Here, Gary answers a selection of your questions recently sent to us via the Feedback page.
What advice would you give to a young, aspiring electronic/rock musician. How do you go about writing a song? What comes first? Do You tweak and tweak sounds, do the lyrics come first, does the melody come first? Then, how do you put everything together and know when it’s finished? In other words, take us through your song writing process.
Advice is difficult because everyone’s journey is different. The people you will meet, the opportunities presented to you, where you live, what money you have available, what ambition you have, your determination, your resilience, your strengths and weaknesses, all these things, and a thousand more, will make your road different to the next person trying to make it as a musician. No one piece of advice works for everyone. But, to me, the foundation of everything is to love doing what you do, and not as just a means to an end. Success, or fame, must not be the reason you are in a band, it must only be the icing on the cake. You need to love just being in a band, writing songs, recording, gigging in shitty places, travelling in shitty vans. You need to love the struggle to succeed nearly as much as success, should it ever come. If you can genuinely enjoy it at that beginners level then even if you don’t make it big you will still have spent a good part of your life doing something you love. And if you make it and then it all falls away and you find yourself back in shitty vans, you will still love it, and you will still enjoy life as a musician.
The song writing process is simple. Mostly, a song starts by finding a drum groove that I like, either a loop or something I make up. Then I work out a basic structure on the piano, chords and vocal melody line, and then I keep adding stuff until it sounds reasonably full and exciting musically, but still fairly basic. Then I will sing a vocal but without real words. I sing noises that sound like words so that everything fits perfectly. Writing a lyric first and then trying to make it fit a piece of music has always felt the wrong way round to me. Singing noises gives me not only the correct sung melody, which is sometimes different to the original piano melody idea, but the knowledge of what I will need lyrically. How many syllables fit in each passage, what words need to be held, or spoken, or whispered. This knowledge will make the lyric stage easier. With that guide vocal in place the rest of the sounds and parts are added, as and when I think of them of course. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Last of all I write the lyrics and sing the final vocals.
Why are you now charging people to meet you when you used to stand outside and meet fans all the time?
The VIP package is not a charge to meet me, it’s a package designed to give those fans that want it a look behind the scenes, something that most people never get to see. Plus, we add a variety of things like t-shirts, signed CD’s, DVD’s, posters etc to make the package even better value for money. The specific extras on offer vary from one package to the next. As well as that, I am available to chat to anyone that wants to meet me, have things signed, pictures taken and so on.
As you rightly say, I used to stand outside and meet everyone. I did that for years, in fact I’ve done that for decades. Even the press have acknowledged that I have been, throughout my long career, one of the most accessible and approachable people in the business. I know of very few other artists that have stood by their tour bus, for hours, every night, signing things and talking to every single person that waited to see them. Rain or shine. I have stopped doing that now as I’ve had, in the last year or so, three occasions where people have got a little threatening, either through being drunk, disgruntled fans or just opportunist passers by who wanted to be aggressive. Plus, the shows these days are extremely energetic and are very demanding on me physically and I’m simply too knackered to be standing outside a bus until 2am in the morning and beyond. Having said that, I still sign everything for those people gathered at the bus as it’s all brought in to me to sign. And, from my experience on the September Dead Son Rising tour, I still did a considerable amount of talking and signing to people hanging around the gigs who were not VIP pass holders. I am still very approachable, I’m just not doing the bus thing anymore.
I think the VIP packages are an excellent addition to the things we offer on tour. People are able to see what goes on at a soundcheck, hear songs they may not always hear later in the gig, watch the band work through new ideas, sort out problems, make mistakes at times and just operate in a more natural environment than the gig itself. Plus, of course, they can meet me if they want to.
The December Dead Son Rising VIP package includes a limited edition CD of a new song, in demo form, from the forthcoming ‘Splinter’ album. Only 60 of these CD’s will ever be made so we are giving every VIP something that will be worth far more than the cost of the VIP package in time. That seems to me a very cool thing to do and something that most true fans would be extremely happy with.
Why are you selling white labels on eBay? Some people think it’s greedy!
Greedy? I think what everyone needs to remember is that I am a professional musician. I earn my money by selling music, either on CD, DVD or by performance, and by many associated means, such as t-shirts and so on. To sell something, either in a shop or on eBay, is what I’ve always done. I thought the white labels auction would be welcomed by fans as an opportunity to get hold of something extremely rare and unusual. Why does that make me greedy when selling a ticket or a CD does not?
When we make a vinyl album we always make a small number of white label test pressings. These are sent out to different people and they are tested on various systems to make sure the pressing is good quality. With the first DSR pressing we found it was not good quality, but you already know about that as it caused the Super Deluxe to be delayed. But, the point is, these test pressings are a very real part of the process of producing vinyl, not something knocked up to make a few quid out of fans. However, when the testing is done, they sit in a box somewhere, or in someone’s cupboard, going to waste, never to be used or seen again. One or two may find their way onto e-bay or other places, but generally they are gone forever.
We thought people would like to have them. When I was a kid the thought of having a T-Rex white label would have made me faint with joy so I do believe that fans will want them. But, we can’t give them away. Whoever we gave them to would be happy but many others who didn’t get one would be angry and no doubt write in with even more vitriolic spite than usual. So, we make them available, with a very low starting price, and let the fans decide what they are willing to pay. Nothing could be fairer. I don’t understand where the ‘greed’ feelings come from. We are offering something very rare, and asking you to reach your own price for it. If you don’t want it, don’t bid for it.
Do you enjoy fame?
It’s okay. It has good points and bad points obviously. In countries where I’m not famous I seem to have just as good a time, without a lot of the embarrassing attention, so I can genuinely take it or leave it. I’ve been well known in the UK for so long I can’t really remember what it was like before but I travel to enough places that have never heard of me to see life from both sides, famous and not famous at all. I have to say the good side of being famous, that gentle stroke of ego perhaps, being able to get into cool restaurants at short notice, getting on guest lists for pretty much everything, that sort of thing, is useful but it’s not that big a deal. I think, for most people that want it, simply being recognised and causing a ripple or wave of excitement when they appear anywhere is the big attraction. I’ve been all through that and it was a lot of fun but, after a while, you find yourself wishing it didn’t happen, or at least not so much. These days I’m in a good position with that. I’m recognised enough to satisfy what ego I have, but not so much that it’s ever a problem. I can go pretty much anywhere with my family and have a normal day. The people that come up to me are generally pleasant and don’t freak out the children and it doesn’t happen so much that it spoils the day with constant interruptions.
The reaction to Dead Son Rising seems fantastic. Are you surprised by this and will the reaction shape your approach to making Splinter?
I’m relieved more than surprised although I have to say I didn’t expect the reaction to be as positive or enthusiastic as it has been. The September DSR tour was amazing for example, a noticeably different and higher level of crowd feedback and excitement which made that tour a real pleasure. When it comes to Splinter though I don’t think it will make any difference. I’ve had a very clear idea about what I want from Splinter for quite some time. My original aim has always been to make it the hardest, darkest, most aggressive album I’ve ever made. That’s still my intention but that doesn’t mean it will be a one dimensional album of just huge songs. I expect it to be heavy and dark in a variety of ways, with a good range of lyrical content, mood and tempo. But I do want it to be different to Dead Son Rising. If you could put Pure and Jagged together, add a bit of DSR, and then take it much further than you’ve ever gone before, you will find Splinter.
The excellent back projections on the Dead Son Rising tour really seem to add something to the performances. The one that sticks in my mind is the one for Absolution. Maybe I’m wrong, but the film seems to be at odds with what I thought the track was about. Could you explain the connection between the film and the song?
I’m not sure I’ve ever said what Absolution is about before so I guess people may have come up with their own ideas for it. It’s about the extreme things that people will do for love, be it love for a person, God or a religion. It looks at how people are able to excuse and justify, in their own minds at least, the very worst atrocities, because of faith, or love.
The film shows lots of things going on, all terrible, but all because the people carrying out the various acts love something, or believe in something so strongly, that the horror of what they are doing is acceptable (to them). Sadly, I had two Muslim fans walk out of our show in Wolverhampton in September as they believed I was trying to paint a bad picture of Muslims. That is absolutely not the case at all. The clips show many different faiths, and many of the scenes shown are not religious in nature at all. It’s not meant to be about religion specifically, and certainly not any one religion, it’s about faith and love in general and the terrible things that are sometimes done because of it.
Will you be releasing the Dead Son Rising tour on DVD?
Yes, we are planning on filming the Manchester show in December 2011 for a Dead Son Rising Tour DVD to be released in 2012. We hadn’t intended to film the DSR shows when we first put them together but the crowd reaction in September was so positive and exciting we thought it would be a shame not to have it recorded in some way. Hopefully the reaction to the shows in December will be just as exciting.
When ‘Splinter’ is out will you do some gigs outside of the UK?
We have some very ambitious touring plans for when Splinter is released. It’s our intention to tour the Splinter album, and the DSR album with it, around the world solidly for the eighteen months following its release. We aim to visit all the countries we’ve been to in the past but also to go to places we’ve never been before. And not just one tour and vanish. Over the eighteen months we intend to return to most places to consolidate the effect the previous tour has had, to strengthen areas that are weak and to build even further those places that went well. In many ways, 2012 – 2013, and the Splinter / DSR albums and tours, are pivotal to what happens next with my career.
Do you ever see a time when you will stop touring and recording?
I’m not looking forward to that time but it would be stupid to say that an end won’t come. I love doing what I’m doing, touring especially, but time keeps moving and none of us live forever. I’m getting older, looking older, and I think a time will come when I will no longer feel that I look the part to be performing the songs that I’ve been writing. What happens then I can’t say. How far away that is I also can’t say. I just hope that time is a long way away.
Why are you so against socialism? What is wrong with politics where the whole world gets a chance at living a quality life? I don’t believe in everything socialism offers but really isn’t taking care of everyone on this planet more important than you keeping all of your money?
Lordy, that question is ignorant on so many levels I don’t really know where to start.
Me keeping all of my money is not more important than taking care of everyone on this planet and I don’t remember ever saying that or implying it. I can honestly say if giving up my income would take care of everyone on the planet I’d do it in a heartbeat. Strangely enough, even under this Conservative government, I still only keep about 35% of what I earn, after the various taxes and contributions are taken away, so I feel as though I’m giving up the vast majority of my income already. Not sure it’s doing much to save anyone though.
My problem with socialism is that it seems to take money from the hard working and creative and give it to the rest. ‘The rest’ includes the unfortunate and unlucky and I have no problem with that. In fact, I believe I’m already contributing handsomely to those people. But ‘the rest’ also includes the stupid and the lazy. I have a huge problem with working my bollocks off only to see it given away to some lazy little shit that has never even tried to do anything helpful or constructive but simply sat and waited for someone to give him/her something.
Taking care of everyone on the planet is a fantastic ambition but I do not believe that socialism has ever come close to achieving that. Not even for a country, let alone a planet. The very nature of human beings will always ensure that even inside socialism some people are more equal than others, corruption will rip through everything like a disease and you will once again have the haves and the have nots. Only with socialism the ‘haves’ will rarely have it due to hard work, inventiveness or any kind of talent other than manipulation.