Hi Allan, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Hi guys! Thanks for inviting me along! I’ve been doing well thanks, this is definitely the weirdest year of my life, but since that’s the same for everyone all we can do for now is help each other through these strange days and hope we can all have a big group hug again sometime soon! On the plus side, the coronarama lockdowns gave me a bit more time than I expected to finish off my latest album, so ‘every cloud has a sliver lining’ as they say.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Bubble”?
Yeah, Bubble is a very gentle anti-ballad. It starts off with a romantic poetry feel in the verse, but reveals its sting in the chorus. It’s about that moment after a short fling with someone when you realise you’ve been spending too much time with them and start to sense their feelings for you might not be so genuine!
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Well, a poet doesn’t reveal his muse, right? 😉 But yeah, the lyrics came about after a relationship ended badly some years ago. What inspired me to put this song out as the first single from the album though is the fact the sentiments in the lyrics resonate so much with what a lot of people are going through this year because of lockdowns. The idea that couples are becoming trapped in a bubble for reasons they never anticipated and are having fresh challenges trying to co-exist without ending up hating each other. My original reasons for penning the lyrics aside, I realised this is exactly what many people are struggling with right now and I think the song will strike a chord with them, hopefully in a positive way.
Any plans to release any sort of video for the single?
Yeah there’s a video in the pipeline but progress has been a bit disrupted by the corona factor, so some alternative ideas are being worked on, hopefully this wont take too long.
The single comes off your new album Reflections of Your Face – what’s the story behind the title?
Well, as an artist you’re really just a sounding board for the world around you, so the more experiences of life and its many challenges you manage to absorb, the more you have to say. Like many songwriters my work is largely autobiographical, so for me putting out an an album is like taking a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and saying what you see. The album title comes straight from that idea but the songs are written in such a way as to inspire people to reflect on their own experiences and be positive about the future.
How was the recording and writing process?
This is the really big question, because I do everything on my solo albums now, which is very complicated and time consuming but artistically it means I can ensure there is a continuity through every part of the process. The most difficult thing is keeping going with it, it’s so easy to want to quit because of the many frustrations that come up when there’s nobody else in the studio to bounce ideas off.
I generally write the songs well in advance of recording – just basic lyric sheets with some guitar or piano chords scribbled down. Then I tend to refine the arrangements of the songs and write all the other instruments only when I start recording. I’m very much a believer in the whole “album” concept which sadly seems to be getting lost these days. The great thing about writing this way is that when I come to work on an album, I can choose the songs I want to put on it and work them all up together, so that they carry a common thread of sound design throughout the whole production. This doesn’t work out the same if you just release single after single after single and then decide a year later to stick 12 songs together and call it an album. A lot of artists seem to get pushed into doing this these days because its quick and convenient but it just lacks the continuity that you need for a good album.
In the studio, I find I have to be the producer and engineer the whole time, but I try to set myself up in such a way that I can focus on each musical performance role without having to switch between them too much and without having to be distracted by production decisions while I am working on those performances. So, I will literally spend several weeks just working as a Bass Player, then several weeks as a Guitarist, as a Percussionist, Pianist, Vocalist, etc. Between all these sessions I try to take a long break from it all to clear my head before going back to do the next job. I build the songs up as backing tracks, then the most important step I spend a few weeks laying down the lead vocals and finishing those off completely. Then last of all comes the lead guitar work. The reason I leave this until last is because I never really “write” anything for the solos and lead work, I just get my head into the mood of the music, hit record and improvise. I find this gives a far more conversational feel, with the right amount of tension or other endearing qualities for the song. You can’t really get the same result by writing licks and rehearsing them to death ahead of the sessions, this just ends up sounding stale. I do find that the joke is on me though when I do this, because after the album is finished I listen back to it all and think “Oh crikey, how on earth did I play that?” and then have to try to relearn it all again!
What role does Wales play in your music?
Wales is where it all started for me. North Wales in particular had a great music scene when I was growing up, which had some great neighbouring influences from the Liverpool and Manchester scenes. I got into my first few bands when I was a teenager and started learning to be a sound engineer when I took one of them into a recording studio. Since then I carried on recording and writing over the years. Everything about my artistic style was cemented in these roots, even if I have continued to develop in other directions since.
How has the likes of Dave Matthews Band influenced your writing?
That’s a really good question because before I released my first album as a solo artist, I had always been a ‘band guy’ and part of me even today feels much more at home with the idea of being a member of a band. I really wish I could still work that way, however, after being in dozens of different bands I kept going through this soul destroying cycle of seeing these bands fall apart just at the point where things were getting exciting. I decided to record my first album really just as a “showreel” to help me promote my songwriting skills but I reached a point where the engineer Martin Wilding (Mansun, Roger Taylor, James) said ”Man you should forget about looking for other bands to work with, you should be doing this as a solo artist”. I had never really thought about that before, in fact I hadn’t even planned to sing on that album, I had three session guys who all pulled out at the last minute forcing me to sing the songs to avoid the whole session being a waste of time. So, it was a big challenge for me to think about how to work as a solo artist. Dave Matthews was a huge inspiration in that regard because he has a similar voice to me and a similar writing style, so he kind of gave me the green light to think this is ok, people actually do this! At a local level fellow North Walian Mike Peters (originally from the rock band The Alarm) was also a big inspiration as he had released several solo albums by this time and at one point we were playing the same venues, which gave me a great example to follow.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
Just by living life and seeing what happens. I don’t like to be too specific so I don’t write in a journalistic style. For me the idea is to take the essence of a good story and express it lyrically in a way that creates a bit of intrigue. Musically however, I have absolutely no idea what goes on in my mind or where any of it comes from. I write songs primarily as a lyricist and the music just comes out of my head, its like somebody else is doing it. I can’t remember the last time I thought “What note should I put down next?”
What else is happening next in Allan Dawson’s world?
There will be a few more singles and videos from Reflections of Your Face. Interestingly, I also released my third album Turbononsense last year but never really promoted it because I was fully engaged on recording Reflections at the time, so I also have a few songs and videos I want to put out from that album too. I also want to promote these songs live before I get into recording anything again – I have four albums worth of material now so there’s a lot of variety for a live show – but the interesting question is how and when will I do that? The live scene is in a very messed up state right now, so maybe I’ll explore some kind of online gigs and otherwise keep an eye on things returning to normal to perhaps go out and do an acoustic show, then get some other guys involved to do a proper live set. Watch this space!