So, it’s your first concert in Denmark, what do you expect from it? Have you got an indication of how large your fanbase is here?
I’ve played quite a few shows across Europe but for some reason I’ve never quite managed to get to Denmark. I’m looking forward to it – I never have any idea of how popular I am as it really varies from country to country. Some countries you really have to tour hard to get known properly, whereas other countries have more curious concert-goers who will turn up anyway because they’ve heard something online.
A lot of musicians have to quit playing live when falling ill with tinnitus. Do you take any specific precautions when playing live to nurse your tinnitus?
I wear earplugs, and I don’t have my monitors very loud. I don’t want to risk any more damage. That’s not to say it’s not loud out in the audience, but for me my on-stage sound has to be at a tolerable level. Some musicians love to hear their music loud when they’re playing but I’d rather not. Hearing is very precious, I won’t be able to make music without it.
Have you been able to use your tinnitus musically? Can you use it as a somewhat creative counterforce?
It certainly pushes you in different directions – for example, I don’t make very very noisy, dense music because I could never stand to listen to it over and over again while I’m creating it. So I’m perhaps attracted to less abrasive sounds nowadays. I’ve learnt how to use space a lot more, and on a practical level I know my physical limit for how long I can sit at my studio, or watching a band, before it becomes dangerous for me.
How do you think your upbringing on the Wirral Peninsula comes across in your music?
Where I live has very different landscapes – it’s part coastal, part woodland, with Liverpool – a big city – very close. So all those elements have fed into the music I’m making and the aesthetics of the visuals I create too. It can be very exposed here, very windy and rainy in winter and beautiful in the summer. It’s a real balance, so I suppose in some ways that affects the music that I’m making. It’s interesting to be located just outside a city – I can dip in and out of the music and arts scene there, but still exist in my own space. It’s made me a lot more focused, I think, because I don’t have many distractions.
From where and who do you draw your inspiration, musically and artistically?
I listened to a lot of punk and metal bands when I was younger – bands like Fugazi, Deftones, Bikini Kill. So I grew up with a kind of DIY outlook on everything. I’ve carried that through to the decisions I make and what I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. It taught me to be strong, I guess, and a little bit stubborn too. I studied graphic design at art school, and I’ve been interested in art since I was a child, so there’s lots of different visual influences that inspire what I’m doing with Forest Swords too. The last exhibition I went to was Jake and Dinos Chapman in London, which was incredible. But I try not to be actively, obviously inspired by other artists – I prefer to just immerse myself in lots of different things and just soak up influences in a natural way. It’s perhaps why people have trouble categorising the type of music I make, because it doesn’t really fit in anywhere and doesn’t particularly sound like anyone else. I like it that way.
What do you see as the main drivers behind the recent years’ wave of dark-toned and introspective electronic music from the UK (Kwes, James Blake, Mount Kimbie, Lapalux, The Haxan Cloak etc.)? Do you think there is a British distinction to it or is it mere serendipity?
Interesting question. I think nowadays it has something to do with the current economic situation across Europe, perhaps. People in their twenties and thirties have a lot less options than they did 10 years ago. There’s not much positivity. So I’m not surprised that this feeling has filtered down into the music people are making. But I think the UK has always had a very melancholy way of making music, especially in electronic music. Bands like Depeche Mode in the 80s, or Massive Attack in the 90s, for instance.
You also work as a graphic designer. How would you describe your working process when producing music in comparison to making art? Do you visualize music in the same way as you do with art?
It’s a fairly similar process – because I create music on my computer, I can build songs in blocks and with different textures – it’s not so different from working in Photoshop on a collage. It’s a very visual way to make music. The type of software I use means I can label things by colour, build up layers, and so on. Music is just a different form of design in a way: it’s about where you place things, the space you use, what message you want to communicate.
How does the audience respond to your music in a live setting? Are they different from various crowds across countries, type of venue, time of the gig, etc.?
It’s something that varies from place to place. Some countries – Poland, for instance – have connected with the music in a very surprising and strong way, so the crowds there have been very loud the past couple of times we’ve played. Some cities are a lot more reserved and respectful. It depends on the venue, too – if I’m playing in an art gallery, for instance, the crowd are generally more cautious than in a normal concert venue. That’s the fun of playing shows, I suppose – you’re never guaranteed the same reaction every night.
How’s the ratio between acoustic and electronic elements in your music?
It’s about 70% electronic, I’d say. I sample a lot of acoustic instruments, but they’re processed and edited digitally, so I guess they’re a mixture of both acoustic and electronic. I am very connected to my guitar, and that appears in quite a few songs. I’m not really attracted to music that is all electronic, and synthetic. Sometimes it feels very cold. It’s very difficult to convey emotion like that. Live, I have a bass player who plays with me too which gives a lot more of a human element to the show and adds a different dynamic.
The response to ‘Engravings’ has been overwhelmingly positive. Do you regard it as the hitherto redemption of your career? How do you plan to follow it up?
No, I don’t see it as intimidating for the future really. I’m pleased with the response, it was better than I could have ever hoped for, but I don’t really feel any pressure to follow it up. It’s great that people are connecting to the music like that because it’s almost like a stamp of approval to keep on going forward – hopefully people that are interested in ‘Engravings’ now will be interested in what I am doing in two, three or four years time. Electronic music fans especially are very loyal. It’s great to play festivals and see artists in their 50s or 60s still playing to fans. But I am really excited about starting new music and seeing where it takes me, regardless of if it is popular or not.
Whats your plans for 2014?
I’m playing shows and festivals up until the summer, and then I’ll be starting work on new music in the second half of the year. Whether that is going to be an album or not, I am not sure yet. This year I’ll also hopefully be starting to produce and work with other artists, too, which will be fun.