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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

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TP26 GuitarIt’s been a few weeks since the release of Conrad De Souza’s latest single ‘In Two Minds’ and Tarantino Panda catches up with him again to discuss Songwriting and how this seemingly magical art form actually happens.

So how do you write a song?

“It’s that question again!” says Conrad. “I’ve been asked it for so long and I still don’t think I have a definitive answer. Songs come from ideas and in my opinion that’s often where the magical element lies. The idea can be a tune, some lyrics, a title or just a vague concept. It can come to you at any time – at work, on a train, in a dream or occasionally, conveniently, when you are actually sitting with your musical instrument of choice. When that spark comes to you, there are two schools of thought on what you should do about it. Some would say that you should capture it there and then – in a notebook or as a recording, even if that means getting up in the middle of the night. Others take the view that good ideas stay and resonate in your mind and while the less interesting ones might fade in your memory, the ones worth pursuing will still be there when you next get to your guitar or keyboard. As the years have gone by, I try more often to capture them as and when they arise, but that’s probably just an age thing!”

It sounds like you are veering towards the side of art rather than science?

“No, not entirely. It is possible to write songs from scratch very scientifically. It is a craft that can be developed and learned if you have the aptitude. I’m saying that usually the best songs have that touch of sparkle that comes from an idea that hasn’t been forced. You often hear songwriters talk about how their most popular work was written in minutes. It quite literally fell out of their heads and on to the page or recording with minimal effort, due to the inspirational nature of the idea. However, even in these ‘lightning bolt’ moments, it still takes skill and experience to take what you’ve been given and create a truly good song. Great ideas can be killed by over thought, complexity and poor or rushed finishing. That is even before you consider getting the musical arrangement of the finished article right!”

TP26 songlist2You’ve clearly been writing a long time, did it come naturally?

“Learning to write songs was a ‘process’ that came naturally although it wasn’t easy and good songs did not turn up over night. Having learned to play guitar in the early 80’s listening to old Beatles songs, I always felt that the natural order was to learn how to play other people’s songs and then start writing your own. After all that’s what Lennon and McCartney did. It was even more natural for my generation to think that way, because we had grown up in the post-Beatles era, when it was common for bands and singers to write their own songs rather than to rely on the specialist talents of Tin Pan Alley and Denmark Street writers as in the 50’s and early 60’s. I made my first attempt at song writing at the age of about 12 with a song called ‘Time’. My mum quite liked it, but then again she was my mum! I was somewhat concerned by the fact that the riff between verses sounded a bit like the Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ so I suppose it gave me an early warning about how easy it was let other people’s tunes creep into yours.

Unfortunately, my subsequent songwriting efforts were poor and in a fit of pique I ripped them all up one day, so I don’t have any record of them to refer to now. I suppose I was only 12, so what the hell did I have to write about?!”

It sounds like you were quite disillusioned, what was the turning point?

“Well about a year later at 13, I was sick of cover versions and started trying again. My first effort was reasonable from a musical perspective, but the lyrics were still sorely lacking in depth or meaning for that matter. The school year began and I found myself in English class with a recently qualified, young and enthusiastic teacher from Manchester. His first homework assignment was to write an essay for which he provided us with a selection of titles. Most were run of mill topics like ‘My favourite day out’, ‘My summer holiday’, ‘The last time I went to the theatre’ etc. etc. However, he finished the list with ‘Alien invasion’. Of course the majority of the class including myself, barring a few of the girls, took to the last topic with gusto! Schooled by Doctor Who from the age of 4 I felt particularly qualified to write a sci-fi epic in two and a half pages of A4. The truth was of course somewhat different. Most of the class including myself, bored our teacher to tears with poorly written drivel. The marks he gave us for our efforts were pitiful with the exception of my few classmates that had wisely chosen other titles. After the embarrassment of making some of us actually read out our alien claptrap and following it with the relative triumphs of ‘My favourite day out’, he brought his point home. ‘Write about what you know! Write about things you’ve seen, experienced and felt.’ The penny dropped. He added that once you’ve learned how to write about your own experiences, then you can start to apply your skills to fiction and other subjects. I went home inspired and started writing songs about ME – what I had done, what I wanted, what I liked, what I disliked, and of course..about girls! The results were markedly improved and I was on my way. Thank you Mr McLaughlin!”

TP26 songlist1Is it hard to be objective, how do you know your songs are any good?

“It can be. Quality control is important. You might argue that the best artists have a sense of what is going to be good and what isn’t. It looks like they only ever write cracking songs, but the reality is that you don’t get to see the ones they’ve carefully discarded. You start out writing all the time, a couple of songs a week! However, over time your output level changes as you become more circumspect. I remember the first time I played one of my songs to a friend (whom I later formed a band with). I could see he was impressed and really enjoyed it. He wanted to learn how to sing it there and then. Little moments like that, fill you with confidence and keep you writing. I don’t write half as much now, but I like to think that more of what I write is of high quality. I also found that it’s healthy to stop writing for a few months from time to time. You can often get into a pattern, writing about the same things, using similar chord sequences and styles. This can work for you when you are writing an album and you want a thread of continuity through it. However there comes a point when you will get into a rut if you keep going. This pause often comes at a natural point, when you have finished working on a live set, an album or other project. It’s time to recharge and refresh your Songwriting Soul!”

Do you think you’ll ever stop Songwriting?

“It’s difficult to imagine a time when I won’t song write. It’s not like a sport where you can no longer compete without a certain level of fitness. It’s also very personal and it changes and grows with you as you age. The way my life is now organised, I have more time to spend on creative pursuits than I have had for many years. My imagination and inspiration has many outlets through my music, my writing and my own business. In some ways I find that ideas, which would previously have materialised in songs are now developing into other things such as fiction, blogs, articles and even business concepts. Songwriting now has to compete with these other creative outlets, but it’s still firmly in the mix. More positively, the amazing music production and recording tools available to the computer-savvy musician, mean that a whole new world has opened up for the creation of songs. In days gone by, I would write with my guitar, bringing a complete song to life before seeking to arrange and record it. I still do that sometimes, but these days I find myself more often sitting at the computer with my Midi keyboard – having nurtured the seed of idea with my guitar, but then having a world of tools and instruments at my disposal to shape and craft the final song. The bottom line is that when you ask me ‘how do you write a song?’ my answer is that I am still learning and hope that I will keep learning for as long as I keep breathing! Otherwise it would all get a bit boring wouldn’t it?”

_____________________________

You can buy Conrad’s latest single on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby. To hear more of his back catalogue as well as up and coming releases, you can stream his music for free on SoundCloud.

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

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