Burrdock is a loosely-figured narrative of twelve songs about a composite persona made up of various artists, scientists, poets, inventors, mathematicians, writers and natural historians who have inspired me over the years, all of whom work alone at home, on hard projects that take years to come to fruition. They work obsessively, all hours, in basements, lofts, cabins, home studios or their study, gazing out the window, walking in nearby woods, writing or drawing by candlelight deep into the night.
People like James Lovelock, George de Mestral (whose invention of velcro was inspired by finding the sticky burrs of the Burdock plant in his dog's fur, giving me album's title), Charles Darwin, Miriam Rothschild, Neal Stephenson, Georgia O'Keefe, Andrew Wiles, Joan Mitchell, Mary Oliver, Domenico Scarlatti, Gilbert White, Arthur C Clarke, Frank Zappa, Edward Thomas, J M W Turner, Stephen Hawking, Dylan Thomas, Peter Lanyon and John Clare.
I was familiar with their work, but lately I've looked into their lives, read their biographies, seen photos of their houses, watched their biopics, and got wondering about their home lives, their work lives and the intersection between them, the nature of and parallels between working on art or on science, of working independently, outside established institutions and conventions, but within a small locality of home and garden, a self-imposed closed universe of vast blocks of uninterrupted time and the madness and genius such hyperfocus brings ... that's what this album is about.
Musically, this was an experiment to fuse together my multiple musical personalities -- a capella modal folk ballads from before the guitar was even invented, to electric guitar jazz-fusion ? la Wayne Krantz and Guthrie Govan, from renaissance and baroque polyphony to the intertwined, riffy, non-chordal music of Everything Everything (thanks to @expendablefriend for turning me on to them). In January 2015 I wondered if I could put all these styles into one song? After a few experiments, I found that I could actually integrate all these facets of myself, and it was a good feeling .... :-)
I wrote all twelve lyrics before writing any music. First, I wrote them all in plain English as an outline of what each song should say, then I took those and turned them into free verse poetry. Then I took those and gave them rhymes and metre and finally I allocated the stanzas into verses and choruses.
Parallel to this but independently, I wrote snatches of melodies by whistling or singing as I went about my day. Some of these survive as as ambients and samples, recorded in the multistorey carpark at Waitrose Caterham (Family), next to an escalator at Ikea Croydon that was squeaking in a repetitive way that gave me a melody cell (Drawing), walking back from the train station at night (Code), driving a tractor (Drawing), and still in bed at dawn listening to the monotone 'caw-caw-caw' of our neighbourhood crows, which gave me the 'new-new-new' phrase in 'Walk'. This process gave me a big pile of little .wavs, which I sifted through and allocated to each song to use as melodic seeds.
The process of mashing together the unrelated melodies and lyrics worked surprisingly well, with just a few tweaks to either the scansion or the melodies needed to achieve a happy marriage. The intent was to be melodically-led and use chords only later as harmonisation, if at all. Of course I ended up using a bunch of guitar chords anyway, but still far less than I normally would have.
Played on my Hohner Steinberger with a lil'59 PAF in the neck, DI'd into a Focusrite Platinum Trakmaster (original model) and a Tapco Link.usb interface. I also used Sadowsky and Westone basses, and my homemade Telecaster with nylon strings. Drums were the simple and reliable MaxSynths DrumKit1 VSTi played on my Akai LPK25 mini-keyboard. Vocals on my trusty 1988 Radio Shack PZM boosted to 12 volts, also through the Trakmaster with 36db of gain and a dollop of compression going in.
Many thanks to www.expendablefriend.com for the generous and insightful guidance and general inspiration ... go and listen to her music now!
Credits: Album art image courtesy of Markus Nolf, www.thinkoholic.com
Released September 20, 2016