Sonntag, 5. April 2015

Interview: Alistair Sheerin - 'You can do so much more on stage to have a good time and involve the audience [...] People want you to be great and show what you can do, so why waste the opportunity?'

Let's not mistaken Alistair Sheerin for a distant relative of a certain ginger-haired singer/songwriter, he's clearly not, but his acoustic preference and soulful vocal vibrancy might make you think so, rather than the tonal surname resemblence between A. Sheerin and E. Sheeran. Lyrically more vigorous, grittier, carpe carmina is lucky to have caught up with the first-mentioned one - an outspoken and determined young man with a firm affinity for rock'n'roll and a refreshing tendency for painting realistic, sometimes bleak and angry, sometimes uplifting and enthusiastic, lyrical pictures - to talk about what the middlesbrough-based songwriter strives passionately after as well as what he once hated with a passion, what he considers an 'opportunity' any musician should embrace as well as what his forthcoming trip to New York is all about. 

1) These days artists often choose a pseudonym when releasing music (combinations with 'Run' have been quite en vogue). What made you decide to simply go with Alistair Sheerin? Now, if you had to choose a new name under which you compose music, what would it be and why?

I suppose its always just been a case of me wanting to be myself. I've never really given much thought to having a new name to go under, when I started it was like 'well this is me you either like it or you don't.' I don't really see my name 'in lights' as such. It's not a very glamorous name and I'm constantly getting asked if I'm related to Ed Sheeran when its quite obviously spelt different and we bare no resemblance. However I've never met many Alistairs in my time and throughout school and usually anywhere I go I'm the only Alistair kicking about which is cool ha! If I had to go with a new name I suppose I'd go with something like Alistair Sheerin & the something's. What that something would be I have no idea. Ally Shee & The Knobhead Three? That came up once and I toyed with that idea. It would definitely be either meaningless or something that's a personal joke. My humour can be strange at times though so I'd have to be careful.

2) When trying to learn about your inspiration for songs, people often find that you draw from everyday life and working class 'frustration', that you write your lyrics in a confident, incentive and outright manner, proclaiming the need of action and change, whilst presenting bracing, passionate melodies. Can your listeners expect a softer side to your music in the future too, maybe less energy-driven compositions and more pensive, emotional melodic and lyrical narrations, given your affection for piano arrangements?

I've got tonnes of those kicking around! I'm constantly writing and jotting stuff down, a lot of it doesn't get used but its like a muscle that constantly needs flexing. So when I get asked something like this the answer is yes the audience can expect a lot of both. The energy driven songs are balanced out by the ballads and the softer arrangements. The only thing is, a lot of the time you've got an allotted time to win people over so the energy driven songs tend to capture the attention of people quicker from my experience over the years. I do get a lot of people saying they like 'Second Wave' for example which has a version on the piano and the guitar and I really enjoy playing that song live because of what it means to me and what I can see it means to some fans. Now I'd love to get up on stage and play a tonne of softer, ballad arrangements and from time to time in a longer set I do play quite a few. But when you haven't got a lot of time on stage you tend to go for the catchier, attention grabbing songs because you can tell that the audience are wanting that as well. But on an album or a recording for example it's a different matter so all I can say is watch this space very closely ...

3) Speaking of the working class. Your journey as man and musician - from being an employee at bristish bakery chain Greggs to supporting Miles Kane - has been documented on Sky 1's show 'More Than Meats The Pie'. What was the experience like and how do you feel about the surely insightful documentation now?

I had some of the most miserable times of my life there! I hated that job with a passion, not the people they were sound, but the job was a total drag. However when I look back now I no longer work there, I can see how much it provided me with the characters that appear in my songs, the fire inside me to get out and try and do better for myself and it also gave me a great insight into how people do struggle and get by in their working and personal lives which really interested me and still does to this day, it's something I'll never lose touch with. 

The documentary was a laugh, here's the story why I ended up on there. I needed to pay off my car insurance, bearing in mind I was skint! The company put up this competition to win £400 in a sort of talent contest and you had to go and play at one of the conferences where the heads of the company all lord it up and pretend they give a shit. Around this time they started doing a documentary for Sky 1 about the bakery chain and how they operate and one of the sections was this talent show. So I got through to the final, played at the conference and managed to win £400. Lovely! It contributed towards my car insurance so that pleased me. Anyway they put the documentary out long after it had been filmed so by this time I'd been gigging a lot and getting my face known where I needed to and I managed to support Miles Kane on one of his UK tours, some of the best gigs I've ever done! 

Anyway after the tour, the documentary comes out and I get a load of tweets and messages from people saying they saw me and stuff which was funny. When I look at the experience now its good for people to see because they see I have been where everybody else has been and I've had to work for what I want and sacrifice some things along the way and that I'm a real person with working class roots and I sing the truth because I sing from experience and I really mean what I say, so it's all from the heart.

4) Back to your music. Your love for piano melodies has been already mentioned - said instrumental liking shows brightly in your live session videos on youtube. However, you also like to complement your voice with vibrant guitar arrangments, so carpe carmina is wondering what your favourite instrument of choice is and if you rather grab a guitar when intending to play dynamic, edgy rock tunes, whilst relying on piano-governed melodic outlines when coming up with a more slow-paced, emotional song?

I've played piano longer than I've played guitar believe it or not, but when you start playing around what people call 'real musicians' who are all technical but yet can't play with any feeling whatsoever,  it puts you off because they tend to get prioritised, I'm talking about like in school or college here from my experience. So the guitar became an outlet for some of my aggression, plus the fact I'd never had proper lessons which made it more fun so I think thats where the idea came from that I play the edgy stuff on guitar and the mellow stuff on piano. But to be honest its not the case, I've got a lot of slow paced emotional songs on the guitar and some rockers on the piano, its just sometimes some songs peak more than others and the way it comes out I suppose is that it looks like I play one style on one and one on the other. But like I said earlier watch this space. 

But if I had to pick a favourite, I dont think I could, I enjoy both the same now. Sometimes you can go more places on a piano than a guitar, but saying that I'd quite happily sit at one or the other and play all my songs regardless of if they were intended for guitar or piano haha.

5) Is there any instrument you're missing in regular live shows, your own and/or other local musicians' ones? And what instrument would you enjoy having included in a song of yours?

Well, a lot of the time I play gigs without the a piano, which is annoying at times because I would love to show versatility and play a few piano songs instead of asking people to go online and check it out. If I had to pick an instrument or more like instruments to be in one of my songs I'd have to go with strings. The day I get to record a string ensemble for one of my songs I'll be a very happy man, especially if I get to arrange the strings myself. They add so much to rock n roll, you hear loads of tracks where they create an 'epicness' that can't be found in other instruments.

6) Strong voice, powerful (acoustic) guitar sound – it's what gig-goers are quite familiar with in the british music circuit. What is it that make you and your songs stand out though?

I don't rely on help to finish writing my songs or need a team of writers to work with. I don't think I've got a particularly good voice as such, I'm just able to sing my songs, same way I don't think I'm a particularly good guitarist but I can play my songs and thats enough for me. But the scene here at the moment seems very bland to me no one has anything to say and aren't commenting on any aspects of life that actually matter and what people have to deal with on a daily basis whether that be a 'tongue in cheek' approach or an angry approach, no one is doing it. If there are people out there doing it then they're getting overlooked. But I like to think I have got something to say as I'm singing from experience on real life issues, not just love and losing a girl which is all it ever seems to be now, but working, struggling, putting up with shit, having to make sacrifices and watching other peoples lives and creating characters people can relate to. But whilst putting all this in a song, actually seeing the song through to the end myself and not having to rely on a team of writers.

7) You started out as a solo artist, playing acoustic sessions, then around 2012 added an ensemble of musicians to your live set to support your performance, and recently played gigs on your own again, armed with a (acoustic) guitar solely, keeping guitar-driven rock'n'roll spirit alive. What are the perks of both sides, performing with a band and solo, and where do you see yourself in the future, permanently? Rather as a solo artist, as a band member or a solo artist with band addition when ever it suits a gig?

Ultimately I'm a solo artist but I do love to play with a band behind me and still go out as Alistair Sheerin. You can have more impact, especially when you feel that the songs can be so much more than with just an acoustic guitar.

Having said that I do enjoy playing with an acoustic guitar for the 'less is more' approach and just me on stage because it really makes you up your game. If you mess up, everyone hears it and you've only got yourself to blame. 

But in the future I see myself with a backing band going out and playing these songs as I imagine them in my head, proper rock n roll. The energy that bounces off other people on stage is unexplainable, especially when you're on stage with some of your friends, it's just a magical thing and I can't wait to get it back and be able to work up a sweat with a big beat behind me!

8) In terms of gigging, what are you more comfortable with, playing festivals - like Tramlines in 2014 - or acoustic sets and open mic nights? What has been one of your most cherished gig memories in both fields?

I love them all. One thing that I'm grateful for and probably most musicians are, is just the ability to play live. I love small, sweaty, up-close and personal gigs and I love the big stage gigs like festivals. I get more nervous at smaller gigs and I don't know why, it's strange. But for me it doesn't matter, right place, right time and if its cooking then I'm digging that! 

One of my most cherished gigs has to be on my own, as an acoustic artist, supporting Miles Kane in Birmingham O2 Academy. I'd never played in Birmingham before and the response was amazing. I made a lot of new fans that night who are still there now. With a band behind me I would have to say headlining Middlesbrough Empire just after the Miles Kane tour. It was rammed and it's one of the top gigs in my hometown and I felt like I'd finally reached a good point on home turf where I could expand from. One of the smallest gigs I've played was a place called Gatsby's in Sheffield. It's upstairs in this pub and it's a tiny room but what a gig! Sweaty, loud, great atmosphere, I'll always remember that one.

9) It depends on the audience, but often variations in 'song-staging' are appreciated. Do you stick to the arrangement of your songs as in the recorded version or do you like to experiment a little when performing live?

I do as much experimenting as possible. That's not me saying I do like prog rock versions of 'All You Do Is Let Me Down', but I like to make the show exciting. 

Not long ago I went to see one of these so called 'singer/songwriters' who are currently in the charts and they literally played the album start to finish with no changes, no banter, no experimenting, no emotion. I felt ripped off! When you go to a gig I believe that as a performer it's your job to create a great night out for your fans and put one hundred percent in, at all times. Playing songs as they are arranged is all well and good but what's the fun in that? You can do so much more on stage to have a good time and involve the audience and to show off and show your band mates off. People want you to be great and show what you can do, so why waste the opportunity?

10) Do you think it's important for an up-and-coming artist to build a (loyal) local fanbase first, or should he dive in the non-local 'gig-pool' early on, to make himself a name?

Well, I can only speak from experience here and that's the way I did it. I played relentlessly around my local town and I wouldn't stop until somebody listened. After a while you start to notice that word does spread and you start filling venues you thought you never could. For me that was how I knew to go and tackle the non-local 'gig pool'. If people in your home town like it then other people are going to like it! It takes a lot of time but that's the name of the game, you've got to be patient and do it right, otherwise one wrong move and it could be over. But gigging locally to start with and building up a local following earns you your 'stripes' and you can use them gigs to become a clever performer and a better songwriter. But I suppose it's down to personal preference, some people might like to go and tackle London or Manchester straight off, but it's a hell of job to start with if you have no experience. 

I remember my first non local gig which feels like ages ago, it was in London at The Dublin Castle and it was tough because I didn't realise the vastness of these big cities and the amount of things that are going, people would rather go to something else than watch some unknown artist or band. But I fucking enjoyed myself I know that! I didn't go all that way to be down about playing to a room only half full, that was a big achievement for me!

11) Inspiration is fickle and can come, as well as go sudden. When it strikes you, what is the first thing you do? Write down a chord progression, an instrumental pattern, note lyrics or grab your guitar, seat yourself in front of your piano/keyboard and jam for a while until the melody fits?

My songwriting process has no habit to it, sometimes I can come up with a chord sequence whilst sat playing the guitar or piano and then the song will virtually write itself in about half an hour. That is true magic that can sometimes be a little scary because you have no idea where it comes from, it just happens. Other times I could come up with a chord sequence or a riff or even a line of a song and it all stems from there and can take days, weeks or months to finish. 

usually have about three or four songs on the go at once so I find it easier to record the chords, line or riff on my voice recorder, on my phone or on a dictaphone and then if it's not happening that day I can always refer back to it. I never try to chase a song or a melody, I just try and let it happen naturally and work off feeling and what I want to say more than anything. If it happens great, if it doesn't don't stress, it'll come back when it's ready. But I count myself pretty lucky that I've always managed to have a number of songs on the go at once,  I hope that lasts for a long time.

12) A little (blue) bird told carpe carmina that you're leaving the UK in order to record an album in New York on April 10th. Could you give the blog's readers an insight on what is planned exactly? Could you also elaborate what is planned for the rest of 2015, touring- and recording-wise?

Who told you that, you got a tap on my phone? Haha. I sure am! I'm going to record an album with a producer called Mark Plati, who is well known for his work with David Bowie, The Cure, Prince, Robbie Williams and more. He's seen and heard my journey over a couple of years now so he's watched me grow as a songwriter and an artist. 

You can probably guess I'm super excited because this is the first time I've been to New York as well! The rest of 2015 is looking really exciting as well but for now I want to concentrate on making the best album I possibly can with some amazing musicians! Honestly, wait until you see who I'm going to be playing with! It's a case of watch this space like I said before. Things are happening but you've got to be patient, I want to do it right and I want to be the best I possibly can so for me any less than 100% is not an option. I think the songs that I'm going to do are some of my best, and the album is going to have a real flow to it and say exactly what I want it to say and show who I am. Most of all though from the demos I can hear things that I know people will be able to relate to easily too, that's why I like to be careful about telling people what the songs are about sometimes because what I take from it could be different to what other people get from it. But its the biggest thing I've ever done and I can't wait to get to work!

13) And last but not least: I assume you're a little bit acquainted with carpe carmina. What is it that makes you enjoy reading the reviews, interviews and music features here?

Well, I remember the first time I sent a song to you over Twitter and you've supported me ever since. So for me the main thing is your loyalty, and I will never forget the support you've given me. Plus your reviews are great, I love the way you describe songs with words like ' tasteful, vibrant, bracing melodies'. The first time me and my manager saw a review you had given me we were like 'wow! This girl speaks better English than us' it was top! Keep up the good work, you've got a good thing going on.

                          One of my first tweets about Alistair Sheerin's music ...

To conclude this wonderful chat in a way Alistair Sheerin sure would have approved, watch this space to hear more from his journey as a striving and driven musicians, also don't miss to check on his official website and social media ...

Photo courtesy of  Robert George Photograpy

Reach out & listen to Alistair Sheerin ...

.. twitter ...
.. facebook ...
.. his official website ...
.. soundcloud ...

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