Q: Can you talk to us about some of your inspiration for the album The Empty Pages? The Grateful Dead and traditional bluegrass came to mind.
A: Lots of folk, both British and American, country, bluegrass, blues, all that. Mark Knopfler has always been a huge inspiration, not just Dire Straits but also his recent folk records which made a big impression on me. There's a British bluegrass group called The Jaywalkers that recorded a version of the traditional country song Big Sciota on their latest album. I had a go at recording my own version of that, and I guess that was what kickstarted the whole Empty Pages recording project and I knew very quickly I wanted Stuart, Andy & Sean involved. (We've been playing music together for over ten years). We decided not to include our version of Big Sciota on the record in the end although it is on our SoundCloud page.
Another British band that influenced the record is The Rails. Then there are all the usual suspects like the Eagles, CSN&Y, The Byrds, The Beatles, etc. for the vocal harmonies, and people like Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch and Gram Parsons for the American country sounds.
Stuart, who sang lead vocals on eight of the ten tracks on the record likes Randy Travis, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton. We also recorded a cover of “Send My Body” by Randy Travis during the sessions which didn't end up on the album but came out sounding great.
Q: How about the creative process? Can you give us some insight into how your songs are created?
A: The songwriting happens in different ways. Sometimes the lyric comes first and other times it's the music, maybe a guitar melody or a chord progression. When it's that way round I try to write lyrics to suit the feel of the music. Often I get an idea for a lyric and it's just one line so I make a note of it on my phone and end up with long lists of single lines which can then be put together and added to when I know what I want. The music can happen the same way; I end up with lots of little ideas floating around which I work on later. Because it's a home studio project there are no time limits and no budget issues and it's definitely helped shape the way I write and record songs.
Often one word or line is all you need to create a story. For example, I went to see the American group Applewood Road at the Union Chapel in London last November, the week after the US election. One of the singers commented about it and said the words "welcome to the new world,” which immediately gave me the idea for that song.