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Background3 - My Life on TVAll the Singing, none of the Stinging!
Conrad De Souza explains his new musical project: Macrowasp

Tarantino Panda catches up with Conrad De Souza (who has previously talked to us about the art of songwriting and home recording) to find out what is behind his new album ‘Byte Size Matters’ and his intriguingly titled virtual band ‘Macrowasp’.

So where did Macrowasp come from?

“These names and ideas spring from the weirdest places! My wife Yessica has never been a fan of flying stinging insects and one day, in her native Spanish, she loudly christened a particularly large and terrifying creature that was troubling her round the swimming pool, as a ‘Macrowasp’.

I carefully stored the name at the back of my mind, thinking it was a great name for a band or project. I recall us sitting in a pub in one of my favourite towns, Bath sometime later in around 2009 and over a large glass of red wine telling her how I had big plans for the name!”

What exactly is the concept?

“When I first started thinking about Macrowasp, I had grandiose plans to make an album of my own songs, but differently to my previous outings. I toyed with inviting numerous friends and musicians I had worked with in the past to contribute to the songs. In effect Macrowasp could be a musicians’ collective rather than a band or specific group of people. Unfortunately, I didn’t really think through the practicalities of such an endeavour. Much of my love of recording comes from having a studio at home that I can crawl into at a moment’s notice whenever I have time and slap some tracks down in my pajamas if the mood takes me. Involving a raft of friends and fellow musicians, although exciting, means a good deal of planning, rehearsing and some loss in the spontaneity (and after all, they probably wouldn’t want to see me in my pajamas!).

As a result of this and over time, Macrowasp morphed into something else more akin to what Damon Albarn did with Gorillaz or Paul McCartney did with ‘The Fireman’. It became a vehicle for me to freely explore a direction that I may not have pursued as vigorously on a typical ‘Conrad De Souza’ album. In essence Macrowasp is very much a musical alter ego.”

Psychiatrist ThumbnailSo what direction did Macrowasp take you in?

“On my albums to date there have always been at least one or two tracks that sit more firmly in the ‘Electro-Pop’ bracket than my staple British Guitar Pop. Although bands like the Beatles were my initial and biggest inspiration and the guitar is my instrument of choice, my formative teen years were submerged in glorious and colourful electronic 80’s pop and in many ways that has had a major influence on my perception of a cracking pop tune.

I decided that through Macrowasp, I would surrender to that 80’s influence and combine it with my current style of songwriting and arrangement using the plethora of studio tools available to me in a 21st century home studio.

Songs are at the heart of all my projects and irrespective of musical style, the words and melodies are the most important thing. The new album will be accompanied by a handful of lyric videos including this one called ‘My Life on TV’, which I hope will help listeners delve into the lyrics a little further and let the story stimulate the imagination.”

What else can we expect from the new album ‘Byte Size Matters’?

“As the title suggests ‘Byte Size’ is a direct reference to the increased electronic ingredients on the album. That said, you will still hear some funky guitar and what I hope you will find both infectious and catchy tunes with intriguing lyrics and a satisfying groove! IMacrowasp album cover 2 - CD Baby Proof have aimed at creating an unpretentious, (possibly guilty!), pleasure that listeners will enjoy and want to listen to again. Many of the tunes are new, but I deliberately hand picked a few that I actually wrote back in the 80’s, when I would have been directly influenced by the sound and culture of the time, in order to give the album a little more authenticity and depth. There is an album sampler on You Tube for anyone that wants a quick tour of how it sounds. I just hope that people ‘get it’ and enjoy the fun vibe and tongue-in-cheek nature of some of the songs”

Are we likely to hear more from Macrowasp in future or is it a one-off?

“It’s hard to say at this point. I suppose it’s like asking Daniel Craig if he’ll do another Bond movie when he’s just finished the last one! I feel like I’ve come to the end of the chapter and its time to move on to the next project.

Back2 - Monday Morning MiracleI already have over half the songs planned for my next ‘Conrad De Souza’ album and those are by no means ‘Macrowasp tunes’. I expect I will veer away from the electronic to a more raw and acoustic sound on my next release. It’s good to keep things fresh.

I think the reality is that Macrowasp will return, but only when I have a song or songs that I feel fit that concept and production style. I can’t imagine another whole Macrowasp album for quite some time, but if this one finds an audience, I’d like to think the black and yellow buzzy thing will release the odd single from time to time!”

Byte Size Matters, the new album from Conrad De Souza & Macrowasp was released on 8th April 2016 and is available to download or stream from most online music providers including iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, CDBaby and Spotify.

The Panda is definitely buzzing!

TP

ImageIt’s been almost 35 years since Conrad De Souza was taught his first chords on a £20 nylon string classical guitar and learned to play by learning songs from his ‘It’s Easy To Play Beatles’ songbook. For much of that time he has been singing, songwriting and playing in bands and duos. However, his passion lies in recording his own material and although available to stream on the web for some time, he is now digitally distributing songs for sale on major platforms like iTunes and Amazon.

“As a teenager it was about getting a band together, just like your heroes. That seemed the only way you might produce the sound you wanted, win fans and get a record deal. I joined my first band at the age of 13 when I graduated to an electric guitar and started tinkering with writing songs. The idea of properly recording yourself at that age was a pipe dream and probably just as well – we would have sounded awful!”

Conrad found out early that bands come and go and as an independently minded, only child, he sought out ways to take control of his musical output without over-reliance on others.

“Bands are so enjoyable and rewarding when they work. Its like a group of you against the world, but with occasional exception they have a shelf life and you end up having to start all over again with a new group of people. This can sometimes bring originality and invention, but when you were already on the right track it can be disheartening.

TP24 VL toneI had understood the notion of multi-tracking for some time i.e. recording multiple versions of yourself on different instruments (as necessary) to create a larger sound. In 1981 my attention had been caught by a rather authentic Beach Boys medley released by a ‘band’ called ‘Gidea Park’. It transpired that Gidea Park was actually one man – Adrian Baker, who had performed all the music and vocal harmonies himself. It planted the seed in my head that I wouldn’t always need a band…”

The writing desk in Conrad’s bedroom was regularly transformed from homework torture chamber to makeshift studio, having borrowed all the cassette recorders in the house and strung them together with leads and microphones. Add a guitar, amplifier and Casio VL Tone mini-keyboard and the scene was set.

“Well Abbey Road is wasn’t! The quality was pretty dismal, but you could just about hear me through the hiss of the final cassette recording. I spent whatever free time I had experimenting and recording whatever chart hits and covers I could. However, the excitement really began when I started to write my own songs and I was able to bring them to life with the use of crude multi-tracking. “

Conrad’s second but really first ‘proper’ band grew out of this recording arrangement.

TP24 cassette“Like Gidea Park, I wanted to give the semblance of a virtual band which I named ‘4th of July’. Soon, a friend had joined and we were a duo and then after 2 additional band mates arrived it meant we were no longer a ‘virtual’ band at all, but very real! However, in reverence to its humble origins the band’s first ‘album’ (well cassette actually) was recorded ingeniously in two stages. The music was taped in one band member’s living room and the vocals overdubbed in my living room using the rather basic ‘karaoke’ function of our vertical record deck/music centre. I seem to recall we sold around 30-40 copies in school at about £3 a pop – which I’m sure we considered quite a success at the time!”

The problem for Conrad was that as you get older and more experienced, makeshift recording will no longer do. Back in the late eighties, you could lay your hands on a decent 4 or 8 track recorder if you had the funds, but even then, a professional sound was only really attainable in a proper studio and that was big money if you wanted to do it right.

“My first recording studio experience with a band called ‘The Mighty Llamas” (yes, really!) taught me the important lesson that you can’t rush recording. We couldn’t afford much, so we packed 3 songs into a day and had a separate evening session to mix them. We were well rehearsed, but we didn’t really know how to use the studio tools available to us very creatively or have the time to learn. We had a limited, unenthusiastic engineer, who really didn’t do what we had recorded any justice in the mix. Without knowing your recording tools or having a decent producer to help you, studio recording was hit and miss. The most important ingredient is time and given time means money – this was often out of reach for the struggling band and musician”

TP24 Bonafido CoverSubsequently, Conrad was lucky enough to work with and learn from friends who had invested in expensive home studio hardware. In the late nineties, his then band ‘Bark!’ invested around £10,000 in making an album and producing CDs in a professional London studio.

“We had enough experience between us to understand the minimum amount of time needed to get a good result and we had creative engineers/producers to suggest helpful options and ideas. Spreading the cost meant it took us about 2 years to make the album but we got a result we were all happy with. That said, with more time, I’m sure I could have mixed it better, but that’s probably just the perfectionist in me!”

What that experience particularly demonstrated to Conrad was the level of technology now available to recording artists. In addition to its impressive studio rooms, mixing desk and hardware, it was the sophistication of the studio’s software that mesmerized Conrad.

“The potential for the solo recording artist was amazing and as a guitar band, I knew that we had barely scratched the surface of what it could do. My next revelation was how much of this software was available for home computers at an extremely economical price. I had watched friends spend thousands of pounds on studio hardware in the nineties and as a band we had just paid around £10,000 to make a CD. Suddenly, provided you had a decent PC, you could spend less than £500 on software, interfaces and a keyboard controller and you had the basics for a Studio in your spare room”

His band ‘Bark!’ was reaching the end of its natural life, and Conrad’s attention shifted to home recording.

TP24 Strawberry Yoga Cover“I was impressed by the quality of recording I could achieve. I started out with Cakewalk Sonar software and graduated to ‘the king of home recording’ Logic Pro for Macs. Suddenly I had the time to make things sound the way I really wanted. I recorded new songs and re-visited old ones that I had never previously recorded or where I had been unhappy with the results. When friends and acquaintances are listening to your music and not hearing a major difference to the quality they generally enjoy on the radio or on CDs or iPods – you know you’ve cracked it.”

Recording music isn’t the only thing that technology has changed in the last 35 years for the aspiring musician.

“In the past, even if you could make a record or CD yourself, how were you going to get it to people in an effective way without a record deal? The internet changed that forever. Although I was still making music on CDs in the mid-2000s, I had started to upload songs for streaming on My Space (which was still ‘hot’ back then). Now other platforms like SoundCloud have taken over and these are great sites to place your music and share through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.”

Conrad has taken the next step in digital distribution and released his first single to buy on download platforms like iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby etc.

Image“If no ones going to sign me – I’ll do it myself! The notion of such a thing when I started this journey in the eighties, would have been the stuff of dreams. I’m still like a kid in a sweet shop when it comes to recording my own songs. Starting off with a blank canvas and slowing watching the result emerge. Now I have the tools to do it right and a way to make the fruits of my labour available to the world. The challenge these days is how to market yourself in the vast sea of performers who are all vying for attention. Still, I’m sure technology can help with that too and appearing in a blog on WordPress can’t hurt!”

You can download Conrad’s first digital single ‘The Next James Bond’ from iTunes or Amazon and can stream it on Spotify.

Conrad is currently working on an album for his new virtual band ‘Macrowasp’ for release later this year. You can hear how it’s progressing and other tracks from his back catalogue on SoundCloud.

I think I’ll leave it to Conrad to sum up his musical journey:

“The cassette recorders may have been replaced by an iMac running Logic Pro, but the heart and soul is just the same as it’s always been and long may it continue!”

Amen.

TP

The Music Store is close to extinct. I still like to call them ‘Record Shops’ even though many of them haven’t sold a vinyl disc in a long time. HMV in the UK have called in the Administrators and only a few weeks ago there was wailing and gnashing of teeth in Paris when Virgin Megastores filed for bankruptcy.

Music is now available at the press of a button from the comfort of your computer, phone or tablet – so why the outpouring of emotion and media attention as one by one these institutions bite the dust. Is it just about recognising the state of the economy or the plight of unfortunate high street retailers? No, there is more to it than just that. As one of the major news sites reported, the failure of HMV was not just about high street economics, but about its relevance and ability to compete in the sector where it was once a leader.

This presents an odd conflict. On one hand we mourn the loss, but on the other hand we no longer make sufficient purchases from such outlets to support their ongoing business. The digital world of downloads and streaming audio/video have tempted us away from our previous habits. For those under a certain age, there has probably been no other dominant means of obtaining music other than online. However, for those who were in their teen years during the record or CD eras, the record shop probably holds a place in our hearts and a nostalgia that we can’t shake. As another retail chain goes under, a further chunk of ice detaches itself from the iceberg of our musical heritage and flows away into the distance, only to melt in the vast, tepid pool of the internet.

I remember seeing black and white footage of record shops in the 1960s bustling with teenagers who bought mostly ‘singles’ or ‘45’s’. Way before being able to click on a screen for an audio streamed ‘snippet’ of the song, they had to instead, cram themselves into little booths like rabbit hutches to listen to records before they bought them. Knowing teenagers, I suspect there was much more ‘trying’ than ‘buying’ much to the annoyance of shopkeepers. However, these were more relaxed and less competitive times in the world of audio retail.

Those scenes looked alien to me in my teens when record stores still sold records but were divided into light, bright, colourful chain stores (some huge!) and small specialist stores where you could buy those old albums and imports that the mainstream shops wouldn’t stock. If I consider my own experience, it helps explain why we are so disappointed to see these places erased from our towns and cities.

I have long held the belief that the music you listen to in your early to mid teens is some of the most influential on you, whether or not you are ‘into music’. It forms a soundtrack to your life at that time of change and raging hormones. Listening to music, checking out the charts and talking about bands and singers seemed to occupy an inordinate amount of my day. Additionally, when you are 14 to 16 years old, you are in no-mans land. Too old for childish activities and toys, but not grown-up enough to spend weekends in pubs or clubs with your mates! Music (and I suppose, sport, for the more physically motivated) helps anchor you through those turbulent times and fills the void.

In my home town there must have been at least 5 dedicated record shops in the centre, not to mention the record sections within larger department stores. The weekly expedition to the shops with your friends on a Saturday afternoon was as regular as clockwork. I suppose that girls would split their time with clothes shops, but the boys would sometimes just roam from record shop to record shop, browsing sleeves and checking out what was new. The reality is that nothing much was new, given we were in these places all the time! However, we still managed to spend hours in these stores. The record sleeve – large, square and colourful, held much more allure than the awkward CD case which was to follow!

Whether you bought anything or not, an afternoon spent in these haunts followed by a can of Pepsi and a portion of chips, was a perfectly satisfying and constructive (so we thought) way to pass an afternoon. That is why their demise pulls at the heart strings. It’s not about recession, inconvenience or even the unemployment of the shop staff – it is about that loss of a ‘building block’ that formed part of your life and fed you the desired teenage nourishment of pop culture at the time when you needed it most. We mourn days past that will never return and what we believe will be the experiences missed by the next teenage generation.

That is where many of us miss the point. This generation of adolescents might buy all their music on line, but they have their own habits and their own meeting places. They won’t miss ours! In years to come they will reminisce about a different world, berate the changes and mourn different losses, just as we do. Worse still, how many of us will actually miss these ‘record stores’ for what they are today. My teens are a distant memory, but I am no dinosaur and I can barely remember the last time I bought a physical CD. Even when I did, its single purpose was to be ripped to my iTunes library so that I could listen to it through an iPod. Once that function was completed, the disc itself was consigned to a stack never to be touched again. The reality is that the music shop’s time and relevance is over.

Some reports have indicated that there may be hope for stores like HMV in a much reduced role. The larger music labels will not want to be solely reliant on iTunes and Amazon for their sales and may be supportive to a new owner. I hope to some extent that this is true and some vestige of high street music shops remain as memento of times past. However, the shape and services of these shops will likely not replicate the days of tangibly flicking through 12 inch glossy cardboard sleeves and striding purposely to the counter with a big fat grin on your face to make your purchase of the day!

Were the major music stores napping when the iPod crept up on them or did they see it charging towards them and just know they didn’t have anything left in their legs to give it a good race? Either way, the bookstores might want to put on their training shoes, the Kindle is bearing down on you on the inside lane!

TP

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