Iris interviewed Tim Bowness via Skype on the official release day of his latest solo album named Lost In The Ghost Light (17 February 2017). They talked about the story behind this album, why long-time collaborator Michael Bearpark is not playing on the album, other projects Tim is working on… and there’s some interesting news about no-man as well!
Iris: You just released your latest studio album named Lost In The Ghost Light. Tell me more, what’s the story behind Lost In The Ghost Light?
Tim: Well, this is quite different from any album I’ve released in the past, in that this is the first time I’ve ever created a ‘story’ album. Albums like Together We’re Stranger by no-man, or Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, worked with images and themes, but this album actually has a story. I guess, if you put it very simply, Ghost Light is about an aging musician backstage, staring at himself in the dressing room mirror, and wondering how he got to this stage in his life. The songs deviate from that basic image; A once famous aging musician playing for aging audiences in a world where music isn’t valued. I imagine it as somebody who emerged during a revolutionary time of music making in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but now finds themselves playing golden oldies to smaller audiences. So something that was revolutionary becomes something safe. I guess my point of interest with this was “How does this effect musicians psychologically?”. At one point you felt you ruled the world – you were successful and culturally important – and years later you’re just comfort food for an aging audience and you don’t make the money that you once did (because this is the era of streaming music, piracy and so on). It’s kind about the psychological effects about a life in music.
Iris: I also read that some of the songs that were meant for Lost In The Ghost ended up on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World.
Tim: Yes! I originally had the idea back in 2009, and I had written quite a lot of material for it, but I never thought I would complete it to my satisfaction. Two songs from the concept ended up on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (Dancing For You and Songs Of Distant Summers), and two songs ended up on Stupid Things That Mean The World (the title track and The Great Electric Teenage Dream). Suddenly last year, I listened to what I still had of the concept, and I still had four songs and wondered if I could take it further. What is very interesting, is that the first four songs on the album were written between 2009 and 2015, while the second half of the album was entirely written last year, when I suddenly got back into the project and I could see how I could finish it and make it happen. That said, even the earlier pieces were subject to complete re-recordings and some lyrical rewriting, so although I had it on the backburner for seven or eight years, the album features fresh performances and new versions. As such, it’s very much a new album.
Iris: Where was the album recorded?
Tim: Interesting enough… The previous two albums, half of them were recorded in the studio with the live band, with me teaching the band the songs, playing live and doing some overdubs. Half of it would be file sharing, just sharing the files around to the band members. This time around it was almost entirely done through sending files and instructions. I have to say, it didn’t sound any different in terms of how spontaneous the performances were, or how the pieces could evolve as a result of somebody’s performance. Very few of us actually met during the recording of this, while doing the previous two albums everybody met at certain studios. I think that Ghost Light has a more luxurious sound, and it was just great hearing the music evolve, as new additions were being made. It was recorded in my home studio, in Stephen Bennett’s home studio… In all the home studios of the musicians who contributed. Previously I booked studios in other places, and my vocals for Abandoned Dancehall Dreams were recorded at Phil Manzanera’s studios in London. This time I decided I wanted to do everything myself, because I’d done most of the vocal recording at home for Stupid Things That Mean The World. Weirdly enough, I’m a greater self-critic than the other people I work with, with the exception of Steven Wilson. Steven is a phenomenal critic *laughs*. He will always get very strong performances. Similarly, I did a session for a guy called Nick Magnus, he used to work with Steve Hackett. He went beyond Steven and I, in terms of what he wanted! A perfectionist. On the last two albums, when I went into the studio with the band, I recorded the vocals, and they’d say, “GREAT! GREAT!” Whatever I did. When I listened back, I’d think, “God, this is awful!”. So I just ended up re-recording everything myself. What was interesting is, on a couple of tracks on Lost In The Ghost Light – Distant Summers for instance – the vocals were first or second takes and they felt right straight away. However with some of the tracks, like Moonshot Manchild… We are talking about fifty takes! I had to get them right in terms of feel, so the process became very obsessive and immersive. Imagine spending all those hours re-recording, editing, and re-recording again *laughs*… So it was very much a labour of love.
Iris: One name is missing in the list of musicians who contribute on the album. Why isn’t Michael Bearpark contributing on the album?
Tim: Michael Bearpark? He was sacked with immediate effect! *laughs* No, I’m joking, I’m still working with Michael! He’s been one of my longest running collaborators and I’ve worked with him since he was about fourteen/fifteen, and I was in my late teens/early twenties. The reason why I didn’t use him in this album was because Michael has a very spontaneous, very wild style of playing. I always see him coming from a David Torn/Robert Fripp/Neil Young tradition. On this particular album I wanted something more melodic and more compositional. I chose Bruce Soord because he did a couple of solos on Stupid Things That Mean The World that I thought they were great. So then, thinking that he was ideal on that album, I asked him to do the guitars on Lost In The Ghost Light, because I think he has a songwriter’s approach to writing guitar solos. As with everybody else on this album, I deliberately chose the musicians I felt worked best on the material. The compositions on Lost In The Ghost Light – the music and the lyrics – almost exclusively emerged out of the story, so it was a different type of music for me. For me, it’s a much more traditionally progressive rock type of music, because that was the sort of music that the musician the album is about would have made. I kind of see the album as a requiem for a particular type of music and musician. This album is what that musician would have made himself. It’s a Moonshot album as much as it is a Tim Bowness album, but I really hope that I’ve personalised that material. Obviously I’m not singing it in anybody else’s style, I’m not trying to imitate anyone in particular, but it was a very different type of music from the music on the previous two solo albums. That said, I’m sure that the kind of cinematic and melancholic feel that is always a part of the projects I’m involved with probably remains on Ghost Light.
Iris: How would you describe the music itself?
Tim: Oof… Well, generally speaking, I hope that what I do is quite distinctive and quite emotional. With Lost In The Ghost Light, I think it’s perhaps my idea of a progressive rock album. When I was in my early teens I loved bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, The Who, Yes, and Jethro Tull. In some ways this is my homage to some of my earliest influences, but even then I always want to do something that is an expression of my own ideas, identity and emotions. Perhaps, if Abandoned Dancehall Dreams was my idea of a no-man album, then Stupid Things That Mean The World was my idea of a Tim Bowness album directly inspired by aspects of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, and Lost In The Ghost Light is perhaps my idea of a symphonic, progressive album, and a homage to certain influences I had when I first got into music.
Iris: How did you approach Ian Anderson to contribute on the album?
Tim: I really wanted him for the particular song Distant Summers, because that song is about the moment when the character falls in love with music. A lot of the rest of the album is about the fact that the musician’s career, inspiration and marriage is in decline, a slide into alcoholism and so on… But that song is actually quite optimistic. Basically, you have this character, looking at himself in the mirror, asking himself, “How have I got to this point”… Well actually, he got to this point because he fell in love with music in the first place. I wanted a kind of optimistic ending to this. Of course, there was a love of something that got this character involved in making music in the first place. I approached Ian Anderson through his manager because I felt that it could have a semi-autobiographical element, because Ian was one of the first influences I had as an early teenager. Luckily he agreed and he liked the piece, and has been encouraging ever since. That meant a lot as well.
Iris: Will there be a tour?
Tim: In some ways I would love to, and in this case Michael Bearpark will be back! A part of me would love to do a fully theatrical production. Again, as I was growing up I loved projects like Quadrophenia, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and I was also a huge fan of Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, and David Bowie. I liked the theatrical presentations of their music. A part of me thought, “Now is the time to do something thoroughly embarrassing!” If there’s interest, it would be great to do a show that includes all of the material that was written for The Lost In The Ghost Light concept, and do something on a more elaborate scale. As it stands, at the moment, the only performance I’ve got is supporting Marillion at the Marillion Weekend in the UK, April 2017.
Iris: Too bad it’s not the Marillion Weekend in The Netherlands, or else I could have seen you perform!
Tim: Hopefully we will be doing European dates at some stage. One of my live agents is Dutch, and I hope he can get something arranged in The Netherlands!
Iris: Any other projects your working on at the moment?
Tim: The thing I’m working on at the moment is a Tim Bowness/Peter Chilvers album, which is a follow up for California, Norfolk. We finished this around the same time I finished Lost In The Ghost Light, which was in the autumn of 2016. This is something we are both really pleased with. It’s quite different from Lost In The Ghost Light. It’s much more atmospheric, singer-songwriter, electronic… And, if you can imagine this, it’s even bleaker than Lost In The Ghost Light! That album is hopefully due for release at some point in 2017. I’ve also been doing a project with the band I was in, just before I joined no-man, which is called Plenty. We were based in Liverpool, England. We wrote quite a lot of material, and a couple of the early Plenty songs actually ended up in the no-man live set, when no-man started off in the late 1980s/early 1990s. With all of the original members we’ve been rerecording the Plenty back-catalogue. It has been interesting, because in those years we’ve all changed a lot, we’ve rewritten lyrics and musical parts, and it sounds like a fresh project. Strange as it may seem, even when I’m working on things at the moment, and Lost In The Ghost Light has just been released, it always feel very empty when I’m not working on a major project. There’s always that kind of post-album depression *laughs*. Hopefully there will be some new no-man work at some point. Steven Wilson and I talked about it, and I think there’s a good chance there could be a new no-man album in the next couple of years as well!
Iris: Oh, that’s fantastic news! I’m really looking forward to that! Thank you very much for your time!
Tim: My pleasure!
https://burningshed.com/ (where you can buy the album in different formats)
You can read the album review of Lost In The Ghost Light here:
You can watch the video of the track Kill The Pain That’s Killing You here: