INTERVIEW: SIMON SCOTT - M3 (2012)
After English shoegaze heroes Slowdive broke up in 1995, drummer & sound designer Simon Scott decided to embark on his own experimental sonic journey, in addition to setting up his label, KESH Records. M3 met up with Simon to discuss his musical projects, diminishing attention spans and why active listening should be taught in schools…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
I’m a sound designer and songwriter from Cambridge in UK. My music is informed by the natural world and environmental soundscapes and also by digital signal processing. The juxtaposition of organic and synthetic is a predominant concern in my work. Also important is the perception of what is considered a musical timbre or compositional tool and the aesthetics of listening.
My third album Below Sea Level is released in May 2012 on US label 12k that is run by the electronic musician Taylor Deupree. My label mates include Ryuichi Sakamoto, Frank Bretschnieder, Steve Roden, Richard Chartier, Marcus Fischer and Christopher Willits. I also co-wrote on The Sight Below’s last album It All Falls Apart
(Ghostly International 2011), appear as a guest musician on the Orcas album (Morr Music 2012) and I was the drummer for UK band Slowdive during the 1990’s.
What inspired you to start making music? What is your own musical background?
I have older siblings who devoured popular music forms, such as rock and country music, and parents who were big music fans. I was surrounded by music from the moment I was born and my father was a keen pianist and accordion player who I’d jam with occasionally. Once I was bought a tape recorder I’d regularly make cassettes of family parties, conversations, the fridge buzzing and other found sounds to make my own music. I took some basic drum lessons aged eleven, classical guitar lessons aged twelve and I also sang in the school choir. My main inspiration for learning music was playing along to records, learning the keys, riffs and drum patterns. I finally moved into using the computer as a musical instrument around 1999 after using four-tracks and effects pedals.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (e.g. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I love the depth of sound from vinyl and the physicality of the medium so today I still buy vinyl whenever possible. I collect music and explore and cherish the vinyl artwork as well as the music contained within the grooves. Factory and 4AD are labels that initially sparked my interest in the overall product of a vinyl release. I also enjoy the imperfections of tapes, such as the wobble and hiss, but CD’s I have gradually got used to despite always searching for the vinyl medium as a music consumer. A CD can also be made into a beautiful object if the artwork and quality of the case is considered with intelligence. I am very happy to have a CD on 12k who have a strong design aesthetic and are conscientious about the quality of the product they are selling to the discerning music consumer.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Yes the art of listening has diminished and I make an album to be listened to from start to finish but other artists may differ to fit in with the current trends of the information age. For various reasons that I will further discuss this isn’t the case generally. Do you watch a movie in random segments or flick through a book back and forth and then consider that you’ve watched the film or read the book? No. This unfortunately represents how music has slid down the scale and how listeners consume and perceive albums.
I have lived through the transition of cassette and vinyl being deemed “old fashioned” and inferior to CD due to the fact that I was born in the early 1970’s and I remember the change. It initiated the start of people moving away from perceiving music as profound pieces of art. This includes the sleeve design, the mastering, mixing, cut, etc. The experience of listening actively was changed from evocative contemplation to someone receiving a quick fix of music. Today people burn a track (free download or MP3 usually) off the internet with inferior quality, put it on a CDr or portable music player and consume the music like a cookie or hamburger rather than the way the composer intended. MP3’s are the music equivalents of what Pringles (the dehydrated potato snack) are to food.
The gazelle like speed of information we can access through ever increasing Internet connection speeds is having an impact on people’s ability to focus for long periods of time. The “I need this right now” impulse when surfing the web, shopping or consuming anything today represents just how sped up lives have become and people do not listen. Active listening now needs to be something we all have to directly rediscover and retrain ourselves to engage with music, I feel. Lets bring it into school and further education establishments to inform future generations of how quickly our ability to concentrate on sound has become inferior to our sense of vision.
Some of the releases for sale on your website are currently sold out. Have you considered the possibility of releasing these records digitally at all?
The small limited runs that have now sold out I may consider as future downloads, such as Nivalis, and I offer my KESH label’s release online in high quality formats. I am not anti-digital downloads at all (12k are offering my album as a download and also an exclusive download of a live performance) unless it is poor quality piracy. One day the physical format will be sold out and the label will continue to sell it, allowing my music to be discovered in the future thankfully.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
Yes everything in retail has changed due to the digital age and I am sad to see record stores close as a result. I’ve spent many hours meeting new friends, discovering music and playing small shows in these environments and I have seen passionate and dedicated people close down. However I do enjoy buying music online as a music consumer and it enables me to purchase limited editions when they are released before they sell out. If I wanted to open a physical KESH music store I know that I’d need a rent free site and no staff overheads to survive and that isn’t going to happen in the UK so I am happy to sell my music and KESH products via e-retail. The way forward for people in the near future who seek to open music stores is form a collaborative and make sure that the coffee they sell on the premises is damn fine.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
This is true to a certain extent but if the promoters won’t pay you any more than expenses you will receive no income from touring and have to seek alternative forms of income. If you aren’t offered the arts council grants you apply for and if people download your music for free you earn no money to pay for rent and studio costs. If you work outside of music touring then becomes problematic due to commitments to an organization that isn’t interested in your creative dreams.
Ultimately I strive to make music that is the best music I can possibly create so I request considerate fees for live shows that enable me to play a quality live show and potentially invest any spare cash back into my work to replace broken gear or fund any future projects. The audience and music consumer isn’t interested in a poor live show or a badly recorded album and I respect that.
Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
There are many grey areas in this area and music should be respected as an original creative art form, but when the financial gains are so low for the majority of artists and labels I think the authorities who have the power to enforce new laws would rather just keep on selling alcohol and tobacco for a huge profit rather than invest in protecting artists and record labels. A sad fact is that we are all at risk of being used and abused but this should inform whom you are willing to work with as an artist or as a label as much of those relationships are based on trust and mutual respect.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
Exposure is the key challenge for emerging talent today because if you are discovered online or in a concert hall or wherever then you then stand a chance of someone enjoying your work. The snowball effect when your work resonates with people is a slowly evolving process of gaining recognition that everyone seeks. With the ability to buy a program and create an album in an afternoon and then release it the same day the consumers are flooded with music. If you get exposure you stand a chance of people actually listening to your music and appreciating it.
Finally, what does the future hold for Simon Scott?
My immediate future involves my new album and accompanying journal Below Sea Level to be released on the 12k music label on 29th May. I’m a huge fan of the label so this is very flattering for me. There is a 12k Japanese tour being planned for the autumn and I plan to perform and exhibit the album as much as possible in the future. I am also very keen to explore and collaborate in media areas outside of music from a sound design perspective. I have several current collaborations to continue and I will curate my KESH label and events here in Cambridge.