Tuesday, 28 July 2009

In Conversation with Alan Lacriox - July 2009

In Conversation with

Alan Lacroix:

July 2009

According to his myspace page '12 String
guitarist/singer/songwriter Alan Lacroix was
born in South London in 1965. In 2006 he
began writing specifically for solo 'acoustic guitar
developing a combination of classical
techniques and open tunings.'

When I heard his music, without
even looking at his influences which
I will come onto shortly, I heard a guitarist who
certainly had listened to Nick Drake, but then
took it forward with a deep vocal which
touched on Scott Walker, two dear
favourites off mine.

Interested of course - I listened to this and
then read his influences which were
listed as : James Blackshaw, Julian Bream,
Nick Drake, Scott Walker, Laura Nyro,
Jose Gonzales, Thom Yorke, Leo Brouwer,
Tim Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Samantha Whates,
Rhys Marsh, Ted Hughes, Anne Sexton,
Sylvia Plath, 20th C classical guitar music,
Benjamin Britten, Claude Debussy,
Olivier Messiaen, Henryk Gorecki... '

By any stretch of thought that is a wide
range off influences and listening to his music
on his myspace page, you can pick up
nearly all off it without too much trouble,
but then often I felt on some tracks he walks
away from his influences into worlds I certainly
couldn't begin to describe, but loved it and
as far as I am concerned any big fan
off Setting Sun should.

His myspace page is:


Check it out - it's lovely and some of the tracks
seem like they go on for-ever which
is even more fun.

Cheers for the interview, Alan.

Andy N

Setting Sun:

How are things and what's happening
at the moment?

Alan Lacroix:

Before we begin, I just
wanted to thank you for

inviting me to take part in this
interview it's not something

I've had the chance to do too
often so I'm looking forward to it.

Things are fine at the moment,
I'm inbetween projects at the

moment having finished off some
recordings recently that were a

long time in the making. I'm just
starting to map out some new

musical ideas so I'm keeping
busy one way or another.

Setting Sun:

Can you tell us a little bit about
your music etc, what started you off
or as i like to say - who fired the starting

Alan Lacroix:

I suppose my approach to music
has always been
developing and
changing, I've always had the feeling that

I haven't quite achieved what
I wanted to achieve with the

songs, this is what continues to
make want to write. That is

the one area that still fascinates
me, it wouldn't bother me

particularly if I didn't play or sing
in public again but
I remain obsessed
with writing and the outlet it provides.

After a very long time thinking in
terms of conventional song

forms I have slowly been developing
an approach to extended

frameworks, often with long
narratives holding them together.

I really want to try and give the
lyrics and the music an equal

importance and think in terms
of creating pieces that stand

alone rather than having an
albums perspective. I suppose I

am trying not to think about the
songs in the context of recordings,

to put the accent on the actual
writing and the performance of

the music itself.

As for my start in music I suppose
much of the credit goes to my

mother. I remember banging out
random block chords on her upright

piano and there were always instruments
in the house. She had a
small spanish
guitar which made it's way up to my
room never to
return. I didn't really
start playing in earnest until I was
15 years old, like thousands
of others my introduction was the

'Beatles Complete' book for guitar
filled with all those improbable

guitar chord windows... Eventually
I hit a wall with my development

as a guitarist and finally had some
classical guitar lessons, I made

it to grade seven when it became
apparent I would need to find a lot

of practice time in order to reach
the next level. As a result I

went back to playing electric guitar
in indie rock bands before I

finally decided to develop a solo
guitar style about four years ago.

Setting Sun:

Music wise what are your influences
and what
are you listening to at
the moment?

Alan Lacroix:

Over the years many things have
been an influence on me and

as I get older the more interested
I have become in diverse musical

forms. Initially I grew up in the
late '60s and early '70s listening

to the chart music around at the
time but also to the records my
played, mostly Neil Diamond,
Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell and The Beatles.

The one album that fascinated
me the most was my mother's copy of

Scott 3 by Scott Walker. It seemed
at odds with everything else I was

familiar with at the time, there
were hardly any drums or guitars, mainly

this incredibly rich voice backed
by some very strange orchestrations indeed

and lyrics that were more like poetry
than anything else. I know that album

really did affect me because I still listen
to it now with the same sense of

awe. Songs like 'Rosemary' and
'Big Louise' are timeless. Subsequently I

developed a fascination for
West Coast '60s music (The Byrds,
Love, The Doors...)
Hendrix and
by way of contrast Julian Bream
which lead me into a lot of

20th Century classical guitar
music. More recently l have developed an

appreciation of Nick Drake
('Pink Moon' is a timeless record) and

particularly Laura Nyro's initial
albums on Columbia which are

Over the last year or so my
attention has been divided between

largley acoustic contemporary
artists like James Blackshaw (who
solely responsible for converting
me to the 12 string guitar),

Samantha Whates, Blue Rose Code,
Rhys Marsh and the Autumn Ghost,

Show Without Punch, Jess Bryant,
Lee Westwood, Autumn Grieve, Mondesir,

Kelli Ali, Tom Janssen, Josh Bray,
Sam Carter, Jane Bartholomew,

Jose Gonzales, Matt Kebbell,
Amy Kohn... and classical music in

the form of Claude Debussy,
Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel,

Aaron Copland, Arvo Part,
Frank Bridge, Erik Satie, Frederic Chopin,

Henryk Gorecki, Joaquin Rodrigo,
Leo Brouwer, Olivier Messiaen,

Steve Reich, Samuel Barber...

Setting Sun:

Listening from your music on your myspace,
you clearly at least to me have at least two sorts
of styles blowing in your music, for example
your two part 'nine black elms' which brought
a proper shiver down my back. can you tell
us a little bit about where these songs
come from, and where the decision to release
them as two separate songs came from?

Alan Lacroix:

'Nine Black Elms' has been a huge
undertaking. It evolved
over a six
month period and started with
the words (as all my
material does). I drafted the
lyric on holiday in Greece

last year and then spent months
rewriting it and setting it to

music. A few months before I
started work on 'Nine Black Elms'

I had finished a set of three songs
which told a story of a central

character ('Cain'). Each part
was roughly 12 minutes long and

each had a different 12 string
guitar tuning. This was fine

until I tried to play the songs
live and had to deal with

retuning the 12 string guitar on
stage. This is possible of

course but not very practical in
the the time available at

the shows I have been playing.
The solution then (in order to

have a practical and performable
piece of new music) would

be to have a song where no retuning
would have to take place.

The initial musical ideas for
'Nine Black Elms' were all

sketched out on 12 string
guitar (in an open A Major
This did solve the retuning
issue but created it's own problem

in that the tuning was not versatile
enough to carry the
entire lyric. To
create some variety I turned to
the Spanish guitar,
again with an
open tuning. The Spanish guitar
has a completely
different set of
qualities to the 12 string so was
ideal for
creating the contrast
that was required. After much
trial and
error I found the most
balanced approach was to divide
the song
into two parts (of
roughly 15 minutes each) and
to write the guitar

parts to bring out the strengths of
each instrument. You should

think of it as one song, it is
divided into two sections purely

to allow for the change of
instruments. The lyric is simple
as it follows a single narrative
sequence across both of the


The trial sequence at the beginning
if part 2 was one of the
first sequences
to be written and was the
result of listening
to the opening
section of Britten's 'Peter Grimes'.
The lengthy
chase sequence which
takes up the majority of the first part

was the final piece of the lyric to be
written and consciously
avoids any
attempt at making lines rhyme.
I have mixed feelings
about rhymes
as they often get in the way of the
more prosaic
language that I want
to use in the songs, the drawback
of course
is remembering it all,
thankfully I've come to terms with
it now.

Setting Sun:

I must admit I also loved your work with
Samantha Whates in particular 'woman from
the north shore' as Samantha really adds
something to it. How did you meet her
and where did this song come from?

Alan Lacroix:

I'm pleased to hear that you enjoyed
that song. I met
Samantha by chance
really, I was playing at an open mic evening
in London when a very unassuming
guitarist took to the stage, I remember he took quite
a while setting up and getting the microphone into
position for his guitar, you're never really sure

what to expect from people at open mic sessions
but this was one of those occasions when I
was completely blown away by the performance,
really wonderful guitar playing, songs and
voice... this was, as it turns out, Ross Wilson.

I caught a brief word with Ross as he was
leaving and
he told me his band was called
Blue Rose Code (I
could have quite easily
let him walk out without
saying anything
and that would have been that

but I wanted to tell him I had enjoyed
him play). It wasn't until a
few months later that
I had the opportunity
to see the band play
and Samantha was
singing with the group
(as she does to
this day...), I have since
been to many
of their amazing shows and
also seen
Samantha play her own material
around London. There is a beautiful
tone to her voice coupled
with a profound
range of emotions, songs like 'Eyes Nose and Soul'

her debut album once it is recorded later
in the year. Eventually
we decided it would
be an interesting idea to work
together on something.

I had already started writing quite
large scale songs so it seemed

like a good opportunity to write a
long form piece for two voices and

guitar, 'Woman from the North Shore'
was the result of that idea.

I was already thinking about
different approaches to vocal duets

having heard 'You are Taken'
and 'Hours' by Rhys Marsh and

Jess Bryant (from their
excellent '&' project) so I knew I

didn't want to restrict Samantha's
contribution to a traditional

backing vocal. With this in
mind I started to write individual

parts for us to sing that would work
together but lyrically could

be separate unrelated statements,
like a conversation where two

people are talking but neither one
really listens to the other.

While the verses are really about
deepening degrees of estrangement

the voices come together on the
'Kyrie Eleison' (Lord have mercy)

lines. For the central section
of the song I wanted to create as

much space as possible so there
are various lengths of pauses

between the guitar line as it
repeats itself in successive waves

behind Samantha's voice. Writing
this song helped to pave the

way for a more ambitious duet
called 'October' which takes the

conversation idea a step further.
I'm sure I'll pick the threads

of these songs up again at some
stage and see where they lead.

Setting Sun:

I see from your myspace page you
also do concerts? How do they compare
to your recordings? Is their one you
prefer over the other?

Alan Lacroix:

My intention with the material I am
writing now is for the
concert and recorded
performances to be as close as possible

so I don't really have a preference. I am
consciously trying
to avoid the scenario
of not being able to reproduce a
version of a song in a live context. I like to

think of the songs as a text to be
interpreted and
reinterpreted so I think
performing the songs live
is the bigger
challenge, to try to bring them to life

and make a connection with an
audience. Obviously it
is also important
to have the recorded versions as a

point of reference so I have to give both
areas a lot
of attention.

Setting Sun:

What's next for yourself musicwise?
Do you have any more concerts / recordings

Alan Lacroix:

There are no concerts in the pipeline at
the moment although
I expect I will start
playing again in a couple of months time.

There are two projects I can tell you about
that I have been involved
in which should
be reaching a conclusion soon. The first
involves one
of the first songs I
wrote for solo guitar a song called 'August'.
is due to be included on a compilation
album which is being put together

by Ginkgo Music. Ginkgo is an
ecological project and the proceeds
of the
album will go toward halting
deforestation in Ecuador. There are a
of significant artists who have
contributed including Kate Walsh

and Devon Sproule. I've heard an initial
mix of my song with the
sixteen piece string
section that was dubbed onto the recording late

last year and it will be very interesting
to hear it in the context
with the other
songs. All being well the album should
be released
in the Autumn. The second
project is a tribute album to the late

Odetta which is being curated by
Wears the Trousers magazine. The

album will feature contemporary female
artists who have each been
given one of
Odetta's classic songs to record. I have
to the arrangement of
"All the Pretty Little Horses" by Kelli Ali

who you may well know as the
singer from The Sneaker Pimps. Since

Kelli left the band she has undertaken
a very varied and interesting

solo career. Her two most recent
albums Rocking Horse and Butterfly

are firmly based in the rich traditions
of acoustic music. I play the

12 string guitars on the song which
also features the very talented

Jane South on flute. Other artists w
who will contribute to the album

include Marissa Nadler and
Ane Brun, I think the release date is

scheduled for later in the year.

As for my own projects I am
planning to begin writing the

follow up to 'Nine Black Elms' in the
next month or so.

Actually I have already written
a follow up piece but
there was no
real significant sense of development with

it so I have decided to start again. There
are a lot of
disparate ideas I want to c
ombine in the new project,
I've just been
reading 'The Waves' by Virginia Woolf
the dense poetic language that
she uses in nearly every
line is very
inspiring. Lyrically I want to move
more in
that direction. As for the
music, I've become interested

in trying to incorporate what are
more traditionally classical

approaches to writing, using the
core material in different forms.

It will be a big challenge of course
but it will be a question
of stitching
all the flashes of ideas together. I'm
very much
looking forward to
beginning the process.

Setting Sun:

A few lighter questions to finish
with, firstly what would
you be your dream
job if you
are not a musician?

Alan Lacroix:

This should be an easy
question to answer shouldn't it?

I suppose as I do have a regular
day job, being a full
time musician
would be the obvious answer but
I'm not
sure I would want to be
a full time musician anyway,

I think it can be more productive
and liberating working

in small concentrated bursts now
and then without having

to focus on a full time basis. I
often think it would be

great to work in a coastal town,
to be in that environment

all year round to see the character
of a place change
dramatically as it
does with the extremes of summer
winter in these places, I dont even
think the job
itself (whatever it
turned out to be) would be as
as the surroundings,
that would be very interesting I think...

Setting Sun:

What would you like to do when you
are 60?

Alan Lacroix:

I hope I will still be doing
something creative.

I have never really taken the
time to develop my

interests in writing or drawing
as so much of what
little free time
I have is occupied with music. So

to answer your question, I would
like to develop one
of those interests

Setting Sun:

Lastly, what will be you doing when you
are 60?

Alan Lacroix:

Still writing music I hope. Time
will tell wont it?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

New Interview with 'The Blue Nile'

According to Wiki 'The Blue Nile is an
adult alternative/pop band
from Glasgow, Scotland.

The music of The Blue Nile is built
heavily on synthesizers and
electronic instrumentation and percussion,
although later works have featured acoustic
guitar more prominently' and have just
released 4 albums in a near 30 year history.

I myself first got into them in the late
1980's 'Hat's which is still one of the
most beauitful haunting albums I have ever

Fast forward to 2009, and it is hard
to believe the band have only released
two albums since then 1996's 'Peace at Last'
and 2004's 'High', but a new interview
on BBC Radio 4 dating from the end off June
finds the band in the process of working
on a new album, which has pleased me no end.

Have a listen for yourself..