Talks With Medwyn Goodall 

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Medwyn Goodall

To visit Medwyn's Website click here.

Ambient Visions is proud to continue our series of Artist interviews with our latest entry featuring Medwyn Goodall. We spoke with Medwyn at length during this interview about many aspects of his music starting with the inspiration for a project and following that idea along all the way to the point where the CD is pressed and sold. We found Medwyn to be not only open to the questions but possessing a quick wit and a very humorous side which you will get to see as you progress through our chat. This is very refreshing to see in someone of Medwyn's stature within the New Age/Ambient musical community. Often times the larger the star the harder it is to just carry on a casual conversation with the person and find out who they really are beyond the hype and the PR. To understand why they create their music and what it is that keeps them moving forward in their careers. You will learn all this and much more as we present to you Ambient Visions' interview with Medwyn Goodall. Enjoy! 

 

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Ambient Visions Talks with....Medwyn Goodall
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AV:   When and where was it that music first asserted itself in your life?

MG:  My parents delight in telling their guests that I always reacted to music, even in nappies. I can't remember a time when music didn't connect to my soul in some way. I taught myself to play guitar at ten years of age. An odd link from this time was that James Herriot and his son were the local vets.

AV:  Was it readily apparent to you that music might play a large part in your life or did that idea evolve over time? 

MG:  I knew in my heart from a very early age and all the way through school and college that I wanted a life and career in music, I simply didn't know how to achieve it. How does one become an instrumentalist, a recording artist for a living, without it being your destiny in some way? I always felt it was somehow pre-destined, that I would achieve and realize "the dream", but I never knew how I would get there. 

I started by way of recording an album with some friends at 16 years of age in a local hired studio. By the age of 19 I'd opened a very small studio of my own. Customers included everything from a classical quartet to punk rock. I look back on those years as like serving an apprenticeship. 

I never stopped writing and slowly developing my own studio. Like many artists my break came when a demo I'd sent off to a very new and young label was accepted. 

AV:  Who were some of the musicians that you listened to early on that would have impacted the kind of music that you created?

MG:  In late 1999 I produced an album entitled "Millennium" which perfectly captures and honours all my influences. It was my tribute to those who captured my imagination. 

Many artists have influenced me, but in entirely different ways. Mike Oldfield and his ground breaking album Tubular Bells, burst onto the scene when I had only just become a teenager. It was the single most influential inspiring album that ever affected me. This is because it was one man, a soloist, a multi-instrumentalist. A modern album, yet also had it's roots in the classical form and folk elements. From that moment on that's all I wanted to pursue in life. To be a solo instrumentalist, to create the entire project myself. 

Mike Oldfield's approach to an overdrive guitar is an influence I carry to this day. Supertramp influenced the way I play Piano, slightly jazzed. Vangelis influenced my approach to the synthesizer and larger than life operatic themes. Pink Floyd, the unusual. Dire Straits and Paul Simon influenced the way I might use a classical finger plucked guitar. The Beatles my love of melody and there's no amount of FX and improvisation that can replace a simple, good tune.

AV:  What were your early compositions like? Would fans of your music now recognize them?

MG:  In a word terrible....ha! Would fans recognize them? crumbs I hope not (smiles broadly) Seriously, throughout my teens I was a songwriter of pop and rock music, which culminated in my becoming the lead guitarist in a group that sounded a little like RUSH. 

In my early twenties I turned to instrumental music. I sounded a bit like a very fast mixture of Oldfield and Vangelis. I think fans could spot me from the last demo's I made just prior to being signed on by a record company. 

I've been very fortunate that I was signed on at a young age and that virtually all my music and development has been in the public eye.

AV:  At what point did you say to yourself, "I should be doing this full time as a musician" and how difficult is it to actually "break" into the music business? 

MG:  Every day from the age of ten. Gad, sounds funny, but it's true. 

I think it really hit me when I produced one of my last demo's prior to getting signed on. I sat back, all my friends and family listened to it and the verdict was "wow, this is pretty good". I felt like I'd finally arrived at a point where I was producing music that was polished enough and sounded like an album. The apprenticeship was over, I'd graduated. It still felt like an impossibility to get signed on or even hear from a label after sending a demo in, but oddly enough that was the demo that did in fact get me signed. 

AV:  What was your first official release and how was it received by the music buying public?

MG:  My first release was an album entitled "Emergence". Quite an apt title I always felt. I was very fortunate in that my first album sold very well and was instantly popular. It made an impact just enough for shop keepers and distributors to remember my name. 

Unfortunately my next three albums were complete dogs, hehe. In the dictionary under "flop" it reads, "see Medwyn's second and third album" . Fortunately they were deleted years ago to spare me any more pain. 

AV:  At the time of this first release what was the state of New Age/Ambient music? Did it exist in the form that we currently think of when those genres are mentioned?

MG:  Emergence was released in 1987. The new age market was entirely different then. The word Ambient hadn't yet been invented as an association.  

In 1987 New World Music was a one room office with a staff of two , one of whom owned New World. The new age market was very small focussing on therapy driven music. The entire ambition being to relax the listener as part of therapy,  or a spiritual journey.  

By 1990 I felt new age music was being far too limited and I became quite critical of it. I felt that any musical genre has to entertain and that there was as much benefit in inspiring and motivating someone with drama and rhythm, as there was in  being quiet and graceful. So in a state of mild rebellion I produced "Druid", which was filled with Celtic, pagan roots and pounding drums. Ironically it was a huge success that well and truly put me on the map and I've never looked back. Overnight I'd become a pioneering spirit for the new age, that would take me on a journey through ethnic and historical styles, right up to the edges of experimental rock music. 

Ten years later the boundaries of what is and isn't new age, ambient, electronic, dance, are becoming increasingly blurred. To me that's a good thing, the world loves to pigeon hole things and I revel in creating new pigeon holes...(grins)

AV:  What were your impressions of the process of taking your music from conception to finished product? 

MG:  The process of working from conception to finished product are rarely the same. Some albums, projects flow so fast and easily from start to finish, with everyone agreeing, that it is perfect bliss. Other albums get so sodded up with background politics between artist, record company, and artwork as to make you want to weep. 

In general my own experiences as a young artist were that I had no control over how an album was titled or packaged. I found that deeply frustrating, because the album you've nurtured is basically released as something you didn't intend.  

When I became popular, famous if you like, I became more self empowered to influence the direction an album should take. As a result for many years now I've enjoyed the process of being involved with my work at almost every level through to release and knowing it was the vision I originally had. That is always rewarding. 

My work starts as scribble on a pad, grows to an outline of an idea. Is tweaked and added to and thought upon and if solid enough and appealing enough I'll start gathering sounds and musical ideas. Those ideas grow into the tracks. The tracks grow into the album. The tracks inspire the kind of art work and packaging, so after the music is finished it becomes a form of visual re-creation of the content of the album. Finally when the artwork is approved and then duplication is undertaken that first CD arrives on my doorstep and for a brief five minutes I fondle it, put it on the shelf and then start all over again.  It's a form of insanity that I've heard can't be cured

 

AV:  Does each CD build on or learn from the last or do they all exist as completely separate creations with no connections to each other? 

MG:  The answer to that is both yes and no. 

(falls off fence) 

Yes, because every album is an experience that teaches you something from the very small to a multitude of things.  What not to do, the discovery of a new technique, the introduction of some new technology, style, or sound. The improvement and extra polish you can give a style you've done before. There's always room for maturity, extra refinement and expansion, even if you are retreading some similar ground. So in many ways everything is in constant growth and is building upon every album that has come before it. Even if I produce a sequel, I work towards offering new elements. 

And no, because there are some projects that are unique, one of a kind that don't repeat themselves. Or they were an experiment that you decide was OK once, but maybe not again.  

AV:  What kind of musical and personal lessons did you learn in those early years of creating and publishing music? 

MG:  Gulp......

The early years taught me a collection of things, some of which were tough lessons to swallow. I often see history repeat itself in other young artists. There is a common mistake for a young artist to get a little too excited, euphoric and maybe arrogant, around the time of their second and third albums. You've arrived and you suddenly get over ambitious and start writing Sgt.  Pepper meets Bohemian Rhapsody on ice with garlic croutons. All too late you realize you haven't the experience and it crashes around your ears and flops. And yes I fell into that manhole too. 

I learnt painfully on my second and third albums that I had to work with what I had and work towards everything slowly, solidly. The studio had to grow, I had to learn to walk before I could run. 

I also started when the new age was 100% about pacifying someone. I slowly became demoralized because I felt suffocated and suppressed by the limitations of the genre. I could produce so much more. So I had to make the choice that I either put up with the limitations or take a path where I am genuine to myself. I chose to be genuine to myself even if it meant I went under. Fortunately the decision to break out into different dramatic styles, rhythm, panpipes, and ethnic journeys etc paid off and as a result I helped the new age genre expand its frontiers.

AV:  Being from the UK was it difficult to find markets for your music beyond the boundaries of your country? Did you envision that your music might reach out and literally touch the world someday?

MG:  I like that. Americans have this wonderful humorous image of the UK being some lost warehouse and how do we cope. Just because we English were kicked out of every country we were mad enough to stick a flag in and say "I say old bean let's keep it eh whato", doesn't mean one of us can't sneak back in every now and then when you're not looking. 

It never occurred to me how famous I might get, how popular I might become, how far my albums would travel. I always had my nose to the grindstone, always busy in the studio doing what I loved. It just happened, evolved, grew. I never once thought about it, or particularly planned to be multi-international. 

New World was growing all the time and they linked up with Australia, which in turn spread to New Zealand. They also opened up a base in the USA. I got to know Oreade Music in Holland and we started producing albums together. Being based in Holland their own distribution spread throughout Holland, Italy, France, Germany. 

Eventually I started hearing from fans in Vietnam, China, Russia, it blew me away and still does really.  

I am a very down to earth sort of person, practical, usually laid back and the fame thing doesn't feel real. It's like there's me and then there's Medwyn Goodall, someone else. I am still scruffy, busy in the studio, private, shy, home loving, and living my rural existence. 

I think my music has travelled and expanded so well because it's sincere. My music is very heartfelt and genuine, performed, written. People pick up on the energy of that. People can tell when an artist is simply going through the motions, or cashing in on a fashion and it's a turn off.  

Today though it's easier,  the world has shrunk because of computers, e-mail, and the internet. Today anyone in the world can hear me and buy my work from anywhere in the world.

AV:  Do you work the technical side of your music as well, such as mixing, engineering etc.etc. ? And if so what kinds of discipline are needed for that work as compared to the creation and playing of your music?

MG:  What a wonderful question. How many weeks have you got? The technical side, the mixing, the arranging, choosing sounds, creating soundscapes etc. That represents a huge part of what I do. Writing music is one thing, but present it badly and it dies.  

I invest about 90% of the time spent on any album just choosing sounds to use, on the arrangement and the mixing of the album. The actual writing of an album and performing it has always been very quick and natural for me.  

I look for sounds that compliment each other and harmonize, in much the same way as an interior designer chooses fabrics, furniture, colours to create a room. To me sounds are textures and colours, they can be abrasive, smooth, cold, hot, warm, haunting. Each sound has it's own voice and immediately depicts a mood or a physical reaction in the listener. So I plot the use of sounds very carefully. More so with each album. It's an art form in itself. 

It then goes a stage further, I look for what I call "Holes in space". Each sound is but a frequency, it's either very treble, bass, middle tone, and can be anywhere within those simple bands. A common mistake of any recording enthusiast and budding musician is to fill the mix with 8 instruments that are all treble, or all middle, all bass etc. What happens is they all blend together in one terrible din and cancel each other out, so the ear can't separate what's going on. 

I look for that "hole in space", a frequency in which to place a sound. Building my mix and choice of instruments so that the instruments each have their own complimentary "hole in space" frequency. The result at the end of the day is a sound where all the instruments blend magically, and the mix is clear and the music sings. If it's done right it sounds like the music is flowing easily and naturally. 

That is where the craft really is. It takes hours of painstaking choice and tweaking and frustration. You have to nail your boots to the floor until you feel the music beginning to flow. Then you hear the chemistry fall into place, like a wonderful recipe, or flavour and the track or album takes off. 

AV:  Do you have a particular instrument that you employ the most when composing and creating your music? 

MG:  I write all my music on a synth or guitar. Other than that I don't stick to any one instrument or sound too long. It depends on what style I am working on. If I am producing Celtic work then obviously I'll favour Irish flutes and so on. If I am working on something modern, a particular synth may get used a great deal. On the whole though I get bored if I rest on the same sound too long. I am always looking for a new sound, instrument to inspire me, to hear it's potential.

AV:  What is it that you look to for inspiration when you are rolling around music in your head trying to find the beginnings of your next CD? 

MG:  It can happen in a multitude of ways. A good concept, like a story to tell, or a rich cultural setting which immediately dictates the kind of sounds, instruments, writing. That can trigger an album. It might happen this way by watching a movie or TV, you see something on the Inca and it sparks the thought.  

Another way is more personal. A romantic walk on a beach (remaining sentence is censored). A good day out, and it pours out in the studio and before I know it I have an album that is about home, the sea, Cornwall, my Celtic roots. In other words life itself, and I simply absorb the moment and then write about it later. Much of my work is autobiographical in its feeling, natural.  

Lastly I can be very inspired by stumbling upon a new collection of sounds, a new keyboard, instrument, or a CD-ROM full of yummy samples, did I say yummy I meant intriguing. You hear the potential, get ideas, get excited, and before you know it an album is happening. 

There is of course the annoying 2-4am wake up call. There you are just falling asleep and an idea comes to you. So up you get and drag yourself off to the studio before you forget the idea. That's the reality, Medwyn slumped over a keyboard in his pajama's at 4 am mumbling to himself. I always think of that when a fan steps forward and says "it must be so exotic" . It's an illusion. It's like a Hollywood film set, it's really full of people knitting for 8 hours then 5 minutes of activity. 

There are times when I can hear an entire album from start to finish pop into my mind. I step into the studio and it's like taking dictation. Those moments alone make one contemplate all the spiritual other worldly things we'd love to truly understand and know better.  

AV:  I've noticed quite a few spiritual themes in your music, do you pull this inspiration from your own life or from the history that surrounds you? 

MG:  That's a tricky one to answer because it depends upon the album. On some occasions it will be because it's something that has stirred me personally, on others it will be because I am trying to tell the story well. In most cases it will be because I have some level of interest in the subject or I wouldn't be doing it. I am very open minded and love to explore all kinds of spiritual possibility, I don't believe any one thing and shut all else out.

AV:  Do you feel that spirituality is an inherent component in some New Age/Ambient releases? Do you see the music itself as awakening certain instincts within each of us?

MG:  Gad, there are about four hundred answers to this one.......Warp core breach in progress...... losing structural integrity...... FLASH ! .........Hmmmm. 

There are labels and artists in the new age genre, that will remain nameless, who are blindly cashing in and spirituality of any kind has nothing to do with their product whatsoever. I feel that they have done a lot of damage to the genre. They are easy to spot though as they sound flat and unemotional. 

Then there are those labels and artists that believe in what they are doing, spiritually, or from an entertainment point of view and some stunning work pours out.  

Personally I believe spirituality plays a role in the better new age and ambient albums. Why? because music affects us emotionally. In the simplest sense humans are animals (some more than others....snigger) and we respond to sound, it affects our nervous system. If a loud bang is fired off everyone jumps, why, it's only sound?! Music has the power to create an emotional response in you, from tears, to laughter, fear, tension and onwards. 

Therefore music that is describing lost thoughts, teachings, civilizations, alternative ways of living in these stressful times, can only have an effect on the spirit, the core of our being. It reminds us who we are, might be, could become. It's positive. So much out in the world now is negative based. New age-ambient music is positive based, it looks to make you feel good, motivated, inspired in some way,  and that helps the individual to cope better, to seek, think, ponder other possible realities.

As such new age music does have the ability to awaken ideas and dormant parts of a person's self image, or personality. I've seen it with my own eyes countless times. The music has turned people into artist's themselves, poets, painters, philosophers. Or simply aided them in coping with loss, a bad job, lack of sleep, illness, a divorce, and so on. 

In many cases the better elements of new age music have made people think. I am proud of that, I know my work is sincere and affects people in a positive way.

 

AV:  As you are working on a project when is it that you know the work is done and that it doesn't need to be tweaked any more? Do you share work at this stage to get others opinions on the music or do you simply trust your instincts about whether the project is finished?

MG:  On the whole I don't share the creative process with anyone. In the end it's me that has to live with it, stand by it, be associated with it, so I make myself as happy as I can be with any work. 

Everyone loves to voice an opinion and attempt to write an album through you. It doesn't work, it's always disastrous unless the artist really needs the help. It's like the old saying "too many cooks spoil the Cornish Pasty". So I avoid being distracted by opinion until after I've finished. I find it helps me focus 100%.  

I always know when I've got it right, or missed the target a little, experimented too much, or broken new ground. I am very self critical, which is one of the traits that drives me on. 

I share ideas before I start. Concept ideas, title ideas, direction. I test them out on friends, family and those I trust behind the scenes in the labels. If something seems to click, then I take the idea to the next level. When writing and recording starts the studio doors close and no one gets to hear anything until I am satisfied with it.

AV:  What role have the advances in audio technology played in how you create your music now as compared to when you started out? Do you see this as a good thing?

MG:  Woah, what a great question.  

I am of a unique age group where I am just old enough to remember making music before MIDI, samplers and anything Digital had been invented. The old school method of doing take after take onto multi-track tape recorders and taking pride in how well you could play an instrument. All that has gone now. Technology has moved so fast as to enable push button music.

Technology is wonderful, it liberates one and kills off many of the more mundane aspects of recording. However, it comes down to who is using the technology. Someone who has taken the time to learn an instrument and  has something to say, will use the technology to express themselves well. Someone who is a complete lazy bum and just wants to string loops together and press buttons is going to make one awful din. 

The advancement of technology has set many an artist free, but to many it seems all too attractive to simply dive in without bothering to learn anything first. As a result I think were seeing a loss of good writers in the music industry. What we're seeing are technicians and button pushers taking their place. I find that tragic.  (steps up onto wooden crate) "Kill de button pushers, viva de revolution!! viva ra ra ra". (somebody waves a photo of Medwyn kissing a button) ".......long live de button pushers ra ra"

In my own work new technologies have allowed me to access all the instruments of the world, to increase precision, sound quality, speed of development and to get some sleep! Numerous wondrous things that I have found totally liberating as a soloist. The studio computer is the most powerful tool that has changed my entire working process. However, I decided early on that I was going to dominate it, and not allow it to dominate me. As a result my music is a balance between new technology and old school performance on real instruments. I prefer to look at trying to take and use the best elements from both worlds. 

AV:  Many labels and artists do not appreciate what has been wrought by the internet and its ability to give everyone access to music via MP3's  without paying for them. Do you view the internet, MP3's, streaming audio etc. in a positive way when it comes to the promotion and distribution of your music?

MG:  What's an MP3 ? (silently mouths to solicitor "H E L P  M E!" ). 

Again I have to give a yes and no opinion, because there are two sides to this issue. (Solicitor smiles encouragingly) 

On the black side, if MP3's get out of hand they have the definite potential to crash recording labels and therefore many artists who depend upon those labels. I believe though it's an issue that will change legally. There are already law suits in process I believe, which will address the situation from spiralling out of control. In it's most clinical form many MP3's are theft and being made available by those who don't own the music.

If that continued the music industry would die.  

For now I think it's a loop hole that some are exploiting, some are moaning too much about and some fear too much. It's a new toy, but I think legally the situation will change. (solicitor rubs hands together) 

On the positive side MP3's and audio streaming are wonderful. My own web site has about 70 small MP3's, 3 full tracks, and about 100 streaming files. It's a great way to communicate and be heard instantly anywhere in the world and I am all for it. It is a part of the future and is evolution. I support it wholeheartedly, (solicitor puts head in hands) but like anything it needs some ground rules and controlling more than it has at present.  

AV:  Sometimes it is easier for the artist themselves to take their work as a whole and analyze it for trends. Looking back on the work that you have done to this point do you see stages or phases in the types of material that you did over the years? And if so how would you describe them?

MG:  Bad, good, better............hehehe. (trapdoor appears center stage. "Aghhhhhhhhh!")

(enter stage right from cellar). Ok.... 

Yes there are very definite phases to my music. Approximately every three years I seem to climb the next rung of the ladder and re-invent myself. 

My work could be separated by divisions of 3 years like so;  

1986-1990. Simple, soft, emerging new therapy music.

1990-1994  Exciting journey of self discovery; absorbing new elements, influences, style changes, ethnic, Celtic. Success. Bolder, rhythmic. 

1994-1997. A new maturity, polishing everything previously discovered. A more authentic approach to Celtic and Andes panpipe styles. Some experimentation.

1997-2000. New Studio, new technology. Confidence. Taking on ideas that previously I couldn't have pulled off. Bigger, grander scaled projects. Greater complexity, story telling, sequels. The introduction of rock elements and FX of spacey styles.  

.......and a new era begins in 2001 !  

AV:  Is there a relationship that exists between a musician and those who buy and listen to the musician's music? Or does it come down to, musician creates and listener consumes.

MG:  I believe in my case there is a relationship between artist and audience. My music is like taking part in a journey. Each album adds to the exploration and the path. I might be he who creates the journey, but it's a road we share together. (PR manager slips $5 under the table)

AV:  Do you collaborate very much in the creation of your music and when you do what kind of process do you use to bring together the ideas of both you and your collaborator? 

MG:  In a business sense, working with labels, album covers, other mediums like TV-Film, there is collaboration and compromise, but musically I don't co-write with anyone. 

I recently had guest vocals on two of my albums, but it was very much a case of I'd written it and they performed sessions for me as guests. 

AV:  We've dwelt for a time in your past discussing how you got to where you are today so now lets take a look at the present. Tell me about your latest title Essence of Magic. How does the title and the music within tie together? 

MG:  The idea behind "Essence of Magic" was to create something that flowed from where I left off with the album Millennium. An album that was rock influenced and experimental. Perhaps a content that touched upon dance influences also. A project I could have a bit of fun with and improvise.  

The album follows the atmosphere of a passing rainstorm. The Earth's power, energy, the drama of nature. So I titled the work "The Essence of Magic", because when you stand in the open just prior to a storm, you can feel the static, the sky changing colour, it's alive and magical.  

The music is the most modern, synthy, experimental work I have produced. A real one off. At this stage I don't know if I'll revisit that style again, but it was a great deal of fun to do. It's an album that bridges the gap between electronic, rock, dance, ambient and new age. I just love making a mess of people's pigeon holes.

AV:  Looking at your catalogue I would say that you have been a busy fellow over the years. What should we be looking for from you in the next few years? Anything in particular or just more great music?

MG:  A holiday would be nice. 

Actually 2001 on into 2002 is going to be a very exciting period as I am entering a new era again. I feel as though I am about to expand into many new areas simultaneously and take everything to some ground breaking new levels. 

To explain that, I've discovered a new modern edge to my music. What works and what doesn't regarding that new element. I am ready to fuse the best of the modern new elements with the best of my past elements thereby producing something spiritual, cultural, but also more hip and more ambient. This will be one new direction. 

I've also become very interested in story telling, as if producing a musical movie. 2001 will see the launch of some ground breaking albums that I can only describe as being similar to Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds". A bit like Star Wars meets Tolkein. Very ambitious, big productions. This will be another direction. 

A third direction is TV and film. I will start to appear on the BBC and Discovery channel producing music for those historical programmes. Where someone digs a hole for four years and gets excited about finding 2cm of broken pottery....(tsk) I've always felt my music was very visual, so to produce music for TV and film is going to be an interesting experience. In all seriousness there are some amazing programmes planned that I hope you will enjoy.  

AV:  Any final words you'd like to pass along to your fans who have enjoyed your music over the years? 

MG:  Come see me, hear me, see my studio and talk with me in person at my personal web site. Come say hello.

www.medwyngoodall.co.uk

www.medwyngoodall.com

My special thanks to Michael-Ambient Visions for the invitation and for such stimulating questions.

AV:  Many thanks to you Medwyn for being a wonderful subject and sharing with us your thoughts about your career and the music that you love so much. We wish you the best of luck in all of your endeavors.

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