Archives for posts with tag: music

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

11adTP - carollers

The Advent Panda

11th Dec 2015: We wish you a Merry Christmas…err…what comes next?

Whatever happened to decent carollers? I don’t think I’ve opened the door to a group of people singing in tune and actually knowing the words for years!

These days, if you hear a fumbled knock on the door during advent and you are brave enough to open it, you are more than likely to find a couple of teens in hoodies or perhaps if you’re lucky – a Santa hat, who lurch painfully and tunelessly into ‘We wish you a merry christmas’ .

They will stop after a couple of lines (which in many cases can be a relief) and look expectantly at you. In olden times, perhaps they would have been satisfied with a mince pie or an orange, but these days it’s unlikely they will depart until you have furnished them with a shiny pound coin.

Truth be known, I have become slightly cruel in my old age and will now insist that they stumble through the second verse or at least repeat the same one before I part with any cash. If I can’t reward their talent, I will at least reward their resolve!

After all, it is Christmas.

TP.

08adTP - lennon

The Advent Panda

8th Dec 2015: War is over, if you want it.

In the famous ‘Lennon Tapes’ interview, John jokes that he wrote his classic Christmas song because there had to be something else other than ‘White Christmas’ being played during the festive period.

On a more sombre note, he observes that the sentiment relates to the fact there is always a war going on somewhere and chillingly that someone always gets shot near Christmas.

This song fills me with hope and sadness all at the same time.

Today, on the anniversary of your death (and well…on most days) – We miss you John.

TP.

06adTP - xmas album kylie

The Advent Panda

6th Dec 2015: The infamous Christmas album.

There comes a point in every musical artists life, when they must release a Christmas Album – it’s the law.

Yes, its never going to compete with Phil Spector or the Rat Pack, but they have to do it anyway.

I’d like to be cynical and sarcastic about it, but I can’t. So there.

I believe that this year its Kylie’s turn and who doesn’t want a bit of Kylie at Christmas…?

TP.

03adTP - elf

The Advent Panda

3rd Dec 2015: Elf’s a musical??!

When it comes to good-hearted silly Christmas films that have you in hysterics, then ‘Elf’ has to be up there doesn’t it?

Ever since watching it the first time, I’ve had the desire to fling myself at a christmas tree with no regard for my safety or those of the fragile baubles  (decorative or my own for that matter)!

Unfortunately, subtracting Will Ferrell and adding songs does not fill me with enormous optimism.

However, trying to avoid the word ‘humbug’ and in the spirit of Christmas, I am very much open to being convinced otherwise…..

TP.

TP29 TOTP logoIt may be an age thing combined with the fact that I don’t have any teenage children blasting music from their rooms, but is it getting harder to figure out who is top of the pops these days?

That said, I consider myself to be musically receptive, media conversant and internet savvy, so why has it become so hard? The reality is that we live in a much more complex world when it comes to music appreciation and how it is measured. The days are gone when record sales were everything and the channels through which you could hear music and be informed of its ranking in popularity were few and far between.

Some would argue that it goes further than that and that in fact, the proliferation of media platforms and outlets actually makes the existence of such a ‘chart’ irrelevant. If you like a certain genre of music, say hip-hop or soul, why would you be interested in hearing a chart of which over 50% may not be ‘your thing’.

Such a view insinuates that we only did so before, because we had no choice. Now that we can select from thousands of stations, downloads and sources of streaming audio (some of which have been tailored to our exact specification) – why on TP29 digital musicearth would we dilute the music we like with something else? It’s a notion that I accept and indeed am often guilty of following, but one that I don’t necessarily agree with. In following such a philosophy, how do you get to hear music that is outside your usual comfort zone and just might challenge or excite you? For those of us more mature listeners, it may be we need to be introduced to new artists and styles, but similarly the younger audience might gain inspiration from those immense talents of the past that might otherwise be consigned to history.

TP29 SupremesWe seem to lack a vehicle that can do that at present. From 1963 to 2006 the UK was treated to a weekly TV dose of ‘Top of the Pops’. Millions watched this 30-minute institution. Kids and teens would not be found anywhere other than in front of the TV for that half hour and even their parents would be drawn to it even if only to utter the obligatory ‘tuts’ at the ‘infernal racket’ and administer outrage over what the performers were wearing. It’s true that it belonged to an age where it was (just) possible to keep secrets. Top of the Pops had strict rules – it never played songs that were going down the chart (no matter how famous and powerful the artist) and the only song guaranteed to be heard on the show was the number 1. Everything else was up for grabs and it was a lottery whether your favourite song appeared. I think its fair to say there is nothing like it right now that brings generations together in the living room (or indeed anywhere) to reflect on the music of the day.

So why did it end? Doubtless against fallings ratings and an acceptance of the shift to genre-based music platforms, the BBC gave up the fight. This only happened after innumerous format changes trying to modernise and update the show whilst trying to overshadow the programme’s history of artist’s miming with live performances.

TP29 BowieAs a musician myself, I totally get the backlash against miming. However, I understand why it was done. It was a 30-minute TV show on a tight BBC budget and schedule. They needed to ship artists on and off stage pronto and didn’t have time to set up and record 8-10 live acts every week. We also need to be realistic about this. Not all pop acts are hugely talented beyond the confines of the recording studio and its technology. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the record wasn’t a good one. By making those kinds of artists perform live, it was like whipping the screens away from the Wizard of Oz! I wonder how many classic zany Top of the Pops performances of the 70s and 80s might have never happened if live performance had been enforced. Maybe we needed to view it as entertainment and not as serious concert performance?

So is there an appetite for such a vehicle in today’s diverse yet compartmentalised media world? There are some indications that the answer is ‘yes’. The continued movement from CDs to downloads and ultimately to streaming has shifted the public’s musical interest from albums to individual songs. This has made many musicians despair, but it is in fact reminiscent of the old vinyl days when purchases of the 45 inch single drove the music industry in terms of establishing popularity and increasing TP29 Boy Georgepublicity. Downloads have been included in the chart for some time now and it only seems a matter of time before a means to include streaming is found and implemented. We also live in an era where time has become an important commodity not just professionally, but personally and socially. Yes, I could trawl the Internet and plunder You Tube to make my own assessment of weekly chart activity, but instead I think I would welcome a devoted 30-minute slot that would give me an overview. With ‘on demand’ television I could watch it either in real time if I was that interested or catch it at my own convenience. I’m sure there must be others out there young and old that might feel similarly.

There is also something unique about artists having to ‘perform’ their song on TV in a less controlled environment than their highly produced music video. There is scope for improvisation, the unexpected and perhaps the occasional but entertaining mistake. Just watch the occasional vintage Top of the Pops 2 repeated on BBC4 featuring some of the most famous artists of the last 50 years. It “re-humanises” our favorite pop stars and perhaps fills the void we have tried to occupy with now tiresome talent shows.

TP29 - OllyThere have been some recent changes to the official chart, which take effect from July 2015. Instead of the new UK chart being announced on a Sunday, it will now be unveiled on a Friday. This corresponds with a global music industry-wide agreement that new releases will be made on Fridays. BBC Radio 1 which is the ‘home’ of the official chart rundown has already moved its corresponding longstanding show from Sundays to drive time on Fridays to match the change. However, there are murmurs about how the new timing might work perfectly for an accompanying Friday night TV show that would bring highlights of the new chart to your widescreen or indeed iPad!

So is there hope for a resurrected Top of the Pops? The skeptics will say its time has passed, but then… isn’t that what they said about Doctor Who?

Fingers crossed ‘Pop-Pickers’.

TP

 

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?”

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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

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