Josh T Pearson. He fronted one of the most mysterious, powerful bands I have ever heard (Lift to Experience) in the late 90s/early 00s; they broke up after one album. He then disappeared for ten years and returned with a solo album, and some of the saddest music I have ever heard, “Last of the Country Gentlemen”. He’s gone to ground again. I hope he comes back.