In a traditional 12 months John Smith would have been away from his household touring for round 200 days. So it is protected to say 2020 was a problem for the British musician, simply as one of many nation’s biggest modern people artists was reaching new followers. “I used to be in Australia having an incredible time and I performed to one thing like 2,000 individuals,” he remembers. “Issues have been beginning to lastly occur over there as a result of I’d been chipping away there for years. I awakened in a lodge in Sydney to a textual content saying the pageant has been cancelled.” The remainder of his tour dates went the identical method and he hasn’t been onstage since.
Together with his predominant supply of earnings gone, John tailored like each different touring musician needed to. On-line gigs adopted however then new songs flowed too – the result’s The Fray, his most private album so far. It is an uplifting assortment of songs full of John’s wealthy voice, superlative acoustic and electric guitar enjoying, with a number of stellar friends contributing, together with Lisa Hannigan and guitar nice Invoice Frisell.
“I used to be simply type of feeling round for concepts after which when all the things modified final 12 months the songs simply began pouring out,” John tells us. “As quickly as I closed the curtains and picked up the pen, I knew form what I used to be doing and what I used to be writing. The songs actually began taking place then so I believe perhaps three of the songs on the report I would written earlier than the pandemic hit, however the remainder of it simply occurred immediately because of final 12 months.”
However do not anticipate a darkish and dour report. “Early on I believe I simply made a acutely aware determination to not get too depressing about issues,” says John. “I went by means of, as everybody has, the awful actuality of studying the information each day. I’ve simply been attempting to maintain my chin up and I believe that that interprets into the songs for positive.”
The open-hearted themes of The Fray mark the continuation of a shift in John Smith’s songwriting that started with 2017’s Headlong. And the outcomes are hanging.
“I type of managed to get out of my very own method this time, if you recognize what I imply,” he explains. “I simply did not overthink it and previously I’ve at all times leaned on type of mythic storytelling – characters and heavy symbolism. And this time I made a decision I used to be going to put in writing about myself and what was going. In consequence I believe it feels extra sincere. It is a bit extra grown-up – I used to be able to make a report the place I am truly simply going, truly I am a dad now and I have been by means of a bit and that is type of how I really feel about it.”
Because of mining the private, the songs have truly develop into much more relatable – there’s common truths in songs like Buddies and Deserving that can join.
“I used to be speaking to a good friend who was saying that there aren’t there are not any songs for younger to middle-aged dads, it is all rock and roll,” laughs John. “He mentioned it was truly good to listen to one thing that that he might relate to in order that meant quite a bit. That was excessive reward as a result of that is type of the place I am coming from. You understand, I am now in my late thirties and I am a dad and had a little bit of loss and ache within the final 12 months. I wrote the songs as a way of processing it.”
In addition to spearheading the brand new wave of father rock, the Actual World Studios periods for the album co-produced by John with Sam Lakeman proved to be a lesson in well-honed effectivity and dealing together with your setting to create one of many best-sounding data you will hear this 12 months.
Did you do the majority of the recording at Actual World Studios?
“I recorded the bones of all of the songs within the first two days at Actual World – the guitars and vocals. We labored actually quick, we arrange the entire session in half a day after which I simply began monitoring. Then we despatched tough mixes to my collaborators in America. Every week after the session I acquired on a Zoom name with Lisa [Hannigan] in Dublin and she or he recorded her vocal in her sound engineer’s studio in Dublin. He was Wetransferring information to me whereas we have been on a group name so it felt like all the things was very reside. I used to be sitting with my co-producer Sam in his dwelling studio and we have been attempting to maintain issues as reside as attainable.
“The principle factor that I wished to stick to was to feed off the collaborators’ enter. So if I despatched only a guitar and vocals Sarah Jarosz and she or he got here again and her concord was totally different to what I anticipated, or lead issues in a sure route, I might attempt to comply with as I used to be placing down my second guitar half.
“The bass, piano, horns; individuals coming in after these items was executed and reacting to the collaborators. So in that sense it felt like a type of energetic recording session.”
So when it comes to steering with the visitor vocalists and gamers, you left it fairly open?
“I did not give any steering to Sarah Jarosz and Courtney Hartman. I simply mentioned in the event you can sing underneath me and also you sing above me that may be nice. Then I get the information again they usually’re each singing completely in concord, completely in time with little delicate nuances that complement one another, having recorded a thousand miles aside; one in Colorado, one in Nashville. Simply superb.
“With Invoice Frisell I simply mentioned, “Do your factor Invoice” and he despatched me ten tracks of Invoice Frisell doing his factor! So I had so as to add a night within the studio listening to my guitar hero play 10 totally different unimaginable variations on the music. I believe we took half of 1 and half of one other and I chopped a bit out of one other take and used that as an intro. My bass participant [Ben Nicholls] and I performed alongside to that in order that we had this sort of instrumental interlude led by Invoice.
“In reality, I put in a solo part after listening to that as a result of after which we had a guitar solo. He despatched me a lot lovely guitar I reworked the music to accommodate it. That was an incredible expertise as a result of I’ve travelled far and broad to see Invoice Frisell play.”
All of the friends are individuals that you’ve historical past with in numerous methods – did you write any of the songs with them in thoughts?
“I did not however as quickly as I completed the songs I had an thought of who I wished to sing on them. Like I knew that with Deserving I wished Courtney and Sarah on it. And as quickly as I had Maintain On with that prolonged outro I simply began considering that it could be nice to get somebody within the UK that would are available and sing it in individual. And on this facet of the Atlantic there’s there’s Lisa Hannigan and there is Jessica Staveley-Taylor. For me, simply two of the best singers on the planet. Actually thankfully for me, Jess was up for it so she got here down and in three hours she recorded her elements on these songs and simply pushed the entire thing to a special degree.
“As quickly as I’d written the songs, yeah, I type of knew who I wished to ask. And I used to be type of nervous about asking. With Invoice, I do not know him personally, however we have now a mutual good friend in Joe Henry and Joe launched us. Invoice was simply utterly up for it. I simply acquired the impression that, like everybody else, he is sitting at dwelling considering, nicely, I can not play any gigs so what do I do? After which somebody says, “Do you wish to play on a report? They usually go, “Yeah, completely.”
You’re employed quick within the studio, and never everybody needs to make music in a house setting. Do you’ve gotten any recommendation to musicians who get the prospect to rent that type of facility and report in an expert facility like that?
“Simply apply and be sure to know your stuff earlier than you go in. When you’re spending a number of hundred quid a day, you possibly can’t afford to waste 5 minutes. So I simply went in and laid all the things down, as rapidly as attainable. I acquired arrange and performed; handled it like a gig… besides one which I used to be paying for!
“I believe the temptation is to enter the studio and use the ping pong table and name out for takeaways, type of deal with it like somewhat rock n’ roll vacation. However it’s not, you have to use the time correctly. So simply get in there and work laborious.”
Is there something you modified in the best way you approached the guitar monitoring this time round?
“Actual World was at all times purported to be a part of the recording; I wished the room to characteristic as a lot because the guitars themselves. So on The Fray I put the amp my Benson amp behind me within the recording sales space and left the doorways open. Sam positioned a mic proper up within the eaves and there is a Neumann binaural head, which has acquired a mic in every ear. So we used that and we used an ambient mic up there and I turned up the amp loud and we simply acquired the sound of the room.
“With electrical guitars I believe you both wish to go actually tight or actually roomy and I simply liked listening to the sound of the Wooden Room at Actual World on the report. That was thrilling, you recognize previously we have recorded in Sam’s loft so this time we have been attempting one thing totally different and discovering that it actually labored. We ended up doing that with plenty of the electrical guitar elements. All of the slide stuff is recorded in that method.
“With the acoustics, the one factor I did in another way was used rather more costly mics, as a result of we have been actual world they usually had Neumann mics from the ‘60s that I simply put in entrance of [the guitar] and it sounded bang-on immediately. We simply did not mess with it.
And people have been your Fylde acoustics?
“These have been my Fyldes and I’ve acquired a ‘72 D-28 that I used on One Day At A Time. I’ve acquired somewhat Gibson LG-2 in a type of excessive strung tuning. However I believe it is my two spruce Fyldes for essentially the most half.”
Do you continue to end up gravitating to Teles once you plug in?
“I’ve at all times liked Teles however I by no means discovered I by no means discovered the best one and now I’ve acquired two (a ‘53 and ‘57 customized replicas). I don’t want a lot else. I’ve acquired my Coodercaster which is a very totally different factor that’s nice for slide. Then I’ve acquired a Heritage H-530, it’s like a 330 with Lollar P-90s on it. That is a hell of a guitar however once more, a very totally different factor to the Tele.
“So the reply is I stick to at least one factor for a day after which I type of transfer on. It simply will depend on the music.”
When it comes to your electrical and acoustic pedal rigs it appears you’ve modified issues round in the previous few years
“I purchased a Schmidt Array pedalboard, which is like this lovely bespoke cupboard, but it surely’s roadworthy. It is acquired out and in containers and having that alone simply type of compelled me to consider financial system and the place to place issues in order that they match and have a very devoted chain. I match hundreds into It and I am nonetheless leaning closely on Strymon. However I’ve picked up a number of very nice analogue pedals as nicely. I’ve acquired a few Jam pedals which have type of blown my thoughts.
“I believe my ethos continues to be, so long as it serves the music it may possibly keep on the pedalboard. If it isn’t serving the music I am going to simply take it off.”
Have you ever acquired a pedal that you could’t face ever taking off the ‘board?
“The Strymon El Capistan, the little tape delay – the gray one. Since I acquired that that there is a few songs I can not play reside with out utilizing that pedal. And it simply makes all the things sound higher. I do not know what is going on on, you simply flip it on and issues open up.
“However I’ve purchased a number of new toys. I purchased a Strymon Volante and I’ve invested in one of many Chase Bliss reverb [CXM 1978]. It simply arrived. I spent a night enjoying with it after which we needed to transfer home but it surely’s ready patiently and that is unimaginable. I do not know the way I’ll use it in a gig, it’s fairly cosmic however I choose these items up after which I play a number of songs on them. With Hares On The Mountain I’ve to make use of the Volante and I’m positive I’ll discover a use for the Chase Bliss. In any other case it’s going to sit down on my desk and I’m simply going to play it each night time by means of headphones.”
John Smith: 10 albums that modified my life
“I absorb my influences, however none of it’s ever acutely aware,” says John of the fastidiously thought-about album decisions that he is chosen to speak by means of. A few of them have had a much bigger affect than others however plenty of the time individuals inform me I sound like artists I’ve hardly listened to or have listened to they usually’ve hardly affected me.
“A lot of it’s subjective however I do know which of those on this record I’ve allowed to affect me greater than others. Like Ry Cooder and Nick Drake, if it weren’t for these two I would not be enjoying guitar the best way I do. And Kelly Joe [Phelps]. I simply must type of maintain my palms up and say, you recognize, I am a little bit of a sponge. However I believe most guitar gamers, proper? You place the aerial up and also you make your self obtainable to outdoors affect…”
1. Ry Cooder – Bop ’Til You Drop (1979)
“It is the album that I keep in mind from early childhood greater than another. My dad performed it each time we had somebody over to dinner. That report can be on and I might come downstairs and conceal underneath the eating table or conceal behind the couch. The unwritten rule was that so long as my mother and father did not see me I used to be allowed to remain up as late as I wished.
“So Bop ‘Til You Drop can be enjoying and I might simply sit and hearken to that caught behind the couch, simply hearken to the grown-up music and be excited by it. And as I acquired older I realised that this was actually good music and after I began enjoying guitar, I realised that Ry Cooder was simply concerning the best guitar participant on the earth.
“In order that one has been with me my entire life and it is such a rewarding album to hearken to. I revisit it usually, not simply because I put it on when individuals come over to dinner, however I hearken to it and analyse the enjoying hearken to what Jim Keltner [drums]is doing and David Lindley [guitar] – the interaction between David and Ry simply blows my thoughts each time I hear that report.”
“I Cannot Win is simply one of many best love songs ever and it is the best model of that love music ever. And the enjoying is simply ridiculous. Ry on the Strat simply simmering away. It is the final observe on that report.”
2. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968)
“I used to be 17 and I had a summer time of simply being obsessed by guitar and Astral Weeks. I used to be down in Our Value, or regardless of the report store equal was in these days, and I used to be on the lookout for acoustic guitar data and I got here throughout Astral Weeks. I simply appreciated the quilt so I simply plucked it out and thought I am going to strive it – again within the days after we purchased CDs and we’re simply within the paintings.
“I put it on and that was it. I listened to it religiously then each day, each night time for months and I performed it to all my pals and it has been a report that stayed with me ever since. At key moments of my life I can keep in mind listening to Astral Weeks.
“It is at all times appeared to me, in the identical method that I felt after I first heard Led Zeppelin, it is one thing you place it on and it is like a portal opens as much as one other dimension. It takes actual devices and creates an unreal dimension, and I like it for that. I can simply get utterly get misplaced in that report nonetheless. I do not suppose anybody has ever made a extra immersive report than Astral Weeks.”
three. Nick Drake – 5 Leaves Left (1969)
“I used to be about the identical age, about 17, and my brother performed me 5 Leaves Left. Immediately I realised I hadn’t heard something like this. I did not know what time the music was from or who was singing it, I could not inform. I simply could not image the place this music was coming from. And I believe that is the primary time I’ve ever felt that method listening to a report. I simply did not know what was happening.
“So I began finding out the guitar immediately. I had a CD participant and the Nick Drake CD so I began attempting to determine it out. Then I realised I wasn’t in the best guitar tuning and for the primary time I began detuning the guitar to attempt to determine it out.
That led me straight down the trail of alternate tunings. Once I lastly cracked Cello Track, and the G is right down to an F# and there’s a capo on it, as quickly as I figured that out I used to be simply enjoying it religiously and studying find out how to play the guitar in a very totally different method. I would already be enjoying for 5 years however after I heard Nick Drake I began studying a complete new self-discipline with finger-picking. A few of it I could not get my head round and nonetheless wrestle to get my head round.
“He was a mild, type of elegant wanting fella and his entire guitar sound is so muscular and strident, he will need to have had huge sturdy palms. It appears like 4 guitar gamers without delay. The factor that basically acquired me after I began determining his songs is that the majority of them are solely two or three chords in the event you have been simply to chart them on the piano. He’s not doing a lot melodically however the interaction between these chords was simply revolutionary. Nobody had ever performed the guitar like that earlier than. It’s felony that he wasn’t celebrated in his lifetime.”
four. Bert Jansch and John Renbourn – Bert And John (1966)
“After Nick Drake I went down the rabbit gap. My dad gave me the unique cassette of Bert And John and it was the same factor to Nick Drake; what is that this music and when was this made? Then realising it was simply two mates in a flat, in Bert’s flat in London.
“I believe it was my first introduction to a type of jazz self-discipline – individuals improvising on a theme, bouncing off one another and creating one thing model new from nothing. Blew my thoughts. That report nonetheless blows my thoughts and it is one in every of my favorite guitar data. However I additionally take into account it to be a jazz report as a result of it is so harmonically difficult and dense.
“The 2 of them are simply flying, bouncing off one another and pulling one another again and letting go once more. It is like listening to Coltrane for me. I hearken to plenty of jazz as nicely, however Jansch and Renbourn was my method into listening to difficult instrumental music.
“I opened for John Renbourn in a Ullapool Guitar Competition in 2006, I believe. Possibly 2005… anyway, he instantly declared to everybody inside earshot, “That boy is the way forward for people – deliver him over right here”. And I spent the night ingesting with John Renbourn and we stayed in contact till he handed away. He was a sweetheart.”
“It was superb. I had my apprenticeship with the Previous Masters, you recognize. I used to be with Large John Martyn [John toured with Martyn] and John Renbourn. I used to be very lucky to be in the best place on the proper time. I strive to not let it steer me however I do really feel honoured to have dipped a toe into that slipstream as a result of it’s such good music, is not it? “
“Each time anybody asks, what sort of music I make I at all times say I come from the Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, John Martyn and Richard Thompson faculty. I simply type of see myself as being a part of that line. I am not attempting to hold a torch or no matter however these are just like the excessive monks of my church.”
5. A Tribe Referred to as Quest – Beats, Rhymes & Life (1996)
“Once more, it was across the identical time, I used to be like 17. I had simply gone to varsity and I used to be beginning to have a life – meet people who find themselves into the identical stuff and my brother gave me a duplicate of Beats, Rhymes & Life.
“It was simply a lot enjoyable, and it was American and it was New York. They’re speaking about New York – using the subway and going to events. It was simply so thrilling. I’ve at all times liked hip-hop and this report has at all times been my favorite as a result of they’re having such a good time they usually’re so good at what they do.
“The performances on that report are ridiculous. Q-Tip particularly is simply unbelievable. An incredible rapper. And yeah, I simply I simply keep in mind going round South Devon in my mates Mini, blaring out this report and simply having the time of our lives.”
6. Kelly Joe Phelps – Roll Away The Stone (1997)
“He is virtually a hidden gem, not many individuals find out about him. However after I point out him to individuals who do it is, “Oh! You understand that report?” Individuals talk about him in such reverence and rightly so.
“I noticed him on the Jazz Cafe in… I assume it was 2003. And some of us went down from Liverpool to seeing him. And I’ve spoken to fairly a spoken to lots of people since, and I believe Martin Harley as nicely, who’re at that gig however I didn’t know till later. The Jazz Cafe is just not an enormous venue and I used to be perhaps 5 ft from his ft, simply watching this man.
“He performed in a method that type of bent area and time, I’ve by no means seen something prefer it earlier than or since, however time stopped after which the gig was over. And also you have been watching him and the quantity of creativity was pouring into his instrument, and the sound that was popping out, was so overwhelming. Nobody spoke for the entire thing. Individuals type of got here out of a reverie on the finish of every music and checked out one another – “Oh we are able to we clap now”. Kelly Joe did not say something by means of the entire gig. Simply the occasional, “Thanks” after which he’d go once more. It was extraordinary.
“I got here away considering that is the best factor I would ever seen and I’ve acquired to apply extra. After which once more, I acquired to open for him and have become pals with him. We nonetheless sometimes keep in contact. He is simply one other one other actually candy man who simply does his factor. He would not overthink it however he simply has an affect on individuals like me who love that type of music.
“That report, Roll Away The Stone particularly is such a masterclass of slide guitar. Nobody else can do what he does with a lap metal guitar. He creates this entire world. He recorded it on two mics and a DAT machine I believe in a lodge room. It is a doc of essentially the most fiercely artistic spirit. I’ve by no means heard something prefer it.
“He is made data which have had type of higher crossover attraction, and I do know that the report straight after this one, Shine Eyed Mister Zen, I do know that has influenced lots of people too and lots of people reference that one. However I believe there’s one thing about Roll Away The Stone I can not shake and each time I hear it it simply stirs one thing. I sit utterly transfixed. As a result of he is simply he is the person, you recognize. Kelly Joe is simply the person. There isn’t any one higher at that factor than him.”
7. Tom Waits – Alice (2002)
“It simply got here to me on the proper time. I used to be beginning to write songs and I would been into him for a very long time however whereas it won’t be my favorite Tom Waits report, it is the one which has had the largest affect on me. As a result of there may be a lot symbolism and mythology.
“It got here alongside virtually as the great cop to the dangerous cop of Blood Cash which got here out on the identical day. That comprises plenty of type of unlistenable dirge within the Tom Waits vein. Whereas Alice has all these candy love ballads.
“He tells one of many biggest love tales ever in Fish And Fowl the place he is speaking a few chicken falling in love with a whale. Simply the very fact it’s referred to as Fish And Fowl and it is a few whale, I really like that. However that acquired me fascinated about writing songs utilizing mythology, which I did for 10 years straight after that. So a large affect on my first report, on my first three data actually.
“I liked the concept of talking type of human truths utilizing a automobile of absurd characters and symbolism yeah. If it weren’t for Tom Waits and Alice I would not have been writing about mermen and axe murderers.”
Eight. Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) (2001)
“It was across the time of O Brother The place Artwork Thou and that music Didn’t Depart No person However The Child. My brother put that on a mixtape and it was Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. I really like that quantity and I went and purchased data by all three of them and I believe I purchased Gillian Welch’s first report. After which I simply went and purchased all of them. Time (The Revelator) was the one which hit me proper within the switchboard.
“Two individuals enjoying not a lot music, utterly filling the area and it is this concept that much less is extra that registered for the primary time. These two persons are being very dynamic, the interaction is intimate and utterly full however there’s a lot area and the songwriting is so good. It is my favorite nation report and one in every of my favorite guitar data. It is definitely one in every of my favorite data of songs. It is acquired all the things and it is simply two guitars and two voices. Simply blew me away. Nonetheless does.
“I purchased it for Ben Howard after we have been doing a little reveals collectively and he’d by no means heard Gillian Welch at that time and he mentioned the identical factor. He grew to become obsessive about I Dream A Freeway. Like me, he simply acquired actually into the concept a music may very well be 14 minutes lengthy and never really feel overlong. I keep in mind each of us simply buzzing off the truth that she simply put quarter of an hour on the tip of the report. And it really works.”
9. Toumani Diabate – The Mande Variations (2008)
“Solo instrument – simply him and his Cora, his African harp. And it is simply transcendent. I opened for him as soon as and once more, I used to be utterly transfixed and simply could not consider what I used to be seeing and listening to.
“This report is a complete masterclass in minimalism. He chooses his notes actually correctly. He fills the area, he hangs again, he lets go… it will get actually intense after which it will get actually small once more. It is about 50 minutes lengthy and I simply I put it on, shut my eyes and lose sense of all time. This complete Mastery of his instrument that’s so inspiring. If you see somebody like that and you recognize that regardless of how a lot you apply, you’ll by no means have that degree of management. It’s totally inspiring and it simply makes you wish to apply all day to get anyplace near that degree.
“I believe he is simply one of many best gamers ever. He appears to be surprisingly underrated however I believe he, Kelly Joe and Invoice Frisell, it is a degree of enjoying that simply deserves to be worshipped. These guys are like demigods of their instrument. It is simply so lovely. It is so tasteful and so there’s a lot area in it.”
10. Mark Hollis – Mark Hollis (1998)
“I’d acquired into Speak Speak after a good friend performed me Spirit Of Eden. We sat like numerous individuals earlier than us and we acquired stoned, poured a whiskey and listened to Spirit Of Eden. I had my eyes opened utterly to a different dimension of music. Not content material with having made one of many biggest data ever, he went and made a solo report after which retired. He simply gave us this present after which went, proper I’m executed, and it is excellent as a result of it’s such a terrific report.
I’ve listened to it on each single transatlantic flight I’ve ever taken and I type of have it as a ritual. It places me into a really relaxed headspace. The devices all sound excellent. It is so fantastically recorded and there is a lot area. The album begins simply with the type of whispering of a tremolo on an amp and it goes on for fairly some time earlier than something occurs. And it units the tone for the entire report.
“Once more, it’s a masterclass in the concept much less is extra and I’ve actually taken it to coronary heart since  Headlong actually, attempting to have as a lot area as I can. Whereas at all times being tempted to throw drums and strings at issues, I began stepping into this concept on Headlong after which Hummingbird was immediately influenced by Mark Hollis. Simply the concept much less is extra. If it would not belong in a music, simply pull it again and permit it to breathe and it is served me actually rather well.