If you love music just fucking go nuts and do anything you want!
We live in an era where music is more accessible than it’s ever been before; entire back catalogues can be accessed at the click of a button, new music relentlessly cascades from streaming services and everyday life is sound tracked by pop hits and beige muzak. So why, in this age of potential audio overload, do artists still choose to make music? For some it’s that quest for fame and fortune, to have all the financial success and adoration that comes from being the next big thing. For East Midlands based musician Simon Waldram it’s less a choice, more a compulsion, a need to share the songs he has in his head and connect with people through music.
As Simon puts the finishing touches to latest album “Into the Blue” we met to discuss what drives him as an artist, the themes of the new album and why making music should be approached as a limitless process.
As a youngster growing up in the Midlands, there wasn’t really encouragement for Simon to take up music, as he explains, “when I was a kid I didn’t think it was something I could ever do, my mum and dad kind of told me that pop is just like silly and stupid.” This didn’t dissuade him though “I got into indie rock when I was like 14 or so; Nirvana and Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth. But in terms of writing songs and stuff, I thought that was for other people, so I had an electric guitar and I’d just make a lot of noise without really knowing what I was doing.” On song writing: “I’d just sit with a blank piece of paper for ages just thinking, ‘What do you do?’ ‘How do you do it?’ This changed when Simon went to University “it’s like a floodgate opened and all these songs started coming out. I found I could record with my laptop so I thought I’d make a little cd and I’d just give it to friends and that would be it.”
It quickly became apparent that this music connected with the audience “It just kind of snowballed a little bit, I started sharing things on-line and people liked them.” The reaction gave Simon an understanding of how important this connection could be “On the rare times that people come to me or write to me and say that a song has really connected with them or helped them through something, because that’s what I try and do, a lot of it’s like ‘this is something that I went through’ and maybe other people out there went through it too, you know, just to say that you’re not alone.” This connection with the listener is undoubtedly helped by Simon’s focus on storytelling with his songwriting: “I’m obsessed with other people’s stories, things that other people have been through, that influences a lot of stuff. A lot of the songs are about me but then a lot of the songs are about other people and just things they’ve told me and things I know they’ve experienced; trying to put myself in their shoes, what’s that like, what that must have felt like for them.”
Into the Blue will be Simon’s 8th or 9th album (the prolific nature of his songwriting having left him struggling to keep up with previous albums “I think it’s like 7 or 8, I lost count a little bit!”). On the themes of the record he goes on to comment “there’s a lot of water themes on it, and lots of death as well. I wrote it when I finished university and every time there’s a solid end to something it always gets me thinking about death, and ultimate finite ends, so that probably influenced songs quite a bit.” Further elaborating on the new album Simon explains “There’s a song on there which I almost didn’t put on because I don’t know what people will make of it, its called As I Walked Into the Sea. I saw a documentary about people jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge; most people who do it die. But this one guy he jumped in and he didn’t, he hit the water and he broke his back and he ended up floating to the shore and then spent years having to be rehabilitated, I don’t think he ever walked again. But he said the moment he jumped was the moment he thought ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake’. So I just kind of took that a little bit further and thought, what if somebody jumped and they died and then they’re wherever the hell you are after you die, if they’re just floating through limbo thinking I really wish I hadn’t done that.”
The album was mostly home recorded, but that’s not to say that it’s sound is limited “It’s so easy to do that now you know. I’ve heard studio stuff and it’s not necessarily better and I’m not really into big productions. I mean it’s weird, on one hand the record has strings on it and all these kind of things and psychedelic touches and things like that, but I’d rather do that in a lo-fi get it done in the corner of a room sort of environment than trying to rent out a big studio.”
Talking to Simon it’s clear that, whilst a lot of his music is acoustic based, a lot of punk and alt-rock bands and their ethos has had a huge impact in terms of the way he thinks about making music: “Minor Threat, they’re one of my favourite bands, the whole Dischord scene is fascinating to me. Their ideology, I’m not straight edge but that whole idea about personal responsibility being the keystone of so much. I love how, when Fugazi were around, how they never charged more than was it $5 for fans to get into the gigs, which is amazing really.”
Going on to talk about whether music should address political issues: “It has to. I look at the modern world and it’s like, unbelievably, we’ve reached a point where racism is somehow culturally acceptable and all these people who probably already had these shitty views are all of a sudden coming out and saying them openly and people are hardly batting an eye to it, and it’s astonishing to me. I mean if you make music that doesn’t that’s fair enough, everyone has their different kind of thing they want to express. But it can certainly help; it’s certainly helped me. I’m vegan, and when I turned vegan I thought I wonder if there are any bands that are singing about this stuff and I was at DeMontfort University at the time and unbelievably the library has a punk rock book section, and so I was reading one book and I thought I’m going to try and find some vegan punk bands and Propagandhi were there. So I started listening to them and the way they sing about political issues and socio-economic issues is way beyond pretty much any band I’ve ever heard, it was very enlightening in a lot of ways. I know that in the earlier days when they played smaller gigs they’d have books and leaflets about local causes and things that were affecting their communities at the time. Which is amazing really and it must have engaged a hell of a lot of people and it’s very inspiring to me as well.”
Simon has a refreshing unwillingness to tie himself down to one genre or style of music: “You should look at it as being limitless as to what you can do, I’d pick up any instrument and give it a go; if I like the sound that comes out then that’s enough. Sometimes people say to me ‘oh I could never play guitar’ it’s literally, you just pick it up and you play whatever the fuck you want. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re happy with the sound that comes out, as long as it expresses something that’s in you, that’s enough. I don’t really understand why people just stick to one type of music, it’s all just different mediums for the same message, and if you love music just fucking go nuts and do anything you want, you know.”
With Simon working on a punk EP and explaining that “I’ve got this dream that I’ve had for a few years to make a synth pop album, that sounds like it came from 1985 and uses the equipment from that era and have an album cover that looks like it was made then, because I love that shit, I grew up on that.” As well as declaring “I just want an enormous discography. I want people to look at how many records I’ve made and just think ‘fucking hell!’” It’s well worth keeping an ear to where this musical exploration goes in coming years.
Interview with Matt Cawrey, Nottingham, 23/09/18