The Art of Longevity

The Song Sommelier

Uniquely honest conversations with famous and renowned musicians. We talk about how these artists have navigated the mangle of the music industry to keep on making great music and winning new fans after decades of highs and lows. We dive into past, present and future and discuss business, fandom, creation and collaboration. What defines success in today's music business? From the artist's point of view.

The Guardian: “Making a hit record is tough, but maintaining success is another skill entirely. Music industry executive Keith Jopling explores how bands have kept the creative flame alive in this incisive series”.

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Episodes

The Art of Longevity Season 9, Episode 4: Marika Hackman
3d ago
The Art of Longevity Season 9, Episode 4: Marika Hackman
Marika Hackman's Big Sigh is everything a 4th album should be. Really good songs, good scheduling, sophisticated arrangements (brass and strings accompany many tracks). The album has variety - from the mysterious instrumental interludes of The Ground and The Lonely House (opening sides A and B of my/your bottle green vinyl copy) to stand out singles (Slime, No Caffeine) to epic album tracks (Hanging, The Yellow Mile). It has an impressive musicality and most of all, it has real depth. A truly great album is one you can climb into. Every listen reveals something new. Keep listening and your favourite songs will shuffle around changing places like a game of musical chairs. That’s Big Sigh. A record such as this, in 2024, can reach a fleeting and lofty height of number 67 on the UK chart. So what’s wrong with the system here?“Everything gets put on the little guy. Why has it become about artists and fans rather than labels driving the commerce? There should be a mutual respect between artist and fan, do they really want to see me on a selfie cam sending out a faceless message?”But for an artist like Hackman, such frustration fights it out with gratitude on a daily basis. After all, she can make (expensive) records, get paid advances and take a full band on tour. Many ‘middle class’ artists operating in the same commercial layer as Marika cannot quite make it there.What qualifies as the next level in this weird reality video game we call a career in music?“It’s hard to break that ceiling to that next level - where it can run by itself - you need people to invest in you over the longer term, not just for one tour.  As artists we need to value ourselves more. We need to stop showing the industry that we are worthless. There can’t be an industry without us”. We need this to change. Because we deserve another four Marika Hackman albums, at least. Critically revered from her debut, the consensus (I read every review I can set eyes on) is that Hackman’s 4th studio album Big Sigh is her best work to date.“Whenever I sit down to do a new record, it’s always about being better than the last one. To hear people say that my music has progressed to a new phase is like fuel to my fire. It’s lonely making records on your own, you can easily lose perspective”. As for the masterpiece, that is still to come. What happens after that is down to us. “I feel like I’ve got songs that are more classic that are yet to come. I used to dream about making a record that would transcend a generation, but now I just want to make a record that sounds like a classic record to me”. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 9, Episode 3: Travis, with Fran Healy
29-03-2024
The Art of Longevity Season 9, Episode 3: Travis, with Fran Healy
Fran Healy and his band Travis have this longevity thing down. Firstly, you must have a love and addiction to music, as something magical. Secondly, that magic is for you to create - making music to nobody’s expectations but your own. But thirdly, you get lucky. As Fran says in episode 3, Season 9:“The chances of a shit kicker from Glasgow going on to win the best band in the world is a billion to one. How can you be proud to be lucky?”Well okay, but as all bands that ever got a break know, you have to be in it to win it. And for 35 years now, Fran has been in it - always mining for that song gold. “Most songwriting is digging, until you find that nugget, and you extract it from the rock. You keep digging because you know you will find something”. New song Gaslight is one such nugget - a fabulous pop-rock stomp, with a brass arrangement and burst of dirty guitar to boot. It feels confident. And, Travis has a new album - L.A. Times - written by Fran Healy from his studio on the edge of Skid Row, Los Angeles, where he has lived for 10 years. He describes L.A. Times as Travis’ “most personal album since The Man Who”. That album went 9X Platinum in the UK alone and shot the band into superstardom, and while no such expectations exist for L.A. Times, that’s just as it should be. The band that rose to fame during the peak CD era in the 90s is releasing their 10th album into a world where vinyl sells more than CDs, but streaming still rules. Does Travis have a place in this space?It’s just not something that will concern Healy or his bandmates that much. “The problem is when you think you are the shit, you are the diamond. But I’m still a lowly miner, and always will be. Joy and success you can define any way you want, but it’s about you, the person, not outside things”. The writer of a song called Gaslight will never be gaslighted it seems. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 9, Episode 2: Ed Harcourt
20-03-2024
The Art of Longevity Season 9, Episode 2: Ed Harcourt
After 25 years in the music business, both as a major label priority artist and as a jobbing musician, Ed Harcourt still has big ambitions. “My greatest achievement would be to write a song I would never get bored of singing”.Cards on the table, Ed Harcourt’s two instrumental albums made between 2018 and 2020 (Beyond the End and Monochrome to Colour) got me through the pandemic. Well, they certainly helped. But Ed didn’t sing on either, so it comes as something of a relief to have Ed Harcourt back in the world of songs. Not only that, but his best batch of songs for a while - held together on a cracker of a new album El Magnifico. It is quite possibly the best album he has ever made. The question is, will enough people get to hear it?Harcourt was first signed to Heavenly Records, which was subsumed into the EMI empire of old, where he was a priority UK artist for a while - thrust into the eye of the needle. But the chart positions never came, the pressure mounted, and, inevitably, Harcourt moved on into the second phase of his career as an independent artist. These days, his view of ‘the industry’ is understandably jaded. “I went a bit mad. I had been institutionalised. I felt done. It still feels like a rollercoaster, but I can’t do anything else”. His solo albums as an independent artist have impressed critics and fans - especially Furnaces (2016) - but commercial success has been elusive, and Furnaces left him burnt out and in need of a change (hence the ‘neo classical phase’ that followed).Harcourt remains an active collaborator, however, producing albums for Kathryn Williams and Sophie Ellis Bexter, whom with Ed co-wrote on her last three albums. He is now working with emerging artist Roxanne De Bastion. In many ways, it is surprising he is not more in demand as a producer, although by his own admission, he will never be motivated to do anything within a million miles of what you might call a trend. Meanwhile, he tours with cult Ohio indie band The Afghan Whigs and is waiting for some film score projects to drop. But, for an ambitious artist, is that success?“Success is working. Just making music all the time. I am proud but dismissive. Something will come, but I just don’t know what, yet…”Harcourt now makes music with the battle scars of an artist who has been through the mangle. He rode the hype cycle - signing a five album deal to a major, experiencing the fallout from that, and steadily rebuilding to a place where he can always make music for himself.  In particular on El Magnifico, there is a bouncy, upbeat ‘single’ in Strange Beauty, while Deathless is a throwback to the classic days of album songs - a centrepiece if you will. Broken Keys is reminiscent of Elvis Costello during his 70s heyday, while Into The Loving Arms Of Your Enemy may well be Harcourt’s best song so far. In fact, it might be the song Ed Harcourt never gets bored of singing. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 9, Episode 1: Crowded House
09-03-2024
The Art of Longevity Season 9, Episode 1: Crowded House
Try playing a Crowded House record (any of them) then let Spotify play on…you will get just the best selection of really great songs. Go on, try it and you’ll see for yourself. This discovery may well make drivetime radio programming a heck of a lot easier, or possibly redundant altogether. You may of course be a Crowded House fan and like, know this already. You may be a casual admirer, or even a sceptic. In which case, take the time to enjoy this shared revelation. But let me tell you that this is simple proof of Neil Finn’s songwriting skills. Certainly it’s more to do with that than mathematics.I’m saying this as a recently converted fan. One of the deep pleasures (and deep privilege) of doing this podcast is that I can discover what I’ve missed, correct my own perceptions of some artists, and get up to fan-speed. This band has made stone cold classic albums. Woodface, Together Alone, the debut album probably too. But each one of their seven studio L.Ps now including a brand new album Gravity Stairs offers a masterclass in high quality song and sound craft. Together Alone is a high point for sure but I particularly enjoyed the 2010 Intriguer album. Thing is, Crowded House records take time to love. They grow on you, something Neil Finn is well aware of:"In general our records that may have been regarded as classic, have taken their time. Every album has been a slow boiler, requiring a lot of belief in it". However, Gravity Stairs feels much more immediate than the band’s more subtle 2021 release Dreamers Are Waiting. Crowded House have cracked the code to a healthy longevity. Classic songs, great stagecraft, a relaxed attitude to ‘success’ and a continuous desire to create something new that’s actually good. Whether the new songs last as long as the old doesn’t matter too much when it’s the same writer, the same band that has made its mark indelibly. One thing is for sure, those songs will probably outlive the algorithms.Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 9 Preview, with Real Estate
16-02-2024
The Art of Longevity Season 9 Preview, with Real Estate
When Real Estate's fifth album The Main Thing was released to fairly mixed results, was it time for a reset? In a sense, yes. For band leader Martin Courtney, it was time to get back to songs. After all, without songs, bands are just jamming, right? He set the bar high too, inspired mostly by the 1992 R.E.M. classic Automatic For The People.Besides, you cannot call in a producer like Daniel Tashian without being able to play him songs of exceptionally high standard. For a start, Tashian produced Kacey Musgrave’s modern classic Gold Hour, as well as writing a bunch of understated classics with his own band The Silver Seas. Consider then, that the batch of songs landing on the new Real Estate album Daniel were so good that Tashian (who co-writes with many of the artists he produces) only tinkered with them. And in doing so, hopefully gave each one a liberal sprinkling of his magic song fairy dust. “In terms of his input into the songs it was minimal. Daniel was more like a cheerleader in the studio. He’s so fun - he’ll be jumping around and hype you up - so it’s much less daunting in the studio having him around. Graig Alvin mixed the record, and he’s also won Grammy’s too. We had high-powered people in the room”. Despite all this, Martin sounds surprised at the possibility of creating a classic album, although Daniel has the potential to be just that. What that means, in this day & age, is another thing entirely. Yet the band has been in classic album territory before, in 2014, with Atlas - songs from which brightened up daytime radio, found their way onto the biggest indie streaming playlists - and even landed that record on the Billboard top 40 and UK album charts. A decade on, with the music landscape much altered, the expectations for Daniel are less certain. In Courtney's own words “I know there is a good chance that it will come and go, like everything else these days”. But be assured that if you do become familiar with the record, it will pay you back dividends for a long time to come.So where does a band like Real Estate fit into the modern music industry landscape? Still in the game and getting better, the band’s cultural caliber is steadily rising. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 5: The Staves
09-12-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 5: The Staves
Like many women creators in the (still) white, male dominated music industry, the Staveley-Taylor sisters aka The Staves, bring a sense of humbleness to everything they have achieved, how they are positioned today and indeed, what the future holds. Is it possible that The Staves are better than they think they are? It seems so. Originally signed to a major label of some reverence (Atlantic, just before the hypergrowth of Spotify, social media and TikTok), it is likely that their major label A&Rs saw in them a modern version of a classic rock band of old - the golden years of CSN, Carole King, Joni Mitchell et al. And why not? Back in the golden age of music, all bands started raw, and didn’t truly hit their stride until album three or four. Back then, they were given time to develop by the infrastructure that was the music industry. Now that’s all gone but by the skin of their teeth, The Staves are out on the other side - in control of their own destiny - and progressing steadily from album to album (second album If I Was set the bar high, but Good Woman was a revelation that took the band to a different level).  Even so, as they prepare to release their 4th LP All Now as an independent band, The Staves still need to reach the audience their music deserves. So would they rather write a hit song or make a classic album?“We’ve never had a hit record hanging over us. It’s an incredible thing to have a song that outlasts you, for your music to become bigger than you are”. But the album - the body of work - is something that will endure more. It’s the album that becomes a significant soundtrack to a part of someone's life”. In a sense then, the job is half done, even if the masterpiece is still to come. In whatever form the band takes moving forward, the potential to build their own quiet legend is very much in full force for The Staves.Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 4: Beirut
17-11-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 4: Beirut
After the fiasco of having to cancel Beirut’s 2019 tour, Zach Condon knew he needed to take the time out to fully recover. Multiple infections, colds and in the end complicated throat ailments had led him to a total burnout, until finally:“My manager and my tour manager saved me from myself. They told me I can’t keep touring. I threw in the towel and dissolved the touring group. I later saw the fiasco over refunds and all that, and I felt horrible about it”.This adversity though, perhaps inevitably, led to Beirut’s latest project Hadsel, which may well be as close as a record can come to being a lifesaver. Hadsel is the album as therapy. Steeped in nature and with a meditative quality to it, it works perfectly as an immersive listen. And it works perfectly too as an expression of where Beirut finds itself as a band (even if on this occasion, Condon did everything himself). “I was just looking for a cabin but found one with a pump organ so at that point, everything clicked. [this album] is a return to something I can’t put my finger on. But it feels more scrappy and raw somehow”. If that doesn’t sound like creative progress, don’t worry. If Beirut’s early albums (Gulag Orkestar 2006, The Flying Club Cup, 2007) were unique, and impressive for critics and fans alike, they were essentially the product of Condon’s musical obsessions at the time - Balkan Brass, French Chanson and some mariachi thrown into the mix for good measure. Condon stripped back those styles somewhat on later albums such as The Riptide and No No No. The latter contained a lean set of what you might even call catchy tunes. Those records were proof that through all the unique stylings, there is a substance to Condon’s work that always comes through. He writes lovely songs with strong melodies. Perhaps in the end, that is why Beirut’s songs have foound their way onto playlists and done relatively well on streaming platforms, especially Spotify. Zach is both amused and bemused by this at once, not recognising most of the other songs and bands he is juxtaposed with on those playlists (largely in the crudely tagged category of indie). But then his whole career has not been one of following the music industry conventional forms. Instead, Zach has always found an alternative route. “I’ve always felt that I stood right outside the river. The music industry is this river and it’s always flowing in this direction and there are all these people that are part of it, moving along with it. And I’m outside it, but somehow I've made my living and I’ve found my audience”. Good thing too, since when music is a destiny calling, there’s no point becoming too attached to the outcomes, just focus on the music from project to project and make it as good as it can be. "I didn’t really choose music but as an obsessive - music was a type of possession where everything else disappeared. It was an addiction in many ways and still is”. It may come as some relief to Beirut or not, but somehow through all the adversity of recent years, the winter solace of Norway, and his nomadic approach to music making has literally taken his music even further. Full write at https://www.songsommelier.com/Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 3: Metric
05-11-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 3: Metric
Metric has become one of those bands that have paved the way for independence, along with Aimee Mann, Chance The Rapper and the other self-releasing copyright owning pioneers. Their fifth album Synthetica (2012) as it turns out, is a favourite of the band’s front woman and main co-writer Emily Haines. Even though it didn’t reach the commercial heights predecessor Fantasies did, it was a mature and ambitious record, setting the tone for Metric’s accomplished and reliably strong catalogue.  It brings us to the band’s recent projects Formentera (2022) and this year’s sibling album Formentera II, neither of which miss a beat - not a weak track among the combined 18 songs. If consistency is what you’re after, Metric should be your new favourite band. It was refreshing to hear that there was no particular logic to the selection and scheduling of both the Formentara albums - no grand design - just the sound of the band hitting their stride enough for a double album (even if it is released in two seperate packages). “We had made a body of work and knew we had a double album. When we rejoined civilization after our Doomscroller tour, we thought this was the most fun way to release it. I’ve always envied the surprise release. So we announced on the one year anniversary of Formentera, there is a second album”. This magnum opus came with other influences too, including the “impossible-made-possible” stylings of British filmmaker Terry Gilliam, in particular his 1985 cult masterpiece Brazil. Once you understand the connection between Formentera and Gilliam, you are reminded of a deep artistic sensibility behind Metric that sets this band apart. But what is Metric’s secret to making such consistently strong material?“It’s terrifying to me that we don’t really know what we are doing. Everything we do from a sonic standpoint, to a visual, to lyrical themes…it all comes down to this feeling. All I know is that when I feel it I know it, and if I don’t, it will never see the light of day”. No wonder Metric’s catalogue is such an entertaining ride.Full text at https://www.songsommelier.com/Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 2: Half Moon Run
28-10-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 2: Half Moon Run
I had invited Half Moon Run onto the podcast after first hearing Salt - imploring their BMG PR to arrange it as a matter of priority. Speaking with Dylan Phillips was an insight behind the creative process of the (decades long) making of one of my favourite records in ages. Also, I had never spoken to a drummer who is simultaneously a keyboard player, but that is part of the modus operandi of Half Moon Run - a continual swapping out switching up of instruments between the band’s three members, Phillips, Devon Portielje (also lead vocals) and Conner Molander. Half Moon Run was formed over a decade ago, originally as a four piece (with Isaac Symonds). The band’s 2012 debut album Dark Eyes was a well received and exciting addition to the indie-rock canon. But now four albums into their 14 year career, their 2023 release Salt really is something else. It is the sound of a band finding a different level. The band itself knows it too:“It’s the first time we felt unanimously that we were fully happy with the work we did on a record”.So how does a band with no hits to speak of (Full Circle is the nearest thing, approaching 50M streams on Spotify), albums that don’t chart and a virtually unrecognisable name make a viable living after a decade in the game? Being brilliant appears to be the answer, mostly. Work as hard on your songs and performance as Half Moon Run does, and enough fans will follow you to the ends of the earth. Or at least from city to city. Making an excellent album certainly helps. Salt is the complete work, a perfect album - as close as this band has come to a masterpiece, even if it will not chart or feature on many (if any?) critics best of lists. “We had done this little project called the 1969 Collective, with Connor Sidell and we called him to see if he was interested in making a new full length record. He was, so we put all cards on the table - opened the books on everything we’ve ever done. Even if we’d failed with some of the songs before, maybe we could succeed this time around. We went from 80s songs to 24 and then brought it down to 11 songs for the album. A lot of the songs were a gift from ourselves, songs we’d had been trying out for a long time”. So, once a special record has been made - surely it deserves a wider audience? Or, as I prefer to say about Salt - lot’s of people deserve to hear this record. Is the band itself happy with their modest level of success?“I’m super grateful that we are making this work. It’s tough though, especially when it’s hard to make a tour just about break even. When you want to make a good production of it”. Perhaps Half Moon Run will keep running purely on the strength and passion of the band’s existing fanbase. It’s those fans that are frustrated about the band’s relative lack of recognition. It isn’t enough to just make it out of Canada (a theme that may emerge in the current season of TAoL if you follow the podcast episodes). But that is the modern music industry. The very best music doesn’t always naturally rise to the top. Salt may not be on the 2023 ‘best of’ lists simply because the compilers of those lists will have missed it in the glut of music albums that come week-on-week. Yet It stands up as a modern indie-pop/rock classic by a band with real promise. (full write up on https://www.songsommelier.com/)Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 1: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
13-10-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 8, Episode 1: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
In the 70s, the teenage years of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, one would have heard new music by word of mouth, from the music papers, and DJs like John Peel, and it is one of these channels that would have led the young Andy McCluskey in September 1975 to see Kraftwerk play at the Liverpool Empire. It's lazy to suggest that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were entirely influenced by Kraftwerk – both founder members were keen music lovers and had performed together in a band called The Id – but their debut single Electricity wears that influence  on its sleeve.There were some classic synthpop albums released in in 1980 and 1981 but in terms of maturity and sophistication, none came close to ‘Architecture and Morality’, OMD’s third album. McCluskey & Humphreys always did things there own way: "We kind of did songwriting in reverse. A lot of songwriters sit at the piano and hash out a melody and the chords first. With us, we start with a soundscape and crazy noises and quite often the song will land on top. We then realised we had a knack for a catchy tune".   OMD arguably took a wrong turn with their fourth album 'Dazzle Ships', released in 1983."We forgot to sugar coat the experiment. The album shipped Gold and returned Platinum, more copies were sent back than sold. It did scare us that it wasn't commercially successful. Even though our songs always start as experiments, we were conscious to keep it more commercial in order to rescue our career".  But even that record became a classic, eventually. Some 33 years on, in 2016, OMD played a triumphant show at London's Royal Albert Hall performing both Architecture and Morality and then Dazzle Ships back-to-back. That experience gave the band a new lease of life. 2017’s ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ can arguably be confidently placed in the top three albums OMD had released to date. Almost forty years after they first got together, a band that was still adding to its finest work. The band's forthcoming album, ‘Bauhaus Staircase’ bodes well for their late blooming fifth decade and extended longevity. This, despite McCluskey's wisdom suggesting otherwise.  "It's usually dangerous and stupid to make a new album unless you are really going to invest in it. People tell us we're iconic and influential, so we don't want to fuck it up by making a shit album".The band can rest easy. After 45 years working in their own unique way, they and their fans find OMD on a roll. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
Season 8 Preview: The Goo Goo Dolls, with John Rezeznik
14-09-2023
Season 8 Preview: The Goo Goo Dolls, with John Rezeznik
So many bands have a complex relationship with their biggest songs (probably because they essentially set a one dimensional benchmark - that of popularity) but dealing with that and playing those songs like it’s the last time you ever will, is part of doing the work. The Doll’s most biggest song and most recent tour are no exception:“Robby convinced me, play Iris last. But that’s what bands do when they only have one big song! So everyone has to stick around and hear all the other songs before you get to the hit”. But you know what, it works, so we play Iris last”. Well when you have one of the biggest indie songs ever, that’s a good attitude to have.While to my mind, The Goo Goo Dolls are a classic album band, it is their chart-topping singles, including of course  "Iris," but also giants like "Name," "Slide," and "Black Balloon." These songs have helped define their legacy and will grow in perpetuity when it comes to streaming count. The Goo Goo Dolls' music is marked by catchy melodies, emotional lyrics, Rezeznik’s distinctive vocals, and a balance of acoustic and electric feel. Their ability to create relatable and timeless songs has contributed to their enduring popularity in the world of rock music. The band has developed nicely through the mists of time. When I ask Rezeznik how he would approach making a career in today’s industry, he gives me the same bemused answer as many guests do on The Art of Longevity: “I don’t think I would”. But he and his band have crossed the Rubicon and so his anxiety is instead projected onto the next generation of musicians forged from the same stuff i.e. focused on the music:“How much amazing music is not being heard because [TikTok] is the metric you have to use, to decide if an artist is viable or not. Through Tik Tok? Gimme a break”. “But that’s what worries me about the next generation of musicians - are they gonna be able to do that”? Being poor and famous, I’m not sure that’s gonna work”. That’s exactly what the “music business” is trying to figure out. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity 50th Episode: Corey Taylor
12-08-2023
The Art of Longevity 50th Episode: Corey Taylor
What better guest for this 50th episode of The Art of Longevity than metal’s renaissance man Corey Taylor? A modern legend of the heavy metal genre, Corey has no less than three successful music projects. He is probably best known as Slipknot’s #9 (lead vocals) but before he joined Slipknot, Taylor already had another established hard rock band, Stone Sour. I met Corey as he was about to release his second solo record CMF2. This multiple persona artist is a sort-of blueprint for music creators in this day & age. After all, to put all your creative eggs in one basket is not enough to succeed in today’s hyper-fragmented, super-saturated, ultra-competitive music market. No problem at all for Corey. The man has too many ideas and too much restless energy to fit into just one band, even if that happens to be one of the world’s biggest and most successful metal bands. So how does he do it?“I’m able to prioritise and focus to get the best out of me creatively. My appetite for art and creating is insatiable though - I’ve got so many things I want to do, it keeps me sane and grounded. I’m hyper-focused but I do things bit by bit. But maybe I’m also just a psycho”. One thing that struck me about Corey too, is his advocacy for metal - which comes within the broader context for his advocacy for music itself. Known in the past for “not being stingy with his opinions”, Taylor is deeply knowledgeable about his genre, as well as the wider industry in which metal is sometimes treated like Cinderella. “Some people would love to keep us [metal musicians] in boxes, and yet, if you are a pop star, you’re encouraged to hop from genre to genre like fuckin’ hopscotch. You can’t keep us back while pushing people into places we have every right to go as well. But we scare people too, the movers and shakers are intimidated by the level of talent in our genre. Metal musicians could wipe the floor with a lot of today’s pop stars”. It brings us back to CMF2, an album as eclectic (and also excellent) as you’ll find. Across its 13 tracks cover country, radio-friendly rock, brooding Bowie-esque ballads and hardcore punk throwback. And yes, some pretty exemplary songs from his metal heartland. The thread that runs through the eclectic collection is simple enough: “I wanted to honour the songwriters who made me what I am”. Job done, onto the next one...Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 7: The Walkmen
21-07-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 7: The Walkmen
Following the highly accomplished 2012 album Heaven, cult American indie band The Walkmen went on hiatus. But now they have reformed. In a recent interview with the band’s frontman Hamilton Leithauser, Vulture magazine referred to the now infamously long career break as “a particularly noticeable void”. I would go a lot further than that. I (and a million other fans) grieved the loss of The Walkmen, because in the indie landscape they offered something unique. The ramshackle but classic rock sound (could any band sound more analogue?). The authenticity of those songs. Hamilton Leithauser’s signature voice. Most bands have a manifesto to stand out from the rest, but The Walkmen didn’t need to say it - they were truly el differente. Hamilton didn’t know if anyone would remember or care much but he turned out to be wrong about that of course. The Walkmen’s legend has matured nicely in the intervening 10 years that they have been away. But the interesting thing is that culturally, the band never really went away. Their songs and fandom lived on through the extended break - even grew in their absence. This is perhaps the true miracle of music in the streaming era. Hamilton and the others were surprised and delighted to return to playing shows to loyal audiences both old and new, the younger fans among them singing every word of those old songs. In the modern music biz, when the talk is of “always-on” creation, 24/7 content and acute FOMO, maybe the most valuable move a band can make is to not succumb to any of that, but to instead have the nerve and the confidence to do what’s necessary - even if that is nothing. Hamilton puts the stresses of modern day bands into perspective though:“It’s exhausting physically and mentally - in the long run. After you’ve done a bunch of records you think “do I really wanna do another rock & roll record, no I don’t think I do”, then it becomes about what you really want to do next”. With six albums and some older EPs to perform, there is no need - not yet - for any meaningful discussion about new material by The Walkmen. But it is reassuring and exciting to know that Hamilton and bandmates haven’t ruled it out. For now we can be happy enough that a particularly noticeable void has been filled. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 6: Ron Sexsmith
09-07-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 6: Ron Sexsmith
After he “couldn’t get arrested” in the 80s, post-grunge opened a window through which a then 30-year old Ron Sexsmith could climb. With his sincere, low-key ballads and simple songs straight from the heart, as was his 1995 self-titled debut. Produced by legend Mitchell Froom, it was a stripped back affair but also with the signature sounds of Froom and his engineer collaborator Tchad Blake (favourites of the crew here at The Art of Longevity). Those songs came as an antidote to the loudness of grunge and the hubris of Britpop. Sexsmith was a pioneer of a style that paved the way for a wave of troubadours including Teddy Thompson, Josh Ritter, Rufus Wainwright and many more. Of all places he was signed to Interscope - then one of the world’s biggest major labels. “They didn't really know what to do with me. They called me a ‘cred artist’. Someone who had good good reviews and they could point to and say - 'we’re not just pop' - so they could attract other real artists.”“I coasted on that for a while, but then around my third album (Whereabouts, 1999) I saw that it didn’t mean anything to them any more. To have an artist that was just good to have around”. And so that early run came to an inevitable end as Ron was slammed into the wall of the ‘dropped artist’. By then though, he was into stride as a songwriter. No longer an apprentice to those amazing producers he has worked with, he was on his way to mastering the craft. Indeed, these days he describes himself as more of a problem solver than a songwriter. This songcraft is what connects Sexsmith to the greats. When I mention to him that Spotify pays him a compliment when its continuously play/radio function will follow one of his songs with Nick Lowe, Nick Drake or some other legend, his response is modest yet enlightening. “Well I didn’t know that but one of the nicest things anyone ever said about me was what Randy Newman told Mitchell (Froom) that “I like Ron because he does the work”. And I thought, yeah that’s true, I do do the work. That’s what I try to do and for the most part. There’s not a song I could play you where I’d think the song is terrible”.That's because none of them are. May I strongly suggest you sit back and enjoy the fruits of Ron Sexsmith’s labour.Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 5: Ben Folds
28-05-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 5: Ben Folds
For Ben Folds, coming back on the scene with a new studio album feels like a breeze, literally:“I Feel like the expectations are lowered but I have the wind on my back”.In June 2023 Ben releases What Matters Most, his fifth studio album and his first in over six years, almost an ice age in today’s breathless music biz. But part of the reason and the joy it has taken him so damn long to make, is a focus on the craft that is part of Folds’ raison d'être as a musician some three decades into a professional career.“I have carried a tradition of craft, that is not easily come by, in an era when it was always going away, until now” It might sound cocky to say that this is a lesson in songwriting but I dunno, it is.”This is coming from someone who in the past decade has committed part of his career to promoting and campaigning for better music education. Come to think of it, a conversation with Ben Folds is a music education class in itself. His role as music scholar and teacher is now part of his legacy but his contribution to music is easily underestimated. For starters he sandblasted a music scene that in the mid-90s was dominated by grunge, Britpop and pretty soulless boy & girl band pop. And he did it with a fucking piano. Aided and abetted of course by belting bass (Robert Sledge) and drums (Darren Jessee) combo that made up Ben Folds Five - a refreshingly guitar-free rock band. After the trio disbanded following the usual music industry roller coaster ride (a familiar story beautifully told in Fold’s 2019 book A Dream About Lightning Bugs) Folds went solo - sometimes quite literally. He made ‘sustainable touring’ a thing, by going on the road with himself and a piano. That’s something now essential for bands in the mid-tier - the so called “working class musician” - to tour with a minimalist set up. Fold’s truly took to it - improvising and bantering with the audience - even creating a song (Bitches Ain’t Shit) that became a sort of regrettable classic. He found the experience scary but took his inspiration from James Booker. “I was playing standing places - rock venues. I was shaking in my boots the first time I went out on tour like that, but I felt the need to do it”.Folds is a pioneering independent artist. He called the creative shots even when first signed to a major label imprint with Ben Folds Five. He paid for vinyl masters to some of his albums knowing full well it would come out of his royalty account. He was an early adopter of the direct to fan model with his Patreon site, recently expanded to include a private Discord channel. It’s very much the modern fan-centred business model for up & coming artists these days. Through it all, Folds is one of those artists that can always rely on the ability to write a song. It’s something that has seen him through the thick & thin years as he transitioned from a band to a solo career and then later as he expanded into soundtracks and orchestral works.That songcraft is firmly intact on What Matters Most on songs such as Back To Anonymous, Winslow Gardens and Kristine From the 7th Grade. But Folds can strategize the biz side too these days, and his plan is to make this new album an event. “I know we’re making movies in a way when we make records but I wanted to make a record that you could date on all counts. The event is powerful, because you are either expressing an ideal, a design - or you are expressing an event”. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 4: John Grant
17-05-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 4: John Grant
Asking John Grant to describe the essence of the record he is working on now, elicits a response that fascinates from the get go. “I’m trying to marry the vibe of Blade Runner with - wait a minute - let me go and get this movie [shows me Tetsu The Iron Man]. I want to blend Sonic Youth with Blade Runner, Evil Dead and Halloween 3”. John was struggling to articulate a few things on the day we met, including the one word essence of this new album project, but I’m going to guess the word that he was looking for was cyberpunk. If you don’t know it, Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a 1989 Japanese tokusatsu cyberpunk body horror film created (as in written, produced, edited, and directed) by Shinya Tsukamoto. It’s insane and unlike any other movie made then or now. It’s an auteur’s project and that sums up John Grant better than anything else. The man has a singular vision and for that we can be grateful. We do not want John Grant by way of compromise! And then there is Blade Runner, which I’m guessing you are more familiar with. Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic is an anchor point for Grant, who is influenced by those sweeping, cosmic valve-synth Vangelis soundscapes that cropped up so fully formed on his last album Boy From Michigan - a high watermark record that John feels is only just finished, yet is already almost two years old. In today’s music biz, two years is an awfully long time. But then, making the follow-up to Boy From Michigan is not a trivial undertaking. Creativity in John Grant’s particular zone of avant garde pop is not an environment in which you can simply turn up at the office and turn on the tap. His world is not always a well-oiled machine. “Guy Garvey told me that creativity is like a pipeline that you have to keep flowing, even if it’s just to flush the shit out before you can get to the good stuff”.I do love it when artists listen to artists. Thing is, it doesn’t happen enough. For the time being however, if you cannot wait too long for more from John - good news. Grant’s alternative supergroup Creep Show brings a welcome escape from the weight of the world - for him and for us. New album Yawning Abyss is due for release June 2023. Creep Show is a wonderful collaboration. With a name inspired by George A. Romero and Stephen King’s 1982 film and novel, Creep Show brings together John Grant with the dark analogue-electro of Wrangler (Stephen Mallinder / Phil Winter  and Benge, the latter producing Grant’s 2018 album Love Is Magic). The Creep Show project deserves every bit the success achieved by Gorillaz, in a parallel universe in which all music is judged on listenability. Who could not listen to this man's voice?Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 3: Joseph
27-04-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 3: Joseph
What’s more important in securing a band’s longevity - hit songs or a classic album? I put this question to Meegan and Allison Closner (the twin sisters that make up two-thirds of Joseph along with their sister Natalie Closner Schepman). Their answer seemed clear enough. For Joseph, it’s all about the album. So, is the band’s new album The Sun a classic? Only time will tell. Personally, I resisted any notion of hearing the record before its release. My orange ‘sun’ vinyl is in the post and I will listen to it just as one should, as the needle drops on side one track one (Waves Crash). I do have faith that Joseph can make a classic however - because they have already done it once before. I first discovered Joseph’s music by way of a complete and very happy accident. I had sat down briefly with the head of an indie label, and as I often do, I asked the question “who should I be listening to?”. His reply was both immediate and singular: “Joseph”. Okay then - easy to remember at least. I later fired up Spotify and typed the word Joseph into the search bar and there they were. Joseph - an Americana band of three sisters from Joseph, Oregon. I’m always surprised when I don’t know a band in this genre - and Joseph had just released their third L.P. Good Luck Kid. And the album is a belter. Just fantastic Americana-country-pop. Wholly accessible but ambitious and expansive. It’s everything an Americana album should be - if not a concept album, then a start-to-finish cohesive piece of work. Good Luck Kid ended up as my favourite album from 2019 and so the band’s fourth album The Sun comes with a sense of high anticipation.Then, Allison & Meegan told me about working with Tucker Martine and recording The Sun in his Flora studios in Portland, which ups the stakes about as high as they can get for a new record to my ears. But, what does it mean to make a classic album in 2023?Rick Rubin is keen to point out that the creation of a record is not a competition, and who are we to argue with the master builder of records? And yet, how can it not be a competitive situation in some ways, with scores of albums - really good ones - released week-in, week-out. The obvious answer is to compete with yourself and let others in as inspiration.As Meegan says:“We’ve taken in the classic bands we’ve come across in our adulthood, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac - who would not be influenced by those”. “But [with this album] we keep asking ourselves the question, do we like this? This has to be us. “I hope that we’ve made an album that lasts through time.”Joseph have already done it once, so what’s stopping them doing it again? Every band aspiring to be the real deal deserves their moment in the sun, maybe The Sun will be Joseph’s time. (an extended write-up appears on songsommelier.com)Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 1: Rickie Lee Jones
05-04-2023
The Art of Longevity Season 7, Episode 1: Rickie Lee Jones
Being a longevous, ‘real deal’ music artist requires many things, but being pure in heart is certainly one. And there are few people on this earth as pure in heart as Rickie Lee Jones. With the completion of Last Chance Texaco in 2019 (her brilliantly evocative and critically revered addition to the vast ‘rock memoir’ library) Rickie Lee permitted herself to look back to those early days and draw new inspiration from them. “Before I finished that book, I was burdened, but when it was done I began to shed my fears. I am 68 years old and you cannot scare me any more”.The resulting first studio album release since then is Pieces Of Treasure, Rickie Lee’s versions of a selection of American songbook classics including Nature Boy, September Song, Sunny Side of the Street and no less than two iconic Sinatra numbers. The success of this album is in the way Rickie Lee finds her way to occupy these well-travelled songs.But, this being The Art of Longevity, I want to know about the bad times as well as the good. And Rickie Lee Jones has had more than her fair share of years in the wilderness. By her 90s records (Pop Pop, Traffic From Paradise and Ghostyhead ) Rickie Lee’s career showed the classic curve for established artists, of high critical acclaim but steadily reduced commercial success. Even after a minor resurgence in the 2000s (beginning with the superb Evening Of My Best Day), a further decade of being largely forgotten left Rickie Lee broke and unable to find a record label to release new music. How did she get through that time?“I thought, maybe this was payment for having so much success so fast. It’s a kids game and there are many many new young artists coming up at any time. The thing is to teach the audience that you are not just a pop artist but that you are a real musician”. We listeners, have a lot to learn!Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/
Season 7 preview, with Dave Rowntree
29-01-2023
Season 7 preview, with Dave Rowntree
It has taken Dave Rowntree ages to make his first non-soundtrack body of work outside of Blur, especially when you consider their last album Magic Whip, is almost a decade old. Then again, perhaps it explains why Radio Songs has come out very well indeed - better than the public might have a right to expect, given the track record of drummers stepping out from behind the kit. The album’s electrosonic palette is drawn from all Rowntree's influences, including Air and Talk Talk, with - as we discuss, hints of Robert Wyatt and Thomas Dolby. And more predictably perhaps, Blur. It is surprising just how much Rowntree’s vocal style is reminiscent of his bandmate Damon Albarn, who collaborated on the record only from a distance, giving Rowntree feedback in the form of one page of notes. Now he’s gotten round to it, Rowntree has caught the bug for making solo records, he plans two more over the next two years, provided he doesn’t get too distracted by Blur. His plans to tour Radio Songs this year have been somewhat derailed by what he calls “Blur’s megapolis summer”. And so inevitably then, to Blur. Where does it fit in his schedule and his headspace?“Fundamentally I’m still the drummer in Blur, that’s how I see myself, but if you plot Blur activity on a graph, it’s tapering away to zero, so it’s not going to last forever”. So, how does he feel about stepping out to perform live as frontman after all those years behind the kit? Undaunted is the answer:“It has felt surprisingly natural really. The music starts and you get swept along in it. I’m happiest out on the road, gig every night, different town every day - there’s something seductive about that”. Whether or not the Blur bandwagon keeps rolling, Dave Rowntree looks like he has found himself a second longevous career in music. Support the showGet more related content at: https://www.songsommelier.com/