17. Solo No More (Forming the Band)
With the album’s release date on the horizon, I began to turn my attention to towards how to present the record in a live context and how to get out of my lonely musical venture in general.
I didn’t want to go back out on the road and short change people (including myself) by playing solo adaptations of the songs on the album. I’d spent enough time doing that with some novel tricks and setups around my loopstation, but it was clear I now needed to piece together a live band to have any chance of doing the album justice.
I had started my musical journey by playing in a band (Electric River) that was made up of my best friends. We did all the usual cliche things young bands do; experiment with alcohol, drugs, women, haircuts and poor fashion senses as we tried to collectively forge some sort of musical identity. We were disciplined and dedicated to the cause, religiously spending our time at the weekends rehearsing ourselves crazy before usually playing in some Kentish pub come the evening.
For years, we were insulated by our own little local hometown bubble until we ventured out properly around the country in our old silver Ford van, overloaded with amplifiers, speakers, drums and guitars. Our story often saw us sleeping on unfamiliar couches and floors all over the U.K. leaving us hardened by the demands of the road and our musical dream general.
It was us against the world and no matter how tough things got, we always had each others' backs. It was a life experience that shaped us all in our own individual ways. Even after the band eventually parted ways, our friendship still remained as solid as ever (even if we weren’t now imprisoning ourselves by endless rehearsal regimes) and probably goes some way to explaining how the core members of the line-up never changed. We were lucky to have each other. We still are.
Mirror this with my solo journey and it’s no surprise I felt like I was in a state of self imposed exile, particularly during the early stages where I had to also deal with a lack of confidence. I had committed myself to the cause, via a camper van, in order to develop myself as a solo artist as quickly as possible but always felt a longing to get back to playing in a band. It’s a lonely slog for a serious solo artist just starting out. Behind the scenes are endless amounts of admin, emails, organisation, promotion and planning which is then all topped off by rehearsals, travelling and gigs. Music, for me is supposed to be a communal and collaborative thing. That also applies and extend right through to some of the bullshit and burdens that come with the admin related obligations that come with an unsigned independent act in a digital age.
My hunt for musical company began with an online advert on Facebook to a network of musicians based in London. I knew it would be tough to try and find the right kind of musicians to join a project that was already half set-up, particularly as it was to be under my name.
Still, the response was positive and I was soon in contact with people that showed interest.
I organised ‘auditions’ at my place to quickly suss out musical abilities and strengths before quizzing them on their tastes, backgrounds and experiences in the hope of ultimately figuring out whether I could piece together a compatible unit of friends.
The first person that truly blew me away was Stevie Lawrence on guitar. When I met him, I was severely sleep deprived having had an all-nighter 'catching up' with a close friend, that somehow ended up with us both in an adult’s ball-pit in a London hotel, courtesy of a hospitable guest we met at a pub that evening that was booked in there.
Despite feeling a tired, ropey and deluded, I knew as soon as Stevie plugged in, that he was absolute magic and would be an asset to any band out there at the moment. His style of playing compliments that of my own and I often find myself swimming between inspiration and awe when in the presence of his skillset. We bonded quickly over a shared love for John Mayer and an appreciation for guitar production and arrangements in general. Even though there were several other guitarists who had responded to my advert that I was still yet to meet, I knew we’d all be wasting our time and I called off the search immediately. I feel incredibly lucky to have someone I get on with so well and regard so highly, on my favourite instrument, in the same band.
Next, on drums, Jacob Evans, who brings a level of professionalism and solidity to our sound. Without a doubt the funniest member of the band - which probably isn’t all that surprising given that most drummer's seem to have this tendency - he can turn the most mundane tasks (like loading-in and setting up) into a laugh and time generally well spent. His Australian humour and overall command and knowledge of his instrument makes him a blessing to play music with; but it’s his company and personality that sets him apart from everyone else. It relieves the burdens and stresses that come with being in a serious band.
We had most trouble in the bass department but eventually landed Joe Southwell, another Aussie who was recommended by Jacob. Joe is without a doubt, one of the most solid and professional musicians I’ve ever played and comes with an easy to work with, chilled, unassuming attitude. As soon as Joe entered the frame, he almost instantly put the rest of us at ease, bridging the gap between the two guitars and the solid drumming of Jacob. Our sound improved instantly.
For me, I felt and still feel incredibly blessed to be playing music with such a high calibre of musicians. But more importantly, the overall enjoyment and excitement of rehearsing or just rocking up to a venue with close friends was a feeling I had missed profoundly.
The gang unity of being in a band (albeit under my name (for now)) is incomparable to anything else and it’s something that I probably took for granted in my earlier years, when it was all I knew.
I was back to being surrounded by people that spoke my language, invested in a common musical message. No longer would I have to be the sole focus of live performances or carry the pressure of gigs entirely on my own.
It’s early days still and our story has barely begun, but from the shows we’ve played so far, each one has been a lot more enjoyable than any of the 200+ gigs I’ve played in the past, with just a loopstation for on-stage company.