Conducted via email by James Farmer on behalf of Music Scene Investigation.
1) Paul, your new album, which is your third solo album is called Sometimes You Get, Sometimes You Get Got – What was the inspirations for the title?
Originally, SYG, SYGG was just a song title. I hadn’t really planned on using it as the album’s title when I wrote the song. The song itself sprang from a line I wrote after reading something in the news about the latest incarnation of Tory government, which is currently bringing the UK to its knees. ‘Who from your big bunch of crooks is going to be allowed to steal again? It developed into a more general philosophical observation about the vicissitudes of life, corruption at the top, the prurient and facile press, and a measure of karmic intervention thrown in for balance.
So far during my career, I have experienced more than my fair share of legal, financial, and couldn’t-make-it-up-type sagas, and there is a joke amongst friends about my luck – referred to as The Miro Curse. After an early playback of a demo of the song, a friend remarked, ‘Sounds like the story of your life. You have something great. Now, who’s going to fuck it up for you?’
It was at that point I started thinking it might make a good album title.
2) Your previous two solo albums have been very acoustic led, but SYGSYGG see’s you return to more of a full band sound, more in line with your previous band Apes, Pigs and Spacemen. Do you miss working in a band environment with other people contributing to the music?
I’ve always been a singer/songwriter, and storyteller, and never been confined by particular style restrictions or genres. I’m equally at home writing thoughtful ballads, personal introspective confessionals and out-and-out metal ravings. That said, there was certainly an element of calculation in the direction I chose for the first two solo albums. My band had gone through a long and very painful legal process that left us near bankruptcy, and I found myself in very changed circumstances. I no longer had the budget to garner reviews in the mainstream press, and thus my profile all but disappeared overnight, meaning that playing bigger venues with a band was going to be impossible. Essentially, it was like starting out again, and I knew I’d be playing a lot of solo acoustic gigs in smaller venues, and so I wrote and produced in a way that would transfer itself well to those environments.
I certainly miss having a band, and everything I do is in the hope that, once again, it becomes a realistic financial possibility.
3) While we are talking about bands, do you have any plans to put a band together around SYGSYGG and tour with it?
Put simply: yes. The longer answer: bands cost money. I’ve managed to establish a loyal and growing fanbase with the first two solo albums, and decided that, with the new album, it was time to return to a more rock-oriented band sound. A major part of that decision was based on the premise that the album will raise my profile sufficiently for me to be able to put a touring band together around it.
For a band to become a reality, profile is the essential ingredient. If word of the album spreads sufficiently and public awareness and interest in what I’m doing is raised sufficiently through the course of the album campaign, then hopefully we should be able to sell enough tickets to make touring possible. It would be amazing if it happens with this album, because it would make for a great band show.
4) You do actually have a band called the Briquettes in the music video for your track “Borderline Clone” – what was the inspiration for the video?
I can take no credit for the video. The song, Borderline Clone, is a piece of social commentary and has absolutely no reference to Star Wars. But, inevitably (In the same way as my writing a song called Beanman had Kerrang insisting on photographing me in a bath filled with baked beans), using the word ‘clone’ in a song was going to spark some Lucas-related humour.
The stroke of Lego genius was a pure fluke. A great friend who happens to be an animator heard Borderline Clone and asked if he could have a rough copy of the song. I had no idea what he had planned. A few weeks later, I received an email saying, ‘Got a little something for you. Hope you like it.’ Attached was a rough cut of the Lego video, which blew me away. I immediately got back to my mate and said, ‘Hell yes, do it!’ I added a minute of orchestration over the video intro, but, apart from editing and a few tweaks, nothing really changed from the initial test reel. I love it. It’s perfectly irreverent, cute, funny and completely in keeping with the lyrical cynicism and humour of the song.
5) The album seems to be infused with many different sounds and influences from Rock, Blues and even a bit of Motown thrown in… What sort of music do you listen to to gain inspiration and who would you say are your favourite artists.
I used to think I was weird, because I have never been able to listen to music for inspiration. Coincidentally, I recently read the liner notes on Neil Diamond’s last album, in which he says the same thing: when writing, I shut myself off, don’t listen to other music, and deal with the orchestra that is playing in my head. Other people’s music is an intrusion and a distraction when I’m creating.
That is my ‘during writing’ behaviour. I have, however, been steeped in a world of great music since birth. I come from seven generations of musicians, and was exposed to a lot of jazz, Latin, blues and classical and experimental stuff as a kid, both in a recorded and live situation.
Songwriters who inspire me are Tom Waits, Dylan, Cole Porter, Stevie Wonder, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs… too may to list.
Artists who inspire me: again, off the top of my head and in no particular order, genre, or generation…Frank Zappa, Howlin Wolf (and countless other blues guys), David Bowie, Nat King Cole, (the best male singer of a ballad ever), Billie Holliday, Beck (for his production style). The list could go on for a few pages, and cover a vast range of styles.
6) The album was recorded, mixed, produced and mastered all by yourself. Do you find that taking on so many roles in the project detracts from being the artist as well?
I referred earlier to the orchestra in my head. I always have multiple parts, layers and textures in mind when I write, and consider it a great advantage to be able to execute the vast majority of them myself. The one disadvantage with this approach is, while I end up with the product I want, it takes a lot longer to get there simply because of the physical man hours involved in the process. As a consequence, I spend a lot of time in the studio that I could be spending as an artist! Also, it means I am unable to release material as quickly as I would like. In part, I have developed some of my skills because I don’t have the budget to keep skilled professional people on hand to perform them.
Were finances not a problem, I would certainly delegate certain studio responsibilities to other people I trust.
7) You have obviously used a lot of different studio software and hardware to make this album possible… What would be your 3 main essential pieces of studio kit that you have used on the album and why?
Three? That’s a tough one. I rely on literally hundreds of pieces of equipment to get me where I’m going. I’ll cheat a bit: I’ll class my guitars as one of the three. The main guitars I’ve hammered on the new album are Baja Telecaster, a wonderful 76 Les Paul, a Strat, an amazing-sounding Martin D-28 , a Dobro Spider and a 76 Fender Jazz bass.
Next, I think I’d have to say my Focusrite Rednet 4 preamp – good preamps are one of the most essential pieces of kit for recording.
With only one choice left… very difficult. It’s a toss up between NI Guitar Rig 5 and Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2. Alongside other plug-ins, these two advancements have made life in a small studio unbelievably better. The quality of amp simulation has improved beyond all recognition over the past couple of years, and this is the first time I’ve made an album without any physical guitar amps. But, I think Superior Drummer takes the prize. The interface is fantastic, and the depth of sampling is now so detailed that I am able to create drum tracks that are indistinguishable from real drums recorded in a huge room at exorbitant cost.
8) As a multi-instrumentalist who can sing, play guitar, bass, keys, drums and more, what would you say is your favourite instrument to play and why?
I consider my voice my main and strongest instrument. But, if you’re excluding that, I prefer playing guitar. I think it goes back to it being the first melodic instrument I picked up – I started life as a drummer and only started playing melody instruments to improve my understanding of phrasing and melody, and to enable me to be able to sight read things like brass parts whilst playing drums in order to master phrasing. Guitar is also the only instrument you can hang around your neck, slung low, and batter whilst screaming into a microphone.
9) You decided to go down the fan funded route for the new album, but instead of going to an established site like Pledge Music or Kickstarter, you decided to setup your own pledge page on paulmiro.com – why did you take this option and how complicated has that been?
Partly, I wanted to keep everything ‘in house.’ I have a small but amazingly dedicated team of people with whom I’ve worked on the last couple of albums and wanted to run the pledge site using the same team. Most bands use kickstart funding because they require full funding – for rehearsals, studio time, recording, mixing, mastering, and all the additional expenses. Having done the vast majority of these things myself, I didn’t want to hand over the product to anyone else. Okay, it would still be an independent release if put out via one of the mainstream sites, but I would be restricted by their deadlines and targets. Keeping it on my own page means I have been able to retain more flexibility and, also, as far as possible, keep in personal contact with pledgers.
10) All of your music is available to buy through Miromart and paulmiro.com, but very little is available from major online stores like iTunes and Amazon. Why have you chosen to avoid these sites and do you find it helps you sell your music?
iTunes and the like have their place. There is the ‘a large percentage of music is purchased on iTunes.’ Fair point, but, unless you are shifting Aerosmith-type numbers, then it doesn’t prove cost effective. It doesn’t enhance profile from the ground up – ok, it makes it that your material is accessible everywhere, to everyone, but profile needs to be generated via other means – press, social networking, etc. – for this to be relevant in the context of iTunes. Also, iTunes and the like take a bigger cut from sales than most record companies. Again, if you are selling sufficient numbers, in a Walmart style, the end result is a decent profit. This, combined with the fact that most online retailers will no longer be generating a performance royalty for streaming to writers whose material is copyright control (owned by the writer, not a publisher), makes it something that I don’t consider relevant to my case at this time.
11) You play a lot of solo acoustic gigs across the UK. How do the songs from the new album translate from full band sound to a solo acoustic set?
I played the first ‘pledger only’ acoustic show the other night, featuring a number of songs from the album. They work amazingly well. I usually write on acoustic guitar and then build the arrangement from there. But, this album having been written predominantly with band arrangements in mind, I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I’m pleased to say, the songs work fantastically acoustically.
12) What is your favourite song that you have written and why?
I don’t know. I am proud of many songs I’ve written for different reasons. I don’t think I can answer this one. Earthly Powers… Monster… Hollow…Honestly, I don’t know.
13) There is talk on the internet of The End Records in New York reissuing one of your older albums from your previous band Apes Pigs and Spacemen. How do you feel about that and is there a future for the AP&S outside of your solo projects?
I think, after the train wreck of a record deal we had, it is a wonderful vindication of the enduring quality of the album that it is finally going to get a US release. Because of the impossible circumstances our then label had put us in, it was the most difficult album to complete, but also, from the AP&S catalogue, the album of which I am most proud. I am really pleased that The End want to do something with it and obviously will do anything to help them with the release.
There is definitely a future for AP&S. We have another album planned. When it will happen will partly depend on how things go with SYG, SYGG
14) What does the future hold for Paul Miro, and are there any plans for anymore albums in the near future?
The rest of this year I will be touring with Simon Friend from the Levellers in a side project called Seismic Survey. Next year could go many ways. I am already at work on new material. If things start to move with the latest album, then I will obviously be promoting that as aggressively as possible. If things go well with the album, then I think the next project will be the AP&S album. How SYG is received and sells will also help me decide on the musical direction of the next album. Sales and generated income will in turn have a bearing on what other work I have to take on next year – the less I have to earn by producing other people, the more time I’ll have to spend completing my own projects!