Picking the Packaging

Making an album isn’t just about fancy studios, awesome tunes, and line after line of premium-blend cocaine! The sophisticated modern musician must negotiate complex decisions from the amp modelling on the electric guitar on track 5 to the appropriate number insightful blogposts to release before everyone gets dizzy and goes home. But of all the nasty choices an aspiring albúmier (I just made that word up) is faced with, none is more involved and disgusting than the packaging.

In this digital world, the first question is whether even to have packaging at all. But I learned my lesson from Last Days in the Capital, which like three people bought – overwhelmingly, FaceOmeter fans prefer physical media. Plus, I’ve discovered that it’s better have to have tangible things (rather than download codes) to sell at shows. Speculative gig-goers want to see that they’re buying the manifestation of a huge creative process, and that means that we need what four years’ work in any case demands – a record that looks at least as good as it sounds.

Followers of this project will know that I’m ahead here, thanks to my collaboration with Freya Hartas, the best artist in town. But even with great art in the bag, there are decisions to make. Jewel case or digipak? Matte or gloss finish? And what about the inlay – a booklet or a poster? To staple or not? All of these choices have financial as well as aesthetic consequences, so I’ve been racking my brains.

2014-04-20 12.05.46ART IS DIFFICULT

I promised myself on the release of the last album in 2009 that the next one would be a digipak. Digipaks look cool and don’t break, and the particular design we have for the inside of this one will work a treat! On the inlay, though, I’ve been forced to compromise: a booklet proved excessively costly from the printer I’m using, so I’m down to a six-panel foldout, although I’m hoping that the format will allow some cooler tricks with the art. I’m also heading down Matte Alley after a lifetime of gloss-scepticism.

Though it seems a bit premature before the record is even engineered, it’s important to make these sorts of decisions early. I’m using an American printer who specialize in independent bands because the company for the last project I did massively screwed us over and left us without discs to sell on the launch day. This means allowing plenty of delivery and production time this time around.

But it’s also good that the disc’s appearance and sound are evolving alongside each other, because it means that it really won’t be a question of decorating a pre-existing audio project, but of allowing sound and appearance to really talk to each other and create (hopefully) a more coherent end product. There are two vocal takes, some drum sessions, and a few other tiny frills to finish in the studio, and then we can get to the engineering. Progress!

Sessions Resumed

Last weekend, I attempted to prove I could look cool with an electric guitar:


I don’t play the electric enough, which is a shame! I have a lovely thinline telecaster from the days of my teenage whimsy, and it’s a shame I don’t have more opportunities to get it out. It’s not a heavy presence on the album, but I think you will like the moments where it turns up! Sound engineer Dean “Are You Still Here?” McCarthy provides a video preview of the “coolness”.

Anyway, we tracked those guitar parts and then did a lot of basslines – every bassline on the album, in fact – before some slightly less successful attempts at polishing off the vocals. There are only a couple of vocals takes left, but my voice just wasn’t there on Sunday, so they’ve had to be deferred until the next session.

Not to worry! The next session also includes James Bell, who will be coming in to help with a track called ‘The Singular Adventures of Sally the Tumbleweed’. It’s now the only unrecorded song of the 14 on the record, and once some drums, a few vocal parts, and some miscellaneous other ornamentation have been added to the rest, this album will be recorded! Stay tuned.

Sofar, So Hamingbirm

I have to say that one of my happiest discoveries of recent years has been the Sofar collective, whose YouTube channel is filled with diverting performances from pretty much everywhere in the world, each one recorded in pleasant surroundings. You can easily spend an evening on their website, but it’s much better to spend one at one of their shows – I’ve now played three, and last night was my first experience of the Birmingham part of the franchise.

It was a gig I approached with some trepidation, for two reasons: the first was that I hadn’t played a full-length set for over six months, a half-deliberate album-recording decision combined with what are sometimes called “real life factors”. I felt rusty, I hadn’t played much outside a studio for ages, and I wasn’t sure I was going to perform well. The second reason was that I hadn’t gigged in Birmingham properly for years and years. I grew up in this fine city, but since relocating here I’ve struggled to reacquaint myself with the music scene, and this show was part of a renewed attempt to get out there and find the heart of the vibe.

It was a success! Sofar Birmingham is operated by the Cannon Street sisters, whose music I commend to you, and the venue they’d managed to get their hands on for this performance was a repurposed nineteenth-century Unitarian chapel in the middle of Digbeth. There were fairy lights everywhere – independent musicians love fairy lights, we’re like dragons with tacos in that respect – and an attentive and forgiving crowd of complete strangers, surely my favourite thing to work with. Alex Ohm opened the proceedings with a voice worthy of the space, and the headline act were a new group called Aztecs; the interval included an ad hoc sea shanty performance and the green room could have hangared a light aircraft. A capable and pleasant chap called Joe made recordings of the evening which I imagine will be available at some point. A well-drilled team of camera-operators with alarmingly sophisticated camera-holding apparatus took co-ordinated photos and videos of the whole thing, and I imagine some of that might also find its way to interested parties at some point.

I’ve always had a bit of trouble playing my kind of music in Birmingham, so it was fantastic to find a crowd receptive to my stuff, and really wonderful to be playing a show again. I don’t want to get schmaltzy (I do) but when i sat down on the floor next to my guitar case to get the thing out and tune up before the show, some weird muscle memory kicked in and I realised how much I’d missed doing this stuff. It was an important reminder – and I need reminding often – that it’s this stuff, rather than everything else, which is the “real life factor”. Back in studio for the new album next weekend.

Back to the Cat

I got to play ‘To Coincidence’ on the Catweazle stage last Thursday, in addition to reading ‘Hippo Calypso’ again. This tune is impossible to play solo, but I’ve discovered that the lyrics make a decent spoken piece! I wanted to read it because I’d just learned, several months after writing it, that it’s based on fact: when I came up with the piece, I was just having some fun with all the double letters in ‘Hippo of the Mississippi’, but it turns out that there was a genuine plan to make it happen in the 1900s. As you might expect, the fantastic people at This American Life have a short documentary on the subject for those in doubt.

After the break, I did a surprise collaboration with Sam Taplin. Normally, that phrase means that it was the audience which was surprised, but Sam politely gave me absolutely zero warning before inviting me on stage to play a song I hadn’t rehearsed for at least six months. We staggered our way through it. Unmissable moments!

Image stolen gratuitously from Hannah Bond

Image stolen gratuitously from Hannah Bond

What a pleasure to be back at Catweazle again. I hosted a couple of times last month, but this time I was just there to soak up the ambiance and get myself a copy of the new issue of their handsome periodical, an altogether more relaxing prospect. Playing in front of them reminded me how much I’ve missed doing full-length shows, and one of the things I’m doing this weekend is bothering a few Birmingham/Oxford promoters about setting up some new gigs in the runup to my album launch (if you’re a venue, there’s my new bookings page to think of). I’ll be back in the studio soon, too!

Finally, some good news from two FaceOmeter allies: Matt Winkworth has won the Perfect Pitch prize, and will be developing a brand new musical – he’s a consummate musician and deserves it utterly. I also couldn’t be happier for MC Lars, who crowdfunded his fourth album in under a day. Still time to get involved with that!

Getting Back Into It

There’s been a lot on lately. I won’t go into details on this blog, but let’s just say that moving house the day after a jetlagged return from a rushed visit to foreign lands was only the tip of the iceberg. And in all the chaos and confusion, it’s been pretty much three weeks since I touched my guitar, which has sat obediently in its case this whole time. Waiting.

One goes through these phases, and I always knew that not much would get done in February, music-wise. But tonight I finally got half an hour to sit down with the twang, and I’m actually almost glad I took the pause. It was cool to sit down and play some old songs of mine with a genuine feeling of rediscovery (“I wrote this! This is mine!”) and to play a few covers that I’d forgotten I knew the words to (“time, time, time”). It was doubly cool to do so in the still half-finished atrium of a new house, which I hope will be the heart of some really awesome new projects.

In short, it’s pleasuarable to be reminded that I’m still a musician, that I still know how my fingers work, and that my guitar is still the best guitar there is (fret buzz and all). The next few weeks are pretty jammed too, but I’m slowly warming up to start playing live again. Playing tonight, I realised that I was heading that way more out of habit than out of a genuine desire to do shows. But now my heart’s back in it. Though time is still scanty, there are shows to plan and an album to finish. The going will be slow over the next few weeks, but I feel like I have something to aim at again.

So, as my gig hiatus comes to an end – would you like me to play in your area? I’ve got a new bookings page especially for your needs! Check it out.

Of Shirts and Singing

Faced with the surprising success of the crowdfunding campaign for Why Wait for Failure?, I added the possibility of buying T-shirts at about the halfway point. Now that the campaign’s closed, I’ve heard noises of regret from a few people: because the shirts were added later, they’d missed the chance of getting one. These will be very limited edition garments, so it did seem unfair to deny the needy!

In consideration of this, I’ve made it possible to pre-order the remaining shirts through Bandcamp. These were the only limited edition rewards that didn’t sell out completely during the campaign, so naturally I’m delighted if anyone else wants to order one now! They will be handmade and completely beautiful.

Speaking of ‘completely beautiful’, this Sunday, Jan 12th, marks the long overdue reunion of the Hectic Eclectic Folk Choir, which will take place at 11am in The Jam Factory, near Oxford station, and which will run until about 2pm. Those of you interested in singing on the album – be there! Can’t wait.

So Very Long 2013

Every New Year’s Eve, I take advantage of the opportunity to cryptically list what I’ve been up to in the last twelvemonth, and this year it’s one hell of a post. Though the year has been full of defeat and rejection, it has in many senses been one of my most action-packed to date (in keeping with last year’s resolution). So it’s my pleasure to tell you that in 2013 I saw seals on a sandy beach and sea lions on a wooden jetty; accidentally walked through the set of Iron Man 3; saw silent fireworks over the wing of a budget airliner; held rings at a wedding ceremony and bought more from a jeweller’s; picked up my first 3D pokemon; debuted a song in the top room of an ancient college tower; rose with the lark to swim in a gym that looked like a boat and pick wildflowers in coastal ruins; ate at Obama’s favourite barbecue place; got frantic in a May sunrise; reunited with old friends in the face of gourmet curry; took a china cow outside; escaped purple lions; watched the stars come out in Horspath; borrowed giant slippers in a narrowboat; visited a tiny aquarium and a huge one; finally started using serious video editing software; ate an exceptionally huge 50s banana split; narrowly escaped death amidst the freight containers of West Oakland; got sunburn in Newcastle; learnt prosody at last; walked straight past the world’s largest imported cheese; rode two different American rapid transit systems; launched my first crowdfunding campaign; devised my first university syllabus; returned to a teepee after a rousing chorus of ‘Because the Night’ with a Crumpet Merchant; scoffed fake wotsits whilst revealing the extent of my ignorance about Vietnam; stood under the stars listening to d-ream pumping out of a C17th banqueting hall; chanced upon a bad lion in the best way imaginable; failed to preserve a special piece of cake from a ravening belly dog; got Dissed by the train network on New Year’s Eve; did crosswords in Christchurch meadow with a pile of Mexican food; piloted a light aircraft over Gloucestershire; used a cinema as a green room; raced against a lawnmower to sing Dylan Thomas lyrics in a building opened by Brian Eno; lost well over 50p in a 2p arcade; snuggled with a Siamese; collaborated with one of my favourite artists on a song about turtles and came eye to eye with a real one; returned from a venison forest smelling of firewood; failed to gain access to the house of ‘The Dead’ and the tower from the start of Ulysses; participated in the theft of a minor piece of agricultural equipment; brought chipfish into a nautical cellar pub where they did salsa later; lectured on Victorian poetry; filled a moleskine; flew through an unending sunset to check tire pressures; got looked at by a liger; played elevator music in a giant flamingo costume; entered the futuristic world of Android; sat round a corrugated canalside bonfire listening to a trad music session; survived a banquet at which I was unexpectedly seated two down from my old biology teacher; inhabited a nook; watched smoke-filled bubbles pop against the sunset; sold my first guitar; watched the entire first season of Scott and Bailey in a single night; attempted (unsuccessfully) to take a selfie with Paris, France on my shoulder; picked up jazz chords; went in a hot tub in a tropical thunderstorm; accidentally attended the retirement party of the head usher of the Irish parliament (in the private bar of the Irish parliament); failed to witness an urban dance-off; got buzzed by a red kite; successfully navigated of Scorpion Swamp; cruised a real swamp in a hovering airboat; briefly impersonated Gaz from Supergrass in Leicester; saw him in a co-op in rural Oxfordshire (?); rode a ferris wheel at the end of route 66; voyaged in the gondola of a bestselling nineteenth-century spiritualist, piloted by an authentic Venetian; swam with ducks under hot air balloons; desperately sought mobile phone signal in a Welsh valley; faked interest in a stately home full of wood-burning stoves; downloaded a large number of pictures of the Megalosaurus; casually picked fresh spinach; saw a real live hero open a library in my hometown; trousered the ending of Mass Effect 3; watched a 50s horror film amidst the Smoky Mountains; joined my first picket line; threw a pear in the Taff; carried a cardboard box through a dinosaur theme park; sucked at ping pong in two separate locations; had a modelling photoshoot in an abandoned crazy golf course; ate too many matchmakers at a desert-themed film festival; got given a Christmas card; and perhaps most importantly, installed a whiteboard. I remembered, better than usual I think, that there’s always a tonne of amazing stuff that never makes it onto these lists, and was constantly grateful for all of it.

I had some ideas and even put a few into practice. I wrote some songs, and some words, but there’s always more to do. Next year promises to be even more insane – and not just because of the new album lurking on the horizon! But my resolutions are a bit more personal this year, and so I’m not sharing them here. I hope that whatever yours are, they come out on top – and I hope your 2014 is as awesome as mine is going to be!

New Year’s Eve Sale!

It only just occurred to me to have a look at my bandcamp stats, and I found that they’d rocketed to an all-time high during my crowdfunding campaign for the second album – despite nothing new being on there. It’s great that the success of the crowdfunding has stimulated a bit of interest in my older stuff, and it seemed that New Year might be a good time to allow folks to complete their FaceOmeter back catalogues…

Therefore, it’s my pleasure to announce that until the end of New Year’s day, digital downloads from my bandcamp store will be heavily discounted!

Here’s what I’m offering:


To Infinitives Split (2009) – Usually £7.90, now £5
My first full-length LP. Lo-fi recording quality but well-mastered and including several tracks (‘Stuffed Animals’; ‘A Strange Visitor’) which are still live favourites!

The Spooky EP (2011) – Usually £4, now £3
A product of Taplin, Tattersdill, and Jones – of which I represent 1/3rd – this Hallowe’en-themed EP also works at other times of the year! Exceptional production standards.

Last Days in the Capital EP (2012) – Usually £2, now £1
I spent ages on this tiny record and no-one bought it. Perhaps this could be its moment? The secret track is amazing I’VE SAID TOO MUCH


The End of the Beginning

The first full-length FaceOmeter album came out in July 2009; it was recorded in my bedroom (in a series of bedrooms, actually) and bravely mastered into something resembling listenability by the excellent John Jones. It’s still a decent listen, rather to my surprise, but in the 4.5 years since it came out – and especially the last twelve months – much has changed.

Via a few other cool projects, I’ve arrived at the shores of album #2. It’s going to be better, partly because of the things I’ve learned and the ways in which I’ve grown as an artist in the last five years, but partly because crowdfunding has allowed me to move out of the bedroom and hook up with an extremely awesome sound engineer and an amazing artist/designer. In the end, the level of support for this new record blew me away. The average contribution was nearly £24, and the project ended up going 16.3% over its £1,750 target. £2,000 isn’t a lot compared to the budget of a regular album, but for a grassroots artist like me the psychological difference alone is incalculable. The plan now is to take that money and move quickly to a non-extradition treaty country, where

That cash is going to pay for higher quality production, for decent engineering, for great art, and for a bunch of other tiny things which will set this record aside from the others I’ve made so far. But there are a few things which won’t change: it’s still me and my tunes at the centre of it; it still depends on collaboration with amazing friends; it’s still about imagination, and belief, and the things that happen in our brains when we meet each other; and (most importantly) it will still feature the Hectic Eclectic Folk Choir, the mysterious choral enclave which everyone who contributed to the campaign is now invited to join for a magical day (so if you contributed and don’t check your e-mail very much, you need to fill in this short survey)!

Listening to fried eggs sm

I’m thrilled this is happening. Though I’ve been putting the songs for this record together for years, I was suffering from a real lack of momentum in the months leading up to the campaign. I put it online with genuine trepidation – if I hadn’t raised the money, it would have been such a public defeat, and for all my pontificating about audience size not mattering to me, I doubt I would have recovered. The first crowdfunding website I went to wouldn’t host me: they said my target wasn’t realistic, that I didn’t have enough followers on facebook, that I couldn’t raise the money. I’ve got a lot going on in the rest of my life right now, and it would have been easy to stop there; in amateur music, and I believe I’ve earned the right to say this, there’s never anything easier than quitting. But then, why take the easy road? Why not jump in with both feet just to see, owning victory or defeat rather than hanging around for the compromise? Why wait for failure?

Winding things up

The year comes to a close, and with it my Indiegogo campaign. We’re overfunded – not by as much as I’d hoped possible, but still with enough in the kitty to make a highly respectable album, one which everyone who donated will really enjoy (I hope!).

This was (is) my first attempt at crowdfunding and I’ve learnt a few useful lessons along the way. Next time – if there is a next time – I’ll hopefully be able to put together even more enticing money-raising activities! For now, though, the focus is on making this project as good as it can possibly be.

We’ve already started! I had two days in studio with the delicious Dean McCarthy just before Christmas, and both of us survived! We did 11 guitar tracks and 4 vocal tracks, as well as capturing the whole of Ditte Elly‘s guest appearance on the track ‘Child of Monkey Horse!’. A productive session – and more’s scheduled for the new year!

BcL9lM0IMAA4VmyPriorities in the next session are keyboards and the remaining guitar tracks, and then we can start thinking about the choir sessions! With the exception of annoying string buzz which impeded our attempts to record ‘Summerhouse’, it’s all going suspiciously well. I can’t wait for the next phase!

Many thanks!