'As one thing ends, another begins' - since Watchtower drew the curtain earlier this year, Jack McAllister, former frontman of the once vibrant alt-rock four-piece, carefully planned his debut as solo artist and strikes back now with attitude and confidence: first single 'Do You Want It' sounds arrestingly powerful and energetically edgy.
Fuzzy and fiercely howling guitar reverb salutes the listener, vigorous and rhythmically ringing drum beats are on the march while raucously rousing vocal sonority joins in and supports the song's strongly clangorous conceptual commotion; dashing aggression, a tense atmosphere and perky authenticity align, a boisterous instrumental revolt takes shape. With it, Jack McAllister raises his voice in a firm and fervent fashion not only to make a mark musically but also to make a point about liverpool's iconic music venue, Lomax and its temporary closure, after a drugs raid led by the local police in february 2015. Bravo!
carpe carmina talked to Jack McAllister about his life after Wachtower, what to do when pre-gig nervousness hits you and why he does not charge anything for his songs at this point of his musical journey (get debut single 'Do You Want It' for free now)...
After the unfortunate split of Watchtower it sure hasn't been a tough choice for you whether to continue making music or not. What made you decide to move on as a solo artist eventually?
I have been in bands since I was 15 years old, and when it was clear that Watchtower was coming to an end, I knew that I wasn’t going to be in another band for a while..... I used up all the musicians I know. I think the main reason would be after the release of ‘You Don’t Have To Say Goodbye’, and with it being my first solo song, I got an incredible response from it and something just clicked that, “I can do this on my own, if this band is going to split up”.
Your first offering 'Do You Want It?' has impulsive and thrilling alt-rock written all over it. Back in the day with Watchtower you made a musical mark with spirited and blues-infused (psychedelic) rock first (Watchtower EP), with energetic alt-rock gloom (Under Your Thumb) next and also presented acoustic songs ('You Don't Have To Say Goodbye'). Is shifting between genres what you like to pursue an artist from now on more intensely, especially since your forthcoming album is said to present songs of diverse musical genera? And where do you feel most at home genre-wise?
I think over time in Watchtower we all realised that we weren’t that psychedelic, I probably branded us as that because I was going through an obsessive sixties phase, which I still haven’t shook off. Over time we all became comfortable with the alt-rock sound.
I’ve always had trouble sticking to a specific genre, I’ll be listening to Queens of the Stone Age one day and thinking I want to sound like that, then listen to Johnny Cash another day and think I want to be more country and so on. The idea of this album is something I don’t think anyone has tried before, each song is a different genre of music that has had some influence on me as a songwriter. It also takes the listener on a musical journey from the blues all the way to modern rock. This will be challenging, but I have such an understanding and appreciation for different genres. This is going to be fun.
Speaking of your first full-length record in the making, can people expect other singles or musical teasers to be published before the official album release takes place?
I will put out some teasers, singles and music videos. I’m going to do it right this time, and it might as well be free, after all I’m still a nobody. There is no point in charging people for your music when no one knows who you are. If I make a name for myself then obviously I will start to charge, but I love doing this and the money making is a small fraction of it all.
You seem to enjoy trying out different styles as a musician, e.g. playing disney classic 'I Wanna Be Like You' on ukulele. Is there any chance that a cover or rendition of a song that is not yours will be featured on your debut album?
I’ve never really liked the idea of putting covers on an album, to me it just suggests you haven’t got enough songs to fill up an album. I’ll leave my covers just for youtube.
Now that you are on your own without anyone backing you musically or creatively, how do you approach songwriting? Has it solely been your responsibility to write songs when you still were with your former band Watchtower or has it rather been a group effort back then?
In Watchtower I wrote nearly all of the songs, I did encourage the other lads to come in with some ideas, and they did sometimes, but nothing that ever turned into a finished piece. Our guitarist contributed three fantastic songs to the band, but he claimed he had a two year writer's block, hence the slow song writing. I don’t want to say that I took all the responsibility but I did do most of the song writing. Now I’m on my own I don’t think it will be any different, I just won’t have anyone’s opinion on the music, it will just be all me.
Performing as a solo artist, is there something you do differently (in contrast to when you played live as part of a band) before a gig to calm your nerves or during a performance to involve the crowd?
Well, I haven’t performed since the split of the band, I think I have some anxiety to go back to the stage. It’s easy to make a mistake on stage and turn round to your band and laugh it off, but when you’re on your own, you’re on your own. I just want to finish writing a new set list, get it practised and then I’ll go back. When I was younger I done the plastic rock star thing and just got hammered before I went on stage, which eventually made me look stupid and arrogant. Now I’m older and a little wiser, I would just go up there, and after the first song I would probably be completely comfortable. I have been out the game a while, I think I have a lot of confidence to build back up. So when I do go back, maybe just a pint of Guinness for the nerves.
Is busking something you consider a worthwhile and rewarding experience for musicians to introduce their music to a local or even wider audience?
I do love walking down the street and listening to the local talent (usually outside Primark is the sweet spot), but it’s not something I’d see myself doing in the near future. Unfortunately I hear too many stories about buskers getting bother from police, shop owners and the public, I couldn’t deal with that kind of harassment even if it meant playing to a larger audience.
Living in liverpool and composing songs makes you part of a vibrant music scene steeped in tradition. Does your knowledge of and admiration for the music greats liverpool has brought forth, influence your musical style and songwriting?
Well, you’d be insane not have at least some influence from The Beatles, their musical journey has inspired so many generations of musicians and I’m proud to be a part of the city they came from. In terms of new music, I listen to a lot of Liverpool music and do take influence from it, the likes of ‘Jimmy and the Revolvers’ and the ‘The Hummingbirds’ gave me the country influence in my song writing. There is so much talent in Liverpool, it’s such a shame that most have trouble getting themselves known.
Are there any local musicians in liverpool you would like to team up with for a gig or a collaboration even? If so, what is the reason for your interest in working with them?
At the moment I’d be happy to gig or collaborate with any local musicians, I suppose it would be ideal to team up with the more well known musicians in hope I can pinch some of their fans.
Social media and self promotion are big topics for any artist who aims at enlarging his fanbase. How important is it to you, as a musician, to keep those interested in your work and creative process updated and what scope and efficiency do social media presence and a good dose of self promotion have, in your opinion?
Well, it used to just be posters and flyers back in the day, but now everything is so much easier for musicians to promote themselves, I think the only downfall is that everyone is doing it. I imagine the people are probably getting tired of getting invited to events and to like pages, so it’s a little harder to get people’s attention. We just live in lazier times. I don’t do twitter, my management deals with that because I can’t get my head around it, but I deal with the facebook, soundcloud and youtube.
What is on your agenda for 2016?
Well, 2015 was going to be my year for planning and setting everything up and get myself ready for 2016. So I hope to be gigging a couple of times a week, appearing in all the popular media outlets, and work towards gigging outside the city, who knows where I’ll be in a year but I hope it’s somewhere good.
Why would you recommend people to read carpe carmina and what is it you find most striking about this blog?
carpe carmina is another great way to promote musicians that are passionate about creating music, the kind words of carpe carmina have previously been used in Watchtower’s biography, I continue to support this blog, and would recommend this blog to any musicians looking for a good review. The most striking thing about this blog is that carpe carmina show genuine interest in new upcoming music and take time out of their day to give the unheard a voice, this kind of dedication is rare nowadays to me.
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Watch acoustic session and music videos of Jack McAllister here.