Beachcombing:  
AV Talks with Bob Holroyd

 

Bob Holroyd

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Beachcombing

Fluidity and Structure

Without Within

AV:  One of your early band names was Beside the Point. Meaning that the music was the point and a band name didn't really matter. Tell me about why music is/has been important to you over the course of your life. In other words what is the point of music to you?  

BH:  I suppose it has two main functions, if that is the right way of putting it. It is an outlet for the whole range of emotions, and is a vehicle for artistic expression.

AV:  Your music has been described as a gumbo that pulls in bits and pieces from many different genres. Do you find it easier to write music when you have no boundaries in regards to what the final result will sound like?  

BH:  I'm sure I have a style or sound that I can be identified with, but I don't start writing with any particular preconception in mind. It's not a completely random process - obviously I have a starting point and a kind of loose structure when beginning a new track, but the music develops as it progresses, and this is helped by not ruling any style or influence in or out.  I write music a bit like a collage. Therefore if certain sounds or styles work musically, or sound interesting, I don't see why they shouldn't be used together. 

AV:  Another question that goes along with the previous one is do you find it hard to market your music to listeners when it has so many influences that it becomes difficult to describe to someone interested in buying it? I know that musicians don't like to pigeonhole their music but sometimes it is helpful to be able to offer to someone a general idea of the music that they are buying. 

BH:  Yes it can be a problem, and I agree that all music, especially if it is for sale, needs to have some point of reference. Sometimes the categories themselves don't seem to adequately reflect or describe what the music sounds like but it does help to have a starting point. 

AV:  I've known many ambient musicians whose work has been associated with art installations or other visual media. In your mind how is the visual art and the musical art associated and how does one enhance the other in these installations? 

BH:  Each one helps interpret the other. Without meaning to sound  pretentious, music often is a 'sound picture' which if composed sympathetically can compliment the visual element enormously ( and vice versa ).  Obviously it is an interpretation, and if a different piece of music is put to the same visual it can work just as well, but have quite a different effect emotionally.

AV:  I think Fluidity and Structure was the first album that I heard from you via a song that appeared on a compilation from Windaham Hill featuring the song On the Forest Floor. Tell me about the making of Fluidity and Structure and how the songs related to the audio visual art installation in the Maltings Art Gallery. Are the songs written with the visual component in mind or are they matched up later?  

BH:  Fluidity and Structure has 12 music tracks that were mini soundtracks for 12 pictures. Each picture was lit individually when it's soundtrack played, and because the lights faded up and down slowly over the entire length of each track, the pictures looked different in the varying degrees of light. The music was written with the visuals in mind, but there was an element of matching up with the most appropriate track later on. 

AV:  When was it that you decided to start releasing your music on CD? Was there a label involved with that first album or did you self-release it and how difficult was it to take the album from concept to finished product ready to sell?  

BH:  I wanted to get a label to release Fluidity and Structure but nobody took it on. Once the installation was arranged I thought it might be a good idea to get some CDs made to sell at the exhibition, and to my surprise I sold quite a few. I was also fortunate to get various good reviews in a variety of magazines from dance magazines ( ! ) right the way through to new age publications, ( back to categorisation ! ) and as a result managed to sell the CDs directly to independent shops and smaller distributors. It was a lot of time, effort, and expense but eventually, with persistence it gradually seemed to get a bit of a cult following.

AV:  Are your albums built around themes and specific ideas with all of the songs reflecting the main theme of the album? If not then what is the process you go through to fit your individual songs into a cohesive whole as an album? 

BH:  Strangely my latest album ' Beachcombing ' is, and my next album even more so, but up until now not really.     ' A Different Space ' was so called deliberately to reflect the various styles all hopefully sitting comfortably along side each other, even if on paper that shouldn't have been the case.

Having said that I want each album to have a coherence, and even though I tend to have a variety of styles/ influences I don't want them to seem disjointed. I spend a long time agonizing over the running order to make sure it flows - I want the whole album to be a journey, not just a collection of tracks. (This is negated somewhat by the digital revolution when someone buys, for example, tracks  2, 7 and 10 and never hears them as I had hoped !)

AV:  Tell me about how you weave vocals from other sources into your music such as On the Forest Floor or the song Looking Back featuring the Kalahari Bushmen. Is it difficult to make external vocals an integral part of a song you do in the studio? 

BH:  It can be difficult but I can hear what is likely to work by listening to the phrasing and tuning of the vocal. The tuning is often not what we would expect to hear when using vocals from other cultures and this creates the most problems. With the Kalahari Bushmen singing I played chord sequences along to the singing until I came up with something that fitted, and then based the track around that. It was much easier than trying to tune and timestretch the vocals to the music. 

AV:  It was interesting listening to your cover of Peter Gabriel's song Games Without Frontiers on your Without Within album. First off what was it that motivated you to sing on this release? And secondly how did you come to know about Happy Rhodes and why did you approach her to add her vocals to this song? 

BH:  I have wanted to ( and tried ) to sing on other tracks of mine, but I just don't think my singing is often that good. However, on this particular cover I felt it was okay, and once Happy Rhodes had added her great backing vocals the track seemed to come together. In hindsight I wish I had made the track a lot less like the original, but it was a an interesting experience and made me realise how many parts are in the song. Happy Rhodes was suggested to me by Bob Duskis of Six Degrees Records. He thought, correctly, that not only would she would bring an interesting dimension to the song, but she would get the feel of the track and what I was trying to achieve. 

AV:  Listening to a lot of world music that I rarely know what the words mean I still feel a connection to the emotions behind the songs and the people who sing them. In a world ripped apart by cultural strife do you view music as something that can help disparate cultures and peoples find common ground? Please explain.  

BH:  It can be, most certainly. It can transcend language, and link people in a way that more often than not emphasises our similarities rather than our differences. 

AV:  Your latest album is called Beachcombing which just came out in February 2011. What was it that delayed the release of this album for 2 years and why the name change from Glow to Beachcombing?  

BH:  The delay was caused by a new record label saying they wanted to release it, but never actually getting the necessary functions such as distribution and a coherent marketing plan in place. They kept saying it was all going to happen, and seemed to have a lot of promise, but after nearly 2 years they finally delivered nothing that I couldn't do myself.

I wanted to get someone else to do the label side of things in order to concentrate on working on music, so I was prepared to wait, but nothing concrete ever came to fruition so in the end I released it on my own label. Over the time spent recording it, I felt that 'Beachcombing' described the intimate feel of the album better than 'Glow'. The imagery that comes to mind is of exploring and delving into the tracks, hopefully getting something different of them on each listen.

AV:  In the spectrum of all the genres that you have covered over the years where does Beachcombing fall? More ambient, more world etc?

BH:  Beachcombing is more ambient than previous albums, and more organic. It has some drums on, but is mostly about textures.  

AV:  Is there a conscious or deliberate theme that runs through the songs you included on Beachcombing?  

BH:  Not particularly. However, from the start I wanted this album to be more intimate and organic than previous ones, with more real performances and less samples than before.  

AV:  Is Beachcombing a solo effort on your part in terms of the instruments played or did you have others who joined you on this album to help create the music? When you start thinking about including others on an album you are working on how do you communicate to them what you are looking for in terms of their involvement?  

BH:  It is largely a solo project, but working with other musicians will always throw up new and interesting ideas. I usually have quite a definite idea as to how I want a particular part to be played,and will sketch it out on the piano, or sometimes play an example from another artist just to demonstrate the feel I want. However, each musician will add some nuance, or sometimes do something unexpected which is far better than my original thought, and the track goes off in a different direction as a result.

AV:  I know you have had delays in getting the Beachcombing physical music released but were there any songs on Beachcombing that presented you with challenges to achieving the sound that you were looking for?  

BH:  No, the delays were purely down to thinking there were various record deals possibly going to happen which in reality didn't live up to expectation.

AV:  In terms of the production, recording and engineering of Beachcombing did you have help in the studio in these areas? Was it difficult working with others in this capacity and still maintain your vision of what the album was going to become in the end? Why?

BH:  Simon Painter, the engineer had a big input the album. He totally understand what I am trying to achieve, but equally will put forward loads of creative and interesting ideas which have often enhanced the tracks, or sometimes taken them off in a different direction to how I had initially envisaged them. The other musicians on the album have a similar understanding of what I want, which makes the whole process relatively easy and stress free most of the time, and is the reason why I have worked with them so often. 

AV:  Now that you are back to doing everything yourself do you find it hard to pull yourself away from creative pursuits to do the marketing and all the other business aspects of releasing music these days?  

BH:  Yes definitely - there is a lot to do, and it is constant.  I think I am getting better at managing the balance between marketing, licencing, accounting etc and actually having the next album ready, but it is frustrating at times. 

AV:  Has the Internet and social networking made your job easier in terms of communicating with your fans and letting them know what you are up to and when you have new music being released?  

BH:  In some ways it has, but it is also just another marketing job to keep on top of. It is great to be able to have more direct contact and feedback with fans, and that bit is definitely a huge plus, but keeping the website up to date, e-mailing fans etc is also yet another aspect to running the label which needs constant attention. 

AV:  Beachcombing has been out for a couple of months now. How has it been received by your fans who have waited patiently for it to be available?  

BH:  I think it's been received well - those people who have been in touch have been very complimentary so far.  

AV:  Your new CD is also environmentally friendly as well. Do you think that consumers and artists are starting to appreciate the finite resources available on this planet and look for alternative ways to buy and release music out into the world? Does the consumer still need more education about what their consumption does to the planet? 

BH:  I think we all need to be aware of the impact we are having on the planet with everything we do, and with more information the public can make better and more informed choices.

However, I don't want to come across as preaching, as I know it's incredibly difficult to be absolutely 100% green or ethical without totally withdrawing from the modern world. I used a lot of electricity to record the album ; the session musicians drove their cars to the studio - even making them a cup of tea involves a whole set of issues that are very hard to address. I think we need to do what we can practically do, and hopefully as a result, this will become the mainstream. The problem is that it involves effort, and often costs more, which is hardly going to encourage people to be green.

I hope that by making this CD in an as eco-friendly way as possible, some fans or other artists might notice and also follow suit.  

AV:  Do  you think digital music files will be the answer to the environmental negatives associated with consuming CDs? Do you think that MP3's represent your music's full range or is there coming a time when we will see higher quality sound files like .flac or .wav files being sold in addition to MP3s? Why?  

BH:  Possibly, although I'm not sure if it will be for that reason. But I suppose if it has that effect then it's a welcome benefit. In answer to the MP3 question, again I'm not sure. Most of the public who listen  to MP3s don't seem to be able to tell the difference, especially, and more importantly when they listen to them on tiny, quite average speakers. Even if they had WAVs I'm not sure they would necessarily be able to tell the difference on such equipment.

There are obviously still a large group of people who do like better quality, and maybe they will purchase WAV filess, but it seems as if we are in smaller and smaller minority.

AV:  Any final comments you'd like to share about your latest album Beachcombing or your music in general? 

BH:  No, only to thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my music, and for all the support you, and my fans have given me over the years, it is very much appreciated.

AV:  Since your song was one of the first that I heard when I started to listen to ambient music years ago I'd like to thank you for what you do and the fact that you have been doing it for quite a few years now. Much success to you in the years to come and lots of new music.