Leeds-based artist Paul Marshall has previously played in a couple of hard-edged racket-churning outfits – Rays Of Helios and Concentration Champ – but is now striking out alone with some quite luscious indie-folk.
Vultures, Marshall’s debut solo album, was released earlier this year via Iapetus; it received a healthy amount of critical acclaim, with its DiS appraisal leading to quite the comments board ruck after fans took clear umbrage with the six out of ten score. In hindsight, perhaps the review is a little over critical: Vultures is a fine debut, and an album that sets up its maker for a potentially great follow-up.
Compared vocally to Nick Drake – and it’s easy to hear why – Marshall is to play this Saturday’s DiScover Club at RoTa (Notting Hill Arts Club; November 10; full details here). Ahead of that show, where he plays alongside Joe Gideon and the Shark, Wintermute and The Gilded Palace of Sin, we sent Marshall some DiScover questions.
** You've made it clear that you're not keen on playing acoustic nights, despite your stripped-back set-up: why is this? Is it something that stems from a hardcore/punk background, or are you simply keen to not be seen as Just Another singer-songwriter? **
Well firstly, to be honest, I really don't listen to much 'singer-songwriter', or folksy, material in general. There are obviously acts who I adore, like Joanna Newsom and David Thomas Broughton, and so therefore if I had the opportunity to play that kind of 'acoustic night' that would be fine by me! The sort of acoustic night I’m referring to is the 'first Tuesday of every month at our local pub', at which you are exposed to about three hours of 'local talent' and are required to play an hour-long set consisting of mainly covers, with a couple of your own thrown in. I just cannot stand those evenings personally. Obviously it's a great platform for people to 'get the feel' of playing live, but if I wasn't to expand into playing with bands who play the music I actually listen to and love, I don't think I would have ever started to reach an audience other than peoples’ parents and workmates
I suppose the main fuel behind not wanting to play with acoustic acts all the time is that I would simply be bored to tears; the more eclectic the bill, the better for me. If you went for a three-course meal and got given the same dish three times in a row, that wouldn’t be particularly worth the money. But in answer to the latter part of the question: obviously I don't want to be seen as just another singer songwriter. If I did, I would probably just play acoustic nights!
*Would it be right to assume you are now concentrating full time on your solo material? Just how much are you prepared to sacrifice to 'make it', as it were: can you foresee having to jack in full-time employment to take these songs on the road in earnest? *
The term 'making it' takes on a different meaning for me from day to day. Two years ago, 'making it' would be to get the chance to tour Europe; one year ago it was to get a great support slot with a band I love, and have an album out. Now I've done those things, I kinda have made it in my own way. But I would give up employment without batting an eyelid if the right deal was to come along, or just the opportunity to earn enough money to survive purely doing what I love. Right now I live by Napoleon IIIrd's lyric: "This is not my life, it's just my day job / The way I pay the rent". Somehow, hearing him sing that helps me get through the daily grind ten times more than the amount of tea I drink in a day.
*You've an album under your belt now, _Vultures_. Was it everything you wanted it to be in hindsight or, like many a debut, are there aspects that if you could do over, you would? It must feel pretty special to get a quality solo record out there, full stop. *
Vultures couldn't have been anything else. I've said on many occasions that I have released some rubbish in the past (thankfully kinda swept under the mat now), but this record is a true snapshot of what I sound like, and is the only body of work that I have finished and been 100 per cent pleased with. Everything just seemed to fit: finding a label who would put some effort into the release (Iapetus), getting the chance to go to Sweden and record with Kris from Jeniferever, recording with my old pal Kev McGonnel, somehow managing to get Magnus Lindberg from Cult Of Luna to master it, having Fran Rodgers sing on it, and then getting Luke Drozd to create the awesome artwork for it. Somehow the whole thing seems immortal to hindsight for me right now. Maybe in a few years I'll look back and want to change things on it, but for now it can stay just the way it is.
And yes, naturally, when I see it on the shelves in HMV I do find it hard not to break out in a Cheshire Cat style grin, and that does feel pretty special at the end of the day.
*Critical reception was generally positive, although the reaction to the DiS review – not a bad review by any means – seemed a bit OTT, didn't it? Did the take that it made for a solid platform to build from make sense to you as the artist in question? Is it hard reading outsiders' view on something clearly very personal to you? Is it worse for a solo artist than a band, where involvement is obviously divided? *
Ahhh, the lovely DiS review. Well, to be honest, the worst thing about that review was that it just felt assuming and kinda judgemental. For the record I can say that I have never been a Paul Simon fan and so therefore this vulture would be quite happy not to feast on his carcass, and I wouldn't swoop from my tree to devour the disgustingly filthy rotting carcasses of Incubus either.
In reality, it just felt like he (the reviewer) had made his mind up before track one had even ended in a kind of,_ "well, this just sounds like (insert name here)"_ kind of way, which we are all guilty of at some point, but it's never nice to be the victim of it, especially when it's your debut album and as the artist you know fine well that the reviewer couldn't be further from the mark. I wouldn't say the reaction was generally OTT (okay, maybe one person on there!), but for me it was refreshing that the audience whom I want to like it, like it enough to speak out against what they think is an unfair review. At the end of the day a review is one person's opinion and they are entitled to it. It's just a shame it has to be such a LOUD opinion sometimes.
But being a solo artist it is easier to take harsher criticism to heart, especially when you know that you have put nothing but your heart and soul into it and so therefore feel primarily responsible for a negative response in some way, but I guess you just have to deal with it. I’ve been extremely lucky with this record in the sense that the DiS review was the only 'harsh' review I received, so you just have to take it with a pinch of salt.
As for the 'solid platform to build on' thing, well let’s say I’m happy to keep building. That could never be negative.
Video: 'Älvsbyn' live
*One artist you've been compared to is Nick Drake. That must be very flattering. Is his work something that has inspired you at all? Do you see yourself as being part of the British folk scene, or do your roots keep you in more rock/punk territories? Many bills you seem to play feature hardcore acts… *
It is indeed flattering, and if you do have to make a comparison naturally he is the first person that springs to mind. It is a shame, though, because in many reviews of other singer songwriter type folk I read, Nick Drake pops up in almost all of them as what the reviewer would class as an 'obvious influence', and so that makes it a bit of an iffy one. Admittedly if I heard myself on the radio, it would be the same comparison I would pick, so I can't complain really. I listened to Nick Drake a lot when I was about 19, and I’m 26 now, so it seems a while ago when I was listening to Pink Moon. If you had heard any of the toss I wrote at that age, you would have never dared compare me to Nick Drake!
If there is a British Folk Scene then I’m happy to be an active part of it, however nothing will beat the pleasure of playing on a nice varied bill for me. The strangest conversations I had with people after my tour with These Monsters is that although we are a million miles apart musically, the two seem to fit together on a bill due to the fact our music has that the same kind of 'dark' feel . That’s a good sign in my opinion.
*Just what is your live set-up? Have you experimented with line-ups and 'formations'? Is it ever a bit much to just play solo? How do you overcome any nerves you may have? What's worse: playing to a packed room full of chattering folks or playing to a handful of deathly silent onlookers? *
Up until my album launch show in June I've generally played alone. That’s one of the pros and cons of being solo: you've only yourself to blame for mistakes, but on the other hand you don't have anyone else to worry about.
At the album launch I played with a cellist, and glock player and Fran Rodgers sang with me, which was great and it really worked, but I wasn't sure about doing it permanently. Recently I've been playing with just a cellist and I really like it.
I can handle nerves pretty well generally, although there are a few 'problem' gigs which make the butterflies in my stomach feel more like crows! When I go on to a room full of people that are already engaged in hefty conversation, it can bring out the worst in me. But both a talking crowd and deathly silent people have their advantages. If they are deathly silent and the room is filled with a great air of atmosphere then there is nothing better.
There's nothing booked in, according to MySpace, after November 10 – what are your live/touring plans for the near future?
Well I do have a couple of things in the pipeline for the end of the year, but nothing to add to my gig list right this second. That’s deliberate right now. I’m currently on the lookout for a booking agent to get a decent support for next year, but I've just agreed to a few more European things – I’m doing a Spanish tour and a couple of one-offs in France – so we'll see what happens. Ideally I'd like to take a bit of time to start writing again. I've just done a couple of new tracks, but I'd actually like to get started for album number two whenever that may happen. God knows Vultures took me long enough and that’s only nine tracks.
*You recently played at Brainwash, a great Leeds event. Is the city home to a particularly healthy social circle of musicians and promoters? That seems to be the case as an outsider looking in from London… *
Moving to Leeds was a great thing for me. The music scene here really is wonderful in my opinion. The amount of great bands/artists around is scary. Brainwash Festival is something that I look forward to each year and Haydn (promoter) has a lot of guts to attempt something like that and pull it of almost alone two years in a row.
Overall it's great to play alongside the likes of These Monsters, Wintermute, Napoleon IIIrd, Humanfly, Red Stars Parade,_ et cetera_. If I were to continue naming names the page would be filled!
*You've covered Jeniferever in the past – do any covers make their way into your set, and if so how do you go about choosing them? What led to the Jeniferever cover, and your involvement with them? (You toured together, right?) *
My link with Jeniferever goes back a few years to when my first band called Rays Of Helios were doing a few gigs that just coincidentally happened to be on the same bills as them when they were on tour. My girlfriend is Swedish and I've been learning to speak the language for the past four years, and so back then it was kinda fun for me to hang out and get drunk with some Swedes and practise the very little Swedish I knew at that point. But basically we ended up becoming great pals and once Rays Of Helios broke up and I concentrated on my solo stuff, we shared a mutual appreciation for each others’ music and so three years later we finally got to tour together properly. It was a great two weeks.
To do the cover was a wonderful opportunity. Kris just called me up one day and asked me if I'd like to attempt a cover of one of their songs for the b-side of 'The Sound of Beating Wings'. Naturally I jumped at the chance, but there was a catch: the deadline was within five days of me being asked. Basically, I had to just hand pick a song, write a cover, get it recorded and mastered and get it to DiS [Recordings]. I find it really difficult to work like that, and at that point I was having real problems with my voice, which you can hear on that recording. It's not vibrato – it’s my voice breaking!
But the strange thing is that it was that cover which started to get me a new audience and helped greatly to inspire what Vultures became. I very rarely play it live, only about once every 20 shows. I played it in Uppsala, Sweden this year to Jeniferever's home crowd. The only other cover I have done is 'Fairy Tale In New York' by the Pogues. That's my Christmas song and will no doubt be rearing its ugly head for any Christmas shows this year.
*What's the future hold release-wise? I see Alex from the Holy Roar label is acting as your manager – will this lead to a link up with them at all? *
Well, Vultures only came out a couple of months ago so I’m not working towards anything grand scale just yet. However I'm recording three new songs for some decent compilations over the next couple of months, which are Leeds’ own On The Bone Records - Compilation Number Two, a Brainwash Comp, and I have just put up a new track on my MySpace which is being released by Holy Roar Records on a cassette compilation limited to 100 copies this Christmas.
And yes, Alex is acting as my manager right now which is ace. We haven't talked about working together on the label front just yet but who knows. Anything can happen.