Where are you from? And where do you live?
Newcastle upon Tyne UK
How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I began playing aged 9and only play piano/keyboards
Tell us about how you started playing music.
I began with piano lessons. My grandfather and my uncle were not musically trained but both could play piano and organ by ear so perhaps I inherited some musical ability from that side of the family. I had a traditional classical music education, working through the ABRSM grades and reaching grade 8 at age 18 before going off to university to study music.
How long have you been making piano music?
I have played other peoples music on piano for 40 years and I began my career as a composer for film and television in 2006 but it’s only in the last six years since 2013 that I began composing my own pieces specifically for solo piano.
Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
It took quite some time before I believed enough in what I was composing to let people hear it. I think a lot of musicians, even very successful ones, have what is sometimes called ‘imposter syndrome’ where in the back of their mind they feel like at some point they are going to get found out as not being ‘proper’ musicians like their colleagues/competitors. This was a factor in my musical life for a number of years and still is to a certain extent. There is always at least one moment when I question whether what I am doing in any good or not but it’s all part of creating – the trick is to not make those judgements too early and stifle the process.
Who are your favourite artists in this “piano genre”?
My original inspiration to get into this genre came from George Winston and his groundbreaking album ‘December’. I love a lot of the music by both Olafur Arnalds and Max Richter and I also regularly enjoy listening to the music of some other pianists including Ben Crosland, Simeon Walker, Oliver Brouwer and Garreth Broke.
Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
When I was a music student as a break from the classical music world I would sit at the piano for hours and improvise boogie woogie piano blues – mostly in C major – that’s probably a favourite – especially a slow blues with a Jimmy Yancey style left hand!
What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
I’m not sure if it’s a rule as such but I definitely feel that the current obsession with feeling like you absolutely must have the latest technology, hardware and software to make music on is a mistake. Spending time learning how to use the stuff you already have well enough and being creative in your sourcing of original unique sounds, will help differentiate your music from that of everyone else.
How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
I’m lucky to have a recording studio space in a wonderful listed building and artist workspace in the creative Ouseburn area of Newcastle Upon Tyne. I have a 1905 Bechstein grand piano and a PC running Cubase with a variety of software instruments. I mostly record myself for the solo piano pieces but also have regular visitors to the studio to either record their work or to collaborate.
Whats your take on sampled instruments?
I use them every day as part of my work as a media composer. They are an instrument like any other, and demand time for practice to achieve mastery, so as to get the very best music from them at any given time.
Anything else you want to share?
Do please check out the concert series I put on called Atmospherica. It features monthly performances from contemporary classical composers playing their own work in intimate and unusual venues around Newcastle Upon Tyne. More information can be found at www.atmospherica.co.uk
The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?
I think that they probably already exist and I get to reveal them, to make them appear. I often think of the composing process as being like that of a sculptor starting with a large block of marble and chiselling away until a shape begins to emerge – I spend a long time improvising and working to develop rough ideas before refining and polishing them for presentation to the listener.
Thank you so much for this Steve!