Jamie Clayton preparing for his recording session at The Whale
Jamie Clayton made himself known on the Birmingham music scene as frontman of the brooding and angular Dirty Soul but is now rapidly garnering respect for his touching and powerful solo work.
He has recently completed a number of tunes at Blue Whale Studios one of which, the much acclaimed ‘The Architect’ can be found in the player below. Also, as with all of our artists, we asked Jamie to tell us more about his catalogue of gripping songs.
How do you find things working as a solo performer compared to your Dirty Soul days? Is it easier to achieve your desired results on your own or is it easier working with the friction of band relationships / dynamics?
“In all honesty it is a lot easier, there’s no other input so I can totally go with what I’m feeling. Getting to gigs is easier, there’s no smokey lock up and no compromising which is nice. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want a band now though, I miss the gang mentality of a band and the noise I can create with others but to be quite honest I’ve found it difficult to find people to jam with me with my current stuff, its not regimented it’s all about the mood and what is going on there and then. I did a few shows with Pete from Dirty Soul on drums and a friend on bass, that was fun so I am actively looking for band members so if there is anybody out there interested, do get in touch.”
Although you show glints of optimism in your lyrics, you can turn quite dark at times – would you describe yourself as a tortured soul? Where does the darkness stem from?
“No not at all I don’t think anybody who gets the ‘tortured soul’ tag title is it or thinks that of themselves. I write on my mood and emotions, I guess you can hear in my songs that sometimes life can sometimes have its downsides, but I can hear the optimism in there.”
Would you agree that your solo material of late has a similar feel to Johnny Cash’s American Recordings with Rick Rubin? Is that a conscious influence to your sound? If not, what is influencing you at the mo?
“No not at all, apart from admiration for Rick Rubin’s beard there is no conscious influence, that’s not a bad comparison though! I have my big five, Ryan Adams, Jeff Buckley, Dylan, Springsteen and Tom Petty. Generally there’s always a CD in the car from one of them.”
You came into Blue Whale stating that you wanted to achieve an ‘intimate feel’, do you think you’ve got that sound, or has working with Ben progressed it into something else?
“We could have got carried away and almost did, but like you say the intimate sound of me and a guitar was what I was after and I think it worked. The track ‘December’ sounds so intimate its untrue.”
Do you plan on releasing the recordings?
“Yeah, I have a few plans to release it but nothing concrete just yet. But hopefully towards the end of the summer something should be out.”
Regular Blue Whale visitors Turn Off The Sun returned to our studios to record their ‘Vultures’ EP which is already clocking a fair amount of attention in the internet radio world. We grilled them on life in the band and how they see themselves as part of the burdgeoning Midlands music scene…..
What bands / tunes or albums were you influenced by during the writing and recording of ‘Vultures’, ‘Hold That Thought’ and ‘A Days Grace’?
Andy Crawford, bass and vocals:
“I don’t want to use the old cliché and say that we try not to be influenced by other bands when we write, but it’s kind of true. By the time we collectively work on a new song idea and each put our personal stamp on it, it usually bears no resemblance to the original concept. And we’ve all got varied influences anyway. We have nearly 10 years between the oldest and youngest members of the band (I’m not going to name names haha), but it does mean that we bring different influences to the table.”
Ed Taylor, guitar and backing vocals:
“I personally was influenced by early Bloc Party, Rakes, The Pixies, spikey angular guitars that littered their records, their aggression and takes on modern life”.
AC: “Ed got me into The Cribs and I love them now, and I’m always trying to push stuff like Jetplane Landing and At The Drive-In onto the other guys. Neil and Paul are generally into slightly more mainstream stuff like Foo Fighters and Weezer.And I think that gives us good grounding.
“If I were left to write everything myself I’d probably disappear up my own arse and write some weird shit, so having the rest of the guys provides a filter for my more off-the-wall, or just crap, ideas. And the same when the others bring ideas to the table. We all dissect each others’ ideas, take the best bits and throw the rest in the bin.”
Were you after a specific sound when entering Blue Whale? Did you have everything mapped out before you came in or was there much in the way of improvisation or experimentation?
AC: “These are an odd bunch of tunes really because ‘A Days Grace’ was one of the first tracks we wrote as a band over a year ago and the others are newer. ‘Vultures’ we only really wrote a week or so before we hit the studio. So there’s a bit of a mix.
“We tend to play quite a lot of gigs so it’s always difficult for us to concentrate on writing new tunes. And to be honest, ‘A Days Grace’ is a song that we don’t consider to be one of our best, but we listen to our audience and a lot of people have told us they like that one.
“I think it’s probably such a simple song that it’s easy to digest, so that’s why we chose to record it. Some people want that kind of instant hit, whereas I think with the newer stuff we’re aiming to give the music a bit more depth and longevity. ‘Vultures’ is a good sign of what’s to come, it’s more contemporary and bouncy than the older stuff and that’s where we want to head musically. So although ‘Vultures ‘was new we pretty much had it all written. I suppose due to time and money constraints we have to go in with an agenda or we’ll end up running out of time.”
ET: “Yeah, some aspects were planned prior to the recording, the order with which we’d approach laying down the parts, certain effects used and song structures, however, others, such as the intro to ‘Vultures’ came about on the day from just bouncing ideas of each other.”
AC: “And don’t forget your song structure chart Ed! Ask Ben about that, he found it hilarious. Haha!”
You were played by Tom Robinson, not once but twice. How did that come about? He has an ear for fresh talent and must like your stuff if he gave it a second spin?
AC: “Yeah that was a lovely surprise and definitely our highlight so far. I uploaded our tunes to the BBC introducing website ages ago and to be honest I’d forgotten all about it. Then out of the blue we had a generic email saying Tom Robinson wanted to play ‘Weekend in Prague’.
“We were really chuffed, except Neil who said “who the fuck’s Radio 6?” But that’s him all over, he’s a mainstream man. He used to play in a signed band that toured the country playing indie-pop influenced by The Beautiful South!! He’s gonna kill me for saying that. Haha. But it really was an honor, and the second time he played us he made some really cool comments too, which have pride of place at the top of our Myspace biog.
“That’s what being in a band is all about for us. Your mates and your family will always say your music’s great but when it comes from someone so respected in the industry it means everything. But it also means a lot to us getting nice comments from total strangers. We play quite a few free gigs in small area’s like Kidderminster and Bromsgrove and if we get random locals approaching us after to tell us they enjoyed it, it makes the gig worthwhile, no matter how bad the sound was or how many people we played to.”
ET: “Give them out free to people at gigs, open people up to our music, and hopefully entice them to come and see us at our live performances, that’s where we show who we are.”
AC: “We’ve already been sending them to radio stations and this week our tunes were aired on five different shows, one of them in the states. Our main goal is basically just to get our music heard, that’s the bottom line. We have no pretentions about any future ambitions except to just play in front of more people and continue to work on our sound until we’re happy with it. We’re still a way off from where we want to be musically but I think with every new song we write we’re getting there.
“We prefer to give out CD’s for free because as I say it’s all about getting people to hear our music and come to see us live. Whenever we get paid for gigs – nine times out of ten we spend the cash on blank CD’s and plastic wallets, and basically burn as many off as possible. I design the cover and print off as many as I can at work. It only works out at something like 15p per finished CD to produce so we’d rather get our tunes out there than charge people who are probably already paying entrance fees.
“So we’re hopefully gonna use it to gain leverage with promoters. We’ve already bagged ourselves a couple of great London shows this year so more of the same would be ace.”
Do you think there are enough opportunities for up and coming bands, like yourselves, to get recognised in Birmingham? Do you feel part of any particular scene in Brum?
AC: “It’s a difficult one really. I’ve been playing and singing in bands in Birmingham for about 15 years now, and this is the first time for ages I feel like there’s a bit of a scene starting up. I think it takes good, honest promoters and people doing stuff off their own back, like yourself with the blog, to get people interested.
“It’s harder to get good gigs now, which is probably a good thing. But for every gig at a good venue with great bands there are another 10 gigs in overpriced venues where most of the bands are have been together for ten minutes and sound like they’ve been together for ten minutes. I feel like we’re sometimes a bit stuck between the money-grabbing promoters and the opposite kind, who to be fair, put on free gigs with quality bands.
“I’d much rather be involved with the latter but find that sometimes if your not in their clique, or particular circle of bands you won’t get a gig. But that only spurs us on to write better tunes and get our name out there and hopefully we’re heading in the right direction. We definitely haven’t got a small town mentality because probably with the exception of Ed we’ve all grown up drinking and playing gigs in Brum week-in-week-out.
We had a post on our blog that stirred up a fair bit of discussion about local promoters – Do you agree that promoters are making it tough on bands or do you think that they have a difficult job on their hands?
AC: “Yeah I read that blog when it was put on your page, and I think it makes some very good points. I do think that it’s not always as black and white as that though. For example, The Catapult Club as you know put on shows at the Academy 3 amongst other venues. And yes, they expect you to shift tickets etc but at least they are professional and very well organized.
“On several occasions We’ve even had them call us up the day after to thank us for bringing a great crowd. So we don’t mind playing the O2 every now and then and having the pressure of selling tickets. Its part and parcel of being a gigging band. At least you know that you’re playing a good venue, with good equipment. It only becomes a problem when other, less professional promoters expect you to basically fleece your mates to line their pockets, when they provide a crap venue with poor quality bands and no audience.”
Turn Off The Sun live @ The Actress & Bishop by Marcus Wootton
“For example- one of our first gigs last year was at a venue in Wolverhampton. The promoter expected us to sell tickets for £7, and told us we can have the gig if we promise to sell over 25 tickets!! As the night unfolded we ended up being one of six bands crammed into one night and despite getting to the venue very early we didn’t get a sound-check because “there wasn’t time”.
So basically, we played to an empty room (except the members of the other five bands) and the sound was terrible. It was a shocking experience that taught us an early lesson. I sent them a snotty email after that and we were “unfortunately” deleted from their Myspace friends. We now pick our gigs very carefully and have had some great experiences this year so far.”
What are your personal experiences with promoters in Brum?
AC: “I suppose you get to know the good guys from the bad guys. One of our favourite recent shows was at The Bulls Head in Moseley. The sound was good, despite the hilariously tiny stage! And due to the free entry the place was packed. It’s great to play free entry gigs but you need to remember that the promoter / band relationship is a two way thing.
“I think most bands will play all the time without any kind of payment, we just want to play well-equipped venues with good bands and good crowds. And in return we are more inclined to promote the gigs ourselves and try to fill out the audience. I guess what the less scrupulous promoters need to learn is that if they put on good quality bands with cheap entrance fees, it really creates a buzz and generates promotion for itself.”
Is it harder for Bromsgrove or Kidderminster based bands to break through on the Birmingham scene?
ET: “The Kidderminster music scene is at a low right now, with pubs closing so frequently, the venues for performers are decreasing, with a lack of promotion to get the general public to see the music live. It’s a huge shame, I’ve lived there most of my life, it’s not always been that way. Birmingham offers us the venues that we need to play our music.”
AC: “It depends what your mentality is I suppose. We would class ourselves as Birmingham based, as that is where we rehearse and that is where we go out and play the majority of our gigs. So I’d say the fact that we live in Kiddy or Bromsgrove has no bearing on it really.”
Vultures EP out now
What other Midlands acts do you rate and what do you like about them?
ET: “I saw Tantrums with Andy and Paul a few weeks ago at The Flapper, along with (silver) souvenirs, some great performing, they both gave off massive energy, it was exciting to see that in young bands.
AC: “That was a good night. I’m sure it wasn’t just because we were all wasted, we really enjoyed both bands and I’m looking forward to their EP’s coming out. I like the eclectically urban sound Tantrums have got, but their tunes are still catchy as fuck. It sounds fresh. And I was impressed by how slick and well put together (silver) souvenirs songs were, we were talking to them after too and they’re nice guys.
“I’ve been following the local scene quite avidly lately, with help from blogs like yours, and it’s pretty exciting stuff. Although there’s still that whole 80’s synth influence floating around in the air I think bands are starting to branch out and define sounds of their own and it’s refreshing. Our next big aim is to start getting more support slots with local bands like these that we’re really into. We’ve played with some very good bands and it always makes for a more satisfying night.”
Anything else you’d like to plug?
ET: “My barbering shop??”
AC: “Well the obvious thing would be to plug the new EP, which we’re pleased with, but if you want to hear us at our best come to one of our shows as I think that’s what we do best. I bet that’s what they all say, I’m just a one-man cliché machine! Haha. Oh, and come down to our next gig at The Sunflower Lounge on the 28th May, you never know you might get a free CD or ten.”
Gargantuan bluesy garage foursome, Black Dollar Bills are another in a long line of awesome Brummie acts that have recently frequented Blue Whale.
They shook the walls of our lovely Custard Factory recording studio with knob twiddler, Dom James, to produce the pummeling rock of ‘The Line’ which can be heard in all its fire and brimstone glory below.
As part of our now famous customer satisfaction survey, we caught up with guitarist Tom, to ensure that we continue to exceed the needs of our valued clients. Well, we threw a few questions at him about the band’s time at the Whale anyway.
Black Dollar Bills
So, how was it for you?
“Working with Dom was good. Very relaxed atmosphere. From the moment I arrived he was easy to get on with. He knew what he was doing and all the lads felt comfortable.”
You state on your Myspace that most of your tunes are borne from improvisation, was there much of this during your recording session? Or did you plan specifically what you were going to record?
“Not specifically during the recording session. We decided to do this track pretty much the day before. This track was another creation using that method. The riff came and the rest soon followed.
Live shot by Annelie Rosencrantz - Anuli Photography
“We just want promote the band really [with this recording]. I don’t think that people have heard the best of us yet. From my point of view we are improving all the time. This track is just a bit of what we are capable of doing. Its already had a few spins in the Sunflower Lounge and hopefully other places soon.”
What other bands in Brum do you rate?
“Other bands that we rate are Soldier, The Cedar House Band, Karma Suite, Arcadian Kicks and Idiosync who are more Redditch based. We played a gig with the Bluebeat Arkestra who impressed us as well. All slightly different from each other but good in their own right. We are all into quite bluesy garage bands I suppose. Bands like the Dead Weather, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Band of Skulls we are listening to at the moment. These are the type of bands that are influencing us.”
The enviable Michael King brought his force of folk, Boat To Row into Blue Whale Studios to kindly perform for our In The Belly sessions.
Michael not only creates leafy acoustic romanticism with baffling finger picking wizardry through songs such as ‘A Boat to Row, To Row to You’ and ‘Autumn Glow’ (see below), he also gets the blood pumping as one fifth of disco sex punks Youves and a third of the adventurously angular Bronze Medals. So, how does he find the time?
“I think it’s important to myself as a musician to try and keep a happy medium,” says Michael. “When times are busy with Youves I’m still able to write for Boat to Row and plan stuff, and now Bronze Medals are gigging we seem to be able to fit around the other 2 acts nicely as we’re quite a new outfit.”
“I’m hoping for a busy year with plenty of shows and releases to look forward to. I feel extremely excited with where Boat to Row could go to terms of progressing in the songs I write and rowing everywhere!”
Michael from Boat To Row at Blue Whale
You seem very versatile with your playing as the styles of the three bands you’re in are quite different from each other, are you classically trained?
“I’m not classically trained, I studied Popular Music at University of Wolverhampton and finally graduated last May so I’ve been playing for a good few years. There are still so many instruments I’d love to learn though, so wish I was classically trained.”
Ben from Boat To Row
You must have a pretty wide taste in music then, who else are you admiring at the moment?
“It’s always a tough one as it’s sometimes hard to distinguish who you think are a great band and who are your friends in a band so I’m going to go for new bands that have really impressed me. I’ve really liked Malpas whenever I’ve seen them, with a voice like Ali’s, it’d be hard to sound boring. Goodnight Lenin are a band I really want to see live, from the footage I’ve seen they sound ace with a kind of Laurel Canyon approach to folk pop.
“Nottingham based Dog is Dead have landed some pretty impressive support slots including Ok Go, Friendly Fires and Lightspeed Champion. They’re really fresh and original, I guess equal parts Hot Club de Paris, Futureheads and Gerry Rafferty in the best way possible.”
After impressing many people in the past 12 months or so at a number of Coffee and Cake gigs amongst others, Boat To Row has also caught the ears of super hip Nottingham based label, Danger Laser! Phaser! Razor! who will be releasing an EP and tape in the near future which Michael promises us that the packaging will be, “immense”.
Paul from Boat To Row
And finally, go on, say something nice about your time at Blue Whale.
“It was a nice experience all round and the set up worked really well in the end playing as a three piece. Both the students and Ben and Andy were a pleasure to work with, It was nice to not have to worry about anything in that department. We we’re in safe hands.”
Here’s a live version of Boat To Row’s ‘Autumn Glow’ exclusively performed for Blue Whale TV: