Interview: End of Neil !

End of Neil is a very talented Scottish musician. Indeed, Neil’s vocals have been described by Dereks Music Blog as “soulful” and his music as “pensive, but sometimes hopeful….introspective, poignant and wistful.” Neil has been compared to Gomez and Pavement by Feed the Fish blog and to Nirvana and Bob Dylan by THATMUSICBLOG. JOe Hall, the Director of Creative Stirling has written about the “real talent” of End of Neil.

Now that your curiosity is piqued, check out End of Neil’s latest album, “Headspinnin” and read more about him about the following sites:

http://end-of-neil.tumblr.com/
http://www.youtube.com/endofneilmusic
http://endofneil.bandcamp.com/

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Underneath This had the pleasure of recently interviewing End of Neil:

Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

The path to being a musician started for me when my mum bought me ‘Nevermind,’ by Nirvana. At the time, I was playing Scottish Pipe Band music and admiring a couple of good musicians who played acoustic guitar at the back of the bus we used to take to competitions. From then on , I was in every school band you could mention; indie, metal, punk, and riding the wave of nu-metal which to this day I love and which was breaking all over the world. However, I settled in acoustic folk, mostly inspired by bands like Red House Painters, Elliott Smith and Sun Kil Moon who spoke directly to the darkness that was part of my journey from boy to man.

How did you devise the name, “End of Neil?”

End of Neil is about change. Part of my way of coping with the world is to try different ways of living, embrace different philosophies, and when they don’t work out or I need a change, I just delete stuff; new wardrobe, new sound, new hair, new ideology, I think I am a product of the very dynamic nature of the modern world we live in; a place of constant transience and a lack of roots. I decided one Christmas that it was going to be the End of Neil, and the beginning of a new Neil, and since then I’ve changed three or four times. My first album, ‘Only Surfers Know,’ is basically about saying every creative person currently fighting against an economic downturn, rejection, failure, is a ‘surfer,’ and what only we know what it is like to put art above everything, and only we understand the curious but bountiful benefits.

When I hear your music, my ears keeps going back to 1970s’s introspective singer-songwriters whose music I adore. Have any folks in this genre and time period been influential? Regardless, who and what are your stylistic influences?

My music has been compared to James Taylor, Jeff Buckley and you are right, the classic singer/songwriters like Tom Paxton, Joni Mitchell etc who were active in the 1970’s. I would say, from that list, James Taylor is the artist who showed me that I could use a guitar and vocal to really move a person emotionally, and from a sound recording perspective the delicious, crisp nature of his guitar, and the warm production of tracks like ‘Mexico’, showed me that doing the basics well surpasses all manner of studio trickery. Stylistically, I adore the ‘grunge’ movement, or the Seattle bands of the 1990’s like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and of course Nirvana. For me, this was a cultural high point of fanzines, the idea of the scene as as ‘social’ space, and a wonderful example of when everything from fashion, television, food, entertainment and even politics started to listen to its young people and be guided by their insight and music.

Your music has been described as “acoustic folk.” What does that designation mean to you?

I suppose by folk I mean ‘one man and a guitar,’ in the rich tradition of the traveling songwriters like Dylan and Guthrie. However, I want people to pay particular attention to the fact that – despite my first album containing all manner of textures like sax and piano, djembe, shakers and keyboards – I am fundamentally driven by acoustic guitars. Although I adore the massive, sizzling guitar lines of bands like Smashing Pumpkins and The Pixies, I love the simple beauty and honesty of the acoustic guitar and the idea that if a melody can’t succeed on it, it can’t succeed anywhere.

You hail from Stirling, Scotland. How does geography and place affect your creative process?

My music has suffered in the last few years because of my location. I live just outside of two cultural centers; Edinburgh and Glasgow, both with rich music scenes that can sometimes seem oblivious to the wealth of quality music being produced in what might be termed ‘fringe’ towns like Stirling and Falkirk. However, a good friend one said to me that globally, there is no such thing as a ‘fringe,’ place anymore, and my social media activity and promotional efforts have earned me many positive experiences and podcast plays in places as far afield as Los Angeles and across Europe. Creatively, the rural nature of Stirlingshire inclines me to more patient, contemplative and earthy music, and my very early compositions experimented a lot with hand drums, rice shakers, handclaps and woodblocks that reflected this.

Have you really swum the Hudson ? 🙂

Ha Ha, no, but you raise an interesting point. When I was experimenting with creative writing, I used to set stuff in Seattle, having never been once! I used a mixture of Google images and my imagination to try and get a feel for the place! You could say that End of Neil enjoys a flirtation with an imagined Europe, combining the best elements of film, radio, pictures and life experience to create an alternative universe where everyone wanders about art galleries all day smoking small aromatic cigars and drinking espresso. I want listeners to imagine that they are listening to my music atop a rooftop garden in somewhere like Barcelona on a mild evening, with a person whom they have a soulful connection, and my song I Swam The Hudson arrived from that same nonsensical universe; its a metaphor for swimming in a river of your own thoughts and needing a close friend to pull you out.

In what ways is your work feminist?

Some of my most challenging emotional experiences and most avid self reflection has come from my relationships with women; this has also produced some of my heaviest and most soulful work. I believe that in society women should enjoy complete equality with men, and in this sense I support the feminist movement because this is what it is trying to achieve. Musically, the world of End of Neil is a place where the intellectual and emotional capacity of women is celebrated. I have no politics in my songs, but to reference a lyric from a Nirvana song, my cultural output is my opinion, and mine is the music of inclusion, tolerance and love.

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How do your different social identities influence your music?

I used to work for a suit company, and I would turn up to my gigs still wearing my suit, so that became a thing; End of Neil is the guy in the suit. However, a fan told me once that people that my music would appeal to – hippie, grungy creatives – would be put off by my corporate attire, and in a certain sense that was not me. I am more a beardy, floral print guy and so this has become more evident in the way I dress now. At the same time, laid back, chilled, slow moving kids that might like my music would struggle to relate to the frenetic, business-like way I conduct my musical output, so I would say, to quote an End of Neil song, that ‘I wear my weakness so it shows,’ and I am a man constantly fighting himself.

One of my favorite songs by you is “Dry Land” on “Gas Station Coffee.” What influenced you to make that song?

My friend who is a film student made a short thriller called ‘Deception,’ and wanted a soundtrack. I made him a bunch of songs, one of which was ‘Dry Land’, but in the event he hardly used any of them. Dry Land is a song about being a creative, you ‘sail on the high seas’ of creativity for such a long time, that things like your friends, the seasons, work, holidays, rest, become lost and you hardly know when its winter or summertime. The Dry Land is this place of a balance between the blind hyperactivity of the creative process and something resembling a happy, normal life. Creatives tend to be all or nothing people, constantly ‘swimming,’ or ‘surfing’ between high and low, so the metaphor of a current dragging you down seemed to fit. Also, the idea ‘we don’t miss you,’ which forms the chorus describes how people don’t understand why creative folk find it hard not to be messy, or seem ‘out of it,’ a lot of the time. My favourite thing to say is ‘I like reality, I go there sometimes’.

What is the most challenging part of the music-making process? The most rewarding?

I would say marrying how exhaustive the creative process is and needing to draw attention to it. After you have just spent hundreds of hours mixing tracks on an album, the last thing you want to do is spend hours trying to get people to listen to it, but this is the world we live in. Bigger bands have people to do it for them, and fair play because big bands were once small and had to put the work in. I describe my current musical position as ‘lower league,’ playing to tiny audiences, in tiny places, thinking in terms of getting 100 video views, 20 ticket sales, tiny numbers. But if you fail to respect these core views, these core fans, you don’t deserve the ‘1million listens,’ we all crave and it won’t mean the same when it comes. And it will come.

What feedback do you have for aspiring musicians?

Great advice I’ve picked up. Find the core fanbase and never give up on them. Take every gig. Respect everyone. Respect Respect Respect. Always be a gentleman.

You just released “Headspinnin'” several weeks back (which I love). What is next in the works for you?

I have two more EP’s to release this year, small home recordings that give me new things to announce, and then it’s all about finding ears for the first album. I think its one of the most important records certainly in Scotland for a while, because of what it says about life, and because of the true, low fi, DIY and local success story it is, but my job is getting everyone else to believe this.

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