Times are tough for the many people losing their jobs, homes and hope. But where are the protest singers? Where are the voices prepared to say things aren’t right? Yorkshire is one such place. Leeds-based Daniel Pearson talks to Nick Quantrill about how he threw away one album’s worth of material to change direction…
Nick Qantrill: “Mercury State” very much marks a new start for you. How does it differ from your debut?
Daneil Pearson: It’s a more stripped-back and serious record than my debut album “Satellites”, and I’ve tried to focus more on a central narrative theme this time around. I recorded it over 5 days in the summer in my pal Jeremy Platt’s studio, and we mixed and mastered it that week too. I wanted a natural, spontaneous feel to the songs and didn’t worry too much about studio trickery in the pursuit of perfection and I think it came out pretty well. With “Satellites” I was trying to get attention, and tried to use a lot of hooks to do that. Some of the songs on there are very poppy, very immediate. It can be hard to write a song that gets into people’s heads and stays there. I think a song liked Wishing Well is actually quite adventurous for my genre, using loops and strings and lots of harmonies, but that kind of approach wasn’t maintained over the whole album and I wasn’t as astute with the lyrics as I am now. This time I feel like I’ve made more of a statement and found my feet.
The recession is certainly the main theme running through the songs. What made you want to write about it? What was the tipping point?
I’d been travelling around a lot after “Satellites” was released and like everyone else, had seen the news stories over the last 18 months without it being at the forefront of my mind. I had actually written a whole album of new stuff, kind of anthemic rock n’ roll songs and was ready to record them. But after spending more time at home with my family and friends and seeing how badly it had affected some of them, it didn’t feel right to release a big rock record that wasn’t really about anything real. So I started writing about the recession, how it had changed our view of our places in society, how it had affected our dreams and relationships – the songs came thick and fast and they were more personal to me. I think it’s criminal that there are so few musicians writing about what’s happening to our country and how many of us are being exploited or ignored – but I suppose that’s the end product of having so many successful bands from very rich backgrounds and so many reality TV shows that don’t reflect the actual reality of people’s lives. I’m no working class hero, but I thought that somebody needed to at least try and address the issue in some small way.
It seems the starkness of the music really compliments the lyrics. How did the recording work? Was there a deliberate connection between the two?
I knew I wanted it to sound different, to be sparser and less polished, so decided against booking a studio with Pro-Tools in favour of something more natural. The songs are more intimate and didn’t need big arrangements, so I didn’t ask the guys who’d played on “Satellites” to play on them and limited the guitars and vocals to just myself. Jeremy added a lot of colour – he’s such a naturally gifted musician that he came up with brilliant piano and organ lines after hearing the songs a couple of times. It just felt right to record these songs in that setting.
The video for “Factory Floor” is very effective. As an indie musician, you seem to be very switched on when it comes to such things, like with the idea of giving away a free song every week on MySpace that you trialled a couple of years ago. I assume a lot of effort goes into how you promote your music?
It’s really about trying to compete a little with the bigger boys and labels. I don’t have a hundred grand to spend on advertising, video shoots and radio promotion like a lot of bands do, so I have to find ways of filling in those gaps myself. I work pretty much 24/7, as I have a day job that’s pretty demanding and spend a couple of hours each day on the ‘business’ side of things. As someone who runs their own label, I’m acutely aware of how marketing works and doing things proactively is the only real option I’ve got. Social networking is great but it’s created a lot of noise as everyone vies for attention, and it can be hard to stand out among that noise. A decent video that catches a few eyes and ears can be a big help, and in the past I’ve come up with some good ideas for doing that. People joke that I’m a workaholic and I suppose I am, but it’s a hard habit to break when it’s something you believe in.
What will 2013 bring for “Mercury State”?
Well I’d like to tour the album early in the year, maybe around March time. It’ll probably be acoustic shows, as I can’t afford to bring a band out with me at the moment. Luckily these songs will work in that setting! I’d like to go outside the UK again, but it depends on the reception of the record. Hopefully it will have picked up some positive coverage and sold a few copies so I can make another one, but who knows. I take things as they come. It would be cool if people felt like the songs were good and connected with them – that’s always the most important thing to me.
For more information on “Mercury State” and Daniel Pearson – www.danielpearson.net
Nick Quantrill is a crime writer from Hull. His Joe Geraghty novels are published by Caffeine Nights – www.hullcrimefiction.co.uk