Behind the piano: Liam MacLean

Behind the piano: Liam MacLean

A while back I wrote about the track Silhouette by the brittisk composer Liam MacLean, and today we’ll get to know the person behind that track a bit better!

Let’s go behind the piano!

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I am from Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, but I currently live in Glasgow. 

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I generally don’t consider myself a pianist, I am a guitarist. However, I started using the piano as a composing tool, in 2017/2018 during my 4th year of uni. While writing on a keyboard my ability naturally started to progress and develop, and now it is probably the instrument I play most often.

I started playing the drums when I was 12 and about a year later took up guitar. However, I stopped playing the drums after I left school. While at uni I bought and started learning some bass guitar, simply because there were so many guitarists to compete with. I would often volunteer myself to play bass before any of the other guitarists. I love playing the guitar but the overall performance was more important, and when you have a large number of people all wanting to play electric guitar, someone has to step back. I did discover I really enjoyed playing bass, though never progressed as far with it as I did with the guitar.

Tell us about how you started playing music.
I always wanted to play music. I had several toy instruments as a small child, saved my pocket money for cd’s, went to concerts with my family from a young age. So music was always a constant. I always wanted to play the drums, in particular, I had a couple of mini drum kits while growing up, and when I started high school we were shown how to play some basic rhythms. I asked for a drum kit that Christmas, and Santa delivered. To continue with music in school we needed a second instrument. I chose guitar and made a deal with my Mum that if I saved up my pocket money over the summer and did some extra jobs around the house, she would give me some extra money towards a guitar. 

How long have you been making piano music?
I have been writing piano music since 2017 but started to focus on it more in 2018. 

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
I don’t know when I realised I could write music more generally. I was always coming up with ideas for songs or new guitar riffs I liked. I remember discovering I knew how to write and improvise my own guitar solos after my guitar tutor put me on the spot and told me to do what felt right. I guess that was the start of creating my own sounds. That was in 2011, but it took until 2017 to find my own place as a composer. I was asked to score a short film and realised then that ambient and cinematic music came to me far more naturally than the rock songs I had previously been making. 

What are your favourite artists in this “piano genre”?
I guess the composers most people would choose such as Olafur Arnalds, Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm, and Lambert. I also love Oliver Patrice Weder, Tom Ashbrook, Niklas Paschburg, and Marcus Warner!

Is there one song that you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
I have an unreleased piano waltz that I always play, along with my track Hazy Mornings. They are both in the same key so it’s really easy to transition between them and get lost in the moment. Generally though, I just improvise and try out some new ideas.

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
I don’t think there are rules! There are guidelines sure, but all that really matter is it sounds good to you and that you like and enjoy what you’re writing!

How do you record your music?
I record and mix everything myself in the corner of my living room.. luckily my wife is very understanding of this and supports my music-making shenanigans!

Whats your take on sampled instruments?
I love sampled instruments. I use them all the time, I create them myself, and while studying for my Masters my dissertation was focused on how the sampler changed the film score.

I do not think that it is a matter of picking sampled instruments or live instruments. Both can be used together, on their own, and both can be used in both gigging and studio settings. Samples allow me to create new and unique sounds which I cannot make using a “real” instrument, as well as allow me to play instruments I cannot afford to buy. I live in a small flat, and I wouldn’t have space for a piano even if I could afford one. 

I do still some things live, and I always record guitars live, but I have used my guitars to create some interesting sampled instruments, such as bowed guitars and ambient pads.

And the usual question my 7 year old son once asked me:
Where do all our songs come from?

If I knew that I would never suffer from writer’s block! But usually some sort of experimentation, or sometimes I just sit down and everything flows easily. Alternatively, if I have been hired for a short film or by a company, it’s amazing how pressure and a deadline can force you to create faster!

Thank you very much for this Liam!

For more information about Liam and his music, please check out the following links:
Twitter / Website / Spotify