Saturday, 28 November 2009

Without Fear Track #8 - The Future's What You Want it To Be

Continuing my blogs about each track on my new debut album Without Fear - in the order they were uploaded. Hence today's track #8 "The Future's What You Want It To Be", or just "The Future" as I refer to it sometimes.

Hopefully you can hear it on the player here!


Another musical departure for me, The Future... is catchy but laid-back, slow-tempo, and takes its time building to a powerful finish. It's almost a gentle, airy song, the reverb'd vocals drifting with the chords until the bridge comes in.
Watch out for the strings/organ-esque sound in the final chorus - as with every track on Without Fear, all sounds are made by acoustic guitar. I had great fun making this sound by
-playing each note in the scale (F# minor I think)
-over several octaves (3 I think)
-cutting off the harsh pluck at the start of the note
-fading in the rest of the sound
-copy & pasting each note loads and loads of times, cross-fading them together to create a "whauuuuuum" of each note, and gluing them together
-giving each note its own track, thus creating a "map" structure to place each note
-assigning a top, middle and bottom note for each bar, thus creating a chord, and fading in each "whuuuuuum"
-add chorus, reverb and delay to the whole group of tracks to smooth out the sound!

Sounds tricky explained like that, but it's really intuitive once you're there editing! I'm going to do some Youtube videos explaining how I made all the sounds I did with just an acoustic guitar, it'll include this one.

The theme of the song is a basic question: how come the world doesn't look like we thought it would? Flying cars, living on the moon, etc. etc. etc. But beneath that - and clearer towards the end of the song - is the point that we make our own future, and we are making it right now. Who cares that we don't live on the moon? (yet) Is it really a problem that we don't have flying cars? (yet) These are distractions, gimmicks. Getting people living on the moon is hardly worth aiming for when we still have starvation, wars, poverty, joblessness, HIV, people living under dictatorship and others living by superstition and under religious doctrine.

It is up to us to make the future that we want to live in, and the things we often dream of the future being are rarely the things we should be changing now.

There is also a cameo from Ecco the Dolphin in the second bridge ("there's no dolphins who travel through time"). Playing the megadrive was part of my childhood - I thought it would be fun to throw in a line from one of my favourite games. Also that's why there's a megadrive controller in the Without Fear artwork! :)

In the future, nobody is older
In the future, everybody always looks young
In the future, everybody’s hot forever
In the future, everybody’s song gets sung

Tell me why, nothing ever turns out like we write, in space age or sci-fi
Tell me why, we all think it’s gonna be fine

We could like in a world where people take video with their eyes
But we might find that we would never have the time
To be free, to be free
The future’s what you want it to be
The future’s what you want it to be

In the future, our energy comes from water
In the future, everybody lives on the moon
In the future, there’s shiny robots that cure cancer
But I don’t think, the future’s any time too soon

Tell me why, nothing ever turns out like we write, it’s the future but not quite
There’s no dolphins who travel through time

We could like in a world where people take video with their eyes
But we might find that we would never have the time
To be free, to be free
The future’s what you want it to be
The future’s what you want it to be

Take your science and technology, is that what you want it to be
Superstition and plastic surgery, is that what you want it to be
Success at any cost, or do you want to live a life with balance
Time accepts no apologies

The future’s what you want it to be
The future’s what you want it to be

Friday, 27 November 2009

Brand new handmade album copies

Fabric-lined handmade copies of my debut album "Without Fear". For just $5NZ, what's not to love?

Friday, 20 November 2009

P.S. Lighthouses

By the way, Lighthouses is where the album title "Without Fear" comes from. Just wanted to mention!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Without Fear Track #2 - Lighthouses

I'm going to blog about the music, lyrics and background to each of the 10 tracks on Without Fear as they get uploaded. Obviously it's to drum up more interest ahead of the release, but they'll also act as more detail to back up the track-by-track guide on the brand new Without Fear minisite.

This means I have to backtrack a bit and cover two tracks (or three in a way) which have already been online. The first one is track #2 Lighthouses, which you can hopefully hear on the player thusly:


Lighthouses is the first song I started writing for my renewed solo project, coming together during the dying stages of F451 in November/December 2007.
The chords that make up Lighthouses' chorus had been knocking around for some time - I'd often play around with chords that use those top two open strings that really ring, even if the notes (B and E) don't especially fit with the chord (or sometimes especially because they don't fit).
The riff is nice and simple, but sometimes the best ones are - most great riffs aren't about the riff itself, but the relationship between the individual notes and the backing chords. This is one of the most frustrating things about being a solo acoustic guitarist or even a single guitarist in a band, becuase you can't play a riff and chords at the same time (much as I try), and listeners can't hear the brilliant mixture that you can in your head.
Originally the song had a middle part, which would break down into quiet - often prompting people to clap, thinking it was the end of the song, a genius idea if I do say so - before striking up for one last chorus. However, I tried this on an initial demo at Matt's (of The Library Suits) though, and it came to a ridiculous 5+ minutes - so with the end fading out anyway, I scaled it back to a nice and sensible structure of just verse-bridge-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus. The chorus repeats the same first line four times anyway, so I think it's quite enough for pop and indie fans.
Have a listen out in the second half of each verse for the backing keyboard-esque sound. This was made by playing a guitar chord, fading in the volume from zero, and adding chorus and delay effects. I struggled when mixing the track to make it sound loud enough as a part in its own right, but then I remembered its a backing part, and even if you can't consciously hear the sound, it still makes up part of the music.

Lyrically this marked quite a change for me, since it wasn't a) railing about politics, or b) railing about politics. I've always resisted writing songs about myself or my own feelings because I'm the only one who's seen them, and I'm egotistical enough without expecting everyone to hang on my every word about my life, plus - most importantly - there's far too many singer-songwriters whining on about their small, narrow, personal experiences which vary from boringly domestic to sadly pathetic. I don't want to be one of those people.
Still, here it is, a personal song from Jez Kemp. It's hard to pin down the theme and the feeling - it's guarded yet hopeful, it's about regret yet it's positive. The general idea is that we shouldn't forget the mistakes and regrets we have, because they're what make us the real stuff that we're made of far more than the bright, happy, easy times we're lucky to have.
There's several references, including those of self-harm and prostitution (using, not providing!). I'll probably blog about self-harm in greater detail another time, but here it's enough to say this: it was a part of my youth, I'm up front about my scars, and - apart from the upset it caused my friends and family - I don't regret it at all.
Regarding prostitution, I think most human beings find the topic a big grey area - while it's wrong that many women through history have been forced to sell sex for money, we shouldn't criminalise or demean those women who do it either unwillingly or by choice. (Don't let "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" mislead you about how unglamorous, upsetting and dangerous prostitution is for most women around the world.) Anyway, the song refers to one experience I had, which I admit to - the incident itself was a drunken blur and something I never deliberately set out to do, which sounds ridiculous but is true - and while I can't claim to be a saint over it, sometimes you only know where the line is after you've crossed it.
Another line refers to the Atlantic - this is an admittedly rather ordinary link to my first experience couchsurfing, when I stayed with a lovely girl in Lisbon (Portugal) and we saw the sun setting over the Atlantic. I can't describe in words here how it was meaningful, it was just one of those points where the spirit of the moment captures how your life is changing.

So there you have it, a song about identity, regrets, and personal hope. To the casual observer it might appear a wholly negative song with the dark lyrics, but real humans can deal with varying degrees of dark and light in the same situation - it's a song about understanding yourself, so you can accept your past and make your future.

To finish up, here's the lyrics:

I know what you’re here for
The wisdom of the traveller in blazing sunsets
But you won’t find it here no
You won’t find it now if you don’t know what it is yet

And I’ll tell you how, I’ll tell you how to live
Without fear of the past or the future
And I’ll tell you now, I’ll tell you now
To live without scars is to paint with water

And I will be your friend, and I will take my time
Tell you all the things that you shouldn’t have to hide
And I will be your friend, and I will take my time

I can see by the lighthouse
All of the regrets and the scars that are mine
I can see by the lighthouse
Out across the sea, for what feels like the last time
I can see by the lighthouse
To live without scars is to paint with water
I can see by the lighthouse
Hold onto your regrets, they’re what make us who we are

The sex that I paid for
Sometimes you have to cross the line to know where it is now
And the scars that I made myself
Sometimes you have to draw a map if nobody else will

And I’ll tell you how, I’ll tell you how to live
Take your youth and please never waste it
‘Cos all I have to offer you now are my scars, and the view across the Atlantic

And I will be your friend, and I will take my time
Tell you all the things that you shouldn’t have to hide
And I will be your friend, and I will take my time

I can see by the lighthouse
All of the regrets and the scars that are mine
I can see by the lighthouse
Out across the sea, for what feels like the last time
I can see by the lighthouse
To live without scars is to paint with water
I can see by the lighthouse
Hold onto your regrets, and the crazy times we’ve had

Monday, 16 November 2009

Without Fear: the debut album December 2009

I finished recording the album! Minisite coming soon.

Just in case you've not seen it, here's the artwork and tracklisting:

1. Animals
2. Lighthouses
3. Lighten Up, No Thanks
4. The Tsunami, The Tank And The Barcode
5. Shark In A Goldfish Bowl
6. J-Lo Is A Rich Materialist Bitch And Represents The Block In No Way Whatsoever
7. Sunlight On The Cemetary
8. The Future's What You Want It To Be
9. One Last Parting Shot
10. The Holy Texts

Friday, 13 November 2009

How not to write an action epic disaster dystopia

I love dystopia. I really do. Several of my books are based on it. Okay maybe "dystopia" and "apocalypse disaster" qualify as separate genres, but this is just a very quick blog to say why you should not pay money to see 2012 the film.

I've seen the trailer. It looks terrible. It looks like how describes it here:

By sticking to a rigid formula - five or six intercut story lines, estranged husband emerges to save the day, and some vague nonsense about "love conquering all" - Emmerich has become one of Hollywood's most reliable cash-cows.

This will be a terrible film. It will be terrible because the plot will be awful. It will be terrible because it will have a perfect, meant-to-be ending with Big Meaningful Music to accompany it. It will be terrible because any historical basis it rests upon will be hacked and abused beyond recognition. But it will mostly be terrible because his other films, which the trailer resembles so perfectly, were also terrible.

I quote from the review page comments section:

Hamish: ...If you did enjoy Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow and Godzilla, this film is for you. I will definitely buy this on Blu-Ray when it comes out.

Independence Day? The film where the dog jumps to safety just at the last second, and where Will Smith beats up an alien with his bare fists? Godzilla? The film where Godzilla managed to trick the helicopters by hiding in a skyscraper, and then tricked the submarines' torpedoes by making them hit the submarines that fired them? These films were terrible! They were fucking awful! I was 15 when I saw Godzilla I still thought it was awful.

There is an old old saying "Don't judge a book by its cover", but you know what, sometimes you can judge a film by its trailer.

I could be wrong. This film could be genius. It could be brilliant. If it is, come and tell me, by all means, write in caps lock on my blog or facebook.

But seriously. What are the chances it is?

I have two comparisons. One is the Clash Of The Titans remake - while I thought it was going to be awful and butcher the legend of Perseus, the trailer actually looks damn awesome:

AND guess what? The music has been done by Matt Bellamy from Muse. You can hear it in the trailer!

My second example is simply that of District 9. If you didn't get a chance to see it at the cinema, find a way to see it. This is a brilliant, gripping, credible sci-fi film, and made for just USD$30m I bet it's ten times the film 2012 will be.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Work Permit ahoy

After 5 months of faffing around trying to get evidence, my application for an NZ partnership work permit has been processed and approved in 24 hours.

Pretty good for any immigration agency eh?

Remembrance, white poppies and the 2-minute silence fad

Okay this is something I feel quite strongly about and I have things to do, so I'll keep it short.

Today is 11th November, where people in the UK and around the world mark Remembrance Day, remembering those who have fallen in both World Wars and other wars. This is a good thing and I definitely think a few moments' silent reflection are a good thing. However there are a few things about the way it's all done that I don't like.

Silences in recent years have jumped from 1 minute, which was fine for most of the 20th century, to 2 minutes. All "serious" events now have 2 minutes of silence, as if 1 minute is somehow not respectful enough. But I'm surely not the only person who thought 1 minute was fine.

Silences are also thrown around far too much, like it's the only way we can come to terms with anything. The Friday after 11th September 2001, we had a 3 minute silence in school. Someone somewhere thought it was of such gravity that it needed 180 seconds. Not only was it unnecessary, it was also inescapably political - we marked it because it happened in America, and because it was terrorism. Vastly higher numbers died in the 2005 Asian Tsunami and when Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, and I don't remember any silences then; the event was elevated to some higher status because these dead people had been killed by Muslims. September 11th was horrendous and I don't wish any disrespect to anyone over it, but it's a mark of personal shame that I didn't walk out of the classroom. I was in the supermarket when a national 2 minute silence was being held after the 7th July 2005 bombings in London, which were also shit, but I carried on walking around doing my shopping because I don't see why we stop for some things and not others.

Secondly, I dislike the requirement of wearing the red poppy for 2 whole weeks before Remembrance Day itself. It's like Christmas in the UK - somehow we can't just mark an event on the day itself. With the run-up to Christmas it's a commercial thing to sell more stuff; with the poppy 2 weeks, it's again some kind of competitive grief, like the jump from 1 minute of silence to 2 minutes. Any politician (or any person on TV) seen not wearing it during this 2-week period would get instantly shot down for being "disrespectful". I understand the poppy as a symbol for remembrance and the Royal British Legion, but it's just a symbol.

People should be able to mark their grief in their own time and way on the single day we have without facing anger or abuse.

Finally, I also dislike the overly military aspect of Remembrance Day. Yes, it is kind of about the military, and it is good that we recognise soldiers who have died in just wars to protect our freedom (e.g. World War 2) and other stupid wars where they should never have been sent to their deaths (e.g. World War 1, Iraq War). But there is no recognition for the civilian cost of war and there is no recognition that war is a bad thing; if anything, Remembrance Day comes across to me as pro-military and wrapped up in outdated ceremonies that have no relation to the real wars going on right now. This is why I approve of wearing White Poppies for peace, as a way of marking Remembrance Day. The White Poppy movement symbolises both remembrance and an awareness of the need to campaign for peace. It's surely just as important to remember the dead as it is to stop making more of them.

Monday, 9 November 2009

In Defence Of Flyposting

So yesterday I went flyposting in the bustling metropolis of Wellington city. I was putting up posters for my book launch and it was good to see my posters up with others for various events. I was going to write this blog anyway, but felt it was more important after coming across this blog describing why "flyposting is evil". Not just discourteous or even wrong, but EVIL!

Let me describe 3 places I have lived:

Chelmsford - flyposting not allowed, very little flyposting. You can get a good picture of Chelmsford from reading a previous blog entry - it's middle class, relatively clean, and rather dull. There's very little flyposting, although to be fair, there's hardly any cultural scene to poster about.

Bristol - flyposting not allowed, but lots of flyposting. Bristol has a thriving music, arts and cultural scene, and clearly has a lot of people who don't care about breaking the law putting up posters. This isn't to say that they go up anywhere - the council is quite hot on it, and even idiots are respectful enough not to post straight onto the Wills Memorial Building. But admittedly some parts of the city centre look less than tidy. I found it hard to feel angry though, as these posters described and showed a busy cultural scene I'd never seen before, and in a public way - and what alternative when there is no proper official place for local community advertising?

Wellington - flyposting is accommodated and allowed, there is lots of it. Wellington City Council in their wisdom has set up big drums and boards dedicated for flyposting. This gives a proper and legal outlet for Wellington's busy arts and cultural scene, with professional posters for big council-associated events side-by-side with DIY posters for local gigs and events (such as mine). True, flyposting does go outside this, but it mostly happens on abandoned properties and dilapidated shop fronts - and I would argue that these properties look better and are more useful with posters than without.

Personally, my argument for flyposting is roughly the same as grafitti - it shows a town or city has life and events and soul, while banning it makes a place look sanitised, clean and boring. Okay, I haven't lived in some dodgy towns in the North of England where the flyposting is out of control and the grafitti has no talent, and grafitti should always be either artistic or political (unlike the tagging and pointless shit varieties you get).

On a more political level, I have to agree with this article by Urban75 and Naomi Klein's 2000 book No Logo. The plain fact is, big corporations have huge amounts of money to put their images and their messages telling you to buy their products all over public spaces, and the only differences between their legal billboard advertising and the flyposter's illegal A3 posters are a) having huge stacks of money and b) having an authorised space to do it. In so many places, local bands and artists and promoters and theatres and individuals have no place to post messages and events about their local community. Just to bring the point home, the entire purpose of corporate advertising strategies is to sell products and make money, nothing else. Local posters are often about making money too, but they also have a number of myriad functions about enriching the local community and keeping people informed. (Plus the money made also stays in the local economy!) While out yesterday, I saw a poster on a wall - not an official board or drum - entitled "POETRY READING AT PEGASUS BOOKS". The message wasn't "buy this shit, it will improve your social status", it was "come and hear poetry read in a local bookshop". Anyone who thinks that flyposter is evil and/or should be criminalised is heartless and, worse, thoughtless.

However, I'm not advocating breaking the law, and you shouldn't have to - ironically I roughly agree with Bigmouth's blog on the subject of following the European model, which is what they seem to have done here in Wellington. As with grafitti, providing a proper authorised outlet fulfils a number of functions:

-Restricts the amount and mess of unauthorised flyposting on private property
-Encourages the arts scene by providing legitimate advertising for local people, groups and events
-Shows members of the cultural scene and flyposters that the council want to co-operate rather than punish

So there it is, my case for flyposting legally and sensibly. If your local council doesn't have boards or space for local people to post local events, ask them why not.

By the way here's that image I sent from my phone the right way up. Not sure if I can rotate photos on my phone!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Reasons I might, or might not, get published one day

Okay, I like lists, and I like writing bad things first so you end on the good things. Let's begin!

- I do not give a capital shit about what's trendy, or what's in, or how to style myself in the "current market". I don't give a damn about schoolboy wizards or teen vampire dramas* or whatever new fad the creative world wants to market. If I wanted a job where I had to act like someone else and produce work I didn't like, I'd work in advertising. Pursuing a career is about compromise, but there's a difference between being practical and selling your soul. Which is all very principled ... but it's hardly going to help in the world of The Publishing Industry.

- I don't go in for "conventions of the industry" as one agent said in an interview, listing things she liked in new authors. I am committed and dedicated and professional, and none of these things require the arcane traditions of any industry's conventions such as schmoozing with the right people or restricting who, how, where and what you talk about. Which is again great ... but not helpful.

- I'm outspoken and stubborn. I reserve the right to speak my mind, especially if I'm being bullshitted or taken for a ride. This doesn't engender me to anyone in a professional industry who's looking for a safe working relationship. I'm unashamed about this, and stand by outspoken comments I've made - whether slating a truly awful nu-metal band in a 2002 music review, or describing how a music promoter took our money and did something completely unacceptable to our original agreement - but it's not going to help me.

- I'm outspoken and political. Professional agents and publishers who want to maintain a sleek public relations strategy probably don't want a client bleating on about Palestine and Westminster and the UN.

- My writing is unconventional. Even my newest books, which are my best and most engaging work so far, are set in a bizarre fictional world I conjured out of my head/arse. The Publishing Industry will tell you they want originality, but what they really want is saleable, conventional orignality that strays from the norm just enough to give it a catchy soundbite.

- I live in Wellington, New Zealand. While I love it here, I can hardly have coffee with darlings in London or New York.

- I write science fiction and fantasy (often shortened to SF), which is by no means a busy market, and establishing a name for yourself as a credible SF author is hard.

Okay, so that's quite a negative outlook, and it's not even an exhaustive list. It also looks quite angry, which I'm not, just passionate. Okay maybe just a little angry :)

Anyway, here's the positive stuff. I'm looking forward to this!

- I'm YOUNG. There's no shelf-life like there is in rock music - I have a long, long time to become an author.

- I'm a musician as well as writer. I can, and will, and do cross-promote myself in both fields - and the more I produce in each field, the better the promotion.

- I am tech-savvy and internet-friendly and I love engaging with people online and offline. I combine the patheticness of an internet geek and the glitter of a real-world socialite in one buzzing ball of self-promotion, both online and offline.

- My stuff's good! Okay blow-your-own-trombone time, but I've had an energetic buzz from seeing people reading this trilogy and enjoying it. I think it's largely down to adding surreal-yet-casual comedy in the vein of Hitchhiker's Guide or Terry Pratchett, and I shall be working more on the humour in future works.

- I'm original. Noel Gallagher was asked once about pop music, and his reply was something like, "well I'm laughing, cos I write all my songs, so in 15 years I'll still be getting paid". In the long run, it's original people with new ideas that make progress and see the rewards.

- I don't necessarily need to beg and plead for a leg-up from The Publishing Industry . In the 21st century world of internet ideas and personalities, I may easily be able to gather enough intial success and momentum - enough to get noticed - all by myself.

- As much as it looks like I dislike anyone or anything associated with "the industry", if anyone actually came to me and convinced me they a) liked my stuff and b) understood it, I'd be over the moon and a keen, engaged, co-operative partner. These people are out there. I just have to find them.

So, a whistlestop tour round the feelings, worries and hopes in my mind of attaining a professional, realiable writing career in the future. Personally, while I realise being a stubborn little gobshite puts me at a distinct disadvantage, I'm hopeful that my dedication and self-belief will get me somewhere. It's the only thing that's got me here so far.

Oh, and the quality of my work. But that was never in question, right?

*I am a fan of good, original vampires though, such as Brian Lumley's Necroscope series.


Just been flyposting round Wellington city centre- great fun! More soon.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Getting published? Um, yeah, or nah...

A question I get asked very often when I tell people I write books is "oh are you published?", after which I usually explain what Print On Demand is and that's how I make/sell my books. Ideally, I've wanted to become published ever since I started writing when I was 10, but it's a goal I've become more realistic and even a bit cynical about.

Getting published by a real publisher is like an author's equivalent of getting signed - and I've been there, in a band where the goal was to get signed. In that circumstance, being honest, it was pretty shit, because when the industry rejects you, you blame yourself for not being good enough or for not working hard enough. There's also the angle of how (un)commercial you are, which shouldn't matter but it does, and it's another thing you can (and I do) blame yourself over. The mission to get signed was one of the pressures that contributed to the band splitting up, and my goal since then has been never to let that kind of pressure and self-blame affect what I do.

It's a feeling I took with me changing my focus from music to writing, and it's why I like print-on-demand - I can write my books, make them available, do a little promo, and leave it at that. I'm not desperately hawking my wares round agents and publishers, getting rejection letters after my work's chucked in the slush pile or not even looked at. That goes especially for this trilogy, which - despite being roughly a combination of Terry Pratchett and Iain M. Banks, two hugely successful authors - is even more unconventional and arguably uncommercial than a political indie-punk-rock band.

But this comfy situation has started to change. My wonderful girlfriend has seen me writing, not just the books but other bits too, and suggested that I look up some journals to write for and send stuff off to publishers. This is great - before now, I've never had someone special to give me that kind of support, even if it is a little scary pushing myself back into that zone again. And secondly, the other day I saw the film Julie and Julia, where there are two stories of writers becoming published - one the old-fashioned way back in the 60s, the other through simply being a blogger with a popular and saleable idea. It made me sad watching it with the background feeling of never being published, and I was thinking up a self-pitying blog to explain why I'll never get published, before realising how much of a wanker I'd be if I did. You don't want to read it and I don't want to be that person. So I've decided to get back into it, to try and climb that impossible mountain.

Expect a follow-up blog with more soon.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The clash between evidence and public opinion

Normally this would just be a facebook status or twatter tweet, but I thought it merited a blog.  Mark Easton writes the BBC's blog on the UK - his latest entry is on the sacking of Professor David Nutt, Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The gist is that Nutt has been making comments in the public arena on drugs policy, when the ACMD is supposed to simply provide neutral evidence, even though his comments are based on evidence.

"To suggest that taking ecstasy is less dangerous than horse-riding, or that cannabis is safer than alcohol and tobacco - however true that may be - is to say the unsayable in the political drugs debate."

I'm not a massive fan of drugs: they're sometimes or often dangerous, and personally I get nervous around people on cocaine or other drugs who get lary and unpredictable. But laws around drugs should be made on evidence, and they should make sense. This isn't to say that cannabis and ecstasy aren't ever dangerous, but it's clear government is too scared to make or change policy on the basis of evidence in the face of public opinion - which is never balanced on the subject of drugs. This is wrong. Government should listen to the public but politics is about explaining your position and convincing people, not pandering to panic.